Next year . . . Mincemeat!

I had a lovely Thanksgiving.  At the last minute, I was even able to track down some mincemeat pie at my parent’s little grocery store.  It’s the small things!  I was very thankful.  For me, it simply isn’t Thanksgiving without mincemeat pie and my grocery store didn’t carry it at all.  Frustration!  Groaning!  Perhaps even whimpering.  Clearly, if I want mincemeat pie for future Thanksgivings, I need to learn how to make it myself.  I hereby resolve that next year, there will be mincemeat made by my own hands. 

 I started my googling towards this end on Thanksgiving Day itself.  I was stunned to find a recipe for Green Tomato Mincemeat and then further stunned to have my mother confirm that the mincemeat she had had as a girl was always of the green tomato variety.  Green tomato mincemeat??!! It turns out that there are dozens of internet recipes for this!  To go back a little, the reason Thanksgiving = Mincemeat for me is because my wonderful great aunt Joy served it at her Thanksgiving dinners that I attended each year as a child.  Those dinners were the stuff that tradition is made of.  Although some things have fallen away–Joy no longer hosts hundreds and I no longer play with Barbies on Thanksgiving–I haven’t stopped passing up the pumpkin and looking for the Mince pie.  Aunt Joy is from my Dad’s side of the family so I have always associated mincemeat with them.  Now I learn that my mother grew up eating it too–made out of green tomatoes!  This is tragic, because just a few weeks ago I had a lovely supply of green tomatoes and I could have tried it.  Now I will have to wait an entire year! 

Too late for a green tomato harvest here

My googling also led me to the information that Mincemeat is traditionally considered a Christmas pie.  Surprise # 2!  Again, my mother confirmed: “Oh yes, I always thought it was funny that they served mince pies at Thanksgiving.  It’s a Christmas pie!”  Oh.  I wondered if this was a Canadian thing (My mother is Canadian).  Further googling revealed that Mincemeat is definitely an English thing and that Mincemeat pie was long associated with Catholicism.  In fact, the Puritans refused to eat it because for them Mincemeat was tied up with idolatry.  I’m glad I’m not Puritan!      

I can’t help being drawn to the recipes that call for suet.  Something about suet screams authenticity (I’m not sure that I’m brave enough to go as far as the recipes that call for venison though!)  MinceMEAT, yeehah!  Apparently, it’s possible to substitute vegetable oil, although that doesn’t seem like a good substitute.  Any ideas on where I could get real suet anyone?  Have any of you ever made mincemeat–with or without green tomatoes, with or without suet?  How did it turn out? 

Meanwhile this resolving to make mincemeat post has reminded me that last year I resolved to do Advent and today is December1st!  I’d better get cracking, or there will be no reason to hold out hope for this year’s mincemeat resolutions!

Bistro Salad and Mustard-Thyme Vinaigrette

Bistro Salad with Boursin toast and Mustard Thyme Vinaigrette

The secret is the Mustard-Thyme Vinaigrette. It is so flavorful. Let me put it this way: I will never be without homegrown thyme again. Further, when whole grain mustard went on sale I bought eight bottles.

From the America’s Test Kitchen The Best 30-Minute Recipe

3 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
1 shallot, peeled
1 small garlic clove, peeled [I always use 2 medium size cloves]
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
Salt and ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Process vinegar, mustard, shallot, garlic, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in blender [I use my food processor] until shallot and garlic are finely chopped, about 15 seconds. With blender running, add oil and continue to process until smooth and emulsified, about 15 seconds.

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If there is a second secret to Bistro salad, it is the Boursin toast. Boursin is a soft spreadable cheese. The cheese parries the zing of the vinaigrette and adds its own garlic-herbiness to the mix. It is scrumptious. Do yourself a favor and do not read the nutrition facts. Also, note that Costco sells Boursin in three packs which makes it slightly less spendy.

Heat your oven to 400 degrees and cut a good baguette into thick slices (so that they’ll be soft on the inside and crunchy outside). Bake in a single layer on a cookie sheet for about ten minutes. Drizzle the tops with olive oil and then spread with Boursin.

Bacon & Eggs: You need 8 thick cut slices of bacon. Fry it crispy and cut into pieces. Toss with 8 ounces of mesclun (spring mix style lettuce) and 1/2 cup (ONLY HALF THE RECIPE) of the vinaigrette. The Best 30-Minute Recipe tops the salad with a fried egg. Although that presentation is more dramatic, I prefer just to go with hard boiled.

Assembly: Divide the mesclun/bacon mixture between 4 bowls. Arrange a sliced egg (fried or hard boiled) on top of each. Serve with the Boursin toast.

Yield: 4

Greens w/ a side of clogged artery

Self-Deceived

I was craving something healthy.  I’d spent the past few days silently snitching bits of  birthday chocolate all day long.  I can easily go a few days on cold cereal, yogurt, and chocolate, but then I wake up:  What am I doing to my body?! Today was one of those waking days.  So, despite it already being 6 p.m., and despite an evening of single-parenting ahead of me (attn ax-murderers: Pdad’s flight should land within the hour)  I decided I HAD to make real food or perish.

It went surprisingly well.  Duncan played sweetly with Kate.  (Do you hear the choir of angels singing?  I hope so, because it was a miracle).  Amelia worked on her homework.  I cooked.  I made bistro salad–the number one best way to consume lettuce.  It was past kid bedtime before we all finally sat down at the table.  They hadn’t killed each other and I’d managed to keep them from spoiling their dinner or having hypoglycemic meltdowns with some carefully timed snacks.  It was a good moment.

I said the blessing on the food.  With great sincerity, I thanked Heavenly Father that we could sit down together and eat “real,” “healthy” food.  I finished the blessing and picked up my fork.  Amelia looked at me quizzically:  “Why did you say that about healthy food in the prayer?  Is Boursin cheese healthy?”

She got me!

For the uninitiated: Bistro Salad is mesclun mix coated generously with a thyme-mustard vinaigrette–plenty of oil, topped by bacon and eggs, and with a side of Boursin toasts.  Healthy?  On balance, probably not.  Delicious: Oh yeah!

Question: If one only enjoys vegetables prepared in artery-clogging ways, is it still better to eat vegetables than not to eat vegetables?

Shallots

I love shallots.  Shallots are one of the many joys Cooks Illustrated has introduced me to. Shallots are much milder than onion and garlic.  They are perfect for flavoring salad dressings without overpowering them.  They aren’t crunchy like onions when raw.  My favorite recipe that uses shallots is Fast Buttery Peas.  Thyme, butter, and shallot make an amazing trio.  That recipe changed my feelings for vegetables forever.

The fork is to show their size; I don't eat them raw!

The fork is to show their size; I don't eat them raw!

Anyway, enough about cooking shallots, this post is actually about growing them.  I was startled to find shallot starters at the local nursery this spring.  I had never heard of anyone growing them locally.  The large bag of shallots I like to buy at Costco around Thanksgiving seems to claim that you really need to grow them in France.

Well, it isn’t true.  I haven’t figured out the science of shallot growing yet, but my shallots did fine nonetheless.  I waited until the green tops (very similar to onion) dried out and then I picked them.

I think next year I’d better pull them sooner!  Although an old Cook’s Illustrated article claimed that “most shallots (whether they have one clove or four) are approximately the same size” (not true!)  a more recent article acknowledged that a shallot can be small, medium or large.  The test kitchen, they said, uses only small or medium shallots because almost all of their recipes call for less than 3 tablespoons minced shallots. (Cook’s considers the yield of a medium shallot to be about 3 Tbsp minced).  My largest shallots yield much more than 3 Tbsp minced–I’m going to have to make some big batches of salad dressing!

I need to find a cheaper source for shallot starters, because even though shallots tend to be rather expensive at the grocery store, I don’t think this was much of a money saving venture when you figure in all the watering I had to do in our desert climate.  However, a clear bonus is that my shallots are very fresh and firm and it is almost impossible to find shallots of this quality at the grocery store.

One final note: If you decide to grow your own shallots, you may be horrified to see how many slugs they attract.  I was.  Interestingly, the slugs did no damage to the shallots that I’m aware of.  The tomatoes were another story!