Sunday, November 25, 2012

Color us Thankful

This past week was Thanksgiving and we hosted the first annual Friendsgiving.  It was Ro's first ever year as a hostess.  As the plans started being made for the event and the work of shopping, prepping and cleaning began she doubted the logic of why hosting was fun.  Gone were her days of sleeping in on the holiday until 10 a.m., going to the store (day of) to buy some crackers and cheese and then driving to someone else's house.

We had a total of ten friends and family gathered around our table this year.  Ages spanning from seventy to teenager.  Oh and there were two dogs (a Husky and Australian Shepard doodle, who actually did bark in an Australian accent).  Both of the four legged guests mostly enjoyed hanging out in the kitchen waiting for any morsel to fall.

FloJo is a recovering perfectionist and enjoys preparing a menu full of traditional classics as well as new dishes never tried before.  The challenge for next year has already been established-- modify the Italian Mother-in-Law dressing served this year to Hawaiian Mother-in-Law dressing for next year's menu.

This is a favorite holiday of the year, one that brings not only delicious food, but the people most dear to the table to celebrate all that is good together.  Particularly this year, it hit home that it's not what's on the table that matters the most, but the people who are around it.

Our friends Carolyn and Kelly recently lost their dear Mother Mary.  They each took turns sharing a very touching story that will be particularly memorable for years to come.  

Carolyn's father was an American History teacher.  One summer they all took a trip  as a family to Washington D.C. and the Smithsonian Museum.  At one of the exhibits they had learned that the pilgrims during their 2nd winter survived on only 5 kernels of corn a day as rationing had to be done to ensure there was enough food to make it through the very harsh winter.   Mary had been so moved by that experience that she reminded the kids every Thanksgiving by reciting The Legend of The Five Kernels  at their Thanksgiving table.  It was a such a sweet tribute to Mary and her tradition now lives on, not only with her children, but a new expanded family.

We were very blessed to have a bountiful feast this year including a record, two turkeys this year.   We had two turkeys mainly because the smoked turkey was an experiment and we weren't sure it was going to turn out.  The back-up turkey was a Guinness-brined turkey.  It was a pretty even split by the guests as to which their favorite was.  We will get a Survey Monkey electronic poll in place for next year so we have more accurate results.

Pinning the wings
The process to smoke the turkey was fairly simple.  Prep the turkey as you normally would (removing all the extra parts stored in the cavity and reserving for gravy or stock).  Lighting the charcoal (which proved to be the most difficult feat of the whole adventure).  We covered the bird with olive oil, salt and pepper and a BBQ seasoning.  Put some butter and herbs under the skin of the breast and stuffed the cavity with rosemary and lemons.  Turkey pins come in handy to pin the floppy wings to the body of the turkey.

Once the coals were hot, they were placed on the bottom tray of the smoker with some cherry wood, next a pan of water and finally the turkey rested on the top rack.  Total cooking time (in the Seattle rain to boot) was approximately 8 hours.  It's pretty low maintenance, but you do have to check on it about every hour to make sure the coals remain hot and occasionally add more charcoal or wood to the fire.

Both Ro and her nephew Po (so cute how they rhyme) were amazed how moist the smoked turkey was when it was finally done.  It smelled like a campfire and had that rich smoky flavor, which is very distinctive.  

Homemade turkey stock
 The nice thing about making a turkey the day before was being able to use the bones and carcass to boil with onions, celery, carrots, fennel, thyme and rosemary to make a very rich stock for the Thanksgiving gravy (this year made by our friend Betsy).

The brine
Turkey #2 also required some work the day before Thanksgiving.  This turkey got to brine in a bath that consisted of salt, onions, bacon, mustard and coriander seeds, peppercorns and the star ingredient Guinness Beer.  It soaked in that concoction overnight (we're still not sure how we found room in the refrigerator for it).

On Thanksgiving day we had to keep the worker bees fed and energized.  We ate a migas type breakfast served with black beans and cornbread Flojo made for the dressing.  Then for lunch a healthy smoked turkey sandwich on multi-grain bread.  

Then it was on to the main meal of the day!  Let's just say none of us were successful in following the Weight Watcher's guide to Thanksgiving, which is to make islands of each dish.  Carolyn said it best, describing our plates as one continent vs. islands.  It's Thanksgiving though-- and so fun to try so many different things in one meal.  We were all happily stuffed after dinner and grateful to spend this evening together!
Pat, Betsy and Carolyn-- post feast chillaxin

Our 2012 Friendsgiving menu:

Appetizers: Charcuterie Cones, Crudité with Green Goddess Dip and Pear Camembert Dip

1st Course: Butternut squash soup garnished with sour cream, pepitas and thyme and Brussels Sprout Salad with Pepitas and Dates (Betsy's favorite dish of the night) with Parker House rolls (Ro did a great job making these)

Main Course: Smoked turkey, Roasted Guinness Brined Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, Italian Mother-in-Law Dressing (in honor of our recent trip to Italy), Cornbread Sausage Dressing, Corn Pudding (Pat), Roasted Carrots, Modern Green Bean Casserole and Cranberry-Orange Relish

Desserts: Apple Walnut Cake w/ Butter Sauce (Pat), Pumpkin Cream Pie, Pumpkin Pie (provided by Costco-- thanks for the tip Alix) and homemade Pumpkin Cinnamon ice-cream
The food continent

Live life with flavor and fun!

Po, Carolyn, Kelly, Ro, Dana, FloJo, Betsy, Pat, Kathy and David (FloJo's parents)

Recipes made by Pat Bruce:

PAT'S CORN CASSEROLE  (Flojo's favorite dish of the night)

1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 can creamed corn
8 oz. sour cream
1 egg
1 Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 stick of butter (melt and use one to grease casserole dish)

Mix all together and bake uncovered 350 degrees. Be sure to use a deep enough dish as this rises quite a lot because of the muffin mix. 


1 cup butter 
2 cups white sugar
3 eggs
3 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups peeled and diced apples
2 cups chopped walnuts.  Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs. Whip 5 minutes. Mix dry ingredients and add to batter. Add vanilla, apples and nuts. (I usually mix in the apples and nuts by hand, as the batter is really stiff.) Put in greased and floured bundt pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 1-1/2 hours. Cool in pan 10-15 minutes.


1 cup milk 
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon water

Combine all in sauce pan. Stir constantly over medium heat until thickened. Refrigerate and warm before serving.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Italian Cooking School: Move Over Giada

Cecilia-- the real deal!
One of the highlights of our stay in Umbria was a night of cooking school with our hostess/instructor Cecilia. We (the group of fourteen women who had traveled from the United States to spend a week in an Umbrian villa on the grounds of Le Velette winery) all gathered around the kitchen table to absorb her cooking wisdom and try to learn how to make an authentic Italian dinner from scratch.  The first dish we learned about roughly translates to turkey meatloaf.  This wasn't your school lunch meatloaf.   We would later confirm after eating the fruits of our cooking endeavors, this was the best meatloaf any of us had ever had.

Polpettone (Turkey Meatloaf)
The recipe was taught using grams and ratios. To quote Cecilia, our cooking instructor, "It's a more or less thing."

Betsy and Gabi
  • 2/3 turkey or 500 grams (approx 2 pounds)
  • 1/3 ricotta cheese or 300 grams (approx 1 pound)
  • 3 TBS of nutmeg or to taste (Cecilia was generous)
  • 4 eggs or the ratio of every 200 grams meat & cheese add an egg (or more if it's too solid)
  • 1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese (Or for every 1000 kilos add 150 grams of shredded parmesan cheese). She used Parmigiano-Reggiano don't use Romano (it's too salty)
  • Salt- to taste the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is quite salty so don't over salt
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs (for every 1,000 grams 150 grams)
  • 2 cups extra virgin olive oil (Le Velette makes their own)
  • 6 cups milk + more to add while cooking if necessary 
  • 1 lb prosciutto thick slices
  1. Place the meat in a large mixing bowl.  Drain the ricotta cheese and add it to the bowl with the meat. 
  2. Next add the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to the bowl
  3. Crack the eggs into the bowl
  4. Add nutmeg and salt to taste
  5. Mix ingredients in bowl with hands until well blended (Cecilia recommends channeling someone you're really mad at to give you inspiration)
  6. If mixture seems to solid, add another egg
  7. Mold into loaves and wrap with 4-5 strips of proscuitto until loaf is completely wrapped up.
  8. Put 2-3 loafs into a large saucepan and completely cover with a mixture of 2/3 milk and 1/3 extra virgin olive oil
  9. Poke a few holes in each loaf and then place on stovetop on medium-high heat
  10. Cooking time will vary depending on how many loaves are in the pan and the amount of liquid, but it will be approximately an hour and a half.  No need to stir the liquid as the olive oil will keep it from burning.
  11. Turn the loaves over at 45 minutes. If sauce has evaporated add more milk.
  12. Turkey meatloaves cooking in milk and olive oil
  13. Loaves will be close to done when liquid thickens. At that point cover the pan and turn off the burner
Le Velette's Grechetto
Notes:  You can make more loaves than needed for the meal and freeze them uncooked.  This recipe is easy to adjust and make more if you want to have some ready for another dinner.  
When ready to eat, remove from the freezer, cover with milk and olive oil and cook according to the above directions.
You can substitute other meat types such as ground veal, chicken, pork or beef. Cecilia only recommends beef or turkey, those are her favorites for this recipe.
The finished product!

Pesche all' Ameretto Baked Peach Italian Dessert

  • 7 big peaches, washed (1/2 per person)
  • 7 eggs (or 1 egg for every peach), separate and just use yolks
  • 1/2 TBS sugar per egg
  • Box of dry Amaretti cookies (crumble one cookie for each peach + additional if needed)
  • Bottle of semi-sweet white wine (1/4 cup for every 7 peaches)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Wash and cut peaches in half.  Remove and discard the pit
  3. Use a small measuring spoon to scrape out where the pit was being careful not to break the peach
  4. Arrange the peaches cut side up in an oven- proof baking dish
  5. Separate eggs into whites and yolks.  Use the whites for another recipe or discard.  Keep the yolks in a bowl.
  6. Add 1/2 TBS sugar for each egg to the bowl and whisk with "lots of energy."
  7. Add approx. 1/4 cup semi-sweet wine for 7 peaches
  8. Crumble one amaretti cookie per peach into the bowl and continue to whisk.
  9. Adjust if necessary with a few extra cookies if the mixture needs to be thickened.
  10. Next fill the peach holes evenly with the mixture.
  11. Sprinkle each peach with sugar.
  12. Drizzle semi-sweet white wine over each peach (generously) and on the bottom of the pan
  13. Put dish of peaches uncovered into the preheated oven for 40-60 minutes (bigger peaches will take longer)
  14.  Remove from oven and serve hot
FloJo and Ro taking it all in in

Le Velette's Rasenna semi-sweet white

Pasta con Capperi in Salsa Rossa  Pasta with Spicy Red Caper Sauce
14 servings

3 cloves of garlic
Penne, ziti, rigatoni or any short pasta (better to grab and hold the pasta)
Whole 6 oz jar of salted capers (rinsed and drained)
3 dried peppercinos (small red Italian peppers)
4 cans (14.5 oz) of diced tomatoes (undrained)
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley (chopped)
3/4 cup olive oil 
Kenna approves- thumbs up!

Dana and Cindy
  1. Put entire jar of capers in a colander and rinse
  2. Place capers on a cutting board and finely chop until each caper is broken
  3. Mince 3 garlic cloves in with capers
  4. Put olive oil into a large pot and heat on high heat
  5. Add capers and garlic to the oil
  6. Break peppercinos in half (recommend putting gloves on and don't touch eyes after handling peppers)
  7.  Add peppers to the hot oil in the pan and stir the peppers
  8. Remove stems from the parsley and snip with scissors
  9. Add parsley to hot oil and peppers and stir.  If needed add just a little bit more olive oil.
  10. Once parsley has cooked down add the four cans of diced tomatoes to the pan
  11. Stir and then let simmer on med head for 20-25 minutes
  12. While sauce is simmering put a large pot of water onto boil (do not add salt to the water)
  13. Once the water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package (minus 1 minute)
  14. When the pasta has cooked, drain it in a colander
  15. Then add the pasta to the completed tomato sauce in a large pan (like a paella pan) so it can marinate for approx. 1 minute on medium heat
  16. Do not serve this pasta with any cheese on top
Note: Never add additional salt because the capers already have enough salt in them

Wine Pairing Suggestions of Cecilia:
Pasta:  A nice Rosé to cut the acidity of the tomato sauce
Turkey Meatloaf: A semi-sweet white
Dessert:  semi-sweet white

Finally, after the prep work, watching the food cook (for what seemed to be forever as the amazing smells wafted through the kitchen) and a few desperate attempts by the villa's adopted cat "gato" to come join us for dinner, we were at last, ready to eat.  

We started with the pasta as the first course and the Monaldesco Rose was a surprising pairing for most of us, but as Cecilia explained, it matched the acidity in the tomato sauce.  Next we ate the incredibly succulent turkey meatloaf with a rustic typical Orvietto white wine Grechetto.  We made room for the baked peach and amaretto dessert which paired very well with Le Velette's Rasenna a semi-sweet white.

Before dinner was over we thanked Cecilia for her excellent teaching and more importantly for her patience with fourteen chatty and by the end of the evening very wild women.  However, she left before things got really rowdy. We had a great time spending the evening with this entertaining woman who would give Giada De Laurentiis a run for her money if she ever came to America (Cecilia's Italian pronunciations are dead on).  

We presented Cecilia with a bottle of 2004 Miscela (Italian for blend) from one of our favorite WA wineries Nota Bene Cellar.  We hugged and sang a round of Simon and Garfunkel's Cecilia before saying ciao to our cooking maestro for the evening. 
Ro, Cecilia w/ the Note Bene wine and FloJo

Ro, Karri, Tracie, Betsy and Dana
D and J
We had a reunion dinner in Seattle the month after returning from Italy.  Janine and Daisy played the role of  hostsesses for the evening.  They recreated the above recipes half a world away from where we were taught by Cecilia.  It was fun having the same dishes again and knowing that Janine and Daisy had been listening during cooking school.   

We had a great time reminiscing about our time in Italy, the upcoming election and catching up with on each other's lives.  It's amazing how food can bring us together at one table to toast (as we learned in Italy always look the person you are chinking with in the eye or you'll bare children) to good friends and good times.

To view a video of Cecilia's cooking school click this link.
Live life with flavor and fun!

Betsy and Ro