That ain’t how we play…

I tweak and republish this post annually; I think you’ll see why when you read it.

See, I’m not out to be tragically hip, in fact quite the contrary. Or maybe Matthew Selman said it best; “I wish there was another word than foodie; how about ‘super food asshole’, or ‘pretentious food jerk’?” I just don’t wanna go there.

Granted, there are a lot of great food blogs out there, but right now, many are judged ‘Great’ because somebody took a really, really nice pic of some food, or is on the fast track to be the next Food Channel Super Food Asshole. Frankly, when the ‘best’ food blog sites reject people because they don’t meet criterion such as that, I’m more than not interested, I’m actively turned off.

I write about food from some pretty simple perspectives. I’m interested in sharing recipes, methods, processes and such. I’m interested in sourcing, using wisely, and preserving food that is good for you, in a world where much of what we are offered to eat is not very good. I’m interested in the science behind cooking, because I’ve never liked simply being told to ‘do it this way.’ I trust that if you’re reading this, you’re interested in these things as well. To be honest, if no one read this blog, I’d write it anyway, because I do it for me first and foremost; I gotta share what I love. That’s just how I’m wired.

So, when I look at ‘real’ food blogs, I see the stuff that, fairly often, folks ask me about here, or more to the point, ask me why I don’t do these things. There are three oft repeated comments, and they are,
Why don’t you list nutritionals and calories,
Why don’t you post prep and cooking times, and
Why do you post exotic ingredients that I’m not likely to have?

So, in a nutshell, here’s why;

Frankly, listing nutritionals means, more than anything, that I am determining what kind of portion size you and yours eat, and frankly, I don’t have any idea about that. If I list a casserole recipe and you make it, how much do you eat? How about your partner? Do you have seconds, are there leftovers, and on and on. This ain’t a restaurant, and I’d bet your house isn’t either; neither of us needs everyone to eat the same portion. For the record, I predominantly do recipes for two, with planned leftovers, the idea being general efficiency, and the fact that anything good will be great the next day. Other than that, you’re kinda on your own. I mean I can give you a great biscuit recipe, but how big you make ’em, and how many y’all wolf down is kinda your gig, right?
Don’t get me wrong, nutrition IS important and should be monitored in some way, shape, or form. The best way to this is to buy carefully and thoughtfully. Buy locally whenever you can. Read the labels on food and avoid the stuff that’s truly bad for you. Grow anything and everything you can. Preserve what you buy or grow so that you can notably extend the time it is available to you. Make everything you can, from scratch, at home. That may sound more intensive than what you do now, but if you really care about nutrition, you’ll do it. And as far as we go, whenever you need or want detailed nutritionals on our recipes, just click on our link for Calorie Count and go to town. There’s a mobile version out for your Apple or Android smart phone as well now.

Next comes prep and cooking time.


Weeeeeellllll, how do I say this? Listing prep time is, in my not even remotely close to humble opinion, one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read. The problem is actually pretty obvious. Listing prep time says we all prep at the same level, and nothing could be further from the truth. Heck, I have three preppers in my cafe and they all perform differently… So really, the question is who’s prep time are we talking about? Mine? Yours? Emeril’s? I’ve been cutting things for decades and have pretty damn good knife skills; do you? I can stem, seed and core a tomato blindfolded, without cutting myself, in about 15 seconds; can you? I don’t even think about process and procedure any more, it just comes naturally; does it for you? And if your answers are ‘No’, does that make you slow? If I can prep Dish A in 10 minutes and you take 20, should you not make that dish? Of course not! And really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. How about what ingredients you have right on hand when you start your prep, how well equipped your kitchen is, how your day went, how many rug rats are flying around your feet, or how many critters need to go out right NOW?! Get the picture? My bottom line is simple – Who gives a rats ass how long it takes if you have the time and want to make it? If you’re cooking regularly, you either already have a decent sense of what you can and will accomplish in a given time, or you will develop one in time. If you really do like cooking and want to do it, you’ll do it.

Finally, there’s the exotic ingredient thing. Yes, I have a whacky spice cabinet. You may or may not have a pantry like ours, but I really don’t think that matters. We have all this stuff because we dedicated lot of time and energy into developing and perfecting recipes to share with y’all. Whether or not you need that much stuff is up to you. Does a couple avocado leaves and a little annatto really make or break good chili? If you’re asking me, I think the question is rhetorical. And frankly, I don’t buy the ‘why do you use ingredients I’m not likely to have’ complaint for a second; in this day and age, almost anyone in this country, and many others, can get anything they want. I recently shared a bacon recipe with a pal from South Africa. He ended up having to go all over creation to find several ingredients, but he did it, ’cause he really wants to try my recipe. Kinda like that last discussion on prep and cooking, huh? Ive mailed corn meal to Australia and mustard seed to Israel; if you can’t get something you wanna try, hit me up, I’ll help. I’ve also gotta point out that we constantly encourage and desire experimentation, so if you’re making it, put what you like in it: Give us credit the first time, and then it’s yours…
I say that if you love cooking and great food, maybe you should check out Tasmanian Pepperberry, or Urfa Bebir; who knows what you’ll do with them?

We do this because dear friends who love to grow, cook, preserve and explore as much as we do asked us to. We do this because we have a love for good food and cooking shared. We do this because we hope to inspire such in y’all. If that ain’t good enough, so be it.

Champagne Mangoes Three Ways

 

You might have been perusing the produce aisle recently and seen a fruit called a Champagne Mango. They’re somewhat new to many parts of the US, but they ain’t new in the Big Picture view. The Champagne, also known as an Ataúlfo, (and young, baby, yellow, honey, or adolpho), is a well established Mexican cultivar. Champagnes are gorgeous; big, heavy, golden-yellow beauties that are somewhat pear shaped. They’re thin skinned, with deep yellow, rich flesh and a very skinny pit. They’re quite high in sugar, with a tangy-sweet flavor, rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber.

Down in the Mexican state of Chiapas, when Ataúlfo Morales bought Some land back in 1950, there were already bearing mango trees on the property. Around eight years later, a researcher from the Mexican Commission of Pomology heard of Señor Morales’ mangoes and came to have a look. He went off with samples and stock which he named Ataúlfo, in honor of the property owner, and the rest is history.

If you like mangoes, (and even if you don’t), you owe it yourself to try these beauties. While they’re a real treat to peel and eat straight away, here are three of our favorite things to do with them.

Fruit Curds go back quite a ways in history. Technically, since they include eggs, butter, and require preparation like an emulsion, they’re probably more of a custard than a preserve, I guess. The 1844 edition of The Lady’s Own Cookery Book included a primitive version of a lemon curd;, using lemons to acidify cream, then separating the lemony curds from the whey. Further back yet you’ll find recipes for ‘lemon cheese’, used to make what was called a lemon cheese cake, but reads like what we’d call a lemon tart these days. Our version of Mango Curd is stunningly good, if we do say so ourselves…

2 ripe Mangoes
3 large Eggs
6 Tablespoons unsalted Butter
1/2 Cup Agave Nectar or Honey
1 fresh small Lemon
1 fresh small Lime
Pinch of Sea Salt

Rinse, Peel and roughly chop the mangoes; you’ll want to kind of shave the meat away from the skinny pit.

Purée the mango chunks with a stick blender or food processor. You want to end up with about 1 cup of purée.
Set that aside.

Rinse, zest and juice the lemon and lime, then set juice and zest aside.

Cut very cold butter into about 1/2″ cubes.

Crack eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk lightly.

For cooking the blend, a double boiler is best. If you don’t have one, work with a bowl or pan that will fit comfortably inside a larger one. Fill your double boiler bottom or pan about 2/3 full of water and heat over medium flame. You want the water steaming, but not simmering when you’re ready to cook.

Combine the eggs, lemon and lime zest, citrus juice, the agave nectar or honey, and a pinch of salt. Whisk the mixture until fully incorporated and evenly colored, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the mango purée to the blend and whisk for about a minute to fully incorporate.

Put your bowl with the blended ingredients over your pan filled with hot water, (Or double boiler). Allow the mixture to heat, stirring gently but continuously, for about 3 minutes. Start adding the butter in small batches of 6 to 8 cubes, whisking steadily and allowing each batch to melt and incorporate before adding the next.

Again, a curd is an emulsion, so the butter, (fat), needs time and gentle whisking to properly marry with the egg and fruit blend.

When all the butter is melted, continue whisking gently and steadily until the curd begins to thicken noticeably, about another 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove the curd from the heat. Transfer the curd to a fine mesh strainer over a glass or steel bowl and use a spatula to gently strain the curd through the strainer. You’ll end up with some zest and fiber that doesn’t make it through.

Refrigerate in a glass jar or airtight container for at least four hours. The curd will keep for about a week refrigerated, but I’ll bet it won’t last anything close to that long…

A small dish of this lovely stuff is a remarkably delicious desert, or an excellent palate cleanser after a heavy course in a fancy meal. Try it on freshly made shortbread with strawberries for a real treat.

NOTE: You may substitute coconut oil for butter for a dairy free variation.

 

Granitas are the pure essence of fruit and natural sweeteners. With no diary on board, they’re actually not at all bad for you either. This version was the best we’ve made, of any fruit.

2 ripe Champagne Mangoes
2 Cups Water
1 fresh small Lemon
1 fresh small Lime
3/4 cup Agave Nectar or Honey

Rinse, peel and rough chop the mango flesh.

Rinse, zest, and juice the lemon and lime.

In a food processor or blender, purée the mango until smooth and uniform, about 1 to 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula as needed.

Add the water and honey or agave to a sauce pan over medium heat. Thoroughly melt the sweetener, then add the purée, zest, lemon and lime juice, and stir to incorporate.

Add the puréed mango and stir steadily and gently until the blend starts to simmer. When the whole blend is evenly mango colored and starts to thicken slightly, remove it from the heat; the whole heating process will take around 3 to 5 minutes.

 

Remove the mixture from heat and pour the blend through a single layer strainer into a 9-inch-square shallow baking pan. This pan size works best ­because it provides a large surface area, a key point in speeding up the freezing process. To further hasten freezing, use a heavy steel or glass pan.

Put the pan in the freezer and stir about every hour with a large fork, times down like you’re raking the granita. Depending on your freezer temp, it will take around 3 to 5 hours for the granita to freeze completely.

You can eat the granita as soon as it’s frozen through, but the flavor will genuinely develop appreciably if you transfer it to an airtight container and freeze it over­night.

When you’re ready to serve the granita, just scape up the shaved ice and fill a chilled margarita glass, band top with a mint sprig.

 

 

Mango salsa is a real treat; the counterpoint of sweet and heat is great with fish, poultry, and pork. Try it on freshly scrambled eggs too.

1 Champagne Mango
2 ripe Roma Tomatoes
1/2 Red Onion
1-3 Jalapeño Chiles
2-4 sprigs fresh Cilantro
1 small Lemon
1 small Lime
Pinch of Sea Salt

Rinse all fruits and veggies. Peel and dice mango. Core, seed and dice the tomatoes. Dice the onion. Chiffonade the cilantro. Juice the citrus.

Combined all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes, (and as long as overnight – The flavors just get better.)

Ribs R Us

Noticed the other day that ribs are big in the stores, now that summer has officially begun. Seems like a good time to offer a fave take on those bad boys. Now first off, I admit here and now that M does ribs better than I do in terms of process, so I’ll just synthesize her method and my seasoning.

So why are ribs so dang tasty; there’s not much there, so what’s the secret? In a word, bones; bones and some marrow influence, too. Little cuts of meat attached to the stuff that we use to make amazing stocks, soups, stews, and reductions from, that’s the ticket. When cooked low and slow, the influence of the bones and marrow make their presence known in a way nothing else can really emulate.

Do you know your ribs? All of ’em? Here’s a quick run down on the variations you’ll find out there.

Spareribs
Or spare ribs, either spelling works, and either way, it always means pork, period. Spareribs are cut from the side or belly. Nowadays, they’re usually sold trimmed and ready to go, but you still may find them offered with the brisket bone attached; if you get them that way, just cut the bone out and save it along with the rest for making stock. Spareribs may or may not have the skirt attached, (a thin flap of meat that runs along the meaty side). If the skirt is there, you’ve got St. Louis style ribs, and if it’s trimmed off, you’ve got Kansas City style. If you ever wondered what those two terms were all about but were afraid to ask, you may now consider yourself enlightened. If you’re serving spareribs as an appetizer, two ribs per person will do the trick; a half rack, (six ribs), is a decent entrée portion.

Baby Back Ribs
Arguably the most popular pork rib variety, baby backs are less meaty than many other styles, but tend to be leaner than their bigger cousins as well. Baby backs are, in fact, cut from the back of the rib cage. They tend to include a high proportion of loin meat, which explains their lean and tender nature. Reasonable portions for baby backs are 3 ribs per as an appetizer, or a half slab entrée.

Country Style Ribs
This cut is a bit of a misnomer. Cut from the sirloin or rib end of the pork loin, this meatiest variant of the rib family doesn’t really include ribs at all. You can often find this cut in single portion packages, as well the equivalent of a half or full slab; they’re perfect for those who want to use a knife and fork instead of getting all handsy with their meal. Country ribs can be pretty fatty and may need some trimming prior to cooking. Portion sizes are one apiece for appetizer, two as an entrée.

Beef Back Ribs
These big ribs come from the back of the loin; they’re the beef version of baby backs. Meatier than pork ribs, they contain five or six bones per slab. That said, while the bones are big, they’re not super meaty. They will, however, be plenty tasty if given a good rub and lightly smoked. Portions are two per as an appetizer and five or six as an entrée.

Beef Short Ribs
This cut used to be a tremendous bargain, until every chef in the world decided to make them popular. Now, they can often be pricier than they’re worth – If you see other cuts for much less, buy those. Short ribs come from the bottom end of the rib cage, or plate cut. Short ribs are not a tender cut and really shouldn’t be grilled or barbecued; they need low and slow braising or smoking to really shine. The cut can be fatty, so trim as needed before you cook. A quarter pound appetizer and half pound entrée will do the trick.

Lamb Ribs
A full rack of lamb contains eight ribs. The ribs themselves are really quite skimpy, so the chop is typically left attached;you’ll find them offered as rib chops or as a whole rack. The racks are a fairly famous cut and make a great roast. Fancy stuff has been done with these for many moons, like cutting the rack into 3-3-2 and tying them tips up as a crown roast, or trimming the meat at the tips of the chops back to the bone, which is the famous French chop or rack. A double French rack is two racks tied tips up back to back. If you’re not familiar working with the lamb rack cut, make sure to ask if the chine, (backbone), between the ribs has been cut, so that the roast is easy to carve. If you’ve not cooked a lot of lamb before, be aware that it’s usually quite a bit gamier than beef and pork. The heart of the gamy flavor is fat, so trim appropriately if you’re not comfortable with that. Soaking lamb in buttermilk for at least 2 hours and as much as overnight will help a lot to tame the game and keep them moist and juicy. While you can certainly cook and serve single rib chops, you’ll get a much juicier result if you leave them as doubles; you can then cut them into singles for an appetizer and leave them doubled as an entrée.

Game Ribs
Then there’s game; I’ve personally had and cooked venison, elk, boar, buffalo, bear and ostrich. The first thing to remember with game ribs is to use them; I don’t know how many hunters and cooks I’ve known who don’t even consider this, but we all should. First off, if you harvest, you’ve got the responsibility not to waste, and that’s a biggy. Seconly, if you love game, ribs can and should be a signature taste of the beastie. As with lamb, game ribs can be gamy, so trim the fat, if any, and marinate. Buttermilk works great here, but wine and herb, or a nice flavorful brine will shine as well. Keeping in mind that fleet-footed game like deer and elk are quite lean to begin with, so marinating will do a lot to keep things tender and juicy.

 

Here’s a wet rub and BBQ sauce that will go great with any of the above.
This recipe will serve for a couple of racks of ribs.
We’ll do a low and slow cook with a grilled finish for knockout flavor.

2 Tablespoons extra virgin Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Honey or Agave Nectar
2 Tablespoons Smoked Sweet Paprika
1 Tablespoon cracked black Pepper
1 teaspoon Onion powder
1 teaspoon granulated Garlic
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
3-4 Shots Tabasco or dried Chile Powder
Optional: 1 teaspoon Smoke Powder

Preheat oven to 225° F.

Rub ribs generously with the olive oil.

In a mixing bowl, combine the honey, paprika, pepper, onion powder, garlic and Tabasco or chile powder, and the smoke powder if you’re using that. Rub evenly over the ribs, taking time to work it on to all surfaces.

Wrap racks, meaty side down, in a large piece of metal foil (The wide, heavy duty stuff does best; if you’ve got light weight stuff, double it). Seal the edges of foil with a double fold.

 

Cooking Stage 1, oven low and slow.
Cook smaller, more delicate ribs like baby backs for three and a half hours; the bigger ones can go four hours.

Preheat grill on high, then reduce heat to low with lid open. If you’re just using your oven, leave it at 225° F.

Remove ribs from oven and drain off any excess drippings. Carefully flip ribs over to bone side down, using a big grilling spatula or two smaller ones. Your ribs should be at the pint where they’re starting to fall off the bone, so be gentle.

Trim the foil back to so you’ve got a baking sheet kind of affair, with a 3/4″ inch lip of rolled foil all the way around the ribs, to catch juices and keep the sauce in place for the remainder of the cooking.

Apply an even, thick layer of sauce to the meat side with a basting brush.

Cooking Stage 2, sauced and grilled, (or not)
Transfer ribs to the grill if you’re going that route.
Cook on low heat, with the lid down, for 20 to 30 minutes more.

If you’re using the oven for the whole job, cook uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes more.

Remove from oven and serve promptly with more sauce, house made potato salad, and baked beans.

A nice local Pilsner, Lager or dry white wine is the perfect accompaniment, refreshing your pallet and cutting through the fat for that next juicy rib.

 

Try this amazing cranberry powered sauce; folks are gonna make yummy noises and ask “what IS that?” in a good way…

Eben’s Cranberry BBQ Sauce

1 bag Cranberries
1 Cup Sweet Onion
1 bottle Porter or Stout
1 large Navel Orange
1/2 Cup dry Red Wine
1/2 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 Cup Honey or Agave Nectar
1/3 Cup Worcestershire Sauce
1/3 Cup Soy Sauce
2 cloves Garlic

Peel and dice onion, peel and mince garlic. Zest and juice the orange.

Use a nice, fresh local Porter or Stout.

Throw everybody into a large stainless steel sauce pan over medium high heat and blend well.

As soon as the cranberries start to pop, reduce heat to achieve a nice, steady simmer. Allow to simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Process sauce with an immersion blender, or carefully transfer to a blender, if that’s what you’ve got. Be very careful if you use a blender; process in batches and watch out for the hot sauce. Process until the sauce is uniform and smooth. If you don’t have an immersion blender, AKA. A motor boat, go buy yourself one for Christmas, they’re indispensable.

If you like your sauce a bit chunkier, as we do, you’re done; if you like it smoother, run the sauce through a strainer once.

Transfer to a glass bowl or jar and refrigerate for at least 4 hours prior to use, to allow the flavors to marry and the sauce to finish thickening.

And remember, save those piles of bones for making pork or beef stock; they’re way too good to toss!

Spring Cleaning Your Freezer

For 25 points, identify the following protein:

Didn’t think so…

Spring is the perfect time for deep cleaning. Shaking off the dust and cold and mold of winter, letting fresh air in – We do it to our homes, (hopefully), and we need to do it to our freezers as well. Whether you’ve got just a small one adjacent to your fridge, or a stand alone separate unit, it’s time to thoroughly clean that beast, inventory what’s there with a critical eye, toss what needs to be tossed and cook what must be cooked before it too goes to the great beyond.

This line of reasoning naturally brooks the question, “Can food go bad in the freezer?” The answer to which is a definite ‘Yup!’

Keep in mind that freezing does not kill bacteria, yeast, mold, etc –  it just pretty much keeps them from multiplying. In other words, if there was something funky prior to freezing, it could indeed reappear when thawed. Additionally, freezing does not do any favors for food quality, taste, etc; over time, great stuff will become good and good stuff becomes that image up yonder.

Before we abandon the ‘how long’ question for the stuff in the freezer, let’s review – When does quality starts to degrade? Depends on what it is, and how well it was packaged fro freezing, frankly. For answers to this and other burning freezer questions, (Sorry), hop on over to the USDA’s Food Safety site and read for yourself; there’s a handy chart at the bottom of this freezer article that details recommended freezer storage guidelines. You’ll also find the National Center For Home Food Preservation a wealth of good info, so scope that out too.

In general terms, when cleaning out your freezer, look for things like the pic above, the obvious victims of freezer burn, poor packaging, etc, and single them out for further inspection. If flesh looks substantially different than it usually does when thawed, (Darker, off color, dried out, etc), then you should give it the heave ho; trust me when I say if it looks funky, it’ll taste funky, and could be dangerous.

When you package for freezing, head back to the NCHFP site and read up on best practices.

The time to clear out your freezer is also the time to clean the bugger; this should be done at least annually,
and naturally, the best time do the deed is when stocks are low, AKA, the end of winter.

Pull everything out and put it into a fridge or cooler(s) while you clean.

Turn off, unplug, and thoroughly defrost your unit.

Once it’s to room temp, clean the insides thoroughly; I like Clorox cleanup for the job, but dish soap and water works fine too. Remove and clean all the shelves, racks, drawers, etc as well.

Do a rinse wipe with a solution of 2 Tablespoons of baking soda to a quart of warm water, then wipe that down with a clean, dry cloth.

Don’t forget the unseen parts! Pull the freezer from it’s normal locale and clean underneath. Inspect the back and clean that as well, (And the top), and dust the coils if your unit has exposed ones.

If you don’t already have one, buy a decent but cheap inside-the-unit thermometer and place in an easy to see spot. Our commercial units have thermometers on them, usually digital, but we don’t trust those; every unit, reach in or walk in, has a stand alone thermometer inside it. Optimal freezer temp for food storage is -15ºF to -5ºF; it should never go above 15ºF for any extended length of time.

Fire ‘er back up, let it get fully cold and then put your bounty back in. mark the calendar for the same time next year.

OK, that about covers it; now go have a celebratory beer or two, ya done good!

Oh, and stay tuned – Next post will cover building the perfect stew with all that lovely meat ya done kilt and gathered!

E & M

Thanksgiving a la UrbanMonique

It’s that time again, that paean to indulgence in comfort food that is Thanksgiving. We have some favorites that make their way to the groaning board every year, and here the are. Try them all, or just one or two, but try them. Trust me when I say there are years of love woven into these recipes.
First comes turkey, of course. It’s such a lovely protein, you simply can’t pass up the opportunity to cook one. Chose a fresh, local bird, organic if you can find it. The differences between that and the mass produced stuff are notable and with the price. Take the time to brine your turkey and you’ll be rewarded with intense flavor and a tender, juicy bird. Brined meats end up 6% to 8% heavier, proof positive that they do indeed gain moisture from the process. Brining also dissolves some proteins in muscle fibers, turning them from solid to liquid, yielding a tenderer bird.

Determining brining time is a function of both brine strength and the weight of the flesh being brined. The mnemonic is one hour per pound of whole turkey; most of us will therefore brine for somewhere between 12 and 18 hours.

The ratio of salt to water in brine is critical to the success of the process. As such, you should weigh the salt you use to assure accuracy. A standard brine ratio is 10 ounces of salt to 1 gallon of liquid. Keep in mind that different brands and types of salts have different weights. If you don’t have a kitchen scales, you may safely assume that Morton Kosher salt weighs in at 7 ounces per cup, and Diamond Kosher salt is 5 ounces per cup. Pickling salt or plain sea salt is also fine for brining, albeit somewhat more expensive than kosher. Make sure your salt is not iodized, as that will generate undesirable colors and flavors to your brine.

For this bird, we replace water with apple cider, which contributes a delightful sweet, tart background note. The brine recipe per gallon is as follows:

1 Gallon Apple Cider

10 Ounces Kosher Salt

1 Tablespoon fresh ground Black Pepper

3-5 dashes Tabasco

 

For a 15 to 18 pound turkey, plan on 2 gallons of brining cider. The process is best done in a stainless steel stock pot, but a food grade, plastic bucket will work fine as well.

Plan ahead for brining. You will need brining time, plus an additional 6 hours or so before cooking to air dry the turkey; more on this in a bit.

Start out by prepping your brine. Combine all brine ingredients and stir thoroughly until all your salt has dissolved. You may heat the cider to facilitate the integration of the salt; make sure your brine is thorough cooled to room temperature if you do.

Unwrap, unpack, and rinse your bird. Make sure you find any little packets of giblets, neck, etc, (Don’t be the cook that misses those for some unlucky soul to discover on the festive day…)

Slide your turkey into the pot or bucket and gently pour in the brine. Make sure that the bird is fully submerged; weigh it down with a plate or two if needed, (Take care that whatever you use is sanitized first). Place your brine bucket in a clean, cool, dark corner.

Pay attention to the food safety temperature range during brining, without fail. Your brine and bird must remain under 40° F at all times; if you need to add a little ice, do so. If you need to add a lot, compensate with a bit more salt.

When your brining period is done, pour out the brine, (NEVER reuse brine.), gently rinse the bird in clean, cold water, then pat dry with clean paper towels and transfer to a roasting pan.

Let the bird sit in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 4 to 6 hours after brining. Air drying allows moisture to evaporate from the skin, and lets the meat reabsorb some moisture as well. The results are a crisp, golden brown skin, the hallmark of a perfectly cooked turkey.

Preheat your oven to 350° F.

Cook your bread stuffing in a casserole dish, and stuff the turkey with a nice juicy cavity filler; this helps regulate internal temperatures as the bird cooks.

1-2 Oranges

1/2 Sweet Onion

1 stalk Celery

Tablespoon Canola Oil

1/2 teaspoon Sage

1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper

 

Rough chop the orange, onion, and celery, (if you have celery leaves, use those). Toss those ingredients in a large mixing bowl, then add oil, sage, salt and pepper, then combine and stuff the bird’s cavities thoroughly.

Place the bird on a rack in a roasting pan, and add 2 cups of water to the pan. Insert an internal reading thermometer to the thickest part of the breast.

 

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Roasting time for a stuffed turkey, at 350° F, is 20 minutes per pound; again, the best and safest method to determine when the bird is done is to measure internal temperature; for poultry, we want 165° F; the bird will continue to cook during a post-roast rest, with the internal temperature peaking at between 170° and 175° F.

Begin roasting with the bird uncovered, then cover loosely with foil for the last hour. Basting isn’t necessary, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

When the bird is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest for 20 minutes prior to carving; resist the temptation to cut into it prematurely.

Carve, admire, enjoy, and get ready for the crown prince of leftovers, a lovely roast turkey sandwich.

 

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If you love cranberries, or even if you don’t, try this citrus infused version for a refreshing change. I’ve been making it for decades, and it’s still requested.

1 12-ounce bag fresh Cranberries

3/4 Cup Water

1/2 Cup Agave Nectar (You may sub Honey, Maple Syrup, or light brown Sugar)

1 large Navel Orange

1 Lemon

1 lime

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg

Shake of Sea Salt

 

Grate zest from all citrus; get all the nice bright orange, yellow and green, (Stop before you get to the bitter white part.)

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Juice lemon and lime. Peel orange thoroughly and rough chop the meat from that; set aside.

Bring water to a boil in a saucepan over medium high heat.

When water is boiling, add cranberries and return to a boil.

Reduce heat to medium and add citrus zest, orange, and juice.

Allow sauce to continue to boil, stirring occasionally until about 3/4 of the cranberries have popped.

 

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Add cinnamon, nut get and salt, stir in thoroughly.

Remove from heat and transfer to a glass or ceramic bowl.

Allow to cool completely at room temperature.

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Cover and refrigerate until serving time. Will last in the fridge for about a week.

 

 

Since this is a meal designed for pulling out all the stops, try these twice baked potatoes instead of mashed. They’re easier to portion, which can help cut down on excess leftovers.

 

Russet Potatoes, 1/2 to 1 each depending on size and appetites; the rest of these ingredient amounts are based on a 4 large potato bake, so scale accordingly.

1 Cup heavy Cream

1/2 Cup Sour Cream

1 Cup Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese

4 ounces unsalted Butter

2 strips thick cut Bacon

4 Green Onions

Sea Salt

Fresh ground White Pepper

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Dash of Tabasco

 

Preheat oven to 325° F

Rinse your spuds and pat dry with a clean towel.

Coat whole spuds with olive oil by hand, place in a glass baking dish. Season the skins evenly with salt and pepper.

Slide the spuds into the oven and bake for about an hour, until the spuds are fork tender.

Fry bacon, dry on paper towels and fine dice.

Rinse, strip roots from green onions, and fine dice.

Grate cheddar cheese.

When the spuds are ready, pull them out of the oven and let them cool just long enough to handle with a clean towel, (in other words, still quite hot).

Reduce oven heat to 250° F.

Cut the spuds into lengthwise halves, then carefully scoop the guts into a mixing bowl, keeping the skins intact.

Add cream, sour cream, half the cheese, bacon, onions and butter to spuds and blend thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Refill the skins with the spud mixture, top with the remaining cheese, then slide them back into the oven; bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes.

 

 

Stuffing is a must; try this recipe, redolent of herbs and citrus.

It’s actually desirable to use bread that’s a couple days old, so buy ahead. Stuffing can be prepared a day ahead of service and chilled, covered. Bring the stuffing back up to room temperature before you bake.

 

1 large Sourdough loaf

1 large Sweet Onion

1 stalk Celery, with leaves

3 slices thick cut Pepper Bacon

2 large Eggs

1 Cup Unsalted Butter

1 1/2 Cups low-sodium Chicken Stock

1 small Lemon

2 Tablespoons Lemon Thyme

2 teaspoons Savory

1 teaspoon Sea Salt

1/2 teaspoon Grains of Paradise

 

Preheat oven to 325° F

Cut bread into roughly 1/2″ cubes. Spread cubes on 2 baking sheets and bake until dry, about 15 minutes. Allow bread to cool on pans, then transfer to a large bowl. Crumble by hand and add the lemon thyme, savory, salt, and grains of paradise.

Rinse and dice onion and celery. Zest and juice lemon. Lightly beat eggs.

In a large saucepan over medium high heat, fry the bacon until crisp. Set that aside on paper towels to drain, and reduce heat to medium low. Add the butter to the bacon fat and melt thoroughly. Add onions and sauté, stirring steadily, until onions start to turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add celery and continue to sauté, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes. Transfer all to the mixing bowl.

Crumble the bacon, then add it plus the eggs, stock, lemon juice and zest to the bowl and combine thoroughly.

Transfer stuffing to a lightly buttered, shallow baking dish, cover the dish with metal foil.

Bake, on a middle rack for 30 minutes; remove foil and continue baking until browned, about another 30 minutes.

Allow to rest for 10 minutes prior to serving.

 

 

Brussels sprouts, the red headed first cousin of cabbage, get bad press far more often than they should. They’re truly a lovely vegetable and a perfect side for the big feast. It’s a safe bet that overcooking and poor seasoning have far more to do with negative reviews than the veggie itself. Brussels sprouts contain glucosinolates, compounds that offer abundant health benefits, but have the unfortunate tendency to release sulfurous byproducts when they’re overcooked. Avoiding the all too common boiling of sprouts is your first line of defense against bad taste. Here’s a preparation with bright and earthy notes guaranteed to please.

 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Almonds & Apple Cider Reduction

 

Brussels Sprouts, about 6 per person; the ingredient measures here are scaled for 35 to 40 sprouts.

1 1/2 Cups Honeycrisp Apple Cider

1/2 Cup slivered Almonds

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 small cloves Garlic

Unsalted Butter

Sea Salt

Black Pepper

 

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Remove sprouts from stem and soak in cold water for 10 minutes.

Inspect and trim any browned or yellowed leaves, and trim stems to about 1/4″. If your sprouts are large, you may halve them if you wish.

Mince garlic.

Place trimmed sprouts in a mixing bowl, and coat generously with olive oil. Add garlic and toss to incorporate. Add enough salt and pepper to lightly coat.

Roast sprouts in a middle rack for 35 to 40 minutes, turning once, until they’ve begun to brown.

While the sprouts are roasting, prepare the almonds and cider reduction.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, add the almonds and a tablespoon of unsalted butter. Sauté, stirring regularly, until the nuts and butter start to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, add the cider and bring to a simmer. Whisking steadily, simmer until the cider has reduced by roughly 50%. Add a tablespoon of butter and a very small pinch of sea salt. Whisk to incorporate, then remove from heat and set aside.

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk briskly to incorporate. Allow the dressing to sit while the sprouts roast.

When the sprouts are done, allow them to cool for about 5 minutes. Combine sprouts, almonds, and reduction; toss to thoroughly coat the sprouts, serve warm.

 

For drinks, definitely try the rest of the Honeycrisp Cider you used for the sprouts. It’s fabulous heated up with a cinnamon stick and a clove or two. Prosecco is an excellent sparkler if you prefer those with your meal. If not, try a nice, light white like Pinot Grigio or Fumé Blanc; both of those will cut rich food admirably. A hard cider is also a nice choice, lighter than beer and pairs well with thanksgiving fare. If you do prefer beer, keep it light here as well; a local Pilsner or lager will do the trick nicely.

 

To finish, eschew pumpkin and make a lovely pecan pie. It’s our nod to 12 years in Texas, where truly great pecans come from. I’ve tried nuts from all over and the Texas nuts are best; sweet, rich and meaty. This recipe really does make a perfect pie; the nuts are front and center, it’s not too sweet, and it has great depth of flavor, with heady hints of vanilla and Whisky.

For the Crust:

2 cups all-purpose Flour

1/2 cup cold Lard

1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt

6 – 8 Tablespoons Ice Cold Water

 

Filling:

2 1/2 Cups Pecan halves

3 Eggs

1 Cup Agave Nectar

3/4 Cup Light Corn Syrup

3 tablespoons Butter

2 Tablespoons Sour Mash Whiskey

2 teaspoons pure Vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

 

Crust Prep:

Keep in mind that great pie dough is simple and minimally handled. Make your dough by hand; machines get between you and flaky crust.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt.

Add the lard and work it into the dry ingredients by hand until it resembles rough corn meal in texture.

Add the water a tablespoon at a time and stir the dough with a fork.

When the dough holds together as a ball, but isn’t wet or sticky, stop working it, cover it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1/2 hour.

 

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Form the dough into a disk about 3/4″ thick, then roll it out on a lightly floured surface, into 12-inch circle about 1/8″ thick. Lift an edge and carefully peel the dough free, then drape it onto a dry 9″ pie pan.

Trim the dough with a paring knife, leaving it about 1″ over the edge, then tuck the overhanging dough underneath itself to form a thick edge on the pan, and treat it as you see fit, (I like the classic thumb print myself).

Preheat your oven to 400° F, and position racks in the center and lower third of oven.

Put a piece of parchment paper or foil over the pie shell and fill with dried beans or pie weights.

Spread the pecan halves out on a baking sheet.

Blind bake the crust on the center rack for 15 minutes, and start on the filling.

In a sauce pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter, then add the sugar and corn syrup. Stir constantly with a whisk until completely combined.

Slip the pecans into the hot oven on the lower rack; let both nuts and crust bake for another 5 minutes.

Lightly beat the eggs and set aside.

Remove crust and nuts from oven and reduce heat to 350 F.

Remove filling mixture from heat. Add hot nuts to the hot mixture. Add Vanilla and Whisky carefully and slowly; the hot sugar can bubble up explosively if it’s too hot and it will scald and stick to skin!

Add eggs to hot nut mixture and incorporate thoroughly with a whisk.

Remove weight or beans from crust, then pour hot filling carefully to fill crust.

Place pie on center rack of oven with a baking sheet on the lower rack, centered under the pie.

Bake for 40 minutes and then take a peek; pie should look firm and nicely set at this point. If the edges are notably darker, line them with an edge guard or foil and bake another 5 minutes.

Remove pie from oven, set on a wire rack to cool.

 

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M and I wish you a holiday of peace and comfort.

 

 

 

 

No Wonder We Love a Cuppa!

If you missed our recent Magnum Opus on coffee, check it out here. It's a great read, if I do say so myself…

 

And then, read this piece from RT News, sent to us by Sister Ann, (My Sis that is, not a woman of Orders…), it's fascinating stuff. Being an inveterate coffee snob, it does worry me somewhat as to what such a discovery might do to an already stressed worldwide crop. Certainly, it could cause an emphasis on monoculture of strains, with all the inherent environmental concerns. Food for thought and further study, no doubt.

 

Empanadas

 

Empanadas are a delight for their simplicity, and for the wide range of creativity they provide a willing cook.

It is less serendipitous than it might seem that, on the day we post about empanadas, our friend Nandini who runs the Goan Imports blog, wrote about a close relative, Rissóis de Camarão, a Portuguese shrimp filled dumpling. Empanadas are ubiquitous throughout Mexican, Central and South American cookery, while close relatives like the pierogi, pastie, dumpling, pastel, pate, and pot sticker are found in almost every cuisine worldwide.

Empanadas may be baked or fried, and filled with a wide variety of meats, cheeses, vegetables, and fruits. Personally, I like the baked versions; they're less greasy, allow flavors to shine, and provide a tastier crust.

There are likely as many variants on dough as there are filling; that component is easily as important as what goes inside. A great empanada dough creates a versatile cover that can be rolled thick or thin as you like, yielding a light, flaky, and tender final product. This is our preferred version; it will make about a dozen 6″ empanadas. As with pie dough, the real key to a great empanada dough is to make it entirely by hand, and to handle it no more than is needed to fully combine and activate the imgredients. Plenty of recipes call for use of a mixer or food processor; don't go there. You'll get better incorporation, less heating of the cold elements, and a much better feel for proper condition when you make it by hand.

 

2 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour

1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter, (1 Stick)

1 large Egg

1/4 cup ice cold Water

1 teaspoon Sea Salt

1 Egg White, well beaten with 2 teaspoons cold water, for brushing the empanadas.

OPTIONS: chile flake, annatto, pepper, minced garlic, shallot, or fresh chiles can all be added, or for desert empanadas, 2 tablespoons of sugar, honey, or agave nectar.

 

Butter should be very cold. Cut into 1/4″ cubes and set aside in a stainless bowl, in the freezer.

Combine flour and salt and mix well.

Add butter and work by hand until blend resembles very course meal.

Add egg and water and form into dough. Once the dough is cohesive, stop working it – overworked dough equals tough dough.

Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 45 – 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Remove from fridge, flatten by hand to a disk about 3/4″ thick, then roll out until quite thin; anywhere from 1/8″ to 1/16″ will do nicely.

 

Cut into rings of the size you like.

Add filling, wet half the edge with a little of the egg white mixture, the fold in half and crimp the edge with a fork.

 

Note that we used a nifty little tool, a dough press offered by PrepWorks. These come in 3 sizes and make the production of all such treats ridiculously easy, (and the final product looks fabulous too.)

 

Lightly brush both sides of the empanada with the egg white, and place on an ungreased baking sheet.

 

Prick the tops with a knife or fork to allow steam to escape.

Bake for 15 to 30 minutes, until golden brown.

Allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes prior to serving.

 

So, what to put inside? Your imagination is the only limiting factor. Empanadas are great for using up leftovers, and for exploring new combinations. It's best to avoid really wet, oily, or fatty ingredients, as they'll tend to either cause the pastries to rupture, and/or can lead to a soggy final product. Here is the version we made, as well as a few more to wet your whistles. All of these will make about a dozen empanadas; they all freeze well, so you can prep several meals at one time.

 

Pulled Pork Empanadas with Sour Cream/Salsa/Lime Dressing

12 Ounces, (about 2 Cups), shredded Pork

1/4 Cup Sweet Onion

1-3 Jalapeño Chiles, (Pickled adds a fabulous tang)

1-3 small sweet Peppers (Again, pickled is lovely)

1 small Lime

1-2 cloves Garlic

6-10 stalks Cilantro

Sea Salt and fresh ground Pepper

 

For the dressing

1/2 Cup Sour Cream

1/2 Cup Salsa (Green or Red as you prefer)

Remaining Lime Juice

Combine all, stir well, and allow to rest while empanadas are cooking.

 

Mince onion, chiles, peppers, garlic, and cilantro. Zest and juice lime.

Combine pork with the lime zest and veggies, and season with salt, pepper, and half the lime juice.

Allow to rest for about 15 minutes, for flavors to marry.

Bake as per above.

Serve on a bed of shredded lettuce or cabbage, with fresh tomato and sour cream/salsa/lime dressing.

 

 

Empanadas Desayuno, (Breakfast Empanadas)

6 Large Eggs

1/4 Pound Chorizo

1/4 Cup Sour Cream

4-6 stalks fresh Chive

1/4 Cup Queso Fresco

1 Yukon Gold Potato

Pinch Mexican Oregano

Sea Salt and fresh ground Pepper

 

Cut potato into 1/4″ cubes. Sauté over medium heat in 1 tablespoon of butter, until lightly browned. Remove from heat and set aside in a medium mixing bowl.

Remove potato, add chorizo, and sauté until browned. Remove from heat and add to potato.

Combine eggs, sour cream, oregano, salt and pepper and whisk well.

Scramble eggs until roughly 3/4 cooked; you want eggs a shade or two wetter than you'd like to eat.

Combine all ingredients in bowl, add the queso and chives, and adjust seasoning.

Fill empanadas as per above.

Bake at 350° F for 15-20 minutes, until light golden brown.

Serve with salsa, sour cream, chopped tomato, jalapeño, and cilantro.

 

 

Empanadas Veraduras, (Veggie Empanadas)

1 small sweet Onion

1 small green Bell Pepper

2-4 Jalapeño, Pasilla, or Hatch Chiles

1 small Carrot

1/2 Cup Jicama

2 Roma Tomatoes

1 ear Sweet Corn (About 1/2 Cup frozen is fine)

1/2 Cup cooked Black Beans

1/2 Cup cooked Rice

1/2 Cup Queso Fresco

1 small Lemon

1 small Lime

3-6 stalks Cilantro

1-2 cloves Garlic

1/2 teaspoon Epazote

1/2 teaspoon Lemon Thyme

Sea Salt and fresh ground Pepper

 

Rinse, peel, core, and seed all veggies. Fine dice the onion, pepper, chiles, jicama, carrot, and tomatoes.

Mince garlic and cilantro.

Zest and juice lemon and lime.

If using fresh corn, cut kernels from cob.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons canola oil and heat through.

Add carrot and jicama and sauté for about 3 minutes.

Add onion, pepper, chiles, and season with salt and pepper; continue to sauté until onions start to become translucent, about 2 – 3 minutes.

Add corn, garlic, tomatoes, and sauté for another 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and transfer to a mixing bowl; add citrus juice, zest, epazote, lemon thyme, queso, and cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Fill as per above.

Bake at 350° F for 20 – 30 minutes, and serve with fresh avocado slices, lime wedges, and salsa verde.

 

 

Empanadas de Pollo, (Chicken Empanadas)

3/4 Pound shredded Chicken, (a combination of light and dark meat is best)

1 small Shallot

1 small Carrot

1 stalk Celery

1-3 Pasilla Chiles

1 small Lemon

1/2 Cup Chicken or Veggie Stock

2 Avocado Leaves

2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil

1/2 teaspoon Mexican Oregano

1/4 teaspoon Marjoram

1/4 teaspoon Annatto seed

Sea Salt and whole Pepper

 

Rinse, peel, seed and fine dice the shallot, carrot, celery, and chiles.

Rinse, zest and juice the lemon.

Combine oregano, marjoram, Annatto, salt, and pepper to a spice grinder and pulse until annatto and pepper are well broken down; set aside.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, heat avocado oil through. Add carrot and shallot, and sauté until shallot begins to turn translucent, about 2 – 3 minutes.

Add celery and chiles and sauté for another 2 minutes.

Add chicken stock and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze.

Reduce heat to low, add chicken, lemon juice and zest, spice blend, and avocado leaves. Simmer until chicken stock is absorbed, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Remove from heat, transfer to a mixing bowl and allow to cool enough to handle.

Fill as per above.

Bake at 350° F for 20 – 30 minutes, and serve with sour cream, pico de gallo, rice and charro beans.

 

 

Strawberry Rhubarb Empanadas

2 Cups chopped Rhubarb

2 Cups chopped Strawberries

1 Cup Cane Sugar

2 Tablespoons Orange Juice

1-2 Tablespoon Corn Starch

1 large Egg

1 Tablespoon Turbinado Sugar

 

Prep sweet dough with honey or agave nectar, as per above.

In a large, non-reactive mixing bowl, combine rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, orange juice and cornstarch.

Blend thoroughly, and allow to rest, covered, for 60 minutes.

 

Drain the liquid from the fruit mix and reserve.

Fill empanadas as per above.

Beat egg with 2 teaspoons cold water thoroughly; brush both sides of empanadas.

Sprinkle tops with turbinado sugar.

Bake at 350° F for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, add liquid from fruit and heat until simmering. Reduce heat to medium low, and add 1 tablespoon of butter. Whisk to incorporate.

Simmer sauce until it thickens enough to coat a spoon.

Drizzle sauce over empanadas and serve hot.