Thursday, November 28, 2013

Why I am Thankful On Thanksgiving Redux

So this is a repost of sorts but I wanted to share this story again if some of you who are reading my blog have not seen it because, I think it is one that helps me to remain humbled by the goodness that is in my life. Despite of the challenges and the problems I have, I need to stand every now and then in that place of reflection and remember how lucky I am and how many are not as fortunate as me and that I have the responsibility to do something, no matter how small, about it. To be part of the solution. To give thanks by doing thankful things. 

Thanksgiving the Day of Thanks. It is a holiday that brings into one's minds eye soft and cozy images of times spent with special people at special places and in special circumstances with special foods. As children it can be a magical time, as a part of a holiday haze that serves as a precursor to Fall's ending and ushers in the Christmas season with all it's joy and pomp. It's a time when the construction paper laden bulletin boards in the classrooms would switch from Halloween's black hats and orange cats to multi colored fall leave cut outs laced with with pumpkins and turkeys and maybe a pilgrim's hat. It was a long weekend off from school and playing football in the backyard with the neighbors kids. It was a family and friend gathering time, and that time was precious. It was truly special. This is what I remember about Thanksgiving growing up.

As with so many parts of our national traditions the entertaining industry and media have created whole campaigns around the Thanksgiving Holiday The magazine industry has for years spewed out at us in images and articles ideas which would have us picture Thanksgiving as a Norman Rockwell painting come to life with all the sights and smells of a picture perfect world. Not that we all live in that Rockwellian Paradise, a parade of 1950's picture perfect families and houses decked to perfection with all the trappings of the season. Indeed some of us, maybe a very few, are blessed few live in a world like that. But most of us don't. We live in real families with real people who are not perfect and who, by the grace of God, somehow find their way through to loving and supporting one another and keeping it together. Therefore Thanksgiving can play various roles in our family's journey whether it be our birth family or chosen one. It can be a healing time and a time for reflecting on ourselves and our families, friends and our world and our place in it and in other peoples lives.

Too often holidays like Thanksgiving bring up sad or depressing memories or thoughts for people. That is a sad thing indeed when it should be a holiday when we focus on being thankful for what we have instead of focusing on what we don't have or feel deprived of. A story from my past reminds me of how grateful I should be and how I should count my blessings on Thanksgiving instead of wishing for something more.

When I was touring with the national tour of "Oliver!" the musical, I spent a Thanksgiving in California. It was a warm and wet day and we had two shows back to back. Now I tried to arrange for my cast mates and myself to have a nice "holiday" meal but when push came to shove we really did not have enough time to go out to a formal dinner, nor did everyone want to spend the money to do so.

Disheartened I decided to go with the flow. But when it was announced that we were going to Jack in the Box for dinner I about flipped out. I mean really it;s Thanksgiving!! Nonetheless I went with the flow, saddened further by missing my family and friends elsewhere and saddened by the circumstances. However, when we got to the Jack in the Box ( which is a fast food restaurant for those of you who don't know)  that is when I was really shocked. The restaurant was completely crowded and full. Full of families having dinner, parents and their kids. Full of people eating alone in silence, eating at the friggin Jack in the Box on Thanksgiving!!!

Suddenly I was ashamed of feeling badly about not having my special dinner on this special holiday. Indeed, all the years I was a child or even an adult I never once had anything like this as a holiday meal, let alone a time where my parents would choose to take me to something like that whether by choice or circumstance. Indeed I had only known a practically Norman Rockwell existence compared to this. And suddenly I was filled with gratitude. Graditude for my past, for my family, and for my friends from the show who I was with, who I loved and loved being with wherever we were. I was so grateful.

So this Thanksgiving when I am gathering around whatever table it may be with friends and loved ones I want to remember how blessed I am to have what I have, and try to resolve when the holiday is long past and all there is left is turkey sandwiches from the icebox and mountains of dishes, that blessings are all around and I should be grateful for all of them large and small and not be disheartened or discontent but be the change in the world around me for good giving back a little of what I have been given.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. And thanks for reading my blog all year. I would love to know who is out there reading and looking, so make comments on posts you like and give me feedback on what I can so to improve. Peace!

My Favorite Turkey Left Over Casserole

Turkey Swiss Fondue Casserole

3 to 4 cups of chopped leftover meat stripped from the Turkey ( Can also be made with cubed Ham)
1 pound Brussel sprouts halved
10 oz mushrooms sliced
1 large onion finely diced
2 cloves garlic minced
2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cups of whole milk
1/2 cup white wine
grated nutmeg
16 oz of swiss cheese grated ( gruyere is amazing but expensive)
4 oz of parmesan cheese grated
2 cups left over stuffing scattered on a sheet tray and dried out 2 hours outside the fridge 
1 cup ritz crackers crushed

In medium casserole add the turkey and all the veggies
In a pot melt butter add the onions and cook till just soft then add flour stirring about 3 to 4 mins till flour is cooked then add the garlic cook another minute.
Add the milk slowly and whisk till thickened then add wine to thin out till smooth 
Cook about 5 mins then add the swiss cheese till melted.
Add nice pinch of nutmeg
Pour over the Turkey Mixture
Mix the Stuffing, Parmesan, and the crackers together and top the dish
Bake in a a 350 degree oven for 45 mins
Take out let cool slightly and serve
Enjoy Ya'll and Happy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Creamed Spinach in Pastry Shells or Popeye The Sailor's New Favorite Side Dish

So it's Thanksgiving and everyone is trying to plan out their feasting menus, shopping for food and preparing for the day of days. In short crazy time. Well of the many things that I love to put on the menu I really never thought about Spinach as a vegetable for the Thanksgiving Day table but then I thought about the rest of the Holidays and the various foods we will consume and I decided Spinach could have it's place on the table, why not.

Now I love lightly cooked spinach with garlic and oil. I adore a spinach salad with a hot bacon dressing but I absolutely love creamed spinach. It's absolutely one of the best things ever made.

Now I think I first came across this dish when I was about 11. We had just moved to the Northern Virginia area from Hawaii and my father took us to a steak house for dinner called The Joshua Tree in McClean, Virginia. It was a rather fancy place with a stone facade and wooden accents and it was very popular. It was actually owned by the Marriott corporation and was a trial restaurant they wanted to grow into a new chain. It did not however pan out, and closed several years later.  Loud, dark and sexy with a bar full of young twenty somethings, it was exactly the kind of place my Parents sort of hated. But they took us there anyway because they had heard it was good. Well it really wasn't and we never went back. I really don't remember much except that the Host was kinda rude to my Dad and that at some point in the meal to the table came this small bowl of side dish deliciousness. It was a bowl of creamed spinach and how I had never seen this done at home was besides the point. The point was where could I get more!!

Spinach as a side dish has been one of those vegetables that had food lore grown up around it. High in vitamins and iron it was a natural for food companies to market as something Mom's should feed their little ones. Even the media got into it with "Popeye the Sailor man" eating his cans of spinach growing instant muscles and beating up Brutus the bad guy. In sort spinach has been a part of the American food landscape for a long time. Creamed Spinach was popularized in the late 1800's in New York city by steak houses in the city and became a staple. It's origins are likely in Swedish or Italian cookery which both have them as well known dishes. Normally flavored with a mixture of shallots or onions, garlic and nutneg as well as sometimes a creamy herb or parmesan cheese, it is luscious and rich and very very good. I have made it over the years and have made it using all of the above. This new version comes with the addition of ranch dressing spices and white cheddar and marscapone cheese. It is oh so very good.

So in this recipe the creamed spinach is served in a puff pastry cup and topped with a dollop of sour cream and a dash of salsa. It's a nod to the "Chicago Style" spinach dip which is served at the restaurant Houston's or Hillstone as many are called now.  A little unconventional but really good. So if you want an elegant side dish which is easily prepped ahead of time and warmed in the oven, try these. They were great. Enjoy Ya'll.

Creamed Spinach in Puff Pastry Shells

For the shells you can make your own or you can do what I do and buy the pepperidge farm ones and bake them according to the package directions. Cool and cut out the top caps. Set aside.

For the spinach ( this makes extra creamed spinach for leftovers or you can bake more shells up to 24 believe me every one will want two!! )
28 oz of fresh baby spinach leaves. That's about 6 packages of the grocery store pre-washed stuff.1
2  cups whole milk
4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoon butter
1 cup grated white cheddar cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese grated
1 small onion finely diced
2 cloves garlic minced
A couple of dashes of nutmeg
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons ranch seasoning mix from the Hidden Valley packet
4 oz marscapone cheese
Sour Cream for garnish
Salsa for garnish
salt and pepper to taste

Cook Spinach with a little oil in a pan until wilted and soft
In a large pot melt butter add onions and cook till soft add garlic and cook one min
add flour and cook for about another 3 mins
then add milk slowly till it blends into a white sauce season with salt and pepper
Add bay leaf and let cook over low heat for about 20 mins remove bay leaf and add the cheddar cheese and the parmesan stir to combine
Add the ranch spices the nutmeg and pepper. Taste and add salt if desired
Add spinach to sauce and combine well.
Add Marscapone and mix well.
Check again for salt add more nutmeg if desired as well if necessary.
Hold warm up to 2 hours stirring occasionally

When ready to serve heat the shells in a warm oven about 10 mins the fill till just almost overflowing with the spinach and top each with a dollop of sour cream and a spoonful of salsa Enjoy!!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thanksgiving Side Dishes and Vegetable Eater Wishes: Brussel Sprouts and Medjool Dates the Perfect Paring

Now as everyone knows the true stars of any meal are the side dishes. I mean Sides are the best and most memorable part of any meal if you really think about it. I have a friend that I would go to dinner with on a regular basis, and his interest was always in the side dishes that came with any meal. I mean lets face it, as kids how many family dinners were based around chicken or beef and how many were enhanced by the presence of delicious side dishes that made the meal more than winner winner chicken dinner.

I think this is seen no more strongly than with the holy grail meal of the year Thanksgiving. It is as I have shared before, my favorite meal. And lets face it Thanksgiving is never really about the Turkey, it's about the sides. Stuffings with everything from onions to oysters, Potatoes mashed or Gratinated, Vegetables of all sorts all prepared and dressed up with sauces, smoked meats, cheeses or cream. Fruits in salads or baked in pies and cakes. All in all a cast of thousands of side dishes waiting to be picked for the ultimate yearly feast.

Now in my world I also have the issue that there are some people who unlike myself don't eat meat. So as such I am careful at times to prepare foods I know with will OK with said folks. Thanksgiving is one meal that can be tough for vegetarians because so many dishes are prepared with a nod to the pig with bacon and Ham being a flavoring ingredient. But not to worry I have a preparation for brussel sprouts that will make every palate happy.

Now Brussel Sprouts are one of those vegetables that have become so popular that one wonders about the origin of their bad reputation. It is probably rooted in the American cooking methods of the past where boiling vegetables to their death was a common thing. With a cabbage like flavor and bitter edge a mushy wet sprout was hardly a tasty treat. So welcome to today where roasting or pan sauteing them brings out a delicious browned savory dish that people can literally sink their teeth into. Oh and lets not forget things like bacon cream and cheese that really pump up the volume on flavor.

My recipe follows these modern day methods and is in a work delicious. It has it's roots in Californian cooking actually where I first became aware of the idea of mixing fruits especially dried ones into savory dishes. And it comes about because of my introduction to the Medjool date. Medjool dates are the most prized among the dates in the world. They are so special that they are actually serve onboard several Arabic airlines they way the French would serve high end bonbons like a little treat during the flight. Fortunately they are available most of the year and are definitely available in the fall.

I first prepared this dish as a nod to a restaurant dish I had using caesar salad dressing on a salad of shaved sprouts and dried cranberries with croutons and onion. But it's inception really came after seeing dates served warm in a spinach salad with bacon dressing. Brussel Sprouts seemed the natural pairing for warm dates and the caesar idea drove home the rest.

So to make this dish you trim the bottoms off the brussel sprouts and slice them in halves. You also slice the dates in two to three pieces depending on the size. You then put a compound butter in a hot pan made with garlic, salt, pepper, anchovies, lemon juice and zest and parsley in a pan with a dash of olive oil and get it good and hot. Then you add the brussel sprouts and saute till just a little softened then add the dates and cook till the dates are warmed through and the sugars begin to caramelize slightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper and you are done.

People love these. And they could not be easier, just be careful not to over cook them. Please try them and let me know what you think. If you don't like anchovies don't worry you don't taste them they are just a background flavor. Enjoy Ya'll and Happy Thanksgiving!

Forrest's Brussel Sprouts with Medjool dates and compound garlic butter

1 lb brussel sprouts ends trimmed and cut in half
1 1/2 cup medjool dates sliced into  two to three pieces short ways not longwise depending on their size
4 tablespoons compound garlic butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Compound garlic butter
(this makes extra you can use for all sorts of uses)

1 stick softened butter unsalted
2 heaping tablespoon garlic minced puree from the jar
4 tablespoons lemon juice
   Zest of one small lemon
3 anchovies
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1 medium shallot finely diced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

In a bowl add all ingredients and cream together then chill at least 3 hours

For the sprouts 

In a pan ( a wok works well for this)  take 4 teaspoons of the butter and 1 tablespoon of oil and heat over medium high heat
When hot add brussel sprouts stirring to coat the sprouts then let sit for a few minutes stirring to get sprouts very slightly cooked about 3 to 4 mins then add the dates and the salt and pepper and carefully stir. ( you don't want the dates to completely break up)
Cook till the brussel sprouts are just cooked and the dates are beginning to caramelize about another 2 to 4 mins then turn off the heat and serve add salt if needed
Enjoy Ya'll!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Garlic bread

You can say what you want but bread and butter are an unstoppable combination. There is just something about hot right out of the oven bread served with salted room temperature butter that just makes everything better.

When I was a kid my Grandma who lived with us would make sandwiches with butter instead of mayonnaise. I thought it was brilliant my brother thought it was gross. Of course my brother and I also disagreed on the whole Miracle Whip vs. Mayo debate as well. I love Miracle Whip and he hates it so we always chose to disagree on those topics. One thing we both agreed on though, hot buttery garlic bread is always a good thing.

Now garlic bread is something that gets a bad rap I think. So much garlic bread is kinda badly done. For example you can definitely taste the difference between frozen garlic bread and garlic bread made from scratch. Although I will say that "Cole's" brand garlic bread in the freezer is pretty darn good.
But I digress. The best garlic bread I ever had was the garlic bread at a place called Vienna Trattoria in Vienna Virginia. My family would go there for Pizza on movie nights and besides the pizza dough being spiced ever so slightly with nutmeg which was actually rocking good, they had the best garlic cheese bread I have ever had. So rich and juicy and cheesy and good. It was the best part of the meal. And like the cheddar garlic biscuits at Red Lobster it was addictive.

Now make regular garlic bread when I make my Half Time Scallops dish and use it to mop up the sauce. But I also make it when I make simple spaghetti and meat sauce and when I make roasted Oysters. However garlic cheese bread is for special occasions and dishes that need a boost like a big dinner salad or soup meal. That's when this bread is the best. You can also serve it with Cioppino the San Francisco seafood stew. It's great with that.

So now that the weather is getting colder and we are enjoying warming foods that make out tongues and tummies happy. So get in on this stuff it's good! Enjoy Ya'll.

"Garlic Herby Cheesey Bread"

So this is my super secret ( not really) recipe for garlic cheese bread. Those of you who have had it know of it's goodness, those who have not, should make it!

1 large loaf fresh good quality sourdough french or Italian Bread or Ciabatta works well
1/2 Stick butter at room temperature
4 ounces of Boursin cheese room temp
3/4 cup Mayonaise
6 cloves ( about 1/4) cup cut in half
1/2 cup fresh parsley finely chopped ( half reserved for sprinkling over the top)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoons dried Italian Seasoning
4 whole green onions chopped
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup Shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

Slice the bread in half longwise
Melt 1/2 of the butter and place garlic in it and let sit on warm heat till garlic is infused about 10 mins then strain garlic let cool
In a bowl add all ingredients including the rest of the butter.
Stir well to combine
Cut loaf in half length-wise
Spread melted butter on bread
Spread mixture on top
Place open faced on baking sheet
Bake at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 mins till bubbly
Slice and serve warm!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Beef Bourguignon and Channeling Julia Child

Many years ago I saw a television program that in some way changed my life. It was the French Chef with Julia Child.

Now I know that over the past few years there has been an enormous amount of press and interest in Julia Child's life and work due to both her portrayal in the book and film Julia and Julia and also because her shows were rebroadcast on the newly minted Cooking Channel. People of all ages know of her and even those who know little of her have of course heard of her now very famous version of the dish which features in the title of this blog entry.

So if you think that I am going to rehash and remake and lay laurels on the hallowed tomes that contain this recipe in print and in television media you are wrong. In fact I find it interesting that so many people have taken to the idea that one person could have the definitive recipe for a dish which comes from the countryside of France and is made by about as many people as make pot roast in the US.

Not to say that Ms.Child's recipe is not amazing. It is in fact just that. Near to tasty perfection as one could possibly get. But it is not the only recipe or method for making this hallowed dish. I say hallowed dish because it is to me one of the most iconic stews in the catalog of Western cooking and certainly one of the most favored in it's class.

I say it because her method while classic is one method. And it's a lot of work! A lot of work. So I will give you my recipe for Beef Bourguignon which I will say is also amazing. It is however slightly different from the original. However, given the reactions of people who have had it still pretty darn good. In fact it's very darn good.

Now my love and respect for Ms. Child is very deep and I credit her with my fascination with cooking and cooking television. I can remember her show coming on in reruns on Saturday afternoons and watching it with my Grandma. I was entranced by this somehow elegant and yet accessible lady and the interesting things one learned from her show about cooking and food.

The first time I ever had Beef Bourguignon was when I was 19 and living in Switzerland. One family I knew invited us over for dinner and the wife who was french made Beef Bourguignon. There in that dining room in the sparkling candle light I knew why it was an amazing dish. Succulent and rich it was the embodiment of winter comfort food. Incredible.

So when I about 10 years ago decided to make Beef Bourguignon I thought about using Julia's recipe. The problem was two fold. I was visiting a friend's mountain house and there was neither the internet nor was there a braising pot. However, there was a slow cooker and a slow cooker recipe booklet that had come with the crock pot. So inspired with this recipe and cooking tool I went to the market got the ingredients and made the dish. It was really good, no really. So I was satisfied that I had made the recipe to a respectable level and made it this way for years. Then it all changed.

My friend's Ken and Rick invited me over to a dinner party one evening and Rick announced that he had made Julia's Beef Bourguignon recipe and we would be having it for dinner. Well it was revelatory. Amazing, incredible. And I felt compelled to try it. So armed with the recipe I too made Julia's recipe and again the results were amazing. But oh my God it was a process.

So I decided there had to be an easier way with a few less steps. And I think I found it. It's been tried out a number of times and with some changes finally is to a point where I would say that if you want to make this dish and amaze people ( it certainly did at my birthday party this year) you can use my recipe. It's a little more work than a crock pot recipe but I won't kid you it's still based on it. So give it a try this fall or winter and let me know in the comments how it goes. Enjoy Ya'll!

Forrest's Beef Bourguignon Recipe
Serves 6 really well can serve 8

4 1/2 pounds of chuck stew meat cubed
oil for cooking
Four for coating the beef
1 white onion finely chopped
1 carrot finely diced
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary powder
3 bay leaves dried
1 small can tomato paste
4 strips of bacon chopped
1 bottle rich red wine
2 cans beef broth
1 bag frozen pearl onions
1 bag frozen carrot balls ( I buy them from Trader Joe's)
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 lb butter
1/4 cup brandy
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 300
In a large bowl toss the beef with enough flour to coat
In a heavy enameled baking casserole brown beef in batches till done
Don't overcrowd or the beef till steam ad you want some browning
Hold browned beef to the side
Cook the bacon till just done remove from pan leave the drippings
Cook the onions in the drippings till soft add carrots and cook another minute
Using some wine deglaze the bits from the bottom of the pan
Add the beef, the bacon, the tomato paste, the spices the salt and pepper and stir
Then pour in the rest of the wine and then add enough beef broth till just covered
Place in the oven for about 2 1/2 hours. At this point check with a fork to see if the meat is tender. If it is remove from the oven if not cook another 30 mins.
Once cooled a little take the beef from the liquid using a strainer or spider
Place the carrots and the pearl onions on a baking sheet
Turn oven to 375 and roast for 20 mins or until just done
Remove and set aside
With the liquid slightly cool now with a spoon skim off the fat
Turn the heat on high and boil till reduced by not quite half
Add butter and brandy and cook another 3 to 5 minutes then turn off heat
Season to taste with salt and pepper
Turn off heat and add the beef and the vegetables stir very gently to coat with the sauce
Place in the oven to reheat at 350 for another 20 to 30 mins till warmed through
Serve with mashed potatoes