A Harmony of Flavors

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Every Day is a Day of Thanksgiving

Table all set
While a very great part of the US is celebrating our Thanksgiving holiday today, there are myriad things every day to be thankful for. I am grateful to live in this country with the freedoms allowed. I am grateful for heat or air conditioning, potable water, plumbing, sanitation. I am grateful I have a kitchen full of all the things to make cooking a pleasure and a joy. I am grateful for family; my husband and his family, my sisters, my children and grandchildren. I am grateful for all my friends. This list could continue indefinitely, but what I am getting at is that sometimes we forget we should always be grateful for every little thing, no matter how seemingly small. 

Designs with "Wine Writer" Pens
While most of the US celebrates today, my husband and I, with his sister, will celebrate tomorrow. Tomorrow is my "turkey day". It turns out that three of my children will also be celebrating their Thanksgiving Day either tomorrow or Saturday, for one reason or another. 

I have everything pre-made that can be pre-made. I made my pies today, and they smell and look scrumptious. I am hoping my "dry brined" turkey (in essence, salted turkey) will come out tasty. Even if not, we will most certainly be bursting at the seams after the dinner is done. My table is set. I found Wine Writer Pens when in Williams Sonoma recently, and used them to decorate my wineglasses, partly in an effort to copy the kind of scroll work on the table runner. The pen writing comes off easily with warm, soapy water, making it fun to use them, not only to write the name of the person the glass belongs to, but also allowing one to let their creativity full reign. I carried this scroll work design into the menus also.

Table runner with scroll work pattern
I have my stuffing partially made: bread and cornbread cubes with parsley, sage, mace and pepper are in a large, sealed container. The milk and eggs are in another container, ready to add, once the bacon and onions are fried and the apple is shredded, tomorrow. The sweet potatoes are mashed and seasoned; the streusel topping is made and the ground nuts are ready. I only need to place the sweet potatoes into the casserole, top with the streusel and nuts and bake. The cranberries have been made for about a week. The brioche buns are frozen, only needing to be reheated. I mentioned the pies: a Pumpkin Pie and a Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie that smelled heavenly while baking.

The only things I prefer to get done last moment are the mashed potatoes and gravy. While this does seem to make that last half hour a real crunch, it is all worth it in the end. 

Growing up, my Mom and Dad always set Thanksgiving dinner for about 3 or 4 PM. I have always carried this through my life also, so I am aiming for about 4 PM tomorrow to have our dinner on the table. I like this timing, because it allows a long evening to let the tummy settle, in case it was abused!  Often, this also allows some time to pass before attempting to eat pie ;-)

At right is my menu for tomorrow. I am so very grateful for my creativity in the kitchen and at my computer. I love coming up with ideas. I wish the very best of holidays to everyone.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Side Dishes for Thanksgiving Dinner

Sweet Potato Casserole
Everyone has favorite side dishes, whether for Thanksgiving or any other meal or holiday. In my house, growing up, we traditionally had sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberries and stuffing to accompany our holiday turkey. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I don't stray too far from these particular sides, except for how I make them. 

Mashed Potatoes

I generally keep parsnips in the fridge, so I often add in a couple of peeled, sliced parsnips to cook with the potatoes. Whether using potatoes or a mixture of potatoes and parsnips, I usually make about 3 pounds, total (before peeling). If there are leftovers, all the better. Once the potatoes are cooked though, I just pull the pot off the burner and using a slotted spoon, scoop the cooked potatoes and/or parsnips into my ricer, keeping the cooking water in the pot.

I have not mashed or whipped my potatoes for many years. Instead, I have a heavy duty ricer, which ensures totally smooth potatoes every time. I vary what flavors go into the potatoes, but in general, I have a large bowl handy. Inside the bowl I place one or more of these possible things:
  • butter
  • cheese (cream cheese, goat Chevre, Gournay Boursin)
  • chives, or scallion
  • caramelized onion
Most often I use cream cheese, just because I always keep some in the fridge. If so, I place up to a half bar (4 ounces) into the bowl. If using butter, I either use one stick or divide that same 4 ounces between butter and cream cheese, using 2 ounces each. In addition, very often I use either chives or minced scallion. Ricing the hot potatoes directly over these ingredients ensures that the butter or cheese becomes soft enough to mix in easily once done with ricing. If the potatoes are too stiff, I use some of the potato cooking water to thin them down, rather than milk - which I almost never keep in the house.

This is my method for making mashed potatoes. It is easy enough to follow most of my method either using a hand masher or a mixer. Add milk instead of the potato water if desired. For Thanksgiving dinner, I have a 4 ounce Boursin Cheese in the fridge all ready. I will be adding some chives and scallion also.

Sweet Potato Casserole

I have my recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole on my website, but I will post it here again also. It is an easy recipe to make, whether using canned sweet potatoes (large, 40-ounce can, drained) or fresh cooked. The recipe is completely forgiving as to amounts. I have gone from using a half-cup of sugar in the sweet potatoes to using no sugar in them at all and all over in between. I have used butter in the sweet potatoes, or no butter, and even used "butter buds" back when I was in Weight Watchers. The streusel is the "main event" as far as my husband is concerned, so a lot of it goes on top of my sweet potatoes. It is easy to make about half the recipe if you are looking for a nice topping without so much excess. Nuts are grated over top of this casserole, and I use pecans, in deference to my husband's preference, but walnuts are equally good, or no nuts at all, if need be. The recipe as I am making it for our dinner is this one:

Sweet Potato Casserole

Serves 6

1 (40-ounce) can sweet potatoes, drained, OR
   3 - 4 fresh sweet potatoes (2 - 3 lbs), peeled, cubed
1/2 cup sugar or brown sugar
2 - 4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla, optional


1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If using canned sweet potatoes, drain and mash them in a bowl. If cooking the sweet potatoes, bring the peeled and cubes potatoes to boil with water to just cover them and add in a tablespoon of salt, once boiling. Cook about 15 minutes, until soft. Mash the potatoes with a masher or fork. It is not important to have them smooth, unless this is desired. 

cubed potatoes in pot    |    starting to boil    |    adding salt to cooking water    |    smashed potatoes with butter & sugar
To the smashed potatoes, add the 1/2 cup of sugar (of choice), butter and vanilla. It doesn't matter if the butter is not melted into the sweet potatoes, such as if you just opened the can of cold potatoes. Just mash it in and it will be just fine.

Make the streusel by placing all three ingredients into a bowl and using fingers (always best!) or a fork, blend the ingredients together to make large crumbs.

My Quick & Easy Cornbread in cubes for stuffing
Lightly grease a 7 x 10 or 8 x 8-inch baking dish. Pour in the sweet potato mixture and spread to edges of the pan. Place the streusel over top of the potatoes and top with the nuts. Set the casserole in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, until the nuts are golden and the casserole is heated through. 

Cornbread in my Stuffing Recipe

This year I am making my stuffing slightly differently. Instead of using a jumbo 1 1/2 pound loaf of bread as usual, I bought a 1 pound loaf of white bread and made cornbread to use for that extra half-pound. I am going to add in large chunks of whole peeled chestnuts. I bought them at Williams Sonoma recently, and my husband and sister-in-law also love them, so this stuffing should be a hit. Other than these two changes, the recipe is just as I always make it. See my "Better than Mom's Stuffing" recipe on my website.

It is easy enough in most places to grab a little package of Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix and make cornbread. It is just about as easy to make it from scratch. Here is my cornbread recipe:

Quick & Easy Cornbread

makes one 7 x 10 or 8 x 8-inch casserole

1 cup all-purpose flour (4.8 oz / 137 g)

2/3 cup cornmeal (3.4 oz / 96 g)
2 tablespoons sugar (0.92 oz / 25 g)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (0.25 oz / 7 g)
1/2 teaspoon salt (0.11 oz / 3 g)
2/3 cup milk (about 5 fl. oz.)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (1 oz / 27 g)
1 large egg (about 2.4 oz / 66 g)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a baking pan, either 7 x 10 or 8 x 8-inches), and set aside. Whisk together the first 5 ingredients in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, melted butter and egg. Pour into the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 15 to 18 minutes, or until golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

I wish everyone here in the U.S. a most wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with safe travels and good weather and lots of good family time. My Thanksgiving celebration is being postponed until Friday, but I plan to have a most wonderful meal of Thanksgiving myself here, safe at home.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Two Methods to Make Great Turkey Gravy

Rich Turkey Stock

Lumpy Gravy? No Way!

Too many people fear making gravy; fear having lumps. It just isn't that hard, folks! Even without any fancy gadgets, a completely silky smooth gravy is easy to make. One of the most important ingredients is the stock used to make the gravy, as this is where the best flavor will come from. See my last blog about making your own delicious, Rich Turkey Stock. I hope by the end of this blog, you will feel confident about making your own gravy.

I am sorry about the lack of photos in this blog. I have never given a thought to taking step-by-step photos while making gravy. I will try and remedy this while making my gravy this holiday, but for now, explanations will have to suffice.

The Roux Method

There are at least a couple of ways to easily make gravy. The first is the "roux" method. Roux is a French word, pronounced "roo", rhymes with "too". A roux is a mix of 1 part fat to 1 1/2 parts flour, mixed together over heat until of a sandy consistency, for a "light" roux (there are other colors of roux, but that subject is for another time). At this point a cool liquid is added. It is best to take the roux off the heat for the first addition of liquid, while it is whisked to blend completely smooth. With continuous whisking, back over heat, the remaining liquid can be added safely, while it is heated through and the raw flour taste is cooked out, about 15 minutes. Add salt as needed. Start with 1 1/2 teaspoon of salt per quart of stock used. Taste and adjust if needed.

If you are unsure what amount of fat, flour and stock is needed to make gravy thicken properly, go by this rule of thumb: 1 1/2 tablespoons fat and 2 tablespoons + 1/2 teaspoon of flour will make a roux to thicken about 1 cup of stock. If you want 4 cups of gravy, start with 6 tablespoons fat and 9 tablespoons of flour to make the roux, then allow about 4 cups (1 quart) of cool, or cold, stock.

What if I have Pan Drippings?

If you made your stock ahead of time, as I have, and on the day of the holiday you will be roasting the turkey, there will be pan drippings. These drippings, slowly caramelizing in the bottom of the roaster are like gold. Use a baster or a ladle and scoop out all those delicious drippings into a bowl or measuring cup. Allow the cup to set for a few minutes to allow the fat to rise to the top. If you own one of those measuring cups that drains off the actual juices while leaving the fat behind, even better. However you manage it, separate the fat from the drippings. Take the drippings and add them right to your stock. Doesn't matter if the stock is cold in the fridge. Just add them in. Doesn't mater if you are using store-bought stock. Mix these precious drippings into the stock because it cannot but make the flavor better.

Making the Gravy

Now, as for the fats, these will be great to make the roux for the gravy. You can measure out the amount of fat you need, as noted above. To thicken 1 quart of stock, start with 6 tablespoons of fat (use the turkey fat, or substitute butter, oil, bacon grease) in a hot saucepan. When the fat of choice is melted, add in the 9 tablespoons of flour, stirring while the flour begins to sizzle. Unless you want to spend the time cooking the roux down to a darker color, at which point it has less thickening power, all you need to do is get the fat and flour to a point where they are sandy looking in the pan. Remove the pan from the heat, add in about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the cool or cold stock (with the drippings added). Whisk continually until the mixture is completely homogenous. Set the pan on the heat again, whisking constantly, and slowly add in the remaining cool or cold stock. Continue to whisk as the gravy begins to thicken. Once the gravy is boiling and thickened, lower heat to the barest simmer and cook for about 15 minutes more, stirring occasionally. To recap:

Making Gravy with Roux

  1. Melt 6 tablespoons fat in a medium saucepan.
  2. Add 9 level tablespoons flour.
  3. Cook until the two ingredients are combined and sandy looking.
  4. With pan OFF heat, add in 1 to 1 1/2 cups of cool or cold stock.
  5. Whisk briskly to combine the cool stock with the roux.
  6. Return the pan to heat and whisking constantly, add the remaining 2 1/2 to 3 cups of cool or cold stock.
  7. Whisk constantly until the gravy has thickened.
  8. Add in about 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and whisk in. Taste for seasoning.
  9. Allow the gravy to simmer very slowly, whisking occasionally for 15 minutes more.
  10. Yields about 5 cups of gravy.

The "No-Added-Fat" Method for Lump-Free Gravy

Tupperware Quick Shake Container
To be perfectly honest, I have never once, ever,measured how to make gravy this way. I can only say I have done this a lot over the years, particularly when dieting and eschewing those "dreaded" fats. In this case, palace your stock into a saucepan and bring to a low boil. 

For this method, it is great to have one of those Tupperware Quick-Shake Containers. It makes relatively quick work of shaking together a liquid with flour or cornstarch. Even if you do not have one of these handy gadgets, all you need, at minimum, is a fork, a measuring cup of bowl and a strainer that will set over your pot. Preferably, you will have a whisk. I usually start out with about 3/4 to 1 cup of cold liquid (water, milk, stock) and add in about 1/2 to 3/4 cup flour or slightly less than this amount of cornstarch. Once added, if using the Tupperware container, set the little whisking disc in place, press the cover on, making sure the pour spout is sealed closed and shake the heck out of the mixture. If the Quick-Shake container is not part of your kitchen, at very least, use a fork to whisk the dry ingredients into the wet, or use a whisk. There will be more lumps in the mixture this way, but this is still no problem. 

Set a strainer over your hot pot of stock and be ready with a whisk. Pour in a little of the liquid/flour mixture into the strainer and immediately begin to whisk. The mixture will begin to thicken quickly, so it is easy to see whether you have added enough of the liquid/flour mixture. If it is not thick enough, pour more of the liquid/flour mix into the strainer and whisk quickly, noting how the thickening looks. If still not thick enough, do this a third time. I know you sort of feel like being an octopus at this time would be helpful, but maybe a spouse or significant other might lend that third hand, either to whisk the pot, or hold the strainer. It has been an extremely rare occasion when I have had to mix up a little more of the liquid and flour mixture because the gravy was not thickened enough. If your stock was unsalted, add in 1 or 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and stir well. Taste and add more if needed. To recap:

Making Gravy with No-Added-Fat

  1. Place 4 cups stock into a saucepan and bring to boil.
  2. In a Quick-Shake container or a bowl, whisk together approximately 1 cup liquid (water, milk, stock) with 1/2 to 3/4 cup flour (or slightly less if using cornstarch). Whisk these ingredients as smooth as possible, but don't stress over it.
  3. Set a strainer over the boiling stock in the pot.
  4. Pour in a part of the liquid/flour mixture and whisk the pot quickly.
  5. Note how thick the stock is. If it needs more thickening, repeat step 4.
  6. If it still needs thickening, repeat step 4 again.
  7. Add about 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste. 

Gilding the Lily

Though the gravy at this point should taste very good, there are myriad tricks and tips to building even more flavor into your gravy. Long ago I bought a little tin of truffle powder. This came from the little shavings of truffles and contributes the true flavor of truffle. On NO account should you use one of those "oil of truffle" things out there. Heaven only knows what is with that stuff, but it tastes just awful and would completely ruin the gravy. If you are so Lucky as to have truffles or truffle powder, go for it.

Another great way to add flavor is using dried mushrooms, such as dried shiitakes. You can whirl 3 or 4 of these in a spice grinder until you have a good amount of powder. Add this powder to the stock and cook for a bit to release the flavor.

The addition of about 1/2 cup of blue cheese such as Gorgonzola, can really heighten the flavor of the gravy without going overboard into "too much." Stir in the crumbled cheese and allow it to melt. Depending on your holiday theme, other cheeses could be substituted. In this case, be careful with salting the gravy, as cheese is sometimes very salty. 

Worcestershire sauce will add zip. Soy Sauce will lend intriguing flavor, but again be careful with too much salt. Fresh ground black pepper is a great flavor enhancer. 

And finally, if for some reason your gravy is too pale for your taste, a tiny splash of Kitchen Bouquet will give wonderful rich color. Kitchen Bouquet is very strongly colored, so be very careful, particularly with turkey gravy, or it will look like you are serving beef gravy. If Kitchen Bouquet is not a part of your pantry, instant coffee powder will add some color, but be careful using too much. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

A Great Turkey Stock from Extraneous Turkey Parts

If you are a staunch user of packets of "Gravy Mix", this blog may not be for you. I have always, always made my gravy from scratch, using a wonderfully flavored turkey stock of my own making. Even in Guatemala, where Thanksgiving was celebrated only in my own house and turkeys were very hard to come by, I made my own stock and my own gravy. Having a really flavorful stock goes a long way to having a really delicious gravy.

How to Make a Great Turkey Stock

Whenever a holiday comes around where turkey figures prominently, there will be bits and pieces of turkey leftover. I am mainly talking about whole, raw turkey. Whole turkey almost always comes with that little packet of gizzards and a neck in there somewhere. Add to that any spare skin that is dangling, cut off the tail and even the wingtips. Wingtips only tend to burn anyway; a better idea is use them in the stock. 
Possible bits and pieces for turkey stock

Going one step further this year, I have already butterflied or spatchcocked my turkey and set it to refrigerate with a Dry Brine mixture. When cutting out the backbone of the turkey in order to lay the bird open flat, this gives a perfect opportunity to have one more tasty morsel to make a good stock.

My stock recipe makes a fair amount of stock, but it can always be measured out into plastic freezer containers and frozen for later use. Good stock is always a great thing to have on hand. It is easy to make, also. Just set all these turkey bits and pieces into a large stock pot with a lid. Add in the Holy Trinity of vegetables (onion, celery and carrot), some parsley, bay leaf and peppercorns and you are done. The onion can go in whole, with the skin (which gives great color to the stock) or just cut in half. The carrot just scrubbed clean and the celery also. Cover with water, bring to a boil, then simmer for hours. No need to be right there watching, if the pot is truly at a low simmer.

I know there are those who would brown the meat pieces first, as well as sauteing the vegetables. If this is your choice, please do so. For sure the results will be worthwhile. For me though, there are so very many details to attend to over the week preceding Thanksgiving that this easy version will yield a wonderfully rich tasting stock with far less work involved. During a holiday, that is my whole, heartfelt goal: LESS work.

Rich Turkey Stock

makes 6 to 8 cups stock
Vegetables added to the pot for stock

spare turkey parts (neck, gizzards, wingtips, fat, skin)
1 whole onion, cut in half or left whole
2 carrots, scrubbed clean, in half
3 stalks celery (with leaves if possible), cut in half
1 small bunch parsley
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 - 2 bay leaves
10 cups water
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, optional

Set all the ingredients into a large stock pot with the water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a bare simmer, cover and cook for at least 2 hours, or up to 6 hours if time permits. Once done, remove the larger pieces and discard. Strain the stock into a large bowl through a fine strainer to remove any small bits. Let the stock cool completely, then portion the stock into plastic freezer containers. 

If using the stock to make gravy, you will still likely not need quite this much stock, but it makes a perfect base for any soup you choose. There is no salt added to this recipe, as it could easily become too salty if the amount of liquid evaporated during cooking - and it will. It is far easier to add salt to your soup or gravy when that time comes, than to have a stock that is too salty.

Finished stock, strained
The recipe begins with 10 cups of water. I left my stock simmering for about 5 hours, by which time the liquid had boiled down significantly. I had reserved 2 cups of water to add to the stock at the end, bringing it back to a quick boil before setting aside to cool, remove the large things with tongs and then strain the stock. I was left with 8 cups, after the addition of that extra 2 cups to the finished stock. If not for that, I would have had 6 cups of stock. Just as an FYI, once strained, the stock could be boiled down to half the amount or less, for very concentrated flavor, if desired. No matter how, this stock has far more flavor than anything you can buy, and you can control the sodium content.

I usually add saffron to my soups and stock. This time I forgot. Even without all the coloring (and wonderful flavor) saffron gives, this stock still has a beautiful, deep, rich color. If you love saffron, by all means use it. Don't even bother with soaking and pressing out the color from the threads - just toss them in. After hours of cooking, all the color in the saffron will be in your stock. Trust me!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Plans for my Holiday Turkey

This blog is a continuation on the Musing on Thanksgiving theme. I am planning quite a few new ways to do things for this Thanksgiving, but as I have yet to make these dishes, I cannot exactly tell everyone how to do them. I can, however, tell you what I am planning to do!

To Spatchcock a Turkey?

In the Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit magazine, they showed an option to "spatchcock" a turkey. This is otherwise known as "butterflying", but I suppose the word spatchcock would garner immediate attention, like, "What the heck is spatchcock?" Since there were photos to accompany the recipe, of course this was easy to see. The magazine said this method was really only viable with a smaller bird, in the 12 to 14-pound range, max. A larger one would be very difficult to handle. I would tend to agree with this. Still, around these parts, in the last 3 years, I had ever yet to see a turkey under approximately 20 pounds. Lots of large, extended families around here, I guess. And I am not averse to making a large turkey, generally, because I just love turkey leftovers. 

Still, just on the off-chance, when I went grocery shopping last week, I stopped at Kessler's, our local grocery, only to find that small turkeys were ALL there were in the frozen bins! I was shocked and surprised, but gratified at this turn of events. The only problem was that for some unknown reason, there were no weights shown on the turkey package, so everyone had to lift these birds up into the hanging scale to find out what they weighed. After about the fourth time lifting one into the scale, my arm was already sore! The first two I weighed were about 11 pounds. Not bad, but geez, there would be NO leftovers that way! I ended up with one right about 13 pounds, so that is what I will be working with, come turkey day.

How to Spatchcock or Butterfly a Turkey

Legs splayed outwards or legs tucked up and inwards
The idea is to turn the turkey breast-side down. Using poultry shears along each side of the backbone to remove it. The backbone can be added to the stock pot to make a nice rich stock for the gravy, later on. Once the backbone has been removed, one is to score (with a sharp knife) to either side of the breast bone (or keel bone), thus making it easier to flatten the turkey. The turkey is now flipped over, skin side up. Using both hands, press on the breast bone with firm force, until there is a crack as the bones give way, making the bird lie flat.

I have butterflied a chicken on a couple of occasions, using this same method, so I do not anticipate any great difficulty, except for the fact that this is much larger than a 3 1/2 pound chicken! When I made the chicken this way, the recipe stated to twist the leg quarters up and inward towards the breast, so they didn't just stick out all over. Bon Appetit's recipe does not say anything about this, and even shows a photo with the legs splayed outwards (as shown on the left, above). It seems this would make it awkward to roast, especially if the roaster is not large enough to accommodate the legs this way. My plan is to attempt to twist the legs up and in a bit (as shown right, above). I have no idea yet how easy or difficult this might be. I will report!

Next Day: The Deed is Done

I brought in the turkey, which was thoroughly thawed. I got out my trusty Poultry Shears and bit the bullet. It does certainly take some hand strength to cut through the bones up and down the backbone, which was now set aside with the other ingredients for the stock. Once that was done, I tried to "score" the breastbone from the inside, in the attempt to make flattening the breast a bit easier. This step was more difficult than I anticipated. Once I turned the turkey skin-side-up and pressed down on the breastbone, it did crack, but terribly lopsided. Oh well. At least it is flat enough. 

Today I also decided to Dry-Brine my Turkey once I had accomplished the butterflying part. Some recipe say to dry brine for only 8 hours, and some up to 4 days. I opted for the 4 day method, mainly because this gives me leave to get the stock made well ahead also. The dry brine is also made with a large portion of salt, though not as much as a wet brine. Here is the recipe I used:

Dry Brine for a 12 - 14 Pound Turkey

3 tablespoons Kosher Salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 bay leaf, vein removed
1 1/2 teaspoons dry whole sage, rubbed
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon allspice berries

Spatchcocked turkey, left   |   Rubbed with Dry Brine, right
Set the salt and sugar in a small bowl. In the well of a small grinder used only for spices, crumble the bay leaf and add in the sage, thyme peppercorns and allspice berries. Grind finely and add to the salt and sugar. Mix well. Use to rub all over a smaller turkey, inside and out. Set the turkey on a pan in the refrigerator, uncovered, for up to 4 days before roasting.

Since the dry brine has a good bit of salt, I took the salt out of my Herbed Butter recipe. This is what I am going to make for my compound butter this year:
Herbed Butter - for a Dry-Brined Turkey

Herbed Butter for Turkey

enough for one large turkey

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon capers, minced
2 - 4 cloves garlic, minced

Have the butter at room temperature, soft enough to mix with the herbs. Add in the sage and thyme leaves with the Dijon mustard and minced capers and garlic. Mix well; set aside.

Use this mixture to rub under the skin of the turkey before roasting.
The goal in making the turkey this way is not to bring that gloriously browned whole bird to the table, which I have never done in any case. The goal is getting the bird done in record time, and making it easy to carve. The oven is preheated to 400 degrees to start. A bed of vegetables (celery, carrots, onion quarters, whole garlic heads, cut in half) and the turkey goes in set on top of this bed of vegetables. A half cup of water is poured into the pan and the whole thing goes into the oven for 30 minutes at this high temperature. Then the heat is lowered to 350 degrees for another hour, basting with melted butter or oil every 20 minutes. A meat thermometer inserted into the meatiest part of the thigh should register 165 degrees.  The bird is tented with foil for 30 minutes before carving.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Easy Corn Chowder for a Cold Night

Lots of years ago, my Dad, who loved to cook and was quite creative, gave me a recipe he had made from some magazine. This was back in 1995, so it's been a while, and I don't have any idea what magazine it originally came from. It was called Hearty Corn Chowder. 

True to form, Dad tinkered with the recipe. This must be where all my sisters and I got this trait from. He wanted to make the soup while visiting on the occasion of my daughter's wedding. Dad said he sometimes added in grated carrot. I wanted to add garlic, which was conspicuous by its absence! I add garlic to everything - doesn't everyone? Over time, while the basics are still there, I have changed the amounts to suit my husband's and my taste. The thing that most intrigued me about the recipe in the first place is the use of Lit'l Smokies. A whole package of them go into the soup, along with a goodly portion of bacon. The rest is mostly opening cans: a can of whole kernel corn, a can of creamed corn and a can of evaporated milk. 

Hearty Corn Chowder
I don't even know how many servings this recipe was supposed to make. My Dad said it all depended on how hungry you were. I will say, on occasion, my husband and I have polished off the entire recipe all by ourselves. Did I mention how tasty this soup is?

Over time, I have mostly eliminated cans in my pantry. I say mostly, because there are some that I still use consistently like tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste, canned corn (usually 50% sodium or no sodium), creamed corn (reserved only for making my Creamy Corn Casserole and this Chowder), various types of beans (kidney, white, cannellini, black, pinto, garbanzo) and evaporated milk, just to make life a bit easier. I no longer buy canned soups or most any products that contain more than one item. Most canned goods have so much sodium that I spend weeks at a time trying to get rid of excess water weight. Things like the creamed corn are used only for these couple of recipes and nothing else. 

Package of Lit'l Smokies
So back to this Chowder. It does call for three separate cans of things, plus the bacon and the Lit'l Smokies, so it is pushing my limit for using cans and processed foods, but once in a while, it is just good. As for the Lit'l Smokies, I usually keep some in the freezer, but use them mainly for holiday appetizers like Smokies in Puff Pastry. Sometimes they come in handy for this soup. Since our severe Winter weather started at the beginning of Fall, I decided to make this soup a couple of days back. I got out my old recipe, written as Dad gave it to me, just to compare and see what all I have changed. I was actually a little surprised at how much my recipe differed. Not in ingredients (except for the garlic!), but in the amounts. To me, 1/2 cup of chopped onion is just plain not enough - for that little, why bother at all? As for 1/2 cup of celery, well, while that would be enough in my book (I am not over fond of celery), it does make a great "filler" ingredient. And then of course, garlic. So this is my own take on this recipe. I do not use carrot. I wouldn't mind, but my husband doesn't care for carrots. Sorry, Dad! My husband does, however love potatoes (they must be peeled), so more potatoes are used. Obviously, the recipe turns out a bit larger than the original. We usually now have a little bit left over.

You may notice there is no salt listed in this recipe. Both bacon and the Lit'l Smokies are quite salty on their own, so they do an excellent job of making the soup palatable. I usually use the no sodium or 50% less sodium whole kernel corn, too. If your taste buds need salt, add it to taste. For us, it is perfect as is. If there is any place that does not carry Lit'l Smokies, substitute them with a good smoked sausage, cut into small cubes.

One thing Dad did recommend: make cornbread to accompany this chowder! Here is the recipe:

Hearty Corn Chowder

Hearty Corn Chowder

serves 3 - 4

1/2 pound bacon, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 small onion, chopped (about 1 1/4 cup)
3 large stalks celery, chopped (about1 1/4 cup) 
2 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups potatoes in 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 medium)
1 1/2 cups water
1 (15.2-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (14.75-ounce) can cream style corn
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 (16.8-ounce) package Lit'l Smokies
1 tablespoon dried dillweed

In a large soup pot, fry the bacon until crisp. With a slotted spoon, scoop the bacon onto paper toweling to drain, reserving 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease in the pan. Add the onion and celery to the hot pan and saute the vegetables, stirring occasionally until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and toss until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the cubed potatoes and the water, bring to boil and reduce to medium. Cover the pot and cook for 10 minutes. 

While the potatoes are cooking, cut each of the Lit'l Smokies into 3 pieces and set aside. Remove the cover from the pot and stir in all the remaining ingredients, along with the reserved bacon and return to boil. Set heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Best served with cornbread on the side.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Musing on Thanksgiving Meals

My sister's feast with family, 2010
As an aside, it has been slow going, as it usually is when returning from a trip. I always have a hard time getting back into my routine, meaning things I normally get to are left for last - like this blog. That does not mean I have not been cooking! At present I have enough new things made to write for days. However, with Thanksgiving looming on the near horizon, some time has been spent pinpointing the recipes I want to make for this holiday. To change a recipe I love? Or not? Just an adjustment?

Our feast with friends, 2011
I never stray too far from my usual. All the things I grew up eating, like roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes and cranberries are always on my menu. However, aside from the fact that I am making the same foods, none of my recipes are even comparable to what my Mom made.

I loved Thanksgiving at my Mom's table. She stuffed her bird, back before all the dire warnings of illness due to stuffing cooked wrongly, and I loved that stuffing best. It was made with a cubed loaf of bread, fried bacon, onion fried in the rendered grease, parsley, eggs and milk. Over the years things changed. As I learned more about cooking, I added things i thought would taste good. Making Mom's stuffing recipe, it seemed natural to add in some apple, some grated nuts, reduce some of the grease, try to approximate the flavors of stuffing in the bird - without stuffing the bird!  My stuffing recipe morphed over the years to become Better than Mom's Stuffing. This year it is morphing again, but I will get to that after the fact. My ideas at this point are to proceed as usual, but substitute cornbread for part of the bread in the recipe, and to add in a jar of whole chestnuts. 
Better than Mom's Stuffing

She made mashed potatoes with butter and milk, salt and pepper. Her sweet potatoes were canned, partially drained and cooked down with some butter and brown sugar as a glaze. Her gravy was delicious, though I cannot say how she made it. Cranberries were from a can and most usually the "jellied" variety, sliced. Did you know that there exists a silver cranberry server? Actually, it seems that in Victorian times this piece was to serve tomatoes, but there is nothing like re-purposing, right?

Tomato or Cranberry Server
I do not stuff my turkey any longer; have not for many years. I often rub some mixture under the skin for flavor, like my Herbed Butter for Turkey or Chicken. In many prior years, I just stuck sprigs of fresh rosemary & thyme, with some onion wedges and garlic cloves under the skin. 

I cook 2 or 3 parsnips with my potatoes and then rice them, adding cream cheese or goat cheese and chopped scallions or chives. I make a Sweet Potato Casserole I have been making since the early 1980s. My stock is made using extraneous bits and pieces of the turkey (gizzards, neck, wingtips, extraneous fat chunks) and is used as the basis for my gravy. The pan drippings get added to the stock later on, before making the gravy.
Cranberry Orange Relish

I make my own Cranberry Orange Relish. My recipe for many, many years is a variation on many out there using orange juice as the cooking liquid. This year I am changing that recipe again. I had a bottle of Ruby Port open since using some to make the Fall Fruit Compote to accompany Pheasant Alfredo. I wanted to use some of this Port as a part of the cooking liquid for the fresh cranberries, along with orange juice. My thought was to first cook the Port down to about half the amount, to concentrate the flavors and lend sweetness. An alternative I would like to try some day is using pomegranate juice instead of the Port for this recipe. I imagine it will give great flavors also, and I would recommend it for those of you who do not use wine at all.

Yesterday was the day for this experiment. I have never, ever put spices into my cranberry sauce, but this year I did add in a small Cassia cinnamon stick, plus a little cheesecloth bag of 1/2 teaspoon each cardamom seeds and allspice berries. The smell in the kitchen was just heavenly while the wine cooked down!
A cup of Port  |  cooking Port with spices  | peeled sections of orange rind  |  orange sliced julienne style

I still used orange juice for the rest of the liquid, but used less sugar, overall. I added in a cup of dried cherries, for that flavor element. Along with orange zest, I also added lime zest and grated fresh ginger. I took plenty of photos while making it, but did not display the finished product  to get great photos. Those will be added in later on. Meanwhile, this is my Cran-Cherry Relish with Ruby Port:

Cooked to Jam Consistency

Cran-Cherry Relish with Ruby Port

Makes about 4 cups 

1 cup Ruby Port
1/2 teaspoon whole allspice berries
1/2 teaspoon whole cardamom seeds
1 stick (4-inches) cassia cinnamon stick12 ounces fresh cranberries (about 3 cups)
1 cup dried cherries
1 1/4 cup orange juice
3 parings of fresh orange zest, about 1 x 3-inches each
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
zest of one lime or lemon
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

In a 4 - 6 quart saucepan, bring the port to a boil. Wrap the allspice berries and cardamom seeds in a piece of cheesecloth and add them to the pot with the cassia cinnamon stick. Boil the mixture on medium for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until it has reduced to half. If the prep is not yet done, remove the pan from the heat until it is all done.  

Grated lime zest    |    grated fresh ginger    |   dried cherries   |   all added to the reduced Port   |  and cooked to perfection
If the rest of the ingredients are prepped and ready, add all of them in now. Stir together and return the mixture to boil. Almost immediately, the cranberries will begin to pop. I like to mash them against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon, freeing the insides. This helps thicken the mixture. After about 8 to 10 minutes at a gentle boil, the mixture should have thickened appreciably, to a jam consistency. Remove from heat, cool. Pour into a container, cover and refrigerate. The relish will keep at least 2 weeks well covered in the refrigerator. A great Do-Ahead dish for a busy time!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.