Don’t go to no trouble.

With the approach of the holiday season comes my annual consideration, dandled through the idle moments of December, right down to the wire, and inevitably discarded, i.e.,

Should I make a buche de noel this year?

Or, put another way, should this be the year I go to no small trouble to craft a rolled sponge cake cut and decorated to resemble a fallen log in the forest, complete with marzipan mushrooms carved by hand and smudged with cocoa so as to look authentically “dirty,” etc.?

It’s not part of my cultural heritage, although I suppose, living in an area first settled by the French, I could claim it as a local-history exercise. I generally avoid it on more practical grounds, seeing that our family is small and one-third of it got her palate from her father’s side of the family and has a default setting of ew, gross on all new foods. One of these years, but likely not this one.

I write a sentence like that and think, you might not be here next year. Do you want to pass into the next world and stand before whatever gatekeeper is there and say, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, tops among them, I never made a buche de noel?” No, but then, I’d never put a non-existent buche de noel in the top 10, or even the top 100. Rather, my hesitance has more to do with another lesson learned: That the more trouble you go to for food, the more disappointed you’re likely to be.

I’m veering dangerously close to a Bob Greene column he trotted out every six months or so, the sparkling wit of “never travel for food.” Greene liked to say — and say and say and say — that if someone told you the pizza was better in the next county, the pizza would inevitably be awful. I disagree because that’s a self-evidently stupid contention. The food is better in Paris than in Detroit. It may or may not be worth the enormous expense to go there and find that out for yourself, but it doesn’t make it any less true. (The food is probably better in Indianapolis than in Detroit. With very few exceptions, this is the worst restaurant city in North America, and the next person who tells me to visit Lafayette Coney Island is going to get the high hat from me, because I did that — once — and feel fortunate to have escaped with my stomach lining intact.)

I have found, however, that the best food is the easiest food, and the more difficult the preparation gets, the more likely it will disappoint. This is why I don’t brine turkeys and will never, ever deep-fry one. The best food is a perfectly ripe raspberry plucked from the bush and popped into your mouth, and it goes downhill from there, but you get the idea. The Italians have it right — the best ingredients, minimally messed with. Winter is a time for cooking, certainly. The raspberry bush is rattling its bare branches in a frigid breeze as we speak. But I don’t think it’s time for a buche de noel just yet.

What’s your pain in the ass holiday food preparation? Lately I’ve been looking at a recipe in last December’s Gourmet, for Christmas cookies. Sanding sugar in vivid colors is called for. I’m starting to waver.

No bloggage today but this. Some people have to learn lessons the hard way:

Alexi Dohnal arrived at the East Bank Club for a facial, changed into a spa robe and placed $140,000 worth of jewelry in a locker. When she returned, she found the lock cut and her jewelry gone.

Don’t worry, the jewelry is insured. Still, she’s “disheartened” and “depressed.” Poor bunny rabbit.

Off to the gym.

Posted at 9:56 am in Same ol' same ol' |

81 responses to “Don’t go to no trouble.”

  1. moe99 said on December 10, 2009 at 10:19 am

    Chess pie is a traditional favorite here. It was learned in Kentucky and has followed me all over the world. It contains sugar, eggs, butter, vinegar and corn meal. Recipe will follow later if anyone wishes. But have to run. Off to chemo round three. There unfortunately will be a round 4 as well because the CT scan yesterday was a mixed bag.

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  2. James said on December 10, 2009 at 10:32 am

    My motto regarding fussy food preparation:

    Anything that dirties up more than one pot or pan is to be avoided.

    On the other end of the spectrum… I just made “Potato Leek Soup” the other day, and it was one of the worlds easiest, and tastiest recipes.

    Of course, any recipe that concludes with “add a cup of heavy cream” will probably taste wonderful.

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  3. coozledad said on December 10, 2009 at 10:32 am

    I watched an episode of Julia Child’s show where she made a coulibiac served with a peach? pear? brandy that was bottled with an entire fruit (They slide the bottle over the blossom and let the fruit grow inside). It looked complicated, but worth a try. My wife and I threw a small dinner party for some of her co-workers in mid July, and I tried to knock out a tofu version in an unairconditioned kitchen. I opted to go with the conceit of a whole fish with scales atop a bed of rice. After marinating, carving out and wrapping the rough form of the tofu fish in sheets of tofu skin, I wrapped it in sheets of Nori, then added scales meticulously fashioned out of more tofu skin. The eye was a single golden raisin, because that’s what the eye of the only fish I’ve ever eaten presented whole looked like to me. I had it made a day in advance, and while we were having pre-dinner drinks I heated it and set it out to cool with a cover of aluminum foil. We had several rounds of drinks before I got around to serving it. I brought the tofish out to the dining room table and started to peel the foil off. A couple of large green bottleflies flew out and began clumsily flying around the room, first alighting on the guests, and then heading for the screen windows to try and escape the heat.
    I ate most of it.

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  4. 4dbirds said on December 10, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Christmas dinner is a filet roast with wine reduction sauce. It was fussy the first year I did it but it was so wonderful I made it every year after and now it’s easy.

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  5. LAMary said on December 10, 2009 at 10:54 am

    I might do some decorated ginger cookies. They were fun when the kids were little, and snarky teenagers still make them fun. There are fewer cute little gingerbread boys and girls and more gingerbread cholas with skinny semicircle eyebrows now.

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  6. Dorothy said on December 10, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Mike tried to make cut out gingerbread cookies on Sunday while I was supervising a rehearsal of high school kids in town. I avoided warning him what a pain in the ass doing cut out cookies was. He found out on his own. I’ve never had luck doing cut out cookies. The dough is always too moist, and it sticks to the counter no matter how well I prepare it with a dusting of flour. It’s just not my thing and never has been. I don’t think I scarred my children for life by avoiding that merry little kitchen scene during their childhood.

    An aside: Mike’s cookies were delicious, but they resemble rock formations and island countries more than the penguin, star, candy cane and snowman cut out forms he was going for. The recipe had Splenda in it and that’s why he wanted to try them – being diabetic and all. They’re yummy, just not aesthetically appealing.

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  7. Julie Robinson said on December 10, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Christmas cookies: my family has a competition to see who produces the most artistic sugar cookies. We have a big collection of cookie cutters, then we mix up many colors of icing and use a gazillion different sugars and decorations. It’s fun and exhausting and totally trashes the kitchen.

    There’s also Puerto Rican Divorce cakes, which you may know as Mexican Wedding cakes. DH and his BFF have a twisted sense of humor. They have to be rolled in powdered sugar both before and after baking. I haven’t made these in a few years.

    Our son’s go-to Christmas cookies are the peanut butter with Kisses in the middle. Also kind of a pain and not to be made late at night since the Kisses take a few hours to cool down before they can be moved. Darn yummy, though.

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  8. Dexter said on December 10, 2009 at 11:05 am

    I remember the shock when I entered American Coney for a hot dog, only to realize it was inedible, and I walked over to Lafayette and I could not finish a dog there either. I never went back to either place.
    Cincinnati Skyline Chili has the same effect on folks. Most cannot stand it if they first taste it as an adult, but locals who have eaten a little of it all their lives love the stuff. It’s definitely different. I like the Five-Way with spaghetti, chili, red beans, cheese, and diced onions.

    I agree with many in saying that a pear, perfectly ripened so that it is too juicy to just eat by holding and biting into it, is the perfect food.

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  9. LAMary said on December 10, 2009 at 11:08 am

    There are some food hints, well one food hint here in this analysis of the current issue of Glamour. The comments are the best.

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  10. Jason T. said on December 10, 2009 at 11:16 am

    It must be a law that every American city has at least one restaurant that serves inedible hot-dogs that everyone is crazy over.

    In Our Fair City we had Sam’s, but it was sold and closed a few years ago.

    Across the river is Jim’s Drive-In. Pittsburgh has the “Dirty O.” Beaver, Pa., has the Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe. Washington, Pa., has Shorty’s.

    All of them have their partisans, but for out-of-towners, the first time you eat a dog there you say, “I could have made a better one at home.”

    Still, I do get a jones sometimes for a hot dog. Unfortunately, just thinking of Sam’s makes me cry a bitter, onion-scented tear.

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  11. basset said on December 10, 2009 at 11:19 am

    I make an almost-full English dinner nearly every Christmas… roast beef, Brussels sprouts, everything except the plum pudding, which I generally forget to start back in the fall. It’s a good year if the Yorkshire pudding puffs up properly.

    the perfect food is sashimi cut off a freshly caught salmon while standing knee-deep in the Kenai River in Alaska. I still carry the knife.

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  12. ROgirl said on December 10, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Nance, while I wholeheartedly agree with you that the thought of greasy mystery meat Coney Islands piled high with raw onions and chili is remarkably unappealing and stomach churning, I have to take issue with your dissing of Detroit restaurants. There are a lot of decent restaurants in the area, local places (not chains) for better than ordinary food ranging from Italian to Chinese to Middle Eastern, to vegetarian and burgers. Not places you would travel for, but still good.

    I used to hear that the east side didn’t have a lot of restaurants because people didn’t eat out a lot there, and I don’t know if that’s still true, but there are good restaurants in and around Detroit.

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  13. nancy said on December 10, 2009 at 11:23 am

    The winery we visited in northern Michigan a while back makes an eau de vie with the whole fruit in the bottle. Once the bottle’s in place it’s just a matter of waiting, but cleaning the bottle without damaging the (inevitably perfect) fruit inside can be tricky, I’m told.

    Is the Puerto Rican Divorce Cake the one with tres leches? Bossy had a pictorial on that a while back, and it looked like a great deal of trouble for what had to be a pretty soggy cake.

    I like Buckeyes for Christmas cookies. They appeal to my inner Ohioan.

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  14. Sue said on December 10, 2009 at 11:24 am

    1. If you’re doing a buche you damn well better produce a croquembouche, Martha.
    2. The last time I hosted Christmas, I put out plates of wonderful, hand-decorated Christmas cookies. The guests proceeded to demolish the plate of rice krispie treats my sister-in-law brought.
    3. My rule of thumb is to avoid recipes with more than 10 ingredients, with the exception of mole sauce (that’s “mo-lay”). Worth all the time and effort involved.

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  15. Jeff Borden said on December 10, 2009 at 11:28 am

    In the realm of food, I am a stranger — except for eating it– so I will see you all tomorrow.

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  16. Colleen said on December 10, 2009 at 11:28 am

    Hungarian Lekvar cookies. The dough has at least a pound of butter, some eggs, and sour cream or cream cheese. Then you roll them out. Cut in squares. fill each square with apricot or plum or walnut filling. Then you fold the corners over, making sure they don’t come apart while baking. THEN you egg wash. After you bake, they get dusted with powdered sugar.

    Later that same holiday season, you have really good cookies…….

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  17. Julie Robinson said on December 10, 2009 at 11:28 am

    You might know PRDCs as Russian Teacakes. Butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, flour and pecans rolled in more powdered sugar, baked, then rolled again in even more powedered sugar. They melt in your mouth but alas contain a trillion calories apiece.

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  18. nancy said on December 10, 2009 at 11:29 am

    ROGirl, I’ll grant that my problem with the local restaurant scene may be confined to the east side. What I’ve found a shortage of are the sorts of places you can go to for takeout or any meal that won’t sprain your wallet. I love Roast in the Book Cadillac, but can’t drop a C-note like it’s nothing. I really miss La Shish, dammit. Sending a tiny sliver of every check to Hezbollah seems a small compromise to make for that garlic paste they put on the table with the fresh bread.

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  19. mark said on December 10, 2009 at 11:30 am

    Perhaps you mean most natural is best, rather than easiest, because disolving kosher salt in water and placing a turkey in it ain’t a final exam problem at most culinary schools. Your missing the boat on brining. Try it with one of your pork loins sometime.

    Shrimp cocktail will be my pain in the ass holiday preparation, having committed to providing 10 to 12 pounds for a party. Not difficult, but a pain in the ass.

    The damn things should be cooked in the shell. It makes a big difference in taste and shape and a small one in texture. I’ll need two or three big stockpots for the amount I’m preparing. Boil the suckers in gallons of water with copious amounts of lemon quarters, old bay seasoning, red pepper flakes and whole black peppercorns.

    Then you have to hustle to get them all out of the water before any overcook. Sink basins full of ice to stop the cooking once they are out of the water. Then peeling and deveining times 180 or so.

    And then there has to be a sauce or two…

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  20. Jason T. said on December 10, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Colleen @ 16 … half-Hungarian, half-German here … we always called that “phyllo” dough, and I thought “Lekvar” meant prune filling … so I was all ready to correct you …

    … but a little Google search indicates that Lekvar means any kind of thick, jam filling, including prunes or apricots!

    I learned something else new from NN.c today! The more you know!

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  21. ROgirl said on December 10, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Yes, La Shish was the best, especially those puffy pitas. It broke my heart to walk away from it. A lot of new Middle Eastern places have popped up since it closed, and they all have similar names (there’s one nearby called Sheesh) and use the same logo of the shish kabob on a skewer with the name of the restaurant in green script across it.

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  22. nancy said on December 10, 2009 at 11:37 am

    To brine a turkey, you need, first, a container big enough to hold a turkey, and clean enough to hold food. That means a brand-new bucket of horse-watering size, which means a trip to the hardware store. Then you need a place cold enough for it to sit for 24 hours without growing unsafe amounts of cooties, which can mean the garage but in a balmy year, like this one, might mean clearing out a five-gallon-bucket-size space in the fridge.

    But I have an open mind. I’ll start with the pork tenderloin.

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  23. LAMary said on December 10, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Colleen, those cookies are the best. I used to get them at a Hungarian bakery in NYC. That little tartness from the cream cheese makes them just so delicious.

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  24. Julie Robinson said on December 10, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Breadsticks are harder than they seem, too. I’m taking them to a fondue dipping party next week and it’s been fun practicing. My favorite so far is honey wheat brushed with butter and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and kosher sea salt. Delish with soup and I hope also with cheese dip.

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  25. Dorothy said on December 10, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Julie if you pop the Peanut Butter/Hershey kiss cookies in the freezer the kiss hardens again pretty quickly, thereby saving you those hours of cooling time. I just put the whole cookie sheet in the freezer, which I prepare ahead of time by making sure there’s a level surface. Ten minutes or so later they come out firmed up nicely.

    I used to make Russian Tea Cakes years ago when I was much younger and thinner. Because I am shaped the way I am now, I avoid them. But yearn for them nonetheless.

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  26. brian stouder said on December 10, 2009 at 11:46 am

    I like Buck­eyes for Christ­mas cook­ies. They appeal to my inner Ohioan.

    I love those things! Pam won’t call her Buckeyes “Buckeyes”, though, just out of Hoosier cussedness

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  27. adchick said on December 10, 2009 at 11:54 am

    I work 60-70 hours a week, so extravagant meal preparation is just not possible. Yet, my sweethearts 4 adult children will be here this year and I’m excited about making two huge pans of lasagna, a loaded salad, buying some good bread and a lot of wine! And no, I am not making my own pasta! After enough merlot, everything will be delicious! Enjoyed your column!

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  28. Julie Robinson said on December 10, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Good thinking, Dorothy–we start with the Kisses frozen, but I never thought about freezing after baking. We’ll give it a try this year!

    We just bought a pork loin and are going to try a recipe that was in yesterday’s paper: after browning the roast put it over some tart cooking apples in a crockpot, and pour over apple juice or cider mixed with brown sugar and ginger.

    We get way more excited about food in our house than we should be.

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  29. beb said on December 10, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    I must of looked at this site just before Nancy posted today’s threat at 10 because yesterday’s thread came up. Went to work and looked again at Noon and there was 28 comments already on the new thread. I should have known it was about food. Like Jeff Bordon, I’m more of an eater than a cook. So my only contribution is to wonder why people go out, order a good steak then want to smoother it in a heavy steak sauce. You could be eatibng cardboard or *choke* liver for all you under that sauce.

    I’m not a fan of Lebanese cooking though my wife is. She used to swear by Steve’s Back Room when it was on Kelly in Harper Woods. It moved to Jefferson in St. Clair Shores, next to Golden Chopsticks, which is our favorite chinese restaurant.

    As my wife’s asthma has gotten worse we can’t eat at any restaurant that allows smoking, so I’d really like to see a state-wide ban on smoking in restaurants.

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  30. Mindy said on December 10, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Fifteen years ago I was determined to find the perfect recipe for cheesecake. I like ’em dense and sort of dry with no crust. After lots of recipes failed to deliver what I was after, I tried cheesecake alchemy by combining recipes that came the closest. One of these experiments ended up at the Thanksgiving table and instantly became a legend. Unfortunately for me, it’s rather soft and very creamy and nothing like what I wanted. But now I must arrive with this cheesecake in hand any time my husband’s family gathers for Thanksgiving or Christmas. It isn’t difficult to make, but it does require time, money and refrigerator space. I haven’t eaten a piece of it in years because it’s disappointing. And no, I haven’t found the perfect recipe yet.

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  31. paddyo' said on December 10, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Like Jeff B., I’m an alien around making/trying to make great, interesting, difficult, seasonal, etc., foods, but I’m certainly a grateful consumer of same. And today’s comments are a groaning board, in print.

    In the vanpool today, one colleague brought homemade pralines (mmm) and another homemade cinnamon rolls. (I was today’s driver so I’m saving that one for lunch dessert.) Plus it’s the building’s Xmas party day, and people are walking the hallways (back to their desks) with plates piled with various/sundry brunch dishes and items.

    Food, glorious food . . .

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  32. Arlene said on December 10, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    I avoid any recipe that requires a double boiler. Also, I cannot make sugar cut out cookies to save my life. I can make nut tassies which take some time and patience. As for hot dogs, here in Allentown, Pa. the best chili dog comes from Yocco’s. They’ve been here for probably 60 years. The family’s name is Iacocca. Yes, they’re relatives of Lee Iacocca. So the Iacocca name here is more famous for hot dogs than Lee, the corporate exec.

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  33. LAMary said on December 10, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Whenever we have a potluck here I bring some cake baked in a very fancy bundt type pan I own. Plain butter pound cake, lemon pound cake, pumpkin raisin pound cake. They all look a lot fancier and more complicated in this pan that looks like some art deco fortress.

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  34. Julie Robinson said on December 10, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    We have mastered the cut out cookies. Keep the dough in the frig and just roll out a little at a time on a light sprinkling of flour. We use a huge wooden board but if marble works for piecrust, it would work for this too. Run a long spatula underneath it before you start cutting out, and again before moving to the cookie pan. You can use the Pillsbury tubes if you want to skip the mixing up step.

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  35. Connie said on December 10, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    You’ve heard this from me before. Christmas is just one big Mom chore. I’ll be doing some cookies, and a roast pork loin on the big day, but the older I get the less time I am willing to spend in my kitchen.

    Our all company party was a big breakfast potluck this a.m., and looks like we all made reheatable lunch plates as well. Spinach quiche and kiefle for me. No idea how to spell that word but it is a tasty cookie I never met before I moved to this area.

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  36. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 10, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Repetition is a friend, re #4/4dbirds — i used to really angst out over making lasagna, but now: whoosh. It’s nuttin’. I’m ready to try Brussels sprouts, since Basset and Moe have spoken so warmly of their roasted goodness, and i’ve only ever had boiled/stewed. I’d be interested in recipes for themses, and the chess pie that Moe mentioned, when you’re feeling up to it, ma’am.

    Oh, my surgery? As a friend just said: “The only thing worse than surgery is surgery postponed.” I’d say most rigorous chemo is worse than either, though. Next Thursday we see if they’ve reset all the equipment that apparently disliked frequent power fluctuations yesterday and last night.

    I envisioned, as i lay there all denuded and prepped, but about to get dressed again at the doc’s rueful request, an operating room full of flashing LCD displays flashing 12:00, and a scrub team with a gurney covered with manuals trying to figure out where the “reset time” button is on each one. When i described my mental picture, they neither smiled nor denied that scenario, so i’m thinking it was near the mark.

    So do you have to find actual fresh Brussels sprouts, or can you get to roasted with frozen?

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  37. Jean S said on December 10, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    I gave up on brined turkeys when our Trader Joe’s started carrying kosher ones. But try that pork loin, Nancy–or, alternatively, a chicken. (Some Southerners routinely brine chickens before frying them. Just so you know.)

    I make spanakopita triangles every year. Lots of work but everyone goes nuts over them. As for nuts, I’m going to do Diane Morgan’s spiced pecans this year. A meringue is involved. Could get interesting.

    I used to make pralines but gave up after the Great Praline Disaster of 1998. (When your spoon snaps in half while it’s stuck in a vat of over-caramelized sugar, that’s the sign from the kitchen gods that you should just take a break already.)(But then, that was right after my mother died, and I suspect I was a little distracted.)

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  38. Jen said on December 10, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    I like to bake as a hobby, and my stuff almost always tastes delicious, but I just can’t make it look pretty. For example, I can’t crimp a pie crust to save my life. It just ends up looking sort of weird. (It doesn’t help that it’s usually pretty misshapen when I put it in the pan.) I make myself feel better by telling myself that my desserts look “rustic.” Like I said, they usually taste good, because I use butter and full-fat ingredients when I bake. I definitely don’t have to wonder why I’m not skinny …

    As far as cooking goes, I occasionally go a little crazy and make a complicated recipe when I have the day off just for the fun of it, but most of the time I make really easy stuff. And really, that’s the best stuff anyway. My mom is a good cook and great baker, but her two most famous and beloved recipes are a taco salad that is made with a big bag of salad, seasoned ground beef, cheese, Doritos (or Chili-Cheese Fritos) and Western salad dressing; and hot chicken sandwiches made with butter, cream of chicken soup, chicken, saltine crackers and salt. People go crazy over those two recipes, and they are so incredibly simple.

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  39. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 10, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Artisanal covers a multitude of sins, right up there with “rustic.” But i like rustic better.

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  40. LAMary said on December 10, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Jen, make a true rustic tart and roll out dough in a roundish shape, put it on a cookie sheet, and pile some fruit and a little sugar in the middle. Fold up the edges of the circle around the fruit, not covering it completely, and bake it. It looks very rustic and tastes great. Peaches are especially nice this way. Even better: peaches and blackberries together.

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  41. beb said on December 10, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Jeff (TMMO) My sister-in-law makes the ovan baked brussel sprouts and they are sooooo delicious. My wife pan-fries them, with lemon or is it vinegar and those are good, too, but hard on the pan. But, I like them steamed too, so I may not be the best recommendation when it comes to how to fix sprouts.

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  42. adrianne said on December 10, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    I don’t usually bake much – blame my mom, a great cook but store-bought cakes were the drill in my house – but I did find a great cut-out Christmas cookie recipe a while back that tastes great and can take some rough treatment (i.e., two boys rolling and cutting out dough). The trick is to do a little at a time, with the rest of the dough in the fridge, and don’t be afraid to flour aggressively!

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  43. Sue said on December 10, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Hmmm…. I see “The Nancy Nall Super Duper Commenter Cookbook” on the horizon. Is being a journalist the same as being in publishing? Did I see someone commenting upthread by the name of “adchick”, maybe as in ‘advertising’? Don’t we have some graphic arts people in the mix here? Apparently we’ve got the talent pool to pull this together, folks. The chapter entitled “Coozledad’s Obscene Marzipan Creations” should put us on the New York Times bestseller list all by itself.

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  44. Connie said on December 10, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    I was at the SOuth Bend farmer’s market the Saturday before Thanksgiving (couldn’t find ButterCUP squash any where else) and it was so gorgeous, filled with unusual colors -cauliflower in white, green, and purple – but what really caught my eye was the stalks of fresh cut brussel sprouts, still on the stalk. They were so beautiful I was almost tempted.

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  45. Connie said on December 10, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    As to the commenter cookbook, several of you tried and enjoyed a recipe called “Smashed Potatoes” that I shared with you earlier this year. Credit for that recipe should go Pioneer Woman Cooks at, and she has just come out with a cookbook that will be the Christmas gift cookbook for the year. Title? Pioneer Woman Cooks. I see Amazon has it ranked number 34.

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  46. Jen said on December 10, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Connie, Pioneer Woman’s cookbook is on the top of my Christmas list this year, and if I don’t get it I’m going out as soon as Christmas is over and buying it for myself. Most of my best recipes have come from her Web site! Biggest hits so far have been her mac & cheese, apple dumplings made with Mt. Dew and Strawberry Shortcake Cake.

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  47. Jolene said on December 10, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    I have, most often, been a guest rather than a host for Christmas, mainly at my parents’ house and now at my brother’s house. My mother was a great, if relatively plain, cook. Everything she made was good, and she set a beautiful table–special Christmas china, linens, sterling, and crystal. She was an excellent baker too, and I usually got home in time to help her w/ that. We always did two kinds of cut-out cookies–a dark cinnamon cookie and white sugar cookies–and frosted both. Lots of other things, including some Norwegian pastries–sandbakkelse and krumkake. The family favorites were oatmeal trilbys–a sandwich cookie w/ two rich (i.e., made w/ butter) oatmeal wafers filled with dates. Delicious.

    But she is in a nursing home now. She and my father moved to assisted living a few years ago, and my father died this past spring. Up to now, we’ve kept the house, and whatever distant kids, in-laws, and grandkids were visiting stayed there. At the holidays, there were enough of us to make it seem like the old days. This year, we will be spending the week after Christmas doing the final sorting of things in her house so that it can be sold in the spring.

    Since my parents moved out, we’ve had Christmas at my brother’s house. Nice in many ways, but just not the same. Hank Stuever has talked about Christmas as a sort of cultural lens, but, for me, especially this year, it’s a marker in the life history of our family, and not one I’m looking forward to.

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  48. Dorothy said on December 10, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Those of you describing how to do cut out cookies may have given me the idea to try again. We’ll see. Maybe in a few years after the first grandchild arrives. Of course I’ll practice first before said grandchild is old enough to help; otherwise he/she will learn a new vocabulary not sanctioned by their Mom or Dad!

    Have I shared this recipe before? Mike has been making it for about 7 years running now. It’s always well-received. Thank heavens for the Food Channel. What did we do before it was born?!

    p.s. Maker’s Mark is what we use for the bourbon! And to hell with spritzing. We just splash it on hither and thither.

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  49. derwood said on December 10, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    Love love love the smashed potato(e)s!!!


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  50. Peter said on December 10, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Nancy, I have to take issue with the deep frying turkey. Although we’ve passed that phase, we did it for a few years. My wife loved it because it got all of the guys out of the house and she wouldn’t be bothered with last minute questions.

    And as far as Detroit cuisine: Let’s face it, my tastes are simple, and my stomach can handle bad. I’ve had Lafayette Coney for breakfast and find them a tasty alternative to White Castle. And the Detroit deli’s! You know, sometimes when you’re out of town you just want a nice sandwich, and there aren’t too many places left for that, so enjoy those places while you can.

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  51. Connie said on December 10, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    I enjoyed watching the process of deep frying the turkey at my Thanksgiving event, took way less time than baking, the oven was available for other stuff, and the meat was perfect. See before and after pics: . Please note those are not my guy, those are daughter’s housemate’s dad and brother.

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  52. Jenine said on December 10, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    I thought the only Americans besides professional bakers making buche de noel were high school French students.

    Another call for the chess pie recipe, Moe! A Texas relative by marriage served us chess pie twenty years ago and it was sort of a rich buttermilk filling. Wonderful.

    Jolene please accept my general good will in lieu of a cogent comment on your well written description of the passing of an era in your family. Oatmeal trilbys sound really good.

    I’m looking forward to making gingerbread cookies and eventually another pumpkin pie. Tonight I’m baking pumpkin chocolate chip muffins to take to work because work sounds better with treats.

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  53. LAMary said on December 10, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    I had a neighbor in NYC, Donna, who made something she called Swedish Oatmeal Cookies. They were yellow rather than brown and had cardomom as an ingredient, I’m pretty sure. They were more delicate than the usual crunchy oatmeal cookie. If anyone knows how to make something like that, please share.

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  54. jcburns said on December 10, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Clearly, trouble has been gone to.

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  55. LAMary said on December 10, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Why do you need to remove your rings to get a facial? I’ve never had a facial, so maybe there’s something obvious I’m not seeing.

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  56. Colleen said on December 10, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    I don’t think the dough of my cookies (also called kifli or kiffles…I call ’em auntie anna cookies, after the aunt who always made them) is true phyllo…not as thin.

    Roasted Brussels Sprouts. Oh yum. I never liked them, tried them roasted, and I’m in love. Roast in olive oil, salt and pepper….30-40 minutes at 400. The outside will be black, but they are SO good. Not harsh or bitter, even kind of sweet.

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  57. 4dbirds said on December 10, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Mary, You should get a facial, they are heavenly. Hint for a gift certificate for Mother’s Day, Birthday, Christmas, etc. Some facials include hand massages. Rings would get in the way.

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  58. Dexter said on December 10, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Oh gawd…this is perfect timing—the dreaded “L Word” returns to the Michigan lexicon.

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  59. nancy said on December 10, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    Turkey fryers: What do you do with the grease? I don’t even make latkes and fish tacos that often because I hate disposing of the oil, and they don’t require all that much. Multiple gallons just sounds…greasy.

    But yes, that looks like a tasty bird, and it’s nice to have the additional oven space.

    Big ups for oven-roasted brussels sprouts. Had ’em a couple weeks ago. Yum.

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  60. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 10, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Just put ’em in a cast iron pan with a coating of olive oil, and drizzle some over them?

    And i have the same question about what to do with all those gallons of peanut oil. You can’t just pour it down the sink, right?

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  61. brian stouder said on December 10, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    Why do you need to remove your rings to get a facial? I’ve never had a facial, so maybe there’s some­thing obvi­ous I’m not seeing.

    The first thing I thought of when I read Nance’s reference to the chick who put on $140,000 worth of jewelry and wasn’t going to have tea with the Queen, or to Oslo to collect her Nobel, or whatever other astronomically high-end event would justify such a display, was the old George Peppard tv show “Banacek”.

    It’s gotta be insurance fraud, I say. What person is thoughtful enough to acquire (and pay for) insurance on such items, and then trusts a (gym-locker? padlock?) in a public place?

    And by the way, speaking of immersing turkeys into vats of boiling oil, the news just now is that a “High Ranking” al Qaeda figure was killed in a US airstrike today. They won’t say which one, other than that it’s not Sammy. Here’s hoping that it is Ayman al Zawahiri. In fact – if we could choose, I’d rather have his head on the end of a pike than Sammy.

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  62. nancy said on December 10, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    I was more struck by the SIX-CARAT diamond engagement ring. The thing would be the size of a walnut. I know serious bling was in before the recession, but it’s like these people don’t know the meaning of “vulgar.”

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  63. Deborah said on December 10, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Speaking of “rustic” and “tarts” my daughter, Little Bird, makes a really good rustic tomato tart. Roll out dough (butter and flour basically) into a circle shape, put ricotta in the center mixed with basil and a touch of garlic, put sliced tomatoes on top of that and cover that with shredded carmelized onion cheddar (Trader Joe’s), then fold up the edges of the dough but not covering the center. Bake about 1/2 hour or so at 350. The best thing about tarts is you can tweak them and try this and that (leeks, brie, apples, watercress was another one she made for us). Super simple and delicious.

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  64. Jean S said on December 10, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    I second the idea for a NNC cookbook from the comments. Clearly, we have the goods.

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  65. LAMary said on December 10, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Deborah, that’s what I like about rustic tarts. Whatever works. Apples and walnuts, figs and pistachios, pears and cranberries. If after you drop in the filling and curl up the edges, you sprinkle some sugar on the whole thing, it’s very nice.

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  66. Deborah said on December 10, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Moe, I had a routine mammogram this afternoon and thought about your hilarious description, but can’t find it now. Is it possible you can repeat it here. I’d appreciate it. Sorry guys for the repeat, avert your eyes if you see fit.

    edit – why is hilarious coming up as hilarous? when that’s not how it shows up in the submit comment box?

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  67. Sherry said on December 10, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    Jolene, your comments hit the teary-eyes button for me today. Christmas Eve was always spent at my grandparents home at the end of a long stone driveway in rural northwest Ohio. Mom and her brother lived just a few miles apart, but the truly memorable times we spent together as families seem to be from that night over turkey and trimmings and way too many tempting treats and desserts.

    Each of us kids — my brother, my sister and my cousin — had a gift to open from my grandparents and one from our aunt and uncle. The presents were a nice tease for the big event the next day, but what I remember most were the stories and the laughs traded over dinner that seemed to go on forever when we were kids and then seemed to go too quickly when we became the adults. In between the dinner and the presents, the generation that was too young to know how poorly it could sing, would butcher some Christmas carols for the world’s most receptive audience.

    Grandpa died almost two decades ago and the tradition continued until Gram was killed in a one-car accident a stone’s throw from her home a decade later. We’ve tried, over the past few years, to start some new traditions to replace Christmas Eve at Gram’s. But that’s the thing about traditions. The best ones aren’t fabricated. They just happen and then they feel too right not to make them happen again. I will think of you during the holidays and hope that all of your memories are good ones.

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  68. Little Bird said on December 10, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Figs, hmmm? Figs braised in red wine, maybe with some carmelized onions, roasted red peppers and manchego cheese? Great, now I’m hungry.

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  69. Deborah said on December 10, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    Just listened to the CD “Christmas in the Heart” by Bob Dylan. My husband’s a huge Dylan fan as I’ve said here before and I’m not so much, but I have to say listening to gravely voiced Bob singing these American vernacular classics is quite moving.

    There’s another holiday music CD that I’ve heard at Starbucks, that also sounds quite good. I’m thinking about purchasing it, I can hardly believe I’m writing that, I’m usually such a Scrooge about holiday music.

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  70. Julie Robinson said on December 10, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Speaking of mammogram type pain, today my dental hygienist did a baseline exam of my gums to check for periodontal disease. Has anyone else had one of these or is this a new scam? She took a probe–think long and very sharp needle, and poked around each tooth six times–three in front and three in back. No real warning or offer of meds and I’m not a baby. Still hurting six hours later.

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  71. Dorothy said on December 10, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    I love how this comment section has attracted multi-generational family participation!! Pilot Joe and Jen, Deborah and Little Bird. It’s really cool!

    Julie – saw your comment above mine here after I hit submit. My husband has had that exam more than once. He agrees with you – it hurt for some time afterwards. They’re encouraging him to floss as often as possible. He’s brushing with Sensodyne, and they gave him some kind of rinse which he hasn’t opened yet. The dentist has been telling him about this gum problem for a couple of years now so I don’t think I’d call it a scam. Maybe it’s just good dental practice.

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  72. MarkH said on December 10, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    Julie, Dorothy, this is definitley NOT a scam. My sister is a dental hygienist of 34 years, and she, and my dentist and his various hygienists all agree that this exam is essential for measuring gum recession, which can be a prelude to bone loss. I have had this exam, where they probe with an instrument between the tooth and the gum to see how deep it will go, periodically for the last 15 years or so. One hygienist does the probing and calls out the depth numbers, while an assistant keeps track on paper. The larger the number, the worse the recession, the more trouble you’re in. Having said that, the length of time for residual pain from this procedure should not be long, certainly not as long yours, Julie, or Dorothy’s husband (Mike?). My upper back teeth are not in the best shape due to this bone loss and I am in for some serious periodontal work soon (ugh). Keep flossing.

    EDIT — I’m surprised your dentists or hygienists did not go into a detailed explantion of this, or did they?

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  73. basset said on December 10, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    I would need to be drugged into immobility before I could put up with that. Several “hold still, that doesn’t hurt” dentists in my early years turned me into the biggest dental lightweight around – close to forty years later, I can still see the telephone relay tower outside Dr. (name deleted)’s office window in (name of small southwestern Indiana town deleted) that I used to fixate on while he drilled on my teeth, leaning on a forearm across my collarbone to keep me from twisting away. Only in the last few years have I been able to get my teeth cleaned without at least taking the gas, and for anything more than a shallow filling I have to be unconscious.

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  74. Dexter said on December 11, 2009 at 12:30 am

    I loved this thread on food . I like to cook, but I also am a fan of salads. I like many different types of salads, and I recalled a place I ate at in New York some time ago. I cannot remember its name, but it served only salads. It was cafeteria style, pan after pan of ingredients from which you could order the server to build your salad.
    That is the only time I ever ate in a place like that. I could have eaten lunch there every day for years if I had lived there.
    A quick search reveals many all-salad places now, but it appears most focus on phone-order pick-ups and delivery.

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  75. moe99 said on December 11, 2009 at 6:21 am

    Chess Pie

    1/2 cup melted butter
    1 1/2 cups white sugar
    3 eggs
    1 1/2 teaspoon corn meal
    1 1/2 teaspons vinegar
    1 (9 inch) unbaked pie shell thawed
    Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
    In a large bowl, mix the butter, and sugar together. Mix in the eggs, then stir in the cornmeal, and vinegar until smooth. Do Not mix too much. Pour into pie shell.
    Put pie in and immdiately reduce heat to 400 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) for about 20 minutes (this will vary depending on freshness of eggs) Pie filling will puff up full. Give pie a little jiggle to be sure center is firm before removing it. Place on rack to cool. Pie may be browned before serving.

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  76. Julie Robinson said on December 11, 2009 at 8:35 am

    Moe, I may have to make this pie for DH–it sounds a lot like the mythical sugar cream pie he often rhapsodizes about. But why is it called chess? I was envisioning a two-tone theme.

    I’m glad to know that I wasn’t scammed yesterday at the dentist. She did explain it all, and I didn’t have any gum disease; it was just new and painful. I’m used to breezy, oh-what-beautiful-teeth-you-have visits. But because we suspect that part of what destroyed my Dad’s heart was bacteria from his dental diseases, I pay pretty close attention to good dental hygiene.

    My gums still hurt this morning. Judging from others I know, I seem to have a very high pain threshold so it puzzles me. Time for some more tylenol.

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  77. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 11, 2009 at 8:43 am

    The story i’ve heard on chess pie is that it’s from “chest pie,” since the sugar means you can keep ’em in a pie safe/chest for much longer than most pies, so you’d always have one in the back, with the cherry and berry pies up front to eat first.

    Re: Rick Warren and Uganda, a few of you might be interested in the letter/video (transcript beneath) that he sent out –

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  78. Connie said on December 11, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Nancy asks what do you do with all that grease from deep frying the turkey? Actually, I think it is peanut oil. You strain it into a sealed container and use it again. As we do at home for the occasional occasion when we haul out the deep fryer to make home made french fries.

    At our house there is a grease can under the sink into which smaller amounts can be poured. The can – a coffee can – is just covered and tossed in trash when the time comes.

    I am sure I am not the only here who remembers Grandma’s jars of saved bacon drippings. In dutch land it was called shpeck. I have no idea of actual spelling, that is based on pronunciation.

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  79. moe99 said on December 11, 2009 at 11:26 am

    Connie, in Seattle, you can recycle the used oil. I am not sure of the procedure but they put it into biodiesel.

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  80. brian stouder said on December 11, 2009 at 11:47 am

    Moe, a year (or two? or three?) ago, someone here – possibly Nance, posted a pie recipe that I tried, and it worked out well. I have copy/pasted your pie recipe, and I shall make it and report back.

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  81. moe99 said on December 11, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    My daughter makes pie crust with vodka. The vodka evaporates during the baking process and makes the crust flakier. Brian, over the years I’ve found the chess pie to be very idiosyncratic–each new oven I’ve used has required some getting used to. The crust may brown during the baking process, but make sure the filling is firm before you pull it out. Will be interested to hear back.

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