Monday, November 26, 2012


When we drew our last four states, and one of them was Massachusetts, it seemed too perfect that Thanksgiving was only a few weeks away.  Despite the questionable history behind the holiday, Thanksgiving has always been my favorite.  No buying, no ads, no decorating--just food and community. 

We enjoyed the company of both friends and family for dinner, followed by a full evening of puzzles, pie and music.  I won't bore you with every recipe, but will share a couple favorites. 

Roast Turkey
Grilled Salmon
Wild and Brown Rice
Beet and Carrot slaw
Green Beans with Almonds
Corn Pudding

Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Sweet Potato Pie
Pecan Pie
Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti
Apple Cranberry Cake

Our bird, the central feature, came from a local farmer and weighed in at nearly 13lbs.  Rather than filling the cavity with traditional stuffing, which tends to dry out the meat, I stuffed it with a green apple, one onion, one head of garlic, one lemon and fresh sage and thyme.  The skin got a massage with butter salt and pepper and 3 hours in a 350 degree oven (followed by a 20 minute rest) resulted in perfectly cooked meat.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of the cooked bird.  But, he looked pretty good even before he went into the oven:

The dressing (or stuffing, but since it didn't go in the bird I guess it's technically dressing) is also a key component for us.  My recipe comes straight from my mother in law and never fails.

9 cups dried bread cubes. (I hoard crusts from my homemade bread all year and use these.  Cube and dry them out  a couple days in advance)
1 1/2 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1-2 Tb each chopped fresh sage and thyme
salt and pepper
1-3 cups of homemade chicken stock

Sautee the celery and onions in the butter until they soften.  Add salt, pepper and herbs at the end.

 Then, add the vegetables to the bread cubes and blend.  Add the stock, one cup at a time, until it reaches the consistency you like.  Keep stirring, that will help the bread cubes soak up the stock.

Transfer to a baking dish and cook, uncovered, at 375 until the top is nicely browned.  You can do this alongside the turkey in the oven, though we did ours in advance.  Our oven is too small to fit both the turkey and the dressing pan.  No worries, though, the dressing heats right up in the oven while the turkey rests.

The Beet and Carrot Slaw comes straight from the Food Network and is quick, easy and colorful.

Beet and Carrot Slaw
2 T Dijon mustard
4 T red wine vinegar
1 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
pepper, to taste
4 T olive oil
1 lb beets, peeled and shredded
1/2 lb carrots, peeled and shredded

First, make the dressing.  Combine the mustard, vinegar, celery seed, sugar, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.  Whisk in the olive oil.  You may add more or less olive oil, it depends on how you like the consistency of your dressing.

In a food processor (or a using a hand grater), shred the beets and carrots.

Then add them to the bowl with the dressing and blend thoroughly

The rolls were also a big hit.  This recipe for these also came from my mother-in-law and often I can't keep my make-it-healthy hands off of them.  They're good even with less oil and sugar and with whole-wheat flour, but the recipe that follows is fantastic.  Addictive, even.

Grandma Janssen's Dinner Rolls
2 cups hot water plus 1 cup milk
2 packages yeast
1 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
About 6 cups white flour
1 T salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer, blend the hot water with the milk, oil and sugar. Add the yeast and whisk until it dissolves.  Allow the mixture to sit until the yeast foams.  Add 4 cups of flour and the salt. Using the dough hook, blend the ingredients on a low setting until they're well combined.  Add more flour as necessary.  (Here's where some practice helps).  The dough is ready when it is very elastic and you can see the little glutinous threads stringing to the side of the bowl.  It should still be quite sticky.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead briefly, until the dough is a soft, smooth ball.  Let rise until doubled (about 2 hours), punch down and let rise again (about 1 hour).  Form into 2 inch balls--pinch chunks of dough off, maintaining a smooth top.  Place on oiled sheet pan and let rise again for about 25 minutes.  Bake at 375 until nicely browned--about 15 minutes.  Let cool on the pans, then hoard them all for yourself.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, November 16, 2012


So, did you guys hear that there was an election?  I thought so.  Here in Iowa, that's about all we hear about for a good 15 months before the event.

We realized, as we finally started planning our most recent four meals, that Connecticut has a rather famous tradition on election day:  Election Cake!  Even before the Revolution, cakes were baked by colonial women to celebrate election days, which were major holidays. With this information, we decided to do our Connecticut meal on election day, it seemed a perfect fit.

Election Cakes were yeast leavened, and closely resembled English fruitcakes of the time.  There are many recipes online, which include various combinations of currants, orange rinds, nutmeg, brandy and/or raisins.  I  combined the elements of several recipes I found, but relied heavily on an interpretation of one that comes from an 1833 edition of The Frugal American Housewife.  I used only raisins and put the cake together as small rolls in a 9x14 pan, when it rises, the rolls come together to form a pull-apart cake.

Here's my version:

1/4 c warm water
1 package dry yeast
3/4 c warm whole milk
3 c flour
6 T butter, melted
1 egg
1/2 c sugar
1 t fresh nutmeg (Connecticut is also The Nutmeg State)
1 t cinnamon
1 t salt
1 c raisins

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.  Blend the warm milk, butter, egg, salt spices and sugar in a large bowl then add the yeast and water mixture. 

Add the flour mix well, it will be a stiff dough.

When the dough comes together, turn out onto a counter and knead until smooth.  Gradually add the raisins as you knead.  Add flour as necessary.

Form dough into 24 small rolls and arrange in a 9x14 cake pan.  Let them rise in a warm place (it was chilly, so I put them on a heating pad set to warm).  When the rolls have fully doubled, and are touching, they're ready to bake.

Bake at 375 until rolls are golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Allow to cool briefly on a rack, then gently invert and remove from pan.  You can serve them warm or room temperature.

Along with our Election Cake we roasted a pork tenderloin on a bed of vegetables.  This was pretty straightforward and seemed appropriate for a New England meal.

Since I spent the day making Election Cake, Marc took charge of this part.  He roughly chopped onions, potatoes, carrots and celery and gave them a coating of salt, pepper, olive oil and fresh thyme.  Then, he seared a pork tenderloin (about 2 lbs) on all sides over high heat.

After that, add the vegetables to the pan and put into a 375 degree oven for about a half hour to finish.  While the pork rested after cooking, Marc made a simple pan sauce out of the drippings.  Add a couple tablespoons of flour to the fat in the pan and cook over medium high heat.  Add a shot of whiskey or brandy to deglaze the pan and then stir in 2 cups chicken stock until thickened.  Season with mustard, salt, pepper and fresh thyme.

This meal was enjoyed by everyone.  The kids avoided the sauce, but liked the pork.  The vegetables were a bit too squishy for them, but it gave us an opportunity to explain that it is bad manners to declare food "disgusting" when someone has taken the time to prepare it.  ahem.

The Election Cake was quite good--tender and reminiscent of cinnamon raisin bread, with the addition of nutmeg.  The leftovers were good additions to breakfast and in the kids' lunches.

So, here's to democracy!

We got to draw our next four states:  Massachusetts, Maine, Utah and Oregon!