Monday, November 26, 2012

Feeling Thankful

For those of us in the United States, the Thanksgiving holiday was last Thursday. Every family does something slightly different to celebrate the holiday, and many have traditions of something they do every year. Growing up, we lived across the country from our extended family (all my aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents), so the Thanksgiving holiday was a pretty calm event for our family of four. As I've gotten older, the four of us from my immediate family have each done our own thing for the holiday, and I've developed some traditions of my own. The best part about my tradition is that I can keep it up no matter who I'm celebrating the holiday with. This is important because every year is different. Sometimes (like this year) I spend Thanksgiving with my dad, some years I spend it with my mom, and other times I spend it off on a vacation.

My dad with the turkey.
By now your probably wondering what is this tradition? It's pretty simple really, and it's something many people do already. My tradition is to use the Thanksgiving holiday as my reminder to be thankful. To be mindful and consider all I have in my life to be grateful for. I used to think that the "What are you grateful for?" question asked at every Cafe Gratitude restaurant was cheesy, but now I think it's a wonderful way to begin a meal.

Seafood soup, before the dashi broth was added. So pretty!
The people I'm sharing the Thanksgiving feast with may or may not take a moment before the meal to verbally share what they're thankful for, but I can do it in my head regardless. I realize that Thanksgiving was a few days ago now, but the spirit of gratitude can continue to live on through the December holidays and into the new year. I've recently read that keeping a gratitude journal and every day recording one thing you're grateful for can significantly improve mood, interpersonal relationships, and lift depressive symptoms. Whether you're a journal-keeper or not, taking a moment to recognize what you are grateful for can have a wonderful positive effect on your well-being.

And so, in the spirit of feeling grateful, here is my list of what I'm grateful for this season:
- My health
- My relationships with each of my parents, my sister, and my friends
- Two years (and counting) with my amazing boyfriend
- My fabulous apartment with lots of natural light
- The abundance of delicious, affordable, healthy food in my area
- The farmers that grow the food, and the delivery people that bring it to my area
- My clients and all that they teach me
- The beauty of nature
- My Christmas tree, the first I've put up in years
- Vacations

Grilled wild duck with chanterelle mushrooms.

It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without a pumpkin pie!

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving to you all! I'm also grateful for each of you who have read this post!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pumpkin Puree to Pumpkin Pie

Here in the United States, National Pumpkin Pie day is observed on December 25th. In honor of that holiday (even though it's still a month away) and to perfect my recipe, I decided to make a pumpkin pie from the real thing. That's right, no cans here! I used a "sugar pie pumpkin" and pureed it myself. One of these days I'll make my own pie crust too, and then it will really be a made-from-scratch pie.

So, if you're still looking for something to bring to a Thanksgiving feast, here's your recipe!

Pumpkin Pie, right out of the oven!

Recipe: Pumpkin Puree to Pumpkin Pie
- One Sugar Pie Pumpkin (yes, that is what they're really called), or 2C canned pumpkin puree
- Pie Crust
- 1C Heavy Cream
- 1/2C Brown Sugar, packed
- 1/3C White Sugar
- 1/2t Salt
- 2 Whole Eggs, plus 1 Yolk
- 2t Cinnamon
- 1t Ground Ginger
- 1/4t Ground Cloves
- 1/4t Ground Nutmeg
- 1/4t Ground Cardamom
- 1/2t Lemon Zest
Sugar Pie Pumpkin, before baking
Directions for Pumpkin Puree:
(This can be done a day or two ahead, to save time.)

- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Rinse and dry the pumpkin, then cut in half.
- Remove the seeds (save them for roasting), and place the pumpkins cut side down on a baking pan lined with foil. The foil just makes clean up easier, it's not required.
Sugar Pie Pumpkin, cut in half and cooked til soft.
- Bake the pumpkin for about 40 minutes, depending on size. It is done when it is soft to the touch. I'd recommend touching it with a fork or cooking utensil, not your finger, as it will be HOT!
- When pumpkin is done, remove it from the oven and let it cool until you can hold it comfortably. (This took me about 30 minutes.)
- Scrape the inside of the pumpkin into a blender, and puree til smooth. My Vita-Mix worked great here!
- Put the puree into a strainer lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter, and let drain for about an hour. You can squeeze the water out to speed up this process a little. Otherwise, your puree will remain very liquidy, resulting in a mushy pie.
Straining the puree in a cheesecloth.

Directions for Pumpkin Pie:
(Total time is 3-4 hours. Prep, cook time 65 min, cooling for 2 hours.)
- Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
- In a large bowl, mix the sugars, salt and spices. Add in the lemon zest.
- In a small bowl, beat together the eggs. Pour eggs into large bowl with sugars.
- Add the pumpkin puree and combine.
- Add the cream and mix until everything is well combined.
- Pour mixture into pie shell, and bake at 425 for 15 minutes.
- After 15 minutes, drop oven temperature to 350 and continue baking 40-50 minutes longer.
- Pie is done when a toothpick (or thin knife) comes out clean in the middle.
- Cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
- Slice, and serve with a dollop of whipped (organic) cream on top!
Pumpkin Pie, before going in the oven.
Pumpkin Pie, after baking. Smells delicious!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! What are you grateful for this year?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Easy (I promise!) Home Made Chicken Stock

While it does require some time and planning ahead, making chicken stock is super easy! If you can chop vegetables and boil water, you can make it. I promise!

Mmmm...chicken stock!
I love to make my own soup after having made a roast chicken earlier in the week. One roast chicken turns into food for the next two weeks (for one or two people, anyway)! Be sure to keep a container in the fridge where you collect all the bones and scarps from your chicken. I also pour the fat/drippings from the roasting pan into a glass jar and keep that in the fridge until I'm ready to make soup.

My week will usually look something like this:
Monday: Make a roast chicken with veggies and maybe some brown rice.
Tuesday: Eat leftover chicken and veggies.
Wednesday: Use shredded chicken to make chicken salad or taco filling.
Thursday: I'm usually a little tired of chicken and eat something else.
Friday: Ditto Thursday.
Saturday: Make stock!
Sunday/Mon/Tues: Use the stock in a soup, and either eat for the next week or freeze it.

Chicken Stock (one chicken makes about 6 cups of stock)
- Leftover roasted chicken carcass, including all bones and scrap meat
- If it came with your bird, use the neck too
- Whatever you roasted inside the chicken (ie. lemon, onion, herbs, etc.)
- Drippings from the pan
- Your choice of vegetables: chopped carrot, celery, leek, onion, garlic cloves
- Fresh or dried herbs: rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, parsley

- Set aside at least 4 hours to make the stock. Most of that time it's simmering unattended, so you can do other things around the house while it cooks.
- Heat a big, heavy stock pot over medium heat.
- If not already cooked, first cook the chicken neck and any other raw chicken parts you're using. When these are cooked, remove and set aside.
- Use some of the chicken fat (scraped off the top of the drippings) to cook the vegetables. Stir until fragrant and softened.
- Put everything (chicken bones, neck, other veggies and herbs, etc.) into the pan, and cover with water.

Everything is in the pot! Not quite enough water here though.
- Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 4+ hours, stirring every so often. Skim off the foam that forms on the top.
- After about four hours, taste the soup and see if it is to your desired taste. If it's not strong enough, keep simmering!
- When done, strain and keep the liquid (obviously, this is your stock!). I do this by pouring the soup into a colander that is in a big bowl. Push down on the contents of the colander to extract as much liquid as possible.
- If you are making soup, not stock, and want to keep some of the veggies in your soup, go ahead and pick them out! I frequently do this.
- After straining, chill the soup in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, skim the fat off the top.
- Make soup, or pour the stock into containers, and use within 3-4 days. If you're freezing it be sure to leave 1" of room on the top to allow for expansion.