Monday, November 14, 2011

Y'all Be Faithful

Two things are critical to a Thanksgiving meal: turkey and faith.  The turkey of course being the iconic centerpiece and the faith being what pushes you to spend an entire afternoon roasting that turkey to perfection.  As I meander through this Thanksgiving meal, I'm learning just how much faith I lost over the years.  Last year I attempted a jalapeno and smoked paprika turkey.  My result was a dry bird with an incredible salty gravy..... not a great combination.  So, in an effort to return faith to the table, I dug out a basic recipe and decided to make the largest midweek dinner this family has seen.

In reality, a turkey is no more difficult than chicken or any other roasted meal. However, you really want to focus on the gravy; this is what saves your ass should you botch the turkey and have a dry bird on your hands.  For this reason, I add 1 1/2 cup dry white wine to the bottom of the pan before roasting as the drippings are much more flavorful and lead to a better gravy. This particular recipe doesn't call for gravy, so my suggestion to find your own recipe, remove the veggies with a slotted spoon and prepare as desired.

Perfect Roast Turkey
Recipe By: Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa Parties!
I used a frozen turkey which I brined the evening before in Sur La Table's turkey brine.  If roasting a larger turkey, be more liberal with the amount of butter and increase the cooking time as needed. 

1 fresh turkey (12 pounds)*
Kosher Salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme
1 lemon halved
3 Spanish onions
1 head garlic halved crosswise
4 TB butter at room temperature*
1/2 cup good olive oil
8 carrots peeled and cut into 2 inch chunks
10 red new potatoes halved
3 heads fennel, fronds removed and cut into wedges

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Take the giblets out of the turkey and wash the turkey inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers and pat the outside dry. Place the turkey in a large roasting pan.  
  3. Liberally salt with pepper in inside of the turkey cavity.  Stuff the turkey cavity with the thyme, lemon, one of the onions (quartered) and the garlic. Rub the outside of the turkey with the butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  (If using, add wine to the roasting pan) 
  4. Tie legs together with string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the turkey.  Peel and slice the remaining onions, toss them with 1/4 cup olive oil and scatter them around the turkey.  
  5. Roast turkey for 1 hour.  Toss carrots, potatoes, and fennel with 1/4 cup olive oil and add to the orasting pan.  Continue to roast for about 1 1/2 hours or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the thigh.  
  6. Remove the turkey to a cutting board and cover with aluminum foil; let rest for 20 minutes.  Stir the vegetables and return the pan tot he oven.  Continue to cook the veggies while teh turkey rests.  Slice the turkey and serve on a platter with the roasted vegetables. 
This was an amazing turkey with a fantastic gravy.  Also, I think I caught my mistake from last year; not sure if it's the wine, the seasonings or the vegetables but my drippings were already quite salty; so much so that I did not need to add any salt to the gravy.  Remember to taste before you go nuts on the salt and pepper; recipes are mere suggestions, not contracts.  Where is the beautiful photo of this turkey?  I forgot to snap one.... without proof of success, you just need to grab a turkey and have some faith.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Brokedown Holiday

As we near the holiday season, it is only natural to reminisce on those past: family recipes and grand dinners at the table.  I cannot help but notice the plethora of magazines featuring beautiful pictures of turkeys or roasts displayed on perfectly set tables and I wonder how the **** do they do that?

A devoted home cook, I'm notorious for disastrous holiday dinners.  The husband insists it's due to over commitment.  I have decided to test the theory and make my entire Thanksgiving dinner not in one day, but over the next few weeks.  By the end of the month the family will have enjoyed the entire meal with something they have never had before; a calm mother.  I figured dessert was as good a start as any and this week I made the apple pie.

With a dear friend coming over for dinner, I thought an apple pie was a wonderful way to add the fall spirit to our menu.  I followed the basic recipe from Food Network magazine.  The crust came together quite easily in the food processor and after chilling it for about an hour, I had my first disaster.  As I rolled out the dough, it simply would not stay together.  In panic mode, I picked up the pieces of dough and pressed them together in the pie dish.  I prayed for a more cooperative top, however no such luck.  With the luxury of knowing it isn't Thanksgiving, I merely pieced together the top and placed a beastly looking apple pie in the oven.  An hour later I removed a much better looking pie, one that could even pass for charming in a rustic way.   The taste was wonderful, however next time I think I'll double the crust recipe as this one was a bit thin.  How will I deal with the breakage issue?  Williams Sonoma has adorable leaf shaped pie crust cutters, perfect for making my ineptitude decorative.

Basic Apple Pie:
Recipe By: Food Network Magazine November 2011
2 1/4 cups AP flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 TB cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
10 TB cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3 pounds mixed apples (I used gala, honey crisp and golden delicious)
2/3 granulated sugar
2 TB fresh lemon juice
6 TB unsalted butter
1 TB AP flour
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1 large egg. beated
coarse sugar for sprinkling

  1. For the crust, pulse the flour baking powder, sugar and salt in the food processor.  Add the shortening and one-third of the butter; pulse until the mixture looks like a coarse meal.  Add the remaining butter and pulse until it is the size of peas.  Add 1/4 cup ice water and pulse a few more times.  Is the dough doesn't hold together when squeezed, add more ice water, 1 TB at a time, pulsing.  Divide between 2 sheets of plastic wrap.  Pat into disks; wrap and chill at least 1 hour.  
  2. Peel and core the apples; slice 1/4 inch thick.  Toss with the granulated sugar and lemon juice.  Heat 4 TB butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the apples and cook, stirring, until tender, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the flour, cinnamon and salt; cook until thickened, 1 more minute.  Let cool.
  3. Roll out 1 disk of dough into a 12 inch round on a floured surface; ease into a 9- inch pie plate.  Add the apples, mounding them slightly in the center, and dot with the remaining 2 TB butter.  Roll out the remaining dough into a 12-inch round.  Lay it over the filling; press the edges of the crust together, then fold the overhang under itself and crimp to seal.  Brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar.  Cut a few slits in the top crust.  Chill 1 hour.  
  4. Place a baking sheet on the lowest oven rack and preheat to 425 degrees for 30 minutes.  Place the pie on the hot baking sheet; lower the temperature to 375 degrees.  Bake until golden, 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes.  Cover the edges with foil if they brown too quickly.  Cool on a rack. 

From my mistakes I can offer a few tips if you plan to bake your own pie this holiday: 1) chill: the dough needs to be cold in order to have a flakey texture.  I often set the prepared pie plate in the freezer for a few minutes.  2) know your lemons: taste the filling as I have followed a few recipes only to douse the apples in too much lemon juice for a sour outcome.  3) mix up your apples: I like to use a mixture of hybrid apples as the outcome is not too sweet.  The husband, he prefers dark red.  All in all, I would only tackle dessert this holiday if you are not responsible for the dinner. Otherwise, outsource!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wednesday Celebrations

Antone's sandwiches, sushi to go and whole foods chicken nuggets.... That is what the family lives on when I'm not at full power.  They don't complain; at times I think they enjoy the change.  However with both feet healed, and still glowing from last week's successful pumpkin dish, I turned to French Fridays with Dorie for a new challenge; I ended up with an elegant midweek meal that turned our usual Wednesday into a celebration: seared duck breast with salad, fresh bread and a bottle of champagne.

Dorie described how un-french we all were for not envisioning duck as a midweek meal.  As grease from these duck breasts flew from the deep enamel pot I learned that not only am I not French, I am not my mother.  Who knew the mess from an elegant French meal rivals that of Southern fried Sunday dinner?  This is a meal I can't wait to share with mom, however it will have to be done at my house where among other things, the standards on frying are quite a bit lower.

The meal came together beautifully, and the family enjoyed coming back round the dinner table for a cheer and check-in on the week's progress.  True to suggestion, the leftovers made a wonderful lunch with fresh greens, tomatoes and cucumbers.  I participated in the early rounds of FFwD, and sadly fell off for several months.  Back at it the past few weeks, this cookbook is slowly becoming a favorite.  I look forward to a good bowl of soup this week!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Time for something healthy

Inspired by my peasant food findings during my shut in phase, I have done a quasi cleaning of the pantry and found a plethora of potential. While I do make an effort to buy only what we need, once in a while I fall under the Heidi Swanson spell.  Author of 101 Cookbooks, this vegetarian chef brings new life to whole grains and veggies and  after reading her posts, I find myself throwing bags if quinoa, pumpkin seeds or kombu into the grocery cart without care or clue as how to prepare it.  It was on one of these rants, that I purchased a container of bulgur.  Other than tabboleh, which is not a popular dish in this house, I have never had use for such a grain. But, after a flip through the recipe collection I found the following salad which made for a healthy lunch and a little less clutter in the pantry.  The caramelized onions add deep flavor while the cayenne pepper lends a kick that is immediately cooled from the fresh mint.   Still holding on to some healthy habits before the holidays are in full swing? This is your recipe.

Bulgur and Lentils:
Recipe By: Eating Well Magazine, September/October 2011

2 TB extra virgin olive oil
3 cups thinly sliced onions
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 TB plus 1 1/4 cup water, divided
1 1/2 cups cooked lentils
2/3 cup bulgur
1/4 cup fresh mint diced
1 lemon cut into wedges

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add onions and salt; cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, add 2 tablespoons water and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are golden brown and very soft, 13 to 15 minutes. Stir in cayenne pepper.  
  2. Stir in lentils, bulgur and the remaining 1 1/4 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the water is absorbed, 7 to 8 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons mint. Serve with the remaining mint, yogurt and lemon.

I prepared the red lentils the day before so this lunch came together rather quickly.  Two days later, the leftovers microwaved up beautifully for a lunch on the run.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Great Pumpkin

After days of limping around the house, I was determined to turn out something fabulous for a Thursday night dinner. With easy prep and a long cooking time, this French Fridays with Dorie recipe had seemed just the project. Up until October 27, all previous Pierce family pumpkins have become jack-o-lanterns.  As I tossed bacon, cheese and a dosing of heavy cream into the pumpkin shell, my husband became more than a bit concerned.  Luckily, he kept the faith.  After what seemed like an eternity in the oven, we sliced up and enjoyed every bite of this dish as I congratulated myself for coming back to the living after days of couch-bound illness.

In Texas, it's hard to see the first sign of fall; the leaves don't change, and the temperature is still in the high eighties.  A little Charlie Brown Great Pumpkin, a baked pumpkin and a bottle of wine; I think we have the new Pierce fall kick off.

The times are changing.  I used to read books, I now carry a Nook.  I used to wonder about old friends, I now see their pictures on facebook.  I used to attend book club, I now cook new recipes from a French Cookbook along with hundreds of cooks I have never met.  What makes me love this cooking group?   There is something comforting about reading through blog posts and noticing how different some people's lives may be, and yet how similar.... as we all sit down to the same meal.  Love the camaraderie, hate the rules; I can't share the recipe.  Buy a copy of the cookbook; this is one recipe you have to make.