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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving: A Holiday that Ages Well

I must confess. I’ve not always liked Thanksgiving, especially when I was younger. In fact, I don’t think I really started to enjoy (or at least appreciate) Thanksgiving until I went off to college. One must leave before one can appreciate coming back. 

Eventually, it became a holiday I looked forward to more than just about any. (Until Christmas-with-Children grabbed the #1 spot.) Speaking of children, Thanksgiving is something of a bummer for kids—no presents and no candy. And the food is not exactly kid friendly, except maybe the turkey. (Even pumpkin pie is not a big hit with most kids.) Thanksgiving really is more of an adult holiday; one that is better appreciated as the years pass by. 

Thanksgiving is also a unique holiday. It is not religiously based; it is not nationalistic; and it does not come with all that gift-buying stress. (I mean, really? Does Aunt Marge really need another cat book?!) It is a holiday based on a simple premise, and the manner in which that premise is celebrated is simple, yet ancient: food, friends, family, and a warm hearth. In some respects, we should be thankful that we have such a uniquely American holiday like Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving can be as simple as one would like (one year when my Mom was really sick, we ordered everything from Honey Baked Ham) or as complicated as one would like. Personally, I think Thanksgiving is best when simple and homemade, even if the turkey is dry and the stuffing/dressing tastes like styrofoam.  And then there’s that “one dish.” The one dish that must be made every year, no matter what. Every family has one. For me, it was my Dad’s oyster casserole. He made it every year and, God bless him, he was the only one who ate it. In retrospect, it was probably pretty good and, most likely, I would eat it today. Each Thanksgiving dinner is as unique as the family that prepares it.

That’s another thing I like about Thanksgiving. The memories: sweet and sad; good and bad; friends and family gone. This is why it is the holiday for adults. Only with the passage of time can one truly appreciate Thanksgiving. This is made even more poignant when you glance over to the kids’ table and see your children laughing and, with each passing year, enjoying this day just a little bit more.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


The cool air and golden-red patchwork of the trees on Red Mountain makes fall one of my favorite times to cook. Even better is when fall gives way to the rich foods of winter and the holiday season—stews, braises, pies, and soups—all foods that warm the belly and feed the soul. Soup in particular pairs well with winter in my opinion because it is a communal food, brought forth from a single pot simmering on the stove for all to walk up to and savor its aromas.

And soups are surprisingly easy to make. If one can boil water and chop vegetables, one can surely make soup. This may explain why soup is one of the oldest forms of cookery. At some point, one of our distant ancestors, the proverbial “cave man,” got tired of eating tree bark and sipping water from a stream. He perhaps took that bark, maybe even a few veggies and herbs, and put them together in an earthen pot on that new-fangled invention called “fire” and—voila—soup was born!  M.F.K. Fisher liked soup and devoted a whole chapter to it. Here’s what she had to say:

The natural procession from boiling water to boiling water with something in it can hardly be avoided, and in most cases heartily to be wished for. As a steady diet, plain water is inclined to make thin fare, and even saints, of which there are an unexpected number these days, will gladly agree that a few herbs and perhaps a carrot to two and maybe a meager bone on feast days can mightily improve the somewhat monotonous flavor of the hot liquid.  

      —M.F.K. Fisher, How to Boil Water.

Wise words indeed! (And if she thought there were food “saints” in her day, she’d be downright shocked by today’s gastronomic high priests and priestesses!)

And while making soup is a relatively fuss-free endeavor, there are some basic tips one should keep in mind. Here are some good ones from Harold McGee’s Keys to Good Cooking:

  • Rich soups can benefit from a counterpoint of acidity. For example, vegetable purees can benefit from the savoriness of a little bacon or tomato or parmesan cheese, soy sauce, fish sauce, or miso.
  • To thicken soups with flour or starch, always pre-disperse the thickener in a roux or slurry to prevent lumpiness.
  • Add uncooked ingredients in stages to a simmering soup to avoid over- or under-cooking them. First, add whole grains, firm carrots, or celery, then more tender onions or cauliflower, pieces of chicken great or white rice or pasta; at the last minute, add delicate spinach, fish, or shellfish. 
  • Take care not to overheat the soup when adding protein, in order to avoid curdling. You can also use starch or flour to keep proteins from coagulating or curdling.

So one evening, with fall in the air, I put on some holiday music and fired up the fireplace and made soup. (OK, I don’t actually have a fireplace, but I have a great app that plays one on my flatscreen.) The best part was getting to use the immersion blender to puree. Damn thing sounds like an engine on a jet fighter!

Copyright © 2013 Chris Terrell
The Finished Product!
I made roasted cauliflower and carrot soup, a recipe for the most part of my own creation. My recipe uses sumac to add some acidity. Sumac is a shrub originating in Turkey and certain varieties are cultivated in southern Italy and in Sicily. The fleshy petals and small berries are dried and reduced to a powder which has a lemony, acidic flavor and is popular in Middle Eastern cooking. Mixed with water, it can be used in the same way as lemon juice.

Here’s the recipe:

Roasted Cauliflower and Carrot Soup with Sumac


1 large head of cauliflower
2 cloves of garlic
1 small yellow onion
1 1/3 lbs of carrots
1 tablespoon of coriander (ground)
1 tablespoon of sumac
1/2 tablespoon ancho chili powder
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 qt of vegetable stock
1/2 cup of dry white wine
3/4 cups of water
salt and pepper to taste


Break apart of the cauliflower into florets and toss with olive oil and salt and pepper and spread out onto a sheet pan and roast in an oven at 425 degrees for about 30-40 minutes.
While the cauliflower roasts, dice the onion and mince the garlic. In a stock pot, place the butter and a tablespoon of the olive oil, along with some salt and pepper and sauté the onions until soft, about 10-15 minutes. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute until fragrant.  

Add the carrots to the stock pot, along with the vegetable stock, wine, and water and bring to a boil. Then add the roasted cauliflower and reduce the heat. Cook on medium for about 35-40 minutes until the carrots and cauliflower are tender.  

Puree the soup with an immersion blender until puréed. (This is fun!) Add coriander, sumac, and ancho chili powder Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve into bowls and add a table spoon of heavy cream to each and mix. Serve immediately.

NOTE: You can also take whole coriander and roast and then grind in a mortal and pestle.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Miss American Pie!

Apples from the Market

©2013 Chris Terrell
My interest in cooking began with baking. Early on, before I had acquired a certain degree of confidence in the kitchen, I was comforted by baking because it was like a high school chemistry experiment. All one had to do was follow the recipe and, “voila,” you had desert. (I’ve always said that baking has a wide margin of error. Put enough butter, cream, and sugar into anything and it will taste good. ) 

In high school and college, the holiday season was my favorite time to bake. I had time off from school and it was the perfect time and place for baking.

And being the holidays, one of the first things I made was mincemeat pie. This was not a culinary high point, however. All I had to do was buy some jarred mincemeat and frozen pie crusts and —“bam!”—I was back in merry ol’ England for a Victorian Christmas. (I’m not sure how I got into the mincemeat pie thing, but it was probably because of an English friend in college who had served it at a party.)

Next, I moved onto pecan pie, which is one of my favorite pies in the world. And while I still used a store-bought crust, at least the filling was homemade this time. I swear the best pecan pie recipe in the world is the one on the back of every single bottle of Karo Syrup  And talk about convenient! You don’t need to dig through a dusty shoebox of recipes. All you need to do is go to the grocery store, grab a bottle, and start shopping!

Here’s the recipe:


1 cup Karo® Light OR Dark Corn Syrup
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon Spice Islands® Pure Vanilla Extract
1 1/2  cups (6 ounces) pecans
1 (9-inch) unbaked or frozen [optional—see below] deep-dish pie crust


1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Mix corn syrup, eggs, sugar, butter and vanilla using a spoon. Stir in pecans. Pour filling into pie crust.

Bake on center rack of oven for 60 to 70 minutes (see tips for doneness, below). Cool for 2 hours on wire rack before serving.

To use prepared frozen pie crust: Place cookie sheet in oven and preheat oven as directed. Pour filling into frozen crust and bake on preheated cookie sheet.

RECIPE TIPS: Pie is done when center reaches 200°F. Tap center surface of pie lightly - it should spring back when done. For easy clean up, spray pie pan with cooking spray before placing pie crust in pan. If pie crust is overbrowning, cover edges with foil.

Next, I tried pumpkin pie (another favorite of mine—I guess I'm partial to fall-centric recipes). This also involved the use of frozen pie crust and canned pumpkin. Like the pecan pie recipe above, a recipe can be found on the back of the can of pumpkin. (I usually buy Libby.)

All this time, I used frozen pie crust because, like a lot of people, I was intimidated by the thought of making homemade pie crust. So one day I decided to overcome this irrational fear and make my first pie crust. The recipe I landed upon was one for apple pie I found in an issue of Southern Living. Now, I know I run the risk of loosing my “Man Card” by revealing that I read Southern Living, but they do have the best desert recipes out there. (And please believe me when I say I don’t read the articles on chintz!)

What I found interesting about the recipe was the use of chilled apple cider in place of chilled water. Besides giving the crust a nice apple flavor, the acidic nature of the cider inhibits gluten formation. Too much gluten keeps pie crust from being nice and flaky. This is why some recipes call for chilled vodka rather than chilled water because alcohol also inhibits gluten formation. (Try it! It works!) Another option is apple cider vinegar, which has the acid and a slight amount of alcohol. It also gives the crust just a touch of tanginess. 

This is the apple pie recipe I’ve used since then. I continue to tinker with it because I’ve found that even in baking one must experiment in order to make them your own.  I revisited this recipe this past weekend, and I must say that I probably made the best crust I’ve made yet. It was certainly the prettiest apple pie I’ve made. 
Finished Product

©2013 Chris Terrell

Over the years, I learned and read about some good tips on pie making, and here they are:

1. To avoid soggy bottoms (that sounds bad), sprinkle an even mixture of sugar and flour on the bottom of the crust before baking.  This protects the crust from absorbing too much moisture while cooking.

2. Rest the dough for at least several hours in the fridge, as much as 24 hours before rolling out. This allows for the glutens in the dough to “chill” out or relax.

3. Keep it cool. Everything you put into making the pie crust (water/vodka/cider, butter, shortening, etc.) should be well chilled.

4. Keep it slow: add your butter/shortening and liquids slowly in small bits.

5. Sweat the small stuff. If you're making a fruit pie, put the fruit in a large bowl with sugar and then after about 30 minutes, drain off the liquid. This keeps the pie from getting too soggy. Save the liquid because it can be used for lots of things, like pouring it over  ice cream or made into some kind of Sunday brunch alcohol concoction!  If you do this, add more sugar than the recipe calls for because you will lose some sugar in the juice that runs off.

6. Finally, make sure your crust is marbled. This should be easy if you add your butter/shortening to the flour in small bits. In other words, your crust should have little gobs of butter/shortening evenly distributed throughout the crust. This is important because as the dough  cooks, the bits of butter/shortening will melt, leaving air pockets which add to the crust’s flakiness.  

All that being said, don’t be intimidated by pie or pie crust. Don’t buy the frozen stuff anymore. Make the crust yourself. It is worth it. If your grandmother could do it, then you can to!

Southern Living Apple Pie Recipe


4 1/2  pounds  Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
1  cup  sugar
1/4  cup  all-purpose flour
3/4  teaspoon  ground cinnamon
1/4  teaspoon  salt
Cornmeal Crust Dough (see below)
1  tablespoon  butter


1. Preheat oven to 375°. Stir together apples, sugar, flour, ground cinnamon, and salt. Let stand 15 minutes, gently stirring occasionally.

2. Roll 1 Cornmeal Crust Dough disk to 1/8-inch thickness (about 11 inches wide) on a well-floured surface. Gently press dough into a 9-inch glass pie plate. Spoon apple mixture into crust, packing tightly and mounding in center; dot with butter cut into pieces. [Packing the fruit tightly into the crust avoids creating air pockets because the fruit will shrink during cooking.]

3. Roll remaining dough disk to 1/8-inch thickness (about 13 inches wide). Gently place dough over filling; fold edges under, and crimp, sealing to bottom crust. Place pie on a jelly-roll pan. Cut 4 to 5 slits in top of pie for steam to escape.

4. Bake at 375° on an oven rack one-third up from bottom of oven 50 minutes. Cover loosely with aluminum foil, and bake 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and cool 1 1/2 to 2 hours before serving.

Cornmeal Pie Crust 


2⅓ cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plain yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup chilled shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 to 10 Tbsp. chilled apple cider


1. Stir together first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Cut butter and shortening into flour mixture with a pastry blender until mixture resembles small peas. Mound mixture on 1 side of bowl.

2. Drizzle 1 Tbsp. apple cider along edge of mixture in bowl. Using a fork, gently toss a small amount of flour mixture into cider just until dry ingredients are moistened; move mixture to other side of bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining cider and flour mixture.

3. Gently gather dough into two flat disks. Wrap in plastic wrap, and chill 1 to 24 hours.