Monday, December 5, 2016

In My Kitchen - December 2016

The kitchen window bay and an adjacent counter hold pots of blooming paperwhites (narcissus). Planted just prior to Halloween the bulbs were intended to bloom for Thanksgiving, but waited instead until days after the holiday had passed. 

Now we have scads of blossoming narcissi, all but the one stubborn bulb that sits, still sulking, hunkered down in the pot full of gravel. Is it waiting to celebrate the new year instead? No matter, as other fragrant blooms now perfume the air with their pungent aroma for pre-Christmas enjoyment. I love the scent, but have read that others find it horribly objectionable (link). Hmmm, I imagine Paperwhite scented perfumes must elicit interesting responses at some crowded venues.

Pyracantha berries clipped from plants in the yard decorated the Thanksgiving table and continue to add color to the winter kitchen. On dreary, gray days I especially appreciate these little pops of color.

Speaking of color pops, check out these vivid Poppy silicone pot lids. They are functional and gorgeous, newly purchased online at Amazon on a whim after seeing the green, lilypad covers posted by Liz last month. More and more red items find their way into my kitchen each year.

This purple spoon holder doesn't have a color match anywhere in the kitchen, but it does add whimsical functionality along with a bit of color. Three cheers for silicone gadgetry. 

Another cute little tool, newly added to the gadget stash, has already seen useful action dusting sourdough loaves with flour and adding showers of powdered sugar to breakfast crepes. It is tiny but mighty... ok, mighty useful as a one-handed device that is tidier than using a small strainer. Gadget love continues.

November's shipment of fresh spices prompted reorganization of the spice cabinet. This time I remembered to date each jar; a useful habit to see which spices get heavy use and spot any old, underused spices that should just be discarded, certainly not replaced. Keeping track of spices afloat and ashore is an ongoing issue. This year it was hard to find tarragon, fresh or dried, in local groceries - what's up with that?  

Years ago Mom knit several corn cob potholders for my cast iron skillets. The yarn has faded, the potholders grown stained and worn with use, but I'm still fond of them. I could find a pattern and knit a few more, but replacements wouldn't hold the Mom connection. It might be time to switch to more practical silicone handle covers.

What do you eat when you cook for yourself? When RL was out of town for a week I enjoyed comfort food that I love but he's not fond of. For example...

bowls of long grain and wild rice with broccoli and cheese at dinner... 

spinach salad with a soft poached egg and walnut sourdough toasts for breakfast...

Brussels sprouts and mushroom hash...

pan-roasted yams and squash, solo and then in hash...

Only fresh fruits, no baked goods, made the dessert list during that week; no surprise there as savory tends to win out over sweets when I cook what I like. But now it's full speed ahead into holiday mode and there will be baking in my kitchen this month. C'mon by any time for a sweet treat and a visit.

Meanwhile, visit BizzyLizzysGoodThings to enjoy a peek into other kitchens around the world. The accomplished Lizzy (Australian writer, cook & traveler) hosts this fun IMK gathering each month

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Monte Cristo Sandwich

Thanksgiving dinner arrived at the door along with the hugs and warm greetings of family. They brought it all, everything, the entire dinner. Everything even included the turkey fryer for an 18-pound bird! (Note: I was allowed to contribute my Zesty Cranberry Relish.) What a thoughtful, caring present from this cast of characters; Seattlites Niece Hilary and Dave plus Californians Meg and Brother Mike. For hours the house was filled with conversation, friendly teasing, suspected tall tales and humorous stories, wedding plan updates and endless laughter. All in all, a terrific family celebration and a delicious meal. 
Photo: The Thanksgiving Cooks 2016

On Friday RL and I revisited Thanksgiving memories, surveyed the many containers of leftovers in the fridge, and nibbled on a rerun of Thursday's feast. 

Turkey sandwiches, enjoyed late night or next day, are always a major highlight of this holiday meal. Some years we favor simple sliced turkey on white bread, other years we crave Kentucky Hot Browns with cheese sauce or turkey gravy. This year we opted for Turkey and Ham Monte Cristo Sandwiches. Possibly a variation of the Croque Monsieur, this batter-dipped, butter-fried sandwich is an over-the-top and delicious use of leftover turkey meat. Ooey gooey, salty, savory decadence... sigh, but so worth every artery clogging bite (and a reason to return to healthier eating the very next day).  

My Monte Cristos are a cross between French Toast and a grilled cheese and meat sandwich, occasionally with some crispy bacon added... just 'cuz. No recipe required, just freeform it.

1. Use 2 slices of bread per sandwich. Slather one side of the bread with mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. Add some chutney or cranberry relish if you like.

2. Alternate layers of thin-sliced meat (ham and/or turkey), cheese (Havarti or Swiss) and bacon (optional) on the bread. Close the sandwich and press top gently to compact slightly. This will help hold it all together when you flip it in the  pan.

3. Beat an egg and a bit of milk in a pie pan or shallow, rimmed plate. Dip each side of the sandwich briefly in the egg mixture, long enough to coat thoroughly but not get soggy. You want a crisp exterior and soft, gooey middle. 

4. Melt a pat of butter in a heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Place coated sandwich in frying pan and cook until bottom is golden brown. Flip the sandwich, adding more butter as needed, and cook until the second side is golden brown and the cheese is melted. This takes 4 to 5 minutes per side in my kitchen.

5. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool briefly to set cheese a bit. Cut into wedges, plate and serve.

Note: It is traditional to dust the sandwiches with powdered sugar and serve with a side of jelly. I skip that feature, relishing the salty, savory richness of the sandwich without the distraction of an added sweet. For a flavor pop, I would prefer a swipe of Zesty Cranberry Relish rather than powdered sugar and jam, but that's just me. 

Don't wait for Thanksgiving to enjoy a Monte Cristo. They are delicious using deli-sliced cold cuts or meat pulled from a deli-roasted chicken. Get creative and add some roasted green chiles, or substitute thin waffles for the bread. Go for it! 

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