Thanksgiving 2011

A yearlong hiatus, huh?

Since the last time I wrote here, a year ago, I’ve finished the Bachelor’s degree in Physics that I started eight long years ago before interrupting my studies to take a trip to Iraq. I’ve started a new job, while studying full-time towards a graduate degree. I’ve cooked nearly every night, and I’ve brewed almost 200 gallons of beer (most of it good). I’ve been too busy to write, but not too busy to cook.

I figure that Thanksgiving is as good a time as any to get back into the swing of blogging. After all, I’ll have plenty of late nights with which to stay caught up once the baby arrives! Oh yeah, that was the other thing that happened since last I wrote…

We also started a food coop with two other couples among our friends. We make enough to feed six, with leftovers, and deliver it to their houses once a week. We’ve been going for about a month, and it’s been a lot of fun so far. I think the trick is to find other people who are also excited about food. We’re going to start group blogging that venture, of course, and you can find it here: This Ain’t Your Mother’s Food Coop!

This Thanksgiving was the first in a while for which we did not do a majority of the cooking. We still made our “classics”: the Balsamic-glazed Brussels Sprouts and stuffing with mushrooms and plenty of herbs. We have another 28-pound turkey in the fridge to cook later this weekend, and a pot of chili to keep my friends and me warm as we brew a collection of holiday beers tomorrow.

Life is good.

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Thanksgiving 2010

Mmmm… winter holidays!

This cranberry cider was Beth’s Thanksgiving invention- it’s simple and tasty at half cranberry juice, half sparkling cider, a shot of light rum and cranberries and maybe a cinnamon stick to garnish.

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Stale

Stale like this bread that I turned into croutons to perch delicately atop this caesar salad accompaniment to a delicious french onion soup topped with more stale bread and some defrosted comte.

Stale like this blog which at last update belonged to March and now belongs to November, having seen a late May marriage and no small part of business and bustle since.


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Squash

We grew a bunch of it this year. We had squash vines exploring the sidewalk, wrapping around the mailbox, and climbing the neighbor’s apple tree. We stored some dozen or so large winter squash in Beth’s garage this winter- pumpkins, sweetmeats, galeaux d’esine, delicata… They’re about at the end of their collective rope now, though. Mold spots were starting to appear on the hard rinds, and the stems were loose. The obvious solution was to eat a lot of squash, which was no great hardship for either of us.

This is the first of several winter squash recipes that I’ve made over the last few weeks. The inspiration came from 101 Cookbooks and a few idle moments in the WinCo bulk aisle. See, Beth and I both have a tendency to taste new things. She found adzuki beans in the bulk bins- I typed their name into a couple favorite food blogs, and found a tasty looking recipe on 101 Cookbooks. A few tweaks later, I had a new favorite soup.


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West Side Trip

I bit back a Maria reference up there.

Beth and I just got back from a trip over to Oregon. We’re getting married in Salem this spring, so we took a trip over to work out some details.

I wish rosemary bloomed in Idaho. I stole a flower from a gigantic rosemary bush outside Nichol’s Nursery in Albany, OR. It tasted like (and this will come as a shock) extra-perfumey rosemary. If I could have more, I’d use them as a garnish on something nice when I wasn’t concerned about looking like a foodie douchebag. I used to think flowers were an overrated decoration(especially the $1/oz petunias you see at grocery stores), but there are a bunch of blooms out there with actual flavor. Beth grew a lot of Borage last year to bring bees to her garden- those flowers taste like cucumber. Arugula blossoms are quite pretty and peppery. I’m about to revert to the habits of my youth: if it looks interesting, put it in mouth. I haven’t done that for a while after some early missteps- my mom still tells the story about me with a thorn pinned through my tongue and the roof of my mouth.

Speaking of mouth trouble, I made a silly choice this weekend. I’ve been wanting to visit Cascade Brewing’s Raccoon Lodge for a while now- the sour beer styles they brew are supposed to be among the best in the nation. We got over there on this trip, and I tried two sours- a gose with hibiscus (speaking of flowers!) and cranberry, and a sour belgian blonde with blackberries (which was awesome). I also had the bad idea to get happy hour nachos. Imagine eating tortilla chips and then drinking something almost as sour as lemon juice. Yeah. At least the beers were tasty enough to make up for it.

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Kufta, Part 2:

Time for one more shot of the Kufta Kebab. This time it’s a Syrian preparation of kebab wrapped with muhammara, walnuts and yogurt. I saw a recipe in a newsstand Bon Appetit magazine the day after I made Kufta, and I couldn’t resist giving it a shot. That recipe called for pomegranate syrup, which I didn’t have, so I made an approximation with lemon juice, honey, and a touch of molasses. If I’d had grenadine, I’d have used that and lemon juice.

The important part of the dish, though, is fire-roasted red peppers. I spent a couple hours over a bbq grill last fall, roasting a dozen or two red bell peppers until the skin charred and split. It’s just as easy to do a few over a gas burner, or under the broiler, but it’s hard to match the smoky char of the bbq. I love my grill. This year I intend to try making my own charcoal for it, but that’s still a ways off.

BTW- don’t try to warn me about the dire health and environmental harm caused by charcoal grilling. I once ate s’mores roasted over a railroad tie fire. The Earth is frankly relieved that all I’m doing is charcoal grilling.

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Kufta, the Kebab of Love

Every country has street meat.

I remember giving a 12 or 13-year old Iraqi boy a $5 bill for falafel (ok, it’s not meat, but hey- it’s amazing), which he would run to us as fast as he could. Down the street to the falafel stand, back to us, then back to the stand with more bills. The falafel was fantastic, nestled with lettuce, tomato and sumac in distinctive diamond teardrop shaped pita bread. I heard a rumor once that this falafel stand in Hwar Rajab was then-Iraq commander General Petraus’s favorite in all of Iraq.

Our interpreter Ricky was surprised I knew what sumac was. He had tried explaining the spice to another American, who thought it was the American poison sumac and that the Iraqis were trying to poison him. Iraqi sumac is different. It’s a ground red berry, gritty and lemony. I was delighted to find a jar in a Indian market.

Sumac is an essential ingredient in another quintessential Iraqi street food: kufta kebab. Most Iraqis just call it kebab, which confuses Americans who expect chunks of meat or vegetables (Americans can be lax about naming street food). In Iraq, a ground meat sausage on a stick is kebab, chunks of meat on a stick is tikki, and shaved, roasted ground meat is shawarma. Kebab is my favorite- it’s ground fatty lamb, seasoned to perfection and grilled until the fat melts and drips out, leaving behind a lace of meat and spice.

I deconstructed kebab while in Iraq, badgering Ricky to get more details about the recipe. I’ve made it a few times here, where it’s hard to get fatty lamb. I usually use a mix of fatty hamburger and lamb to get the texture close to right. The original recipe didn’t have garlic in it, but garlic and lamb seem like such a good fit.

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