Monday, October 27, 2008

A Better Mousetrap

As you might have guessed by now if you have been taking notes, I like to cook. I always make a huge Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner for my friends, and I have had several people ask me "How do you do it so fast?!" I have developed a routine to make a large holiday meal for up to 8 people (more if guests bring additional sides) in just a couple of hours. The trick is to know what you can make the day before, plus a little secret to get really good, juicy turkey in just a few hours. I end up redrawing this schedule every year, and have been wanting to keep a record of it somewhere. so this post is as much for me as it is for you. So I won't be posting recipes right now, just timing. If there is a particular recipe you want, though, please email me!

Day before:
Make pie
Make cucumber salad
Make rolls
Brine and prep turkey
Make giblet gravy
Make cranberry sauce
Prep veggies for stuffing

Day of:
2:00 - Preheat oven to 425
2:15 -Prep green bean casserole (yes, I am an unrepentant canned soup user. Don't hate.)
2:30 - Put turkey in oven, left side up
3:00 - Flip turkey to right side
3:30 - Flip turkey to left side, peel potatoes
4:00 - Flip turkey to right side, boil potatoes
4:30 - Flip turkey breast up, mash potatoes, make stuffing
5:00 - Remove turkey, turn oven down to 350, put green bean casserole and rolls in oven, make pan gravy
5:15 - Remove rolls
5:30 - Remove casserole, carve turkey, EAT

See? Not so hard. Everything I do on the day before takes 1 to 2 hours, tops. That's actually the most labor intensive part. On the day of your party, you have minimal work to do. Everything is ready to go, and just requires a little maintenance from time to time. It sure beats slaving for 8 hours and being so exhausted by the time it's done that you don't enjoy yourself.

If you are persuasive, or have friends who like to cook, they can take care of a lot of the "day before" things. Assign people to bring a salad or dessert or bread, which cuts your time down even more. Hurray for planning!

PS - My mashed potatoes are usually gone in seconds, and people rave about them. Here's why: I put in a whole block of melted cream cheese and whip the crap out of them. So good! Diets are for the the New year anyway.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

How To Win Friends and Influence People

Ah, you might think, this is where she talks about the importance of a firm handshake and attention to body language. And you would be so sadly wrong.

The best way to win friends is with baklava. Why baklava? It's ridiculously simple to make, yet looks very complicated and impressive. And it tastes so incredible that you will have people following you around looking for more. They will probably not ask for the recipe, because it looks so hard. See? Your illusion stays intact. This is potluck season, people. Be prepared.

The secret to this is that you don't have to mess with individual paper thin sheets of phyllo. You do them in stacks, and it actually works better because the sheets don't turn into glue from all the butter between the layers. This little trick turns a one hour prep into something under 10 minutes. (I know, I know, you can send fan mail to me if you must.) The other trick is keeping it crisp. You do that by making sure your honey syrup is really, really hot before you pour. That way it will caramelize and make a nice moisture shield so your phyllo doesn't get soggy.

So, off we go.

Armenian Baklava
16 oz walnuts, chopped fine
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 pound of phyllo dough
2 sticks of butter, melted
16 oz honey
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1cinnamon stick

Preheat oven to 300 and grease a 13" x 9" baking dish very well with butter. Make sure your phyllo is thawed according to the package directions. Cut all the layers at once into 13" x 9" rectangles and cover lightly with plastic wrap, then put a damp dishcloth on top. Dump the diced walnuts in a bowl and mix in the cinnamon and sugar. (If you can't find diced walnuts, you can chop them in a food processor, just don't overdo it.)

Now for the simple-yet-impressive part. Take 5 sheets of phyllo and place into the baking dish. Brush well with butter (don't skip the corners). Sprinkle 1 cup of the walnut mixture on this. Now repeat that twice more, using all the walnut mixture. Now place the remaining phyllo sheets on top and brush with the last of the butter. Cut halfway through the layers with a sharp knife into 12 sections, then split each square into 2 triangles (don't skip the cutting). See, that wasn't so bad, was it?

Bake it for 1 hr and 25 minutes. The last 5 minutes, heat the honey, cardamom and cinnamon stick in a small pot over med-high heat. Keep it at a simmer, but don't let it boil.

Now when you take out the baklava from the oven, pour the simmering honey (minus the cinnamon stick) over the whole thing right away, making sure it gets down the sides of all the pieces. It will boil furiously for a minute, then subside. Cool for 1 hour, then finish the cuts all the way through. Do not refrigerate this or the caramel will break down and it will get mushy. If kept covered at room temperature it will last a week. (Yeah, right. It will all get eaten before then, trust me.)

Take it to your next potluck and watch the influencing begin.

Variations: Greek and Turkish versions use pistachios and almonds instead of just walnuts. You can flavor the nut mixture with cardamom or other masala spices. Also, you can flavor the honey with a few drops of rose, jasmine, or orangeflower water.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Restructuring of Priorities. . .

(a.k.a. more work for the Boy.)
After having a bash at working in a tiny, cramped space I decided to do a little modification to my original room layouts. Since I moved all the way out here at semi-great expense and trouble to focus on my career as an artist, I thought my space should reflect that mindset.

So I rotated the rooms counter-clockwise. (That's where the grunt work came in for the Boy.) The studio is now our sleeping alcove, the living room is now my studio, and the bedroom is now the office/living room.

Ah, moving all that furniture around our cramped space was a joy, let me tell you. But we're done now, and I am very pleased with the results. Lots of room to work, no knocking over my sewing machine when I get out of my chair at the drawing table, plus I can open all the file drawers all the way. Pretty snazzy, eh? I also moved the cat tree next to my table, because what's the point of having a cat in a studio if it can't dash through your palette and track paint all over the house from time to time?

Hurrah, let joy be unconfined, etc.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tea for Two

So, yesterday I went out to afternoon tea with a friend. We tried to go to the Sheridan Palace at first, but the website I found their hours on was off a bit. Saturday only (sigh). It has a beautiful lobby, though, don't you think?

So, troopers that we are, we regrouped and headed over to Samovar, which is lovely if you want Japanese style Russian tea. Or Russian style Japanese tea, I wasn't quite clear. The English Tea Service was a bizarre combination of Asian and British styling that didn't quite make it all the way to endearing. Not quite in the spirit of Her Maj, in my opinion. The quiche was good, though. So, to prevent future mishaps I sat down and made a Google map of all the tea shops I found in San Francisco so far, with (correct) hours. Good job, Jenna.

I would also like to clear up a misconception about low tea and high tea. All these places are serving low tea, not high tea. "High" does not refer to the fanciness of the occasion, but to the height of the table it is traditionally served on. Low tea, or afternoon tea, features little cakes and fiddly things on toast. It was developed in the 1800s as a way for the wealthy classes to pass the time with friends. The lady of the house poured, and the servants were sent away so that guests could talk without being overheard. It is traditionally served on low tables in a parlor, hence the name "low" tea.

High tea was the working classes' dinner, and was usually served around 5 in the evening. It consists of meat pies, treacle tarts and other knife-and-fork dishes and was served at the family dining table, hence "high" tea.

Are we quite clear? Good. Moving on.

Afterwards I went to Britex Fabrics. I can't believe I have waited this long to go, because it's four floors of awesome. The prices can't touch the fabric districts of New York or LA, but who can? It's less expensive than some places I've been to, and the selection of gorgeous fabrics is staggering. Ah. Drool. Can't wait to make some new clothes!