Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Dinner Wrap-Up: Turkey

So how was your holiday? Beppo and I spend our Thanksgiving at home, just the two of us. Every year I face the challenge of how to satisfy the Thanksgiving food cravings we both have, without overloading our plates, bellies or the refrigerator.

This means I have to limit the number of dishes on the table, and generally rules out turkey. Historically, we've had a chicken instead and that has satisfied our bird requirements. This year though, I became enraptured with the thought of having a locally-raised turkey. Tendercrop Farms, our local (year-round) farm market sells their own turkeys, and on a whim, I ordered one. The smallest turkey available weighed in at 11.5 pounds so I decided we'd cook the breast on Thanksgiving and I'd confit the legs and wings later (once I collect enough fat to do that with).

I cut the bird apart into its various parts and promptly put the neck, giblets and backbone into the stockpot. The legs and wings went into bags for freezer storage and the breast went into a brine solution in the fridge.

I thought it would be fun to try smoking the breast meat, so I turned to the web and settled on Steven Raichlen's method. I brined the breast and smoked it for about 1.5 hours (until the thermometer read 150).

This method worked wonderfully: the breast meat was juicy and flavorful and the oven was freed up for everything else that needed to go into it. I was also thrilled with the turkey's flavor. (I purchased a "natural" turkey breast at Whole Foods years ago: the flavor was unpleasantly gamy.) This bird was juicy and tasted wonderfully turkey-ish.

The drawbacks: the skin never browned so the presentation was sorta crappy and the applewood chips didn't seem to give much flavor at all (a benefit too: I can still make broth from the carcass).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I Love Japanese Candy

Don't you wish all menu descriptions read like this enticing candy copy?

If you're cooking tomorrow, here's hoping your Thanksgiving dinner earns you the admiring feeling of a graceful lady.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Drink of the Week: Cranberry Jack

This is a quick little riff on a Jack Rose. I thought that cranberries would make a nice substitute for lemon juice. They're certainly seasonal (and local ... to we Massachusetts dwellers). The cranberries certainly make for a beautiful drink.

Cranberry Jack
In a mixing glass, muddle together:
  • handful of fresh cranberries
  • 1/4 ounce of grenadine
Add ice, and then add:
  • 2 ounces Applejack
Shake well to combine and chill. Double strain (through a julep and fine-meshed strainer - the cranberry seeds are small) into an iced cocktail glass. Garnish with a cranberry.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Onion Soup

According to a number of articles I have read lately, we're more and more interested in preparing cheap meals these days. I don't know about you, but one of the reasons I have always cooked for myself and my family is to save money (and to have more nutritious food and because I love to cook, etc. etc. etc.), so let's agree that most of us have been ahead of the cost-saving curve for a while.

One of the cheapest, most soul-satisfying soups I make is onion soup. Most of us are familiar with the spongy breaded, plastic-cheese encapsulated, super salty versions available at restaurants. It's quite easy to make your own version at home, yielding a much more delicious bowl of soup. I also think it's amazing that such a delicious dinner can come from such a short (and cheap) ingredient list.

Instead of crowning my soup with a slice of bread and melted cheese, I keep my garnishes on the side. I usually serve it with cheese toast (slices of toasted bread with some cheese melted on top) or slices of bread and cheese. This has the advantage of the diner getting to choose just how soaked they want their bread. Plus, since you aren't gently sliding soup bowls topped with molten cheese in and out of the oven, it is much easier to manage at dinner time.

This is a recipe, but a very loose one - substitute leeks, shallots, cipolline, and/or garlic for some of the onions. You can use sweet onions, Spanish onions, red onions, white onions ...

You can use broth or water and you can deglaze with wine, brandy or broth. Use soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce to boost flavor if needed. The only non-negotiable is the multiple deglazings. You want those onions to give up all of their flavor and deglazing 2 or 3 (or even 4) times is the way to make that happen. It takes a long time to cook the onions, but it's mostly hands-off and you can do other things while they're sizzling away. This soup tastes even better the next day so it's a great make-ahead.

Onion Soup
Serves 3-6, depending on serving size
  • 4 large onions, peeled (softball sized) - or substitute some shallots and/or leeks and/or garlic, half the vegetables should be onion
  • 1 cup red wine - or brandy or use broth
  • 1 quart chicken or beef broth - or use water
  • 2 cups water
  • optional: bay leaf, dried thyme
  • optional flavor boosters: soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Maggi, etc.
  • salt and pepper to taste
Cut the onions in half (or quarters if they are very large). Slice the onions very thin. Saute the onions over medium heat in a small stockpot or large saucepan. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are browned and very soft. This may take as long as an hour.

When the onions are browned and soft, turn the heat up and pour about 1/3 of the wine over the onion. Scrape up any browned bits. Simmer until all the wine is cooked off. Repeat the degalzing process 2 more times, each time cooking the wine off. Pour in the broth and water and add any dried herbs you want. Simmer the onion and broth together and taste for seasoning. If the flavor is flat (you'll know if it is - it should taste like something you want to eat) add soy or Worcestershire sauce, a few dashes at a time, until the flavor is better.

Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve with cheese toast if you like.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Tale of Two Ragus

The "The Way We Eat" section of the New York Times' Sunday Magazine can be a hit or miss proposition for me. That's not say that I don't the stories aren't interesting or compelling. But often I find myself reading the article saying to myself "well I'll never make this ... interesting though." (The recent story on curried pork katsu being a prime example.)

In February though, Christine Muhlke's story on ragus sent most of the foodie blogosphere, myself included, scurrying for their kitchens. I've now made two of the ragus (the beef and the lamb) in the story twice and encourage you to jump on the ragu-makin' wagon.

The benefits: These recipes yield sauces with incredible deep flavor and richness. Just a cupful or two makes for a decandent and satisfying pasta dish. They freeze *very* well so you can double or triple the recipe and stockpile these glorious sauces in your freezer.

The negatives: If you double the recipe (as I have), it takes a long time to make. The sauce should simmer for at least 3 hours to develop the full flavors and silky texture you want in a ragu. However, once you double the recipe, you should extend that simmer time to at least four hours, if not longer. But before you even get that far, everything needs to be browned, and reduced and browned again. That takes time, a lot of time. Use two frying pans to speed up the browning step, deglaze with the wine called for in the recipe, and then chuck everything into a big stockpot. Worth it though.

I have used these ragus to sauce homemade fresh pasta, artisan-quality dried pasta and regular old Barilla from a box. Each has resulted in a gorgeous meal. My finest moment was when I took lamb ragu, layered it between slices of roasted eggplant and then topped it with bechamel: a moussaka to please the gods (and since the sauce came from the freezer, it took about half and hour to pull together).

The link to the recipes is here. As the weather chills down and you start to shiver, go and try these sauces out, you won't be sorry.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Week of November 9

Our dinner tonight was a shining example of never judging a book by its cover. How great could this dish be? Just broth, onions, cheese and butternut squash. Good maybe, but great?

However, Luisa at The Wednesday Chef raved about this panade
recipe. Aside from halving the ingredients to make a smaller amount, I followed the recipe as she provided it. The best way to describe this dish is that it's like really good French onion soup, but not very soupy. Not a stellar endorsement, but trust me, it was delicious. The only recommendation I would give you is to make the casserole on a sheet pan - mine dripped and bubbled all over the place. Without the sheet pan, my smoke alarm would have been going off all day.

Menu for the Week


Panade of Butternut Squash, Onion and Wine (courtesy of Chez Panisse via The Wednesday Chef)
Salad of shaved celery, mushrooms and radicchio with toasted walnuts and sherry vinegar

Some chicken thing (dunno what yet, whole chickens were on sale - wicked cheap)
Sauteed spinach
Millet pilaf

Chorizo and potato tacos
Refried beans
Corn salsa
Red cabbage slaw
Chicken negima
Steamed bok choy
White rice


Poached eggs on chicken hash

Drink of the Week: Widow's Kiss

I was introduced to The Widow's Kiss by the duo over at Married ... with Dinner. We actually drank this last week as a sort of Halloween-y treat. I thought it sounded spooky at the time.

After drinking it, I would say it's not so much spooky as sweeeeeet. I shouldn't have been surprised: apple brandy and Benedictine and Chartreuse. Wow. We tossed in a few extra dashes of bitters and that tempered the sweetness. (Does that make it a Bitter Widow's Kiss?)

I can't say it's going to go into regular rotation, but every now and then I think the good widow may make an appearance.

The Widow's Kiss

In an iced mixing glass, combine:
  • 1 1/2 oz Calvados
  • 3/4 oz Benedictine
  • 3/4 oz yellow Chartreuse
  • 2-5 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir until super cold and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Taste of Philadelphia

Full disclaimer: I have never eaten one of these sandwiches in its natural habitat of Philadelphia. But the combo of roast pork, provolone, broccoli rabe and garlic sounded so great, I couldn't wait for a trip to the city of brotherly love.

The sandwich is pretty easy to make, though I make no claims to its authenticity. You take a split roll or baguette, top it with slices of roast pork loin (great way to use leftovers), melt some provolone over it. Then you put a big ol' pile of sauteed broccoli rabe (with garlic) over the whole shebang. Fold and eat.

We scarfed these sandwiches with a side of sweet potato fries. Not Philly-traditional, but pretty darn delicious.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Week of November (!) 2

When did this year get so close to being over? It seems like just a few days ago I was making my annually-blown-off New Year's resolutions.

Anyway, business is picking up; I have several holiday clients lined up and am teaching some classes in the next few weeks. If you'd like to take one of my classes on Cooking From the Pantry (this Thursday, November 6) or Pestos and Salsas (November 13), click over to Newburyport Adult Education and sign up!

This picture is of one of the souvenirs from our fabulous Italian vacation. It's a corzetti stamp. Corzetti are a traditional pasta from Genoa. According to the recipe I was given (in Italian) it's traditionally served with a meat sauce. We had it with pesto (also Genoese) since I had the basil handy. The stamp allows you to imprint a round of pasta with a pattern on both sides. The indentations and ridges catch the sauce. This picture of the pressed pasta is pretty lousy, sorry, I flipped a setting on my camera without noticing.

Menu for the Week
Beppo and I did a mini-photo shoot for promotional mailings and my business site this weekend. So this week, we're eating the leftovers. I also have a few final recipes to test for Thursday's class, so those will be put into the dinner roster as well. (Translation: Random assortment of meals this week and no advance menu posted.)
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