Tag Archives: recipes

Setting the Thanksgiving Mood

I turned to Josh the other day to see him staring into space. “What are you thinking about?” I asked.

“I’m having a hard time getting into a Thanksgiving mood.”

It’s no wonder. What with his work deadlines, the impending arrival of the Sauerpatch Kid, the painfully divided state of our nation, among other things, our minds have been stretched these last few weeks. I also just typed in “Why Be Thankful” to Google. It froze.

But come on people! Being thankful is one of the healthiest choices you can make for yourself. Yes, I said ‘choice.’ Thankfulness is a practice, an attitude to assume, to put on like clothing. In Shawn Achor‘s book, The Happiness Advantage, one of his top recommendations is to write down three things for which we are grateful every day for 21 days, the theory being that 21 days is enough to solidify a habit. The three things do not need to be profound, but the do need to be different every day. They can range from “I am thankful for my spouse” to “I am thankful for the feeling of a cup of hot tea close to my body on a chilly morning.” Whatever floats your thankful boat.

But if your health is not enough incentive to adjust your attitude this Thanksgiving, here are three other things that might help.

  1. Listen to Bing.

2. Step up your game with your Thanksgiving menu this year. Nothing like some kitchen creativity to warm the soul. These are Edible Nashville recommendations this year, but I suggest you poke around the website as there are TONS more where those came from.

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3. Meditate on This: 

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

 

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How to Make a Renaissance Feast

This past weekend our friends hosted a murder mystery dinner party set in Elizabethan England. They called it “Myrder at the Blackfriar Taverne.”

They put me in charge of food.

I told them that I might need some boundaries.

They thought I was kidding.

spread

As I set about thinking through my plan, my initial inclination was to make things I already knew were delicious and pretend they were from the period. Then I remembered that I had the internet, and such access to knowledge holds us all to higher standards. Here are the steps I underwent. Should you ever host or cater a similar event, I hope will this be useful to you:

  1. Think through the categories of food you need: Starters, drinks, breads, entrees, sides, desserts (I made a spreadsheet to keep track of my plan and potential recipes). This is important because your research could easily send you spiraling off down rabbit trails and two hours later you find yourself with eighteen recipes for chicken and nothing else. Have a mission in mind. Therefore, instead of looking for “Elizabethan Recipes,” look for “Elizabethan Cake Recipe.” That said, your mission should also leave room for serendipity. You might find little factoids, as I did, of foods typical to the period that we no longer use. For instance, Elizabethan cuisine involved many floral flavors like rose and lavender, and we use much less of that today. Because of this, I knew that I needed to incorporate floral notes into the food when appropriate, thereby making it more accurate to the time period. Incidentally, this cake and this frosting were fantabulously delicious.

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    Elizabethan Honey Cake with Lavender Buttercream

  2. Choose your recipes with care, but don’t go crazy. Given that it took humanity a shockingly long time to add amounts to their recipes, many of the documented dishes that survived history are, for practical purposes, useless. Many people have made their own guesses as to what the recipes required, so given the high level of uncertainty, choose your recipes in a way that balances historicity, feasibility, and potential edibility. Remember, this is your dinner too. Challenge yourself, but be kind to yourself as well. For example, for this party I had to choose a recipe for manchet bread, a white bread typically reserved for nobility as white flour was expensive to obtain. Many recipes used lard, which I didn’t have, and others had no measurements, so it became very difficult to figure out what “real” manchet was. In the end, I picked a recipe that looked delicious, seemed supported by research, and had contemporary measurements. It was delicious and beauteous.

    manchet

    manchet, the bread of nobles

  3. Cross reference whether people ate the ingredients you want to use. Research the eating habits of different social strata…it’s fascinating. It seems Elizabethan peasants ate much more healthily than their noble counterparts. Believing vegetables to be “ground food,” nobles typically shunned nutritious options and instead indulged in white flour and white sugar, and paid dearly to do so. They loved sugar so much that the financially pressed nobles would blacken their teeth with soot to make them appear to be rotting from the sugar. It is also important to realize that, depending on when in the Elizabethan era you choose to focus, foods like potatoes, chocolate, and tomatoes had not yet made it across the ocean, and even after they did, they were only consumed by the most adventurous. Tomatoes were considered poisonous, in fact, for many years after their arrival in Europe. I share all of this because depending on your dedication to era-appropriate menu items, it helps to consider the facts.

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    mini meat pies, made with roast shredded pork, minced beef, minced sausage, carrots, onions, and peas.

  4. Think through your timing. This is true of any large catering venture, but you might not realize how long your leech, a milk and wine jelly, takes to set. Each layer of this pudding requires 12 hours each in the fridge, so I’m very thankful I checked the recipe a couple days before. In addition, bread needs time to rise and pie dough (with butter) needs to chill before rolling it out. Because you (probably) don’t have a kitchen staff in your castle bowels to get everything out on the table at the right time, you have to schedule yourself wisely.

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    Eight Cornish Hens

  5. Everyone loves cheese. 
    cheeseplatecheeseplate2

Best of luck with all your themed party cooking experiments!

Also, in other news, after this party I can now cross off several items from my 30×30 Maker List, including #8, the tiered cake, and #9, the Renaissance costume. Technically I made two costumes, because I was responsible for the hubby costume as well as my own. I made my costume out of curtains and a pillow sham. Seriously. I am also going to add Renaissance Feast to my list, as that was quite a feat of making.

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Top 3 Best Things I’ve Cooked (recently)

Not much has changed.

Not much has changed.

Whenever someone asks me what my hobbies are, for some reason cooking rarely comes to mind. The funny thing is that I spend a relatively huge percentage of a given week cooking. More importantly, I love it. I suppose cooking has become so integral to how I spend my time it doesn’t feel like an add-on. Cooking both excites and relaxes me. It uses a part of my brain that other daily tasks don’t exercise. Cooking is simultaneously artistic and scientific; a creative and sensual expression that soothes, comforts, excites, and enlightens. In many ways, it is the reason I get out of bed in the morning. Even if I am not looking forward to work or errands or whatever else is going on in a given day, at least I get to be creative about what I eat.

In the spirit of food creativity, I would like to share some of the recipes I’ve used lately that really knocked it out of the park. Please note that I’m not just talking good–I’m talking close-your-eyes-breathe-deep-be-transported-to-another-time-and-place delicious. Enjoy!

1. Chocolate Lava Cake

I never thought such an elegant dessert could be so easy, let alone so mouth-wateringly magnificent. Not too sweet and not too rich, this lava cake reduced both me and Josh to a stunned, gooey silence. Seriously, though–SO EASY. If you have a set of ramekins, you will blow the minds of your next dinner party guests with a mere 20 minutes of minimal effort. I’d recommend serving it a la mode.

2. Chicken Gyros with Cucumber Salsa and Tsatsiki

I love this recipe for several reasons: first, because it is full of so many wonderfully fresh flavors including mint, parsley, lemon, cucumber, sweet tomatoes, red onion, and Greek yogurt; second, because Greek cuisine that is both delicious and not dripping with oil is really hard to find in Chicago; third, because this dish is a fabulous way to use up left-over roast chicken. In our house, we go through chicken stock pretty fast, which means we roast a lot of chickens, which further means we end up with a lot of leftover chicken meat. In the past, I used the leftover chicken in an old family recipe for Chicken a la King. While I absolutely love that family favorite, we needed a new challenge. We found it in these gyros, although challenge is not really the right word because hardly any part of this recipe was challenging (except for picking the chicken carcass…but Josh valiantly tackles that beast so I don’t have to!). Chop stuff, mix stuff, pile stuff, BAM…Gyros! A few tips: first, I recommend trying to get very sweet tomatoes. The difference, as I just discovered between the first and second time making this dish, is drastic. Tart tomatoes will work, but ease off on the parsley and add sugar or honey to taste. Second, try to use pre-oiled pita as it adds a yummy, grainy texture when slighted toasted on a frying pan or griddle. Third, don’t pile too much, though you will be tempted. 🙂

3. Salmon Cannelloni with Lemon Cream Sauce

I have a soft spot in my heart for this recipe, and not only because sinking my teeth into this tender salmon-stuffed crepe made all the muscles in my body melt into meditative contentment. This dish is special to me because it was one of the last dishes I cooked for my grandmother before she died.  I am pleased to say that it was a good choice. In her last few months of life she started losing various faculties, and as her eyes began to fail, and her hearing got worse, she had nothing enjoyable to do except eat. I remember watching her eat this dish. For what seemed like a half hour at least, she sat concentrating on each bite, murmuring yummy noises every few minutes. I knew I had done a good thing. Thank you Epicurious.com blue ribbon recipes! I recommend serving this with a lighter vegetable, possibly with a vinegar based dressing to help cut the richness a bit. I also have made it with sauteed asparagus with just a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper.

Do you have any recipes you feel like sharing? Please send them along!

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Valentine’s Sonnet: Food Love

If today you wish for your beloveds fair

to please them much with treats and favors,

I offer tips, cues, and recipes rare

beyond cliched cards and “fax me” flavors.

Do consider the unconventional tack,

of a homemade lava cake to warm the heart;

or if a love of chocolate (God forbid) you lack,

Try instead a brown butter raspberry tart.

When the weather’s chilly and the breezes blow

wear naught but a bathrobe in your cozy abode,

make your own sushi when the sky again snows,

maybe cheese fondue, or warm pie a la mode.

In short, make your love a soup or a sandwich,

For nothing says Valentines like the 6th love language.

 

Happy Valentines day! Get cooking!

 

 

 

 

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