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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pumpkin-Cranberry Oatmeal

Show someone you love them:

Looking at this photo, uploaded earlier this week, I just remembered I had dried cranberries at home. Since I'm currently at work, this picture makes my mouth water and stirs up the first bubbles of regret for forgetting them-as if I haven't had enough cranberries in the past thirty-six hours...

I shouldn't complain; last night's belated family Thanksgiving was especially good. The cranberry-apple-pecan crumble was perfect (not too runny, not even close to burned). The yams were spicy and cooked just right (thanks to a real cinnamon stick and fresh grated nutmeg). The bird was juicy, browned and oh... what gravy. And, to top it all off, games of Spades and Scrabble were played, The Wizard of Oz was watched and commented upon, candles were lit and, in a distant corner, my Aunt's Christmas tree was resplendent in an early ode that auspicious day. That's what happens when you become an adult: holiday decorating happens when you have the time to make it happen (no matter how early), not when you don't feel like studying for your organic final a week before Winter Break.

Whether you're gearing up for a marathon of essay writing, or just fighting the crowds to go shopping, you need the proper fuel to keep you going. Look no further than this delicious oatmeal to charge up your battery. I found it on one of my favorite lazy afternoon cooking blogs: Tasty Kitchen. Not only is it quick and delicious, but you won't have to feel an ounce of guilt for enjoying it. I've even made a double batch Sunday morning and refrigerated it for a hectic Monday breakfast that takes no more effort that pushing "start" on the microwave. And, for those of us who would rather see muffin tops at the bakery than in the mirror, this hot cereal is waist-line friendly: pumpkin and old-fashioned oats add healthy fiber, milk provides protein and the raisins or cranberries add just the right amount of natural sweetness-making brown sugar rather superfluous really.

It tickles me to say that oatmeal played a significant role in my college diet; thanks to my natural affinity for oats, whole grains and anything else that tasted like dirt or, as my roommates liked to joke, cardboard. The beauty of oatmeal is that it not only doubles wonderfully (half a cup of cooked oats per person is plenty), but can be made with any number of ingredients: instant oats, skim milk, half and half or even water. The oats themselves are cheap and versatile and almost never go bad. Plus, they cook up quickly, with very little clean up, and keep you full for hours. If you're feeling especially generous whip up a big pot of Pumpkin-Cranberry oatmeal for your roommates to enjoy on the first snow day of the semester, or just when you feel too cozy to go to class.

Notes: Delicious. Feel free to substitute 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice in place of the other spices.

Disclaimer: SPUDS does not encourage skipping out on lectures; however, SPUDS does acknowledge the fact that skipping happens, and encourages students to at least eat well while doing it.

Recipe by livelife(kim), courtesy of Tasty Kitchen
Makes 2 hearty servings

1/2 cup oats
1 cup milk + 2 tablespoons
1/4 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon (scant) nutmeg
1 pinch cloves, if you have them
1/4 cup raisins or cranberries

1/4 cup toasted, chopped pecans

1. Add the oats, milk and pumpkin to a pot, stirring until the pumpkin is combined.
2. Add the spices and cranberries or raisins and stir. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the oatmeal starts to bubble (4-5 minutes).
3. If you like your oatmeal thinner add the two tablespoons of milk and continue cooking until the desired consistency is achieved.
4. Serve warm with a little vanilla yogurt or, for added sweetness, a little maple syrup.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tips: Shortcuts

Cut corners not friends:

A few years ago I would have been filling up my theoretical Thanksgiving table with friends and colleagues, not characters from TV, film and my imagination. But today I would much rather be writing this post than any number of serious, pivotal graduate school application essays after gorging myself on thanksgiving brunch. Just like a diverse and colorful menu sings, so do dinner conversations when you take the time to give a little thought to your seating arrangement. For example: place your chattiest friend at the center of the table, so neither end becomes conversation heavy; or group friends with similar interests to encourage conversation. Don't be afraid to invite friends from different circles either. But, before you get on to pivotal decisions like who you're going to seat beside Darth Vader, and if Captain Malcolm Reynolds enjoys cranberry sauce or green bean casserole more, take a moment to simplify your to-do list. After all, isn't the whole point of Thanksgiving to reunite and bond with family? So in the spirit of spending more time with your guests here are some "Shortcuts" to help you get your Holiday dinner on the table faster and with a lot less work.

Tip 1: Help the grocery store, help you.
I'm not a proponent of mixes and pre-made delicacies, however delightful they can be sometimes, but a large dinner party is an obvious exception. Save yourself the time it takes to make some harvest staples from scratch like:
  • Stuffing
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Rolls or a crispy, bakery fresh country loaf
  • Green veggies (green beans, peas etc)
Simplify your table by offering some basic dishes like plain steamed green vegetables, pre-made cranberry sauce, rolls and boxed stuffing that take only a few minutes to prepare. Serving too many rich or exotic dishes, especially those with complex flavors, can overwhelm guests (and you too). Choose a few show stoppers, like a homemade pie, and fill in the gaps with selections from your grocer. Plus, these items are naturally inexpensive and abundant during the Holidays so you shouldn't have any trouble squeezing them into your menu.

Tip 2: Embrace reality, not dishes.
It is unlikely that the average college student has enough place settings, serving dishes and other tableware to feed more than four people all at once, and that is if the dishes have been done. Don't worry if you don't have the perfect number of over-sized spoons or stemless wine glasses. Mixing place settings is not only acceptable, but it makes you look like one of the cool kids (which, mind you, you already are). If you can, stick to a color family-it won't matter if the cups are different from place to place if they both evoke a rich butter cream or a vibrant blue. If not, embrace your rainbow tribute and group each setting in a single color. Using paper plates, napkins and disposable bake ware is acceptable too, but remember, if you're going disposable, go all the way.

Tip 3: Be a good neighbor.
If you find yourself short on tables, chairs or parking it's okay to ask your neighbors for a little help.
Just remember the golden rule of being a good neighbor: invite them too. Not only will your neighbors
appreciate your offer, but they will likely to lend you chairs, an extra table or baking dish or
that infamous stick of butter all good cooks are short on at least once. Plus, they can't come raining on
the charades parade after pie and ice cream if they're at the party too!

Tip 4: How to: Make from-scratch gravy
Put that packet of powdered gravy down. Making gravy from scratch isn't only easy, but it's also
easy to fix if you make a mistake.
  1. Let the drippings come to room temperature. Note: If you have the time, refrigerate the broth first. This will bring the fat to the surface, allowing you to skim off the excess. You will need to heat your broth slightly before you begin to make your gravy.
  2. Drain the juice from your cooking bag or roasting pan into a measuring cup. Skim off any excess fat that rises to the top.
  3. Add enough chicken broth to make 2 cups of broth and drippings. Check for seasoning. Add to a sauce pot, off the heat.
  4. In a small bowl whisk 2 tablespoons of flour with 2 tablespoons of water until smooth.
  5. Off the heat, add the flour mixture to the broth. Whisk until combined. Turn the heat to medium-low, stirring constantly. Note: This is a pivotal step, if you do not stir the gravy constantly it will form lumps.
  6. Once the broth has thickened sufficiently, season to taste and continue stirring for a minute. Then remove the gravy from the heat.
If your gravy forms lumps: Run the gravy through a sieve to remove the lumps.
If your pan drippings and broth is too salty: Before you thicken the gravy, peel a raw potato and add large slice to your broth. This will remove some of the salt from your broth.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pecan and Goat Cheese Salad

+ some other salad that doesn't have goat cheese:

I would like to take a moment to apologize for the misused semicolon in the first paragraph of last week's "Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes" post. I'm ashamed I left it squatting there for seventy-two hours before noticing; be assured, it has been dealt with severely for it's impudence. It is just that, sometimes, I really love semicolons. Perhaps too much... Speaking of love, I hope you don't think that I don't adore the second recipe in today's post. I do. I just got so excited about the chance to post some of my favorite things, namely pecans, goat cheese and beets, that I couldn't think of anything remotely catchy to say about a decidedly simple fruit salad. I suppose that is catchy enough: Decidedly Simple Fruit Salad.

Since I can remember, our holiday table has always been graced by the ethereal presence of fruit salad. The recipe, passed down through generations, is much more precious than the simple tag "fruit salad" denotes. You have to marry into the family to even get close to it. Like peanut butter birthday cake, it was the kind of thing I ate secretly in the dark of early morning so I didn't have to feel guilty not sharing it with my roommates. (Sorry roommates) But, since I believe that fruit salad is as necessary and natural as breathing, I have chosen to post two delightful salads here that we can all share in. The first, is a traditional green salad for those of us who crave greens, and a little guiltless pleasure in the midst of trenchers of rich fare. The salad itself can be prepared, but stored separately, the night before:
  • wash and dry the lettuce. Slice the red onion and store with the chopped lettuce the night before, either in a zip lock or an air tight container with a paper towel.
  • Toast the pecans, cooling them and leaving them at room temperature.
  • Drain and slice the beets, and store in the fridge.
  • Measure out your olive oil and apple cider vinegar, or lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small jar or Tupperware. Store in the fridge. Just remember to shake before serving.
In fact, allowing your washed and dried lettuce to crisp up in fridge is preferable. The salad is not only delicious, made even more so by the creamy goat cheese and fresh mint, but it creates quite a fuss thanks to its bold presentation and festive color. If you don't like goat cheese (shame on you) you can also substitute in some crumbled Feta cheese, although this will have a sharper, more distinctive bite. I chose to use mandarin oranges for the sheer convenience of not having to peel them, and because we had them on hand. But, you are welcome to substitute fresh navel orange segments or clementines as well.

The second salad is even simpler, and perhaps a little more humble than its counterpart. Tossing sliced, easy to find fruit in a little yogurt and fresh juice brings a much needed brightness to an otherwise starch heavy table. Even picky eaters enjoy the sweet, slightly tangy sauce created by the combination of fruit juice and yogurt. The addition of toasted pecans and plumped, dried cranberries makes it even more delightful. However, I would not suggest making this dish more than two hours before serving, and then I would wait to add the bananas at the last minute. Sprinkling your sliced apples with fresh lemon will buy you a little more time, but not much. Although apples are in season, I suggest using two different varieties to ensure good texture, juiciness and flavor. Because this salad isn't cooked whatever eating apple you like best would be perfect.

Notes on grammar: Some experts believe that semicolons are one of the most daunting punctuation marks in the English language. Here at SPUDS, however, we believe in empowering oneself through technical mastery. Use a semicolon to connect two independent clauses (clauses that can stand alone) that are closely related: I love punctuation; semicolons are one of my favorite punctuation marks.

Pecan and Goat Cheese Salad
Variation on two salads: this by Real Simple and that by Rachael Ray
Serves 4-6

3 hearts of romaine, washed and dried
1 medium red onion
1/3 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1 (14.5 ounce) can of sliced beets
1 (15 ounce) mandarin orange segments
2-3 ounces crumbled goat cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, or lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon each salt, fresh black pepper

1. Chop the lettuce and add to a large bowl.
2. Peel and thinly slice half of the red onion, adding to the lettuce.
3. Drain the beets and mandarin orange segments. Add the orange to the onion and lettuce. Stack a few beets, one on top of the other, and slice into matchsticks. Stack on top of the orange segments.
4. Shake the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small jar or Tupperware container until combined.
5. Just before serving add the toasted pecans and crumbled goat cheese. Pour dressing over the greens and serve.

Decidedly Simple Fruit Salad
Adapted from Kraft Healthy Living
Serves 4

1 cup vanilla yogurt (low-fat is fine)
1/3 cup orange juice
2 medium apples, Fuji and Macintosh are good
lemon juice
2 cups grapes
2 bananas, sliced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

1. Whisk the yogurt and orange juice in a bowl until combined.
2. Chop the apples into bite sized pieces and sprinkle with a little lemon juice. Split the grapes in half and add to the apples and yogurt.
3. Microwave the cranberries in a little water for 1-1 1/2 minutes and let sit until cooled, allowing them to plump up a little.
4. Add the cranberries to the rest of the salad, along with the bananas and pecans. Toss to coat and serve immediately. Refrigerate leftovers.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes

+ baked sweet potatoes with cinnamon butter:

Having spent the last two days working out of town I am just getting to a post very close to my (our) heart: spuds. In fact, I just got back from an Open House at our shop where I ate a dozen chocolate dipped dates, salted dark chocolate caramels and a half cup of sinful, eternally-damning-but-totally-worth-it sipping chocolate. In a single word it was divine, but you can bet I'll be at morning yoga tomorrow to make up for it-physically and psychologically. This week, it seems, has been especially delectable: white bean salad with lemon vinaigrette, fresh baked raisin pecan bread, mouth-watering elderflower chocolate, tempura-fried sweet potato sushi. I also got to glimpse some real food bloggers, in the flesh, which was almost as delectable. Part of me quivered with anticipation and longing to be a successful, well known food blogger, the likes of which wear black rimmed glasses and jeweled vintage jacket pins and get invitations to open houses like ours. But, I shouldn't complain; I got to be at the opening too, even if it was just as a lowly chocolate devotee. And here I am, sated on exquisite cuisine, writing about it. Still... I hope there is room in those eclectic ranks for the likes of at least one more hungry spud-aficionado with a mindless love of homely produce.

Speaking of homely, let's talk about mashed potatoes. It would be a travesty if any Thanksgiving table was lacking this fluffy, buttery side-what would you do with all the gravy without it? I've posted two simple potato recipes here: one for a traditional mashed potato and another for a baked sweet potato with maple and cinnamon butter. Both recipes are incredibly simple. The mashed potatoes get a subtle kick from some sour cream and a little Parmesan cheese, making them decidedly savory. The sweet potatoes take even less work, and are great if you are in a pinch (they cook up in under 5 minutes in the microwave, and wrapped in a little waxed paper, they turn out moist and sweet). The maple and cinnamon butter for the sweet potatoes is a delightful addition to your table and just as enjoyable on warm rolls or a bowl of pumpkin oatmeal the next day.

Notes: If you want extra smooth and light potatoes use your hand mixer to eliminate any lumps. Personally, I like mine a little more rustic so I just mash them with a fork or wooden spoon. If you don't have the time to make your mashed potatoes right before serving you can make them the morning of your event, refrigerating them in between. Just allow time to warm the potatoes up and beat them with a little extra milk to smooth them out again. The maple cinnamon butter can be made up to a week in advance. For a little extra elegance try piping the room temperature butter in a pastry bag, with a large star tip, onto waxed paper to make pretty butter rosettes. Then, refrigerate them as usual until they retain their shape. Serve the rosettes slightly chilled so they don't get smeared around the serving plate too easily. Otherwise, be sure to let the butter warm up before you put it out on your table so it is spreadable.

Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes

4 large red-skinned potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon each salt, fresh cracked pepper (or to taste)
1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup milk, more or less

1. Wash potatoes with mild soap and water. Peel the potatoes and remove any brown spots or "eyes".
2. Cut the potatoes into uniform slices, about 1/2 an inch thick. Place in a sauce pot and fill with cold water. Bring the potatoes to boil. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until fork tender.
3. While the potatoes are cooking, heat up the milk in the microwave 1-1 1/2 minutes or until it is steamy and warm.
4. Drain the potatoes and mash with a fork or hand-held mixer. Add the sour cream, cheese, salt and pepper and butter and then beat until combined.
5. Add the milk in thirds, blending between additions, until the potatoes are fluffy and smooth. You may need more or less milk than the recipe calls for, depending your potatos.
6. Serve warm.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Cinnamon Butter:

4 small to medium sweet potatoes
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of nutmeg, optional

1. Wash and dry the sweet potatoes before piercing them a few times with a sharp knife or fork (this will keep the potatoes from bursting). Microwave the spuds using the "potato" setting your microwave-they are perfect every time.
2. Beat the butter, cinnamon, maple syrup, vanilla and nutmeg in a bowl. Pipe into rosettes onto waxed paper, if preferred, and chill until ready to serve. Alternatively, serve at room temperature in a small serving dish with your potatoes.
3. Split the potatoes and serve warm with the cinnamon butter.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Aromatic Carrot Soup

+ Copper Pennies:

I watched "Billy Elliot" for the first time yesterday. I don't know what I was expecting, but I don't think crying until you laugh at yourself, and your less than British humor, was one of them. What can I say, I have a real affinity for homely, precious things that get notoriously hard knocks for just being themselves: prunes, Italian greyhounds, that disastrously misunderstood monster Grendel and, in today's case, the gnarled carrots you always seem to leave as a last resort in your vegetable keeper (baby carrots have all the fun). Maybe that is why I love this superbly easy, and delicious, carrot soup with crumbles of goat cheese. Did your heart just skip a beat too?

When it comes to homely edibles, one of my greatest weaknesses, Thanksgiving dinner really takes the cake (er, pie). Carrots are some of the most misunderstood, and most affordable, vegetables in the kitchen. Who says they are only good for stocks or picket-lining around ranch dip? It is time for the carrot to take a stand, and at only a few dollars this recipe is the perfect time and place. Throw in some affordable goat cheese, or sour cream/plain yogurt if you're in a penny-pinching mood, and you've got a great weeknight dinner or an impressive side dish for under $10. And while not traditional, this soup is the perfect starter or chic appetizer for your harvest dinner. Yesterday, I had the hankering to serve it in some tall shot glasses as an easy to eat appetizer before dinner. I don't know what it is, but there is something wonderful about turning knotty, scrubby carrots into a velvety soup that looks so "Top Chef" in a shot glass. I guess we can call it the Cinderella effect. With only ten minutes of preparation, and twenty unattended minutes of cooking time, this soup can be made before dinner and served warm, or prepared the night before and reheated just before serving. The cumin, an affordable multipurpose spice, is subtle and blends perfectly with the little bit of honey that enhances the natural sweetness of even the most stubborn carrot. Using a reduced sodium vegetable broth (or your very own) to make this vegetarian option as healthy as it is delicious.

For a more traditional side dish, go no further than the "copper pennies", or glazed carrots, you might have seen at your dining hall. These are a sure winner for your holiday table-even friends who are sworn-off vegetables dig into these. A little less exotic than Aromatic Carrot soup, but just as wholesome "copper pennies" are a traditional harvest side. Plus this dish rings in at about $3-4. The trick? No one likes a mushy carrot. I like to prepare this dish just before serving to ensure the carrots don't get overcooked being reheated. But, if you're looking to save some time peel and chop your carrots the night before; it will take under a minute to toss them in a little butter, honey and cinnamon once they are cooked.

Notes: Treat your vegetables like you would pasta: aim to serve them "al dente". Not only will the vegetable retain a vibrant healthy color but they won't turn to mush either. When making up a harvest menu think about texture and color as much as flavor. If you plan on serving this carrot soup, for example, serving whipped sweet potatoes might be a little uninteresting since both have a soft, delicately sweet flavor and, well, they look alike too. Try a scalloped white potato that differs in color, taste and texture from this semi-sweet soup instead. That said, I've never turned down a sweet potato in my life.

The bottom line: for the most "wow" factor, make your harvest table as colorful and interesting as possible.

Aromatic Carrot Soup
Bon Appetit, April 2010 (serves 4 as a side), more as an appetizer

2 tablespoons butter
salt, pepper
1 cup diced onion (one large)
2 2/3 cup peeled, chopped carrots
2 1/2 cups (vegetable or chicken) broth
1 tablespoon honey
1/8 teaspoon all-spice
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1. Melt the butter in a pot. Add the diced onion and cracked black pepper and stir, cooking for 3-4 minutes.
2. Add the carrots to the onions and stir. Pour in the 2 1/2 cups of broth and bring to a boil.
3. Cook the carrots and onions in the broth for 20 minutes.
4. Remove the broth mixture from the heat and allow it to come to room temperature. When the broth has cooled add it in batches to a blender. Puree until smooth.
5. Return the soup to the pot, adding remaining honey, all-spice, lemon juice and cumin. Taste for seasonings, adding salt and pepper as necessary.
6. Serve warm or chilled with goat cheese crumbles or a spoonful of sour cream. Can be made up to two days in advance (without garnish). Keeps well in the refrigerator.

Copper Pennies
Serves 4

3 cups carrots, sliced
3-4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons honey
orange peel, (optional)

1. Peel and slice the carrots on a bias. Add to a sauce pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
2. Boil the carrots for 2-3 minutes or until they are just fork tender.
3. Drain the carrots and set aside. Melt the butter, honey and cinnamon in the same pot. Stir until it is combined.
4. Return the carrots to the pot, turning gently to coat in the butter mixture. Serve immediately with the zest of an orange.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pumpkin Pie + 2 crusts

The Classic:

Saturday night, when I was scuffing my way back upstairs to go to bed, I was distinctly relieved that it really wasn't one in the morning. Yesterday, however, when I looked at our shop clock and thought it was already 4:30 I was elated. Instead of sitting down to blog I decided to go ahead and start the end of the night clean up: sweeping, spraying counters, re-stocking etc. Then, I realized I was being royally screwed by the battery operated, re-cycled time piece on the window sill. It wasn't anywhere close to closing time. The realization made me a little nauseated; not because I dislike work but because I fell for the oldest mind-trap in the book: the time change. I've eaten a dozen samples to make up for it-what I wouldn't give for a potato chip or bag of popcorn right now. But, at least I have the time to scribble down this post before I head home to bake a batch of biscotti.

As much as I'm not in the mood to talk about desserts right now, I'll see what I can do. It has been a while since we foraged into the world of pie crust, purchased or homemade, but don't worry, even if you don't fancy yourself a pie aficionado these crust recipes are very simple to make and easy to use. Plus, if you're not into making your own crust you can always... you know, buy some. Not that you heard that from me; I have been making pie crust since before I could teethe. That is not to say my crust doesn't tear sometimes, or that I don't throw a fit and slip in a few foul words as I re-roll it. Nobody is perfect. If you're in a pinch, just try the graham cracker crust (a variation on this) for a fool proof base. There isn't much that is more impressive, or better at showing your friends and loved ones just how much you care, than a from-scratch pie. Imagine it: the applause.

Notes on making pie crust: I chose this roll-out crust because it is the easiest dough I have found to prepare and to roll out. I even popped my dough (in the pie dish) in the refrigerator to chill the dough a little before baking, and because I forgot the sweetened condensed milk. Oops. If you've never made pie crust from scratch before, this is the place to start-it takes all of 15 clumsy minutes to make.

Roll-out, traditional pie crust
From Pillsbury: Best Desserts
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening (butter flavored or vegetable)
2-4 tablespoons ice water

1. Combine the flour and salt. Using a fork blend the shortening into the flour mixture until it resembles course crumbs and the shortening is well distributed.
2. Add the water, one tablespoon at a time, mixing lightly with a fork. Add enough water until the dough is just moist enough to form a ball (I used 2 1/2 tablespoons). The dough should not be too wet or it will become sticky.
3. Shape the dough into a ball and roll out between two sheets of lightly floured waxed paper, using a rolling pin. When the dough is 1/2 inch thick remove the top layer of waxed paper and lay the pastry into your pie plate.
4. Gently, fit the crust into the pan (trying not to stretch it if it doesn't fit exactly). If you get tears or splits return your crust to the waxed paper and repeat step 3.
5. Using a fork, or your left and right thumbs, press the dough to create a decorative edge (see photo). Then, use a knife pressed against the edge of the pie plate to cut away the excess crust.
6. Fill and bake as directed below.

Gingersnap Cookie Crust
12 ounces gingersnap cookies
6 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Pulse the gingersnaps in a food processor until they are finely ground.
2. Melt the butter in a microwave safe bowl. Add the butter to the cookie crumbs and mix with a fork until they are totally moistened.
3. Press the cookie crumbs into the pan, using the base of a juice glass to pack the crumbs into the pan and up the sides.
4. Fill with your pie filling and bake as directed.

Pumpkin pie (filling)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
2 large eggs
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin
1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk

1. Preheat the oven to 425.
2. Mix the sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves in a small bowl.
3. Beat eggs in a large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually, stir in the evaporated milk.
4. Pour the pie mixture into the pie shell.
5. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 and continue baking 40-50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean.
6. Cool on a wire wrack for 2 hours. Serve cool or refrigerate.

Substitution: 1 3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Roast Chicken

Not for the sentimental:

I can understand vegetarianism. I may or may not have cried a little when I picked up the pale, naked little chicken and buttered generously under it's bony wings. Okay, I did cry. I couldn't help it. It's not that I don't like chicken: I do. But, there is something impersonal about a skinless, boneless chicken breast. The puckered little carcass staring back at me as I unceremoniously smeared butter all over it, however, felt very personal. Will it stop me from enjoying a little helping of succulent leg meat tomorrow night? Probably not; roast chicken is amazing. I'm just glad I didn't name it before I cooked it. I couldn't handle that kind of guilt. Nevertheless, roasting a chicken, or fowl of any kind, is a powerful time for the home cook. Ye be warned.

My emotional idiosyncrasies aside, roast chicken is an amazing, and impressive, dinner. It is also extraordinarily economical: for roughly the same price as a pack of boneless, skinless chicken breasts a whole chicken provides a mixture of white and dark meat, crispy skin (if you're into that) and the most precious of commodities: homemade broth. This stuff should be minted and used as legal currency it is so good. You can use it in soups, gravy, pan sauces or freeze it for future meals like Sopa de Tortilla. If you are planning a harvest get-together, however, turkey is a great idea, but it can be expensive if you are only feeding a few guests. For this reason, I have chosen to roast a chicken for our harvest entree post. But, if you are truly interested in the classic roast turkey dinner see the additional tips for turkeys.

Considering my first-ever published article was on pasture-raised turkeys, I think it only right that I take a moment to explore with you, briefly, the wide world of pasture-raised and heritage fowl. There is a movement among farmers today against the "conventional" methods used by the super producers of the poultry world. I like to think of it this way: how would I taste pumped full of antibiotics, barely able to scratch through my own excrement and living in almost constant darkness? If you're interested in finding a local provider of organic or pasture-raised fowl try Local Harvest for a helpful and informative guide to area farms and markets.

How to roast a chicken:

  1. Use the number of guests to decide how large your chicken should be. Remember, a serving is only a few ounces. For example, a 6-8 lbs chicken would easily feed a party of four.

  2. Buy the appropriately sized "oven bag" or "cooking bag" of your choice. The size will be determined by the weight of the bird.

  3. Place your open your cooking bag in a glass or aluminum baking dish, slightly larger than your chicken. Place 1/2 a tablespoon of flour inside the bag, shaking it around to lightly dust the interior. This will keep the skin from sticking.

  4. Thaw your fowl, at room temperature, if it is frozen. Never thaw and then refreeze poultry(or any meat as a rule of thumb). Remove the bird from its bag.

  5. Preheat your oven to 350.

  6. Some brands will leave the gizzard, giblets etc. in a small bag in the main cavity. Remove these, checking to make sure that the cavity is empty.

  7. Rinse the bird in cool water. Rinse the cavity thoroughly as well as underneath the wings and legs.

  8. Pat the bird dry. Using room temperature (or melted) butter, coat the underside of the bird and season with salt and pepper. Place the chicken (with the buttered underside on the bottom) in the cooking bag and butter the breast and wings (top side), and season.

  9. If you are going to fill the cavity with extra seasonings (sprigs of fresh rosemary, halved onions, apples or lemon slices) now would be the time. If not, secure the cooking bag using the tie provided, cutting slits in the bag to keep it from bursting.

  10. Consult the cooking guide provided with your oven bags and roast the chicken accordingly. Most cooking times will range from an hour and fifteen minutes to two hours.

Notes on turkeys: Roasting a turkey is, essentially, very similar to roasting a chicken. However, there are some subtle differences. Firstly, a turkey will have two cavities (one at the neck and one at the tail). The giblets, gizzard etc. could be located in either cavity so be sure to check that both are clear, and thoroughly rinsed. If your turkey is fairly large, you may need to remove one of your oven racks before preheating the oven to make space. Some turkeys will have a "button" that measures its internal temperature. When the turkey reaches a certain temperature the button will pop, signifying that is done. Not all turkeys will have the the timer "button", but even if yours does be vigilant. If the button pops and your bird has only been in the oven for thirty minutes, think again. When the turkey is sufficiently cooked the pan juices should be clear and the bird should be browned on top and bottom (the bottom will not be as golden as the top but it should not be pale). Bloody or pink turkey should never be eaten.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Iron Foodie Challenge

What SPUDS is up to now:

Dear Friends,

We at SPUDS believe that challenges are an important part of life before, during and after college. With this in mind, SPUDS will be entering the "Iron Foodie" competition being hosted by the Foodie Blogroll and Marx foods during the months of November and December. Only 25 contestants will be selected to receive the 8 "secret" ingredients so we're crossing our fingers. Interested? Check out the link at the bottom of the page (by November 5th) for more information.

SPUDS would love to know how your responses add up! Feel free to post your answers in the comment section.

1. Why do you want to compete in this challenge?
When college students get free food there is, traditionally, a lot of mindless gobbling. And, while some students will graduate to adulthood with the same pizza and beer based palate, I would like to give SPUDS students the opportunity to explore the wide and wild culinary possibilities provided by Marx Foods and ingredients like fluer de sal, Madagascar vanilla and passion fruit; flavors that rarely make it to the dining hall heat lamp.

2. Limitations of time/space not withstanding, whose kitchen would you like to spend the day in and why?
I'd love to spend the day with Anthony Bordain. He is my kitchen alter-ego, and therefor, exactly who I want to grow up to be in the kitchen. That, and he isn't the least bit afraid of chicken giblets.

3. What morsel are you most likely to swipe from family and friends' plates when they aren't looking?
Eel and avocado maki

4. Sum your childhood up in one meal.
Christmas breakfast: pumpkin pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs, biscuits, orange juice and Mom's fruit salad

5. The one mainstream food you can't stand.
Call me small minded... but definitely SPAM.

Off to bed! I have a big day tomorrow... roasting a chicken.
Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

November Update: A Student Friendly Harvest

Thanks Kate for letting me take a photo of your fridge!

Happy November SPUDS followers,

Delivery, again? Don't waste the perfect opportunity to enjoy the best, and easiest, recipes the season has to offer! It's happening, and we can't stop it: the holidays are here, and chocolate turkeys, foil pumpkins and smatterings of red and green ribbon abound as far as the eye can see. But, just because food icons across the country are preparing complicated menus for 12 doesn't mean penny-pinching college students can't enjoy a harvest potluck with friends. A neighboring college apartment held an annual Thanksgiving dinner, and when I say thanksgiving dinner I mean the whole kit and kaboodle: turkey, stuffing, macaroni & cheese etc etc. But, whether you are the host or just a humble guest, SPUDS can supply you with everything you need for an affordable, easy to do and delicious harvest menu, no matter where you're going. How, you ask?

  1. SPUDS recipes for the month of November will feature inexpensive, easy to find ingredients.

  2. Each recipe will have a "feature" ingredient prepared two different ways (that's two recipes per post!)

  3. Great tips on flawless techniques for homemade pie crusts, from-scratch gravy, and how-to's for roasting chickens and turkeys.

  4. Vegetarian options and substitutions.

  5. Food safe travel tips, helpful tools and ideas for leftovers.

November Feature Ingredients:
Red Grapes
Canned Pumpkin

Don't forget: Have an idea for a recipe you'd like to see on SPUDS? Are Grandma's famous Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes a no-fail favorite at the dinner table? Post or message your recipes to the SPUDS fanpage.