Winning Black Friday

So Thanksgiving dinner has been served, eaten, and cleaned up.  Most of the relatives have gone home, and you’re reclining, semi-comatose, on the sofa.  Then Aunt Minnie from Altoona begins talking about Christmas shopping, and she Wants.To.Start.Tonight.

You’ve got a few options.

#1-Get up and toss her, Uncle Jasper, Cousin Viola, their luggage, and their 3 yappy, incontinent dogs outside, lock the door and turn off the lights.

#2-Get up, put on your shoes and jacket, and take them for 4 or 5 hours of bruising, shoulder-to-shoulder turkey night shopping.

#3-Get up, program their GPS for the best local retail Mecca, put some good music on in the kitchen, and while they’re gone get some relaxing, solitary prep done for tomorrow’s breakfast.

If you pick #3, I’ll guide you through the almost Zen-like process.  It’s simple and low-key, kind of a cool-down exercise from the earlier frenzy.

My breakfast menu consists of scrambled eggs, easy homemade hash browns, fall porridge, and awesome, delicious brown sugar pecan scones.

I made up this first recipe just this morning, for my own breakfast.  It was hella good and kept me full for hours.

Start with the hot cereal.  Any type will work, from instant oatmeal to slow-cooked grits (I used Special K Nourish).  What makes it special is this topping.  You can make fruit and cereal tonight, and heat them up in the microwave before service.

Harvest porridge

4 unpeeled pears, cored and cut into ½ inch cubes

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons maple syrup or brown sugar

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup chopped almonds

½ cup golden raisins

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat non-stick skillet and melt butter.  Put in everything except raisins and vanilla.  Cook on medium.  When the pears and almonds are browned, add raisins and vanilla, and stir ‘til hot. Spoon onto hot cereal.  Serves four.

     My dad loves them, but I never understood scones.  They’re not quite muffins, not quite biscuits.  They just seemed dry and weird.  That was before I tasted Chef Jason Cunningham’s brown sugar pecan scones at the Washington Duke (3001 Cameron Blvd, Durham).  They’re neither dry nor weird.  Flaky and tasty, these are what scones are supposed to be.  Thanks to Chef Jason for the recipe.

Make these the night before up to the refrigeration stage, and bake them off in the morning.

Brown Sugar Pecan Scones

Yield 18

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cake flour

2/3 cup light brown sugar

2/3 cup Butter

1 Tbl baking powder

Pinch Salt

1 large egg

½ cup whipping cream

½ cup orange juice

¼ cup chopped pecans

1 Tbl vanilla extract

Combine all-purpose flour and baking powder and mix thoroughly. Reserve.

Cream butter in a stand mixer until soft. Add brown sugar, salt and vanilla and cream until fluffy.  Add eggs and beat until fully incorporated.

Add cake flour and combine and then add the orange juice. Add half of the all-purpose flour mixture and mix until just incorporated.  Add the cream, incorporate and then the remainder of the flour mixture along with the pecans.

Do not over-mix! Once all ingredients are incorporated, wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate.

Once dough is thoroughly chilled, place on a floured work surface and roll to approximately ½ inch thickness. Cut into triangles.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake approximately 12-20 minutes until golden brown.

     These hash browns are so simple you can quickly make them in the morning.  It’s the only way I make them anymore.

Homo habilis hash browns

In a non-stick skillet melt 2-3 tablespoons butter.  Grate 1 unpeeled potato per diner directly onto melting butter.  Grate in about 2 teaspoons yellow onion per potato.  Salt and toss to mix.  With spatula, flatten in pan and cook on medium until golden-amber around edges (8-10 minutes).  Put plate on top of pan and carefully flip onto plate, cooked side up.  Slide back into pan and cook other side, 6-8 minutes.  Slice into wedges, and serve.

     You can go through all this, or do what I do.  Go to someone else’s house for dinner, go home and do most of your holiday shopping online in your pajamas, then sleep in on Friday.

Good luck, and happy Thanksgiving.

Thanks for your time.

Creature Feature

Originally printed in the Herald Sun 10/19/2013
Maybe it’s the dump truck-sized dog, or maybe it’s the two weird looking old people that live here, but in all the years we’ve owned our house we’ve had a cumulative total of about six kids come to our door, trick-or-treating.
For the first five or six Halloweens, I’d optimistically buy bags of candy, decorate the front porch, and make sure the light over the front door was a bright, welcoming beacon.
And about 10pm every year I’d give up hope and turn out the light, just me and my 10 pounds of candy left all alone at the pumpkin altar again.
But this year we have two new young ladies in our neighborhood, Ali and YaYa. I’ve already checked with their mom, and on Halloween the girls will be dressed up and going door to door, including our own neglected portal.
This year though, I’m not buying any candy.
I’m making it. Quel scandale, no? I know, it’s almost unthinkable to give out homemade sweets, but the family knows me and my off kilter ways.
But even if you have costumed hordes at your house, you too can hand out candy that you’ve prepared yourself. When you package the goods, put your name, address, and phone number on each, and list any allergens (peanuts, dairy, gluten etc.). Then introduce yourself to the adult chaperone, and inform them of the nature of your daring distribution.
There might still be folks who are uncomfortable taking homemade stuff, so it would be wise to lay in a small stock of store-bought loot (dollar stores have a big selection of cellophane Halloween bags, party favors, and candy), so nobody has to leave empty-handed.
For our neighborhood ghouls, I’m making creature cookies, butterscotch spiders, and zombie brains.
Creature Cookies
You may know these as Preacher cookies. When very little, The Kid misheard the name, and asked for more “creature cookies”. The name stuck.
1/2 cup (one stick) butter
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups quick cooking oats
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mix butter, cocoa, sugar, milk, and salt together in saucepan. Boil for 1 minute.
Stir in oatmeal, peanut butter and vanilla. Drop tablespoons of cookie preparation onto parchment paper. Allow to cool and harden. Makes 3 dozen
When having oatmeal at home, I eat steel-cut oats. But I’ve never seen any cookie recipes using them. A couple of weeks ago I decided that I was a genius, and made creature cookies with steel-cut. Because they’re basically gravel in their raw state, I cooked them before adding to the mixture.
Now I know why there’s a total lack of steel-cut dessert recipes. It was an abject failure; they never set up. My Mensa card was revoked the next day.
Butterscotch Spiders
One 11 ounce bag of butterscotch chips
One 5 ounce can chow mien noodles
½ cup salted nuts (optional)
Melt chips in microwave: Place chips into bowl, and microwave on high for 15 seconds. Remove from microwave, stir and repeat at 15 second intervals until completely melted. If they are almost totally melted, don’t continue to heat (it could burn and seize up). Just keep stirring until smooth.
Gently mix noodles and nuts into melted butterscotch, and place small mounds on parchment paper. Allow to cool and harden.
Makes approximately 2 dozen spiders.
Zombie Brains
One 11 ounce bag white chocolate chips
2 cups golden raisins (sultanas)
Melt white chocolate in microwave as instructed above. Stir in raisins. Drop small mounds onto parchment. Allow to harden.
Makes 3 or 4 dozen brains.
My parents live in a Greensboro subdivision with lots of families that make a big deal of October 31st. Because our Durham neighborhood exhibits a complete lack of Halloween spirit, we’d go to Gramma and Grampa’s for trick or treating. At 3 ½ years old, dressed as a pumpkin (and completely adorable), The Kid went out for the first time.
On the ride home, from the darkened back seat came the voice of our sleepy toddler.
“That was fun. Let’s come back and do it again tomorrow night!”
Thanks for your time.