We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Oven Baked Rice and Risotto With A Variety of Add-Ins

by Michelle

   Have you ever been frustrated by making stovetop rice? Burnt pans, in particular? I've got the solution for you: oven baked rice! But the fun doesn't stop there. You can achieve with ease a close approximation to classic, labor intesive risotto, also in the oven. As Jamie Oliver would quip, "Happy days."
   My favorite tool for making rice and risotto is a 2-3/4 quart oven-proof soup pot with matching lid by Le Creuset. Both items are made of cast iron with an enamel coating. Check-out the house wares isles of discount stores such as Ross or Marshall's to find enamel covered cast iron pots at reduced prices from competing manufacturers. The pan makes a difference! The heavier the better.
   Back in the mid nineties, soon after Juliette gave birth to her youngest daughter, Linda and I took a road trip down to Bisbee to meet our niece and to see the rest of the family. When we arrived, Juliette had the best dinner waiting for us: Burritos stuffed with stewed chicken, Mexican rice (see below), refried pinto beans, shredded cheddar, smothered in mole verde and drizzled with Mexican Crème Fraîche. Simple "slow food" at its best - all homemade - delicious and comforting. Even though such food is simple to make, it's not necessarily easy to replicate.
   I listened as Juliette explained how she sautées white rice in butter or oil until the grains turn translucent, and are gently touched with brown, about 7 minutes, then she adds broth reserved from stewing the whole chicken. Add salt, give the mixture a stir, and when the broth returns to a boil, cover, reduce the temperature to low and cook for about 20 minutes, or pop the covered pan into a preheated oven to finish cooking.    
   Another trick I have learned along the way to ensure fluffy rice is to absorb excess steam with one simple step. Once the rice is finished cooking, remove the pot from the heat. Quickly insert three layers of paper towels or a clean dishcloth in between the pot and the lid. After a minimum of 5 minutes, or up to 15, remove the lid and the dishcloth. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve.
   I am a huge fan of the brown rice at restaurant P.F. Chang's. I will admit freely, to my own embarrasement, that it took me the longest time to figure out that the secret is simply medium grain brown rice. Forget about their special sauce made table side, just bring me a quart of the mustard sauce that is served with the salt and pepper prawns. I've been working on the addictive mustard sauce for awhile. A half-agreeable waiter gave Linda and me the list of ingredients for the sauce, but he would not provide the corresponding measurements. At least knowing what goes into the sauce got me on the right track. As for the rice, it is also my family's favorite and you can always find medium grain brown rice stored in my refrigerator because brown rice can spoil rather quickly in the pantry.
   One of the best dinners I ever ate was at the now shuttered Talula's in Miami Beach. Picture this: Crispy Skin Yellowtail Snapper served with Sweet Potato-Wild Mushroom Risotto, Wilted Organic Arugula and Kaffir Lime Butter. Although we don't add Sweet Potatoes (but I suppose we could - I'll have to give that a try), the Milanese Risotto below is a close approximation with the addition of mushrooms, and would be equally delicious with roasted chicken or pork chops. The possibilites are truly endless. I hope you have as much fun as I do experimenting along the way.

Milanese Mushroom-Saffron Risotto with fresh parsley and shaved fennel.
Oven Baked Rice and Risotto with a Variety of Add-Ins

   There are a many creative ways you can perk up rice. Consider sautéing minced shallots, garlic and mushrooms along with the rice before adding broth. Or, with the addition of broth, throw in small cubes of root vegetables or squash. The famous Chicago-based chef Rick Bayless recommends adding a diced roasted poblano, corn kernals and/or shelled peas during the 5 minute steam absorption period to quickly warm the ingredients. When you fluff the rice, simply mix in the ingredients resting on top.
   A handful of minced parsley, cilantro or thyme is also a nice addition. Throw some freshly diced scallions - both the white and green parts - for another fresh dimension.
   Finally, as Australian-based chef and food stylist Donna Hay has taught us, you can approximate risotto in the oven using Arborio rice, broth, white wine, parmesan cheese and butter. Scroll down the page for details.

1 Tbsp butter, olive oil or ghee
1-2 shallots, peeled and minced, optional
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced, optional
2-1/2 cups filtered water or broth - vegetable or chicken
1-1/2 cups brown rice - any size grain: short, medium or long
         (To cook white rice, please see step 5 below)
1/2 tsp sea salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 cups frozen peas, or corn, or a mix of both, optional

Special Equipment:
A heavy oven-proof casserole, soup pot or saucepan, and lid. Capacity about 3 quarts.
Alternatively you can use an 8-inch square baking dish for a single recipe, or 13"x9" rectangular dish for a double recipe and cover with a double layer of foil, tightly crimping the edges to form a tight seal.

1. Adjust rack to middle of the oven. For brown rice preheat oven to 375°F. For white rice preheat oven to 350°F.
2. For Brown Rice: melt butter, olive oil or ghee in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add rice and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Add the liquid and about 1/2 tsp of salt. Stir to combine, increase heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil.

3. Immediately cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Bake for 55-60 minutes. Remove from oven, stir the rice and taste to verify the rice is cooked through. If not, return to oven and cook for 5 minutes more.
4. Once the rice is fully, cooked, add peas or corn, if using. Cover top of pan with triple layer of paper towels or clean dish towel to absorb excess steam, and cover with lid. Let sit for 5 minutes. Uncover, stir and serve.

Absorbing excess steam at the end of cooking.
For White Rice:
   Follow the complete set of directions for brown rice, but reduce the baking time and temperature to 20 minutes at 350°F. If you want a firmer rice, you can reduce the broth by 1/4 cup. You can use any type of white rice: Basmati, Jasmine, short grain, long grain, but not par-boiled "quick cook", such as as a boxed 2-minute rice.

For Coconut Rice:
   In the melted butter, add 1 tablespoon Thai Kitchen Roasted Red Chili Paste, and sautée minced shallots, garlic and rice. Exchange one cup coconut milk for one cup broth and add 1 tablespoon fish sauce. For garnish, add toasted coconut if you like, sliced almonds and thinly sliced scallions. Freshly minced herbs are a nice touch too, such as parsley, basil and cilantro. I sometimes like to add in small bites of freshly sliced pineapple - especially in the summer months and the menu is Thai. And lest I forget, black sesame seeds are fun thrown on top.

For Mexican Rice: 
   In the melted butter or hot oil, sautée minced shallots, garlic and rice. Exchange one cup salsa for one cup broth. I like to use Trader Joe's "Salsa Autentica", a medium-hot red salsa made with pureed tomatoes and chiles. If you want a slightly smoky flavor, you could add in 2-3 teaspoons adobo sauce from a can of Embasa Chopotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce. Peas, corn and diced carrots are nice add-ins, too. If you like, garnish with minced parsley or cilantro.

For Parmesan Risotto:
   Combine 1-1/2 cups Arborio rice with 4 cups simmering broth (vegetable or chicken). Cover with a lid and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 45 to 50 minutes until the rice is al dente. Remove from the oven, add one more cup simmering broth, 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup dry white wine, 3 tablespoons of butter, salt to taste, a few generous grinds of pepper, and stir thoroughly for a few minutes until the rice is thick and creamy. Add defrosted peas and/or corn, if you wish. Stir once more and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

For Milanese Mushroom-Saffron Risotto:
   Peel and finely chop 1 small yellow onion. Thinly slice 1/2 pound of mushrooms - button, shitake, or whichever you prefer. In a heavy saucepan - about 3 quarts - melt 2 tablespoons butter. Sautée the onion in the butter until translucent, but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add 8 ounces sliced mushrooms and sautée until slightly reduced in size, about 5 minutes.
   Add 1-1/2 cups Arborio rice, and stir to coat the grains with the butter. Add 1/2 cup dry white wine, and bring to a boil. Add 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth, 1 teaspoon saffron threads and bring to a boil. Cover with a lid and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 45 to 50 minutes until the rice is al dente.
   Remove from the oven, add one more cup simmering broth, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 2 tablespoons of butter, salt to taste, a few generous grinds of pepper, and stir thoroughly for a few minutes until the rice is thick and creamy. Add whisper thin slices of radicchio or fennel, if you wish. Stir once more and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

Sautée the onion, garlic, rice and mushrooms before adding broth.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reflections on Thanksgiving - A Sisters' Writing Trilogy

The Memory Keepers by Michelle, Linda, and Juliette

Maddie and I posing with the fruits of our labors on Thanksgiving Day 2008.
To Be Thankful Is To Unify
by Michelle

   If I look at my life as a series of chapters instead of one continuous journey, this current chapter started on December 1, 2008, the day I parted ways with my former employer at the beginning of a recession that everyone can surely agree is the worst since the Great Depression. In the hi-tech industry, it is not uncommon to see huge ups and downs on the prosperity scale, so I looked at my new found liberty as hitting an unfortunate pothole while traveling on the twisting, curving, sometimes up, sometimes down, road of life.
   I decided to relax and enjoy the holidays—take one day at a time. Then as a bonus, Linda announced that she and the oldest of her twin sons, Jordan would arrive for a visit in early January. Excited, I decided, without the least amount of guilt, to postpone looking for a new position until February. We had wonderful days in Tucson before heading to Bisbee to visit Juliette and our nieces, nephew, his girlfriend and their infant son. While we were all together, we were able to talk via webcam to Jordan’s twin, Joshua a Green Beret serving in Afghanistan who was in the middle of making preparations to return home as his tour of duty came to a close.
   After Linda and Jordan returned to California, I felt, somewhat dauntingly, that I had my “whole life in front of me.” I was feeling a little lost. I was left to consider a half-remodeled house, Christmas decorations to put away, and a career to get back on track. Then the late night call came, the dreaded call. My intuition signaled me before I even picked-up the phone that something terrible had happened. The sound of Linda’s strangled voice on the line was the only thing I needed to confirm that the unimaginable had happened—Joshua was dead.
   I was on a plane soon thereafter and spent the next month with Linda helping however I could. Juliette was not in a position to leave Bisbee until the weekend of the funeral although in the meantime she was a wonder trafficking communications on e-mail, working Facebook, MySpace and being a comfort over the phone. The Universe moves in mysterious ways. If I had been employed, I would not have been able to spend the time with Linda before, during, and after the funeral or the subsequent year my daughter and I lived with her in California.

The Pusch Ridge Mountains glow pink from the setting sun.
Thanksgiving Day 2006.
   My Dad’s brother also passed away in January and my mother-in-law in April. Many more have followed in the lives of our close friends and co-workers. I cannot remember a similar time in my life marked by so much death and the echoing ripple of fear created by the global financial crisis. One of the most interesting aspects to me of experiencing grief over the past two years is that managing "other people's" feelings is next to impossible. The only thing you can control is yourself. Empathy and patience are the only two things that got me through. That, and trying to keep a sense of humor amid the chaos.   
   I remember one particularly tense evening, while waiting for Josh’s body to arrive home in Solvang, California, that Linda and I retired early to extract ourselves from the crowd. We were sharing a bedroom at Linda’s ex-husband’s house. As we lay in the queen size bed reviewing the events of another grief-laden day, with tears trickling down into our ears, something struck me as particularly ironic, and as a byproduct, rather humorous. I could not suppress the uprising in my chest and I explained, with some trepidation, (acknowledging our solemn situation) why I had begun to chuckle, as I am wont to do at inappropriate times. My laughter was contagious and Linda and I got to giggling and we couldn't stop. It was the worst of times and yet there we were, literally under the covers, laughing ourselves silly, hoping not to be heard. At that particular moment, laughter was the best medicine, and was exactly what we needed to make it through one more evening, until the next tear drops fell, waiting for the next wave of grief to hit us like a tsunami.
   What I remember in particular from those two weeks in Solvang was how everyone handled grief differently—some well, some not so well. Sorrow was offset by the gentle kindnesses of friends, family and in particular strangers, who lined up on roads waving American flags and covering their hearts or saluting, as we passed in two separate motorcades. We appreciated friends who showed up on the doorstep with casseroles, soups, tri-tip and ranch beans, trays of cold cuts, desserts, bottles of alcohol, plants and flowers. They would linger and help shoulder the burden, spending time with us and telling us their stories of Joshua. I discovered on a broader scale that facing death brings out the worst and the best traits in humans, all based upon his or her individual ability to deal with the inevitable—not one of us is getting out of here alive.

My daughter and I on Thanksgiving day 2007.
  Honestly, I just feel like I'm coming out of the funk that I've been in during this chapter of my life. There have been a lot of wonderful things that have happened during that time, and a lot of grief and sadness too that have weighed me down. One of the things that got me through was implementing a routine of gratefulness. Every day I recount what I'm grateful for, even it is something small and seemingly insignificant. The gratefulness ritual kept me grounded (and maybe in particular terms, while I was not focusing on the negatives, the underlying theme was that things could have been much, much worse and I was actively acknowledging the positives at work in my life.)
    I've mostly weathered the storm, and am hopefully emerging a little wiser, if not a little battered, but certainly grateful for new opportunities, such as my new position as a business development manager with a great company. I am also grateful for everything I have been able to hold on to, such as my house and the love of my family and dear friends. The losses are in my past; not to be forgotten, but not to be dwelled upon either. This chapter is not the headline in my life any longer and as this year draws to a close, so will this chapter conclude. I am looking forward to the year ahead and the opportunity to travel new roads.
   If you have a lot on your plate, like most of us do, the holidays will undoubtedly add another layer of stress to your already busy routine. Keep your sights on the horizon and do your best to manage your thoughts and reactions. Endeavor to be the center in the eye of the storm. Engage in activities that you really enjoy. This time of year, one of my favorite past times is baking with my daughter. Remember that each day is a gift. To be thankful is to unify. Be strong, be gracious, be loving, be grateful. That's my daily mantra—hopefully, it might be some help to you, as it has been to me. May the blessings of this holiday season be upon you and yours. Happy Thanksgiving!

A beautiful maple tree in Linda's yard on Thanksgiving day 2009.
The More You Share, The More You Have
by Linda

   As this Thanksgiving approaches I have had time to think about and remember all of the Thanksgivings that have gone before, as once again I am facing a Thanksgiving without my blood family living near. Sadly for me, my sister Michelle and my niece Maddie moved back to Tucson this past July after a year spent with me in California, attempting to relocate from Arizona to California. Given the economy, it was no surprise that their house in Tucson did not sell. Sealing the deal, a wonderful new Charter School with a strong science curriculum opened this past August near their home in Tucson, which is a great boon for science-minded Maddie. They packed up the Toyota 4Runner once more, after twelve months spent in Sonoma County, and headed for the desert, leaving me feeling more than a little alone and sorry for myself. 
   My custom on Thanksgiving Day, in the past few years after closing the store's doors promptly at two o'clock, has been to join my adopted family, Monica and Clarke. Over the past three Thanksgivings that I have spent with them, their family has grown from two to three. On Thanksgiving night of my first Thanksgiving at their home, Monica finally announced her "secret" to her family. I was one of the few that knew that she was expecting a baby in the Spring. Tears of joy accompanied the pumpkin pie that night as she proudly exposed her baby bump to her very elated Mom and Dad.
   This past year Monica and Clarke with help from family and an 18 month-old adorable tow-headed boy named Max, cooked dinner for 30 assorted family members and friends, including Michelle and her husband, Jay, and Maddie (who, by the way, is featured often in our posts serving as the model for tasting the recipes, much to her chagrin).
   I have friends who aren't fond of the Thanksgiving holiday, considering that it has been soft-sold to us as a day when the Pilgrims and Native Americans joined in a harvest celebration. This version clearly omits the years of genocide and atrocities perpetrated by colonials in the early years of their settlements, and then later by their progeny in the decades to follow with the advancement of settlers into the West.
   For me, the annual observance of Thanksgiving has become a day to remember the sacrifices and suffering of the many, that have led to this present Thanksgiving, and above all to be grateful for family, adopted family, friends and the many others who come in and out of our lives and share their generosity, love and caring with us. Thanks-giving has become a day for me to acknowledge and express gratitude for the abundance of love and material wealth that is present in my life, even if, sadly my Mom, Dad, sisters, son, nieces and nephews live so far away.

Carving the Thai Turkey at Clarke and Monica's.
Thanksgiving 2009
   I was reminded of a simple homily recently by my friend Silvia (see Silvia's black beans) as she proffered to a reluctant yet very hungry me, a steaming bowl of bean, cheese and pasilla chile tamales when I came into work the other day. According to Silvia, her friend who made them does not have much work, and Silvia and her friends help support this friend's family by buying tamales from time to time. I hesitated before accepting Silvia's offer, knowing that she had purchased them for her husband and two sons.
   Silvia who is intuitive as well as empathetic seemed to read my mind. "Go ahead, eat, eat!" she said touching my arm by way of a gentle caress. "You know, Linda (I love the way she pronounces my name, "Leenda" as is proper in Spanish), as my mother always says—the more you share, the more you have." The truth of this simple statement made me feel warm inside. As I partook of the delicious tamales that I dabbed into a very spicy salsa, I resolved inwardly once more, to keep on "paying it forward" as we say. For it is so very true—the more you share, the more you have.
   Happy Thanksgiving to all, far and near, with much love sent to you and yours from this Salvation Sister.

Sarah Josepha Hale
Portrait Painted by James Reid Lambdin
A Thanksgiving Primer
by Juliette

“Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.” ~ Sarah Hale

   Why am I starting this Thanksgiving blog with a nursery rhyme? It started with writer's block, as usually happens when I am facing some sort of deadline on almost any type of project—cooking, art, writing, housework, etc. It doesn't seem to matter what the task at hand is— if I have to do it, it suddenly becomes the thing I can't or don't want to do. Something about a "deadline" sparks my contrary nature... think about it "DEAD-line". The word itself has such negative connotations!
   I spent much time thinking about the many things I have to be thankful for: The health and love of my family, the start of a new business venture, our wonderful old ramshackle bungalow (which does not leak!), tried and true friends, ample food in the pantry, a beautiful town to live in, and computers. Yes, computers, and the internet! I really can't imagine how I would get by day to day without the aid of my trusty lap-top!  
   The world is at my fingertips and anything I might wish to learn about can be found on Google with a few key strokes. Lucky for you dear reader, are the wonders of word processing, as my handwriting is mostly intelligible (ask any cook I have ever worked with)! Ever had a plate thrown at your head because someone could not decipher your penmanship? I have! Word processing rocks, and when computers made their way into restaurant kitchens in the 1980's they might very well have saved me from a concussion or an aggravated assault charge!    

A letter from Sarah Hale to President Lincoln.

   Still being completely blocked, I decided to Google "Thanksgiving" to see if there was something new I could discover about a holiday I have been participating in for a half a century. The first link I chose was Wikipedia. I scrolled through the first part on the pilgrims, as I had learned plenty of that in school, I dug deeper. I came across this proclamation from Abraham Lincoln in 1863.  I was struck by how his words are still completely relevant today:

   "The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union."


   I also saw that Lincoln's proclamation was prompted by a series of letters and editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale. Sarah who? I decided to check her out. Sarah Hale was the first editor of the first woman's magazine in America: Godey's Lady's Book. She also happens to be the woman who penned Mary had a Little Lamb. We all know this nursery rhyme, but do we know that this same woman launched a 17 year campaign to have the fourth Thursday in November to be officially recognized as Thanksgiving? Seventeen years folks - without the aid of word processing, typewriters, or even carbon paper - she wrote literally thousands of letters to five different Presidents, and every other local, state, and national politician she could think of with her polite yet persistent requests.
   She published editorials in Godey's Lady's Book asking for a national day of Thanksgiving, along with recipes for dishes the feast/celebration should include, which are still cooked in kitchens across America today. What makes Sarah's story particularly exceptional is that all of this happened after she was widowed while pregnant with her fifth child at the age of 34 and left penniless.
   With our nation fractured by the horrors of The Civil War, Abraham Lincoln read yet another one of Sarah's letters and decided to act on it. Before the inclusion of Thanksgiving, the only national holidays celebrated in the United States were Independence Day and Washington's Birthday. Sarah made a great many other contributions to our country:
 • Sarah Hale was the first to urge equal education for American girls. She was the first to start day nurseries for working women, and also the first to suggest public playgrounds.
• Hale authored two dozen books and hundreds of poems.
• She raised the $30,000 (in 1840 that was a lot of $$$) in Boston for the completion of the Bunker Hill Monument.
• Hale advocated for the preservation of George Washington's Mount Vernon plantation, as a symbol of patriotism that both the Northern and Southern United States could all support.
• As Editor at Godey's Lady's Book, Hale made a major contribution to American literature by choosing to publish original, American manuscripts.

    I recently became a fan of Howard Zinn after watching the documentary You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train. He practiced "passive resistance" and it struck me that Sarah Hale had practiced "passive insistence". And it worked.

Devin with his Aunt Avalon.
   Sarah retired with these words to her readers in the December 1877 issue, also still relevant today:

   "And now, having reached my ninetieth year, I must bid farewell to my countrywomen, with the hope that this work of half a century may be blessed to the furtherance of their happiness and usefulness in their Divinely-appointed sphere. New avenues for higher culture and for good works are opening before them, which fifty years ago were unknown. That they may improve these opportunities, and be faithful to their higher vocation, is my heartfelt prayer."

   As I sit down this Thursday to a traditional Thanksgiving feast, I will be thanking Sarah for recognizing the value of setting aside at least one day each year to express our gratitude, and share our blessings with family and friends.

For more on Sarah Josepha Hale follow these links:

Thanksgiving at Juliette's house.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Best All American Apple Pie

by Linda

"In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe." Carl Sagan

   As long as I can remember, I have always been interested in eating. Learning to cook, starting at a very early age, seemed to me, to be a good strategy for getting more of what I was interested in eating when I was growing up.
   Our mother, Dede, was never that interested in cooking, and still isn't. Sorry, Mom, but we can acknowledge after the passing of all of these years, that you regularly made items that my sisters and I found pretty unpalatable. It was the sixties, and to be fair to Mom, most of America was way behind in the culinary revolution that would follow, so our mother can hardly be blamed for serving up meals that included such items as red Jell-O and Del Monte canned fruit cocktail as "the fruit salad", with Van de Kamp's fish sticks as "the entree" for dinner.
   And yes, she once tried to make me eat a Liverwurst sandwich when I was five. The longest hour of my life just might be sitting on our back patio in the San Fernando Valley, with a kitchen timer ticking alongside that disgusting paste spread thickly between two slices of whole wheat bread. Yep, that's right—I chose a spanking that day rather than eat that horrible sandwich. So you can see, it is possible that I just might have had more motivation than other children I knew, to learn to cook at a young age given my mother's menu proclivities. 

Front Row: Linda and Michelle; Back Row: Juliette and Maria
  I cajoled Mom in to letting me begin with making things like pudding and cookies when I was about 10. I remember Mom supervising my early cooking adventures, and it seemed to me at the time, that her main concern was, of course, to some degree, my physical safety. Moreover, a primary interest of hers was that I make the least amount of mess to clean up as possible. Mom will be the first to admit, that her dislike of making a mess in the kitchen has kept her from really enjoying cooking all these years. Not so for me, Juliette or Michelle. We love a good mess, because we know the mess in the end, leads to some very fine meals.
   I recall that I cooked my first complete dinner for the family in 7th grade. It was memorable for me in large part because I worked all afternoon on my menu selection from Irma Rombauer's "The Joy Of Cooking", only to have my Dad comment after we ate the contents on the plate, that what I had served was a great appetizer, and he asked with a malicious gleam in his eye, "Where is the dinner?" Much weeping erupted from his sensitive daughter, but fortunately because of my love of eating, I persevered on. By the time I was in high school I had become fairly proficient in the kitchen. This leads me to how this all of this family history relates to apple pie.
Hands down our worst family portrait - circa 1973 - always makes me laugh.
Front Row from left to right: Michelle, Mom, and Dad
Back Row from left to right: Juliette, Maria, and Linda
   My aforementioned father, Paul, has always been a pie person. He really isn't fond of cake. He will join in for a slice of my favorite cake, German Chocolate, always requested by me on my birthday. And just like Johnny Depp's character in the movie Chocolat, he will respond something like, "I'm undone, but it's not my favorite." On Dad's birthday—he wants pie. And no one loves Thanksgiving more than Dad. He is in pie heaven on that day. So I began my quest to make the perfect fruit pies in my teens since those were Dad's favorites. Dad was really ecstatic if the pie was made from fruit that grew ourselves on the five acre farm where we lived in the seventies. If the pie was baked from our apricots, boysenberries or apples, he would pronounce in a pie-induced euphoria, that a particular pie was indeed the best pie he had ever eaten.
   When I began baking professionally in my twenties, I already had quite a bit of pie-baking experience under my belt, as the saying goes. I soon discovered the aphorism about Americans and apple pie was true. My apple pie was such a resounding success on the hotel dessert tray, that it was always on the menu by demand. Over my years of baking and serving it to the American public, along with many visitors from other countries wanting to try a beloved American dessert, I have been told by many over the years that my pie is the best apple pie that they have ever tasted.

Linda, Maria and Juliette on our horses on our Central California farm.
   Recently an old friend wrote to me, and asked for the recipe. Megan and I worked together at The Ballard Inn in the late 1980s. The Ballard Inn and Restaurant is a beautiful Bed and Breakfast Inn situated in the acclaimed Santa Ynez Valley in California. Megan's mother, Beth was the manager of the Inn when I worked there, and Megan lived across the street with her daughter Raiza in a cute little house that was painted barn red. Megan helped out working at the inn part-time, and she was a big fan of the creations that I made for breakfast and high tea for the guests at the inn. Raiza must have been about five or six at that time, a beautiful little girl with huge brown eyes like her mother, and possessed of a sunny nature. Megan's recent message to me related that Raiza is getting married soon (goodness me... time does fly by!), and that instead of the traditional wedding cake, Raiza would like to serve to her guests—you guessed it—apple pie. Turns out, Raiza is a pie person, too, just like my Dad.
   So here is the recipe for Megan and Raiza. Raiza, I wish you many years of wedded bliss, and that you will enjoy baking this apple pie for your loved ones on your anniversary celebrations and other special occasions in the years to come. Salud! 

Linda with the late Tom Bradley who was the Mayor of Los Angeles for five terms.
She prepared food for a campaign fundraiser at The Ballard Inn circa 1987.
   In the 90s, when I baked at The Los Olivos Grand Hotel which is now The Fess Parker Wine Country Inn and Spa, it was the first time that I was in charge of creating the daily dessert tray that was presented to the diners at the end of every lunch and dinner meal. Since I was baking all of the bread for the restaurant in addition to creating the dessert menu—yes, that's right—every last muffin, dinner roll, slice of bread, hamburger bun and cookie all were produced by yours truly, I needed to use every minute on the job to the fullest. Often, I had special occasion cakes to produce for birthday parties and weddings, as well. So I learned quickly that the desserts that I chose needed to have a little longer shelf life, because I simply did not have the time to bake and fill the entire dessert tray everyday. My New York-Style Cheesecake is a great example of this type of dessert, because it gets better after sitting in the refrigerator for a day or two.   

   Since apple pie was such a crowd pleaser and always in demand, I learned that the pie held up much better for three or four days if I put a crumble topping on it instead of a regular pie crust. In my quest to make the perfect apple pie, I developed a recipe that cooked the cornstarch and spices in a liquid "broth" before pouring over the apple slices and baking. This made sense to me, because thickeners need to be cooked (the same reasoning behind making a roux for gravy), so that they lose their "floury" taste, and cooking develops the flavor of spices.

   Another trick that I used for large scale production but still allowed the production of an excellent pie, was slicing the apples ahead of time, and then storing the slices in pineapple juice. This was a trick that I learned from my Mom and Dad on the farm. During apple season when we were innundated by apples, they used to peel and slice the apples on an antique apple peeler, and then dip them in pineapple juice before dehydrating. This as it turns out, is a natural and very effective way of keeping the apples from browning, and not nearly as tart as lemon juice.
   At the hotel, my pastry helper, whose sole function was to produce countless sheet pans of three ounce dinner rolls from the dough that I made, and to keep giant lexans full with sliced apples soaking in pineapple juice, so that I was able to produce eight or more pies at a time on a moment's notice.
  The recipe's instructions contain both the tips and tricks that work well for baking a perfect pie. You may want to read all the steps before you get started. This is the perfect dessert that is best baked a day in advance and let it sit at room temperature until ready to serve.

All American Apple Pie

   You can make pie crusts ahead and freeze them up to 6 months. Simply process one recipe at a time in the food processor - no need to clean the bowl between batches. It is a real time saver to have pie crusts made ahead and flattened into 7 inch circles that are wrapped first in plastic wrap and then in foil. Use a Sharpie to write the date on the foil.
   Restaurant supply stores sell plastic containers called Cambros that we use (you can also purchase them on-line) or use a large container or bowl covered with plastic wrap or a lid. Cambros are great for storing, soups, salads and even sourdough starter. They also stack, are not expensive and have measurement guides on the sides which is helpful.
   For an autumn themed dessert buffet, the apple pie pairs beautifully with our family's Pumpkin Pie and Pecan Tassies.

For the crust:
1 or more recipe(s) All Butter Pie Crust or Absolutely Delicious Gluten-Free Pie Crust

To prepare the apples:
6-7 cups Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, thinly sliced (1/8-inch) for each pie
1 32-fluid oz. bottle pure unsweetened pineapple juice, as needed to cover sliced apples

For the streusel:
1 cup all-purpose flour
6 Tbsps salted butter, cold
6 Tbsps granulated sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped - optional

For the glaze:
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup filtered water
3 rounded Tbsps cornstarch
3 Tbsps salted butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice

1. Prepare All Butter Pie Crust, according to recipe. Place into a deep-dish 9-inch or 10-inch pie plate, crimp edges, and refrigerate (covered lightly with Saran Wrap) until ready to use. This can be done the night before if you plan on baking in the morning.

2. For the apples: In a Cambro or deep bowl, pour in the pineapple juice. Peel, core and thinly slice (1/8-inch) each apple, adding the sliced apples to the pineapple as you work. (Slicing the apples on the thinner side allows them to cook through.) Every once in a while, give the apples a stir so each slice is bathed completely in the juice to prevent browning. When all the apples are prepared (scale as needed for the number of pies you want to bake), cover the container and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Stir the apples once a day to keep the apples on the top from oxidizing.

3. For the streusel: In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon. Pulse to mix. Cut the butter into 6 pieces and add to the bowl. Pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Pour into a bowl and rub it with your fingers until the butter begins to warm and the mixture starts to hold together. If you are using walnuts, pulse in the food processor until roughly chopped. Add to streusel mix, and stir together. Set aside. The streusel can also be made a day or two in advance; cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

4. To preheat the oven: Arrange two oven racks so one sits in the lower third of the oven and the other in the upper third. Place a cookie sheet on the top rack; it will act as a shield protecting the crust and pie from over browning. Preheat oven to 375°F.
5. Measuring the apples: When ready to use the apples, remove the slices from the pineapple juice and drain thoroughly in a colander.
I use an empty pie plate as a measurement of the apples that I will need for each pie. Make sure that the pie plate is mounded up, because the apples will cook down. Once measured, transfer the apples once again to the colander and let drain well before putting in a large bowl.

6. For the glaze: Multiply the glaze ingredients by the number of pies you will be making. In a saucepan, mix sugar, cornstarch and spices together. Add warm water and butter. Stir to a boil over low to medium heat. Remove from burner, set aside to cool. Pour the glaze over the drained apples and toss to coat.

7. To assemble the pie: Working quickly so the pastry doesn't become too warm, divide the glazed apples among the prepared pie crusts. Stack the apples high because they condense during baking. I take any remaining liquid left once the apple slices are divided between the pie crusts and divide it equally, drizzling it over the top of each pie. Next, cover the entire surface of the apples with the streusel. With fruit pies I place them on a foil covered cookie sheet in the oven so that the juices bubble over onto the cookie sheet, and not into my oven. Restaurant Supply stores are also a great source for half sheet pans. They are inexpensive, and they do not warp like regular cookie sheets do in a hot oven.

8. Place the pie(s) immediately in the pre-heated oven. Bake at 375°F for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, turning after 40 minutes for even browning. Make sure that your pies bake long enough for you to see that the juices have thickened. The crumb crust will puff up and start to have cracks. Also, use your nose as a guide. I have found after years of baking that my nose is a very good indicator of when a pie if fully baked. Cool the pie(s) on a rack. If you wish to bake the apple pie the night before your occasion, there is no need to refrigerate it. Once baked, simply place on a cooling rack until you are ready to serve it the next day. Refrigerate after 24 hours.
9. Most folks love their apple pie with a scoop of vanilla or caramel ice cream. Sweetened whipped cream flavored with real vanilla is also a great choice to pipe decoratively on top, and if you are serving guests from New England, you might want to have a wedge of sharp white cheddar on hand.

"Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness." ~ Jane Austen

Herb and Cornbread Stuffing

by Michelle

Herb and Corn Bread Stuffing

   Our family recipe traditionally does not include dried fruit and sausage. After reading Ina Garten's recipe for Turkey Roulade, I decided to give it a try. I liked the results very much. I have written the recipe so you can either include or exclude the fruit depending upon how you feel. You can also exchange one-half cup pitted, chopped prunes for half the dried cranberries. The stuffing is delicious without the sausage, but I liked the spicy note it added.

3 cups Herb Seasoned Cube Stuffing
3 cups Seasoned Corn Bread Cube Stuffing
1 cup figs, quartered and then cut in half
1 cup dried cranberries (or 1/2 dried cranberries and 1/2 cup pitted, chopped prunes)
1/2 cup brandy or Calvados (Apple Brandy)
1/2 cup water
24 ounces unsweetened apple sauce
1 pound chicken sausage, removed from casings
4 Tbsps butter
2 large onions, diced
1-1/2 cups celery, trimmed and diced
1-1/2 cups carrot, peeled and diced
8-10 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
2 tsps dried thyme or 1 Tablespoon fresh, minced
1 tsp dried sage, or 2 teaspoons fresh, minced
1-1/2 Tbsps poultry seasoning
Sea salt and black pepper freshly ground, to taste
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock or as needed

1. In a small saucepan, combine the figs, cranberries (and prunes, if using), the Calvados or brandy and 1/2 cup water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. Preheat a large skillet (at least 12 inches) or pan and add the sausage. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, and crumbling into bite size pieces with a spatula as it cooks. When cooked through, about 10-15 minutes, remove all the sausage to a plate and set aside.
3. In the same skillet or pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and carrots. Sprinkle with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and about 1/4 tsp black pepper. Cook for five minutes then add the mushrooms. Continue to cook for another 5 to 10 minutes until the vegetables are evenly cooked. Add the dried fruit and the liquid, the cooked sausage, the chopped rosemary, dried thyme and sage, poultry seasoning, and another sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook for another two minutes, scraping up any brown bits with a spatula.
4. Place the corn bread and herb stuffing mix in a large bowl. Add the applesauce and stir well. Add the vegetable-dried fruit-sausage mix and stir well. Add a little chicken stock, if needed. The mixture should be wet, but not drenched. You will definitely need the chicken stock if you omitted the fruit and brandy from the recipe.
5. At this point, the stuffing can be stored in the refrigerator overnight, or used immediately in the Turkey Roulade. It's also excellent loosely stuffed in a cavity of a big 24-pound turkey immediately before putting it in the oven - never stuff a turkey the night before. Place extra stuffing in a buttered gratin or casserole dish and bake for the last 45 minutes to an hour of roasting alongside the turkey.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fall in Sonoma County and Michelle's Turkey Roulade

My Traveling Tales by Linda

    One of the best things about writing for our blog is that we take time to write about the things that we love. I love Fall. In fact, I don't know anyone who does not love Fall. There is something so magical about the advent of crisp mornings and warm afternoons that characterize this season in California. For me, a Fall afternoon spent in the countryside conjures up a blend of gratitude and awe for living amid such bounty and beauty, tinged with a wee bit of a nostalgic melancholy that acknowledges and savors the slow waning of another year. Sonoma County is truly a magical place to experience Fall, and during this past week, happily for me, three delightful things all converged that allowed me to take full advantage of the season.

   1. A day off.
   2. A day that dawned clear, promising the afternoon would be a perfect autumnal specimen.
   3. I was notified that my Cask Wine Club selections were ready for pick up at my favorite winery near Geyserville, deLorimier.
The Russian River in Guerneville at Vacation Beach.
   So after a leisurely morning spent flicking through the newest crop of my favorite food magazines, all paying tribute to the change of season, and slowly sipping a frothy and steaming Mocha sprinkled liberally with cinnamon, I showered, grabbed my trusty Canon PowerShot, and headed out the door into the golden and green paradise otherwise known as Sonoma County, my home.
   As well as being home to myself, Sonoma County is also home to over 300 award winning wineries, many of them being small, family-operated businesses, and if you enjoy great wines like I do, it is a real pleasure to live in the heart of it all. So, this past afternoon when I sidled up to the bar in the tasting room at the deLorimier Winery, there were couples from Pennsylvania and Toronto who were tasting the wines before walking out to sip a glass on the sun drenched patio and soak up some rays before heading East for a very long and cold season.
   I rarely feel smug, but I let myself indulge in the emotion just for a minute. I thought to myself, "I'm not going anywhere, I live here!" I made a private toast to me and continued to gloat inwardly, "And don't mind if I do have another sip of that double gold award-winning Warm Springs Ranch Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon."
This bottle was purchased to go with our Thanksgiving turkey.

   I discovered the deLorimier Winery through the recommendation of friends of mine, but I had not made time to visit the tasting room until Michelle and I went wine tasting last year, and we stopped by the winery on a day in autumn when we were planning to drive the entirety of the Silverado Trail. Our first stop going from the North and heading to the South was deLorimier.
   Our plans soon changed however, when we began tasting the most amazing Cabernets, and our tasting room host, Jim was not only very knowledgeable but extremely hospitable as well, an appealing combination. Michelle and I tasted the deLorimier cabs side by side with their reserve cabs, and we also were introduced to the outstanding Chardonnay that they make from old vine grapes that grow alongside the winery.

   In addition to my signing up for their Cask Club, Michelle and I bought a bottle of the Chardonnay, deeming it just perfect to pair with our Thanksgiving turkey last year. Having consumed our limit of wine for the day at deLorimier, we scrapped our plan to travel the Silverado Trail, and settled instead for lunch in Calistoga.
   Sonoma County has become a destination for wine enthusiasts seeking smaller wineries, and a more rural experience with less crowds than can be found visiting its glitzy big sister, Napa County. Geyserville is situated in the incomparable Alexander Valley. CA-128 meanders through this amazing landscape, and should you find yourself on the corner of downtown Geyserville ready to head out for the day, you may be a bit overwhelmed. With wineries in every direction, you might need to flip a coin to determine which way to go!
Downtown Geyserville… the choices are overwhelming.
   Not to worry...you can't go wrong. Every one of these wineries produces excellent wines, and each has its own special charms. Pick a direction, drive slowly, and stop at any tasting room you desire. You won't be disappointed. Geyserville, according to my friend Wikipedia is:
"An unincorporated community in Sonoma County, California, USA. Located in the Wine Country, it is noted by tourists for its restaurants, bed and breakfast inns, and wineries. Geyserville, located on the Rancho Tzabaco Mexican land grant, owes its foundation to the discovery in 1847 of a series of hot springs, fumaroles, and steam vents in a gorge in the mountains of Sonoma County, California between Calistoga and Cloverdale. This complex, which became known as The Geysers, soon became a tourist attraction, and a settlement grew up to provide accommodation and serve as a gateway to The Geysers. It was initially known as Clairville but subsequently renamed Geyserville. After the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad was extended to Cloverdale in the 1870s, its trains stopped in Geyserville. Geyserville is located on California State Route 128, close to US Route 101."

Today Geyserville is tiny, and charming with a miniscule downtown business hub.

   Upon this visit to the deLorimier Winery, I was pleased to see that among the bottles that comprised my Cask Wine Club selections was a bottle of their 2008 Chardonnnay. Perfect to pair this Fall with a Thanksgiving Turkey or with Michelle's Turkey Roulade. I can hardly wait.

Michelle's Turkey Roulade

   In mid October, I made Turkey Roulade for a Sunday afternoon dinner for friends and family adapting this recipe from Barefoot Contessa Back To Basics by Ina Garten (© Clarkson Potter 2008). In the book, Ina writes that she prefers to make Turkey Roulade instead of roasting a turkey on Thanksgiving. I agree that it is certainly easier to cut and serve the Roulade over carving a big bird.
   When my husband brought the boneless turkey home, it was not butterflied, which meant I had the "pleasure" of doing it myself. Impersonating Meryl Streep channeling Julia Child, I considered my actions for an extended moment before proceeding with a long serrated knife, assuring myself by warbling out loud, "I am FEARLESS." It worked. I sliced slowly and did just fine. I'm sure both Meryl and Julia would have been proud of my technique.
   The other moment of patience occurred when I discovered that I was out of kitchen twine. With the clock ticking, my husband went on the mission of mercy for me, but found out that kitchen twine is only carried as a seasonal item at our local grocery store. What?! Fortunately, the nice butcher gave up some twine for the cause. The turkey roulade entered the oven about 45 minutes late. Evidently that's why appetizers and cocktails were invented. ~Michelle

Buttermilk infused mashed potatoes and mushroom sauce are traditional sides.
1 whole (2 halves) turkey breast, boned and butterflied (about 5 pounds)
1 recipe Herb and Corn Bread Stuffing
2 to 3 Tbsps butter, at room temperature
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat oven 400°F. Place a baking rack in a roasting pan. Grease the rack and the pan for easier clean-up. Set aside.
2. Request that the butcher butterfly the turkey breasts without removing the fat. If for whatever reason, you find yourself in my position, with knife in hand, be sure to freeze the turkey breast for 20-30 minutes. Very cold meat is much easier to cut. Lay the breast skin side down. I start from the inside and slowly work my way outwards. After the turkey is butterflied, I use a mallet to lightly "hammer" the surface to a uniform thickness, but not too thin.

3. Sprinkle the meat with about 1 to 2 teaspoons sea salt and about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Spread the prepared stuffing in a 1/2-inch-thick layer over the meat leaving a 1/2-inch border on all sides. Place the leftover stuffing in a buttered dish and bake for the last 45 minutes of roasting alongside the turkey.

4. Starting at a short end, roll the turkey like a jelly roll, tucking in stuffing as you go. Tie the roast with firmly with kitchen twine every 2 inches to make a compact cylinder. This job is easier with two people, but can be done with one person - just have the twine cut ahead of time in 5 to 6 10-inch pieces.
5. Place the stuffed turkey breast seam side down on the rack in the roasting pan. Rub the softened butter across the entire surface of the turkey and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
6. Transfer the roast to the oven and reduce heat to 325°F. Roast the turkey for 1-3/4 to 2 hours, until a thermometer reads 150 degrees in the center. Cover the turkey with aluminum foil and allow it to rest at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Carve 1/2-inch-thick slices, removing the twine as you slice across the roast. The twine will help keep it together as you carve. Serves 6 to 8 people.
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