Saturday, December 28, 2013

Carrot salad -- the easiest recipe ever

In a comment on my last post, Kristin asked about my carrot salad.  I am almost embarrassed to provide this "recipe" because it is so simple.  But you do need a Cuisinart (or a box grater and knuckle guards).

I fix this at least three times a month.  It's so good, and so easy.  It brightens up the all-white meal or the boring brown-and-white plate of meat and potatoes.  It's suitable as a side dish for dinner, or as breakfast or lunch with a piece of buttered toast.  Or as a snack, if you're trying to avoid junk food.

So get a pound of carrots, more or less.  Wash them and take off the tops and tails.  Cut them into one-inch pieces.

Cut a chunk of fresh ginger root about the size of a walnut.  Put it into the Cuisinart with a handful of carrot pieces and zzzz it until everything has been cut into small pieces approximately the size of grains of rice.  If the pieces are a little bigger that's fine, but don't let them get so small they turn into mush.

Add the rest of the carrots and zzzz them till they're in small pieces too.  Then turn everything out into a big bowl.  Add some olive oil, just enough to moisten the salad, and some lemon juice.  Mix everything up and taste to see if there's enough dressing on the salad.  

If my parsley garden is yielding, I'll add some parsley to the salad just for color.  If I'm feeling ambitious I might add some thinly sliced cucumbers, celery or cabbage.  I've even been known to use the carrots as a base for other exotic ingredients, such as this successful experiment, but that's only to use up stuff that's lying around in the fridge, not to improve upon the basic recipe, which is pretty good just by itself.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Pie experiments

At Thanksgiving I wrote about augmenting my mincemeat pie with some apples, both to make the jar of mincemeat go farther and to cut its rich sweetness a bit.  One of my faithful readers, Sandy Ciolino, suggested that cranberries might serve the same purpose.

That sounded good to me, since I love tart foods and also since I had bought some cranberries that had never been used at Thanksgiving.  So the Christmas mincemeat pie had a layer of cranberries on the bottom.

The experiment was not an unqualified success.  A few people (but not my husband) thought too tart.  I used about two-thirds of a bag of cranberries (that would be about eight ounces, now that they have shrunk the package) and I think in the future I'd cut that to five or six ounces.

But the pie had a beautiful hint of red at the bottom and we're eating it with great relish, even through slightly puckered lips.

The pumpkin pie, on the other hand, was an unqualified success and disappeared very shortly afterwards.

Friday, December 20, 2013

In search of pork heaven

In my family pork is the food of the gods.  Although I usually make a turkey for our official feasts, pork gets served at other important times.  So when my son invited a guest for Christmas and we discussed what to serve, he opined that pork would probably be a good choice.  Well, actually he opined that sauerkraut would probably be a good choice.

She, like me, is a sauerkraut lover from a family where sauerkraut was reviled.  I'm always willing to serve sauerkraut, especially to impress my guests, but you have to have pork to go with it.

I could fix a lot of porkchops in two separate frying pans on the stove -- in fact, that's what I did on Thanksgiving Day for other pork-loving guests (don't worry, we had the official turkey the next day) -- but I'm looking for ways to minimize the last-minute fuss.  So I thought about my mother's old favorite, pork chops baked in milk.

How nice, I thought, to have the fancy dinner in the oven, needing nothing than to be taken out and borne to the table.  But this preparation is one that I haven't been successful at in a long time.  I never had a written recipe, Mom is dead, and pork has changed.  After the last attempt, a couple of months ago, I wondered if it was the fault of the milk -- skim doesn't give you much culinary enhancement.

So this week I decided on a dry run.  If it worked, that would be our Christmas dinner.  I bought a nice porkchop and a half-gallon of whole milk.  I looked online but didn't find any recipes that resembled Mom's; most of them involved canned soup and other adulterants.  So I just found a little dish that the meat fit snugly into, poured the milk on top and put it in the oven at 375, as the online recipes seemed to agree on.

I checked every now and then and decided to take it out after 35 minutes.  Notice the beautiful brown edges on the dish -- that's what the meat is supposed to look like.  But no beautiful brown on the chop, just a layer of whitish curds that tasted good but looked nasty.  And the meat was dry (not that I didn't eat it, but still... not ready for prime time).

So I guess we'll have a turkey.

And if anybody out there knows how to fix pork chops baked in milk, please let me know.  There will be a Christmas again next year, I hear.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The pie dilemma

One of my pet peeves with the food industry is that too often you are forced to buy two different items that don't match up.  For instance, hot dogs come eight to a package; hot dog buns come ten to a bag.

The same is true with thanksgiving pies.

They've done a pretty good job of getting a can of pumpkin to fill a standard pie plate, but a damn lousy job with mincemeat.

Yes, I'm a lover of mincemeat, even though conventional wisdom holds that nobody likes the stuff any more.  (I also love fruitcake, despite its identical reputation.)  But mincemeat has to be procured commercially, either in a big jar or in a tiny little package that you reconstitute with some boiling water.  I haven't seen one of those little packages in a decade, so now I buy the big jar.

The only problem: it only fills somewhere between a half and two-thirds of a pie plate.  My usual remedy is to cut up a couple of apples and put them in the bottom of the pie.  Not only does it eke out the innards to better fill the crust, it cuts the richness of the mincemeat a bit.

This Thanksgiving I did the usual routine: piecrust on the bottom, a layer of apples, then the jar of mincemeat.  And it was still looking pretty skimpy.  In fact, the piecrust extended a good two inches beyond the filling.  If I added the top crust as you always do, I'd either have a huge empty cavity inside the pie, or a crimped edge of crust two inches wide, or a boatload of leftover crust cut off to make everything fit right.

I made a radical decision -- no top crust!  I folded the extra crust over the edges of the mincemeat and stuck it in the oven.  To my delight, the filling didn't bubble up and escape over the top of the crust, but stayed where it belonged.  And there was plenty of crust per filling.

Next time, I may do this again.  Or I'll put in four apples instead of two.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Breakfast after Thanksgiving

So which makes the better breakfast?

In dish A, leftover stuffing and gravy.

In dish B, leftover mashed potatoes and gravy.

You will note the common ingredient, which makes anything taste better.  That's why we make gravy by the gallon when a turkey is anywhere in the vicinity.

I have a hard time choosing between the two, and plan to alternate breakfasts until I run out of something.