Sunday, January 3, 2010

Good Jul and Glogg

In the not too distant past, I ran across a cookbook in the bargain bins at my local Borders.  The book is called Santa’s North Pole Cookbook and features holiday recipes from all around the world that are traditionally served at Christmastime.  One of them is glogg, a traditional wine drink that is served during the holidays in Finland.

P1030563 Initially I vetoed the idea of glogg because we don’t consume alcohol very much in this family (IE ever).  I wasn’t sure if I could substitute grape juice or not, so I decided not to mess with the recipe.  But, God Bless Danny Wegman, I was wandering the aisles of my local Wegman’s supermarket and there in the juice aisle was a special blend of juices marked Glogg!  Woo hoo!  I knew I had another country in my grasp!

And an easy recipe to prepare, as well.  Basically all you do is mull the spices in the juice to make a wonderful warm beverage.  Joyfully, I got to use some of my cardamom, in addition to cinnamon and cloves.  I poured the juice into a big pan, added the spices, and added raisins and almonds, traditionally stewed in the glogg mixture.


P1030565I let it all warm up and the house smelled AMAZING while it was heating.  I was feeling so festive, I decided to get out the good china cups and we all raised a toast to Finland!

P1030566It is hard to describe what glogg really tastes like—it’s spicy and sweet and warm and hearty.  It’s kind of a perfect Christmastime drink.  I hope Wegman’s continues to sell glogg during the holidays, as I could easily see us drinking more of it.

P1030567Leah opted out of the glogg and decided to chew on a candy cane instead.  (Don’t worry, it’s wrapped, her teeth are safe for now!)

P1030568Happy Holidays!    

USA: Thanksgiving!

If there is a meal that defines American cooking, I would have to say it is Thanksgiving dinner.  Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday, and this year due to conflicts of one kind and another, neither one of my parents would be able to travel to Virginia to see us for the holiday.  This meant that I was on my own for cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for the first time ever.  I had hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for friends some time ago when Michael and I were here and the rest of the family had other obligations, but never had I done the whole thing myself.  So I was tremendously excited to do it.

Now typically, my dad is the bird maker, and he makes a wonderful stuffing and turkey.  However, I have never been able to faithfully recreate his stuffing and so I decided to go with my mother-in-law’s recipe, which she gave me while visiting over Veteran’s Day.  My friend Cindy suggested baking the turkey in a bag to keep it moister. 

I also decided to make an apple pie from scratch.  The crust and everything.  I have always wondered if I’d be able to do this, because I am from the “unroll the pie crust from the sheet of plastic and put it in the pan” school of pie baking (love Pillsbury pie dough!).  But as the old saying goes, “American as Apple Pie!” so I was going to add that to my repertoire.  I remembered Alton Brown did a show either on apples or pie a while ago and he talked about cooking the filling first so that the crust didn’t get soggy and the filling wasn’t runny, and that concept really appealed to me.  I started with his baking book, but his only pie recipe in there was one for a galette, and I wanted a 2 crust pie, traditional, old school.  So I turned to The Joy Of Cooking and found a recipe that seemed like just what I wanted.

P1030419 So, it was time to plan.  I’m big on planning when I have a big task, and I decided I’d bake the pie the night before.  The JOC recommended certain apples to be used in pie, so I went with Gala, since Wegman’s had them front and center in the produce department when I went.  I got 3 pounds, per the directions, but honestly, in the future, I might get a couple more, they do cook down and eventually I thought the pie was a little big flat, I would have liked it to be taller.  But I digress. 

P1030427 I started out peeling all the apples, and immediately the peeler slipped and I peeled off a chunk of fingernail.  I didn’t even know such a thing was possible, and let me tell you, it HURT!  So I washed my finger out, bandaged it up and went back to peeling.  Here you can see my peels and my peeled apple and my bandaged finger!  I used to think what a terrible waste all those peels were, but now that I have a rabbit, I have a built in fruit and vegetable peel disposal system.  He LOVED Thanksgiving, let me tell ya!

P1030432So, once I got the peels disposed of, I used my slicer corer, a magnificent invention that allowed my apple pieces to be uniform!  Hurrah!


Next up was to melt some butter and add my apple slices and coat them with the butter.  Then I added sugar and cinnamon and let it cook down till it made a nice syrupy kind of concoction on the apples and once they were done, I spread them out on a baking sheet to cool.

 P1030434 P1030435Then it was time to turn my attention to the crust.  While JOC recommends using a pastry cutter, a lot of Food Network chefs make their dough in a food processor, so I decided to go that route, it seemed easier.

A crust is a pretty basic thing, cold shortening, sugar, flour, a pinch of salt, and ice water.  I used a combination of Crisco and butter since I wanted it to be a little bit buttery.


I turned it on and I have to say, I was a bit underwhelmed at the success of this endeavor.  I think maybe my food processor is too small to handle this kind of task.

Once I got the butter and Crisco and dried ingredients mixed, I dribbled in the ice water.  I measured out the correct amount of water first and then added ice.  I presume this is the correct way to do it.

P1030422 Once the water was in there, the whole thing went more smoothly, but it was not easy when at first the fats didn’t want to combine with the solids.  Eventually, though I had a pretty decent looking dough

P1030423 I shaped it into a disk and refrigerated it while the apples cooled off.

When all was ready, it was finally time to assemble the pie.  I had to roll out the dough, which I am really not good at.  I have the world’s worst rolling pin—it’s the Pampered Chef pin, which actually does a good job rolling things, but it is not great in terms of rolling out large circles.  So I opted to use a wine bottle instead, as it’s larger and easier to roll.  I need to get a real rolling pin one of these old days.

P1030437 Once I’d rolled out two different circles, I put one aside and put one in my pie plate.  Then I added the apples!  I decided to get fancy with the top crust since it needed to have cuts in it to vent any steam that might be in there.  I got out my mini cookie cutters and found the apple cutter and made two little apple cuts in the top crust before putting in on the pie.  Then I had to crimp the edges, at which I also SUCK!


P1030440You can see I put my little apple cutouts on the other side of the crust.  My crust is all lopsided on account of the fact I am a craptastic crimper.  Oh well!

About halfway through baking, I smelled the crust getting kind of crisp, so I went ahead and did my best to wrap aluminum foil around the edges, but this was of limited success (pie pans that have been in the oven are REALLY hot!)!  Eventually, I pulled the pie out and removed the foil and the edges DID get a little crisp, but I have to say, I think my first from-scratch pie looks pretty darned good!


P1030442Mmmmmmmmmmm, pie!

So the next morning it was time for the main event—I get to make a turkey from scratch all by my lonesome for the first time ever for Thanksgiving dinner.  I’m glad I did this in retrospect because my husband and I have signed up to host an exchange student and I’m excited that I’ll be able to prepare her Thanksgiving dinner this year.

P1030443 Now, I must be honest, I was a bit of a disaster on Thanksgiving in the kitchen.  Already I had peeled my fingernail.  Before the day was out, I’d be hosting a burn and a grated knuckle. Right off the bat when I cut the turkey open, it was A) still frozen and B) of the mind to leak all over the place.  Thanks, bird.

So, as I said, I decided to go with my mother-in-law’s stuffing recipe this year.  I gathered all the ingredients she suggested, and she was adamant about the Pepperidge Farm stuffing in the BLUE bag, not any other color, so I made darned sure when I was shopping that I got the blue bag.


It was a pretty basic recipe requiring only a few ingredients—namely butter, Italian sausage, celery, onions, and the stuffing mix.  I started off by chopping up the vegetables pretty finely.  (As an aside, hilariously Michael refused to tell me about the celery and onions when his mom was giving him the recipe over the phone.  She later asked me if I’d used celery! haha)

Once that was done, I sauteed the veggies and sausage in a frying pan till everything was cooked through and nice and soft.

P1030446 I added this mixture to the stuffing mix in a big bowl and then melted a stick of butter and poured it into the bowl as well.

P1030447 I combined it all together and then Sheila suggested I add water a little bit at a time, mixing well, until it looked “stuffingy”.  That’s exactly what I did, and voila!  Stuffing!

P1030448I know there are people who flat out refuse to put their stuffing inside the turkey cavity, but I am not one of them.  Don’t I look excited to be stuffing a turkey!?


All that stuffing stuffed in, I melted another stick of better and poured it over the turkey and into the bag.  My sister said I needed to look more excited about butter, so I present to you my before and after pictures!



That done, I sealed up the bag and cut a couple of slits in it, and popped that poultry in the oven!

P1030464 The smell of that turkey was totally mouthwatering, I must say.  I was never so glad to take a turkey out of the oven in my life!!!!

P1030466 I had a little bit of trouble getting it out of the bag and the pan.  I channeled my inner Uncle Buck "(“This is where we separate the men from the boys!”) and used a big slotted spoon and a fork, but it still fell back into the pan and splattered me with hot grease.  Then my sister got in on it and held the platter a bit closer, and we got it plated.  It looked SLIGHTLY the worse for wear, but still pretty darned good!

P1030467In addition to turkey, we had broccoli casserole (I grated my knuckle grating Swiss cheese for that!), mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and corn.

P1030469  P1030471Honestly, even just writing this, I’m kind of choked up with pride in my own accomplishment.  GO ME! :-)  We had company over for dessert and I didn’t get a picture of the apple pie, but you can take it from me, it was awesome.  YUMMY!  Not runny at all.  The only thing I’d do is add even more apples next time—the pie was a little bit thin, I like a packed pie.

So even though it’s already New Year’s, happy cooking!!!  :-)