Gooseneck Revisited

Better Late than Never Goose Gravy

I wasn’t going to share this with you before successfully executing it twice, but after slamming it right out of the polo field on Christmas, I’m going to introduce you to one of the most wealthy-tasting sauces you’ve ever experienced. Mr. S noted the absence of fruit from the goose gravy recipe after the introductory post. When Mr. S gives you a note, you would be well advised to read heavily into it. So I began digging, and found an encouraging recipe on epicurious for Roast Goose with Oranges and Madeira. My only knowledge of this Portuguese wine is that everyone’s out of it at Christmas. So, I substituted a Cabernet Sauvignon in the first round, which yielded a wincingly acidic and tart sauce. For the big day, I used a Port, and the resulting sauce was so enchanting that I doubt I’ll ever try with the elusive Madeira. I won’t include goose preparation in this entry, as I stuck to these directions. I don’t know how goose neck wound up being the most magical ingredient ever, but I do not suggest attempting this with any other gullet. I’ve altered the epicurean recipe slightly, since I stuffed my goose with pork stuffing instead of shallots and oranges. Otherwise, this would be embarrassingly redundant.

1 goose neck
3 shallots, sliced into thin rings
1 1/2 C + 1/3 C + 2 tbsp Port
1 small orange, peeled and sectioned
4 C low-sodium chicken broth
1 C freshly-squeezed orange juice (do it!)
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp cornstarch
salt and pepper

In a medium pan, heat the butter over medium-high until frothing subsides, then throw in the neck. You want to cook it for 5 minutes, and turn it once halfway through; otherwise, don’t touch. Ding! Leave the neck in the pan and throw in the shallots, saute for a few minutes until they’re tender. Add 1 1/2 C Port and the orange sections, and boil it down to 1/3 what you started with. Then add the chicken stock and orange juice and boil it for about 45 minutes to end up with 2 C of stock. Pour it through a strainer into a medium bowl, wrap it up, and stick it in the fridge until a few minutes before your goose is cooked.

Pour the stock into a medium saucepan about 5 minutes before you’re ready to take the bird out of the oven and set it over low heat. Once you relocate the goose, put the roasting pan (fat poured off) on a burner set to low heat, and pour in 1/3 C Port. Stir it over the entire pan and scrape up any sticky bits, then add the contents of the roasting pan to the stock. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and remaining 2 tbsp of Port, then pour that into the saucepan and give it a good whip. Season with salt and pepper, and stir in 2 tbsp honey. Taste and adjust accordingly, then simmer over low heat until the sauce thickens to your desired consistency; I gave mine 5 minutes.

A word to the wise: this sauce is extremely mauve, which is a lovely color given the right background. When selecting your tableware, try to stick with whites or eggshells; a bolder colored plate could result in a presentation misinterpreted as a dare.

Turns out you can’t close up the kitchen when you have a kid.

While I’d love to shirk kitchen duties for a week and ignore all dishes, surfaces, waste and dust, meals must go on. Often, after pulling off the planning, preparation and execution of a challenging and complicated meal, I need a week until I can face buttering up another pan. My two lumberjacks, however, are in no way on board with such a hiatus, so I’m depending on two things to keep my culinary zeal elevated for the post-holiday dulldrums. First, the telepathic Mr. S gave me a new apron and hot mitts, along with a gift card to heaven; I’ve already begun combing through the website, and I foresee a glass dome cake stand in my near future. Second, Mrs. S graciously lent me her copy of Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen after I mentioned I’d like to learn a few Italian dishes as well as the fundamental principals and techniques. I’m unfamiliar with this Lidia, but her book looks promising, and my faith in her referrer is unwavering.

My self-dare for this week is to get my mind around this thing called risotto, and then practice, practice, practice until I produce something that might not infuriate Chef Gordon Ramsay. Oh, and I’ve never had risotto; it’s rice, right? I don’t know that I’m comfortable with the frequently applied adjective, “creamy,” but I admire the nonexistent margin of error. Lidia offers that “there are no two ways of making risotto; either you make it right, or it is not risotto.”

If Lidia’s recipe proves successful, I will post a comprehensive review and the recipe verbatim (and it’s a long one). If not, get ready for a lengthy character assassination of a certain public television figure. Any of my gentle readers who consider themselves masters of this dish are welcome to weigh in, and I would hugely appreciate variations, suggestions, and warnings. I can offer a Fed-Ex box of chocolate chippers and general immortalization in exchange, a rather generous reward if you ask me. And if anyone could advise me as to the best cooking vessel (material, finish, size, depth), I would be beside myself with gratitude.

And the kitchen is closed until 2010.

I didn’t have a single drink on Christmas, so I can only attribute my 48-hour hangover to my straight month of binge cheer. Yesterday, for the first time since I can remember, I found myself with time to lean, but not to clean, such was my Christmas coma. Our company could not have been better, with Mr. and Mrs. S, my brother CA, and one of my favorite non-relatives, Mr. C, who gets an honorary uncle title, all traveling up from North Scituate, RI. As the successful goose and expensive-flavored sauce dwindled, my shoulders slowly dropped from my neck, where they’ve been standing guard for weeks, and the rush of blood to my upper back was both refreshing and painful, but only in that reverse shapeshifting kind of way.

During my time spent planning and executing corporate functions, I acquired the useful habit of the post-party review. No matter how successful your gathering, it could have been better. Let me clarify that this should not be a negative, flagellant exercise. On the contrary, reflecting on your event after it’s over provides an opportunity to relive the best moments, note star dishes (as well as those untouched), while challenging you to inch a little closer to perfection for the next one.

For example, my coordination of food was almost impeccable, but next year I will serve one less hot dish, and add a cold one. Unless the double-oven fairy pays me a visit first. Additionally, I was too involved with meal preparation to ensure everyone received a timely cocktail and incremental refills, so next year I’ll make sure to task Mr. P with drinkmaster duty. Finally, I completely forgot the music. I’m having a little trouble forgiving myself for that omission, but one must remember one is merely a carbon-based life form.

I suggest you start a notebook where you designate at least a page to each party, dinner, and shindig that you throw. Column 1 should contain the positive elements; its length will correlate directly with the degree of your need for affirmation. Column 2 can itemize potential improvements and avoidable oversights. Use the notebook as the first reference you pull out each time you begin the planning process anew, otherwise you’re just being masochistic.

I didn’t mean so fresh that it argues…

Billy the Kid, the lovely and charitable Mrs. S, and I went to pick up the goose today at Antonelli’s on Federal Hill in Providence. A Christmasy nip was chapping faces, so my mother and BK waited in the car while I very nearly ran to the tiny market, and opened the door to find the thin strip of floor space in front of the counter crammed full of people. As soon as the door closed behind me, I was in the middle of New Year’s Eve in Times Square. I asked the woman with whom I was practically dirty dancing to point me toward the back of the line, and she directed her young son to explain the process to me. I was to take a number and wait in line. Everyone was in line. I heard loud chatting in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, and had a moment of tilde shame before plodding on.

Having called weeks in advance to order the bird, I assumed there must be a VIP area and walked toward the rear of the shop, where I could make out bright lights and several figures behind a plastic curtain. As I stepped in, the closest twenty heads turned to me briefly, and the gleam in everyone’s eyes struck me as odd, as did the thick, pungent odor that took a moment to punch me in the neck. As bodies shifted and my line of sight cleared, I noticed several hundred various live chickens, turkeys and geese stacked up in a tower of wire cages like something from Brazil, as well as a great deal of attention being paid to a point just beyond.

Since I was obviously not in the preorder area, I exited before getting hooked on the show; I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to stare my dinner in the eye. Back in the featherless area, I realized as I glanced around for a clerk that my intent on circumnavigating the queue was garnering some nasty looks from the hoard. So I went outside and got my mom. Billy the Kid and I hung by the exit as my mother marched up to the register, spoke quietly with the cashier, and then returned with one twelve-pound goose, freshly cleaned and butchered.

Mrs. Get-the-Job-Done Smith somehow manages to find time for a career while routinely coming to the rescue of my immediate family, and I plan to do my part in making that easier for her by eventually moving back to RI. Several of the more memorable anecdotes starring my mother’s archangelic efficiency involve single-handedly (literally) stopping her Saturn wagon from rolling down a driveway with my brother in the back while appearing totally unphased; shaming my high school into running AP French in my senior year even though I was the only student; and a short-lived but terrifying policy under which shoes left out were considered trash and thrown away.

So, thank you Mrs. S, for making our Christmas feast possible, and now let the performance anxiety nightmares of burnt goose begin.

One more cookie for the road…

Snow-Covered Chocolate Cookies

This year’s holiday baking week was unprecedentedly productive, encompassing sugar cookies, gingerbread persons, Russian teacakes, and pumpkin patties, but the diva of the whole production was definitely this little double-chocolate strumpet. Unabashedly rich, crunchy on the surface, velvety and chewy underneath, and the whole thing’s covered in a bracer of powdered sugar. We barely had enough for all of the tinned assortments, as Mr. P and Billy the Kid proved unable to contain themselves. Try as they did to be subtle, the white mustaches and black gum lines were dead giveaways.

8 oz bittersweet chocolate
1 1/4 C flour
1/2 C cocoa
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick/1/2 C butter
1 1/2 C packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 C milk
powdered sugar

Set your oven to 350. Melt the chocolate and 2 tbsp butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Cream together the rest of the butter and the brown sugar until fluffy, then beat in the eggs and vanilla. Stir in the melted chocolate. Dump in the flour, baking powder, salt, cocoa and milk, and stir it up until it forms a sticky dough. You’ll have to dive in with your hands eventually.

Put 1/2 C sugar into a small bowl, and 1/2 C powdered sugar into another. Form the dough into 1 1/2″ balls. Roll each in the sugar, then coat completely with powdered sugar. Space at least 2″ apart on cookie sheets, and bake single batches for about 14 minutes (check the first batch at 12 just in case). Cool them on the rack for 3 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

To save you some time as Christmas nears, I’ll suggest that you double the recipe if you have any drive-by snackers on the premises. I overlooked that variable, and will be making round two tomorrow.

Run, run, run, fast as you can, can’t catch me ’cause you had some of this.

Good Night Gingerbread

Mr. Peña and I turned in before 9 last night, partly due to overenthusiastic helpings of shepherd pie, but mostly from the effects of one too many return trips to the best gingerbread I’ve ever had. And I’ve had a lot of gingerbread. The following recipe produces a single-layer iced cake perfect for a holiday dessert, but you could also serve it plain for breakfast, hot from the oven with a slab of salted butter and a tall glass of milk.

2 1/2 C flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp dried ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 C shortening
1/4 C butter
1/2 C sugar
1 egg
1 C unsulfured molasses mixed with 1 C hot water

1/2 C powdered sugar
2 tbsp maple syrup
cold water

Set your oven to 350, then grease and flour a square 8×8 or 9×9 cake pan. Mix the flour, baking soda, salt and spices in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, shortening and sugar until fluffy. Stir in the egg, then dump in the dry ingredients as well as the molasses water and mix well. Use a stand mixer or hand-held to beat on high for 3 minutes before pouring into the pan, then bake at 350 for 50 minutes, but check at 40 to make sure the edges aren’t in danger of burning. If they are, cover them with aluminum foil, leaving the center exposed, and continue baking until an inserted pick comes out clean. Let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes, run a knife along the edges, and flip it out onto a work surface. I cut the top off with a cake leveler, then ice it bottom side up. I suggest you do the same.

To make the icing, put the sugar and maple syrup in a small mixing bowl and stir, adding water by the tbsp as needed until you achieve the desired consistency; it should drizzle but not weep. Cover the ball of a whisk with the icing and flick it back and forth over the cake for some artsy striping, and serve while it’s still warm. If you plan to consume the entire cake yourself, you can retain some semblance of dignity by going through the motions of cutting individual slices and using a plate, as opposed to taking the whole thing into the bathtub.

I can’t help it, the mall makes me snarky.

Old Timey Crumb Cake

This is a fun breakfast meeting contribution when the majority of your coworkers are dieting. Nothing passes the weekly departmental status update like a game of clock-the-caver, and it’s even more compelling if coordinated around an in-house Weight Watchers meeting. I know it’s not in the spirit of the season to exploit one’s neighbors for personal entertainment, but you’ve worked hard this year, so give yourself a little end-of-year gratification. Would you feel better if I reminded you that your boss will probably get a substantial bonus, in actual money, when we worker bees have been hearing that companies can’t “afford” even annual holiday parties “this year” for a while now? I thought it might.

1 C flour
1/2 C sugar
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 C butter, softened
1/2 C whole milk
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 C raspberry jam

3/4 stick butter, softened
1/4 C brown sugar
1/4 C sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 1/4 C flour

Set your oven to 350 and grease & flour a square 8×8 cake pan. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until fluffy. Beat in the egg, then stir in the vanilla and milk. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and combine well. Use a stand mixer or hand-held to beat the batter on medium-high speed for 3 minutes.

If using a stand mixer, you should be able to complete the topping just in time. In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar together, then add the brown sugar and mix out the lumps. Combine the flour, spices and salt in a small bowl, then add to the butter and sugar, and stir until all flour is incorporated. If you couldn’t pull it off exactly, don’t let it keep you up too late.

Pour the batter into the pan and level the top with a spatula. Drop spoonfuls of jam onto the batter, spacing evenly over the cake, and swirl them gently with a knife. Distribute the crumb over the jammed cake, and use it all; it should pile high. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes, then check with a wooden pick. If any batter adheres to the pick, give it another 7 minutes and it should be done.

Cool the cake in the pan for half an hour. Cut it into 2″ squares, and seal them into a plastic container until you’ve set the stopwatch.

Never let toddlers decorate outgoing cookies.

Tastefully Understated Gingerbread Cookies

It’s extremely difficult to find a recipe for gingerbread cookies that doesn’t assume you want to bake in bulk. Merry Christmas.

3 C flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 C / 1 stick butter
1/2 C dark brown sugar
1 tbsp  cinnamon
2 tsp powdered ginger
3/4 tsp cloves
1 tsp salt
1 large egg, plus 1 egg white for brushing
1/2 C molasses (unsulphured)
nonpareils (white or multicolored)

Cream together the butter and sugar, then add the egg and, after incorporated, the molasses. Stir vigorously until the mixture is uniform in color. Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. I usually omit this step if called for in a recipe, but it’s important when you have various minuscule amounts of spices. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, using a wooden spoon as far as it will take you, then kneading with your hands to form a dough. Wrap it up and stick in the fridge for an hour.

Set your oven to 350. Once you’ve cut out cookies somewhere in the 1/8″ thickness neighborhood (I assume I don’t need to walk you through flouring a surface and using a rolling pin), place them on sheets, spacing at least 1″ apart. Lightly beat the egg white and brush a thin film onto each cookie, then sprinkle with nonpareils. Bake single batches at 350 for 10 minutes, then leave them on the sheet for 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Seriously, use the rack; if you’re passing out warped cookies, you’d have been better off buying everyone a bag of Chips A’Hoy.

While baking is a wonderful activity to share with small children, we must don our USDA hats when preparing food intended for consumption beyond our immediate family. Tiny fingers are tempted easily by tiny nostrils, and every time you look away from your little angel, you risk adding nasal contents, hair, and a variety of other unsolicited enhancements to your ingredients list.

Billy the Kid has his own prep station next to, but clearly defined from mine, and he stands on a chair while we work to ensure that he can’t reach far enough over to contaminate my sterile field. When “we” make cookies, I give him a small piece of dough to play with and make his own for decorating. He seems to appreciate the independence, especially after I’ve given him the all-clear to start eating the scattered nonpareils. Once a child is old enough to process the yuck factor of germs, they can bake for an audience. Until then, I advise you to employ these or similar means of keeping adorable but potentially filthy hands off.

No recipe, just cheer.

I’m smack in the middle of the best holiday season I’ve had since my parents ran the entire production. It’s also been the most financially creative in light of my unpaid employment, and I think that may be why I’m having such a fantastic time. The base of our festive and economic Christmas is a combination of daily baking to cover most of our gifting, lights all over every coverable surface, and a running game of spot-the-yule with the elfiest fella ever. While Billy the Kid is vaguely aware that a fat man’s going to break in at some point and put toys in his big sock, he’s still free of stressful holiday expectations and checklists, and the seeming meaninglessness must make it even more magical to him.

Obviously, my main focus for the day itself is the dinner, as all grandparents and uncle will be coming to our house for the first Christmas. This presents a great crafting opportunity for me and my little glitterphile, and instead of table cards, we’ll be decorating and personalizing candles for the place settings. To do this, we’ll get 6 small candles with plain glass holders, and use double-sided tape to add ribbon, glitter, and a small name tag to each. We’re also working on homemade gift tags and couture wrapping (embellished construction paper, newspaper, scrap fabric).

Some may be starting to wonder what room I’ve left for “the true meaning of Christmas.” BK’s bedtime routine includes three songs: two standards (“You Are My Sunshine” and “Tommy Snooks”) and a floater (usually an Astrud Gilberto or Mazzy Star), the latter of which is substituted with alternating Silent Nights and Personent Hodies for the month of December. Grandma sent his first advent calendar, and BK is slowly catching on to the theme of waiting as he lobbies for and is denied multiple doors every night. As a content atheist, I consider that generous, as well as informatively sufficient for now. BK presently has his hands full wrapping his mind around Claus, as he calls him; I don’t think we need to complicate things with the concept of extra-special babies just yet.

Lest I appear callous, I should clarify that the nativity story always reduces me to a quiet tear, and even though I may not appreciate a literal interpretation, it really is a lovely idea. To anyone having a difficult time locating their Christmas spirit, I suggest you wind a string of lights around your biggest plant, bake some gingerbread, and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas (followed by Elf to help stop the weeping) with a wineglass full of slightly spiked nog.

Where does she get those wonderful recipes?

Penultimate Stuffed Mushrooms

Once the pride of my hors d’oeuvres repertoire, these almost meatless hot appetizers have won me countless compliments and immeasurable laud over the past decade. Then, a few years ago, I had one of Mrs. H’s stuffed mushrooms, and my mouth cheered while my stomach sank. Hopefully, she’ll donate her recipe within the next few posts, but this will tide you over in the meantime, since you don’t yet know what you’re missing. Mrs. H, I should mention, threw a superb Christmas party last night, and rolled out her best spread yet. Well done, Mrs. Hamilton!

24 white button mushrooms
1/4 C tbsp plain bread crumbs (bonus over-the-top points if you make your own from a stale baguette)
2 tbsp fresh grated Parmesan
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
3 anchovy fillets
1/2 tsp black pepper

Set your oven to 350. Pull and wiggle the stems out of the mushrooms, leaving each cap with a 1/4″-1/2″ cavity. Finely chop the stems and put them in a medium mixing bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, cheese, oil, vinegar, parsley and pepper, and combine well.

Mash the anchovies into a paste. You could use a fork and cutting board, or you could take the time to find that mortar and pestle you swore you couldn’t live without back in 1997 and finally remove it from its packaging. Incorporate the mashed anchovies into the mushroom mixture with your hands; they act as the only source of salt, so take care to disperse the paste thoroughly.

Pack each mushroom cap full of the mixture, forming moderate mounds on the tops. Space them at least 1″ apart on a cookie sheet, and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. Test to make sure they’re hot through (eat one), and plate on something delightful from Shreve, Crump and Low, or the less ostentatious Target (French pronunciation, please).

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