Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Year in Review - Misses, failures and learning experiences

 Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently. 
 ~Henry Ford

Big Christmas gap in the blog, but great news - Santa brought us a fancy new Nikon 3100D Camera.  Fabulous blog pics for 2011!  I have several posts working from the holiday fanfare, also working on a 2011 Blog Review/Resolutions post. I have big plans for my little blog in 2011, stay tuned and tell some friends.  Before we ring in the new, we must honor and review the past.  The following are my fun failures and contest misses.  I use the word failure with the utmost pride for I believe any good cook must have much failure to be great.  So here is to failing so we might success in 2011!

Not a failure merely a miss.  Egg and Sausage Empanadas:  Did not enter this in the Jimmy Dean contest.  It needs more testing. They were really dry.  I think it could be done, but maybe isn't super original and I need to find a way to keep them moist.

Cranberry Marinaded Pork Chops:  Nice chops, just didn't get the cranberry taste so I didn't bother entering them.  Just a miss for this contest, decent meal.

Shepards Pie experiment gone wrong.  Actually the color was not the bad thing about this, the orange side is Hubbard squash mixed with some mashed potatoes.  I played around with the meat mixture under the rainbow potatoes and that was not so good.  Squash topped pie - ok.  Sausage pie base - not so good.

Fish Soup.  Was suppose to be like the pho soups you find at the good Vietnamese noodle houses, but the Gordon's fish product had a seasoning of it's own that made for an odd flavored broth.  Not a good kind of odd.  The end result was ok looking, not so good tasting.  Probably should call this one a failure.

Cookie Dome.  I was playing around with Pillsbury cookie dough.  What did we learn?  You can't make molds out of Pillsbury cookie dough.  I tried a few things, inside a dome bowl, outside a dome bowl, in the bundt, outside the bundt; it just does not work.  Still experimenting and looking for my own original Pillsbury creation.

Monkey Bread gone wild!  Another Pillsbury miss, well I just used too small a pan, so not a failure.  Still tasted great.

Calamari.  I think myself adventurous in the kitchen and squid/calamari are not all that "out there" but to clean a whole squid and prepare calamari is not for the faint of heart.  I hate to admit it, but I actually gave up and put the squid back in the freezer for another time.  Uncle Joe is a real Portuguese, he can handle whole squid, I'll wait till he can help or make something yummy for me.  Not a fan of whole squid.  Failure. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cinnamon Loaf French Toast

Is that the most beautiful bread?  Well maybe you could better enjoy it's beauty if the picture was taken with a fancy new camera that I might get for Christmas.  Think we are going to do it.  I need to improve my pictures to make my blog real.

Ok - crazy week ahead!  I hope to blog the crazy as it goes on, bear with me.  We have a kids Christmas party (cookies!), an Argentine Tango Wedding Reception (that I am the wedding coordinator for) and a Cookie Exchange (more cookies!).  Oh and today is my birthday!  Happy Birthday to me.  The wedding is clearly the big event of the week.  A close family friend was married in Spain last month, she is holding a reception in Cambridge this Saturday for 100 people.  I have been her wedding coordinator, organized the whole thing and this week is go time.  There will be a big blog post covering the whole event.

While finishing up the wedding cake order, I saw this loaf of bread waiting to be wrapped up on the counter at the bakery.  This was too good to pass up.  We ate half the loaf just sliced up, then I had to stop the slicing because I got the fabulous idea of making French Toast with what was left.  I love French Toast. I think it is the first thing I ever cooked.  I was quite the French Toast pro as a kid, every weekend I would whip up a batch with the grocery store white bread a few eggs and milk.  Such a simple  recipe and oh so good.  This beautiful braided cinnamon bread made perfect French Toast, no need to add cinnamon.  I used vanilla soy milk this time for my little "dairy" boy, didn't have a problem at all with it.  I also cooked his slices in the soy butter, came out crispy and perfect.

Cinnamon Loaf French Toast 

8 slices of cinnamon bread
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk or soy milk
butter for the grill
powdered sugar for dusting
Maple syrup

Beat the eggs and milk in a shallow dish.  Soak the bread slices in the milk/egg batter, both sides, while the skillet gets hot over medium/high heat.  Melt a big pat of butter on the skillet.  Drop a sopping slice of bread on the skillet.  Cook a few minutes until golden brown.  Flip.  When perfect on both sides, drop the French Toast on a plate and top with Maple syrup.  Dust with powdered sugar.  Perfection!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Blue Hubbard Squash Pie

Here it is as promised... the Blue Hubbard Squash Pie!  Easy as pie!  Each time I make a pie I think, that really was easy as pie.  A truer saying couldn't exist, pies are really so simple to make.  My dad is a the pie master.  He usually makes a big batch of pumpkin and sweet potato pies each Fall.  He also use to turn out quite a few blackberry pies, I have more bad memories of those.  He would send my brother, sister and I out into wild blackberry fields with 10 gallon buckets, in the Texas heat.  Yea, 10 gallon buckets, like the ones paint or dry wall mud come in.  He would then spend a whole weekend making pies and jam.  It makes me laugh now to see blackberries in the grocery store for $5 a pint.  The thought of paying for blackberries is funny to me.  

For this pie I used a basic pumpkin pie recipe and just substituted the squash.  I made one with half-and-half and one with soy milk for my little allergy boy.  He gets a whole pie.  Well this is actually a test pie to see if all my non-dairy friends are lying to me about how soy milk is so replaceable with real milk.  I can't seem to tell the difference too much with the soy.  The dairy pie has a slightly more creamy consistency and a barely noticeable richer taste.  The flavor of the pie is of course quite similar to pumpkin, but the squash has a much more subtle flavor. All in all a decent way to use up a huge squash.

Blue Hubbard Squash Pie 

Pie Crust - I used Pillsbury prepared crust, you can obviously do one from scratch too. 
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of salt
2 cups fresh squash puree 
2 cups half-and-half, whole milk or soy milk (dairy free option!)

To prepare the squash; peel and cut into small cubes.  Boil the cubes till fork tender.  Cool and puree in a food processor.

Pre-bake the crust, 10 minutes in a 400 degree oven.  Mix all the ingredients well.  Place pie shells on a cookie sheet.  Fill hot pie shells with pie mix.  Cover crust with tin foil to avoid too much browning.  Bake for 50-60 minutes at 375 until firm but still jiggles in the center.  The squash seemed to need to bake longer than a standard pumpkin pie, it was very shaky after 40-50 minutes.  Remove the tin foil from the crust for the last 10-15 minutes to complete the browning.  Cool pies on cooling rack and serve warm or chilled with whipped cream. 

Out-take (below):  The pie the cat ate.  Those are little tongue marks on the corner of that pie.  Last year she stepped in a pumpkin pie, maybe she should permanently move to the neighbor's.  Grrr.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Contest Update and Funny Story

I didn't win the Jimmy Dean Crumble Rumble.  I can't seem to find the winner listed anywhere yet, so don't know what kind of recipe won or which blogger is going to meet Rachel Ray.  I kind of had a feeling my potatoes were not original enough.  They were pretty though and I got to use up a bunch of potatoes still left from my CSA boxes.

No use crying over our losses, on to the next show!  I am currently working on Johnsonville Pastaville contest with Italian sausages and the Hungry Jack Use Up the Box contest with instant potatoes.  I did a test round with both on Saturday, the Johnsonville recipe was an all out failure.  I'll share that bad experience later.  I was kind of impressed with my Hungry Jack trial, but I already have a good recipe for them and you can only enter once.  Which recipe to go with?  Hmmmm.  I have time to think on it, that is not due Dec 17th.  Johnsonville isn't due till January so we have more time for testing. I will share my entries once I have sent them into the sponsors.  Now time for a random funny/sweet story.

I have mentioned my neighbor Tony before, the retired Italian man from the old country that lives on the corner.  He brings me vegetables and fruits from his yard, his friend's yards and maybe Market Basket, I am not sure.  He also kind of stole my cat.  She spends her days with him and only comes home at night because he carries her home and opens my front door (without knocking, scares the crap out of me) and tosses her in when it is bedtime.

Yesterday Tony came by the house with a gift for me and the boys that made me both laugh and cry at his generosity.  He just came home from visiting his son in California, who takes him on whirlwind adventures every time he visits.  In the bag was a branch of grapes from Napa valley.  How cool?  Also he got the boys t-shirts from San Francisco.  So thoughtful!

I scored a tacky coffee cup from Vegas.  I use the word tacky with the utmost respect.  There are only a few tacky things I covet and love; cookie jars and coffee mugs.  

How ridiculously sweet is that?  He thought of us and got us all these nice things while on vacation.  Now the funny part.  He also included a brochure from every single place he visited on his trip including a subway map for the Bart and a map of the state of Nevada.  Hmm.  Thanks?  Next time I get lost in the state of Nevada on my way from Woburn to Boston I'll be all set.  Maybe this isn't funny to anyone else, but it just cracked me up!

Thank you Tony for thinking of us!  Not that he will read this, I don't think he is computer savvy.  I love my neighbors.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Blue Hubbard Squash

We smashed it!  It was a ceremonious event on Thanksgiving Day.  The whole gang went out in the street and we smashed it.  I appeared to be the only way to break into the darn thing after reading such scary reviews of carving the Hubbard. The most common way of getting into a Blue Hubbard Squash is smashing it in the driveway.  After doing this I must say, it really was not necessary.  It didn't seem any tougher than a pumpkin.  We could have carved it in a civilized fashion, but what would have been the fun in that?  My husband also gave it a little more air than maybe necessary, but again, there is the fun.  So here is how we spent half-time on Thanksgiving Day.

There were many more pieces than this after the bomb like explosion. I had to rinse it well as it had bits of gravel and dirt all through it.  Sigh.  The first batch of Hubbard squash I cooked was on Thanksgiving.  I just roasted cubes of it in olive oil, salt, pepper and a little brown sugar.  It was good, nothing great, kind of like all winter squashes.

It was almost artistic with the grey was against the bright orange.

After whittling away at it, this is the result.  Lots and lots of squash.  What to do with it all?  Everything I have read about the Hubbard says just cook it like any other winter squash, just cook a lot of it.  Think I'll make a pie, stay tuned.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Holiday Card Display Frame

Arts & Crafts time!  This is a new kind of post for me.  I was inspired by a new blog I found, I Heart Nap Time.  Being born and raised in Texas, crafting is in my blood, however since my move to New England I just haven't been as crafty.  There are certainly people who do crafts up here, but not to the extent of Southern women.  On occasion I go back to my roots and craft up something good, I'll share the results.  No, I won't be bedazzling Keds or anything crazy like that. Let's warm up the hot glue gun and see what kind of pretty things we can make!

For years I could not find a good place to display all the holiday cards we receive.  You tape them to a door frame, they fall down.  Place them on a table, clutter clutter yuck!  I am just too darn cheap to buy one of those pretty iron display racks at Pottery Barn, so last year I made a pretty display out of some felt and a piece of art I had hanging on the wall.  Here are easy step-by-step directions on how to make your own Holiday Card Display Frame.  Enjoy!

Step 1:  Find an existing piece of art on your wall to turn into your card display.  Note: Don't chose an expensive, real piece of art.  I chose a piece I bought from one of the hotels I worked at for $5 when they renovated.

Step 2:  Gather your materials.  Framed picture, large piece of red felt, packing tape or masking tape, ribbon, twist tie, scissors and straight pins.

Step 3:  Size the felt.  Lay out the felt and trim to fit the frame leaving the back open so you can still use the hanging wire to rehang the picture.

Step 4:  Tape down the felt.  Pull it kind of tight.  Tape the felt to the back of the picture.  This is why you don't use a "real" piece of art.  It can damage the back of the framing when you remove it, but not bad.  I used this same picture last year, it is still in great condition.

Step 5:  Tie a nice thick ribbon around the whole thing.  Remember to slip it under the hanging wire and tie it up in the back for a polished look on the front. 

The result is a pretty package!

Step 6:  Tie a pretty bow.  I love the wire lined ribbon.  If you use wire rimmed ribbon you don't have to be an expert bow maker to make a pretty bow.  It shapes up so easily,  you can just bend the ribbon into something nice.  Please bear with my bow making pictures, they are not pretty.  I make bows by doing loops on loops twisting the ribbon in the center so the velvet side is always out.  I secure the whole thing a twist of the ribbon over the middle and tie it up in the back.  Next I added separate pieces of ribbon to create the tails.  I use a twist tie from a bag of bread to secure the whole thing to the ribbon on the frame.   

 The finish:  My bow making instructions were not so great, this is the bow I came up with.  My bows come out different every time I make one.  You could also buy a pretty pre-made bow.

Step 7:  Hang your frame back on the wall.

Step 8:  Use straight pins from your sewing kit to secure all the holiday cards you receive.  On a folded card I hide the pin on the inside of the card.  On a flat photo card I use the Christmas color pins only.

Continue to add cards to the frame all season long.  It is beautiful when it is totally full of happy seasons greetings!

The DIY Show Off