Filling in the Gaps

It’s been a few months since I’ve managed to post anything on the blog. I wish I could use the busy holiday season as my excuse, but that really isn’t the case. In truth, I’ve been faithfully cataloging our meals by date, complete with edited photos and recipe notations. However, when it comes time to write up a finished post, I stall out trying to find some way around the admission that most of the food I cook these days is purely utilitarian. I cook largely from the pantry because getting to the grocery store is often problematic, and my pantry is stripped to the basics for financial reasons, so most of the time I feel like the little Dutch boy, constantly plugging the gaps in my recipes with substitutes. I’m also trying to cook for, and around, a 22-month old who is simultaneously going through a picky phase and cutting his 2-year molars. I like to say that cooking is the only hobby I can make time for these days, but it’s not true if I define the hobby aspect as pushing my boundaries with new ingredients and techniques. It’s all I can do to get a coherent meal on the table these days, and writing it in black and white on the blog just drives that point home.

I know I’m not the only one out there whose financial and family responsibilities sometimes overshadow the fun parts of cooking, so I’ll try to get past my writer’s block and get back to the posts. They may not always be exciting or challenging, but hopefully they may help some people who are in a similar predicament. I’ll start by filling in a few of the gaps since the holiday season.

We didn’t cook Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving this year. We were invited up to eat with my husband’s relatives, and shared a great day with them. Nolan ate heartily and had a fantastic time sharing toys and kisses with everyone there. I brought along a batch of whole wheat-walnut butterhorns, a loaf of pumpkin bread with a banana cream swirl (leftover cannoli filling, actually), and two pies, white chocolate pecan and cinnamon crumble apple. We came home with just some the desserts leftover, and the refrigerator almost seemed haunted by a lack of turkey and sides; the extra pie disappeared far too quickly for our health.

About a week later, I gave into my itch and made a mini-Thanksgiving dinner centered around a roasted chicken. I used some pre-mixed turkey brine to flavor the chicken, but miscalculated the percentages, because the chicken came out extremely salty, so much so that the gravy I made from the drippings was nearly inedible. At least it was just a 4-lb chicken, and the sides helped balance out some of the overseasoning: steamed broccoli, apple and onion cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, pureed sweet potatoes with sherry and fried onions, and yeasted pan rolls left over from a previous meal. We didn’t much care for the stuffing, which was a little dry and gritty for our tastes, but I may not have added enough liquid. I liked the sweet potatoes quite a bit because they walked that line of sweet and savory; Jeremy thought they were good, but left off the fried onions. For dessert, I made a caramelized walnut tart that was very tasty and roundly appreciated. I should note that all of these items were made from the freezer and pantry.

The week before Christmas, Jeremy came home from Costco with an 11-lb turkey. I admit that my heart fell when I saw it, because we had talked about doing some sort of beef roast for Christmas dinner, and I thought he was changing the menu without a consult. As it turns out, there was just such a good deal on turkeys that he couldn’t pass it up: something like $10 for a turkey that size. This time I avoided the brining, and rubbed my turkey with miso butter; I also baked a loaf of bread in advance so we would be able to have our standard slow cooker stuffing, and tried out a carrot souffle since we were out of yams. The turkey made for great leftovers and stock, but was generally forgettable. The carrot souffle was interesting and worth making again with a few tweaks. I didn’t have sharp cheddar so I just used medium, which costs less. Although I minced the onion as finely as possible, we found their texture to be unpalatable in the otherwise smooth souffle, since they are added raw after the carrots are pureed, and didn’t cook through in the oven; next time I would either grate the onion on a microplane, saute it minced, or possibly cook it along with the carrot. It would definitely be a good change of pace for us from time to time, though, since I always seem to be working my way through a big bag of organic carrots from Costco.

I wasn’t able to make my Daring gingerbread house in December because I ran out of most of my baking spices (cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and vanilla), and needed to save what little I did have on hand for edible baked goods, like molasses spice cookies. The latter were addictive, made from my last little bit of freshly ground whole spices, plus organic molasses and demerara sugar. I also made my personal favorite, pecan snowballs, and tried out some cinnamon-kissed chocolate oatmeal cookies from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking.

With all those cookies in the house, we forsook a fancy dessert to go with our Christmas dinner, which was made all the more festive by my parents’ arrival at the airport at 4pm on the very day. I had anticipated making as much of the meal in advance as possible, and splurging on a beef tenderloin roast that would take less than an hour to cook, but the cost of a standing rib roast was so much more reasonable that I adjusted the plan. The roast was dry-brined overnight in the fridge, and removed to room temperature as we walked out the door for the airport. Upon returning, we opened presents and nibbled on stuffed mushrooms and fresh bread with white bean hummus until the roast and fixings were ready. I went with a porcini jus, sweet potato puree with goat cheese and truffle oil, mustard roasted potatoes, and the cream braised Brussels sprouts that I’ve made for my folks before. The roast beef came out delicious and perfectly cooked, the Brussels sprouts vanished in a flash, the roasted potatoes were adequate, and Jeremy thought the goat cheese masked the flavor of the sweet potatoes (which may have been why I thought they were pretty good).

The leftover prime rib made for excellent sandwiches in the days after Christmas, but the most interesting meal we had was not one I cooked. My father was kind enough to share his new speciality with us: ebelskivers. He’s made many varieties of these tiny round pancakes, both sweet and savory, usually with a dollop of filling hidden inside like a treasure. This time, he filled the ebelskivers with a cinnamon apple filling, and topped them off with powdered sugar. They made perfect, tender little bites, and we all loved them, so much so that I really wish I had an ebelskiver pan now.

That pretty much brings things up to speed. Since Nolan started cutting his 2-year molars just after New Years, he’s barely been eating at all. Suggestions on how to fatten up a scrawny toddler greatly appreciated!

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