20 November, 2011

Give Thanks with a Swig of Bourbon

It may have something to do with being Irish, but my family firms believes that a glug or two of Bourbon improves the flavour of almost anything. And it ain't bad straight, either. Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, or even Southern Comfort all fit the bill.

I've made Honey-Bourbon Salmon, Blackberry Bourbon Iced Tea, Bourbon and Chocolate Pecan Pie, and even Bourbon and Brown Sugar BBQ Sauce.  My piece de resistance however is now a family favourite  any day of the year (every day if my brothers had their way): Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes.

And for those who absolutely can't serve Thanksgiving dinner without mini marshmallows, I've included a recipe as well.

 Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes

1 3/4 to 2 lbs sweet potatoes  
1 tsp olive oil  
1/2 cup heavy cream  
1/4 cup bourbon whiskey  
4 Tbsp packed light brown sugar  
2 Tbsp molasses  
1/8 tsp salt  
1.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
2.  Lightly rub the sweet potatoes with the olive oil. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake until tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending upon their size. Remove from the oven and let sit until cool enough to handle.
3.  Peel the sweet potatoes and transfer the flesh to a large bowl. Add the cream, bourbon, brown sugar, molasses, and salt, and beat on high speed with a hand-held mixer until smooth. Cover to keep warm until ready to serve.

Yields about 4 cups

Sweet Potato Balls
These puff up into delicious, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside morsels.

2 large cans yams
1 Tbsp melted butter
1/4 cup mini marshmallows
1/3 cup honey
1 cup chopped pecans
Salt & Pepper

Mash yams well. Add the salt, pepper marshmallows, and melted butter.

Form into small balls, about the size of a ping pong ball. Lay in concentric circle(s) in a Pyrex pie plate.  Refrigerate, covered, until needed.
3. One-half hour before serving, spoon honey over yams and sprinkle with chopped pecans.
4. Bake 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees until heated.

16 November, 2011

The Great Debate

Yes, folks, it is that time of the year again, when traditionalists face off against the avant-garde.  Nowhere is this more apparent than around the Thanksgiving table.  On one side we have the hardliners who haven't deviated from their annual menu since Great-aunt Minnie served the first green bean casserole. On the other side sit the trailblazers, the provocateurs who dare to offer a yam gratin in lieu of sweet potatoes with mini marshmallows and pumpkin soufflĂ© rather than pie.

But perhaps nowhere is the divide more apparent than on the subject of cranberry sauce: jellied or chunky, sweet or spicy, canned or homemade.

Bowing my head, not in shame but to hide my grin, I admit to being a non-traditionalist.  This year I'll be serving a roast capon with a shiitake mushroom and Armagnac sauce.  My stuffing will be a savory spinach and artichoke bread pudding and nary a green bean will be seen.  Instead my family will be eating an herbed zucchini gratin.  Dessert? A pear tart with homemade cinnamon ice cream.

Will there be cranberry sauce? No, there will not. I will however, be making cranberry ketchup for those sandwiches we'll be eating on Friday.  I don't remember where I found this recipe, but it is a wonderful switch from regular ketchup.  It's also the perfect hostess gift if someone else is doing the cooking this year.

 Cranberry Ketchup

1 12-ounce bag whole cranberries, picked over (3 1/3 cups)  
2 large onions, finely chopped (2 1/2 cups)  
1 cup white wine vinegar  
2 medium garlic cloves, minced  
1 Tbsp ground allspice  
1 tsp salt  
2/3 cup sugar  

1 In a medium nonreactive saucepan, combine 2/3 cup water with the cranberries, onions, vinegar, garlic, allspice and salt. Bring to a simmer over moderately low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until thick and pulpy, about 20 minutes. Stir in the sugar, return to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes longer. Let cook for 30 minutes.

2 Transfer the mixture to a blender and puree, then strain into a glass measure. Pour the ketchup into glass bottles or jars and refrigerate. The ketchup will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 months
Yields 1 1/2 pints.

15 November, 2011


My aunt passed away yesterday.  She wasn't famous, she wasn't well known, but to many she was inspirational.

She reached the venerable age of 101, having spent more than 40 years working in Baltimore City Public Schools as a teacher, counselor, and principal. At a time when most women married, stayed home and raised a family, she put herself through college and dedicated herself to guiding more than one generation through the capricious, erratic maze of grammar, middle and high school. 

Her life centered around family, church and community, and her dedication to all three was unquestionable.  In 2008 she was honored at the Johns Hopkins University Leadership conference for her contributions to education.

For the last several years, she had been confined to a wheelchair and suffered from a neurological problem which affected her ability to speak - both of which frustrated her immensely.  Her mind remained sharp, but her body failed her time and time again.

She was, and is, an unsung hero like so many others who pass through our lives, unnoticed, unrecognized, yet leaving their mark and blessing on all those they meet.

RIP, Aunt Rosealba

In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. 
It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.
– Jacques Barzun

08 November, 2011

The Library - More than just Books

If you live in the NorthEast, you know all about the recent "freak" snowstorm. And the prolonged power outages we suffered here in CT.  At my house, the outage  lasted six days, and we won't discuss the clean up that remains.

Most of us have wells; loose translation: no power, no water, ergo no toilets.  You can image just how happy a power outage makes us.  Some people have generators, but most do not.  Some have fireplaces, some do not.

I'm lucky enough to live a community where people actually check on their neighbours at times like this, share what resources they have -- I gave away half a cord of wood, others offered drinking water, food, and batteries -- and keep their spirits up as much as possible.  The Y throws open their doors to everyone -- member or not -- offering hot showers and access to outside water sources (to fill up those five-gallon jugs we all keep "just in case."

And the library, bless them, becomes the center of activity for the dispossessed.  Our library extends its normal hours,  puts out extra tables and chairs, provides a warming center, internet access free of charge, and a place to recharge cell phones, flashlights and anything else you need recharged. 

Want to vent to a local official? The selectmen and state representative can be found at the library every day, reassuring townspeople and just listening if that's all you need.  And best of all, you get to see people you haven't seen in years!  Everyone is there, reading, chatting, drinking coffee.  No one said a word when I brought my elderly Golden Retriever in with me; they just petted her.

This is what community is all about.  Many thanks to our library for their community spirit and unfailing positive attitude.  And yes, I will be sending in an extra donation this year.