Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Eggnog Experiment

Here are all the reasons why my holiday experiment with homemade eggnog was terrible (in no particular order):

1. I used whole milk.  Not creamy enough.  I should've tried using half-and-half.
2. I didn't sweeten it enough.
3. It has raw eggs in it. How does one overcome a lifetime of fear and dread over repercussions from ingesting raw eggs?  Cookie dough excluded, of course. 
4. I may not have had enough raw egg in it.
5. Frankly, I just don't like nutmeg very much.
6. Frankly, I just don't like brandy very much.

So there you go.  My husband tasted it and tried to put a positive spin on it, saying, "Well, maybe you just have to let it sit in the fridge for awhile."  Code for "Let's put this away and make hot chocolate instead, before we get a holiday case of salmonella."  Smart man.

If you have an eggnog recipe you swear by, I'm all ears, but next year maybe we'll try making some wassail instead.

Hope your holidays were full of peace, joy, generosity, and good eats!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pheasant Tortilla Soup

My mother and I are so alike.  We sound the same on the phone, have similar wide-mouthed, eye-crinkled smiles, and we both think the ultimate display of love from a spouse is an unsolicited housecleaning.  We both wear the same shoe size, think Robert Redford is a dreamboat, and eat too many peanut M&Ms.

We share a mutual affection for Neil Diamond. Need I say more?

But when it comes to cooking, we can't be more different. She will follow the recipe to the letter, grocery shopping for each and every ingredient and using the 1/8 tsp. measuring spoon to ensure an exact amount of cumin.  She finds comfort in methodology, the idea that by following instructions, results are assured. 

Meanwhile, I dash, pinch, toss, and substitute.  I leave things out, add things in, dig in the back of my fridge for nominees to go in the pot, and say "Well, that'll work" a lot.  I find joy in making do with what I've got, using my intuition when it comes to how much cumin a recipe really needs, and never having the same meal twice. 

Perfect example of my tendency to tweak: pheasant tortilla soup.  Of course this was a recipe for chicken tortilla soup, and of course, I figured a prairie chicken harvested this past fall would do just fine in the soup pot. And it did - flavorful, warm and soothing, and even pretty to look at.  Pheasant is NOT chicken, though.  In this soup, the flavor isn't much affected, but the texture is different, rougher and drier than the steroid-laden, salt-water-injected chicken breasts we find in the supermarket nowadays.  But in my humble opinion, a hot bowl of soup, created by making do with what you have, is one of the simplest paths to happiness and contentment.  

Pheasant Tortilla Soup
Found this recipe in an advertisement for cough syrup, adjusted as I saw fit.  It's not a really heavy, cream-laden tortilla soup like you see in chain restaurants.  Instead, it is brothy, with chunks of goodness, just what you want on a cold, sniffly winter day.  The tortillas are going to get mushy in any leftovers, so stir a handful of those into the individual soup bowls instead of dumping them all into the pot at once.

About 3/4 lb. pheasant breast
Olive oil
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin 
1/2 tsp. salt
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, diced
1 can (14 oz) diced tomatoes, juice and all
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
5 corn tortillas, cut into thin strips 
Garnishes: Shredded cheese, chopped cilantro, sour cream, and diced avocado

Rub pheasant with 1 Tbls. olive oil, chili powder, cumin and salt.  Roast in 375 degree oven until cooked through but still tender, about 20 mins.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Heat 1 Tbls. olive oil in soup pot. Add onion, garlic and pepper and cook until softened, about 5 mins.  Add tomatoes and broth and simmer 25 mins.  Meanwhile, shred the cooked pheasant into bite-size pieces.  Stir meat into pot, along with any accumulated juices.

To serve, ladle soup in bowls, stir in handful of tortilla strips into each bowl and garnish.  

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lefse Ham Sandwich

After a long (and successful!) day of Christmas shopping, this North Dakota gal refueled with a lefse ham sandwich.

Ah, lefse, those deceivingly simple-looking potato flatbreads.  According to Wikipedia, the lefse region in the U.S. (meaning the states where lefse is available in grocery stores) spans from Washington to Wisconsin, but the true heart of lefse country is Minnesota and, by a little bit of an extension me thinks, North Dakota.  I can't vouch for MN, but around here, 99.3% of the lefse is spread with butter, sprinkled with sugar, and rolled up for serving.  At our family holiday table, lefse is unquestioned.  It's just going to be there.  Period.

But I can only do so much butter and sugar over the holiday season, even on lefse.  It's December 17th and I already feel stuffed with sugar cookies, almond bark pretzels, caramel corn, and gingerbread men. With a stack of homemade lefse in the fridge, I skipped the typical sweet version and instead took the savory path to lefseville.  I highly recommend it.

Lefse Ham Sandwich
Spread lefse with cream cheese.  Top with sliced ham and pickles, along with mustard (optional).  Roll up and nosh.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Best Biscotti

The 2nd Annual Holiday Cookie Exchange has come and gone.  Dear friends from high school (I'm talking to you, Amber, Jess, Em, Emily, Michelle, and Missy) came over for appetizers, bubbly, laughs, a little more bubbly, and of course, a few more laughs.  It's quickly becoming our annual excuse to catch up, get away from the kids/husbands, discuss life changes from the past year (one marriage this year amongst us, a few new occupational/educational ventures, no new babies this time around) and just enjoy each others' company.  Oh, and eat cookies.  Everyone brings six packages of six cookies each to pass around, and everyone leaves with a bag full of baked goods and big smiles.

This year I made biscotti.   I didn't want anything crazy, like fig and goat cheese biscotti, or caramelized apple biscotti, or whatever else concoctions one sees coming across Foodgawker.  No, I wanted simple, good - no, great biscotti for my little soiree, so I turned to my fav blogs: Smitten Kitchen for a classic almond biscotti and David Lebovitz for his chocolate biscotti (the man knows his chocolate).  At both these sites, I know what I'm getting, I know it's going to be great, and all I have to do is resist my constant urge to tweak and substitute to know they'll turn out a-ok.

I made these biscotti and immediately had to put them away on a high shelf so I wouldn't nibble nibble nibble them away before the party.  Well, of course I had to taste test at least one of each first.  And then there were a few broken ones I had to clean up.  Oh, and no one is really going to want the biscotti heels, right?  Lucky me, they are actually my favorite part.

Let's just say I got my fair share, plus plenty for my ladies at the party.

For great, simple biscotti recipes, check out the SK almond biscotti here and the DL chocolate biscotti here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Spiced Venison Casserole (English Style)

I love the idea of a Sunday dinner.  A once-a-week ritual that involves a big spread, a couple bottles of wine, a leisurely pace, and most importantly, plenty of friends and family around the table.

This Pottery Barn scene rarely becomes a reality in our house though.  We're usually out of town, or maybe we have other plans for our Sunday, or frankly sometimes we're just lazy.  However, last weekend I was ready.  I had the plan all set to make this lovely venison casserole, letting it simmer in a Dutch oven for a couple hours, homemade rolls, roasted potatoes with thyme and rosemary, a hearty glass of Cabernet, old-school Christmas music - the makings of a very merry Sunday in my book.

Then our friend Chris called my spouse with an invitation to go bird hunting that snowy Sunday.  Kent gave me that look that reminds me of an 8-year-old boy that wants nothing more than to be allowed to go play baseball with his friends.  "Please, mom?  Please please PLEASE?"  Of course I obliged.  Off he went to frolic in the fields.  Meanwhile, I still had my heart set on my Sunday dinner with that big glass of Cabernet, even though I rarely just cook for myself.

But what the hell.  I made a gorgeous Sunday dinner for my toddler son and I with this casserole, those roasted potatoes, the amazing rolls and even extra peas on the side, since we are the only two in the household who truly appreciate the magic of Thomas Jefferson's favorite vegetable.  And yes, I got my big glass of Cabernet too.

This casserole turned out amazingly tender, saucy, flavorful venison.  I was a little unsure about the addition of yogurt, but it turned out great.  Look for full-fat plain yogurt - it's hard to find in some grocery stores, I found it in the organic dairy section of my local store.  I'm afraid non-fat yogurt will yield completely different results. Don't skimp on the spices, either - this recipe comes from a British book of cookery.  Bless their hearts, those lovely Brits have come a long way from kidney stew, incorporating some amazing Indian flavors into their culinary repertoire thanks to Britain's beautiful multicultural population, but the amount of "spiced" flavor in this recipe is very mild.  As a cumin and coriander fiend, I may add more of both to the pot the next go-round.

There were plenty of leftovers for the chilly, happily weary hunter when he returned home.  Maybe it was the cold weather outside, maybe it was the ample exercise creating a hearty appetite, but Kent dug in and declared it "awesome."  Awesome indeed.

Spiced Venison Casserole
I found this lovely cookbook Mary Berry's Family Sunday Lunches at my local library.  I think it's a keeper - great recipes for big cuts of meat along with some vegetarian curries and "puddings" for dessert.  Call me an Anglophile, but I can't get enough of this stuff.  

1 Tbls. oil
2 lbs. venison, cut into 1.5" cubes
2 large onions, chopped
1 Tbls. fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 cup beef or chicken stock
1 and 1/2 Tbls. cornstarch
3/4 cup full-fat plain yogurt (Greek, if you can find it)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in a Dutch oven.  Add venison and onion and cook until venison is browned and onion is softened.  Add ginger and spices, stirring to coat meat.  Add stock and bring to boil, stirring.

Measure cornstarch in a bowl and mix with yogurt until smooth.  Stir into the pot, add lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, stir until thickened. Cover and transfer to 350 degree oven for about 2 hours or until meat is tender.  Serve hot with winter root vegetables.