Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Memories

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I've been thinking a lot about tradition in the last few weeks. What are the things in my life--and especially my childhood--that happened every year that I really treasure? There are many, but at the very top of my list is Thanksgiving.

What do I love about Thanksgiving? Well, first and foremost, The Parade. Oh, yes. That tasty bit of commercialism put on by Macy's. When I was a little girl--as young as three and maybe even two--my Grandpa would take me into NYC for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade every year. He would drive us into the city--an adrenaline-inducing experience once I was old enough to understand the rules of the road--and we would get out somewhere near Central Park. Then, we'd walk what seemed like 10 exhilarating miles to my little feet. Finally, we'd find our place on the sidewalk, Central Park to our back, posh houses (including Billy Joel's, one year!) across the street, and very very cold concrete under our bums (we put blankets down, but they only did so much).

I cannot express to you the wonder of The Parade up close--especially when I was so small. The marching bands going by. The huge balloons, and wondering if they could navigate this building corner, or that tree. The ornate floats. The clowns that actually perform for you whenever the parade has to stop and march in place for a "commercial break." It was all mesmerizing and fantastical.

There are definite Parade Memory Highlights. There was the year that Superman's balloon hand get severed and fell just a little down the road from us. The crazy thrill of seeing the ACTUAL New Kids on the Block waving from their float (OMG, OMG, OMG!!! That's really them!!!!). The year when my brother was just old enough to really enjoy the parade--he had a thing for clowns and tried to run out and join them (Mom had him on a kind of "leash" made with telephone cord, so he didn't get far. The policeman told her she was the smartest lady in the crowd that day).

And, always, intrinsic to all of these memories, my Grandpa. My Grandpa standing behind me, and shouting, "Look, Allie! It's Bull Moose!!!" (It was Bullwinkle.) And, believe me, my Grandpa was loud, so the whole block heard. My Grandpa edging my brother and me closer to the barricade, so that we were practically directly under it, so that we could have the best view. My Grandpa, hooting louder than all of us when we walked through the echoing tunnel that lead us to and from our far-away parked car. My Grandpa, parallel parking the last year we went to The Parade (I was in my early teenage years), and telling my Grandma that "Rhoda, we'll get into this space just fine," even after he had been trying for at least ten reverses, while my brother and I sat in the backseat with our eyes tightly clamped shut.My Grandpa, getting us back to Long Island just in time to turn the television on and see The Parade broadcast, while we "ooohed" and "aaaahed" over the performances the people on the float gave to the cameras, and how well (or, more thrillingly, not-so-well) each balloon fared for the rest of the walk down The Parade Route.

In two years, I'm hoping to go back to The Parade with my own child (named after my Grandpa, who is no longer with us), and with my child's "Grandpa." The experience will undoubtedly be very different--for starters, my child's Grandpa will be a quiet man, reserved--not at all inclined to yell about Bull Moose for all to hear. But, I'm hoping the memories will be just as warm, the place and the event just as magical.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with traditions, old and new, and memories of family that last a lifetime.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My First Bread Baking Day, Their 24th (BBD #24)

BreadBakingDay #24 (last day of submission December 1st)

For a while now, I've been reading other bloggers' posts for Bread Baking Day (also known as BBD), but I've been too intimidated to join in myself. This month, I finally decided to take the leap.

This is the blogging event's #24, though it is my first, and the theme is "Mixed Breads," meaning a bread that uses at least two different types of flour. This month is hosted by El Aroma de IDania. Be sure to hop over there after December 1 to see the round-up of what other bakers made this month.

As for me, I knew I wanted to make a bread that used cornmeal and wheat flour. Mostly, I wanted to ease into this, and I knew that cornmeal was something I had worked with before. Given that the baby had taken my baking mojo for so long, I didn't want to make anything too intense, for fear that I wasn't as "back in the game" as I had thought.

In the end, I chose the Broa, from Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads. This recipe fit the bill for me perfectly, for a few reasons. First, it was an honest-to-goodness yeast bread baking experience, so I didn't have to feel like I had shirked my responsibilities. Second, the notes on the recipe said it went well with soup, and I planned to make soup to serve to Kurt and Doug for lunch when they took a break from working on finishing our basement. And, lastly, it was an international bread that I had never tried before, which means that it stretched both my abilities and my expectations of a "corn bread" a little.

The end result was good, if a little dry. Thankfully, we had the potato cauliflower soup (coming up in another post) to dunk the bread into. I'm pretty sure the bread was intended to be fairly dry and crumbly, and that it wasn't baker's error. So, I'm filing this under "soup breads" in my mind, as I couldn't really see serving it without some liquid for dunking.

Broa (Portuguese Corn Bread)

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
1 1/4 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour (or more, depending on your dough's consistency)

Grease a baking sheet.

Pulverize the cornmeal in a blender or food processor until it is fine and powdery (I used the attachment to my stick blender).

In a stand mixer bowl, combine 1 cup of the powdered cornmeal, the salt, and the boiling water. Stir until smooth. Stir in the olive oil, and cool the mixture until it is lukewarm. Blend in the yeast.

Gradually add the rest of the cornmeal and 1 cup flour, stirring constantly with the flat beater of the mixer. Work the dough until it is a mass, adding 1/4 cup or more flour if necessary to overcome the stickiness.

Place a length of plastic wrap tightly over the bowl, and leave at room temperature until the dough has doubled in volume, 30 minutes.

Knead with dough hook for about 8 minutes, adding flour as necessary to form a firm but not stiff dough.

Shape dough into round ball, place on greased baking sheet and flatten slightly. Cover the ball with wax paper (do make sure it is wax paper--my plastic wrap stuck horribly to the surface of the dough) and leave until it doubles in bulk again, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350. Bake about 40 minutes, until bottom crust sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on wire rack.

Rum Raisin Muffins

My recipe journal tells me that I originally made these muffins on 12/28/08. I remember making them. I can't remember if it was snowing, or if it was going to snow, or if it just happened to be that there was lots of snow on the ground. Either way, snow was involved, since it was, after all, December in New Hampshire. I woke up, thinking that I would bake us some muffins for breakfast. That much I definitely remember. I also remember grabbing my copy of Granny's Muffin House and bringing it into the bed with me so that I could find a suitable recipe.

To my dismay, almost every recipe called for dairy--milk, or sour cream, or buttermilk. I do not keep such things in the house regularly--they usually just end up going bad if I haven't bought them for a specific recipe. But, alas, I did not want to leave, due to the snow situation. Finally, I found the one recipe in the book that used only ingredients in the house--Rum Raisin Muffins.

This was the first recipe I ever made out of this cookbook, so I wasn't sure what to expect. It's a quirky book, at best, written in what I take to be a grandmother's Southern accent, with lots of apostrophes where g's should be, and lots of funky little words. Take, for instance, this sentence from the head notes of the Rum Raisin Muffins: "It's because they're fixin' all the goodies for the homecomin' picnic tomorrow." So, with the all the cutesy intros, I was a little worried about the quality of the recipes. I didn't need to be.

These turned out wonderful. I don't know what you say about a household that doesn't have milk available on a Sunday morning, but has no trouble finding the dark rum. But, I can tell you that these muffins were worth it. They made the house smell incredible, and had just a little hint of that special holiday-season feel to them.

I made them again last Saturday. Again, I chose these muffins because I didn't have milk in the house to make any others. I also wanted the taste of the dark rum, without consuming the alcohol. I used up almost all of the Black Seal we had in the house (which wasn't much--trust me). I've told Kurt that he will have to go alone to replenish. Can't imagine waiting in line at a liquor store with a bottle of Black Seal in my hand, while nine months pregnant. Don't really want the angry glares.

Without further ado, here is the recipe for the Rum Raisin Muffins (colloquialisms and apostrophes removed):

1 cup raisins
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup dark rum

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup butter, melted

Pour boiling water over raisins. Add rum and let sit about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Stir together flour and next three ingredients. Stir in the raisin mixture, liquid included, egg, and butter, just until moistened. Fill paper-lined muffin cups full, and bake approximately 20 minutes. Makes a dozen muffins.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cottage Pie & Comfort Food

Tonight, it feels like November. It was dark out as I was leaving work. The air had a distinct chill to it. It felt like the kind of night where you want to stay in and make a comforting meal. So, I turned to one that my mom made all the time when I was growing up.

"Cottage Pie," as we called it in our house, had many incarnations throughout my childhood. It started out as the classic beef and mashed potato dish that it is expected to be--the meat sauteed with onions, then simmered with salt, pepper, and beef bouillon. Right before baking, tomato sauce was added to the meat. But, then it morphed. It seems there is someone in our family, who may or may not be me, who hated mashed potatoes. So, the cottage pie was baked without the mashed potatoes, but with American cheese melted on top, for a while. Then, it mutated again, and grew a crescent roll crust, over which the meat was spooned, and then the cheese melted. Eventually, I think it came full circle and the mashed-potato-hater among us agreed to allow them to top the dish once more--though I do believe the layer of cheese remained.

When I began making cottage pie in my own kitchen, the ground beef was switched out for ground turkey--I just like it better. The crescent roll crust was abandoned, as was the melted cheese layer. Essentially, I went back to the original recipe, except for the ground turkey aspect.

The thing about this dish is that as it cooks, I can close my eyes and be magically transported back to 8 Marwood Drive. Mike would be getting home from baseball practice. I would finally be finishing my AP U.S. History homework. Mom would whip this together, with something green on the side, and this is what we would eat together. This is the weeknight food of my childhood.

Now that I am 6-7 weeks away from having a baby of my own, I can't help but wonder what foods my child will come to think of as "home." Sure, chicken soup will probably top the list, just as it does for me. But, that is a big production and, at least for me, is associated with holidays and snow days and times when someone in the family was sick. I'm hoping pot roast will top the list--again, as it does for me--but, again, pot roast encompasses the tastes and smells of holidays and extended family gatherings--not of normal weeknight dinners when it is "just us." And so, I wonder what smells and tastes will transport my child, when he or she is in their 20s, back to our kitchen table. Will it be the smell of bread rising? Of garlic sauteing in olive oil? Will it be cinnamon in the middle of summer--not during the holiday season, as it is for most--as the zucchini bread bakes? What will our kitchen smell like in the coming years? And how will that shape the person we are about to raise?

While I contemplate these questions, I will share with you one of the quintessential recipes of my childhood, which, even while I am twenty-eight and far from New York, comforts me on a cold November evening.

Edited to add that I have found the wonderful, heart-warming Family Recipes event, hosted by Shelby, of The Life and Loves of Grumpy's Honeybunch. While I've been reading through past round-ups, I decided to make my first submission. This recipe seems to fit the bill nicely, tied as it is to my childhood dinners. Hop on over to Shelby's blog to view the roundup after December 1.

Cottage Pie--the original recipe, before it morphed according to family tastes:

1 lb. chopped meat (ground beef or turkey)
1 small onion, chopped
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 lb. potatoes
2 Tbs butter
1/2 cup water
1 beef bouillon cube (or whatever flavor bouillon you have on hand)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Brown onion and meat. Drain fat. Add salt, pepper, and beef cube that has been dissolved in 1/2 cup water. Cook for about 20 minutes. Add sauce. Bring to full boil.

While the meat is cooking, cook cubed potatoes in water. Mash the potatoes with 2 Tbs butter and salt and pepper. Make sure to taste them before putting them on top).

In a pie dish, put meat mixture on the bottom, and the mashed potatoes over it. Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.