Happy, turkey-loving family

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Happy Thanksgiving! The week leading up to the big holiday was a busy one for me. My boyfriend Kevin and I happily hosted his family at our place for Thanksgiving this year. If I wasn’t prepping a dish I was cleaning something all week long. I’m no stranger to cooking for a group of people or hosting a get-together but this was the first time that the particular group of people were my dear love’s family. If there’s a group you want to impress and make sure is happy it’s the people your significant other loves more than you. This had to turn out as a great success. It’s safe to say that I think it was. Praise the good Lord above!

To be honest, the only thing I was really nervous about was the turkey. We bought a 16 pound turkey and I had never roasted a bird that big before. Would I dry it out? Would it be lacking flavor of any kind? Would the family regret having allowed me to host? I did a bunch of research on the best way to roast a turkey. I know I didn’t want a bird that had already been brined. I worried about everything coming out too salty. I also wasn’t thrilled about brining the dang thing myself. The thought of ice chests in bathtubs and constantly changing out water, etc did not sit well with me. I decided on a dry brine. I considered it a happy medium to achieve flavorful meat without the messy job of a wet brine. We ordered our turkey from an organic farm in Wisconsin so I feel like I already had a head start on good quality meat. Kevin’s step-father is from Ireland and grew up eating turkeys that they killed themselves. He leaned over to me and said my turkey was as good as any he grew up eating. To me, that was validation enough that I had done my turkey proud.

Taking from Alton Brown’s ultimate turkey recipe and several tips from Bon Appetit and Butterball’s website, I concocted my own recipe that resulted in a fabulous bird that was both flavorful and moist. The dry brine recipe I took from the most recent November issue of Bon Appetit. I left that on for 7 hours before rinsing and thoroughly drying the turkey. After that I gave it a good rub down with lots of butter. Butter, butter everywhere. I sprinkled it very generously with salt and pepper. Salt and pepper everywhere. Being from the southern part of the U.S. I never had dressing that was cooked inside the bird. So instead of stuffing the turkey with dressing (stuffing, dressing…tomAAto, tomAHto) I put in some of my favorite flavors. Half of an onion, half of a head of garlic, half of a lemon, and a bouquet garni of parsley, thyme and sage. I roasted it at 425 degrees for just 30 minutes. Just enough time to let the breast get nice and toasty. Then I lowered the heat to 325 degrees, covered the breast with aluminum foil, and added a few cups of chicken stock to the bottom of the roasting pan. I roasted it for 4 hours, only basting it twice. Some say to baste every 40min-1 hour but all of that opening and closing of the oven just lets out the heat that actually cooks the turkey which seems counter productive. The skin was crispy, the meat was moist (even the breast!) and everyone was happy. Happy, turkey-loving family at our table! I was thankful for that.

Did I mention I baked my own pies? Another first for me. My friend bought me the Hoosier Mama cookbook as a thank you gift back in October and I baked the pumpkin and pecan pies from the book. Maybe they weren’t as good as the ones I could have bought from the Hoosier Mama pie shop but honestly, I think the only difference was that mine didn’t look as pretty as theirs. The crusts even came out tasting the same. Huge accomplishment! If I sound like I’m giving myself a pat on the back it’s because I am. Haha. I was proud of myself for having managed to prepare a great meal for a group of people Kevin loves and that I’m beginning to love myself. I don’t have family here in Chicago and his family has welcomed me with open arms. A kick-butt meal aside, isn’t that what Thanksgiving is about anyway?

Seasoned beefy creaminess

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My boyfriend was feeling less than stellar last night so I made a quick trip to the grocery store to get a few things to make him chicken noodle soup. I made a beeline for the kale and rotisserie chicken (such a quick way to get cooked chicken for a dish and you can save the carcass to make a new batch of chicken broth the next day) but paused in front of the raw meat display for just a moment. “I should make SOS for breakfast tomorrow.” That thought ran through my head in that brief moment. I didn’t even think twice before I grabbed a pound of ground beef and then cut across the aisle to get a loaf of bread. It was decided. I would make SOS.

What is SOS you ask? It has several names depending on where you’re from or when you grew up. It’s also called “hamburger gravy” or “creamed ground beef.” But nothing beats SOS which hilariously means “Shit on a Shingle.” While it might taste like seasoned beefy creaminess it looks like sh*t on a plate. My grandpa served in the Army during Vietnam and Korea and ate pounds of this stuff, I’m sure. I read somewhere once that some form of SOS has been served in the Army since 1910. I’d bet that’s because it’s cheap to make a boat load of it, it’s incredibly filling and it’s damn good! When my grandpa (whom I always called Popop) returned home he would whip up a batch of it for his children on the weekends. Luckily, my mother caught the SOS bug and, in return, whipped up her kids a big batch on the weekends. That’s how the love of SOS has trickled down my family through the generations.

I almost never make SOS. In fact, the last few times I had it was when my mom made it. It’s not exactly a healthy choice for a meal and even a small portion leaves you stuffed. But when I’m wanting something comforting and nostalgic it’s the perfect fix. And it’s so simple to make. First, you need a pound of ground beef. It’s important that there is enough grease in the pan after browning the meat to make the gravy so I always get 80/20 ground chuck. You’ll also need some all-purpose four, milk (whole milk is best but I only had 1% and it worked fine), salt, pepper, and a loaf of white bread. I’ve tried using wheat bread before and it’s just not the same. Granted, if you’ve never had SOS before and you only have sliced wheat bread you won’t even know the difference.

1. Cook the meat in a large skillet over medium heat, breaking up the beef with a spoon, until it’s cooked through.

2. Sprinkle a healthy amount of flour over the meat and stir it up good to make sure you cook out the raw flour flavor. Keep adding more flour until all the grease has been absorbed.

3. Pour in about 1/4 cup of milk and stir until it’s almost absorbed. Keep adding more milk and stirring until the mixture is creamy. I can’t really tell you how much milk it will end up being. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. Add a generous amount of salt and even more pepper. Let it all simmer for a few minutes to get nice and thick.

4. Toast a few slices of bread and cut them up into bite size pieces. Spoon the SOS onto the bread, and sprinkle with more pepper.

It has to be said that SOS is best enjoyed on cold mornings and/or overcast days. I’m just sayin’.

Taste of pure indulgence

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Let’s discuss sugar for a bit, shall we? It has been a few days since my last post since I am without a computer at the moment. Once it is fixed, you’ll be hearing from me a lot more often. But back to the sugar. I have had quite a few noteworthy sugar moments this last week. I don’t know if it’s the time of year that makes my sweet tooth sing out to me to satisfy it’s ever-present cravings or what, but sugar is definitely on my mind. It all started on Friday when I stopped into Floriole bakery to pick up a baguette for dinner that night. Before me was the most beautiful pastry case stocked with a mouth-watering display of sweet and savory delights I had seen in a long time. My plan had been to pop in quickly to grab the bread and head home. I must have stood in front of that case for 5 minutes contemplating what to buy. I wanted one of everything! Do I go with chocolate? Cookies or cake? A breakfast pastry? That pistachio croissant was giving me the eye. Finally my gaze settled on a delicate almond cake lightly dusted with powdered sugar. It was sitting alone on a small plate and it simply called out to me, “Tanya, I’m yours. Take me home.” Sold.

The little cake’s name was Gateau Basque and it traveled home with me nestled into it’s brown cardboard box. It sat there all day waiting for us to savor it’s hidden enchantment after dinner. I can’t remember the last time I was so completely taken with a forkful of dessert as much as this devilish cake. Words couldn’t even describe how delicious it tasted to me in that moment. Just imagine a soft waltz of almond, pastry cream and cherries in the warm confines of your mouth. When I closed my eyes I saw baby blues, pale pinks and vanilla whites floating by. It took me longer than usual to finish my piece of the cake. I savored every single morsel there was to be had and it was pure bliss. Alas, I didn’t get a picture of the cake to share with you. Honestly, it wasn’t much to look at. Just picture a small round yellow cake without frosting. But the flavors that simple cake had to share were magnifique!

My other sugar moment worth mentioning happened this morning. My best friend’s little girl stayed over with us last night. We had a splendid evening of eating spaghetti and meatballs, playing Apples to Apples and introducing her to the film Newsies. After trying to sleep next to her in our guest bed all night I needed something special to start off my day. She’s only 8 but that little one is a monster to sleep next to. Let’s just say I ended up being pushed off the bed twice. I have never tried to make homemade cinnamon rolls even though I have a couple of highly recommended recipes. I’m sure they would come out great and much better than the canned variety but as long as there are Trader Joe’s cinnamon rolls to be had I will have a hard time not choosing them to make. I’ve had my fair share of canned cinnamon rolls growing up but nothing could have prepared me for the insanely awesome rolls sold at Trader Joe’s. I don’t know how they taste so much better but they do. They really, really do. I knew Cynthia liked them as much as me so that’s what I had planned on for breakfast. Not a hearty, nutritious breakfast by any means but she was staying at her Auntie’s house and we all know aunties are good at spoiling the kids.

The lingering smell of garlic from the night before was suddenly replaced with the sweet smell of cinnamon, butter and dough. I watched the oven in anticipation while the sound of frying bacon kicked our senses into high gear. Once the rolls came out of the oven we drizzled the sugary white frosting over the top of their steaming surfaces and set the plate on the table. That first bite is always the most magnificent. The tastebuds start to water just before you sink your teeth into the roll and then BAM! The comforting, sweet, warming taste of pure indulgence takes over and you are left with nothing but a frosting smeared smile on your face. Hot coffee and tea, a plate full of cinnamon rolls, and good people sitting at your table. What a great way to start off the day!

Fluffy, pale yellow clouds

I have been without a computer for the last few days so I apologize for not posting anything new lately. You may also notice that I’ve changed the look of my page. I’m still learning how to design all of this. There will be more changes in the future as I get the hang of this thing. I may not have been writing but I’ve definitely had some fantastic food moments. Last night my best friend and her daughter came over for a “Monday is the new Friday” movie night. We ordered a pizza, drank wine (the little one had apple juice), gorged ourselves on Halloween candy and watched Harry Potter. I lived with them for the first couple of years here in Chicago and, in that time, I ate more pizza than in the last 5 years combined. Take out pizza will always make me think of them.

My boyfriend and I also hosted our first dinner on Sunday. We had our realtor and his wife over as a thank you for finding us our new condo. I absolutely love hosting dinner get togethers and doing it in our new home was extra special. I had planned on taking some photos to share with you but I was so excited about getting everything ready and looking so pretty (the food, not me) that I completely forgot. Forgive me.

But the most significant thing I ate recently was plain ol’ scrambled eggs. It’s rare that I get to sit down with the newspaper, a cup of tea, and breakfast at home. It’s one of my favorite things and I usually want scrambled eggs and toast. So I boiled the water for my tea, cracked some eggs, popped the bread in the toaster and plopped the newspaper on the counter. As I sat there eating my eggs I began to think of my grandma and the way she always made her scrambled eggs. They were so different from the ones I make.

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I crack my eggs into a bowl, add a little milk, salt and pepper and whisk with a fork until everything is combined. I add some butter to the pan and slowly cook my eggs on low heat. They come out creamy and just set. I honestly don’t know how my grandma prepped her eggs. I was young and didn’t care to take notice. I wish I had. But I do know that when she put the eggs on my plate they were beautiful fluffy, pale yellow clouds floating around my toast. They weren’t dry but they still managed to have a nice bite to them. I have tried to replicate my grandma’s scrambled eggs many times and I just can’t get them right. She’s no longer able to cook scrambled eggs for me or anybody else and that makes me sad. She raised me from the time I was a baby until I left the nest for college. She didn’t cook much from scratch for me growing up because I think she may have been tired of cooking for other people. She was the oldest and only girl of a military man and a wife who sometimes drank a little too much and she helped to raise her brothers. She married my grandpa very young and had a family of her own. By the time I came around, I think she was over it. Not that she didn’t feed me! I still have a special place in my heart for Stouffer’s mac and cheese, lasagna and baked chicken. But scrambled eggs were one of the things I loved for her to make me and I will never forget their taste and texture.