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Last year in an attempt to steer my all-adult family away from so much gift shopping, I gave cookies last year. Fake Voracek and I had a blast decorating them, and as a bonus got to sneak vulgar cookies into a family tradition. Ah, bliss.

ohhh myyyyyy.

ohhh myyyyyy.

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Gingerdead man!

This year I’ve added to our recipe arsenal with the Vanilla Icebox Cookie recipe and its variants from America’s Test Kitchen. You’ll have to log into the website but it’s free and the recipes are worth it. I promise. I made the butterscotch and chocolate variants and these might be the best cookies ever.

makes a lot!

makes a lot!

A. B. C.

A. B. C.

They were fast (as long as you’ve got other things to do while they’re chilling, which needs to be done in several increments) and amazing. The website encourages you to make either the top checkerboard configuration, or the classic pinwheel variant. I’ve got other things to do than repeatedly reroll and shape dough, though, so I did one set of checkerboards (A).

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Then I took the trimmed pieces, sandwiched one of each flavor between plastic wrap, and squished with the flat edge of my chef’s knife (could probably also use rolling pin). I did this a bunch of times and stacked them until they formed a rough square before trimming them into an actual square. This yielded cute striped cookies (B).

Then I took the trimmings once more and kinda smashed them all together into a round log, which gave the marble style (C).

Each was equally delicious, and therefore I was rewarded for my laziness creativity.

Pro Tips:

  • If you keep your house under 60 degrees, roll-out dough stays workable longer. You know, if your frozen fingers can work it.
  • If you keep your house under 60 degrees, your cats will develop bad habits and make poor choices at naptime.
Unhelpful Cat is Unhelpful!

Unhelpful Cat is Unhelpful!

  • If you keep your house under 60 degrees, you probably won’t lose interest midway through cookies because everywhere away from the oven is freezing.
  • Got a food dehydrator? Good news! You’ve got a cookie cooling rack too! Also good for cooling: Thin plastic cutting mats, clean screens.
  • After you cut out your cutouts and arrange them on your baking sheet, throw them in the fridge for a few minutes. Or keep your house at 55 and don’t worry about it.
  • Sprinkles before baking, but icing once cookies are cool, unless you’re into that melty-runny look.

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  • Sparkly gel icing doesn’t ever really dry. Consider using it to adhere colored sugars, or give it a light dusting with powdered sugar so it won’t stick to all your other cookies and ruin them.
  • Give baking sheets a quick wipedown with a paper towel between batches, to prevent crumbs and gunk from building up.
  • Use tools. Plastic wrap, wax paper, parchment paper, flour, rolling pins. They’re here to help, and each can make dough infinitely more manageable. Also, pictured above you’ll see a nonstick rolling pin. This is not appreciably better than a well-floured wooden one. Just FYI.
  • Tiny corners in your cutouts keeping your cookie in the cutter? Use the butt-end of a chopstick to gently push it loose.
  • Don’t wear nail polish while kneading dough by hand. You’re welcome.
  • Fake a pastry icing bag by scotch-taping a corner of a sandwich bag and cutting a small bit of the corner off. The tape will keep the bag’s seam from splitting further from the pressure, and if you don’t use all your icing you can tape it shut and throw it in the fridge, or trash it when you’re finished.

Best of luck, and remember, you get to eat all the ugly ones!

You may/not have heard reference to Bear Ambulance, only the best/worst group of people haunting the greater Philadelphia area. Well we’re not actually a band, but we do have a decade’s worth of tradition to inflict upon the internet, chiefest of which is Santa Photo/Ghetto Thanksgiving.

The first part is self-explanatory–A pile of twenty-somethings cause a ruckus at Santa’s magic village by behaving worse than the two-year-olds in attendance.

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Janie almost broke Santa’s magic village

 

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The second is an un-PC term we can’t seem to shake, our friend holiday between the insanity of Thanksgiving and Christmas with our respective families. It’s a potluck meal in which the hosting party prepares the turkey, and started out using a door propped on some chairs as a table. I’d like to say it’s gotten classier since, but I won’t swear to that.

Look at these ne’er do wells.

Santa photo achieved, we set out to prepare food. I’d elected to do sweet potatoes and cranberry relish (you’ll note I’ve posted recipes for both of these things in the past, and that I’m doing something entirely different and chaotic with them here), but because I love experimentation and hate my friends I tried something entirely new with both. Apparently I imbued the cranberries with some sort of phasing magic, because I know they GOT to the boys’ house, but I don’t remember seeing them after and no one has mentioned them since.

The sweet potatoes…

In case you're wondering, why YES those are easter peeps.

In case you’re wondering, why YES those are easter peeps.

Were a lovable train wreck. I baked them perfectly so they began to brown but the riot of pastel color could still be seen.

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Other contenders for the evening: Cutting a tomato pie with a sword, a turkey which may or may not have had three legs but definitely had been stuffed full of garlic, another four pies, Janie and Cameron getting into a marshmallow fight, Cameron spilling beer on his head, drunk board games.

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This isn’t what it looks like.

Pie and board games!

Pie and board games!

So tell me you have better holidays. I dare you. Bonus: the boys are too lazy to destroy a turkey carcass, so I got to take the bones home and make about a gallon of stock, and more turkey soup!

 

Related (barely):

I’m making turkey stock and turkey soup with the carcass of my delicious thanksgiving bird. There was so much food in my fridge, including a bag of white mushrooms, some green onions, and a couple leeks. The leeks got rinsed and cut and thrown into the food dehydrator, but what to do with these mushrooms? And what about that week-old bottle of pinot noir that I won’t drink now that it’s open (and turning to vinegar)?

In spite of me using turkey stock (literally just spooning it from the pot it was simmering in into my rice pan), this would easily convert to a vegetarian recipe, or even vegan if one used olive oil instead of butter. If you’re straight-edge, you’re out of luck.

Rosemary Wild Rice with Mushrooms

Serves 4, Cook time: 1 hr, Prep time: 10 minutes

You will need:

  • 2c wild rice blend, non-quick variety
  • 4c chopped white mushrooms
  • 2tbs butter
  • 1tsp garlic (I used fresh)
  • 1c red wine
  • 3c stock (I used turkey; it was handy)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 3tsp Rosemary (dried, or several sprigs of fresh)
  • scallions/green onions (optional, garnish)

Prepare your mushrooms by rinsing them in lukewarm water. chop them into small pieces. I leave the stems in because I’m not a picky eater, but if you’ve got a variety with tougher stems consider leaving them out.

In a large saute pan (pick one with a lid that fits well) over medium heat, melt  butter and add garlic and a little salt and pepper. When butter starts to brown, add rosemary and mushrooms, using a spatula to coat mushrooms with the butter. Saute a minute and add wine. Allow this to cook uncovered approx 10 minutes, or until the wine begins to reduce.

When wine has thickened a little, mix in wild rice blend and add 3c stock. Add salt/pepper to taste (your needs will vary depending on what kind of stock you use). Bring to a boil, stir, reduce heat to a low simmer, and cover. Cook for 50 minutes. Pro tip: It took me until I was 26 to learn how to cook rice. RICE. Because I couldn’t get it through my head to just leave it alone. Don’t stir it. Don’t touch it. Don’t lift the lid. Just. Leave. It. Alone.

Remove from heat, and let stand 5 minutes uncovered. To serve, you can garnish with chopped green onions. I sliced a few more mushrooms to put on top too, because I was eating it as a meal instead of a side.

Fresh herbs.

YouFoodies, I hope everyone inclined to celebrate the extreme indulgence of Thanksgiving had a safe and happy holiday. Mine was absolutely blissful; all the food was delicious, and the company, while few in number, was most agreeable in quality. My beer-brined turkey was about the moistest and most flavorful thing I’ve ever cooked.

That bird, you guys. THAT BIRD.

My homemade stuffing an absolute delight. The cranberry relish was almost entirely ignored (more for me). The mashed potatoes weren’t quite right, but my Irish family ate them anyway and without complaint. Brian’s mom even made four pies (perhaps excessive considering there were only four people for dinner, but who’s going to complain about surplus pie?), and I made fresh whipped cream!

An excess of pie, or just enough? You be the judge.

My family hasn’t done the canned-yams-with-marshmallows thing in years, since we discovered and promptly modified a recipe for something else. I couldn’t begin to tell you where it originated, but it has been dearly loved ever since. Honestly, it’s a good thing thanksgiving only happens only once a year, or my entire family would be obese and diabetic. Seriously. I went through an unreal amount of butter.

What follows is a three-step recipe; If you’re preparing it for a holiday I’d suggest prepping your sweet potatoes in advance of the big day. Day of, you’ll make the filling and bake that awhile, then add the topping and finish it off.

Sweet Potato Bake (Approx. 8 servings)

Filling:

  • 3c fresh sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
  • 1/3c salted butter, melted (if you use unsalted, consider adding 1/2t salt)
  • 1/2c sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2c milk (or heavy or whipping cream, if you really want to do the thing)
  • 1t vanilla extract

Topping:

  • 2/3c salted butter, melted
  • 2c brown sugar (I like to mix light and dark)
  • 2/3c flour
  • 1/2tsp cinnamon
  • 1c pecans, chopped

These potatoes are fresh from the farm, which probably explains why they look like they were made by Jim Henson.

 

 

Prep work for the sweet potatoes is fairly straightforward; peel them, removing any bits that look brown or generally gnarly. Give a quick rinse and dice into approximately 1″ cubes. Put in a pot, adding enough water to cover all the cubes by about an inch, and boil until the chunks grow soft and have changed color to be slightly darker and more orange. If you’re doing this work in advance, mash them into an airtight container and refrigerate; should keep for several days. If you’re doing this all at once, proceed.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, melt your butter. Mix in sugar, sweet potatoes, eggs and milk. Unless you keep your house as cold as I keep mine (butter was re-solidifying in my kitchen, no lie), this should be creamy and smooth. Pour into your favorite casserole dish; I prefer glass/ceramic for this, as it will get a little crusty on the edges and you will not want to scrape it off metal cookware and risk damaging its finish.  Something in the realm of 7×9 and at least 1.5″ deep will do nicely; the smaller the dish, the thicker your filling and topping layers will be.

Bake approximately 40 minutes uncovered; the mixture will begin to stiffen but may not solidify entirely, which is fine because it’s not done yet. While that’s baking, prepare the topping.

Melt butter and mix in sugar. Add flour and cinnamon; the mixture should be somewhat clumpy. Add pecans, mixing with a fork. It should resemble a sticky crumble. When your filling has finished in the oven, crumble the topping on; I like to do this with my hands for ease of getting it into corners and such; you can also pat it down gently, taking care not to press too hard and upset your filling, which will be incredibly hot.

Return to your 350 degree oven for another 10-15 minutes; the nuts will begin to brown and the topping will form a delicious sugary crust. You’ll smell it when it’s done, and if your home is anything like mine, the sugar wolves will be waiting at the oven. As usual, a finished product won’t be appearing here. Thank the sugar wolves.

The sweet-toothed sugar wolf is a playful creature.

I shouldn’t be allowed near the internet. STAHP.

 

I like calling homemade cranberry sauce ‘relish’ because it allows me a particular set of expectations. Firstly, it will not be jellied, or from a can (in spite of that variety being a sugary guilty pleasure of mine). Second, it will have a nice shredded consistency that reminds one it started as fruit. Third, it suggests I will deeply enjoy (read: relish) it, and I do hate to love a pun.

The peculiar thing about my love for calling it relish, though, is my utter dislike for its conventional counterpart, plain-old-put-it-on-your-hot-dog relish. Love pickles. Hate relish. It’s too sweet, and not pickley enough.

In 7th grade science class, our teacher liked to make us care by applying science to food. I don’t recall exactly how cranberry relish tied into our lesson plan, but I do remember I was the only one who liked it, and I was certainly the only one who begged her mother to go to the store for fresh cranberries so I could make it again for my family. It’s been that way ever since; the only time I indulge in the canned beast is at someone else’s holiday (and I do so with gusto).

Few variations have taken place since then, one being I prepare it in a slow-cooker now to free up stove space during busy holidays, because this is a thing that benefits from long simmering anyway. Sometimes I get a little crazy about throwing in miscellaneous ingredients, but I’ll spare you that adventure. The point is if you like tart fruits, this shit is a gold mine. It’s the perfect counterpoint to the savory stuffings, sweet potatoes, buttery rolls, creamy mashed potatoes, and whatever the hell you’ve been drinking to survive another holiday with your family (Gin? Check.)

Is there anything prettier in the world?

Cranberry Relish  Makes approx 5 cups

You will need:

  • (2) 12oz bags of fresh cranberries
  • 1 lime
  • 1 tangerine (or clementines, or a sweet citrus)
  • 3/4c warm water
  • 1/4c honey

Empty your berries into a large bowl or pot with some cool water. The majority should float. Swish them around to make sure they are rinsed free of dirt and debris. While you’re doing this, stay alert for stems to remove, and for berries that look damaged or rotten; a healthy cranberry can vary in color as seen above, but should be firm and smooth. If it looks brownish or has soft spots, discard it.

Transfer the berries from your rinse water to your slow-cooker and add a little less than a cup of water (Your needs may vary; my lid doesn’t fit properly so I add more liquid in anticipation of evaporation), enough to coat the bottom of your pot. Squeeze in the juice of one lime. Don’t throw lime wedges in unless you intend to be very vigilant about removing them later on; I thought I’d be cute with my first attempt at Pumpkin Applesauce and put lemon wedges in there, and got a big mouthful of soft lemon rind that lingered in my mouth for hours.

Peel your tangerine. You’ll want to get the seeds out of there for your own sanity, and here’s what I’ve found is the easiest way to get it all done in a hurry:

Curse you, seeds.

Divide your peeled fruit in half. Using a butter knife, paring knife, or something else with a small manageable blade, insert it into the middle of the fruit and cut upward toward the center of the wedges. If you leave the rounded back intact your fruit will flop open as above, like one of those little grade-school fortune tellers. Squeeze gently from the corners toward the cut and you should be able to work all the seeds out without sacrificing much in the way of juice or time.

Cut the fruit into small pieces and throw it into your cooker. Bonus points: Peel each individual segment and only include the actual orange meat, thus wasting all the time you just saved with the seeds.

With your fruit included, drizzle honey over the whole thing and set your cooker on Low for 7 hours. After awhile the cranberries will begin to burst open with cute little pops and hisses of resignation. You may also see a whitish froth floating on top (though I notice this more in stovetop preparation), and this is fine; you can stir it back in or skim it off in accordance with your preference.

Toward the end you’ll want to taste it and see if the sweet-to-tart ratio pleases you. If yes, congratulations! If no, adjust accordingly by adding more honey (sugar at this point will probably just make it grainy), or some lemon juice if it’s too sweet.

Finale Cranberry Sauce in Cobalt

Finale Cranberry Sauce in Cobalt (Photo credit: cobalt123)

Hey, YouFoodies. I’m still stuffing pumpkin into things, and here’s one I liked so much I did it twice! I adore apple sauce. In fact, it made its way into the inaugural YouFoodIsNotSoGreat post. Apple sauce is one of those things where there are as many varieties as there are people on the planet, probably. I’m a homestyle, chunky-spicy-not-too-sweet kind of gal (Read: lazy), and with this recipe I really hit an amazingly minimalist stride when it came to preparation.

I’ll present you with two versions: the one you slap together and wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care, and the one where you actually put some effort into it. I used a slow-cooker, but simmering on a stove top will probably work just as well as long as you pop in to babysit it from time to time.

Notes: Usually I favor Gala apples for everything, but this time I found Red Delicious at an extreme bargain. I hate Red Delicious. There is nothing delicious about them, from the flavor to the consistency. The only thing they’re good for, honestly, is applesauce. Below where it suggests pumpkin puree, I used fresh and of course I didn’t puree it, because when I say ‘homestyle’ what I mean is I’m indifferent to natural chunks in my foodstuffs. Don’t like raisins? Leave them out. It won’t noticeably affect the flavor. Spices? To taste, as usual, but vague suggestions listed below. The water/juice is just so your slow-cooker has some way to distribute the heat.

Also the longer it cooks the browner it will get, becoming more an apple butter than an apple sauce, and continue cooking or remove from heat according to your preference. It will take on a caramel flavor, helped by the little bit of molasses added in the beginning. It’s good hot and fresh, or cold from the fridge, and reheats pretty well. If you find yours too dry add a little water or juice and you’ll be good to go.

This unappealing russet mush is possibly the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth… and you can tell your mom I said so.

You’ll Need:

makes about 6 cups

  • Approximately 3 pounds of apples
  • 1c cooked pumpkin puree
  • 1/2c raisins
  • 1tsp bottled lemon juice, or squeezed fresh
  • 1tsp molasses
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp cardamom
  • 1/2tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2tsp ginger
  • 1/2tsp cloves
  • 2c warm water (or cider. or apple juice. get fancy)

Slapdash method of preparation: (approx. 5 minutes prep)

Willy-nilly, combine water, pumpkin, molasses, lemon and spices in slow-cooker. Core apples and throw them in. Add raisins. Slicing and peeling optional. Set cooker to Low for approximately 8 hours. This will yield a tasty lumpy applesauce with big chewy pieces of skin.

Best $1.99 I ever spent, even though I had to go to three stores to find one.

Slightly more thorough method: (approx. 30 minutes prep)

Combine water, pumpkin, molasses, lemon, and spices in slow-cooker, and whisk to achieve a smooth consistency. Lovingly peel, core, and dice apples, mixing them into the above. Set cooker to Low for approximately 8 hours. After several hours your apples will be soft, and you can blend your sauce to a smooth consistency with an immersion blender.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go eat some more of this delicious slurry while I continue Day Four of Thanksgiving preparation.

 

Pumpkin ravioli, you guys.

You might have gleaned between this and the previous post that I went pumpkin picking, and now I’m reaping the considerable benefits of pumpkin eating.

A variety from which to choose! Except that busted one. That one’s busted.

I got about 8 cups of pumpkin meat and some tasty pumpkin seeds from my preparation adventure, and since then I’ve been putting it into everything.

Yesterday’s adventure was pumpkin ravioli. You might remember this post, in which I had no fancy tools and did the whole process of homemade ravioli by hand, but had delicious results. As Brian’s mom was present for the food testing, she was kind enough to get me a pasta roller and ravioli maker for my birthday (perhaps a hint…), so I got to use fancy equipment this time. If you want a more in-depth look at my ravioli-making, check out Ravioli Adventures.

Hello flour mountain. We meet again.

It bears mention I didn’t learn from last time when I got flour/egg mix all over my kitchen, and I set up on a flat surface again, determined to get it right. Things were going well…

Cautiously optimistic…

And I emerged victorious, without my cabinets and floor a sticky mess.

Pasta dough!

Like last time I used this recipe for the dough, and since it didn’t end up on the floor this time I can say I’m pleased with it. I think I used a little more water than the recipe called for, but all you need to do is add it gradually and see for yourself how much it takes to make the dough workable. Pro tip: Keep some additional flour on hand for workability; you’ll want to keep your surface and tools (and hands) nicely coated so you aren’t a gluey mess.

Pumpkin Cheese filling:

yields more than 36 1.5″ ravioli

-2c pumpkin puree

-1c ricotta cheese (I used part-skim)

-1/2tsp ground dried sage

-pinches of salt and pepper

 

You can see from that amazingly short ingredient list that I wanted to keep my filling simple. The ricotta muted the squashy flavor, and gave a creamy consistency. I find ricotta has a slight nutty flavor as well, which I liked (especially since I would have added nuts, if I had anything other than peanuts in the house).

With my filling and my dough prepared, it was time to learn to use tools. Predictably, I made a mess of my kitchen, dropped things on my foot, and engaged in a lot of swearing at inanimate objects. Surprisingly, the pasta roller gave me more trouble than the ravioli maker; the crank handle kept popping out and it was jerky on the wider settings. I can’t say whether this was user error or defective equipment (likely the former). Still, it was a huge help in getting evenly thin and workable strips of pasta.

(wo)Man vs. Food

The ravioli form worked surprisingly well; out of the more than 4 dozen pieces I made only 8 or so failed to seal nicely (again, likely user error. I get sort of sloppy in the kitchen).

Adorable! Edible!

But those broken ones got to be my test snacks; I put them on a baking sheet and baked them at 425 for about 10 minutes until they were crunchy and golden brown, more like a hotpocket than a pasta.

I wanted to make a sage gravy to be a savory compliment to the sweetness of the pumpkin cheese filling. It looks hideous but tastes pretty good.

Fresh sage. I <3 you, sage

Sage gravy:

Yields approx. 1c gravy

-1 small onion, chopped

-3tbs butter

-Fresh sage (I used about 3x what is shown above)

-1tbs minced garlic (I used jar, but would use fresh next time)

-approx 1c chicken stock (I used homemade)

-salt and pepper to taste

In a small saucepan, melt butter. When hot, add onions and saute, allowing the butter to brown a bit. Add garlic and sage (Note: if you’re using dried sage you’ll probably want a few teaspoons of it.), then add chicken stock. I’d like to note here that I use poultry seasoning and a lot of fresh herbs when making my chicken stock, so if you’re using supermarket broth you might need to fiddle with the seasonings to taste; I expect stuff from a can would be saltier but less savory. Let sit at a low simmer for approximately 10 minutes.

This gravy is thin, though I suppose there’s nothing stopping you from putting in a bit of flour or cornstarch in the pre-broth stage to make a thicker gravy. It’s also ugly, full of wilty delicious sage leaves, so if you care about things like presentation rather than feeding your face you might want to strain it and garnish with fresh pieces of sage that don’t look like some sad raggedy kelp washed up on a beach. I just stuck it in my face hole and was pretty happy.

Hat squash! Ermahgerd yer ferncer.

 

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