Sunday, January 31, 2010

Black Beans and Pork with Oranges

Well, we've had the come-to-mama sugar fix with those waffles. Now the weather seems right to try the delicious recipe that San Francisco Anne brought to the Boxing Day Party. Don't you just love to get a recipe that you know will be great because you've already tasted it? She is a fantastic cook, so I made sure to have some of what she brought and insisted on having the was that good!

Not only did she lend me the recipe, but she lent me the book it came from. The book, Paula Peck's Art of Good Cooking has gorgeous hand done illustrations by Mel Klapholz, is a mid-'60 cookbook with wonderful recipes, including one for homemade sour cream that sounds a lot like what is now called creme fraiche. She even gives instructions for rendering chicken fat.

Recipes for mayonnaise, tapenade, and pesto sound very modern, using basic fresh ingredients.

In fact the use of fresh ingredients and the lack of canned soup sets it apart from many cookbooks of the era. There is a recipe for Chicken and Garlic Stew which uses 40 - 60 plump cloves of garlic and it sounds wonderful. I'll try it sometime, leaving out the monosodium glutamate that she seems to add to most things. It has white wine, fresh herbs, unexpected spices like allspice and cinnamon and sounds very light with only a little olive oil used and no butter, eggs, or heavy cream.

The pork recipe is also fairly healthy, depending of the kind of sausage you use. Beans are heart healthy and also delicious prepared this way! Onion, peppers and garlic add flavor, the black beans add substance and a great contrast to the pork. Orange juice and red wine help make a tasty sauce and the thing that is surprising, but ties it all together is the zing of the fresh orange segments.

If you are going vegetarian, I suspect that it would be delicious without any of the pork...just the black beans, onions, peppers, garlic, orange juice, red wine and oranges, plus salt an pepper to taste. A little hot sauce might be needed if the pork is omitted, too.

As with many dishes containing cooked onions, this dish is delightful made ahead, refrigerated for a day or two, and reheated to serve. That's what I did. I served it over saffron rice (white rice cooked the way we like it, but with some real saffron thread added). You get a nice flavor and color that way.

Since the success of this dish depends on fresh oranges and, in the Northern Hemisphere, it is citrus season, do give this hearty meal a try! Thanks again to Anne for sharing this great recipe!

Pork and Black Beans over Rice
From Paula Peck's Art of Good Cooking
Serves 6

2 cups dried black beans (about 1 pound)
1/3 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, minced
1 large bell pepper (green, red, yellow or orange), seeded and diced
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 1 /2 pounds unsmoked pork tenderloin, cut into 1 inch cubes
¾ pound Mexican sausage (if available), or fresh pork sausage
(Note: I used Southern style bulk pork sausage and it worked well, but use the kind of sausage you enjoy)
2/3 cup orange juice
½ cup dry red wine
2 -3 fresh oranges

Wash, pick over beans. Either soak overnight in water to cover or do quick cook by covering with water in a saucepan, bringing to a boil, turning down heat and simmering for 2 minutes, turning off heat, covering and letting sit for at least two hours. With either method pour off the soaking water and rinse the beans. It helps remove the enzyme that leads to exess bean gas :)

Heat olive oil in a deep pot. Add garlic, onion and bell pepper and sauté’ until tender. Season with salt and pepper. Add the beans and enough water to cover them. Cover the pot, and simmer about 45 minutes, or until the beans are tender, adding more water if necessary.

Drain liquid from pot and reserve. Return the drained beans to the pot. Remove 2 cups of cooked beans from the pot. Cover remaining beans and keep them warm. Puree’ the 2 cups of cooked beans with as much bean liquid as necessary in a blender. Stir bean puree’ into cooked beans and keep warm.

Brown pork cubes and sausage in their own fat in a skillet. If very lean, use a little olive oil. Pour off fat when meats are golden all over, and, if in casing, cut sausage into 1 inch pieces. If not in casing, break up sausage into chunks. Add both meats to beans; season with additional salt and pepper if needed.

Pour orange juice and wine into the skillet that the meats were browned in, and cook over high heat until liquid is reduced to less than half, scraping any brown bits in the pan into the sauce. Pour into the bean mixture and stir to combine all flavors. Place in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 30 minutes.

While pork and beans are cooking, peel the oranges, slice an inch thick and separate into segments…you’ll have about 1 ½ cups of triangles of orange.

Serve over saffron or steamed rice. Garnish with orange segments.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bread in Any Other Form Smells as Great

When I hear the word BREAD, I immediately have a mental image of a loaf of bread, shaped in a bread pan and with a rounded, crusty, golden top. That’s probably because my Dad used to bake bread from scratch and that’s how his bread looked.

For Bread Baking Day #26 Jamie of Life's a Feast asked us to bake a birthday party bread.

Instead of baking my iconic bread, I decided to bring what would be needed if I showed up early to help get ready for the party…waffles. They have a totally different shape, being somewhat flat and indented with those lovely squares that hold the syrup, but they smell just a great as any loaf of freshly baked bread. Sweetie and I enjoyed one plain, then I partied them up with chopped dried Michigan cherries (thanks W-Gs!).

To make them dual purpose and good enough for the Monthly Mingle hosted by the same lovely blogger, Jaime at Life's a Feast, I included the cherries and added a sprinkle of chocolate chips

…chocolate and cherries are always wonderful together and they were this time, too. The Monthly Mingle theme is Bread and Chocolate, so this fits it perfectly.

The waffles themselves are started the night before and the batter is finished off in the morning. Because all you are adding is melted butter and some egg, you can finish the batter while the waffle iron is heating. Since you add butter to the batter, you don’t really need any added at the table. We poured on a bit of real maple syrup.

If I had taken the time, a cherry compote would have been even better.

For those of you who can’t imagine having a single purpose item like a waffle iron, perhaps it helps that this one was from a garage sale and is eons old. It’s smallish and round and fits inside of a stew pot. If it is still working when I die, my survivors will probably discard it, but for now it does the trick and produces nice circles of yummy waffles.

I'm sending this over to Susan at Wild Yeast for her wonderful weekly event Yeastspotting. If you love bread, you should check it out...she has lots of lovely breads and rolls and other yeasted goodies featured each week.

Amazing Overnight Waffles with Chocolate Chips and Dried Cherries
from Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe' Cookbook

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg (I used ¼ cup egg substitute)
Nonstick spray
Butter for the waffle iron
!/3 cup dried cherries, chopped
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Pure maple syrup – hard to resist on waffles

Combine the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl Add the milk and whisk until blended. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature (or put in the fridge if room temp. is over 70 degrees F.) I figured out a sourdough version since my starter needed feeding and I hate to actually toss out the 'toss-off'.

The next morning, preheat the waffle iron. Melt the 6 tablespoons butter and let cool a bit. Beat the egg is a small bowl (unnecessary if using egg substitute) then beat it into the batter along with the melted butter. The batter may be a bit thin.

Lightly spray the hot waffle iron with non stick spray, top and bottom plates, and then butter a piece of bread and use that to rub some butter on top and bottom plates.

Add just enough batter to cover the cooking surface…this varies by waffle iron…about 2/3 cup. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of the cherry bits and similar amount of chocolate chips over the batter. If you like and can be fast, use the bottom of the scoop (which has batter on it) to dab a bit of batter over the tops of the chocolate chips. That keeps them from melting all over the iron.

Lower the top and cook until golden brown…it’s OK to check now and then. It takes about 2-3 minutes. You want it golden brown, but not dark brown.
Serve hot, right away, with maple syrup, or toppings of your choice.

Note; If you have too many waffles for the number of people you are feeding, bake the leftover batter a little less than the ones you are eating, let cool on a baking rack, then freeze and store in the freezer tightly wrapped. Re-heat in the toaster.

Sourdough Version
1 cup sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg (I used ¼ cup egg substitute)
Nonstick spray
Butter for the waffle iron
!/3 cup dried cherries, chopped
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Combine the sourdough starter, flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl Add the milk and whisk until blended. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature (or put in the fridge if room temp. is over 70 degrees F.)

The next morning, preheat the waffle iron. Melt the 6 tablespoons butter and let cool a bit. Beat the egg is a small bowl (unnecessary if using egg substitute) then beat it into the batter along with the melted butter. The batter may be a bit thin.

Lightly spray the hot waffle iron with non stick spray, top and bottom plates, and then butter a piece of bread and use that to rub some butter on top and bottom plates.

Add just enough batter to cover the cooking surface…this varies by waffle iron…about 2/3 cup. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of the cherry bits and similar amount of chocolate chips over the batter. If you like and can be fast, use the bottom of the scoop (which has batter on it) to dab a bit of batter over the tops of the chocolate chips. That keeps them from melting all over the iron. Lower the top and cook until golden brown…it’s OK to check now and then. It takes about 2-3 minutes. You want it golden brown, but not dark brown.
Serve hot, right away, with maple syrup, or toppings of your choice.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fresh Coconut Fantasy

Some days I read my horoscope for fun. I don't really take it seriously, but it provides a different perspective sometimes. Today's spoke about using your latent talents, among other things. That's a good way of looking at planning the day (or days) because we all have latent talents, sometimes more of them than we realize. I'll bet you can think of one or two talents of yours that are undeveloped or have gotten dusty with disuse. Maybe this week is the one where you experiment with strengthening a known talent or finding an unknown one.

For me frosting cakes is a poorly exercised talent. I did much better when I was a teen and made all the birthday cakes for our large family. Sweetie isn't a big cake fan, so the layer cake making talent is mostly unused. Fortunately the icing for this fantasy cake is easy to work with.

Shortly after Christmas I was looking through a library book on cake baking, just for fun. I'm always on the lookout for new or interesting techniques. This wonderful book, Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri, had a recipe for stand mixer fluffy white icing, perfect for making a coconut layer cake.Then my Mom mentioned that she had made a coconut layer cake for Christmas dinner. The idea of making one myself was now firmly fixed in my mind.

One of the things I remember about winter when I was small was that my Mom always made a fresh coconut cake for my older sister's birthday. The freshly grated coconut applied generously over fluffy white seven-minute frosting looked as pretty as fresh snow fall. Mom always used a white cake, sometimes from scratch and sometimes from a mix. The taste was light, delicate and very coconut. Perhaps it was that taste of the tropics combined with the snowy visual, but for whatever reason I always think of that cake around this time of year when we have rain instead of snow and the weather is far from tropical.

Wishing that she were here, I created this fantasy fresh coconut cake for my deep south sister. I think she would like the changes I made to her old birthday favorite. Since I love raspberry and think that it goes well with coconut, I added seedless raspberry jam to part of the cake batter. Since I also love lemon and it goes well with both raspberry and coconut, part of the cake batter has lemon zest and a bit of yellow food coloring. Vanilla is truly tropical and blends the rest of the flavors together, so the rest of the batter is vanilla.

The concept of creating rings of different batters is something I read on Peabody's blog Culinary Concoctions by Peabody. Hers was more dramatic and better executed. Mine is softer with the pastel colors. Having the three flavors of cake in each layer is brilliant. Peabody is so creative and original in her baking!
For filling I was going to use straight lemon curd, but found I didn't have enough, so I mixed in some of the fluffy frosting, creating a sort of marbled filling.

Finding the perfect frosting recipe in Nick Malgieri's book Perfect Cakes actually started the ball rolling for making the cake. Traditionally this cake is iced with Seven-minute Frosting where the egg and sugar mixture is beaten in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. A hand beater or, better yet, a hand held electric mixer are used at high speed for seven minutes to whip and thicken the frosting. Since I don't own either and couldn't imagine whisking for seven minutes, I long ago gave up the idea of making this kind of frosting.

Then I read about his version that uses a stand mixer. I had to try it! I'm here to tell you that it works beautifully. An added bonus is that you can be washing up and putting things away while the mixer does all the work (instead of standing over a hot stove with a hand held mixer getting warmer all the time). The icing is wonderfully thick and glossy and fluffy and just the right amount of sweet.

Finally there is the grated fresh coconut. Sweetie demonstrated how to pierce the eyes and empty the coconut water before cracking the husk with the back of a large knife. Once the shell has been breached, he pried out pieces of the coconut meat. I used a vegetable peeler to remove the tan inner shell from the pieces. Then the best part...I got to use my new Microplane rotary grater.

I grated nuts with it for Christmas cookies, but used the larger holes for the coconut to get those nice strands. Unlike my childhood memories of grating and grating and grating with a box grater (and having the coconut more of a pulp than strands), with the Microplane rotary it went quickly and was almost fun.

You can use packaged shredded coconut if you don't have fresh, but if you can find a fresh coconut and are able to take the time to create a wonderful pile of freshly grated coconut, you will find that the fresh stuff is absolutely wonderful...moist, fragrant, not too sweet, and full of true coconut flavor.

This sounds like a lot of work for a cake, especially when you read about putting the different flavored batters into the pans, but you can certainly make it more manageable by doing some of it ahead of the day you plan to serve. Coconut can be grated ahead and lemon curd can be made ahead (or you can used purchased coconut and/or lemon curd). Just make sure to ice and assemble the cake the same day you will be serving it.

This cake looks like a party, so consider having a party to enjoy it with friends and's a great way to chase away the winter gloomies.

Fresh Coconut Cake Fantasy

Classic White Cake with Embellishments
Fluffy White Frosting
Lemon Curd
Freshly grated fresh coconut
Note: You can make the lemon curd and grate the coconut in advance. You can make the cake the day before if necessary. Make the frosting and assemble the cake within an hour of serving the cake.

Classic White Cake with Embellishments
recipe from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody...embellishments are mine

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 large egg whites (3/4 cup)
1/2 cup milk
¼ cup coconut milk

1/2 cup seedless raspberry preserves
red food coloring
¼ teaspoon lemon extract (optional)
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
yellow food coloring
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Set rack at the middle level in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Butter the bottom of two 9-inch round. Line bottom with parchment or waxed paper.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Combine egg whites, milk and coconut milk. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture then add half the milk mixture. Continue to alternate beginning and ending with flour mixture. Scape the bowl and beater often.

Take about 1/2 of the batter out and place into a separate bowl and set aside. Take 1/3 out of the remaining batter and pace into a separate bowl and set aside. Add raspberry preserves and one drop red food coloring to remaining batter in the bowl and beat to combine thoroughly.

Take the smallest bowl of set aside batter and add the lemon zest, lemon extract and 2 drops yellow food coloring. Stir to combine fully.

Stir the vanilla extract into the larger amount of set aside batter until combined fully.

To make the cake:
Set out both prepared cake pans.

In the first pan scoop half of vanilla batter around the outside edges of the pan bottom, spread out with spatula to level. Next scoop half of the raspberry batter into the center of the pan. Spread out to form a circle. Lastly scoop ¼ of the lemon batter into the center of the pink batter. Spread to level. Place blobs of the next ¼ of the lemon batter around the edges and spread over the vanilla batter so that the pan full of batter is mostly level.

For the second pan. Scoop remaining raspberry batter into pan the same way you did the vanilla batter in the other pan, spread out with a spatula in a ring. Scoop remaining vanilla batter into the center of the raspberry batter, spread out with spatula to form a circle. Scoop half the remaining lemon batter into the center of the vanilla batter and spread to level. Place blobs of the remaining lemon batter around the edge of the pan and spread over the pink batter so that the pan full of batter is mostly level.

The batters will look sort of like the rings of a bulls-eye. Don’t worry if colors mix…this is a fantasy.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, OR until the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 15 minutes. Flip cake over onto a rack and remove parchment or waxed paper. Let cake cool completely before frosting.

Fluffy White Frosting
Note: If you have wanted to make Seven-Minute Frosting but have a stand mixer and no hand-held mixer, now you can! This recipe heats the icing elements over hot water, then uses the stand mixer to make it a fluffy white icing, perfect for coconut cake.

Fluffy White Icing – a version of 7-minute Icing

from Nick Maglieri's book Perfect Cakes

3 large egg whites (scant ½ cup)
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1/3 cup light corn syrup

Half fill a 1 ½ quart saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat so the water simmers.

Use a hand whisk to combine the egg whites, sugar, salt and corn syrup in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place the bowl over the pan of simmering water and gently whisk until the ingredients are hot (about 130 degrees) and the sugar has dissolved.

Attach the bowl to the mixer and ship the icing with the whisk attachment on medium speed until cooled, about 5 minutes: touch the outside of the bowl – it should feel cool.

Use immediately to cover a cake. Can be used as filling, too.

Makes enough for filling and covering a 9-inch two-layer cake.

Elle’s Lemon Curd
Yields 3 Cups - Stores up to 3 months in fridge

3-4 fragrant, bright-skinned lemon
1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons butter, cut up
Pinch of salt
4 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1 1/4 cups sugar

1) Run 2 inches of water into the base pan of a double boiler and set over medium heat to come to a brisk simmer.

2) Grate or shred enough lemon zest from washed & dried lemons to make 1 1/2 tablespoons, packed, lemon zest. Place the zest in the top pan of the double boiler. Juice the lemons and strain juice to make 1/2 Cup; add to the zest. Add the cut up butter & salt to the pan. Set aside.

3) Beat the egg yolks and whole egg together at high speed in the large bowl of an electric mixer until they are foamy; gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat the mixture until it is pale, fluffy, & very thick, about 5 minutes.

4) Scrape the egg mixture into the double-boiler top and set the top into the base containing simmering water. At once begin whisking the mixture; cook it, whisking constantly, until it has thickened smoothly and is steaming hot, about 10 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the cur; it is done when it will coat a metal or wooden spoon heavily. Remove the upper pan from the hot water.

5) Pour the curd into a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl and press it through with a rubber spatula, leaving the shreds of zest behind (discard shreds). Scrape the curd into sterilized jars. Let it cool uncovered. Cap jars of cooled curd with sterilized lids. Refrigerate the curd.

Note: This can be made with lime zest & juice. Use 1 Tablespoon lime zest and 1/2 Cup lime juice and follow the recipe the same way for everything else.

Fresh Coconut

Buy a coconut that has ‘eyes’ that show no sign of leaks or darkness. Shake it to make sure there is liquid inside. Once you are ready to prepare, pierce two of the eyes with a small sharp knife. Drain out the coconut liquid. Using the back of a heavy knife, strike the coconut shell all around the ‘equator’, but closer to the eyes, about halfway between the eyes and the largest part of the coconut. As the shell cracks, pry the coconut open. Using a sharp knife, pry out pieces of the coconut meat. When the meat has been removed from the shell, use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to remove the tan inner shell. Use a grater to grate the coconut into shreds. You will most likely have more than enough to cover the top and sides of a nine inch layer cake. Leftovers can be used for other recipes or frozen.

To Assemble the Cake

Place one cake layer, bottom side up, on a cake plate. Spread with one cup lemon curd. Spoon on dollops of the fluffy icing and spread over the lemon will look marbled. Top with second cake layer, bottom side down.

Spread fluffy white frosting in swirls over top and sides of cake. Be generous. Sprinkle handfuls of the coconut over the top of the cake. Cup your hand containing lots of coconut as you apply a handful to the sides. Repeat until sides are fully covered with coconut. Brush excess coconut from cake plate. Serve as soon as possible.

Verdict: This is a fine textured, moist cake. You could really taste the different flavors in the layers and the lemon curd and coconut tied it all together and added richness. The pink and yellow colors were pretty subtle. I liked it that way, but you may want to increase the food coloring by a drop or two for more distinct colors. I plan on making this again...even Sweetie enjoyed it and he isn't a big cake fan.

I Can Naan

This month the Bread Baking Babes are baking naan, an Indian flatbread that is quick and easy. Lynn of Cookie Baker Lynn is the hostess kitchen this month. Her post is full of naan-sense puns and also the recipes.

One of the advantages of naan is that is is ready to eat so quickly...well quickly for a yeasted bread anyway. I started it this morning and Sweetie and I enjoyed it with our lunchtime spinach soup.

I made the curry and golden raisin version, except I left out the curry and added the caraway seeds from the plain version. Those flavors went really well with the soup. I'm not a curry kinda girl, even a small amount, so this also allowed me to get enthused about making these yummy breads. The outer texture was slightly crusty, with nice browned parts. Inside the bread was puffy and soft and moist with soft golden raisins and the occasional caraway seed.

When making the dough I needed to add more water than in the recipe, but I added the dry yeast without proofing, so that's where the need for extra moisture came from I believe. Usually I have my stand mixer do kneading, but I did it by hand for this and really enjoyed the contemplative aspect of kneading.

Thank you Lynn for choosing this wonderful bread! There is so much of Indian food that I find too spicy or too curry, but this kind of Indian food is easy to make and easy to enjoy.
I'm sending this over to Susan at Wild Yeast for the weekly Yeastspotting round up. If you haven't visited her blog lately do head over. She has lots and lots of wonderful bread ideas for you.

Here is the recipe as I made it:

Naan Bread
from Paul Hollywood's 100 Great Breads - makes 6 naan

scant 4 cups white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra for frying
instant or dry yeast - about 1-3/4 tsp active dry yeast
1-1/4 cups water (I added another ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons)
generous 1/2 cup golden raisins
1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1- Put the flour, salt, oil, curry powder, yeast, and water into a bowl and mix together for 2 minutes. Tip out onto a lightly floured counter and knead for 5 minutes, or until the dough is soft and pliable. Let rise for 30 minutes.

2- Line a baking sheet. Incorporate the golden raisins and chutney into the dough. Divide the dough into six pieces, then put on the baking sheet and let rest for 1 hour.

3- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and, using a rolling pin, flatten each piece into a circle, 25.5 cm / 10 inches in diameter. Put back on the sheet and let rest for 5 minutes.

4- Heat a skillet to medium heat and add a splash of olive oil. Shallow-fry each dough until browned on both sides, then set aside to cool slightly before serving.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Joy of Cooking

Joy of Cooking...No, not the cookbook, although it's a good cookbook. Really, the thing that became very obvious to me this week is how much joy I derive from cooking.

If I had a full-time washing-up person I would probably do nothing but cook. Dishwasher machines don't still have to get the stuff into them and if you are making a number of dishes you will invariably need the measuring cup or pot that is still you wash it right away and get it dirty the best possible way.

So I do my own washing as I go along (as much as possible) and that limits...a many things I try to make in one day.

We had buckets of rain on Wednesday, so I stayed in and so had time to make a number of fun things. One of the best, surprisingly to me because I rarely think of a side dish as a candidate for the "best", was a barley and butternut squash layered casserole with gremolata.

I had roasted both halves of a nice butternut squash and only needed one half for another recipe I was making (to be seen here later if all goes well), so I went online and found the basis for this dish on the Eating Well blog. The URL is here. Their version is a pilaf with cubes of squash mixed in and cooked in liquid with the barley.

I went with layers since my squash was already cooked. The flavors of the barley and squash go well together and the gremolata adds a needed spark of lemon, parsley and garlic to liven things up.

This is a simple dish but delicious, healthy, full of fiber and vitamins, pretty to look at and full of flavor. What's not to like? Sweetie liked it enough to have seconds instead of meat...boy was my meat and potatoes man surprised by that! I took more of it to work for a dinner and everyone seemed to enjoy it a lot. Since butternut squash is a winter squash, those of us in the northern hemisphere can enjoy this now while eating a seasonal, inexpensive food.

Tip: Butternut squash has a hard skin sometimes. If you have trouble cutting your squash in half to roast it, pierce it a couple of times with a knife, then microwave for 2 minutes on high. Once you have cut it in half, you can remove the seeds with a melon baller or soup spoon, oil lightly and place cut side down on a baking sheet (or skip the oil and use a silicon baking mat as I did)

Roast at 450 degrees F until tender. Peel when cooled, slice thinly and it is ready for this recipe.

Second tip: Barley is an agricultural product. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the barley before cooking and check for and remove small pebbles.

Butternut Squash and Barley Layers with Gremolata

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth, or vegetable broth
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 cup pearl barley
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
¼ medium butternut squash, roasted, peeled and sliced in ¼ inch slices
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add broth, water, and barley( and salt if using); bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the barley is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 45 minutes.

Mix together parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, and garlic in a small bowl. Set aside.

Butter a microwave safe casserole dish big enough to hold the barley and squash. Place half of the barley on the bottom and spread to make an even layer. Top with half the squash slices, placing close together but not overlapping. Sprinkle-spread half the parsley-lemon-garlic (gremolata) mixture over the squash slices Grind pepper over to taste.

Repeat to make next layer, using rest of barley, enough of the squash to cover but not overlap, the rest of the gremolata and season with pepper to taste. Chill casserole until ready to serve.

Just before serving, cover casserole and heat in the microwave for 5 minutes at half power. Test center to see if sufficiently warm to enjoy. If not, microwave another minute at a time at half power until hot. Serve at once.

Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Something Sweet

Hard to believe that we are well into 2010 and that January is flying by. I'm very grateful that we have been having rainy weather since the water table needs the help and most of our year's drinking water comes with winter rains. That said, the last couple of days have been rougher weather than I like. Thunder and hail made work interesting yesterday. Today there was flooding down the street and all around the area from what I hear. Fortunately I was able to stay home and have fun in the kitchen. Tried a couple of new recipes (coming soon to this blog) and shut down the computer when the winds sounded too fierce. We often have power outages in the winter, but so far are still electrified :)

Found an excellent deal on an Epson all-in-one printer combo a few weeks ago. My old printer...and it is really old folks...finally died before Christmas, so I truly needed a new one. Never being one to do things in a simple way, I used the new toy as a carrot in order to get myself to clean up my office area. It was like archeology...first the things from this winter and fall, then last spring, a pile from last Christmas with a few catalogs and some Christmas cards (quickly thrown in the much easier for a pack rat like me to throw out when it's a year old), then into three years ago and all the way back to some Zip drives full of projects from classes taken in 2003. Found lots of good stuff along the way :) Threw out bags and bags of old stuff, too. Still finding homes for a few things, but my work space is so much nicer and easier to work in. Good thing the printer died. Do you find sorting and keeping up with organization as daunting as I do?

One of the things that took some time but will really be a joy later was organizing my photo CDs. I have dozens of them, including some with full resolution photos for some of my blog photos, and now I know where to lay my hands of specific images. Woot! January weather that keeps me indoors is good for this kind of long overdue sorting.

Looking over January's posts it looks like I have given up on sweets. Never. My sweet tooth is alive and well. It's just that the sweet bounty of the holidays has continued to provide for the sweet tooth, so nothing new was needed. The recent arrival of a killer chocolate cherry brandy bread from Second Sister Down and family, plus Michigan chocolate covered dried cherries added to the delightful sweets on hand and lack of need to bake myself.

Finally we are down to the last of the Christmas goodies. Also I have baked some great multi-grain bread. One loaf went into the freezer and, once thawed, yielded thick delicious slices perfect for French toast. To top the French toast I made some Maple Cinnamon Apples. Their sweet spiciness was perfect with the warm eggy French toast. Didn't have any bacon, but it would have been a great addition for a wonderful breakfast. Sure brightened a gray January morning for me.

French Toast

6 thick slices bread - use home baked bread if you have it
1 egg, beaten lightly
1 cup of milk (non-fat, low fat and full fat are all ok...and so is unsweetened evaporated milk)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
butter for the pan

If the bread is very fresh, dry it a bit in a low oven (200 degrees F) for 5 minutes. Otherwise, just set aside.

In a shallow bowl (I use a pie plate) mix together the egg, milk, sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

Heat a non-stick or seasoned cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. As the skillet heats, soak a piece or two (if both will fit flat in the shallow bowl or pan) in the egg milk mixture, turning to soak the other side after 2 minutes. After second side has soaked two additional minutes, remove the soaked slices to the heated pan with a slotted spatula. Replace the removed slices of bread with more slices, again soaking each side for two minutes. Keep soaking the slices as you remove the soaked one to the pan until all bread slices have been soaked.

Cook the bread slices until golden brown on one side, then turn to cook to golden brown on the other side. Remove as cooked and keep warm in a low oven on an oven safe plate.

Once all slices of toast have been cooked, serve, topped with Maple Cinnamon Apples, additional maple syrup if desired, or a topping of your choice.

photo taken on a sunnier day

Maple Cinnamon Apples

1 tablespoon butter
2 large apples (Fuji, Gala and Braeburn are my favorites, but use the apple you like best), washed, cored, and sliced thinly
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or more if you really like cinnamon)

In a skillet, over medium-low heat, melt the butter.

Add the apple slices, maple syrup and cinnamon. Stir to thoroughly coat the apples with the syrup and spice. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples soften, about 4 minutes. Uncover and turn heat to high. Cook, stirring often, until syrup thickens slightly, about 4 minutes. Take care. Syrup is very hot.

Serve over the French Toast. Also good over cooked oatmeal or vanilla ice cream.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Comfort Food

The rains showed up, so I'm happy. There is something cozy about sitting in a comfy chair with a good book and a cup of tea and listening to the rain and wind beating against the house. I did have to go out in it to go to work today, but it wasn't too stormy at the time. We had lots of rain last night, too and more wind.

When the weather is cold and rainy I turn to comfort foods. The baked garnet sweet potato I had last night seemed particularly good since it was wet out and dry inside. Another great comfort food is meat loaf. I start with my Mom's recipe which used ground beef and oatmeal, onions, parsley, herbs and spices and tomato juice with egg as a binder.

My updated version uses ground pork and turkey instead of ground beef. I also added leeks and mushrooms and flax seed, used some diced tomatoes instead of part of the tomato juice and added dried thyme because it goes so well with mushrooms. Sweetie was quite taken with this meat loaf and I liked that it seemed lighter and more tender, but still savory and comforting.

Served with mashed potatoes and steamed veggies, it makes an old-fashioned meal with a twist.
One of the great things about meat loaf is that you mix all the ingredients together, then put it in a loaf pan to bake...and you can do other things while it bakes since it needs no further help from you.

Notes: I tend to mix the oatmeal, onions, leeks, mushrooms and the ground meat and poultry together with my hands in a large bowl, keeping the mixture light, not packed, then add the rest of the ingredients except for the egg, mix some more, then add the egg and mix until everything seems well distributed. I use a light touch when packing the loaf pan, too. If you prefer a heavier meat loaf, just pack the mixture in more firmly.

Take a look at the photo: you can see the parsley and mushrooms and flax seeds and tomatoes and onions...but now imagine how wonderful it smells! Guess you might have to make some for your own taste of comfort. This loaf makes great leftovers, too.

Pork and Turkey Meatloaf
based on Mom's recipe in Family Food, June 1994

1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground turkey
1 cup rolled oats, uncooked
1 medium leek, well cleaned and finely chopped
½ medium onion, chopped
¼ lb mushrooms, chopped
1 tablespoon parsley
1 tablespoon flax seed (optional)
½ cup tomato juice
½ cup diced tomatoes, chopped in fine dice
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten

Combine all ingredients (see notes above). Pack firmly into an ungreased loaf pan. Bake in preheated 350 degree F oven for 1 hour to 1 hr 15 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing. Serves 8.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Happy Ten

It's been a while since I've gotten an award. In truth there are a couple of awards that I never posted the badge for and even one that I never passed on...too crazed at the time to respond.

Fortunately the timing was right for this lovely award from Katie of Apple and Spice in the UK. If you haven't visited her blog, you might want to do so...she always has interesting posts like the recent on on a family that makes high quality cereals. Actually that is one of the best things about passing along gives us the opportunity to find new blogs we might not have been to. Who know when a new blogging buddy is just a click away?

At this time of year we wish each other 'Happy New Year' so it's a good time to think about what actually makes us happy.

For this award we are supposed to list 10 things that make us happy and then give the award to ten bloggers who brighten our day.

Ten Things That Make Me Happy - In No Particular Order

1 - Posting a new blog this one...invariable makes me happy. If there is a graphic and a recipe included, I'm even happier. That leads to reading other blogs...even happier!

2 - Taking the dog for a walk with Sweetie brings a smile to my face every time.

3 - Reading cookbooks and finding new a recent discovery of how to make 7-minute frosting in a stand mixer (which may make it into a post soon)...always brings joy.

4 - Talking on the phone to my daughter (or better yet, being with her) always leaves me happier than before.

5 - Reading a fluffy novel or gritty mystery snuggled up in bed with a cup of hot tea within reach is grand.

6 - Baking bread, especially yeasted bread, makes my day.

7 - Breakfast, lunch or dinner eaten with friends is always a good time.

8 - Helping people through my job is truly a source of happiness.

9 - Watching a watercolor painting take shape...almost happy making.

10 - My family...extended...sometimes drive me crazy, but mostly make me happy...and grateful that they are in my life.

Now the fun part...naming 10 bloggers who brighten my day - this time in alpha order

Cookie Baker Lynn - Lynn makes some delicious things, especially baked sweets. Check out the blueberry series from fall 2009

Culinary Concoctions by Peabody - Peabody, the inventor of the unique Snickerdoodle Muffins, has some of the most drool worthy photos and baked good on her blog

Dad - Baker and Chef
- Dharm bakes gorgeous cakes and sweets, has two beautiful children who help test his goodies, and writes amazing James Bond stories for Daring Baker challenges

Delta Kitchen - Andreas brings a orderly mind and sense of daring to cooking and baking which is a great combination and yields unexpected recipes

Homade Heaven - Rosemary is bringing a truly South African perspective to her blog this year in celebration of their hosting of the FIFA Soccer World Cup 2010

La Mia Cucina - You are almost guaranteed to laugh your head off when you read one of Lis's posts...and she is one of the brilliant founders of the Daring Bakers and Daring Cooks!

My Kitchen in Half Cups - Tanna shares the same joy in bread baking that I do and a warm way of presenting the recipes and results

My Wine Country Village - not a food blog (although she is a great cook), but a delightful foray into many aspects of Northern California life, Barbara's blog is always fun to read

Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives - as amusing as the title, Lisa is a self-proclaimed obsessive foodie and she really knows her stuff

What's For Lunch Honey - Very open and engaging posts with the added benefit of verdicts about the recipes made, keep me coming back to Meeta's blog her photos are always gorgeous

If you want to take part in this blogging award you can! Just follow these instructions:
1. Copy the award image into a post
2. Then list 10 things that make you happy
3. Tag 10 bloggers who brighten your day
4. Put in a link to their blogs
5. Notify the award receivers
6. Award recipients must link back to sender's blog

Now go on, make some new blog friends! know you want to.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Satay with the Daring Cooks

Street food is very trendy right now. With the aid of Twitter and the Internet and cell phones vendors can set up, even without permits, let their 'faithful' know where they are and quickly draw crowds in urban areas, sell out, then drift off before the authorities can tag them. There have been reports of that kind of bandit street food and licensed street food becoming the hottest thing in San Francisco and Seattle and other large cities. Legitimate cart vendors often have a regular place they are found by their fans and their food is also a draw and often quite good, plus less expensive than regular restaurants.

The Daring Cooks have made some of the kinds of food that work well as street food, including pho, dosas, potstickers, and Spanish rice, to name a few. I've been unable to participate in some of these challenges but hope to do better in 2010.

To start the new year, the challenge is making satay. The January 2010 DC challenge was hosted by Cuppy of Cuppylicious and she chose a delicious Thai-inspired recipe for Pork Satay from the book 1000 Recipes by Martha Day. Satay is also a great kind of street food because it is marinated, comes on a stick for ease of transportation, and can be quickly cooked over charcoal. For this challenge Cuppy challenges us with two marinades and three sauces. I chose to make the slightly more labor intensive marinade. Actually, with the use of a food processor, this is super, super quick and easy.

Juicing the lemon was the most time consuming part. I went easy on the chilies since I'm not partial to heat spicy. While the chicken thigh strips were marinating in the 'fridge, I put together the peanut sauce, again going easy on the hot stuff. I did add some fresh cilantro, chopped, and some diced peanuts. Served up on a bed of fresh baby spinach and cilantro, this was a delightful snack or appetizer. Thank you Cuppy for stepping up to the plate as host at the last minute and for choosing a food that I've often enjoyed in restaurants but never tried making. Now it will be a go to recipe for entertaining...or just because I want some. You can use port or beef or tofu instead of the chicken, too.

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

1/2 small onion
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon ginger root, peeled
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or peanut or olive oil)
1 pound chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch strips

In a food process or blender, place the onion, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, soy sauce, spices and vegetable oil. Process or blend until smooth. Scrape into a zip lock type bag large enough to hold the marinade and chicken. Add the chicken, lock the bag, and shake to distribute the marinade. Refrigerate, turning the bag a few times during the marinating period of 1-4 hours (and up to 12 hours).

While the chicken is marinating, prepare the skewers. Lightly oil metal skewers. Soak wooden skewers in warm water for at least 20 minutes.

Peanut Sauce - can be made toward end of marinating period or right after chicken cooks
3/4 cup coconut milk
4 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
3-4 tablespoons chopped peanuts for garnish

Mix coconut milk and peanut butter in a saucepan over low heat. In a small bowl blend the lemon juice, soy, brown sugar, cayenne, cilantro and garlic salt. Stir into the peanut mixture. Heat through. Put into small dipping bowl and garnish with chopped peanuts.

Cooking the Satay

Remove the marinated chicken from the marinade. Thread the strips onto the skewers. Cook over preheated grill or under broiler for 5-10 minutes until cooked through, turning once.

Group some fresh baby spinach leaves on a small plate. Place dipping sauce bowl at one side of plate. Place skewers over spinach leaves, or slide chicken off skewers onto spinach. Serve while hot. The photo is at the top of the post to show how it turned out.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Blustery Days Call for Warm Soup

As I walked down the many steps to the office this morning, I heard the muffled roar of water rushing downhill off to the right and lower downhill. We finally had real rain last night, plus a fair amount of wind, so the path was littered here and there with lichen coated twigs from the trees overhead, plus seed cones from the redwoods. The trunks of the tree right outside the round office window is covered with tiny ferns. Big drops of water were dripping silently off into the duff below.

I was glad to be out of the wind and in a well lit warm place doing a job I enjoy. It's not rocket science to do administrative and clerical stuff for a clinic, but timeliness and attention to detail are important, plus the enjoyment of helping people can make sorting out the details and explaining the program a win-win situation.

This past weekend was gray enough to be rainy, but the most precipitation we had was a drizzle. Since we don't get summer rain, we depend on the winter rains to fill the rivers, lakes, and ground waters. I hope that the roar of water in our local stream that I heard this morning at work is just the beginning of a good wet time.

When the weather is wet and blustery, soup is always a good call. I recently made a barley soup that Sweetie claims is the best soup I've ever made. Not sure if that is true, but it was hearty, filling, savory and delish. It has the usual onion, carrot, celery trio, plus two kinds of mushrooms, garlic, diced tomatoes, beef broth, chunks of beef, and lots of beef stock. I used pearl barley and simmered it for a long time.

We had more the next day and it was even better for having sat in the fridge overnight. The chopping and sauteing takes a bit of time but after that it's mostly on it's own, with an occasional stir with the wooden spoon. I made a big pot so we had three meals from one session at the stove...hard to beat when the season is cold and damp.

Beef Barley Soup with Vegetables

1 medium onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, diced
1-2 medium carrots, diced
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 lb white mushrooms, sliced
1/4 lb small brown mushrooms like crimini or shitaki
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3-4 cups beef broth
1 lb beef chuck, diced in 1 inch cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup diced tomatoes in their own juice
2-3 cups water
1 cup uncooked barley
1 package frozen mixed vegetables (optional)

In large soup pot, saute' the onions, celery and carrots in the 2-3 tablespoons olive oil until tender, but not browned, about 4-5 minutes. Add the white and brown mushrooms and the garlic and stir to coat with the cooked vegetables. Cover pot and cook over low heat 10 minutes, stirring a few times. Add the beef broth and stir to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.

In a skillet heat the 1 tablespoon oil over medium-hot heat and saute' the beef cubes, turning so that all sides get browned.Season with salt and pepper and stir in the dried thyme. Transfer to the soup pot with the broth and vegetables. Add the diced tomatoes, water, and barley. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cover pot and simmer until the barley is fully cooked, about 45 minutes, stirring a few times to keep ingredients from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed. If desired,add the mixed vegetables, cover pot and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes until heated through.

Remove from heat and serve hot.

This soup is even better the next day after chilling overnight. Remove any fat that collects on top of the chilled soup. Reheat and enjoy.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Banana Bread in the Land of St. Honore'

The Christmas ornaments and stockings are in the attic and the swag with red lights that hung on the porch has joined the tree stand in storage. Before the last bit of Christmas cheer tiptoes away, join me for a seasonal tale in the Land of St. Honore', where baking is a birthright.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, in the Land of St. Honore’, the hall clock struck 2 in the wee hours of the morning. As the refrigerator door swung open, it illuminated the elfin features of Mitzi, one of Santa’s helpers. She checked to see that the old dog hadn’t been awakened by the light, but he was still asleep by the couch in the glow of the Christmas tree lights.

It was Little Christmas or Epiphany, January 6th, and Mitzi was homesick. On Christmas night she had been with Santa on the sleigh with her own sack of goodies...for Santa. He was fighting off a cold and her job was to provide chicken soup from the Thermos, nasal spray as needed, and large white handkerchiefs for his drippy nose.

Unfortunately at one stop Nature called. How she wished that female elves could wiz anywhere like the guys. Since she couldn’t she had left the sleigh to find a bathroom. Santa didn’t realize she was gone and had left for the next stop. She was lucky that there was a nice hall closet where she could curl up with the coats and mufflers to sleep.

At first she didn’t mind being stranded. The people in the house didn’t miss oranges and apples, nor yogurt or mini carrots. She ate while they slept and slept under the bed in the spare room while they were awake.

There were also plenty of gingerbread cookies at hand. She had managed to avoid the after Christmas clean up at the North Pole and now felt very rested. The problem was how to let Santa know where she was so he could come get her.

One thing that Santa loved was banana bread. Mrs. Claus rarely made it because she was trying to keep his weight in check. Mitzi decided to bake some to lure Santa to her hideaway.

First she took some eggs from the fridge and some leftover eggnog…Santa loved eggnog, too. Then she warmed some rum and soaked dried cranberries in it. Then she found the softened butter on the counter and sugars in the pantry. By standing on the counter top she was able to find, measure out and combine flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda, and some nutmeg…the latter to set off the seasonal eggnog flavor.

Once the oven was preheated and she had found a bread pan, she whisked together the butter, sugars, egg, some vanilla, and the eggnog. Next she stirred in some grody old brown skinned soft bananas that she had peeled and smooshed. Then she added the dry ingredients and mixed ‘em up, threw in the cranberries and the rum they were soaking in, and added a handful of chopped walnuts from the ‘fridge. Once well stirred the batter smelled great!

Into the bread pan it went and the pan into the oven. She played some jacks while the bread baked. Once the bread was out of the oven and it had cooled just a little bit, she cut two slices and wrapped them carefully in paper towels.

Then she took the rest of the fresh bread over to the fireplace. It was cold since no fire had been lit that day. Softly she blew across the loaf of bread and the fragrance was caught and went up the chimney. In an amazingly short time she heard the bells jingling on the reindeer harness.

Santa had indeed smelled her banana bread and come to get her! She put the loaf back on the counter for the family who had provided for her for the twelve night, grabbed the slices in the paper towel and was at the hearth just in time to see Santa’s hand reaching out for her from the chimney. Once they were in the sleigh and on their way back to the North Pole, he tried her luscious Eggnog Rum Cranberry Banana Bread. Hohohohoho! It was sure good.

Eggnog Rum Cranberry Banana Bread

¼ cup dark rum, warmed slightly
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup butter, softened
¼ cup dark brown sugar, packed
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
¼ cup eggnog
½ teaspoon vanilla
3 bananas
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup chopped walnuts

In small bowl combine the warm rum and the dried cranberries. Set aside to soak while you prepare the bread batter.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl beat the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs , one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the eggnog and vanilla and combine. The mixture may look curdled. That is OK. Stir in the bananas. Add the dry ingredients all at once and stir just until combined. Add the cranberries and their soaking liquid and the walnuts and stir until just combined.

Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake in the preheated oven for about 1 hour. Test for doneness with a toothpick in center. When done, toothpick comes out clean or with a few crumbs on it. Cool well. Store overnight before cutting...if you can wait that long…a certain elf couldn’t. A serrated knife makes cutting easier.

Makes one loaf.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Land of St. Honore' All in One Place

For those who enjoy the Land of St. Honore' posts that sometimes accompany the Daring Baker posts, and occassionally show up on non-Daring Baker days, there is now a blog that has all of those posts in one place. It can be found HERE:


They were posted in chunks, so ignore the posting date and find what you want from the title of each. Enjoy!

The last two months have been so full that no St. Honore' stories were told, but I hope to tell more of those tales in 2010, so check back now and then.


Monday, January 04, 2010

Super Bowl is Coming...Brine a Turkey For It!

Happy New Year y'all! Today we are blessed with a post from Guest Blogger NoHandle.

He is an accomplished cook and often ready to try new things, like this turkey cooking method. I also know that his Mom has reserved her copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking for him, so you know that he has respect for good cooking. Since Superbowl will be here before you know it and since this recipe will work for a smaller turkey or, I suspect, a turkey breast, consider it for those Superbowl sandwiches or platters. You'll have to imagine a lovely turkey with dark brown skin, juicy meat and a hint of spices, because there is no photo this time.

With no further ado, here's NoHandle!:

Brine a turkey?! I had never done that before. So, what does that mean, and why would I do it now? Therein lies the story.

My daugher-in-law Jenifer insisted on a "natural" turkey for our Thanksgiving feast. We were happy to comply, as we too appreciate healthy eating. "But you have to brine it because it is so lean," she said. Well, the good news was that I had recently seen Alton Brown do some brining on "Good Eats" so the concept wasn't completely foreign, but it was an untried technique for me. To paraphrase Alton, brining is a method for introducing spices and moisture into an otherwise dry meat. As the name implies, there is some salt involved as well. It acts as a vehicle to shuttle moisture and flavor between a fluid bath (the brine) and the meat (turkey in this instance, although he speaks highly of it for lean pork, such as pork loin, as well). There seemed to be no advantage in starting small and working up to a 22 pound bird (the size we had to feed a dozen or so), so I figuratively jumped into the deep end and started swimming.

Jennifer had a recipe from somewhere on-line, and I had one from Alton's show, found at, and they weren't that different, so I was ready. This is the merged one that I used.

NoHandle's Brined Turkey

1 Cup kosher salt
.5 Cup light brown sugar (or dark brown)
1 Gallon apple cider
1 Tablespoon black peppercorns (slightly crushed; I used a garlic press)
1.5 Tablespoons allspice berries (slightly crushed; garlic press again)
4 Ounces fresh ginger, sliced thin (I peeled mine first)
1 orange, sliced (peel and all)
1 Gallon heavily iced water

Combine the stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, orange slices, and ginger in a large pot over medium-high heat. Except for having about 2 gallons of liquid, the amounts of the ingredients are not critical. I wouldn't change the salt or sugar, but otherwise substitute freely. One version called for vegetable stock instead of the cider. Stir occasionally and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Combine the brine, water and ice in a very large plastic zip-lock bag. (Note: They are called Ziploc Big Bags. It also says heavy duty and XL 4 bags on the box. The size is 2 ft. x 1.7 ft. I think you can get them at Target (if you have Targets out there) and probably Walmart. I even found parchment paper at our "super" Walmart. You may be able to get away with Reynolds roasting bags, but I'm not sure if it can handle that much liquid.)

Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. Ensure the bird is fully immersed, cover and set in a cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through the brining. If you use an insulated container, there will still be a bit of ice remaining at the end of the brining.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove bird from the brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine. (It won't hurt the pipes or city waste water.) Place bird in a roasting pan, and pat dry with paper towels. Roast on lowest rack setting for about 25 minutes per pound, until the disposable thermometer pops up. Keep a close watch after about 1 hour for browning and tent with aluminum foil when is starts to brown. At the 20 minute-per-pound mark, check for early completion. Once complete, rest for about 15 minutes at room temperature to make carving easier, and to let juices re-absorb. Serve immediately.

Most of the challenge is physical; preparing the ingredients is not at all difficult or critical. I didn't have a stock pot big enough for a turkey of the size we had. I had jokingly suggested that "natural" turkeys might not even come that large, but they did.

Alton Brown had used a water cooler like the ones that hold Gatorade at football games, but I didn't have one of those either. What I had was an old Coleman ice chest, which was a bit large, but would suffice. The other tool required was a very large zip-lock bag (you can get them in four-packs). It needed to be large enough to hold both the turkey and the couple of gallons of brining liquid.

The turkey was placed neck-end down in the bag for the first half of the brining, then turned over, neck-end up for the final few hours. The difficulty was in keeping the bag to a small enough volume that the turkey would be as completely covered in the brine as possible. It was necessary to put a couple of phone books between the long sides of the ice chest and the bag. It is important that the whole package not get too warm, although the salinity prevents any bacterial growth or other spoilage, so a few cups of ice from the kitchen ice maker was added to keep it cool. The large bag has cutouts that form handles, which makes getting it into and out of the ice chest easier, if not easy. This movement must be accomplished at the beginning, in the middle when the turkey is rotated end for end, and at the end when it is removed for roasting.

If you have a problem estimating when the turkey will ready to serve, this process adds considerable time, and you want to schedule the turning in the middle for a reasonable hour, like first thing Thursday morning. That gives you several hours to do the rest of your prep work and get the oven pre-heated.

As a side note, we don't do stuffing, as such, but rather dressing. It is the same recipe, prepared the day before, just wrapped in foil and put in the oven about 30 minutes before the bird is expected to finish, or the time when you expect to serve dinner. It is difficult to get stuffing properly heated while not overcooking the turkey. They are both done sooner too.

I will note that the skin browned earlier than expected, so I tented the bird with foil when I noticed that. It also finished earlier, by nearly an hour. The result was also a darker brown than usual, but the taste was not at all burnt. So how was the taste? With all that salt and sugar, you might expect a salty bird. This was not the case. There was a certain sweetness, and the spices were noticeable, but not overwhelming, deep into the meat. I really liked the ginger notes, but then I like ginger. It was quite juicy, as you would expect from a non-frozen turkey, perhaps a bit more than before, but only a bit.

Would I do this again, or recommend it to others? Yes, but with reservations. I would probably not do this every time I roasted a turkey, natural or not, and I would like to try this technique on pork loin roasts, which can be dry and need extra flavors. I would also take a picture of my next effort, in case I need to explain, and illustrate, it again. Sorry guys, no mouth watering picture this time.