Sunday, November 28, 2010

- Don't forget the sweet potatoes: Another Thanksgiving recipe

Our Thanksgivings didn't include sweet potatoes until we started going to the Laroche family feast. Since then, sweet potatoes with butter, brown sugar, and marshmallows have been de rigueur. But as they did so many years ago, sweet potatoes have once again become a new tradition, this time thanks to Danielle and Cory. They said this was a dinner side dish, but I wouldn't hesitate to serve it with whipped cream for dessert. Just don't wait until next Thanksgiving to try it ...

Sweet Potato Soufflé
  • 3 lbs sweet potatoes, cooked and puréed
  • 1/4 cup butter (room temperature)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • nutmeg and cinnamon to taste
Beat the eggs well and then mix everything else in until smooth.
Bake for 1 hr to 1 hr 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

- Winging it

Walking stick by Don
I've mentioned this before, but there's something magical about breads made near the shore ... kaiser rolls, bagels, and pizza always taste better to me on Long Island and the Outer Banks. Still, recent efforts in the Hill Country have yielded passable results, culminating in some pretty decent sandwich rolls yesterday. At least, that's what Meg told me, although I'm thinking it was the hiking outdoors that whetted our appetites.

Now it seems I may have created a monster, as Paul has decided the rolls would be the perfect platform for smoked turkey sandwiches at the beach next summer. Don't know if I'm going to be up for baking a dozen fresh rolls every day when I'm on vacation. So, here's my plan: I'll post the recipe now, which will give everyone time to practice between now and June 18th. Good luck with that, huh?

Hill Country Sandwich Rolls
  • 1 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 heaping Tbs. gluten
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/2 Tbs. yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
Stir the water, yeast, and sugar together and let it work for a few minutes while you put the rest of the ingredients in a food processor. When the yeast is bubbling, pour into the flour and process, gradually adding more flour until the dough masses on the blade and no longer sticks to the sides of the processor bowl. Let 'er rip for a minute or so more, then turn out into a bowl. Work the dough with your hands, turning the edges under and adding flour as necessary to keep it from sticking to your fingers. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with a damp towel and leave in a warm place for a couple of hours.

Divide into 10-16 rolls, depending on desired size. As before, roll the edges of the dough under and up, adding flour as needed, until you have little pillows of dough with smooth tops. Pour puddles of olive oil onto a sheet pan, dip the top of each roll in the oil, and then place each roll in the middle of some oil and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Let the rolls rise for another hour under a damp towel. Bake at 375 (convection) or 400 (conventional), checking after 10 minutes.  Watch for the tops to brown, and take the rolls out when the bottoms are crunchy and brown. Cool for at least 20-30 minutes before slicing and serving.

Friday, November 26, 2010

- New traditions: Thanksgiving recipes

Our second Thanksgiving in Austin resulted in a couple of wonderful additions to the Thanksgiving menu (which has already been enriched by the Levine family tradition of coconut cream pie and fried turkey). This year, Cory and Danielle contributed an amazing sweet potato souffle, while Heather and Taylor made broccoli salad (recipe to follow).

From left to right, our next-door neighbors
Smoked, Roasted, Fried, and See-You-Next-Year.

We also upped the diner:turkey ratio to 3:1, adding a smoked turkey to the roasted and fried versions. Of course, traditional sides abounded: cranberry (two ways), mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole (which Meg changed up by using fresh haricots verts instead of canned or frozen green beans). Gravy and stuffing (two ways) were piled on while Danielle and I discussed how we really don't understand why everyone else prefers the white meat, but ultimately decided we're totally okay with having the dark meat to ourselves.

Now, the morning after the day before, we're grazing on leftover pumpkin muffins and pecan pie as we work ourselves up to tackling turkey sandwiches for lunch. Life is good.

Broccoli Salad

  • 1 cup mayo
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 2 crowns of broccoli, cut into flowerets
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 slices of bacon (or more), crumbled
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, pan toasted

So these amounts are totally negotiable. After you whisk together the mayo, vinegar and sugar, pour them over the broccoli, onion, bacon, and almonds. Taste and adjust to your liking.

The amazing thing about this dish is how it grows on you as the meal progresses. Compared to all the other rich, warm sides, it adds a crunch and bright flavor that is absolutely perfect (especially if the planned carrot and celery crudités are left in San Marcos, as ours were yesterday). 

Friday, November 5, 2010

- Bliss: A new firepit

Friday is my Saturday, so today we spent the day playing in our backyard, and I still can't quite believe we're really here.

There are amazing little cacti only a few inches high ... poking up through rocks on the floodplain that look for all the world like they belong on the moon ... the intricate warp and weft of spines a net of protection over the tender innards that the deer would certainly eat if they could.

 And not 100 yards away are the dinner-plate-sized cacti next to our outdoor shower, perfectly happy to pick up the overflow from  Don's water play ... though with the weather dipping down into the thirties tonight, he may opt for the indoor shower tomorrow.

Even when the news is bad, it's good. Just after we closed on the house there was a terrible blow (Tropical Storm Hermine ... you might have heard of her), that brought down a red oak in the front yard. Don had good intentions of going at it with a chain saw, but ended up getting a hand from a guy he ran into at Ace Hardware. Ever obliging, his new friend cut the trunk into sections that could be made into stools to put around our fire-pit to be. Then Don sanded and sealed them, and they've been waiting in the side yard ever since ... until today.

Today we built our fire pit ... hauling limestone from the back of the property, digging out the rich soil around the bedrock in a corner of the yard ... rolling the tree trunks stools over on the hand truck ... then gathering dead branches from the live oaks to use in our inaugural fire.

 We even found a large flat stone to place on top of the tallest chunk of trunk, making a perfect platform for late-night noshing.

After a dinner of  "what's in the fridge" pasta and artichokes, with a hearty Malbec and homemade focaccia (light as a feather with a crust that crackled with olive oil and salt), we poured hot cups of coffee, put our flashlights in our pockets and headed out to the fire-pit. The hose was at the ready, just in case, but the night was calm so the smoke and sparks flew straight up to the stars. And as the fire dwindled down to embers, we toasted marshmallows, our backs gently chiding us about the day's labors, creaking in the cool night air. No doubt about it ... bliss.