Monday, November 26, 2012


 Ah, Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday of all. A day of cooking and drinking, no commercialization, family and friends, and lots of food from scratch. We usually have a big to-do at our place, but this year we wanted to scale it back. We had seven adults, a toddler, and a baby, so a pretty easy meal.

One thing we did this year to mix it up was to skip our traditional Butternut Squash Ravioli. This is an amazing addition to the table, but making pasta, rolling out dough, cooking the filling (usually starting with roasting the squash), and making up tons of tiny ravioli can be very time consuming to say the least. With both of us swamped with work the weekend before the holiday and up to Wednesday evening, it felt overwhelming, so we skipped it this year. I'm thinking ravioli will make an appearance on our Christmas table instead.

What we had in place of ravioli was a tart, but a last minute one at that. I love tarts and went through a serious tart phase a few years ago, but I think my pâte brisée skills have improved since the mid-2000s. The tart and a bonus chocolate pie were actually the result of a baking error I made the night before Thanksgiving. In a rush to bake my pumpkin pie crust I didn't spend the time to seek out my pie weights, and tried to use dried couscous instead. Not a good idea....and I totally should have known better. The crust shrunk down without the proper weight, leaving not enough space for the pumpkin filling, and looked a bit funky around the edges. After a bit of sulking and panic late at night (the best pâte brisée takes a few hours of on and off refrigeration, even pre-chilling the flour) I decided to try the pumpkin pie again in the morning with a basic crust (meaning a lower flour-butter ratio). As a result I had two pâte brisée crusts that weren't beautiful to look at, but still tasted fantastic. Joe had the idea to make a chocolate pudding pie for the kiddo, a great and super easy solution. For the other crust, I decided to wing it with a tart. Tarts are kind of fussy, so this was a bold idea, but it worked out.

Alison's last minute rustic mushroom tart:

One pâte brisée shell (the internet has a million versions, none of which I used, but this one is interesting)

16 oz mushrooms, I used half baby portabellas and half button

1 large shallot
2 cloves garlic
1 egg
Heavy cream- about 1/4 cup- I winged it on this one too
1/8 cup grated Parmesan (or so, again, I used up what I had)
Generous amount of thyme, dash of basil, dash of oregano
Fresh ground salt and pepper
Olive oil
Fresh parsley (about 2 tbsp)

Simple as can be- sautee the garlic and shallot in olive oil in a pan, add the mushrooms, sautee until they start to release their juices, adding a generous amount of thyme (maybe 1/2 a tsp), basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Cool. Add the mushroom mix to the prepared tart shell. Mix together the cream and beaten egg and pour into the shell. Top with cheese. Bake for about 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Top with parsley. Tart perfection!

 Other dishes at our table were our Spiced Cranberries, A standard stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, Joe's veggie gravy, roasted Brussels sprouts, and our favorite centerpiece, Tofu Roulade (from the Chicago Diner cookbook). We realized that we only had recipes for the roulade and the cranberries, everything else was invented (fun!).

 The croissants were brought by friends, and came from the always fantastic Wheatfields Bakery in Lawrence.
 There was a non-natural not-from-scratch addition to our table this year- cubes. As Joe and I were preparing for our meal, we were reminiscing about the holidays of our childhood. My Dad's family meals always included this bizarre better-living-through-chemistry-era concoction called cubes. Frozen cubes (literally from the ice cube tray) that consisted of canned fruit cocktail, Miracle Whip (I kid you not), and cream. They were usually served with dinner as a side, often next to the cranberries. As a child, these things freaked me out, but my Dad and his siblings loved them. I had never eaten one, but thought I'd wing it as a surprise, which was also part of my Thanksgiving morning grocery run (we do not stock fruit cocktail or Miracle Whip in our house). I guessed at the recipe (and didn't know about the cream, turns out the internet does not know about cubes), and they turned out not too bad. We added whipped cream once I learned about the cream part, which took off the bite of the Miracle Whip. My Dad ate about six of them (!), so I'm guessing they weren't too far from the originals, heehee.
I have so much to be thankful for this year, most of all being surrounded by such great friends and family and having such bounty in our lives. I hope you had a great holiday, and the leftovers are treating you well!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Friday afternoon

Museum Studies class field trip to the Nelson-Atkins Museum on a lovely Friday afternoon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


 Hard to believe this was two weeks ago.... Trick-or-treating this year was great fun, despite the munchkin's initial hesitancy to put on his costume. Once we got going, it was great. We like to do the Brookside business trick-or-treat, lots of kids and the businesses are close together, so there's a high reward for one's efforts. We received many compliments on our homemade Thomas the Tank Engine costume- which admittedly was constructed late into the night on October 30. Now, 14 days later the candy stash is nearly depleted, and we're looking forward to concocting ideas for next year. Happy (late) Halloween!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Il Trovatore

When it rains, it pours.

The last few weeks were filled with much work and much play. The work part has left blogging to the back burner, the play part has left much to catch up on. Halloween, a birthday, museums, I hope to get caught up on all of it in the coming days.

For now I'll write about the opera Il Trovatore that we saw on my birthday weekend. For as minimal and singular Madama Butterfly was (and I mean that in a positive way), Il Trovatore was full and plural. A huge cast, a bountiful drama, dark passion, gypsies, castles, this is what one thinks of as opera in the fullest sense of the term. Verdi's score is brooding and heavy in the best 19th century way (the anvil chorus is part of Il Trovatore), and the dark visuals of the Lyric's performance contributed to the intensity of the opera.

I'm still an opera newbie, so before we go I like to read various blogs and summaries so I better understand what we're about to see. In the case of Il Trovatore, I was definitely glad that I did so. Some of the summaries left me confused and wondering if I'd be able to follow the plot on stage over the course of three hours, but the stage direction and dialogue left no confusion (the Italian is translated into English subtitles on discreet little digital screens in front of each seat). My snazzy new opera glasses (above photo!), which were my birthday gift from Joe, also helped in keeping track of the performers and stage action.

Overall, I'm finding that as we attend more opera I'm learning to better distinguish my appreciation for the score, the performers, and the stage direction each time. I think Il Trovatore is high on my list of operas, and the performers were fantastic, but I'd like to see a different stage and art direction on this ambitious drama before passing judgement on the sparse, eerie direction we saw at the Kauffman Center.