Friday, November 11, 2011

Thanksgiving: Part 2: The Top Ten Tools

Happy 11/11/11 and Veteran’s Day to all!  There is a lot to be thankful for today.  I am especially thankful for my freedom, both as an American and as a woman.  There is a great article in this week New Yorker regarding Planned Parenthood.  Regardless on how you feel about reproductive rights, Planned Parenthood provides essential services to women of all races and income levels.  Planned Parenthood is a safe place where women can go and learn about their bodies and rights as women.  I truly believe knowledge is the key, and without all the facts, no one can make an informed decision. 

I am also thankful because earlier this week, the Urban Chef and I celebrated our 2 year anniversary!  I cannot believe it!  It feels like forever, yet no time at all.  For our anniversary, we dined at the Tom Colicchio restaurant, Riverpark.  It is a New York Times 2 star restaurant.  I truly enjoyed my dining experience, from start to finish the whole evening was expertly executed.  The location is stunning, it’s right on the East River, and the dining room is dark wood with dark blue walls and upholstery with many illuminating lights overhead (it gives the illusion of stars).  The service at Riverpark was impeccable, attentive but not intrusive, expedient, and competent.  We started with a dozen oysters.  We both are very passionate about oysters and eat them often. These were from the east coast, briny and delicious. They also came with the best mignonette I have ever had.  The mignonette was very traditional, but they cracked fresh pepper on top of it right at the end, so it was very punchy and savory.  The oysters were followed by two pasta dishes.  The first was a black ink pasta dish with squid and hot peppers.  This was fantastic, pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente, and the spicy peppers give it a very nice kick.  We also had a burnt flower cavatelli, served with breadcrumbs and romano cheese.  This was a savory and balanced dish.  Our entrée were slightly disappointing because they were not memorable.  I had a lamb dish over chard, cooked well with an excellent pan sauce and nice char on the lamb.  Jon had a duck dish served with duck liver, which did not add anything to the plate, the dish was interesting, and the duck was perfectly cooked, but I have a harder time giving it any more praise than that.  I applaud this risk, but, I it was my least favorite of the evening.  And for dessert, we had beignets with caramel and vanilla cream, YUMMM!!!! I ate all of those, the Urban Chef prefers amaretto and espresso for dessert, (crazy!). 

And now for this week’s Thanksgiving post, the Top Ten Tools you must have for the perfect Thanksgiving feast.  Click on the title for where to buy online!

10.    Pie pans.  Please do yourself a favor and order classic pie pans from Macy’s, those tin things in the supermarket just won’t do!  Less than $10 piece.

  1. 9. A Stainless Steal Roasting Pan.  We had to buy one of these last year for our 1st Thanksgiving.  I went to Macy’s (at Harold Square) and battled the crowds… the kitchen department is in the basement, scary because you feel like you will never get out and that no one seems to work down there, but, I got it for half off!  $39.99 right now!

  1. A Meat Thermometer.  I never had one of these until I lived with the Urban Chef, but, it is really necessary, don’t trust the pop up thing on the turkey.  It is $5 at the grocery store.  You can get the fancy ones if you want, but, we use it twice a year, only splurge if you have the dough.

  1. Mixing Bowls: you will go through tons of these at Thanksgiving.  These are great to hold ingredients that you have already prepared and while you are baking.  I like the stainless steal metal ones.  At Macy’s you can buy a set of four for $12.99!

  1. 6. A Turkey Baster: We actually do not have one of these, and I am going to make sure we get one!  Last year we basted a turkey with a large spoon, I think I burned myself like 16 times.  Break the bank and spend the $2… it’s worth it!

  1. Potato Masher: Again, we do not have one of these—I do it with a fork… which by the way in fancy NY restaurants means I can charge twice as much for those potatoes.  Save yourself the effort, spend the $10 for the masher.

  1. Wooden Spoons: you can’t have enough, seriously, you can buy a set of three at Amazon for $5.
  1. 3. A Whisk: Can’t have gravy without one, enough said.

  1. 2. A Carving Knife—A good carving knife makes your life so much easier, and is the difference between people thinking you are a Turkey carving pro, or being assigned to “dish duty” for years to come because people won’t let you near the turkey.  This is a higher priced item, but you can buy a Wusthof for around $100, they last forever! (just like your carving reputation)

  1. A Wine Key… the one kitchen essential, the key to surviving and having a happy Thanksgiving! 
Next week: How to make the ultimate turkey using a t-shirt!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thanksgiving Part I: Pie, Pie and More Pie!

I love Thanksgiving.  It is my number one favorite holiday.  It’s my favorite, not only because I love food and good wine and Thanksgiving is a smorgasbord of decadence and deliciousness, but because it is an All American holiday.  Everyone in this country celebrates Thanksgiving, it brings us all together as Americans and unites us through one common act, stuffing ourselves silly with turkey and gravy.  I love when you can actually wish someone a Happy Thanksgiving, I don’t have to worry about whether I just offended them like during the winter holidays (note the PC correctness).  I mean seriously, I am so tired of saying Happy Holiday’s instead of Merry Christmas because heaven forbid I make anyone feel excluded and offend those with oversensitive egos that celebrate Hanukah, kwanza, or whatever new holiday the Kardashian’s are going to make up and brand.  Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving, pure, simple, and classic.

Thanksgiving 2010...YUM PIE!
Pie is the pièce de résistance of Thanksgiving.  Just when you think you can’t eat anymore because you are so stuffed and popping out of your fat pants, you glance over at the sideboard and see those delicious pies staring back you.  And if you are anything like me, you tell yourself, I’m an American goddamnit, I’m going to eat some pie!  Then stuff yourself with two pieces, crumble on the couch in a food coma, and watch TV until you fall asleep.  I mean seriously people, does it get anymore American than that? 

Pie is a great tradition in the Soule house.  We take it VERY seriously.  Our Grandma Soule was the best baker there ever was, and now, since she is gone, the rest of us try and fill her shoes.  I find this time of year, there are many newfangled fancy Thanksgiving dessert recipes, like pumpkin mousse, pumpkin cheese cake, curried apple custard, and you know what I say to that, phooey!  I’m a classic girl with classic tastes, I want pumpkin, pecan, and apple pie.  And you know what dear reader, that’s exactly what you are going to get.

When making pies for a Thanksgiving feast, I recommend you cook them the night before.  All pie keeps well, especially covered in tin foil on a cool sideboard.  This keeps your oven free the next day for your turkey and other side dishes needing to be kept warm.  The trick to a successful Thanksgiving dinner is timing your oven—get the pies done early! 

Pie Crust
Each pie starts with the perfect crust, this is the best recipe I have found to make crust that is flaky and light.  If you do not have a mixer, you can combine the ingredients with two forks, harder, but good for your biceps.  I use this recipe from

Yield: Makes 2 pie crusts (enough dough for 1 double-crust pie, 1 lattice-topped pie, or 2 single-crust pies)

2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup chilled lard or frozen nonhydrogenated solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (if you don’t have this, you can substitute more butter)
5 tablespoons (or more) ice water

Blend flour, sugar, and salt in processor. Add butter and lard; using on/off turns, blend until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer mixture to medium bowl. Add 5 tablespoons ice water and mix with fork until dough begins to clump together, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dry. Gather dough together. Divide dough in half; flatten each half into disk. Wrap each disk in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

DO AHEAD Can be made 3 days ahead. Keep refrigerated. If necessary, soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out. 

Apple Pie
I shared a recipe with you last week, but this one is much more classic.  You can do a single crust or double, whichever you prefer.

1 pie crust (half recipe above) or 2 crusts (full recipe above)
8 or 9 large apples of several different cooking varieties (Delicious apples will NOT do), peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
Juice of 1 large lemon
½ cup Sugar
1 t Ground cinnamon
1 t vanilla
Pinch of both ground mace and ground nutmeg

Unsalted butter
1 large egg white beaten with a little water, for brushing

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Unwrap dough.  On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll it out to a 12-in diameter, 1/8 inch round.  Fold into quarters and transfer to a 9-inch pie plate.  Unfold and mold into plate.  Trim edges to a ¾ inch overhang.  Turn edges under and crimp with fingers, and refrigerate. 

In a large bowl, mix the apple slices in the lemon juice. Add the sugar and cinnamon, then add the mace, nutmeg, and vanilla.  Pour the apple mixture into the prepared pastry shell. Mound toward the center and dot with butter.

If using two crusts:
Roll out the remaining pastry and carefully lay it over the apples. Seal the edges, cut vent holes, and decorate with extra pieces of dough cut into decorative shapes. Brush the egg wash over the surface of the pastry.

Place the pie pan on a baking sheet (to catch any spill over) and cook in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 350° F. and continue to cook for about another hour, until the top crust is a beautiful golden brown. If the edges start to darken too much, cover with a ribbon of aluminum foil.

Pecan Pie
My mother’s favorite—she makes an excellent version, this is an update to that recipe. 
1 pie crust (half recipe above)
1 large egg
5 large egg yolks
2/3 cup light cane syrup
2/3 cup light brown sugar
½ cup heavy cream
¼ t salt
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 t vanilla extract
1 ¾ cup pecan pieces

Heat oven to 325 degrees. 

Unwrap dough.  On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll it out to a 12-in diameter, 1/8 inch round.  Fold into quarters and transfer to a 9-inch pie plate.  Unfold and mold into plate.  Trim edges to a ¾ inch overhang.  Turn edges under and crimp with fingers, and refrigerate. 

Whisk egg and egg yolks together in a bowel.  Combine cane syrup, sugar, cream and salt in a saucepan until blended.  Add butter and cook over medium heat until melted, then cook until mixture is hot but not bubbling, about 1 min longer.  Gradually whisk syrup mixture into eggs until blended.  Stir in vanilla.  Add pecan pieces and stir together. 

Pour filling into the crust.  Bake until filling is set around edges but center jiggles slightly, 45-50min. 

Pumpkin Pie
The pie for without which, no Thanksgiving is complete.  The best pumpkin pie recipe I have ever come across is from my Aunt, adapted from the Silver Palate spicy pumpkin pie recipe found there.  It is so flavorful, no limp spices for this pie, you can truly taste the pumpkin… its delicious, and my favorite.  I upped the sugars from the original recipe, you can back them down if you want it really spicy.

1 pie crust (half recipe above)
3 eggs
1/2 C. granulated sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
2 C canned pumpkin puree
1 t. ground ginger
1 and 1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground cloves
1/2 t ground allspice
1/4 t ground cardamom
pinch salt
3/4 C heavy cream
3/4 C half & half

Preheat oven to 450.

Unwrap dough.  On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll it out to a 12-in diameter, 1/8 inch round.  Fold into quarters and transfer to a 9-inch pie plate.  Unfold and mold into plate.  Trim edges to a ¾ inch overhang.  Turn edges under and crimp with fingers, and refrigerate. 

Beat eggs and both sugars until light in a large bowl. Stir in pumpkin, spices, salt. Mix thoroughly. Stir in cream and half & half.

Pour into your prepared pie crust in pie plate.

Bake at 450 for 8 min. Reduce heat to 325 and bake for another 40-45 min...until filling is set.  Inserted knife will come out clean.

So there you have it!  All you need for the perfect delicious dessert spread. 

In other news, we have a new addition to our kitchen!  I call her Tanya.  It is a KitchenAid dishwasher with a Pro Scrubber… no more scrubbing for me!  Wha hoo!  And look how cute the Urban Chef is…

 Check back next week for Thanksgiving, Part II: Turkey Time

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Moussaka right back at ya!

Happy November!  I hope everyone had a nice and safe Halloween!

I found this great recipe for an easy moussaka which is basically a nice deviation on Sheppard’s pie, you add eggplant and cloves to the meat plus any vegetables that you like.  I added wilted dying broccoli, when baked into the casserole, it tasted great and added needed body and depth of flavor to the meat, plus something green!

I originally was attracted to this recipe because I was in the mood for Greek food, but this more turned out to be a cathartic way to clean out my fridge.  It’s not going to be the ultimate recipe for you to satisfy your Greek island desires, but a great way to use ground beef, veggies that are sitting in the fridge, while making a satisfying and different casserole.  A classic Sunday night dinner that reheats well for lunch.  As someone who often eats alone, I’ve definitely embraced the joy of leftovers.  That is something I learned from my dad, who never let anything go bad, and has happily eaten leftovers for lunch / dinner for the past umm, well, let’s just say a really long time!

Easy Moussaka
Adapted from a recipe on the NYTimes

2 medium eggplant (about 2 pounds), cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds Red Bliss potatoes (or whatever you have around)
1/3 cup whole milk
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound ground lamb (or beef)
1 very large onion, finely chopped
2 cinnamon sticks or ½ t ground cinnamon
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
2 medium tomatoes, cored and chopped
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons bread crumbs.

1. In a colander, toss the eggplant and 1 teaspoon salt. Drain in the sink for 15 minutes.

2. Heat oven to 450 degrees Toss the eggplant with the oil and spread on a large baking sheet. Roast, turning occasionally, until golden and tender, about 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees.

3. Bring 6 cups water, the potatoes and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Lower heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes; drain and return potatoes to the warm pot. In a small bowl, whisk together milk and egg yolk. Mash potatoes with milk-egg mixture, 1/2 cup cheese, butter, 1/4 teaspoon salt. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.  You want the potatoes extra creamy (I actually used half and half this time, so awesome!)

4. In a very large skillet over medium-high heat, brown the lamb or (beef), breaking it up with a fork as it cooks. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Push the meat to one side of the skillet and spoon off all but a thin layer of fat from the skillet. Add the onions and cinnamon sticks to the skillet. Cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir the lamb back into the onions and add the garlic and ground clove. Cook 2 minutes more. Stir in the tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Cook until tomatoes are soft and the mixture is thick, about 10 minutes. Stir in the eggplant.

5. Spoon into a 9-inch baking dish. Spread the mashed potatoes over the lamb. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and the remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Bake until top is golden brown and slightly crusty, about 30 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before serving.

Yield: 6 servings.

COMING UP: Every Thursday, for the next three weeks, we will be posting Thanksgiving recipes!  This week, PIE, PIE, and well more PIE!