Tonight wrapped a long day that stretched into a late business dinner. This post is doubling as a test of the Typepad iPad app. Tomorrow, we can return to recipes!
It's been eleven months since I last posted, so let's dust this thing off and go for a month of daily posts again! Last year on November 2nd, I posted pictures of my son as he was sworn into the United States Marine Corps. Today, my barely 18 year old son is wrapping up his last month of boot camp in San Diego at Camp Pendleton.
The year leading up to Alex's departure was tough on me. The littlest things could prompt crying jags, and I spent the better part of Labor Day weekend in tears. Alex's platoon had the final swearing in ceremony on the field before the Minnesota Twins baseball game on Labor Day. This elevated an already momentous occasion to new emotional levels for me. My husband, who is stepfather to Alex and his twin siblings, was just as emotional as I...possibly worse, since I practically cried myself dry at some point the day before Alex's final swearing in ceremony.
The young men and women marched on to the field, accompanied by several Marines who themselves were sworn in at a Twins game in 1967. The author of a book about their experience in Vietnam, Christy Sauro, Jr., was among them.
I packed extra handkerchiefs, which proved useful when Alex's name was emblazoned on the scoreboard.
Afterwards, the Marines treated family members to a lovely rooftop reception at Seven, a sky bar in downtown Minneapolis. The weather was flawless. I looked at the young men and women sworn in with Alex...none seemed old enough for the enormous responsibility ahead. They looked both confident and nervous, certainly still coasting on the ovation and outpouring of gratitude shown them at the baseball game three hours earlier.
I hugged my son more that last weekend than I had in the last five years combined. His last words to me before he joined his platoon mates, were "See you in thirteen weeks!" He smiled broadly, and I wept as I remembered him as a five year old, climbing on to the school bus for the first time. He climbed the bus stairs and never looked back. That was the first time I truly realized...they're all going to leave one day...the diapers, the little shoes, the Matchbox cars and Legos...it's all temporary. Someday, I realized that morning thirteen years ago, I will have to say goodbye for real. September 6th was the first goodbye. It's clear to me that my son is never again going to need his mom...at least in the role I've held the last 18 years. I'm sure he'll ask my advice, and hopefully my duties as a grandmother will be called on at some point, but he doesn't need my permission, or approval, or financial support any more. That is sad, but that is a job well done, too.
The letters from boot camp are both hilarious and worrisome, but I can sense a maturity in my oldest son that wasn't there in August. I'll bring a bale of handkerchiefs with me to Camp Pendleton, because I know Alex's transformation will bring a new wave of tears-both joyful and sad.
After I left home, my mom would regularly send me a package of Heggy's peanut brittle. It's almost not worth the effort of making it yourself when it's so readily available, but I haven't found a supplier here in the Twin Cities that matches my hometown's product. It's been thirty plus years since I last tried my hand at peanut brittle, and that was as an apprentice to my mom who was using our brand new microwave oven instead of a stovetop. I thought I'd give it a try and see if the effort was justified.
This is a recipe that requires patience for most of the process, then urgent and swift attention at the end. Side story-during my baking marathon a few years ago, I grew tired of listening to the same Christmas CD's over and over. So, I turned on the TV and searched for programming that would keep me entertained during some of the more mindless tasks and inevitable waiting periods of baking. I happened on the documentary about the Ramones, End of the Century. If you loved punk rock back in the day, this is a must see. The music is awesome and the story of the band is surprisingly poignant.
Anyway, I spent the rest of that baking time listening to early punk music on a DirectTV channel that has since been replaced. Idiots. Thank God for Pandora. Now I make Christmas cookies while listening to festive songs from The Clash, Talking Heads, The Misfits, the Sex Pistols...you get the picture. That three chord progression and those rapid gunfire drums make my task seem so much less tedious and monotonous.
Back to the peanut brittle-hey ho, let's go!
Perfect Peanut Brittle
Get your ingredients ready just as I have them above. Once you hit the temperature markers, you need to be ready to move fast, fast, fast. Time is of the essence when you're making any kind of hard candy.
Heat and stir sugar, syrup and water in a heavy 3-quart saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Add salt.
Cook over medium heat to soft ball stage (234 degrees). Add peanuts at 250 degrees.
Stirring is critical at this point, but it will feel at first as if you have too many nuts and the candy isn't cooperating. Stick with it. I had Annelise help me by holding the thermometer until the candy reached 290°.
Cook to hard crack stage (290 degrees), stirring often. Remove from heat. Quickly stir in the butter, vanilla and baking soda. Beat to a froth for a few seconds.
Pour the candy onto the buttered cookie sheets, spreading well or stretching mixture with two forks in order to get the candy as thin as possible.
The verdict? It's every bit as good as Heggy's and it only cost about $2.50 for this batch. Gabba gabba hey!
These yummy pastries are definitely in my top three of all time favorite cookies. They're made with real butter, they contain pecans and the dough is kept in the freezer until they're ready to bake. I almost always have a few rolls in the freezer during the holidays so I can pop a batch in the oven when company shows up.
My dad claims that my grandma made these, but I don't remember them. Of course, I was still a picky eater back in the day, so maybe I just turned my nose up at them. I found the recipe in The Christmas Cookie Book, one of my favorite cookbooks for this time of year.
These are great cookies for shipping because they're not crumbly. They're just wonderfully buttery and dense and rich.
Butterscotch Pecan Icebox Cookies
Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and pecans in a bowl and set aside. In a small, heavy saucepan (preferably not a dark colored pan-you need to see the butter activity) over moderately low heat, melt the butter and simmer it slowly until it is a deep golden yellow and the sediment at the bottom has browned very slightly.
If the sediment has burned, strain it through a cheesecloth lined sieve into a glass measuring cup. (Mine was perfectly browned, but I created a mock-up for you to see)
Combine the butter and brown sugar well in a mixing bowl.
Preheat the oven to 375°. Remove the rolls from the freezer, place on cutting board and slice discs 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. (I prefer mine a little thicker.) Arrange the cookies on a parchment covered cookie sheet one inch apart. Spreading won't be an issue with these.
Bake for 9 to 11 minutes on a center rack, just until the edges of the cookie are golden brown. Cool and store in airtight containers for up to a week, freeze for up to two months. They're always impressive for spontaneous cookies, and they're lovely with morning coffee or a tall glass of milk.
One of the reasons I love these cookies so much is that my kids don't particularly like them. Of course, this can mean only one thing. All the more for me!
Well, I did it.
I posted every single day this month, after an 18 month hiatus. Granted, several of the posts were phone-ins at best, but I accomplished a goal. I am still going to post cookie recipes next month. I'm not ruling out another 31 day posting streak either.
Here are some recipes I'll be including next month:
Some of these are annual traditions, others I haven't made for decades and the rest are projects I've always wanted to try. I will be making quite a bit in anticipation of a visit to a group home on Sunday. Never one to show up empty handed, I plan on bringing a cookie basket to the residents and supervisors.
I'll see you all back here tomorrow!
I wish I could have summoned the energy for a new post today, but I think I'm still recovering from Thanksgiving. I've been nursing a cold since Wednesday, and it's left me a little weak and fatigued. Cookie recipes to come this week, though! Promise!
In the meantime, I'll show you the obstacles I deal with in the kitchen on a daily basis. Clark is notorious for plopping his carcass right in the middle of the kitchen floor while I prepare meals. I'm often forced to juggle platters and dishes while I step over his bulk. The new fellow, Remy, seems to be taking after the Alpha Male's bad habits.
The first few days were rocky, but I must admit, the little guy has won me over. He's so gangly and eager to please, I just can't resist him. As I worked around the kitchen last week, he followed me everywhere while the other two dogs slumbered upstairs. He watched every task I performed with a genuine curiosity.
In the nick of time, I'm still in the NaBloPoMo!
I'm going to wrap up NaBloPoMo, and start December with cookie recipes for Christmas baking! We'll see how daring and bold I feel about daily posting once this month ends.
While technically not a cookie, Peppermint Bark is a very seasonal treat, and perfect for homemade gift baskets. This tastes every bit as good as Ghiradelli's Peppermint Bark. Aesthetically, it's not as perfect in form, but I like the rustic appearance.
I don't recommend doubling this recipe, instead just make it one batch at a time. It's quick going, about thirty minutes start to finish.
Perfectly Easy Peppermint Bark
Line a 13x9 glass baking pan with a sheet of foil. Spread the semi-sweet chips over the bottom and put in the oven at 250° for five minutes. Do not leave it in beyond that. When chocolate burns and seizes up, there's no going back. Start a shallow pot of water on the stove to create a double boiler for the white chocolate.
Next, spread the chocolate chips evenly across the foil.
Now refrigerate the chocolate for 20 minutes. This is the perfect amount of time. You don't want to leave it in for less time, because the white chocolate mixture will melt it too easily resulting in a swirl of chocolates. More time causes condensation on the surface of the semi-sweet chocolate and prevents adhesion of the next layer. The darker chocolate layer should not be glossy when removed. If it still has a bit of gloss, put the pan in the freezer for one minute, that should do the trick.
While you're cooling the pan, crush four candy canes in a plastic bag. As a candy cane connoisseur, I admit to a preference for Bob's candy canes. The peppermint flavor is pure and true, not cinnamon tinged. The crushed candy canes should have a few chunky pieces, but don't crush them into dust either.
Now melt the while chocolate over a double boiler if you have one, or use a bowl that will not touch the boiling water when held over a pot. White chocolate is dainty, and it seizes up faster than it's darker counterparts.
Continue to stir them, until no lumps remain. Remove from heat as soon as the mixture is smooth. Add the peppermint extract.
Let the mixture cool ever so slightly after removing from heat. The process takes a little less than the 20 minute cooling time for the darker chocolate, which works out perfectly. You want the white chocolate to be spreadable, but not so warm that it will melt the semi-sweet layer on contact.
Work quickly to spread the white chocolate layer. Don't fuss with it too much. Just pour it on top of the semi-sweet layer. This is a great project for two people to do in tandem, but it's not terribly complicated for one cook either.
Last week, I walked into Cub Foods with a coupon for a Jennie-o Turkey for thirty-nine cents a pound. With visions of Thanksgiving dancing in my head, I was determined to find a big bird. Amazingly, there were several thirty pound turkeys in the freezer. Lifting with my knees, I hefted one into my cart. I then called my sister and asked her if she had ever roasted one that big. Her answer was negative. Like me, she had never even seen one that size before.
To the Internet!
My Google searches yielded dire warnings about cooking a bird that size. It would be dry as sawdust, it won't fit in the oven, you can't find a roaster big enough, don't even think about stuffing a bird that big, and on and on and on. I brined and stuffed my turkey last year, and planned on doing the same this year, but once again, the Internet advised against it.
People. The Internet is wrong!
I am here to tell you that brining a frozen turkey will yield a moist, delicious bird and a marvelous gravy...even if it's 30 pounds. You can cook stuffing inside the bird, and you won't bring a plague of salmonella on your family.
Even though this recipe is too late for Thanksgiving 2010, you can still go to Cub foods until Saturday and snag one of those Jennie-o Turkeys for 39¢ per pound. Make one for Christmas! My thirty pounder didn't even set me back twelve bucks, and the family will have glorious leftovers all weekend! Which also means I don't have to cook all weekend on the heels of an all night marathon last evening.
There are two secrets to a perfectly moist turkey.
The first is Lunds & Byerly's Turkey Brining Blend.
Last year, I called every Williams-Sonoma store in the Twin Cities in an attempt to secure their brine solution. Store staff told me they had been sold out for weeks. Lunds & Byerly's is an upscale grocery chain here in the Twin Cities, and they carry gourmet items not usually found in run of the mill grocery chains. I snagged the very last bottle of this stuff two days before Thanksgiving 2009. It was a revelation.
The other trick to my perfect turkey is Kitchen Basics Turkey Stock.
Here's the specifics.
Amy's Perfect 30 Pound Roast Turkey
Prepare the brining solution in a large stockpot according to package directions.
Rinse the turkey thoroughly inside and out and place in the brining bag. The bag and turkey should be placed inside a roaster big enough to support them. Allow the turkey to brine for 16 hours if it is a frozen turkey that has been pre-injected with a sodium solution, or up to 24 hours for a fresh turkey. Do not brine for longer than 24 hours, and turn the turkey at least once during the brining period if it's not completely submerged in the solution.
Once complete, remove the turkey from the brine and rinse it inside and out under cold water for several minutes. Some of the brine spices will be embedded in the skin, that's okay.
Place the turkey in a deep roaster. I prefer one with a lid, but use foil to create a tight tent if you don't have a lid. Allow the turkey to dry out for about a half hour after removing from the brine. This insures a crisp, brown skin during roasting.
Preheat oven to 325°. Pour the quart of turkey stock in the bottom of the roaster, then throw in several sprigs of fresh thyme. Insert a thermometer deep into the bird, being careful not to touch bone. Leave the bird alone for several hours. For my thirty pound bird, I kept it covered at 325° for five hours, until the internal temperature was about 150°. At that point, I took the roaster cover off, and basted the bird every 15 minutes for the next hour. The internal temperature registered just below 165°-the ideal temperature. I took the bird out of the oven and let it sit for another 45 minutes under a tight foil tent(the bird will continue to cook once removed from the oven), until it was time to make the gravy with the drippings. The skin was a lovely golden brown hue, and initial tastes of the meat had Steve loudly declaring this the best turkey ever.
When we pulled the bird out of the roaster, it came out it actually fell apart in neat sections because it was so moist. The pan juices were sublime. I didn't need to add anything else to the gravy to enhance the flavor. The breast meat wasn't dry at all. The giblet stuffing was lovely, I put it in a bowl and returned it to the oven to crisp the exterior up a bit. Everything was delicious.
I recommend you have someone to help you if you're cooking a bird larger than 23 pounds. Getting the bird in and out of the brining bag is awkward and messy, and a roaster with a 30 pound bird inside is also a challenge. Overall though, this is a foolproof method with glorious results. Don't wait until next Thanksgiving to try it!