18 December 2012

Deck the Halls

After trimming the tree (literally cutting off branches),
we used the remnants in the entry way.
Christmas has arrived at our house, at last. We finally put up our tree about a week ago. Sergio (formerly known as Scroogio) seemed to want to wait until December was in full swing, rather than deck the halls the day after Thanksgiving, which I would have been happy to do. It's just as well bceause we got a real tree and I don't want the thing dying on us before the real Christmas has come and gone. 

Vintage shop find No. 1 - wooden angel musicians 
Julia seemed to think that the real Christmas had already come and gone after we got the tree. We walked over to the church about 6 blocks from our house to buy a tree from their youth group. We picked one out and loaded it into our grocery cart and pushed it the 6+ blocks back to our house. It only tipped over once! We were a funny site, I'm sure. Julia walked because she refused to ride in her stroller on the return trip (typical) so I wore Clara and pushed an empty stroller and Sergio pushed the tree in the grocery cart and we both did our best to corral Julia on the way home. 

Vintage shop find No 2 - Santa plate
(desperately in need of some Christopher Elbow Peppermint Bark) 
Anyway, when we got home, she watched me put the lights on and I gave her some soft ornaments to arrange on lower branches. That was as far as we got before it was her bedtime. The next morning I couldn't wait to show her our completed, decorated tree. So I woke her up and said, "do you want to come downstairs and see our Christmas tree?" And she replied with something along the lines of "we did that yesterday," as in, "Christmas is over, Mommy. We already got our Christmas tree." Such a pure and simple understanding of Christmas. "Mitmas," she calls it. I am enjoying these years before the wanting begins. 

new home, new baby...
lots to commemorate this year with special Hallmark ornaments
I used to think that my Christmas tree ornaments could be grouped into two categories: 'ornaments from my childhood' or 'things most people would throw away' (examples: Chimay corks and even a Gatorade cap!) It was not until this year, while decorating with a toddler, that I realized that they also all fall into two other categories - either "looks like a toy" or "fragile and breakable" - or worse yet, the ones that fall into BOTH those categories. So I had to be judicious and hang the breakable ones up top and the softer ones down below. I broke the rule I learned long ago about hanging larger ornaments at the bottom and smaller ones up top, medium ones in the middle, etc. But I'm pretty sure we'll survive that broken rule. As will my ornaments.

Julia's shoe (it's mate was lost at the airport a long time ago)
I've been saving this for an ornament for a while. 
Julia is in deep conflict about Dear Old Santa. As she told me one morning before we went to meet him, she does "not yike Nanta." We met him at the neighborhood party and she wouldn't dare look upon him; we took her to the Santa at family night at Hallmark and she refused him in every way. Mind you, she doesn't cry and wail and fuss. She just averts her gaze and clings to my neck for dear life. I now have two great pictures of me, Santa, and the back of Julia's head.  I have heard her talking to the santas on the tree: "Oh, Nanta. I yon't yike you. I yike you. Sometimes I yon't yike you. Sometimes I do yike you." Apparently she's really torn up about this. I am actually relieved that my child doesn't willingly sit in the laps of strangers. Seems healthy to me. We'll see how her feelings change as the season progresses. She is at least having fun spotting Santa, Snowmen (plastic decorative ones since we haven't had any snow yet) all around town. So glad that "Mitmas" is here! 

Bought this whimsical Santa at the thrift store ($3!).
I realize now it reminds me of a pear. 

11 December 2012

Root Veg: Two Favorite Recipes

One new recipe for beets and one tried and true standard for sweet potatoes...

Hope Julia appreciated my plating techniques.
I have never made borscht before, so I don't know how this compares, but I can tell you it was delicious. I served it as the starter for a meal of acorn squash stuffed with rice, mushrooms, and turmeric with a side of sautéed kale and white beans with a side salad featuring turnips, carrots, radishes - such a colorful meal. Talk about eating the rainbow. Oh, and Julia are two servings of soup! And spilled a bunch of it on her chin and shirt. She looked like a vampire with a belly wound. 

Red Soup
from Nigella Lawson's Feast
serves 4-6
(I love Nigella's writing so I'm including her preface to this recipe.) 
     This soup is so damn Christmassy it's ridiculous. Given the holidays, I wanted as much redness under my belt as possible (a rather childish approach, but there it is) and since, customarily, in borscht the sweetness of the beets is countered by some cooking apple, it made perfect, festive sense to use sharp, seasonal cranberries instead. The juice and zest of the orange, along with the cloves, make it even more of an evocatively Christmas feast. You can eat it with a supper of cold turkey and salad, or as an altogether sprightlier alternative on its own. It's the sort of soup you might choose for a solitary dinner in front of the tv to make yourself happy and to feel virtuously rewarded. 
     Normally, beets take hours to cook, which is why I suggest you just bung them in the processor first. Actually, I loved the soup as it was when I tasted it in the pan, unpuréed, but truly this works best as a deep-toned, deep-flavored, velvety emulsion. 

3 raw beets (1 1/4 lbs) 
1 large red onion
2 tablespoons olive oil (not extra virgin)
1 1/2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen
juice and zest of 1 orange
pinch of ground cloves
4 cups vegetable stock
3/4 cup sour cream, optional, for serving
(Emily's addition: pomegranate for garnish!) 

     Peel the beets and onions (wearing rubber gloves unless you want a touch of the Lady Macbeths) and chop them roughly. Put the chunks in a food processor and blitz till you've got a ruby-glowing pile of shreds; no need to be too fanatical, you just don't want large pieces evident. Spoon the oil into a large wide-based pan and tip in the onion and beets, and cook them over a gentle heat for 10 minutes or so. When they have begun to sweat down and soften, add the cranberries (no need to thaw frozen ones), the orange zest and juice and the ground cloves. Stir everything around for a couple of minutes and then pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, then cover the pan and simmer the soup for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. It should then be cooked enough to purée or liquidize to divine smoothness, though you may want to do this in a few batches to spare your kitchen walls. (or use an immersion blender!) 
     Taste to see if you want salt or pepper, then pour into a warmed soup tureen and serve. If the idea appeals pour over a swirl of sour cream into each person's bowl as you hand it out. 
     option: Cook this in advance and leave it in its unpuréed state, whizz it cold then heat it up in a saucepan when ready to eat.

featuring orange and white flesh sweet potatoes
This is from Smitten Kitchen (whose cookbook is out - I've asked Santa for it for Christmas!). Her post is here. I make this recipe all the time and I have for a couple of years now. It never gets old. And even one devoted sweet-potato-hater can manage to eat a few of these spiced wedges. I've been using a mix of orange and white fleshed (O'Henry variety) sweet potatoes for a nice visual variation. I suppose you could also get away with throwing a regular potato or a turnip in there! (We found potatoes and turnips to be a nice combo in our new "mashed poturnips" recipe at Thanksgiving.) My farmers suggested mixing up the spices a little - sage, cumin, ground pepper, cloves. Although I am hell bent on sticking to this exactly as SK has written it. So much so that when I set out to make these this year for the first time and discovered that I was out of coriander (and didn't have time to run to the store), I sat down and painstakingly picked out every last coriander seed from my pickling spice mix. And I did this while I was nursing Clara. Who wiggles a lot. It was a challenge! But worth it. Just one whiff of these and you'll see.

Roasted Spiced Sweet Potato
from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 4 to 6 servings.
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes (the latter will make them quitespicy, so using according to your preferences)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 pounds medium sweet potatoes
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 425°F. Coarsely grind coriander, fennel, oregano, and red pepper flakes in an electric coffee/spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Stir together spices and salt.
Cut potatoes lengthwise into 1-inch wedges. Toss wedges with oil and spices in a large roasting pan and roast in middle of oven 20 minutes. Turn wedges over with a spatula and roast until tender and slightly golden, 15 to 20 minutes more.

04 December 2012


Twas the night before Thanksgiving and all through the house...

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and this year's celebration did not disappoint. We hosted in our new house at our big dining room table and the meal came out great. As before, Christy and Armando were in charge of meat and Sergio and I did what we do best - vegetables! I had two pages of notes and spent hours prepping - which dish to cook which recipe - when to put what in the oven. We had the oven going all day and it felt like we were cooking every vegetable under the sun and I loved it.

Nina made place cards - she spelled several of these all by herself!

I even tried a new recipe or two this year. Although I couldn't forget my now "famous" (By "famous" I just mean that I really like this dish and want to cook it every year.) Fennel and Leek Gratin - which almost didn't happen after I forgot to buy fennel at Badseed. Fortunately, I am friends with farmers and I was able to have my 6 fennel bulbs personally delivered to my house, thankyouverymuch. Fennel emergency avoided! 
Fennel, or "Star Trek Vegetable" as I've been calling it this year. 
The new recipe of note was Brussels sprouts and chestnuts and it was a sure winner. I'll be including that in my regular repertoire. No matter how long it took me to peel those raw chestnuts. (About 45 minutes, BTW.) 
Brussels sprouts and chestnuts - see below for recipe. 

carrot cake

Sergio whipped up the most beautiful and delicious carrot cake - his favorite - and a good companion to Christy's pumpkin pie. We baked all our orange vegetables into desserts. 

Sitting down to eat.
With all the craziness in the kitchen that day, Thanksgiving was a total whirlwind. A big, beautiful, delicious whirlwind and I was just so grateful that we were all healthy - unlike last year and The Great Flu of 2011. And Pink Eye. But I spoke too soon because on Friday, Clara started coughing and by Friday night I was shaking with fever. My parents came on Friday - they missed the "recalentado" in the afternoon (just as delicious on day 2!) but got here *just* in the nick of time to see the lighting of the Mayor's Christmas Tree Friday night. We came home from that and Clara, Julia, and I spent the rest of the weekend being sick and being cared for by Honey, Papa, and Sergio/Daddy. It took us well over a week to get out of that stupor. I'm so glad my folks were there to help out and I'm so glad we're finally well now. Maybe "glad" isn't the word - maybe it's "grateful."

Julia and "Papa Dear" at the Mayor's Christmas Tree.
You can't see from this picture but she has her hand tucked into his shirt to stay warm.

recipe (and chestnuts!) from Chestnut Charlie

Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts
1 c heavy cream
1 1/4 cups water, divided
1 c peeled chestnuts, cut into quarters
2 T unsalted butter
1-2 t minced fresh thyme
1 t kosher salt or to taste
freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs (8 cups) Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

Place the cream, 1/4 C of the water and the chestnuts in a small saucepan. Bring to a bare simmer and cook over very low heat while preparing the Brussels sprouts. This will soften the chestnuts while infusing the cream with flavor. There should only be a few bubbles visible on the surface of the cream. If cooked at a rapid simmer, the cream will reduce too much and the final dish will be oily. 

Bring butter, salt, and 1 C water to boil over high heat in a deep 12 " heavy skillet (the water should fill the pan to a depth of about 1/4"). Add Brussels sprouts, thyme, and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally until the Brussels sprouts are crisp-tender, 6-8 minutes. Remove the lid. Boil over moderately high to high heat until water is evaporated and the sprouts begin to caramelize, 3 to 4 minutes. 

Remove from the heat and add the cream along with the chestnuts. The cream will boil and reduce rapidly upon coming in contact with the hot pan, so stir constantly with a heat proof spatula, encouraging the thickening cream to coat the sprouts and chestnuts. If the cream is too liquid, return the pan to moderate heat. Simmer until the cream coats the sprouts and chestnuts. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.