Bakers, Buns, and Birds

Last Thursday, Baker Boy came out to play in the Scotsman's kitchen.

Thanksgiving dinner is an ordeal – even more challenging than bacon noodley things – so luckily, we had some help this year from the Midden's sisters, the Bird and the Hen. Here's a peek at the massive feast we attempted last Thursday.

The Bird got to work stuffing...well, the bird. Stuffing is my favorite Thanksgiving dish, and this was my first time tasting her recipe. It is now officially my favorite – I mean, in addition to bread crumbs, onions, and celery, you've got pecans, dried cherries, apples, ground sausage, and port. How can you go wrong?

The Hen makes the best, stickiest, gooiest pecan pie this side, wherever the other side is. We also tried a new sweet potato recipe, with a brown sugar and pecan topping. Pecans were apparently a running theme in our meal.

And me? I got to work on the centerpiece, the big dish, the one dish everyone thinks of when they think Thanksgiving...a green salad.

Okay, maybe that's not drool-worthy. But The Hen did bring some pomegranates, so I used the juice to make a tasty dressing with olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, and coriander, then tossed the seeds right into the salad.

Speaking of dishes that'll make you slobber, let me tell you about these brussel sprouts. No, really. I insisted for most of my life that brussel sprouts tasted about as good as stinky gym socks, but cooked this way it's a whole other story – browned in butter, then mixed with white beans, pecorino romano cheese, and lots of garlic.

All the usual suspects were included, like homemade cranberry sauce, buns, mashed potatoes and gravy, and corn pudding. And the Scotsman put together an oyster dressing (recipe courtesy of Court of Two Sisters) that was outstanding.

And of course, the turkey! Our 18 pounder was basted in butter, then tawny port to give him a nice, glossy brown color.

Here's the spread, both on the table and the bar behind it. (Notice the lack of plates? We didn't until we sat down to eat.)

We tucked in and did a fairly good job, eating our way through maybe one third of our formidable opponent. The remains were a tight squeeze in the fridge, and the sink disposal apparently gorged a bit too much.

But by the time all was clean and sparkling, and we'd taken a walk to settle our bellies, we were ready to stuff ourselves again with several sticks of butter and cups of sugar disguised as pumpkin, cherry, and pecan pies, along with our previous hit – apple cake in an iron skillet.

In the spirit of the holidays, the Scotsman passed the job of scoring the meal onto someone else. The verdict?

The Highlander Says: Five Sheep!!!

That's Just Cheesy

Our recent cheesemaking adventures are courtesy of Ricki's Mozzarella & Ricotta Kit.

Yes, you heard me – cheesemaking. Making cheese. At home. It's not born in that plastic wrap, you know.

The Midden ordered our cheesemaking kit online, and managed to track down a farmer who sells real, honest-to-goodness raw milk. *Gasp* Raw? It's unsanitary! It's dangerous! It's...pretty darn delicious, to be honest.

We started out with the simplest cheese to make. No, not Velveeta. Ricotta. We poured an entire gallon of the raw whole milk into a big pot and added 1 tsp. of citric acid and 1 tsp. of cheese salt, both of which came with our kit. Then we stirred while heating the milk up to 195˚ exactly, using a thermometer and handy trick devised by Alton Brown.

As you can see, it starts to curdle and separate pretty fast. It's really cool to watch. Here's a shot of the curds and whey that's make you wonder why Miss Muffet couldn't just wait till the cheese was ready:


Next, we lined a colander with a cheese cloth and ladled the curds in:

Then we tied up the cloth and hung it to drain. The amount of time you let the whey drain determines the consistency of the cheese; more draining, firmer cheese.

To be honest, ours was fairly firm right from the start – maybe too much time in the pot? Too hot of a temperature? Cheese is apparently pretty finnicky, so I'm not sure why. But it crumbled nicely, and we mixed it with herbs and olives to spread on french bread:

Oops, wrong picture. (But isn't she cute?) Here's the cheese:

The leftovers found themselves stuffed into shells with pancetta, capers, and a lemon-butter sauce:
Our egos overinflated with the ricotta success, we moved on to mozzarella. Same ingredients, different order, temperature, and process. First, we dissolved the citric acid into a cup of water, and a bit of rennet into 1/4 cup of water. We poured another gallon of raw, whole milk into a pot, stirred in the citric acid solution, and brought the temperature up to 90˚F.

Once it reached 90˚, it came off the burner and we added the rennet solution, then covered the pot and let it sit for five minutes.

Here's where things seemed odd; we thought (based on pictures) that we'd find a pot full of thick curd floating on top a little bit of whey. Not so much – here's all the curds we got (you can see how much whey is still in the pot):

At this point, with the curds still in the pot, we were supposed to cut the curds with a knife into pieces. The Midden gave it a shot, but the curds clung to the knife – in fact, the more she tried, the more unified the curds became in their effort to merge into one big Super Curd.

Onward. We heated the mixture back up to 110˚ while, as the directions indicated, stirring with a spoon, (or in my case, batting a giant lump around the pot), then removed from heat and continued stirring for five minutes.

After separating curds and whey – which was as simple as grabbing the Super Curd – we gave it a waterbath. Actually, the Midden attacked it with a knife on a cutting board, and then we gave its pieces a waterbath. (Sounds like something the CIA might do, doesn't it?) The pieces were dunked into water heated to 185˚, then came the fun part; the stretching.

Not bad, right? Take that, Super Curd. We formed the cheese into a ball and dunked it in ice water for ten minutes.

And how did it taste? Both the ricotta and mozzarella were really good! Neither are particularly flavorful cheeses, but I think you can really tell it's made with raw milk. It's very creamy and has a buttery taste.

Here's the mozzarella (isn't this a pretty shot, with great lighting? It wasn't taken in the bathroom for optimal lighting. Okay, yes it was.):

Glazed Zu-cakey

Zucchini Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Crunch Glaze – Gina DePalma, Dolce Italiano

Sound a tad odd? Maybe so, but this cake is absolutely amazing.

I came across this recipe on The Amateur Gourmet, and his raving convinced the Midden and I to give it a go.

At first I thought this would be like a zucchini bread, but a bit sweeter. Make no mistake, this is a dessert for sure.

The Midden grated three large zucchini while I started the flour mix. In addition to white flour and kosher salt, the recipe calls for nutmeg, cinnamon, and ground ginger – a fall cake recipe if ever there was one.

While we mixed, a sheet full of walnuts were toasting in the oven. After 10 minutes I pulled them out and ground them in the coffee grinder. Now, the recipe specifically said to let them cool before grinding, but I'm an impatient Lass. The result was something that nearly had the consistency of peanut butter, rather than ground powder. But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

After stirring the walnut-pseudo-butter into the batter, we added the grated zucchini.

Then it was into a greased, floured pan and into the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

While the cake cooled, the Midden worked on the glaze, a mix of lemon juice, regular sugar, and confectioner's sugar (and she may have added a little lemon zest as well). Once the cake had cooled for a few minutes, we transferred it to a plate and brushed the glaze on.

No other way to say it – this cake is damn good. It's moist enough as is, but once the glaze drips down into all the little crevices things get seriously gooey. And while it's baking, it fills the whole house with a warm, spice cabinet smell. We may try it again with an orange glaze instead.

The Scotsman Says: Four Cuppas

Better Than Winkles

Moules Maison (Mussels Home-Style) – Jacques Pépin's Table (p. 193)

Since the Midden had jury duty today, the Scotsman and I took control of dinner. We decided to go for mussels, and who better to guide us than Monsieur Pépin? He was dead on with the Seafood Bread, after all.

After a trip to Hubbell and Hudson, we hit the kitchen. The cooking time for this mussel dish is seven minutes, but with all the chopping of veggies and de-bearding of mussels, it took us a wee bit longer.

The mussels simmer in a large skilled with diced plum tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, scallions, and garlic. After getting the chopping out of the way, I started on the sides while the Scotsman worked on cleaning the wee bastards.

A pan of asparagus is always a nice accompaniment. The salad pictured below has a magical secret ingredient that will get nearly anyone to eat their greens: bacon fat. It's arugula and frisée tossed with blue cheese crumbles and bacon. After cooking the bacon, leave the fat in the skillet and whisk in dijon mustard, vinegar, and salt to taste, then pour it on. It makes the arugula wilty and the blue cheese melty. Which is, of course, yummy.

And these amazing Crash Hot Potatoes are courtesy of The Pioneer Woman. The basic idea is to boil small red potatoes until soft, lay them on a olive oil coated pan, smash them with a masher, and drizzle with more olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme. Bake them until brown and crispy. (Seriously, check out her pictures. She is much more talented than this Lass.)

After cleaning the mussels to a pearly shine, the Scotsman let them soak for a wee bit.

We chose the largest skillet in the kitchen and filled it with white wine, olive oil, and Louisiana Hot Sauce, and brought it to a boil.

The mussels went in first, followed by the veggies.

Twas a heaping skillet...and the recipe only called for letting it steam for seven minutes. But we dared not question Monsieur Pépin.

The mussels opening, the veggies cooked...and it was quite a tasty meal! In the end, we agreed that a bit more salt in the broth wouldn't have hurt, along with maybe a touch of butter. But overall, this was a fun meal to prepare and even better to eat!

The Scotsman Says: Three Cuppas

Would You Like a Wee Apple With That Butter?

Apple Cake in an Iron Skillet – Tasty Kitchen (The Pioneer Woman)

For tonight's culinary adventure, the Midden decided to rid the fridge of a few applesand hey, what goes better with apples than two or three sticks of butter?

That's about how much this apple cake recipe called for. I'll end the suspense: it was, of course, delicious.

While the Midden melted the first 1 3/4 sticks of butter in a large skillet and chopped apples, I mixed a third stick with sugar, vanilla, flour, eggs, and cinnamon. Once the butter in the skillet was melted, the Midden added more sugar, then pressed in slices of apple to simmer.

After a few minutes, I added spoonfuls of batter to the skillet.

(I can't help but think of Homer Simpson when I look at that one..."My arteries are clogged with yellow gold!")

We transferred the whole skillet to the oven, where it baked for 25 minutes.

Here's it is, right out of the oven:

And here it is flipped onto a plate.

The slices of apple were almost caramelized in sugary butter. The recipe called for it to be served warm with vanilla ice cream, but we were out, so the Midden whipped up homeade cream instead...which, in the end, lost us a cuppa. (But we agree it was a five!)

We'll give this one another go soon with ice cream for the win!

The Scotsman Says: Four Cuppas