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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Holiday excesses--and a chopped liver pate

Thanksgiving is over, and we've all eaten too much. Actually I didn't overeat on Thanksgiving day. I paced myself with small helpings and no dessert, but somehow all my resolve went out the window the next two days. For breakfast Friday, I had a generous helping of mashed potatoes and gravy; for lunch, leftovers; and for dinner, we went out to Buca di Beppo--Italian is not what you should eat the day after a holiday! The next day my sons announced they were taking the little kids to Long John Silver's for lunch and did I want to go--well, of course I did. I probably haven't been there in twenty years, but I had a great fish sandwich. With restraint, I had cole slaw instead of fries. And then today I thought I was so good--one small piece of cold turkey (with a lot of skin on it, because I love the skin) when I thought no one else would ever wake up and make breakfast plans; then a bowl of corn flakes when I discovered there were no breakfast plans. For lunch, cottage cheese and a helping of self righteousness that I ruined by eating two pieces of a chocolate bar. Supper tonight? Bacon and scrambled eggs. I have not stepped on the scale to see the results of this off-and-on attempt to be moderate.
But Christmas is coming with even bigger temptations. One of the things I love about the holidays is to have friends in and make appetizers. And, yes, I already have them planned--nothing like being a compulsive. I'll serve hummus with vegetables, the cheeseball I've had every year since I was a child, a caviar and cream cheese spread that my youngest son loves, a sherry/chutney pate that I recently found and think is wonderful, and a Reuben dip. But the oustanding offering is liver pate, a recipe my friend Sally Jackson gave me. If  you swear you don't eat chicken livers, you'll take it back when you try this:

1 lb. chicken livers
2 Tbsp. chopped green onions
2 Tbsp. butter
1/3 c. Madeira (no, don't substitute brandy, etc.--it needs the Madeira)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. pepper
pinch thyme
1/4 c. whipping cream
1/3 to 1/2 melted butter

Saute livers and onions in 2 Tbsp. butter until livers are cooked through and no longer pink. Put in food processor and puree. Add Madeira to the skillet and cook down to 3 Tbsp. Add to the livers along with the herbs, spices, and cream. With the food process running, slowly add the melted butter. Pour into desired container and refrigerate overnight. Serve with crackers, though I prefer cocktail rye.
I asked Sally how long leftovers would keep and she said she didn't know because she never had any leftovers.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Christmas baking

Every year, the weekend after Thanksgiving is my time to decorate the house and start baking. I load up the freezer. This year, I'll lose all of Thanksgiving week, in a joyful way, because I'll be at my son's house in Frisco with all my family (while my house and dog are in the capable hands of Elizabeth--I am so grateful to her!). So I have started baking--and I've made a cheeseball, which is already in the freezer. If I haven't posted that recipe and you'd like to have it, please leave a comment below. It's a favorite that I remember from my childhood. Every year, I mean to make an extra for my brother, who also loves it; sometimes I wrap up the leftovers for him, but it's not quite the same.
But so far I've stocked the freezer with cranberry/chocolate cookies and chocolate banana bread. As usual, I didn't read the recipe on the cookies closely enough and thought it also called for nuts, so now I have chocolate/cranberry/pecan cookies. Should be good. The chocolate banana bread is good though I think the banana taste got lost. Today I made chocolate pecan bars. The recipe calls for light Karo, and the warm little bit I tried just now stuck to my teeth--should I serve toothpicks with the bars? I'm afraid when they cool completely, they may have a certain "take-out-your-filling" quality.
This year I was smarter than usual--I made out a shopping list and then checked it against what I had in the cabinet. Found, for instance, enough Karo syrup for today's recipe, along with chopped pecans in the freezer and cocoa in the cupboard. Why I bought so much Baker's semi-sweet chocolate is beyond me, but I sitll have two-and-a-half boxes. Maybe they're for the Oreo truffles I haven't made yet?
Still to come too are peanut butter cookies. Since Jacob and I have been having a small war over peanut butter, I've been hoarding the jar of Jif I bought. I got nonhydrogenated peanut butter for his daily sandwich, but he has rebelled and said he will not eat that healthy peanut butter. Guess I may have to break down and buy more Jif. But peanut butter cookies are, like the cheese ball, a staple of my childhood.
Here's the recipe (so easy). It may make you say, "My mom used to make those." Don't buy that roll of prepared dough in the refrigerator counter at the store. Make them from scratch--so much better and better for you!
1 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. white sugar
1 c. butter
2 eggs
1 c. smooth peanut butter
2-1/4 c. flour
2 level tsp bakind soda
1/2 tsp salt
Cream sugar and butter. Add eggs and peanut butter. Add flour, soda, and salt. Roll small amount of dough in the hand to form a ball. Flatten and pat down with a fork, flattening one way and then the other so you get that crisscross pattern. Bake at 375 for 10 minutes or until the edges barely start to brown.
One year I got fancy and dipped two edges of each cookie in melted chocolate chips and then finely chopped pecans. Christian never forgets and wants me to do it again. Jordan is still clamoring for those brownies with chocolate chunks in them. Why are some people never satisified?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Roast beef, vinegar green beans, and southwestern potatoes

We had a p re-Thanksgiving dinner tonight with semi-family, people who have come to be family to us. Jordan, Christian, and Jacob were here, along with neighbors Jay and Susan and temporary tenant and longtime friend Elizabeth. I admit, this dinner was a lot of work, most of it done last night, but the raves it got were worth it. Jordan said tonight, "It felt like Thanksgiving." Since she will miss Thanksgiving with the family due to another obligation, I thought this was particuarly appropriate.
For years I have had a roast beef recipe in my "Entrees Not Tried" file. I finally decided I had to try it or discard it. When it was published it said this was a reasonably priced cut of meat--not so when I bought it, but hey! Beef and all groceries ahe gone up. The roast required three garlic preparations--first you sauteed garlic cloves in olive oil, poked holes in the beef, and stuck the cloves in. My mom used to do that! Then you made a rub of mashed garlic, powdered thyme and salt, rubbed it all over the meat, and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Next day you rub the seasonings off with a paper towel, brown the meat in a 450 overn, and cover with garlic oil (you've made that by sauteeing 12 garlic cloves, split, in olive oil with bay leaves and thyme sprigs). Make a paste of those sauteed garlic cloves and a bit of the olive oil. Brown the roast on all side in a really hot oven, then reduce to 300, rub that last paste on the fat top, and roast until thermometer reads 120. We actually took it out at 116 and it wasn't nearly as rare as I'd hoped. But it was darned good.
I made Christian's green beans--bacon, chopped scallions sauteed in the grease, 2 huge cans of green beans, vinegar over all, and then the bacon sprinkled on top. He loves them.
And then there were southwestern baked potatoes--I didn't feel too bad about eating a twice-baked potato since there were small--the biggest red potatoes I could find.

Southewetern Stuffed Potatoes

Scrub six good-sized red potatoes, cut a bit off the bottom so they'll sit flat, rub with oil, and bake at 350 until tender.
When cool enough to handle, scoop out the insides (carefully) and mash with 1/2 c. shredded cheddar, 2 Tbsp. sour cream, 1 Tbsp. melted butter (I left it in the microwave and forgot it), 2 Tbsp. buttermilk, 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper or to taste, and 1 4-oz. can chopped chillies. Carefully stuff mixture back into the potatoes and bake until bubbly. I took the roast out to rest, turned the oven up and reheated the potatoes while the roast rested.

Here's Susan's picture of her full plate and her after picture.

At the risk of sounding immodest about my cooking, I have to say it was a great dinner. But the company and the sense of family really made it perfect. We are blessed to have these people in our lives.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Great Galloping Groupon

Does everyone have Groupon? I doubt it's a local thing, but just in case here goes: it's an internet marketing site whereby businesses offer great deals to entice customers in. For me, it's led to some great eating adventures. Typically,  you can buy a certificate worth $20 of food for $10, or one worth $40 of food for $20. With myy dining buddy, Betty--we try to go out to dinner once a week--I've had some good meals and great adventures.
Maybe the place that stands out most as one I never would have found is Zambranos Wine Cellar, a downtown wine bar with a fenced in patio right on one of the main streets. Their menu fascinates me enough that I want to go back, but on our first visit I had escargot a la bourgignuinon, which I hadn't had in over thirty years. To my delight, I sitll liked them--well what I principally like is that good garlicky sauce. Next time I may try filet bruschetta with sauteed mushrooms and caramelized red onions, served with a horseradish cream sauce.
We've gone to some standbys--twice to Cat City Grill, where we both love the lobster bites (lightly battered) appetizer (enough for a meal) with the Cat Stack salad--iceberg with blue cheese dreessing but layers rather thn the usual wedge, which makes it easier to eat. Last time the waiter explained that we were losing money--we hadn't used our total $40. So what could we do? We split a piece of oreo cookie cheesecake.
Another favorite is Tres Joses where they serve one of the few spinach enchiladas in town--my favorite. No, just because they have spinach in them does not mean they are either low fat or good for you. But they're good, and $20 goes a long way there.
I had my first meal at Z's Cafe on a Groupon--and now it's one of my favorites. I think I had chicken piccata that time but now I love the sandwiches. If it's lasagne day though, I'm done for.
Once we went to a winery--I don't remember what I ate for dinner, except a chocolate dessert, so that probably says something but the idea of eating in a winery was fun and they had an interesing gift shop. If it weren't that it's semi-out-in-the-country, I'd do some Christmas shopping there.
Another favorite was a long-established Italian restaurant--Piccolo Mondo. Unimpressive from the outside and in a strip shopping center, inside this restaurant is Old-World elegant. I had carpaccio--the most elaborate presentation witha wonderful salad on top of the beef, the best carpaccio I've ever had.
Groupon specifies that alcoholic beverages are not part of the deal but we have only found that in one or two places. Mostly they are included, and we sometime have zero balance on our check. We are careful, however, to tip on the full amount that the check would have been.
Groupon also offers many other things, and I've turned down a lot of spa offers, dental work (thank you, I have a dentist), facials, and, most recently, boxing lessons.
A friend of my children says it's embarrassing to present a Groupon, sort of as though you were bargaining for your dinner. He described surreptitioiusly shoving the certificate (it comes on your computer and you print it off) and whispering to the waiter, "I have...uh, you know...uh, a Groupon." I feel no such embarrassment. Since I'm the official Groupon manager of our dining adventures, I just throw the certificate out there on the table.
Want some adventure? Try Groupon. Oh, yes, they also do travel Groupons.