Thursday, December 29, 2011

holiday traditions: fondue night

Five years ago the girls gave me a fondue set from Williams Sonoma for Christmas.  They are smart ones, because every Christmas Eve since has meant fondue night at our home.  Since I love to cook and I truly do express love through food (right or wrong) I am always delighted with food-prep gifts.  When you got married in 1984, you did not receive KitchenAid mixers, Cuisinart food processors and LeCrueset pans.  I still maintain, even though the ship has sailed yet again for me; that if your make it to your twentieth or twenty-fifth wedding anniversary you should get another shower.  Who couldn't grab that little electronic gun and zap out a house-lust registry after 20 or 25 years? Your wedding gifts are outdated or simply no longer function, you know your taste and style and you know just where to get it.  Maybe you have slowly acquired your objects of desire as you've gone along.  But I am certain that most of us could name a few things you long for, but know you really need to spend the money on other pressing expenses like school and/or college tuition, the family car fleet or new running shoes (because you cook so well, you need to keep moving).  This Christmas my babies bought me two new King Arthur Flour baking pans and they are magnificent.  Like I said, they are smart girls.  New pans = baked goods.  Simple math.

Christmas Eve 2011

Christmas Eve 2011 aka Fondue Night IV (Super Bowl XLVI prep in high gear hear in Indy, hence the Roman Numerals) was heralded by all as the best yet.  So good in fact that we never made it to the chocolate fondue dessert part of the evening.  The first fondue attempts with classic emmentaler cheese (very sharp Swiss cheese-yikes), Kirsch liqueur and all the usual suspects did not translate well to our collective palette.  So each year we've looked through the little fondue cookbook and tweaked recipes to please our preferences.  This year's winners:  pizza sauce (every crowd has one, and she who shall not be named is currently not eating cheese but will eat good pizza sauce like no other), avocado and beer & onion.  Some of the success must also be credited to advances in dippers:  blanched vegetables instead of raw, caramelized onion and mango/jalepeno chicken meatballs from Costco, super deluxe Italian sausage with Provolone (also from Costco) and multi-grain artisan bread.

I've been crazy busy, but at everyone's urging I am posting my tweaked recipes before I forget them so that next year's Christmas Eve "does not suck" in the elegant syntax of my loving family.  Maybe you will be inspired to break out your fondue pot for New Year's Eve or some random cabin fever weekend yet to come this winter.  If you don't own a fondue set, just use some nice ceramic dishes that will hold heat well and dip with skewers or forks.   No penalty for substitutions!

Pizza Sauce

Muir Glen pizza sauce in a can is amazing.  I only make my own sauce if I'm making deep dish pizza.

Avocado Fondue

2 T unsalted butter
one medium yellow, sweet or white onion minced fine
4 T flour
1 C chicken broth or stock
juice of one lemon
one large ripe avocado, halved pitted and flesh mashed with a fork
1 C mexican blend shredded cheese
2/3 C half and half (fat free is fine, that's what I had on hand)
few drops of Tabasco sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a medium saucepan (or your fondue pot on the stove) over medium heat.  Saute the onion until translucent.  Stir in the flour and cook for a minute or two.  Add chicken broth and turn up heat to medium high.  Stir until thickened.  Add lemon juice and avocado and lower heat to medium low.  Stir in cheese until melted.  Add half and half and a few drops of Tabasco and gently heat through (do not boil or half and half will separate).  Taste for salt and pepper.  Thin with additional broth or stock if desired.  Dip vegetables, meatballs, bread or shrimp.

Beer & Onion Fondue

1 T olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
one large yellow, white or sweet onion finely minced
1 C (or more, open a 12-oz bottle) good beer (Greg tried to give me a Nattie Light, but Kelly grabbed me a Stella)
2 C grated/shredded cheddar cheese
1 minced garlic clove
3 T cornstarch
1/2 tsp dried mustard (Coleman's)
freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat olive oil and melt butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan (or in your fondue pot on the stove).  Saute onion until translucent.  Add beer, cheese and garlic and cook over low heat until the cheese melts.  Blend the cornstarch and dried mustard with 4 T of water and add to mixture, stirring in until thickened.  Season with pepper to taste.  Thin with more beer as desired.  Serve with sausages, pretzel bread or multi-grain bread.

Sara's vegetable wreath

let the games begin!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

feed a crowd: chicken and biscuits

  • 'Tis the holiday season and my lululemon hours fly by with groove pants and scuba hoodies dancing like sugar plums across the register and in my head.  Actually, I'm so tired that if things are dancing in my head while I'm sleeping,  I could not tell you.  Lots of friendly faces pop in to the store and our lulu holi-dance music channel keeps things festive.  Well, the real festive moments come from the singing and dancing of my co-workers (you know who you are; Chloe, Anna and Shannon).

Back at home, the family is gathering.  Greg's off the road and out of the skies for the duration.  Kelly has just one final on Saturday so she's been home all week catching up on sleep, television and shopping.  Sara flies in on Saturday and then we'll all be home for the holidays!   Cut-out cookies, fondue on Christmas Eve, sushi at Sakura and all the other traditions are on the horizon.  Tonight I was supposed to finish my holiday decorating (it is December 15th and all I have done is the tree, sure sign of the almost-empty nest).  Instead I whipped up some chicken and dumplings adapting a Barefoot Contessa recipe.  Had a little stomach thing this morning and asked Greg to buy a whole chicken while I was at work.  Greg dutifully bought a whole chicken, but it was a beautiful grass-fed bird to good for chicken soup.   So it was butterflied and roasted for chicken and dumplings.  I've never had much luck roasting chickens.  First the oven fills with vaporized chicken fat and then smoke and then the blare of the whole-house smoke detectors.  And then everything in the mud room and laundry room just behind the kitchen smells like roasted chicken for days.  Roll out your yoga mat in the morning for a hot vinyasa class and chaturanga dandasana past the savory smell of roast chicken......not good for your stomach or your fellow yogis who might be vegetarians.  Turns out that butterflying the chicken and roasting it on a low rack in the oven just turns out a beautifully roasted bird without the smoke and alarms.  Of course you can just by a lovely rotisserie chicken at Costco or your local market and skip the whole cook the chicken part.  No judgement from the girl with the eau de poulet yoga mat.  

This makes a nice big casserole of chicken and biscuits to feed a crowd.  Just guessing you might have a crowd in your house at some point in the next couple of weeks!

Chicken and Biscuits

one whole chicken
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper 
4 C chicken stock (the boxed kind from Costco, Trader Joe's or your market is easy and good)
1 T butter
2 C medium-diced carrots
2 C chopped yellow onion
1/2 C flour
1/4 C cream or half and half (I use fat-free half and half and it's perfect)
2 C frozen peas
1/4 C minced fresh parsley

2 C flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 T baking powder
8 T cold unsalted butter, diced
3/4 C buttermilk or half and half
1/4 C minced fresh parsley
1 egg beaten with 1 T water for egg wash

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Rinse chicken and pat dry.  Butterfly, if desired (google how to do this via Fine Cooking magazine).  Rub with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper.  Place on shallow roasting pan and roast until cooked through and golden brown, about 35-45 minutes.  (Keep the oven on).  Set aside to cool enough to handle then remove the meat from the bones and discard the skin (have a little bite of the skin for a treat like when you were a kid, fantastic!  Low-fat adult life is a little boring).  Cut or shred the chicken to bite-size pieces.
In a large pot or dutch oven (this is what your monstrously heavy Le Creuset is for) heat about 2 T of olive oil and melt in the tablespoon of butter.  Saute the onion and garlic until translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Stir in the flour to coat the vegetables.  Over medium-high heat add the chicken stock and whisk constantly for 2-3 minutes until thickened.  Stir in the cream or half and half.  Add the peas, cooked chicken and parsley.  Season with about 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper.
Spray a 9 x 13 x 2 baking dish with cooking spray and pour in the chicken mixture.  
Make the biscuits either in your stand mixer, food processor or by hand.  Mix together the dry ingredients and the mix in the butter pieces, pulsing or using a pastry blender until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.  Stir in the buttermilk and parsley just until combined.  Drop in about 1/4 C measure or a big heaping tablespoon on top of the chicken mixture.  Brush the biscuit tops with the egg wash.  Bake for 20-30 minutes until the biscuits are golden brown and the chicken mixture is hot and bubbly.

    softened onions and carrots with the flour stirring in

    broth added and thickening

    butterflied and roasted chicken at a weird angle

    peas in the mix

    biscuit dough (before the parsley which I almost forgot)

    chicken mix in the baking dish

    egg washing the biscuits

    all done!

    Wednesday, December 7, 2011

    For Rachel, my dinner break buddy: Sara's Pasta

    You know how you dish up pasta and the next thing you know you look at your plate and swear your helping expanded?  So that's just how the pasta I packed for my dinner break looked earlier this week.  This was good news for adorable Rachel, one of my lulu co-workers and that night's dinner break dining company.  Probably 90% of the team could be my children and I'm always happy to feed them!  As it happened Rachel loved it and asked for the recipe.  I am miffed with the lack of search capability in the new blogger template.  If you use the flipcard view it will load all 148 of my posts fairly quickly and supposedly that allows the search engine to search all of my posts.  It's my blog and I still couldn't find the recipe for Sara's pasta that surely exists somewhere in here.  Not my week to find things.

    So I'm going from memory without pictures, but this makes a really creamy sauce that's actually pretty sound nutritionally (as long as you can exercise some portion control).  The key to the creamy sauce:  saute your vegetables in some olive oil (2 T or a bit less), add in your meat and then stir in 2-3 T of flour and cook and stir so the flour picks up the savory flavors.  Then stir in fat-free half and half (that seems like an oxymoron doesn't it?) or just skim milk and cook and stir on medium high heat until thickened.  Super easy.  Always reserve a cup or two of the pasta water before you drain it.  Adding hot pasta water into the sauce helps give it body and creaminess.  Use seasonal vegetables.  In the spring I toss in asparagus.  In the summer, zucchini gets the nod.  This is a good base recipe, go ahead and get a little creative.  Sun-dried tomatoes are good in this dish, just cut the basil and oregano in half if using the sun-dried tomatoes in oil with herbs (drain off some of the oil before adding).

    Here you go, Rachel.  This pasta is named after my Sara because we tweaked and tweaked to come up with a favorite, but you can name it whatever you like.

    1 16-oz. package hot Italian turkey sausage or bulk hot Italian turkey sausage
    1 bunch of broccoli
    1/2 pound pasta (linguine is good, but medium shapes work well too:  penne, fusilli, bow ties, etc)
    1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped
    1/2 tsp salt
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    1 red pepper, chopped
    2 medium carrots, chopped in coins (I had baby carrots and cut them in coins)
    8 oz. mini bella mushrooms, sliced (white mushrooms are good too)
    1 tsp dried basil
    3/4 tsp dried oregano
    1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
    2 T flour
    1 1/2 C fat free half and half or skim milk
    4 oz. shaved Parmesan

    Heat a little olive oil in your saute pan over medium heat.  Squeeze the hot Italian sausage out of it's casing (if you can't find bulk, use the sausages) right into pan.  Break up sausage with spatula as you brown it.  Lay 3-4 sheets of paper towel on a plate and scoop out browned sausage onto towel-lined plate to drain.

    Bring a large pot of water to boil with 1 T of kosher salt added.  Drop broccoli into boiling water and blanche for about 3 minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon to a colander to drain, leaving the pasta water boiling.  Add pasta and cook according to package directions (start cooking vegetables and etc. below while pasta is boiling).  RESERVE at least ONE UP OF PASTA WATER before draining.

    Wipe saute pan and add another tablespoon of olive oil and return to medium heat.  Saute onion, red pepper and carrots until softened (about 5-6 minutes).    Add the mushrooms and cook another 3 minutes or so.  Add garlic, basil, oregano and black pepper and cook stirring for a minute.  Add back in the sausage and drained broccoli along with the flour and stir to mix flavors and distribute the flour.  Increase heat a bit to the high end of medium-high and add the half and half, stirring constantly to thicken.  Add reserved hot pasta water a ladle at a time until sauce is desired consistency.  Stir in about 2 oz. of the  Parmesan until melted.  Taste for salt and pepper.  Serve with additional Parmesan.

    what, a recipe? an actual post? yep: french toast

    It's almost that time of year again:  college children staggering home for a good, long break after surviving finals week and dreaming of all the good food available at any time of day or night in their spacious and cozy homes.  The short Thanksgiving break is just a tease.  The specter of papers and exams hangs over them the whole time and sometimes that even keeps them home with their laptops humming.  Sometimes those laptops are merely playing all the television shows they've missed.  But winter break is a clean finish, clean start.  Nothing hanging over their little smart heads.  Lots of sleeping in and catching up.  

    And it's on that note that I give you a very easy recipe for a very easy breakfast classic, french toast.  When your children sleep in even you don't have to get up early to make french toast.  Of course if you stay up with them and sleep in like they do you find yourself with a really short day wondering where all the time went.  The fact the sun sets around five o'clock in the evening just adds to the not so magical disappearance of your daytime hours.  The good news is that even before it's Christmas Day, we are slowly gaining daylight.  Thank goodness, since every year I come perilously close to buying one of those "happy" light boxes.

    This, one would assume, is our last winter break for the four of us.  With any luck Miss Kelly will be gainfully employed in the PR world this time next year.  If you see me at lulu or at the store or the yoga studio and I looked a little freaked out/exhausted/whatever please remind me to push through and take the time to enjoy it.  That's all I can write about that.  Truly.  It's a bittersweet thought and I'm going to have to let it go for my well-being.

    You do not need children to make french toast.  Heck, some evenings if it's just me at home I've been known to make a little batch of pancakes for dinner.  Breakfast for dinner, never gets old.  I like to buy a loaf of challah bread or if I'm feeling really flush, brioche for our french toast.  Honey challah is my absolute favorite for this recipe.  Trader Joe's usually has challah if you don't have a nice local bakery.


    French Toast

    6 1-inch thick slices of day-old bread (sweet egg breads are yummiest)
    3 eggs
    1/2 tsp salt, optional
    1 1/2 T cinnamon
    2 T sugar
    1 C milk
    butter for the pan

    If your breakfast eaters aren't up yet, heat your oven to 200 degrees to hold the french toast.  Completely optional, but if you let it get cool it's just not as delicious from a texture standpoint.

    In a 2 C measuring cup or medium bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, salt (if using), cinnamon and sugar.  Place bread slices in a baking dish so they lay flat.  Pour the milk mixture over the bread to evenly coat.  Let sit a few minutes and then turn bread to let the other side soak in the milk for a few minutes.  Heat a flat griddle pan over medium heat.  Melt about 1/2 T of unsalted butter in the pan swirling to coat the bottom.  Place as many slices of soaked bread as will easily fit on the pan and cook over medium to medium high heat for about 4-5 minutes until lightly browned.  Turn and brown the other side (maybe another 3-5 minutes).  Place french toast slices on a baking sheet and place in oven to keep warm while you cook the remaining slices.  Serve with syrup, powdered sugar, fruit compote or whatever you like.


    turned and soaking up the milk mixture on the other side

    stacked up and ready for the griddle

    so pretty, I had to add it in again at the end
    a pretty plated picture would have been nice, but hunger got in the way

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    well, that was a long break from posting

    So, what's new in your world?  Nothing terribly much in mine, just the busy-ness of working full-time and still having my work of running the Rogers household.  Average attendance at the Rogers household hovers around 1.5 people (a cat and a guinea pig) with Greg traveling and the girls almost always on campus but amazingly there is still plenty to be done or not done as the case may be.  We built our beautiful 5-bedroom, 4 1/2 bath home 11-years ago knowing full well two bedrooms would be empty 95% of the time, but for race weekend (to those of you not in Indy, it might be known as Memorial weekend) and other holidays they would come in handy.  Four extra bedrooms makes for a very quiet house, but the cat seems to like all the nap-time choices.  Besides, we love our house (even empty and quiet) and we love our yard against the woods.

    But since I last published a post, our lovely home was full to overflowing for the celebration of Greg's 50th birthday with our friends Mike and Tina (yep, the ones with the amazing lake house in northern Alabama), Kelly and the big surprise (to Greg, yeah!) of Sara home for the weekend.  The celebration centered around Purdue's last home football game of Kelly's Purdue career and the classic match-up of two football powerhouses (sarcasm), the Purdue Boilermakers and the Iowa Hawkeyes.  Our awesome neighbors, the Wedes are Iowa fans (Bob's a Hawkeye and Tammy is apparently not their good-luck charm so he made her wear Purdue gear and guess who won?) so they were in and the party just grew and grew.  Kelly invited all of our favorite Purdue bloggers (Boiled Sports, Hammer and Rails and Jumbo Heroes - look them up if you're a Boilermaker).  Lance and Dawn our tailgate partners-in-crime helped pull off our biggest tailgate of the season and we're all looking into the future now and wondering what it will be like to have just the four of us gathered around the grill.  Truly that looks a little boring to all of us and we're sure we'll recruit friends for every game or just have that civilized gathering we see next to us on occasion.  Not sure we can pull off quiet and civilized!  Many thanks to all who brought food and drink and made the day one for the record books.  It would have been nice to include a "W" for the Boilers, but honestly we are sadly used to the "L".  Whatever, great day and we're still off to a bowl game in a few weeks!  Yes, it's in Detroit but so is my BFF Susan and her family.  Win-win!  Well, if one of my lulu pals will switch with me.  

    So that was probably the biggest reason nothing was posted for so long.  But a close second would be me finally deciding to transfer my computer world from my vintage iMac to Sara's newer iMac since she now operates on her beloved MacBook Pro as all college students do (well, accept for Kelly who just has a MacBook which has been overhauled twice courtesy of her extended warranty and she loves it anyway).  Thought I'd start the process while my IT consultants were still at home.  When you are moving 17,000 photos from a computer showing serious signs of instability you might need some help.  And if you try everything for ten days with your beloved vintage iMac sitting in the office and no longer on the kitchen island you lose the ease of effort and most seriously the time needed to write a post.  So last Saturday morning when I determined I knew just how to make the transfer happen I apparently did not.  And this all came to a tear-inducing peak of frustration when for a few gut-wrenching hours I "lost" 16,500 of those  photos.  It's a wonderful thing to live near an Apple store.  It's a nut-house crazy thing to make and appointment at the Apple Store on a holiday shopping Saturday when you have to carry in two computers and two back-up hard drives.  But, there is a reason we call them "geniuses".  All's well that ends well.  I'm on the newer computer and ready to get back to it.  Can't decide where this computer will live.  It's big for the kitchen island if the girls are home and we are just days away from everyone home for winter break so I'll probably be writing to you from the office formerly known as "Sara's office" and leave the island open for rolling out Christmas cookie dough, reading the paper and eating breakfast and lunch.  When everyone's home we eat around the table.  If it were up to me, we'd only eat at the table but some members of my family do not find that worth the trouble.  But we will be cooking and baking and I will get back to posting.  And yoga.  And cardio.  There will be balance.   Or there will be naps, which is where my cardio is headed today after closing last night and opening this morning after an affirming and fun staff meeting at lululemon.

    Tell you what, it's time for me to roast some vegetables for dinner (just for me, but I'm worth it) and if I added a recipe now it would be the world's longest post.  Let's just leave this as is and part with plans to continue later this evening and or tomorrow after work.  It's nice to be back.  I've missed you!

    I will leave you with my favorite photos from Greg's birthday weekend.  And the reminder to back-your photo library.  

    Greg's parents joining the pre-game night

    I give good presents.  Greg was just a little happy to see Sara.

    Kelly crafted a drinking paddle for her Dad.  Love it!

    Greg with Tina and Mike

    breakfast and the hilarious poster Mike made for Greg

    Greg's AARP certificate.  Funny Boy, Mike's 50th is in 2013 btw.

    us and our neighbors, the famous Bob and Tammy (yes, it was cold just like it looks)

    more friends:  Maureen and Dave

    the foursome (us with Lance and Dawn)

    you just have to do this 

    the men of Boiled Sports with two of of their biggest fans

    Kelly, Kimmie and Greg (drinking buddies)

    Kimmie and Sara (sisters of a kind)