Monday, November 30, 2015

Post Thanksgiving Sandwich Obsession

"Is it done, yet?"

I do love the turkey sliced warm right off the bird, white meat only, please with a dollop of Val's gravy.  I'll take a little mashed potato and corn to be polite.  But what I really want is some doctored up cranberry sauce and heap of stuffing.  If there is bread or a dinner roll, I'll take that, too.
On Thursday, I'm really just waiting.  Biding my time until the next day when all of the fixings and the turkey are waiting chilled in my refrigerator.  I am imagining and planning what lies ahead:  a mile high sandwich made from the Thanksgiving dinner leftovers that I will devour in the privacy of my own kitchen on Friday.
Of course a sandwich that has been anticipated for an entire year must be constructed on just the right bread.  I demand Pepperidge Farm Jewish Pumpernickel.  I don't recall why, but it's what I crave.  The first step is to toast 2 slices just enough to give the slightly spongy textured bread some strength to give it some sturdiness for the job that lies ahead.  To begin, a slather of mayonnaise, not just any mayo, please,  Hellman's Real Mayonnaise ONLY will do.  Spread just enough on each slice of bread to create a glue for the rest of the ingredients.  Next, a thick slab of cold stuffing on one slice.  Top the stuffing with quite a few spoonfuls of cranberry sauce but not so much that the sandwich might become soggy half way through the anticipated eating experience.  Layer on as much white meat (thinly sliced and don't even think of sneaking ANY dark meat) as humanly possible to pile up without any pieces falling off to the side before I can top the whole post Thanksgiving food mountain with a generous sprinkling of sea salt and black pepper then cover with the other slice of already mayo'ed  pumpernickel bread.  Gently cut this beauty in half with the sharpest knife in the house and reverently place it on a plate.  A cold glass of milk is the ideal accompaniment.  I want chips (Wise was the brand from my childhood before Cape Cod Chips came along and stole the show.) but I know that will push my stomach's capacity right over the edge.  As it is, I should never have eaten the leftover piece of Kentucky Bourbon Pie I managed to smuggle home and keep a secret for only myself to eat in the wee hours before everyone else woke up this morning.
This sandwich is so good not only because of each ingredient expertly prepared by Val and squirreled away by me but also because it represents a moment in time.  This particular Friday with this exact meal represents the hinge between restful, restorative Thanksgiving and the rushing madness of the Christmas season. The calm before the storm of shopping for and wrapping gifts, checking lists, being here, going there.  Decorating, obligations, chorus concerts and craft fairs.  But I won't think about that right now.  In this moment, all I need is the remote, my pink down filled blanket and some retro Holiday programming to get me in the spirit of the season.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Oranges and Chocolate

Oranges and the "Holidays" have always gone hand in hand for me.  There is something about the smell of the citrus, the burst of essence inhaled as I peel open a naval orange and shove my thumbs into the center of the fruit to pull apart the sections one by one, biting into them, and savoring the sweet/tart juice.  I always hoped that Santa brought me the big fat orange instead of the shiny red delicious apple or the dull green pear.  Santa always put fruit in the toe of each of our stockings back then. It was a welcome tradition to reach into the long, knit sock to pull out the fresh fruit, my fingers already knowing by touch which one I would get.
Around the time I was ten years old, at Girl Scout meetings, we crafted hand made gifts to give to our parents.  (Now everyone calls them DIY and puts photos of their accomplishments on Pinterest.)  We sang Christmas carols and drank Hawaiian Punch as we labored over studding every inch of an orange with whole cloves and wrapping it with a strand of green velvet ribbon that was pinned into place so that the lucky recipient could hang the old fashioned air freshener in his or her closet. 
A few years ago, I transformed my mother's Christmas Braid Bread recipe by substituting candied orange peel and chocolate chips for the chopped mixture of candied fruit and raisins that the recipe normally calls for. I always plucked out the red, green and yellow fruit "candy" leaving behind only the raisins which drove Val mad, that candied fruit was not cheap! But the sweet dough, is a perfect vehicle for the two flavors that I always associate with Christmas and December: chocolate and oranges.  I crave the contrast of intense flavor of the dark chocolate with the brightness of orange and the combination feels to me like cause to celebrate no matter what day or season.
Perhaps for the reason of needing something, anything, to celebrate during the ridiculously long winter of 2014-2015, I resorted to dehydrating all sorts of citrus and other fruits and then decorating them with melted chocolate and an assortment of other items such as sea salt, etc.  This resulted in an excellent way to use up the oranges and other fruits that my children refused to eat and left to slowly dry out on the kitchen counter.  This drives me insane, the wasting of fruit (and food, in general), so I confiscated just about all of it, sliced it thin with my sharpest knife and put  it all in the food dehydrator that I often forget I own until I pull it out and begin again to dry everything I can find until the project becomes dull again. Regardless, the result is chewy intense, sweet/bitter orange slathered in a coat of dark chocolate.  The perfect snack for on the go and packaged into a small cello bag and tied with a ribbon, makes for an excellent hostess gift.  Also, to my delight, I've just recently discovered, they are an excellent accompaniment to a chilled glass of Chardonnay.  Next, I'm looking forward to trying them with Champagne, because of course, everything goes well with bubbly.   Cheers!

For my variation on Val's Christmas Braid Bread see:  News: Fruits of Christmas Past, December 2012

For other great ideas for things to dip in chocolate:

Sunday, November 8, 2015

"Book Club"

It felt like I was driving on an endless road, traveling through the woods in the pitch black night.  In reality, it was only about 7:00pm but after daylight savings time in November.  Around here, small neighborhoods nestled in areas where mostly summer residents live during the height of the season (June through August) seem like ghost towns.  I finally reached my destination after following winding Shore Road for a good 15 minutes.  The unassuming house was lit up from the inside.  At first, I couldn't figure out which way to enter. As I mentioned, it was completely dark out and there was no clear front door, walkway or any other markers to indicate how to properly get inside. I sat in my car for a moment, surveying the situation.  I reached for my hostess offering and decided to leave the wine I brought in the car, unsure of the type of occasion.  Possibly this was meant to be a tea drinking night? 
Deb appeared in the dim light from the slider on the bottom floor, she walked toward me as I emerged from my car.
"Hello!  Welcome!"
I love that she came out to greet me and guide me inside.  After all this isn't even her home.  But she instinctively knows I have no idea where I am or what to do. 
In the bright, inviting kitchen, Sheila was busy pouring the usual chilled Kendall- Jackson shared by her and Deb at just about every gathering they attend.  Besties since high school.  They usually ride together, too.  What was I thinking?  Of course this is a wine occasion! 
"O.K. before we get started I want to show Andrea around.  And I want to show you my artwork!"  Melissa was excited to have us there, to show us the hard work that she and Jamie have put into their funky, eclectic place.  Every knob on the cabinet, every piece of wood on the stairs and tile in the bathroom, carefully chosen then installed by their own hands.  Their work was impressive, the style unique.  I coveted it all, feeling my own home to be overly simple and badly in need of a fresh paint job.  Melissa's art work, the stitching and sewing and everything else she created looked effortless and masterful at the same time like only someone with true talent can produce.
And then there was cake.
Not just any cake.  This was the cake recipe from the book we had all read. " Book Club" was the excuse, the reason we had forcibly gathered ourselves together.  It is always a challenge with work schedules, kids' activities and Melissa getting ready to head to CA, back to work in less than 2 days.  But somehow she managed to bake the cake from Ruth Reichl's novel, "Delicious".  Using mortar and pestle to grind the ridiculously long list of whole spices the recipe described.  (I would have never had the patience.) Substituting a gluten free flour blend for AP and dirtying numerous bowls to produce the final result: an incredibly moist, light, slightly spiced cake with an orange and bourbon glaze.  Sublime.  Excellent with the pinot noir I later retrieved out of my car.
Sure we discussed the book...Deb tried to get us on track.  But like most conversations that involve wine and cake, the topic continually changed from the original idea to future books, Melissa's plans once back in LA, soccer games, drama at school and other stuff.  Then we toured the house again, while Melissa described the future transformation of the remaining unfinished rooms.  Two hours can pass so quickly.  Weeks and months go by before we manage to pull off another gathering of just us: no kids, husbands or other people to interrupt our intimate talk of plans, ideas, dreams.  We need to get another date on the calendar now for our next "Book Club".

I brought these cookies for Melissa. I discovered the recipe in the January 2014 issue of
Bon Appetit  and made them for my sister who also stays away from gluten. They remain soft for about 2 days then get a bit crumbly.  The deep, rich chocolate flavor goes great with a cup of tea, if you prefer and is especially decadent with a glass of  red wine.

Adapted from Bon Appetit  January 2014
Chocolate Brownie Cookies
(makes about 24 cookies)
3 cups gluten free powdered sugar
3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large egg whites
1 large egg
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons mini chips 
1 teaspoon instant coffee
Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350 degrees.  Whisk powdered sugar, cocoa powder and salt in a large bowl, then whisk in egg whites and egg.  Fold in chocolate, mini chips and instant coffee.  Spoon batter by the tablespoon onto parchment lined baking sheets, spacing 2" apart.
Bake, rotating sheets once, until cookies are puffed, cracked and set just around the edges, for about 14 minutes.
Transfer baking sheets to wire racks and let cookies cool on pan for at least 5 minutes. (They will firm up.)  Once set and cooled, the cookies will peel right off the parchment.  Store in airtight container at room temperature or devour immediately.