Posted by: Catherine | December 21, 2009

Apple-Sausage Turkey Stuffing

I can’t tell you how sick I am of this stuffing. Every year I suggest a multitude of alternatives, and every year Bruce insistsinsistsinsists on the same old/same old. Truth be told, I could do without the turkey dinner altogether. It takes forever to make and twice as long as that to clean up. And what a messy cleanup it is what with the roasting pan, the syrupy mess made by the sweet potatoes and graving drippings that manage to find their way all over the house.

But being the wonderful wife that I am (and enjoying the crispy wings…and sandwiches for the next eight days’s worth of lunches and dinners), I go ahead and make turkey with stuffing and all the trimmings every holiday season.

Oh, I am wonderful….

Here’s what I do: Saute one huge diced brown onion in oil with five or six stalks diced celery. Remove from pan and add salt and pepper. Now saute at least six Italian sausages, meat removed from casings. Cook until done, and add to the onion mixture. Just for a laugh I thought I’d trick Bruce and add a few diced Granny Smith apples this time around (I thought it was an improvement, not sure he noticed), which I sauted in the same pan with some butter (obviously, get rid of the sausage grease first). When the apples are soft, return onion mixture to the pan and add bread–I used La Brea’s stuffing this year and I thought it was a giant ripoff; go ahead and use Marie Callender’s or whatever is on sale–and at least half a stick of butter plus at least one can (yes, “can”…not homemade though you surely could) of chicken stock. Cook on low heat until well mixed. Refrigerate until ready to stuff bird.

Now, I divide stuffing lovers into two groups: those who prefer it cooked inside the bird so it stays moist and the turkey’s natural juices further flavor it and those who prefer it baked in a casserole until it’s all dried out and very nearly tasteless. I rest my case.

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Posted by: Catherine | December 17, 2009

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes…pancakes with butter and maple syrup…Ffettuccine Carbonara: They’re all are hard for me to swallow, and I’m no fragile flower when it comes to eating fattening foods. Dr. Bob’s Chocolate ice cream is not too rich for me, and one or two Teuscher Champagne truffles are barely enough to get me started. The thicker the fudge sauce, the better (and I just want to heave when I see that Rachel Ray using Hershey’s syrup!). Anything [Mexican] swimming in cheese–bring it on! But it’s the rare occasion that I can get myself to happily eat mashed potatoes or pancakes or fettuncine Carbonara.

The operative word there is “happily” because I do not do that thing some women do–count every gram of fat and every calorie in any single bite of an indulgence. Isn’t indulging about happiness? When I eat something I shouldn’t I make sure I do it with gusto–and no guilt!–and enjoy ever single spoonful.

Perhaps the reason mashed potatoes are a forbidden food is because usually the only ones I do eat are what I make myself–if you’d tasted the ones at my college you’d never eat them “out” either. And, I see how much butter and cream goes in. Gross! But, as Emma says, dee…lish! That’s all she eats when I make ’em–a great big bowl.

Here’s what I do: Using one big potato per person, peel and cut into chunks. Drop into a pot of salted boiling water and cook until tender. Meanwhile, and here’s the secret…mince one clove of garlic per person and drop into a saucepan filled with heavy cream (I use about a cup for every four to six potatoes), and simmer for at least ten minutes (I often do this beforehand and just lit it sit and steep). When potatoes are done, drain and return to pot. Mash, adding strained heavy cream until you get the consistency you like. Season with salt and pepper, then add mounds of sweet butter, stirring until smooth–I’d say you can’t add to much, but you probably can; anyway, don’t hold back!  Then, top with more butter when serving.

Posted by: Catherine | December 11, 2009

Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Apples and Red Onions

We eat  “the other white meat” quite a bit, and aside from grilling thick center-cut chops, pork tenderloin is our favorite–there seem to be as many ways to fix it as there are for chicken and most are just as easy.  We love slathering it with Bruce’s Secret Barbeque Sauce and grilling, and we often serve guests Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic-Fennel Confit (I save it for guests because I got tired of listening to what Emma had to say about the Confit). This is a new dish that we all enjoy, inspired by a dinner at a friend’s house where Emma must have eaten a pound of pork–“It was just so moist and good, I couldn’t stop eating it,” which says a lot about a girl who could live on candy and chips.

BTW, these photos don’t really do it justice–as Bruce said, it looks like a sea creature!

1 pork tenderloin, approximately 4 lbs. (I buy mine at Costco–they’re great, and come in two attached packs I keep in the freezer)

1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling

5 cloves garlic, minced

4 T fresh rosemary

Salt, pepper

4 tart apples, cut into eighths

1 large red onion, sliced thinly

Place the tenderloin in a baggy with olive oil, garlic, rosemary and salt and pepper. Moosh around, and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put tenderloin and contents of baggie into a large baking dish, smother with apples and onions, drizzle all with a little more olive oil and bake for about 30 minutes per pound. Roast is done when the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees–I just make a little cut and take it out when just barely still pink.

One thing I hate about blogging is that I feel pressured to try/create new recipes so I can post twice a week and, as a result,  I am not making many of our favorite things to eat. (I won’t get into all the reasons why I don’t need extra stress in my life.) Equally bad, you don’t even know most of our family faves because I posted them first when absolutely nobody was coming to my blog (and let’s face the facts about how often people come to a site and go through back recipes).

So, I’ve decided to take a load off and, on occasion, do a kind of re-post as I’ve done here with Ina’s Mexican Chicken Soup—recipe originally here. Ina makes this as a soup, but I prefer it as a one-dish meal/stew. You can craft yours by simply altering the amount of chicken stock you add. Or, one night you can make a stew and then add more stock to make a soup on leftover night. We all agree that avocado and cheddar are must-toppings, sour cream optional (and, not really necessary according to Bruce).

I made a big pot this past weekend in anticipation of a week of cold and rain here in Los Angeles. I just love it when it rains here! I miss those days in New York when you could legitimately stay in, under the covers with books and movies and the Times, all Sunday long because it was so dreary outside. Here, the weather is so great so much of the time I always feel I have to live up to the day…which can get a bit tiring day after day.

Posted by: Catherine | December 3, 2009

Toasted Bagel, Cream Cheese, Smoked Salmon

My father once told me that the bagel made him proud to be Jewish, and if you’ve ever had a fresh H&H bagel in New York you know what he is talking about. It’s just the perfect density with the perfect outside “crust,” not too chewy, not too light and certainly not too doughy. I used to have one, plain, for lunch almost every single day when I started working in New York–and there was one editor at Mademoiselle I worked with whose daily diet was:  one H&H bagel for breakfast, one for lunch and one for dinner. She figured that was less than 1,000 calories…and what more could she want?

If you don’t live in New York, you’re basically screwed when it comes to getting a good bagel. Maybe my traffic and comments will go up with this statement—I know several people here in Los Angeles (always playing catch-up with NYC) who say Western Bagel is better than H&H, or some such nonsense. We’ve tried all the bagel places here, to no avail. Even the H&H bagels you can buy at Barney Greengrass here are not fully baked, and when you do it’s just not a real H&H bagel.

When I was growing up in New York, my dad drove down to the lower east side every single Sunday morning to get bagels, nova and smoked white fish. My mom made scrambled eggs to go with the white fish (now, that’s a great combo!!!), and she ALWAYS buttered the bagels before toasting under the broiler (I never knew people ate untoasted bagels with their cream cheese and salmon, and now that I do I don’t have a clue as to why). Buttering the bagel is an absolute must….

The cream cheese (two 8-ounce packages, one brick on top of the other) was on the table, and from a very early age I learned that one spreads it thickly. Not just a bit thickly. Really, really thickly.

Next comes very thinly sliced red onion, then smoked salmon–we never had lox (too salty), only nova. A bit of pepper and a squeeze of lemon finishes it off, and occasionally capers, which I love, but always roll off and are therefore too distracting for me.

As much as I love chocolate…I love bagels, cream cheese and salmon almost that much.We don’t have it that often because, let’s face it, the butter on the bagel (real, sweet butter…no Smart Balance) and the inch-thick wad of cream cheese (no one-third less fat, the real Philadelphia deal) are not exactly what you’d call lite. But when we do, I don’t skimp and I enjoy every single bite. (BTW, if you think I have just one half you’re dead wrong.)

In my mind’s eye that paints a Norman Rockwell picture of everyone else’s Thanksgiving, I see generations of family joined around a giant table year after year with new additions that include more spouses (from more happy marriages) and more children (from more happy marriages). Everyone adores everyone else. Platters are piled high and no matter how much stuffing and gravy and pies are downed, everyone is thinthinthin.

There is no Norman Rockwell painting of our  Thanksgivings and the only tradition that has been retained is good food. Our family didn’t keep growing; everyone scattered; and, yes, sometimes some of us were mad at one another.

When we were growing up in New York we had Thanksgiving dinner with distant cousins (everyone else in both our parents’ families was in Chicago)–it was always boring (who were these people we only saw once a year?) and it didn’t last long because eventually the mom-cousin was sent to live in a “funny farm,” according to my mother.  After that tradition died, it was just  the four of us–we’d drive to Connecticut where we had a summer place and where the days were pretty grim…fall leaves gone, snow still weeks away. When we moved to Chicago (I was in eighth grade), we had Thanksgiving with one or the other of our parents’ extended families. That didn’t last long either: Is it an oxymoron to say people are nice…and racist? Soon enough, it was back to the four of us again.

My single days in New York were marked by Thanksgivings with various boyfriends and friends’ families–but eventually I chose to stay home…alone. I would go for a long run in Central Park, then curl up with a carefully prepared selection of books and movies, and have something very good to eat, carefully prepared by Dean and Delucca.

When Bruce, and then Emma, came along, I thought tradition was a done deal–and, in one way, it was: I was completely happy being with them though it was not the large clan gathering Rockwell might have envisioned. Thanksgiving is Bruce’s favorite holiday; he loves turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and apple pie. It was sweet and cozy, but as Emma grew I started to worry that there needed to be lots of people around. We have no family in Los Angeles so we started doing “Practice Thanksgivings” on the Sunday night before the actual day, inviting all our friends who would be with their own families on Thursday. Everyone really seemed to enjoy it, and would insist we do it again the following year. On Thanksgiving Day the three of us would go to the beach during the day (and every year Bruce would say, “You can’t do this in New York, can you?”), then we’d  have a dinner composed of our favorite foods. We’d each choose one dish. Sometimes it was three desserts and sometimes it was mac ‘n cheese, steak and chocolate cake (need to ask who chose what in that happy mix?). It was always wonderful, and we always ate it in bed together watching a family movie.

Over the years we had some Thanksgivings with other families who have kids Emma’s age, and this year we were going to go away with a couple of other families until one of Bruce’s clients announced he was coming to town (and this was not the year to miss a good client). So…we stayed home and did what we do best: We got up and Emma and I played tennis; afterwards we picked up Bruce and went to the beach; then Emma and I had a spa afternoon. We started with showers and used Emma’s Eucalyptus Body Scrub. Next, we slathered ourselves with body butter cream and sat with mud masks while we watched the Food Network (no kidding, Ina was on). Moisturizer and self manicures made us both gorgeous–at least according to Bruce. We had each picked something to have for dinner, and there was no fooling around with anything healthy. Emma chose garlic mashed potatoes; Bruce chose turkey and stuffing (not my favorite and, yes, I did try to count that as two to no avail); and I chose Double- Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie. Oh, and it was a double feature: The Way We Were (I love you, Hubble Gardner) and When Harry Met Sally. A perfect untraditional Thanksgiving.

Posted by: Catherine | November 23, 2009

Chicken, Sausage and Peppers–and the Art of RSVPing

 

 

 

Remember the Old-Fashioned Italian Sausage Grinder I posted recently? For those of you lightweights who were thinking, “Call the Mommy Police! Call the Wife Police! How could she feed that heavy, cheesy meal to her unsuspecting husband and child?”…here’s one for you (and for them, though they’d take the gooey, gross version any day)—it’s basically a healthy version of the inside of that Grinder. You can serve it over spaghetti, or nothing at all with a side of garlic bread.

Before I get to the recipe, a few musings and some questions for you:

I am continuously confused and flabbergasted by RSVP ettiquette. At first I thought it might be that LA behavior was different from what I was accustomed to in New York, but truth be told I didn’t invite people over to my single-girl apartment as frequently as Bruce, Emma and I invite people to our home in LA. So, a few thoughts and would much appreciate your weighing in with yours.

1. Does “Please RSVP” call for a response? Okay, that’s a rhetorical question…but I have actually sent out invites and some people have chosen not to reply.

2. How long before the “event” do you think people should wait before RSVPing? This question popped up when I started inviting kids to Emma’s  birthday parties. Her first and second birthdays were small and consisted of a few of our friends who willingly/nicely/patiently put up with our joy over our little girl. Then, when she started pre-school Emma eagerly accepted the offer of a party since she’d already been to every other kid’s (her birthday is in June). I sent out invitations a month ahead of time so I’d have plenty of time to organize, get food for both the parents and kids, and buy party favors for boys and girls…but there I was a few days before the party CALLING people to see if they were coming. Maybe this was an aberration? NOT! It happened every single year.

Recently I emailed a friend I hadn’t seen in a while on a Monday and asked if she wanted to have lunch the following week when I said I was free every day (I don’t get out much). The entire week passed without a word, then the “following” week I heard back on Wednesday that she could “do” Thursday. How should I have read that one? Another time, I invited a couple over for dinner early in January…and she said they were busy until March. Now, was that a hint that they really didn’t want to come or is it really possible that they were busy every single night for nearly three months? That is another rhetorical question.

3. If you RSVP “yes,” does that mean “yes” or “no?” This is not a rhetorical question. An old boyfriend always responded “yes” even if he knew he couldn’t make the date, and would cancel right before the party. When I explained how much effort a hostess/host put into a dinner (did he not notice everything I put into our dinner parties?)–not just the cooking but inviting a happy mix of people and perhaps just the number their table could seat–he said, “More important is that they think we wanted to come.” Dump him you say. Done.

I actually think that pretty much nothing less than death is an acceptable accuse to cancel a “yes” RSVP, especially at the very last minute. Your thoughts?

Now, the recipe…

Serves 3 for three nights or 4 for two nights or 8…you get the picture

4 T olive oil, more if needed

1 large onion, sliced

1 green pepper, sliced

1 red pepper, sliced

1 yellow pepper, sliced

5 cloves garlic, minced

8 Italian sausages (we prefer “hot” but “mild” or “sweet” or whatever they call un-hot will do)

8 chicken thighs ( didn’t have enough thighs so I cut some breasts in half…but they weren’t as good as the thighs)

2 large cans whole Roma tomatoes in puree

Saute all the vegetables until just soft, and remove from pan; brown the sausages and the chicken (if you’re not as lazy as I and are willing to wash an extra pan, you could do this simultaneously). I then get rid of the grease for the sausage. Dump the vegetables back in the pan, throw in the tomatoes, cover and simmer until the chicken and sausage is just cooked. You can actually make the whole dish way in advance—like many good things, it improves with time.

Posted by: Catherine | November 17, 2009

(Relatively) Healthy Burrito

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From all my decades of  dating, I culled three rules for my Mr. Right:  no republicans,  no smokers and never marry a man who expects a great meal every night. As you might suspect, that last rule did not drop onto my plate from thin air. No, there once was a guy (and you know who you are!!!) that used to say oh-so-sweetly, “Why should we go out to dinner when you can make something so much better.” Sounds nice, but that’s a sweet-nothing from which nothing good could come. And that’s not all. The same man came from Montana (oops, did I give it away?) and believed in  “square”  Cowboy-size meals, meaning meat, vegetable, potato/rice, salad, and dessert. Dump him, you say. I did.

Bruce, on the other hand, was and still is the first to say, “Let’s just go out” or, if I’m still slaving at the computer at 6:30, “What would you like me to go pick up for dinner?” He is also very open-minded about what constitutes dinner–a run to our favorite donut shop, Stan’s,  in Westwood; a bowl of cereal;  a piece of cake that’s size-worthy of a dinner. You get the picture. When I met him, I thought, this is great…he eats like a girl! It was just a few months into our romance when we got into bed to watch the Academy Awards with dinner–our respective favorite pieces of cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory–and  I knew then he was a keeper.

Plus, Bruce is always complimentary of whatever I do throw together (no matter how pathetic) and is always willing to grill anything I’m too lazy to throw in a pan.  Yet…lest you think I’m one of those  sickening women who extol their  perfect marriages (I am not and do not), let me say that Bruce kind of faked me out with these burritos. They were the one dinner he used to make on a consistent basis…before the day of our wedding. Now I make them. Here’s how….

Get some four tortillas at Trader Joe’s–they are SO good! While you’re there pick up a box of frozen brown rice, ground turkey, sharp cheddar (if you’re really lazy like I am get the shredded cheddar), salsa (the kind in the jar that’s smooth, not chunky), more salsa (the kind in the refrigerator section that’s chunky), and some guacamole (though I recommend you buy all the fixin’s for The Best Guacamole).

Start by browning the turkey meat until done, and toss in some of the un-chunky salsa for flavor. Nuke the rice and while you’re at it, heat the tortilla in a frying pan. As soon as the tortilla is warm, flip it. Arrange a handful of cheddar down the middle and top it with the rice and turkey, and maybe some more salsa, either kind.  Fold one side of the tortilla over the top, then the other and heat until everything melds and the cheese is melted. Top with chunky salsa and guacamole.

Posted by: Catherine | November 13, 2009

Flourless Double Chocolate Pecan Cookies

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The best cookie I’ve ever had anywhere is The Melted Chocolate Cookie from City Bakery, still in New York City but recently departed from Los Angeles. Every time I pass the place that’s no longer there I have a heavy heart, and empty stomach (which isn’t all bad). So when my friend phoo-d passed along this recipe from one of her BBFs (Best Blogger Friend), thebittenword,  I immediately thought: RC (Replacement Cookie). These were very good, much better with the nuts than without (see photos, bottom of post). Bruce says he’s allergic to pecans, but I’m not sure I believe him (don’t ask…). I will definitely make them again and I do recommend them wholeheartedly with a qualifier: I have never had a cookie anywhere that holds a candle to City Bakery’s  Melted Chocolate Cookie.

Last but not least: Monica of lickedthebowlgood won my giveaway–as soon as I can brave the line at my post office, she will receive my friend Gail Monaghan’s Lost Desserts, and that will be good for all of us because Monica is one great baker herself!

Makes 12

3 cups confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder (spooned and leveled)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans (or other type of nut)
4 large egg whites, room temperature

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, cocoa, and salt. Stir in chocolate and pecans. Add egg whites and stir just until incorporated (do not overmix).

Drop dough by 1/4 cupfuls, 3 inches apart, onto two parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets. Bake until cookie tops are dry and crackled, about 25 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer sheets to wire racks and let cookies cool completely. (To store, keep in an airtight container, up to 3 days.)

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Posted by: Catherine | November 9, 2009

Old-Fashioned Italian Sausage Grinder

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I swear it was just moments—okay, maybe hours—after I made these grinders for Bruce that he asked me to marry him….

My mom used to make these on Sunday nights when we were growing up—that was when heros and subs were called grinders. We lived in NYC, and she used to go to a little deli Italian deli near Bloomingdale’s to buy really good sausage, which, at the time, you couldn’t get at your neighborhood Gristedes. (She also used to go to that deli to get salami and provolone grinders for road trips to Connecticut–that was before kids had DVD players in the car, or iphones, or ipods. Positively prehistoric…but, man, it was hard to sit still for nearly three hours without asking “How much longer?” and sending my dad in fits of impatience/annoyance/and get me back to the office.)

Back to the sausage grinder.  I loved them then, and I love them now (but make them rarely because, really, what justifies a meal like this except pure piggishness, which is not exactly what you want to teach your 12-year-old daughter?). And, as for Bruce: Years later, he still looks at me differently when he sits down to a dinner of these grinders.

They’re totally simple to make. Just buy enough good crusty Italian bread to make bigger-than-normal sandwiches for however many pigs you’re feeding. Figure one to two Italian sausages per sandwich (we like hot, but sometimes mix hot and sweet…and NO, THIS DOES NOT WORK WITH TURKEY SAUSAGE, you lightweight!). So…I just saute the sausages with slices of onions and peppers, then plop in cans of peeled whole tomatoes in tomato puree to cover. Let simmer until your whole kitchen smells like it’s been hijacked to Italy. Slice the bread into giant sandwiches and cut through so you have a top and bottom for each. Pile on the sausages (I usually slice in half the long way so the flat side sits securely), and ladle the tomato sauce, scooping up  lots of onions and pepper to deposit on top of the sausages. Sprinkle generously with good grated Parmesan…and then put handfuls of grated mozzarella on top of that. Top with the other piece of bread,  wrap each sandwich tightly with aluminum foil, and put in the oven (375 degrees) until cheese melts and bread crisps.

Tonight is your night!

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