Tuesday, December 28, 2010
When we made our reservations for Christmas in New Jersey, we told ourselves, “It hardly ever snows before January.” At least, that was what I said. My husband was less sanguine. But our recently married son is working crazy hours as a first year law firm associate, and our med school student had time off and was looking forward to seeing his NJ friends. So up we came.
And then the Blizzard of 2010 hit. It was already snowing Sunday morning when I convinced my husband – as a time-saving measure only, as I’m sure if we ever decide to get a divorce it’ll be in the produce aisle – to go with me to the grocery store. What madness. Although New Jersey regularly gets its share of snowstorms, the people never seem prepared. They react to the forecast as if they’d be stuck inside for a couple of weeks, clearing the grocery shelves of everything but a few jars of anchovy paste and some cleaning fluids. We stalked departing shoppers to find a parking space, wrestled a couple of people to the ground for shopping carts, and used all our wiles to figure the best line to wait in for checking out. I felt terrible for the poor, beleaguered folks working in the store – I couldn’t imagine that they had fully recovered from the crush of Christmas Eve shoppers. But they were as nice as could be and we emerged unscathed in only an hour.
From our 12th floor windows, we’ve spent the day watching kids throwing snowballs, snowplows creeping down the roads, and cars getting stuck – one right across the light rail lines, which became highly entertaining once the light rail train arrived. We took the advice of the police and stayed inside. Which gave me plenty of time to cook.
Something about this weather makes me think of pasta – New Jersey-style comfort food. I saw a fine bunch of collard greens in the store, along with some good sweet Italian sausage, which I can hardly ever find in Texas. The sun-dried tomatoes are something I keep handy in both NJ and TX larders – I toss them into salads, frittatas, and pasta concoctions of all sorts. In this particular dish, which I made for dinner tonight, they do a nice job of balancing the bitterness of the greens.
North-South Pasta with Collards and Sweet Italian Sausage (serves 6)
1 lb sweet Italian sausage
1-2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 med onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 med bunch of collard greens (¾ lb), washed and ribboned*
1 c chicken broth
¼ c sun-dried tomatoes (preserved in oil), sliced thin
1 lb Fusilli pasta
*[Kitchen Goddess note #1: To ribbon the greens, first remove the stems. Then stack several leaves on top of each other, cut them lengthwise into strips about 2 inches wide, then stack the strips and slice them crosswise into ribbons about ½ inch wide.]
Cook pasta according to directions. For best timing, I start heating the water now.
In a heavy soup pot, over med-high heat, cook the sausage until done, breaking it up as you go into bite-sized pieces. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sausage from the pot and reserve.
Add the olive oil to the fat remaining from the sausage, and saute the onion over med heat for 5-6 mins, until soft, then add the garlic and stir one more minute.
Add the collard greens to the pot, stirring until they are coated with the oil, then pour in the broth, stir again to mix, and cover the pot. Cook over med-low heat for 10-12 mins, until done. [Kitchen Goddess note #2: Collard greens are about the meatiest greens you can find, and they take some cooking. Most recipes for collard greens will tell you to cook them up to 30 mins. I like to be able to chew them, sort of like al dente pasta, so I cook them less. You should try them at different stages and decide for yourself when they’ve reached the right consistency. It won’t make a difference for this recipe.]
When the pasta is done, drain it and put it back in its pot to stay warm. Once the collard greens are done, add in the sun-dried tomatoes, the cooked sausage, and the pasta, and stir together over medium heat until the mixture is heated through.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
The first holiday party was Sunday, and already I’m exhausted.
It was our neighborhood party, and in addition to being on the Social Committee (but of course), I volunteered to make my roll-out cookies. And as long as I was making one batch, it seemed like no big deal to make two and send one to two kids who are sons of families in my church and are stationed in Afghanistan.
As usual, no good deed goes unpunished. It took me TWO full days to decorate them all – two full days in which I blissfully immersed myself in a world of tiny gold and silver balls, squiggles of icing, and a full color palette of sanding sugars and edible glitter. And I’ve recently discovered a new line of edible metallic glitter – red and gold and copper and brass, so fine that you apply them by dipping an eye shadow brush into the powder and oh so delicately tapping on the brush. It’s a mind-numbing process, but the effect is so beautiful I spent waaay more time than I should have finding extra places where I could dab a little metallic glitter. I was feeling particularly creative this year, adding designs of red and green stripes to the tiny stockings, embellishing the hats of the snowmen with minuscule flowers, and completely obsessing over the possibilities for my new ornament shapes. My husband knew enough to steer clear of the kitchen island, where I had set up shop, and didn’t even mind that we had pizza two nights in a row. Needless to say, after the party that night, I slept NINE hours. But now that I’m fully rested, I'm thinking maybe I should make some for my sons,... Somebody just shoot me, please.
My other contribution to the neighborhood soirée was a most festive drink that we used to serve at my annual soup party in New Jersey. It was a little more dangerous to serve them in New Jersey, because those parties were catered by yours truly, and the dinner part was, well, often somewhat later than I planned, with the result that a few of the guests got a bit snockered by the time the food showed up. But for the neighborhood party in Texas, the food was mostly catered, and that danger didn’t present itself. So with the caveat that you should not overindulge on an empty stomach, I can heartily recommend these for a holiday gathering. They’re simplicity itself to make, beautiful to serve, and delicious.
Makes 10 drinks
1 ¼ c Cointreau (or Grand Marnier or Triple Sec)
1 ¼ c cranberry juice cocktail
½ c plus 2 Tbl superfine granulated sugar
chilled Champagne or other sparkling white wine
Stir together Cointreau, juices, and sugar and chill, covered 2 to 6 hours. Just before serving divide among 10 champagne flutes and top off with Champagne. Garnish with sugar-coated fresh cranberries or fresh raspberries or twists of lemon or lime.
Kitchen Goddess Note: You can make a number of alterations to this without hurting the flavor: substitute pomegranate juice for the cranberry; use regular juice instead of cranberry cocktail; leave out the sugar for a less sweet drink; and substitute the cheaper Triple Sec for the Cointreau (Cointreau being just a high-end Triple Sec). It’s really best when cold, though, so if you’re serving a large group, keep the base ingredients chilled in a pitcher, then top off with champagne in a flute right before serving. I like to greet guests at the door with a tray of them – it gets people in a festive mood from the start.