Butternut Squash Hummus

I’m not much for New Year’s Resolutions, but if I were, the recipe for Butternut Squash Hummus in Cooking for Jeffrey would fulfill a few new year’s promises: eat healthier, spend less money, cook at home more, or go meatless on Monday. It was easy to throw this together on our last day of winter break, and I’m looking forward to taking it to work tomorrow, as much as one can look forward to going back to the office after a fantastic week-long break. Ina says that her inspiration for this recipe came from Yotam Ottolenghi, who also happens to be one of my favorites. That explains the combination of some weird flavors: cinnamon, sriracha and Greek yogurt all in the same recipe? Why not? (Believe it or not, it works.)

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Speaking of resolution-y foods (healthy, don’t break the bank, don’t take enormous effort to make at home), I can’t believe I’ve been making this turkey stock risotto for the past four years without mentioning it on this blog. Sam Sifton (of New York Times cooking fame) wrote it for Bon Appetit magazine back in 2012, and we’ve been making it faithfully ever since then. Usually, I make it a few days after Thanksgiving, when we’re growing tired of the usual leftovers, but still have turkey stock to use up. This year, I made a ton of turkey stock (some on the stove, and some in the pressure cooker), and froze a lot of it as a gift to myself to use in the coming months. It’s been great in soup, but also for things like collard greens and blackeyed peas on New Year’s Day. On New Year’s Eve, after a cold and rainy drive back from the beach at Galveston, we were ready to throw something together to eat at home. The stock thawed in no time, and we had nice pot of risotto ready for dinner.

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Happy Hanukkah and Family Time

When my dad told me a few years ago that my great-grandmother worked as household help for a Jewish man when she first immigrated to the United States from Austria, my world suddenly made more sense. Why else would “our” chicken dumpling soup so closely resemble matzo ball soup, and our apple crisps look so much like Ina’s? My great grandmother, Little Gram, made rye bread, potato pancakes, and peach dumplings, too. That side of the family is heavily Catholic, but the more I learned about Jewish cooking, the more I saw strains of our own family recipes. My parents told me that Little Gram even went over to the Jewish man’s house to stoke the fire on the Sabbath, since he was prohibited by his religion from doing any work that day.

So, I thought of my little Austrian babushka as we made Ina’s potato pancakes (from Cooking for Jeffrey) on the fifth night of Hanukkah. We also happened to light five candles in our Advent wreath that night as we continue or celebration of the Christmas season.

Later that night, my brother and his crew arrived from Dallas. I *love* that we have Texas family that is now close enough for visits like these. In addition to the usual baking that my brother loves, we also decorated an “ugly Christmas sweater” cookie kit (a gift from our sweet friend Dennis, reportedly available at Trader Joe’s). The cookies were anything but ugly because my beautiful and talented sister-in-law makes everything look amazing. That’s true even after a few drinks. I had Ina’s grapefruit champagne granitas (from Cooking with Jeffrey) ready after their long drive. The grapefruit came from a local friend’s tree, and the granita was delicious. It was like a grownup sno-cone.

Happy Hannukah and Happy New Year and Merry Continued Christmas, everyone!

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Merry Christmas!

It has been a day of decadence here. For the kids, that has meant LEGO and Anki Overdrive and marble runs and books, with occasional grazing. For the adults, it has meant starting the day with Alton Brown’s overnight cinnamon rolls (a perennial favorite here), continuing with my mother-in-law’s amazing sausage casserole, and ending with Ina’s filet mignon with mushrooms and mustard sauce. Ina outdid herself with this recipe (in Cooking with Jeffrey). All of her steak recipes are amazing, but this one is a rockstar. I used one of my Christmas gifts, a medium-size Le Creuset skillet (in a kicky orange), for the mushrooms. This recipe was not complicated or time consuming, but it was delicious.

We’ll go to bed tonight grateful for delicious food, for our sweet little boys, and for the gift of Christmas.

 

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Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel

Quick! Make this before you set any New Year’s Resolutions! Unless you’re resolving to eat more delicious pasta with cream sauce.

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The recipe is from Cooking with Jeffrey, and it is delicious. I thought I hated fennel, even Ina-sanctioned fennel, until I made the potato fennel gratin last week. As it turns out, just about anything can be mellowed by sautéing it with onions in olive oil, and then mixing it with starch and cream and Parmesan.

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The Curessa’s Quick and Dirty Guide to Holiday Entertaining

I’m not going to claim that I am any good at entertaining, but we do a fair amount of it. Here are my tips on how we do it and mostly stay sane. Keep in mind that we both work full time, I write part time, we are not wealthy enough for paid kitchen help or caterers, and we have two dogs and two busy boys. So, in other words, no party we throw is going to end up in a magazine, except for maybe The American Journal of Psychiatry (fingers crossed!).

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1. The music. You don’t have to spend a ton of time on a playlist, but if that’s your thing, go on with your bad self. (In fact, if that’s your thing, make some CDs for your friends as party favors!) We use pandora, and this time of year, the Sufjan Stevens Holiday channel is my jam. Sure, there are a few ads, but they fill in as awkward conversation kindling when things get quiet.

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2. Setting the table. Give yourself a little grace here. We have beautiful dishes, but if we are expecting more than 8-10 guests, I get the “nice” disposable dishes and flatware from Costco. I still end up doing dishes for 24-36 hours after the party from drinkware, cookware, and serveware. If you’re feeling fancy, use cloth napkins, because what’s another load of laundry? Speaking of napkins, I like to leave dinner-size paper napkins in the bathroom for hand drying, because bathroom hand towels are gross. I get nice paper ones at TJ Maxx or Homegoods because I am super fancy.

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3. The Help. If you have a partner/roommate/co-host, give him or her specific tasks. I do all of the grocery shopping, cooking, and arranging. Neil is in charge of the coffee percolator. I don’t know how it works, and I’m not about to figure it out and take that away from him. Along those lines, if you can afford help, delegate what you can. Cleaning and babysitting can be farmed out, or bartered with a friend.

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4. Decorating. This is why holiday entertaining is fun, because the house is generally kind of gussied up already. Otherwise, our version of decorating consists of throwing all of the mail, loose school papers, dog leashes, and court summons into a laundry basket. Voila! House beautiful!

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5. The Food. I think this is where a lot of people get tripped up, and I can understand why. Food is so personal, and there can be a lot of allergies and aversions to navigate. If at all possible, I like to ask guests if there’s anything they can’t eat. I sometimes share some of my own silly aversions, so they won’t feel badly about telling me theirs. Once I get that squared away, I can sometimes narrow down the menu based on what people like. If I am making something new, I try to have a backup plan in case it doesn’t work out, and I almost always have an old standby for at least one of the courses. There are times when I go all-out fancy, but I can tell you that nobody complains when I heat up a bunch of stuff from Costco, either. If I can’t pull it off without turning into Miss Hannigan from Annie, then it’s probably not worth it.

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6. The guests. You should keep a mental tally of how each of your guests behave, to determine if they’ll be invited back. Conventional wisdom says that people shouldn’t overindulge on alcohol and talk about sensitive subjects at dinner parties, but I will take a loud lush over a boring wallflower any day. I’m kidding. I do like to let guests know the dress code, as it were (exceedingly casual, usually), and that we have dogs, in case the guests don’t have a soul aren’t comfortable around dogs. I’m not usually organized enough for a parting gift, but I do like to give homemade dog biscuits to fellow dog-lovers (they can be made in advance and don’t need to be pretty!), and Ina’s spiced pecans in little jars would be fun, too. But honestly, people should just be glad you fed them. And if they aren’t, they can go fly a kite.

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Limoncello Vodka Collins

I don’t know how, but I forgot to blog about the Limoncello Vodka Collins in Cooking with Jeffrey, which we made a few weeks ago. It’s citrus season in Houston, and we have been the very fortunate recipients of friends’ meyer lemons from their backyard trees. Some of them made their way into these limoncello vodka collins, which were reportedly a big hit.

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The lemons have also found their way into my great-grandmother’s orange cookies, so now they are the next generation’s lemon cookies. Here’s the recipe, for anyone else trying to use up buckets of sunshine-y citrus on the darkest day of the year. These cookies are more cake-like than cookie-like, which means that they kind of look uneven and not-exactly-pretty, but they are light and delicious. This recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Meyer Lemon Cookies

1 ½ c sugar

1 c vegetable shortening

2 eggs

1 c milk mixed with 1 tblsp. vinegar, or 1 c buttermilk

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

4 ½ c flour

Juice and rind of one large meyer lemon

Preheat the oven to 350. Mix sugar with shortening until creamy.  Add eggs one at a time.  Add milk, and beat until smooth.  Add dry ingredients and the juice and rind of the lemon.  Scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Frosting:

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1 c powdered sugar

juice and rind of one meyer lemon

Mix frosting ingredients together; frosting will be thin.  Spread over cookies while they are still on the parchment.  The frosting is often quite thin and can come out more like a glaze.

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Solstice Staff Party!

We entertained the Palmer staff at the rectory this afternoon, and it was so much fun! We mixed it up with some new and some old recipes, and if you include the polenta recipe I forgot to blog a while back (creamy Parmesan polenta goes really well with chicken marbella, even though I forgot to photograph it a few weeks ago, in case you were wondering), I am firmly over the 700 recipes completed mark. Hooray!!

For starters, we had spiced pecans (from Cooking for Jeffrey) and lobster salad in endive (from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook). We also served wine, punch (sorbet, raspberries and ginger ale – everybody’s favorite!), and French 75 cocktails from Cooking with Jeffrey (everybody’s new favorite). For the main course, we had a few salads, beef tenderloin with Gorgonzola sauce from Parties! (I’d made the tenderloin but not the sauce before – it was a huge hit), potato fennel gratin from the Barefoot Contessa cookbook, and roasted asparagus. For dessert, I tried to make the cream cheese pound cake from Cooking with Jeffrey, but it was literally a big flop. So, I made gingerbread cake, peppermint brownies, and Meyer lemon cookies, and served them along with port wine, Stilton, and pears (from Parties!), Moravian cookies, and fruitcake.

I think we’re all ready for Christmas now!

 

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