Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving in the Yellow House

I have a dirty little secret. I am not much of a Thanksgiving fan.

I love being surrounded by family. I love the idea of a day of thanks. I love food. Just not Thanksgiving food. I blame this lack of feeling on the many classes I teach in the weeks prior to Thanksgiving. By the time the last class is over, the last thing I want to do is prepare another feast even if this time, it's for my family. I have memories of wonderful Thanksgiving meals as a child so why am I the Thanksgiving version of Scrooge?

It should go without saying that Doug's favorite meal is Thanksgiving. Of course the kids are following in his footsteps. As the fabulous wife and mother I strive to be, I try. A few years back when we settled into a meal including just our family of six, I came up with a plan. Everyone is involved in the meal planning and preparation of at least one dish.

Doug's job is the turkey. There is always one smoked and always one roasted indoors, for gravy.
Truly, no one smokes a turkey better than Doug.

Max, is preparing a brussels sprout gratin with caramelized shallots. Really tasty. So tasty it has turned many Brussel sprouts haters into lovers. Really. Even Doug.  I made my own caramelized shallots instead of using the jar but either is really delicious.

Jake's number one job is comedic relief. He is dishwasher extraordinaire. This year his crowning glory was the Sausage, Fennel and Wild Mushroom Dressing. Delicious.

My most favorite part of this preparation plan is the making of the cranberry relish. The first year my Grandmother was without my Grandfather on Thanksgiving she came to stay with us. Jake was just over two and they worked together to make fresh cranberry relish with her meat grinder. I still see them in my mind's eye working together - a snapshot I'll always cherish. This year Henry handled Grandma's grinder. Fresh cranberries, quartered apples and oranges go into the hopper unpeeled. Cranked through the grinder into a bowl and stirred with a few tablespoons of sugar. I love this stuff and eat most of it. I still can't get over "Can-berry" is the sauce of choice for everyone else. *sigh*

Ella has discovered an infinite love of pumpkin pie so she was on dessert duty. She helped assemble the crust and stirred all the filling ingredients together. It's so nice to have a partner in pie. Wasn't it considerate of me to share my insane sweet tooth with her? Through the many classes I have taught, I've tried many wonderful pumpkin pie recipes all creative, flavorful and interesting. Regardless, every Thanksgiving I turn to Libby. Nothing like the pie recipe from my youth topped with copious amounts of softly whipped, lightly sweetened cream. YUM!

Doug's turkey was the best. The Brussels sprouts tasty and taste changing. Our stuffing delicious. I love the Grandma's cranberry relish but the proud and smiling face of it's maker is the best. I can think of nothing better than sharing a pie with my daughter.

We have a lovely tradition happening here in the yellow house. I just may be growing into a person who really loves Thanksgiving.

I am so thankful.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Heritage Turkey

Welcome! The door to the yellow house is open.

I must admit that while I have been inordinately busy lately, I have truly missed my yellow house blog and am glad to be back to it. I must also admit that I think the break was a good chance to refresh. I am inspired and have lots of ideas rattling around. Interesting things brewing in the kitchen. New cooking classes on the books. Creative Christmas projects calling for attention. Unfortunately, before the glitter hits the fan, we need to get through Thanksgiving.

I have taught more than my fair share of Thanksgiving classes this year and prepared many tables worth of Thanksgiving dishes. Usually, by the time our own dinner rolls around, I am content to begin pulling out the Christmas decorations while Doug focuses on his favorite meal of the year.

So when given the oppotunity to try something new, I jumped at the chance. This adventure started with a trip to the farm. I met the rest of the family I have come to know at the green market from whom I buy my eggs. Seeing their farmhouse which has been in their family since 1893 was a thrill. This family now raises turkeys, ducks, chicken and sheep. In addition, they offer select vegetables and black walnuts from their property. I have the utmost respect for the way they have chosen to continue in the tradition of their ancestors.

This rather ugly looking bird is a Black Spanish Turkey. A heritage breed, being saved by some wonderful farmers. These breeds fell out of favor, when the appeal of white breast meat made growers gravitate towards Broad Breasted Whites, which now amount to 99% of the birds raised in this country. Heritage breeds are, however, making a comeback. Those concerned with biodiversity and appreciative of the greater depth of flavor of these breeds are happy to spend extra, a lot extra, to help save this turkey.

I had the opportunity to roast one of these birds for a GGM Community Winter Market yesterday. I was a bit nervous, having never roasted a bird like this. They are not injected with saline and tend to be leaner so they cook faster. To ensure a moist bird, I brined it and then used a compound butter under the skin. Roasted on a rack with 4 cups of stock in the pan, tented with oiled parchment, I roasted it at 375 and was shocked when this 14 pounder was done in about 2 hours.

Here he/she is in all his/her glory. It turned out beautifully and was as tasty as I was promised. I am proud that this tastefully roasted bird generated sales for the family that raised it.

It's not often in today's world that we get to see something through, start to finish. More often than not, we each play a part, a small role in the creation of a product or a project. Having the opporunity to see where this animal came from, then prepare it, serve it and encourage more sales for the grower is a wonderful thing.

I am so proud and very thankful for my small part.

For more information on heritage turkeys check out or

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Please Stand By...

...I am having technical difficulties. My beloved camera, a hand-me-down from friends, has expired. Those same friends, have offered to help me purchase the camera of my dreams so I am in the shopping phase. I want to make a good decision and get a camera to fulfill my modest skills and give me room to grow into a better photographer. I had never had a digital camera before this one and I never new how much I was missing. Now it's absence is felt all the time, most recently when noticing a vintage pottery filled with persimmons awash in some of the best sun we've had in weeks. Bummer.

Until my new toy comes to fruition, I'll think of new things to make. Maybe they'll included apples.....or persimmons.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

New Projects and Old Favorites

Many things have been happening at the yellow house as of late. The great big maples have been trimmed. We are in the process of replacing our roof and gutters. Only in an old house do the expensive projects go hand in hand with expensive surprises. Yaayy! The dinosaur in the basement has been replaced with a new, more efficient and tax deductible model. Enjoying a warm and evenly heated house has been a pleasure.

A cozy house has been particularly nice because we've all been sick. Since the beginning of October someone has been under the weather. Sick and tired mom with sick and tired kids doesn't inspire beautiful meals. This is, of course, tremendously frustrating for me.

A week ago Monday, when we were almost out of food and I was stuck at home with a very sick Ella, I had to be creative. For some reason, a sandwich my mother and grandmother made came to mind. Maybe it came to me because I had canned tuna and lots of hamburger buns leftover from Halloween sloppy joes. Nonetheless, the notion was delivered in the warm, fuzzy mist of childhood memories.

Here it is...the Tunabunstead! (this is what Grandma called it and I have no idea how to spell it)
A tuna melt with thousand island dressing, cheddar cheese and sweet pickle. Wrapped in foil and warmed in the oven. A delicious childhood memory.

Pedestrian? Possibly. Warm and cheesy on a cold night? Definitely. One of those things that I'll never be too "gourmet" to make. Absolutely!

The tuna bunstead thing got me thinking about the dishes our moms put on the table because they were fast, or cheap or at the ready in the pantry. While some we may be happy to have gone the way of the old furnace, others are classics meant to be handed down.

Pumpcakes are one of these that I'd like to share. Every October for as long as I can remember Mom made these little pumpkin treats. For me it's not autumn without them. I am happy to say it's not autumn for my kids without them either.

This perfect after school treat takes 5 minutes to put together.

1 Spice Cake Mix
2 eggs
2/3 cup water
15 oz. pumpkin puree

Mix the ingredients listed above with a hand/stand mixer, per directions on box. Fold in 12oz. chocolate chips.

Scoop into tiny lined muffin cups and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 12-14 minutes. They can also be made full size for an event bigger treat.

Happy Autumn!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Henry is (really) 6!

Today my baby is 6. Six years ago, our (sort of) surprise was brought into a family desperate for him to arrive. Jake was 7, Max 5 and Ella 3. It was a fun pregnancy because the kids were so excited. There was debate as to boy or girl and then the subsequent debate over names for our baby boy. Henry Aden is one of a kind.

I have a friend whose third boy is a hoot. He is always good for laughs. Knowing the challenges his mother faced with a third baby born very close to the second, while building a house and moving I chuckle when I see him just being him. God brought him to her for a reason, and in sending him included a good dose of humor. Her Nicholas is my Henry.

I have enjoyed every bit of child rearing, sleepless nights and poop (yes, poop) under my fingernails included. Henry is a gift that enabled me to enjoy all the glamorous things motherhood brings - a bit more.

While I am so very sad to see the end of an era continue it is with great anticipation I look forward to what's around the corner. I love them all for every joy, trial and tribulation they have brought to my life. Probably the best testament is that I'd do it all again tomorrow.

Now on to what is really important...

Henry's cake of choice was chocolate with chocolate frosting. No bells. No whistles. No extra chocolate - much to Ella's disappointment. I used a new chocolate cake recipe since the Martha One Bowl recipe has a tendency to sink and/or overflow. Dorie Greenspan's Cocoa Buttermilk Birthday Cake with Jess's Super Chocolate Buttercream decorated with Dots (he loves Dots) and sprinkles. It was good but not as good as Martha's sinking and overflowing or not.

The cake picture is "the one" I have to have for the record book, but I always love a good shot of them just being themselves.

Happy Birthday, Baby One!

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Barefoot Contessa

Sometimes I think I am the last person in the world to jump on the Barefoot Contessa bandwagon. Perhaps it's because I am not a fan of her show but I've never really pursued her recipes or books. I received a gift certificate to a book store for my birthday and decided, after much perusing, the Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics was a book I needed to add to my collection.

I brought it home read through it, page by page. When I closed the book, I was inspired by many, many recipes and didn't know where to start first. Soup is always a safe bet and very popular in the yellow house. There were lots and lots of leeks at the market so I started with the Roasted Potato Leek Soup. I've made potato leek soup before but the roasted aspect sounded especially interesting.

Yukon Gold potatoes and chopped leeks are roasted about 40 minutes until tender and beginning to caramelize a bit.

At the end of the roasting time, toss 3 cups of arugula in with the potatoes and leeks and return to the oven for 5 minutes or so.

Across two burners of the cook top, deglaze the pan with a bit of wine. Interesting technique I think. The rest is simple. The directions say to process in a Cuisinart. I put everything into the soup pot and used the immersion blender to puree it. Easy and fewer dishes.

The soup is enriched with heavy cream AND creme fraiche. Before serving a bit more wine and parmesan cheese is stirred in. I think gruyere would be a nice choice, too. The suggested garnish is crispy shallots. I love my family a lot but didn't really think they would miss the shallots. They didn't, a sprinkle of parmesan cheese was all they needed.


To round it out, I made a salad of spinach, pears, fresh fennel and blue cheese drizzled with maple vinaigrette. (thanks to Moveable Feast for the inspiration.) I loved the soup but I think I may have eaten more salad than soup.

So, I am a changed cook. I've added the Contessa to my shelves and have gained inspiration to last through least.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pumpkins, Pumpkins, Pumpkins

It's pumpkin season. I love pumpkins and typically buy too many and have them all over the house for Halloween and Thanksgiving. I prefer the fat, round ones and a dramatic stem makes them even better. These little pie pumpkins made great decor...and then I decided to cook them.

This year, daunted by the pumpkin crisis, I decided I should make some homemade pumpkin puree. Just in case the shortage lasted longer than the five or so various sized cans I had stockpiled and forgotten. I felt I should be prepared.

Can you have too much pumpkin puree?

I think it's easier to roast pumpkins for puree, as you would with squash. Cut in half, pull out the seeds and pulp and place cut side down in a pan with a bit of water. The water keeps the pumpkin from drying out. With squash, I sometimes skip the water, the caramelized edges are tasty. For the puree, I wanted to get as much pulp as possible. There was shortage, remember?

The other way to approach this is by peeling and cubing the pumpkin flesh. This is the method I used for making pumpkin curd. I've found that peeling a pumpkin is only slightly easier than peeling a butternut squash. I certainly could have roasted the pumpkin for the curd as well but I tend to be a rule follower first time around with recipes.

Next into my trusty food mill. A food mill makes beautiful purees for projects of this nature, leaving behind any stringy bits or tough pieces of skin missed in the peeling process, something a food processor can't do.

If you are making puree for future projects, at this point you are done. I ladle 2-4 cups into freezer bags, label and lay them flat in the freezer for easier storage. When you want to use some, defrost at room temperature and proceed with your recipe.

The puree earmarked for curd went back into the cooking pot with lemon zest and juice, sugar and butter. Simmered for a bit - the recipe says 15 minutes (but mine was on longer) until the sugar dissolves. I think the final result is delicious. It's sweet, as a curd can be, and really fragrant with citrus. The applications are numerous, pancakes, biscuits, English muffins, scones, waffles, or ice cream would be lovely topped with a spoonful.

Since I had so much curd, I decided to heat process some of it. I think this was a good idea only because the butter separated. Perhaps with a bit of a stir, and dolloped onto a hot biscuit, all would be well. Should I do it again, I'd save myself the trouble of the hot water bath. It would keep well under refrigeration.

I think I'll go ahead and share a few jars as Thanksgiving treats anyway. Everyone needs a little pumpkin, especially when there is a shortage.

Pumpkin Curd
adapted from the Preserving Companion

4# pumpkin, peeled and deseeded
1/2 cup water
4# sugar
2 sticks butter
juice and zest of 4 lemons

Cut the pumpkin flesh into cubes. Boil in the water until tender and then press through a strainer. Return to the pan. Add the sugar, butter, lemon juice and zest. Stir well and simmer for 15 minutes. Pour into jars. Seal, label and refrigerate.