It’s Time To Fix Home Kitchen Food Waste

As much as we love Thanksgiving, there’s a problem there, one that we’ve tried to address as an enduring theme here – managing and avoiding food waste. Huge amounts of it, and frankly, it’s not just the holidays. It’s every day, in our home kitchens. Massive waste. It’s time to address that.

Consider this shocker, courtesy of the Natural Resources Defense Council, “Over this Thanksgiving week, Americans will throw out almost 200 million pounds of turkey alone.” That’s one weekend, gang. They go on to state that, “The average household of four is wasting about $1,800 annually on food that they buy and then never wind up eating.” And there’s more – “A recent survey in three U.S. cities found that the average American tosses out 2.5 pounds of perfectly edible food each week. At the top of the list: produce and leftovers.” And the coup de grace, “Households are actually the biggest contributor to the amount of food going to waste across the country — more than grocery stores or restaurants or any other sector.” All that food is the primary thing sent to dumps and landfills in this county, and that leads directly to the production of a hell of a lot of methane as all that stuff decomposes. Methane is a serious greenhouse gas – Not good in a world that’s rapidly heating up.

Now if you doubt those household waste figures, let me share something with you – As the General Manager of a cafe that does well north of 4 million bucks in sales annually, I have a few real concerns to deal with – I need to keep my folks happy, my guests safe and happy, and make money for my company. That’s it, in a nutshell. Do those things, and everything else will fall in place. Now, we certainly have waste, but let me put it into perspective for you – Our waste, our total waste, from a full time bakery and a kitchen putting out those kind of numbers, is around 3%. That’s roughly 1.5% from both sides, café and bakery. Now, compare that to the figures from the NRDC above and tell me – Do y’all think you’re anywhere near that efficient? The answer is a resounding NO – Not even close. That’s what we need to fix, because friends and neighbors? Your concerns are not any different than mine are, truth be told – You have to keep your crew happy, safe, and fed, and you cannot afford to waste the kind of money those figures up there reflect – None of us can.

There’s your post holiday bummer for you. So, as I always like to ask when somebody brings me gratuitous doom and gloom – What are we gonna do about it? Well, again, what we’re going to do is go back to talking about planning, and about thorough use of the food we buy. Why? Because we must, without fail.

That concept I mentioned, thorough use of what we buy, starts with shopping. So let me ask – When you shop, you make a list, right? If not, (and I know there are some of you who just wing it, so stop fibbing), you’ve got to start planning, carefully, if you’re going to avoid the kind of food waste we’re guilty of here. That means going through your pantry, cupboards, freezer, and fridge, and seeing what you’ve got and what you might need.

The idea here is to change a critical aspect of the way most of us shop – Instead of thinking about what might be fun or nice to buy, we need to look at what’s already in your kitchen with a couple of perspectives – First, what do I already got that’d be great to cook with, and secondly, what do I got that needs to be dealt with right now – before it turns to waste?

When you do that, you find the things that are maybe on the verge of going bad, and you use them, convert them, make them into something you’ll cook with, rather than let them go to waste. Got tomatoes about to become long in the tooth? Put them in an airtight container and freeze them. You can make sauce, soup, or stew later, when you’re ready. In fact, any and every vegetable or fruit you’ve got that is ‘getting there’ should be treated this way – You don’t really think folks buy bananas intending to make banana bread, do you?

Case in point – M and I invented a Chicago Dog Pizza the other night, because, one – we wanted pizza, and two – We didn’t have any of the proteins we’d normally put on pizza, (No ham, pepperoni, mozzarella, etc) – What we did have was two very good locally made hot dogs that needed to get eaten, some sport peppers, and a couple tomatoes that needed to get used as well. I made some dough, and a sauce tinged with a little zing of yellow mustard and celery salt. We used cheddar cheese, and a little sweet onion, and it was actually fantastic – I’d go back to a place that makes that and order it again.

When I say ‘go through your freezer and fridge,’ I mean it! Touch everything there – EVERYTHING! We do this daily in restaurant work, and you should do it at least weekly at home – That’s the number one way to find stuff that needs to get used and get it in play before its too far gone, (And conversely, not doing so is the number one reason we waste so much food). I’ve seen a lot of fridges and freezers in my day, and many are downright terrifying. Don’t let yours get there – Police it regularly, and practice FIFO at home, (First In, First Out), combined with dating things in there, and you’ll be well on your way to running a tighter ship.

When you do make that list, think in much broader terms than one meal at a time. A chicken, one nice, fat fresh chicken, can easily make three meals – Roasted chicken, chicken tacos, chicken noodle soup. Turns that $15 bird into a much more efficient protein, doesn’t it? We talked pretty extensively about this in a couple of posts, one on Meal Planning, and one on Planning for Leftovers – Check those out.

And then, when you’re ready to go to the store, do yourselves a favor – Abide by the old adage, ‘Don’t shop hungry.’ Seriously – It’s why we shop on Sundays, our mutual day off, and go out to eat beforehand. Hungry shopping leads to binge shopping, and that’s bad for the wallet and the waste log. Stick to your list, and you’re good to go.

That’s not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t snag something that looks great when you’re there – Just be judicious in that vein. The reason we waste so much produce is because its pretty, and stores do a great job of presenting it. That’s fine, and it’s stuff you should eat, but if you go getting all crazy in that department, thinking you’re going to use all this stuff before it spoils, nine times out of ten, you’re dead wrong – Pick a thing or two at most, and make sure you use it. If it floats your boat, add it to your list downstream. If it doesn’t, then move on.

A lot, and I mean a lot of folks snag stuff because they’ve heard of it, seen it on Iron Chef, or something along that line – The question is, do you know what Jicama tastes like? (It’s great, by the way – Sorry…) This being the 21st century, whip out the ol’ smart phone and do a quick research on what it is that’s got your attention. You may or may not like turnips, Chinese long beans, or star fruit, and a quick check can give you enough of a clue to make a more informed decision than, ‘it’s so pretty.’

Finally, when you get your booty home, think about waste when you start to cook. What we throw away day in and day out isn’t always waste – A lot of it is food we didn’t use. Those NRDC quotes came from a piece NPR did with Massimo Bottura, a Michelin starred Chef who shows us how to think differently about what we throw away. He even got some friends together, like Mario Batali, Alain Ducasse, and Ferran Adrià, to name just a few, and wrote a cookbook aimed at reducing household food waste. It’s a spiral-bound gem titled, Bread is Gold, and you want it in your culinary library. Check out the NPR piece here.

To get you started, here’s the best potato stock you’ll ever make. It’s a great thing to make, divide into portions, and whip out to make amazing sauce, soup, or stews with.

Potato Peel Stock

5 Cups Water
Peels only from 6-8 Potatoes
1 medium Sweet Onion
2 Carrots
1 stalk Celery
1 Bay Leaf
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon Fresh Ground Pepper

Rinse and rough chop onion, carrots, and celery.

Throw everything into a stock pot over high heat until it begins to boil.

Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, and cook for 2 hours.

Remove from heat, run the stock through a colander and discard the veggies

Allow to cool to room temperature, then portion and freeze, or use right away.

Where the last of your turkey needs to be
Where the last of your turkey needs to be

And finally, for the record, Kevin Rosinbum, a talented photographer and cook I know wrote this yesterday afternoon, above a picture of a glorious pot of homemade soup. “If you toss out your holiday carcass, you’ve already lost.” Truer words were never written.

We had that turkey dinner of course, followed by two rounds of stunningly delicious sandwiches, (I think I like them best of all). After that, what was left of the meat got pared off the carcass, and that got thrown into the oven to roast, and then into the slow cooker – Just the carcass and the aromatics it had cooked in – covered with water and left to do its thing for 8 hours. The result, strained once, is the most unctuous, fragrant, amazing stock you could ever hope for. With carrots, celery, garlic, leftover potatoes, and the rest of the meat, it’s now a pot of our own glorious soup, simmering away as I type.

Thanksgiving Sides & Sweets

I love Thanksgiving, and yeah, that’s because of the meal, and family, and warmth on what is often a cold, blustery day here in the Great Pacific Northwet. And I truly love turkey, so it’s weird that I have to remind myself to cook one more than once a year. Now, all that said, there’s a truth to that holiday repast that needs to be admitted and embraced – Thanksgiving dinners are really all about the sides and the desserts. Think about it – What would turkey be without spuds, stuffing, great veggies, cranberry sauce, and gravy? The answer is, boring to no end. So, last week we covered the bird, this week, it’s all about the other good stuff – Thanksgiving sides & sweets.

When it comes to deciding what to put on the table for the Big To Do, I feel strongly that the answer should be, all of it. Don’t allow yourself to be limited by what you like – This is a meal made for sharing, for enjoying favorite dishes, and trying new ones, so make sure you allow that to happen. Ready?

First off, spuds, of course, and since this is a meal designed for pulling out all the stops, why not offer two, or even three different versions? Here’s the drill for roasted root veggies, perfect mashed spuds, and incredibly decadent twice baked potatoes.

First off, something fairly healthy, given that such a perverse wish might conceivably pierce the patina of excess that defines thanksgiving dinner. A blend of roasted root veggies is, relatively speaking, just that, (especially when compared to the two recipes that follow). Check out your local market and see what’s there. You’ll certainly find carrots and spuds, and probably parsnips, turnips, beets, and rutabaga too – They’re all common winter root veggies.

Roasted Root Veggies
2-4 Red Potatoes, (more if they’re babies)
2 medium Carrots
2 Parsnips
1 Rutabaga
1 Beet
2-3 cloves Garlic
2-3 Tablespoons Avocado Oil
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Grains of Paradise (Black Pepper is cool as a sub)

Rinse off, and trim ends from all veggies.

Cut root veggies into rough chunks about 1” in size – Equality makes for even cooking. Mince the garlic.

Put everything into a large mixing bowl, and toss to evenly coat the veggies with oil, salt, and grains of paradise.

Roast at 350° F for about an hour, until veggies are fork tender.

Serve hot.

Naturally, ya just gotta do mashed potatoes, too. Yes, ya gotta – it’s non-negotiable. For these, choose a high starch, non waxy spud like a Russet or Yukon. Doing so will give you dependably fluffy and smooth mashed spuds, (the waxy white or red varieties just never really get creamy, truth be told). The russets and Yukon’s are also more amenable to taking on necessary adjuncts, like butter and cream.

Perfect Mashed Potatoes
Plan on 1 Yukon or 1/2 Russet per person, plus a few more portions for seconds and leftovers.
1 Tablespoon of unsalted Butter per spud
About 1/2 Cup of Heavy Cream
Sea Salt and ground Black Pepper to taste

In a large stock pot over high heat, add plenty of water salted as you would for pasta, (should taste like sea water)

Add spuds and bring to a boil, then cover the pot, reduce temperature to maintain a low simmer, and cook until the spuds are fork tender, about 20-30 minutes.

Remove the pot from heat, drain all the water carefully, then return to the burner and gently agitate the spuds until they dry out.

Remove the pot from heat, and with a potato masher, process the spuds evenly, working around the pot until everything is evenly mashed.

Add butter and use a flat whisk to incorporate.

Add cream a little bit at a time and whisk in thoroughly, until you hit the consistently you like.

Add salt and pepper, whisk to incorporate, taste test, and adjust seasoning as needed. When they’re done right, the shouldn’t need anything else, except maybe gravy, of course.

Serve hot.

Twice Baked Potatoes
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.
1/2 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 Pepper
Avocado Oil
Dash of Tabasco

Preheat oven to 325° F

Rinse your spuds and pat dry with a clean towel.

Coat whole spuds with avocado 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, pepper, and Tabasco 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.

Serve hot.

Of course, stuffing is also 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.

Savory Sourdough Stuffing
1 large Sourdough loaf
1 large Sweet Onion
1 stalk Celery, with leaves
3 slices thick cut Pepper Bacon
2 large Eggs
1/2 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 nice and hot.

And then there’s more veggies, ‘Cause, well, ya gotta. To me, green beans are the perfect choice, and you can usually find decent ones even at this time of year. Make sure you gets good ones at the store – If they don’t snap crisply when bent, they’re not the ones for you.

1 Pound fresh Green Beans
3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
1 Small Shallot
1 small Lemon
Sea Salt and fresh ground Pepper to taste

Rinse and trim ends from Beans.

Trim and peel Shallot. Mince 1/4 Cup and set aside.

Zest lemon and cut in half.

Beans can be steamed or boiled. To me, steaming gives better flavor, fresher, if you will.

Prepare an ice water bath in mixing bowl.

Cook Beans for about 3 minutes, then remove from heat and plunge into the ice water bath.

When you’re about ready to serve, heat a sauté pan over medium heat, then add 1 Tablespoon butter.

Sauté shallots until they begin to turn translucent, about 2-3 minutes.

Add beans to pan, with the rest of the butter, toss to melt butter and evenly coat beans.

Allow beans to heat through and cook for 2-3 minutes until they’re firm but tender.

Remove pan from heat, then add lemon zest and juice from 1/2 lemon, and toss to incorporate.

Season with salt and pepper, taste test, adjust lemon, salt, and pepper as desired.

Serve hot.

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 Avocado Oil
2 small cloves Garlic
Unsalted Butter
Sea Salt
Fresh ground 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.

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

Urban’s Legendary Cranberry Sauce
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 Allspice
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.)

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.

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.

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

And finally, in addition to whatever pies you dig, try this pumpkin flan for a very cool twist on the gourd of the day.

Pumpkin Flan

For the caramel:
3/4 Granulated White Sugar
1/3 Cup Maple Syrup
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

For the flan:
1 14 Ounce can Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 12 Ounce can Evaporated Milk
1 15 Ounce can Libby’s Pure Pumpkin (Don’t use anything that reads ‘Pie Filling’)
1/2 Cup Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese
4 Jumbo Eggs
1 Tahitian Vanilla Bean, (1 teaspoon pure extract is OK as a sub)
1 Tablespoon Maple Syrup
1 large Navel Orange, (for zest and 1 Tablespoon of juice)
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated Nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Allspice
Pinch of Sea Salt

You’ll need an 8” round cake pan for this, and it can’t be a springform. Alternatively, if you’ve got enough of ‘em, you can do this as individual servings in ramekins, but you’ll need to have your mis together to make sure you can get the caramel poured into them all and spread evenly. If you go the ramekin route, having them sitting in a bath of hot water will help a bunch toward that end.

Preheat the oven to 350° F and set a rack in the middle position.

Have your pan or ramekins ready to go, as noted above.

Zest the orange, taking care to only get the colored part, leaving the white pith intact.

In a heavy sauce pan over medium high heat, add the sugar, syrup, and 1/3 cup of very hot water. Stir to incorporate well.

When the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat to maintain a bare simmer. Allow the mix to cook, without stirring, until it’s golden brown and reading 230°F on a candy or instant read thermometer. Don’t leave the pan while this is cooking – It can go overboard quickly, so keep a sharp eye on things throughout the cooking process.

As soon as the caramel is done, pour it carefully into the cake pan or ramekins. Be careful, it’s molten sugar and will burn the snot out of you if you’re careless.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the two milks, the pumpkin, and the ricotta. Using a hand or stick mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the ingredients at low speed until the mix is smooth and uniform.

Add all other ingredients, and whisk on low to fully incorporate.

Make sure that your caramel is nice and hard, then use a spatula to transfer the batter from bowl to pan or ramekins.

Place the cake pan or ramekins inside a roasting pan, and carefully fill that with water until water level reaches roughly half way up your pan or ramekins.

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, until the flan has set, but still has some jiggle to the middle when you gently wiggle the roasting pan. A tooth pick inserted into the flan should come out clean.

Remove flan from oven, and from the roasting pan, and transfer to a cooling rack.

Allow the flan to cool completely to room temperature, then cover the pan or ramekins tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours prior to serving.

When you’re ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of the pan or ramekins, and place a serving plate tight to whatever you’re transferring. Quickly but gently give the pan a flip and viola – You’ve got gorgeous pumpkin flan with a maple caramel ready to rock.

You can add whipped cream, if you like, but you won’t really need it.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Roasted Pumpkin seeds, AKA Pepitas, are a great treat, and as is the case with many seeds, pretty good for you, too.

My Cousin Sally writes,
OK, Eben – Halloween is upon us, which means it’s time to nom on delicious toasted pumpkin seeds! Yay! But here’s the dilemma… Recipes on the Internet vary from 250 degrees to 400 degrees and 7 minutes to 50 minutes. And some recipes boil the little suckers before toasting! What the heck. Thoughts??
P.S. I used to go with the soy sauce and seasoned salt route, but now I’m a fan of the olive oil and sea salt mix. But I’m perplexed by the temp and time…

Sugar Pumpkins - Many good things inside!
Sugar Pumpkins – Many good things inside!

Great question! Here’s the drill for making great roasted pumpkin seeds every time.

Remove seeds from sugar pumpkins, and by golly, save or use that flesh for wonderful things, like Pumpkin Flan. Roasted seeds make a great garnish for squash bisque, and make a fabulous garnish on Oaxacan style chiles rellenos.

Boiling pumpkin seeds before roasting makes for crunchy skins.
Boiling pumpkin seeds before roasting makes for crunchy skins.

Simmering the seeds in salted water is a must-do – It helps make the seed covers less chewy, more crunchy, and also gets seasoning deeper into the seeds. It also helps remove any residual stringy stuff.

Use 4 Cups of water with 2 teaspoons salt for every Cup of seeds.

Bring salted water to a boil, then add seeds, stir, and reduce temp to maintain a steady simmer.
Cook for 10 minutes, then drain through a single mesh strainer.
Pat dry with paper toweling.

Preheat oven to 400° F – High temp roasting will give the crunchiest, most consistent results.
Note that Avocado oil is especially good for this – it’s got the highest smoke point.

Savory, like sea salt and cracked pepper, works great on pumpkin seeds.
Savory, like sea salt and cracked pepper, works great on pumpkin seeds.

Season each cup of seeds with,
1 Tablespoon Avocado Oil, (Olive or vegetable oil is OK)
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
Optional –
1/2 teaspoon chile flake or powder

Savory seasonings work better than sweet, as the sugars tend to make seeds prone to burning in a high temp roast. Any combo you like is worth trying – Soy-Lime-Garlic, Lemon Thyme & Sea Salt, Smoked Salt and cracked Pepper, etc. Our Go To Seasoned Salt is fantastic here.

If you really want a sweet version, roast seeds with just the oil, then add sweet seasoning after the roast – The oil will help it stick, and you won’t burn your goodies.

Roast, evenly spread on a baking sheet, for 18 to 20 minutes, until nicely toasted.

Pumpkin Seeds roasted with Sea Salt, Avocado Oil, and Chile Flake
Pumpkin Seeds roasted with Sea Salt, Avocado Oil, and Chile Flake

Remove from oven and baking sheet, allow to cool before decimating.

And as my Sis, Ann Lovejoy notes over in her wonderful blog, “Store pepitos in a tightly sealed jar out of direct light for up to 2 months or freeze them for longer storage.”

And Happy Halloween!

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.

 

 

 

 

Yorkshire Pudding

Yorkshire pudding is a traditional Christmas treat for us. The rich, decadent taste and texture is belied by the simplicity of the ingredients. The trick is careful preparation. Time, temperature, thorough integration of ingredients, and prompt service are the keys to success. If you’ve ever been subjected to a soggy, tasteless rendition of this delightful dish, there’s been a failure in those executions.

Our recipe comes from an older edition of The Joy of Cooking, from which I learned to make this dish over four decades ago.

Make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature before you begin. Note that the whole process takes a couple of hours due to needed rests and temperature changes for the batter, so plan accordingly. In something this simple, ingredient freshness and quality is paramount; made with Bob’s Red Mill flour, and local eggs, milk, and fat, it’s a far superior dish to one done otherwise. You may double the recipe for a larger batch with good success.

Note that we use milk and water in even proportion. You may use milk only if you wish; that will make for a softer pudding with a somewhat less crisp skin.

1 Cup Unbleached, All Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 Cup Whole Milk
1/2 Cup Water
2 large Eggs

Thoroughly combine the flour and salt in a deep, non-reactive mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle and pour in the water and milk. Whisk briskly to combine until smooth and uniform.

In a separate bowl, add the eggs and whisk with a hand or stick blender until eggs are frothy and several times their initial volume, (you could call this a bit below a soft peak for texture).

Add eggs to the flour mix and begin blending with a hand or stick blender on relatively low speed. Blend until you get roughly 1/2″ bubbles rising through the batter, about 5 – 7 minutes.

Cover the bowl the bowl and refrigerate for 60 to 90 minutes.

After the chilled rest, bring the batter out and allow it to return to room temperature. The cold rest helps the batter fully integrate the flour, and allows for better gluten formation which aids the rise. Allowing a gradual return to room temperature preserves those advantages.

Preheat your oven to 400° F and place a rack in the middle position. Place a heavy, tall baking dish in the oven as it heats. These days, I prefer a souffle pan, but a cast iron dutch oven does nicely too; chose a size that will allow your batter to be roughly 1/2″ thick when poured in.

Beat the batter again after it’s back up to temperature; 2 or 3 minutes on a low setting is sufficient.

Once the oven is up to temp, remove the baking dish and Toss 2 ounces of fat into it. Unsalted butter, beef drippings, leaf lard, and even schmaltz will all work nicely and have their own charms. Return the dish to the oven until the fat is melted and sizzling.

Pour your batter into the hot pan. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350° F and bake for An additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the pudding has risen nicely and is golden brown. Do not open the oven door while the pudding is cooking; quiet, hot air and steam is critical to success.

Serve promptly.

Real Gingerbread

My friend Jenn had a disappointing experience with gingerbread, so we need to address that before another day goes by. Here Ya go, Pal, this'll fix it!

 

Real Gingerbread is a far cry from store bought or box mix versions. The timeless, heady mix of spices just can't be beat. Use fresh, high quality ingredients; whenever possible, fresh, whole spices, ground as you build, are well worth the time and effort.

 

Real Homemade Gingerbread

2 1/2 Cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

1/2 Cup local Honey

1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter

1 Cup Blackstrap Molasses

1 Large Egg

1 1/2 teaspoons Baking Soda

1 teaspoon True Cinnamon, (About 1″)

1-2 teaspoons fresh Ginger (Good quality, freshly dried is fine too)

1/2 teaspoon Cloves

1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

1 cup hot Water

 

Pull all ingredients and allow to come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350° F and place a rack in the middle position.

Lightly butter and flour with Wondra a 9″ square, glass baking pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, cream the butter and honey with a whisk until throughly combined.

Add the egg and whisk thoroughly.

Add the molasses and whisk thoroughly.

Peel and mince ginger.

In a spice grinder, combine cinnamon and cloves; process until evenly powdered. Add the ginger and pulse a few times to break it down further and incorporate all the spices.

In a large, glass mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and the spice mixture and blend thoroughly.

Add the wet mix to the dry and combine thoroughly with a whisk. Add the hot water and continue whisking; you want to beat some air into the blend so that it looks and feels a bit lighter than when you started.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish.

Bake for about 50 to 60 minutes, until the top of the bread has browned slightly and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the pan comes out clean.

Allow the bread to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then release the edge gently with a knife, and turn the bread over onto a wire rack to cool for another 15 minutes.

Serve with fresh whipped cream.