Game Of Thrones: An Evening's Feast

Monday, April 25, 2016

Well our house was just as excited as most last night with the premier of Season 6 of Game of Thrones. The Hubby threw down a challenge: make a feast worthy of the premier. Challenge accepted.

Taking inspiration from the books and show, I also mitigated with some straight up medieval recipes I have in my repertoire from my studies ages ago. The resulting menu was fitting, presenting beautifully, and most of all was super tasty.

A Feast for Game Of Thrones Season 6 Premier

"Oysters with Vinegar" 
"Baratheon Drumsticks"
Sausages with Stewed Apples and Horseradish Mustard
Spring Pie in the Style of House Stark
Assorted Pastries

We began the meal with an assortment of raw local oysters. Living in Seattle, we're fortunate to have access to some killer seafood, including a variety of oysters, so this was definitely going to be on our list. I got inspiration from the scene in last season's episode where Arya goes around selling oysters and cockles to people in Bravos. I did a simple, classic mignonette sauce to go with (finely chopped shallot, red wine vinegar, and a sprig of thyme).

Also wanted to have some classic meat dish for the feast. I took inspiration from medieval recipes and decided on "Baratheon Drumsticks."  Based on a classic medieval recipe, the drumsticks were turkey legs marinated in a medieval spice blend and roasted until perfect.

The kids wanted hot dogs for dinner (naturally) so I mitigated their request with the theme and ended up grilling some bratwursts instead of the traditional American hot dog. To go with, a bit of stewed apples in brandy and cinnamon. The sweetness of the apples complimented the herbs in the sausages. And to go with, a bit of horseradish mustard (not pictured). This and the drumsticks went perfectly with the beer.

The main course was a pot pie using spring ingredients. Tender white chicken with a gravy of carrots, celery, onion, spring garlic scapes, and spring herbs all baked with a flaky buttery crust flavored with fresh thyme was filling and tasty, making the house smell wonderfully. On a whim, I decided to decorate a pie a bit and freehanded the Stark sigil using my fondant sculpting tools. I was pleased to find the decoration withstood the baking process. It made for an absolutely stunning and beautiful presentation. I'm excited to work with decorating pastry in the future!

Working with the dough right out of the fridge after it had sufficient time to cool made the drawing process easy.
I used a fine needle and scalpel shaper tool normally used to shape fondant for this and it worked beautifully.
The key here is to make sure the dough is very cold; as soon as the dough begins to warm it is more
difficult to draw. Refrigerate as needed while you draw.

Here are the recipes to recreate the meal. Enjoy!

Baratheon Drumsticks
4 turkey legs
4 Tbsp olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp garlic powder*
1/2 tsp paprika

Take a gallon size Ziploc bag and place the turkey legs inside. Add the olive oil on top, salt and pepper to taste, thyme, garlic powder, and paprika. Close bag and massage marinade over the turkey legs to evenly coat. Place in refrigerator and let stand at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 375 degrees (if using convection oven, set to roast). Place turkey legs out in a baking dish -- ideally you want one that can keep the turkey legs comfortably snug together -- and place in middle of oven to roast. Roast for about 1 1/2 hours, turning occasionally so all sides can get browned. Depending on the size of the legs, you may have to cook a little bit longer.

Remove and let stand to cool 5 minute before serving. Garnish with fresh herbs if you like.

*The reason we're using garlic powder as opposed to fresh is because we're roasting; using fresh garlic when we're roasting when exposed to the top of the meat (as opposed to being stuff under skin or inside) will burn the garlic; using the garlic powder prevents that burning.

Sausages with Stewed Apples
4 large bratwursts
neutral oil for frying (if using)
2 apples -- granny smith, fugi are best for this
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp granulated sugar
splash of brandy
pinch of good cinnamon
pinch of salt

To make the sausages:  Preheat your grill (if using) and grill sausages, turning frequently, until evenly browned about 10 minutes. Remove and cut into serving pieces.

If frying, heat about a tablespoon of neutral oil (vegetable, peanut, safflower; i.e. not olive oil) in a pan. Add whole sausages and cook on medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until all sides are browned. Add the lid on top in between turning to help cook the sausages through (adding the lid will steam the sausages, ensuring they'll be cooked all the way through). Cook the sausages, turning often, about 10 minutes. Remove onto paper towels when done, then cut into serving pieces.

To make the apples:  Peel and core the apples, then slice into thin slices. Heat the butter in a sauté pan and add the sliced apples. Season with a pinch of salt, and the sugar and mix to combine. Cook about 3 minutes careful to stir often so the sugar won't burn. Turn the heat on low and remove the pan from the stove; add a splash of brandy then return the pan to the stove. We don't need to flambé here so that's why we're taking the pan off the stove when adding the brandy, making sure it won't catch on fire. Stir to combine and cook for about 3-4 minutes on low-medium heat. Add the cinnamon and adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve the apples warm with the sausages and a side of spicy horseradish mustard.

Spring Pot Pie
1 large chicken breast, bone in and skin on
freshly ground black pepper
1 large bay leaf
1 sprig rosemary
5 sprigs fresh thyme
fresh sage, chopped (to taste)
1 small white onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, trimmed and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 garlic scapes, chopped
olive oil
1 Tbsp flour
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and roast in oven until golden and cooked through, about 30 minutes. Use two chicken breasts if you can't find a larger one.

While the chicken cooks, make the base. Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and scapes and season with salt and pepper. Cook about 10 minutes on medium heat until vegetables are softened. Add the herbs and mix to combine. Turn heat on low and add the flour, then mix to coat. Add the chicken broth a little at a time and mix in; you'll notice the flour will thicken. Bring mixture up to a medium heat and cook stirring occasionally with lid on about 20 minutes. When the chicken is ready, take the skin off and discard. Tear the chicken into bite-sized pieces and add directly to the vegetable mixture together with any juices that accumulated from the chicken roasting dish.

Taste and adjust with seasoning if needed. Add the cream and mix to combine. Cook another 3 minutes then turn off heat and set aside to cool. Once cool, transfer pot pie mixture to a baking dish of your choice (I used an oval shaped ceramic dish for this) and set aside.

While the pot pie mixture cools, make your pastry.

For the Pastry:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 pinch salt
1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (picked off the stem)
4 Tbsp ice water

Place the flour and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the butter is cut into the flour and is the size of peas. Add the salt and thyme leaves. Then with the processor on, remove the feeder tube at the top and add the ice water a table spoon at a time. The dough will come together into a ball on its own. Turn off immediately when the dough comes together into a ball.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and form into a disk. Wrap with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator at least 30 minutes.

When ready to make the pie:  Transfer your pot pie mixture into a baking dish (with juices and gravy and everything; I even include the herbs still inside).  Take the dough out of the fridge and using a rolling pin, roll out the dough until about 1/4 inch thick. Take the rolled out dough and gently place it over the baking dish. Crimp any sides up and over the side; don't worry about it being perfect, you want it to be rustic.

*You want to make sure you choose a baking dish who's circumference will not be too big for the dough to cover!

Take a bit of the cream or a lightly beaten egg and brush the top of the dough with it. This will give it a nice golden color when cooking and help it brown nicely.

At this point you can either pop it right in the 375 degree oven or take you sculpting tools and draw your image. Make sure the dough is quite cold before you draw; you may want to pop the pot pie back in the fridge for 30 min before drawing.

Bake the pie in the oven for about 50 minutes or until top is golden brown. Serve hot.

Comfort Food: Mediterranean Style Beef Tender Roast

Friday, February 26, 2016

It's been ages since I've blogged. One part taking a break, two parts busy life, I found myself for the greater part of the past two years mired down in just surviving the day-to-day of a working mom of three little ones, let alone having time to properly research recipes, experiment, and blog about any of it. But just as quickly life got unexpectedly so busy, the love for cooking came back.

We had just gotten back from a week-long trip to Anaheim for a Greek dance competition. It was a classic end of winter/early spring day in Seattle -- dark, stormy, and begging for the fireplace to be stoked-- and the thought of eating more restaurant food in a stale booth made me physically ill. I ached from the physical fatigue of dancing and running up and down the hotel at early morning hours to make practices and costume calls, and the mental exhaustion from competition left me bereft of any ability to consciously create a peanut butter sandwich, let alone a meal for my family.

As exasperation set comfortably in again, I was thunderstruck by something. That moment when something hovering somewhere between this world and an unseen but still felt other, literally slaps you in the back of the head and you physically snap out of your funk. My mind (which I affectionately call The Nebula) was immediately filled with images of colorful tuna tartare, a perfectly cooked steak with oven-roasted truffle potatoes, and a spring salad of apples and sharp, tangy goat cheese. My mouth watered and my husband's fell to the floor when I said I'd be right back; I was off to Whole Foods to grab some food to make dinner.

My ingredients purchased and my nerves undeterred, I quickly set to task making the tartare first. I gambled and decided to make it from memory, despite it being some five, even six years hence that I'd made this dish, and one ingredient forgotten or a too big a splash of this would ruin the $20 ahi I just bought. To my satisfaction, it came out perfectly. I still got it. And thus, has rekindled my spark for cooking and blogging.

I begin here not with the tartare (no pictures, I'll blog it soon, though, I promise!) but rather with a related dish I made some days later. Echoing the theme of comfort and welcoming of "coming home," I give you a pot roast. Mediterranean flavors of tomatoes, red wine, and earthy oregano and garlic permeate this one-pot meal. It is hearty and filling without sitting heavy. And served with mashed potatoes or crusty bread is the perfect late winter, early spring comfort food meal. Enjoy it. And nice to see you all again.

Mediterranean Style Beef Tender Roast
1 (3 1/2 lb.) beef chuck tender roast
2 large yellow onions, peeled and cut into chunks
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 large stalks celery, ends trimmed and cut into small chunks
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 cups chopped tomatoes (canned or fresh)
1 large bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp dried Greek oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 cup dry red wine
3 cups beef stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Season the beef roast liberally with salt and pepper all over.

Heat about 1 tablespoon's worth of olive oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Add roast and begin to brown, turning so all sides of the roast get caramelized and browned. This takes about 7 minutes total. Once browned, remove roast to plate and set aside. 

Turn heat to medium. Add a little more olive oil if needed. Add onion, carrot, celery to pot and season with a little salt and pepper. Stirring occasionally, cook vegetables about 10 minutes or until softened.

Add garlic, tomatoes, bay leaf, oregano and thyme and stir to combine.

Add the wine and using the liquid and a sturdy wooden spoon, scrape up any "brown bits" at the bottom and sides of the pan; this adds flavor. Add the beef stock and stir to combine.

Gently add the roast back into the pot together with any juices that have accumulated on the plate, and scoop a little bit of the vegetable and sauce mixture on top. Doesn't have to be covered, just a little bit to help to begin flavoring the roast. Bring to a boil.

Once boiling, turn off stove and cover with lid. Place Dutch oven into the oven to bake for about 3 1/2 hours, or until roast is fork-tender. The vegetables and liquid will thicken a little during cooking as the vegetables begin to break down, making a thinner sauce.

Remove from oven and let stand to cool 5 minutes before cutting.

To serve, slice roast into 1 inch thick rounds and serve on plate with scoops of the vegetable mixture if desired.

I love making a batch of mashed potatoes with some freshly grated horseradish for this dish, but buttered potatoes, noodles, pasta is great as a side or base to make a dish or just serve some freshly baked bread.

Cranberry Orange Scones: Dairy, Nut, Egg, Soy Free Version

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ok, making a return back to blogging....
I begin with a recipe for scones. For a recent tea party (during Lent, mind you), I was racking my brain and nervously twitching at trying to configure a way to make scones using no dairy and no eggs. Add on top of that, soy allergies, so most vegan ingredients were out of the question with its "soy protein isolate" crap. I ventured out to my Whole Foods, combing the aisle with a look of flabbergasted desperation. "How the hell am I suppose to make scones without butter or dairy....or freaking eggs?!" I screamed at myself in my head. Slowly I went with my shopping cart, about ready to admit defeat to my co-planners when I found it: vegan butter. No soy. BOOM! That's one down. Egg is fine -- used as a rising agent in scones, I could simply substitute with higher amounts of baking powder and hope for the best. But the wet....I needed something to sub for milk or cream or buttermilk. Undeterred, I ran past the soy milk and found it: almond milk. No soy. BOOM! The delicate flavor of almond milk would go with scones perfectly. I grabbed my ingredients and went to work...
I decided to make a classic combination of cranberries and orange. Why? Because it's safe and goes with almond milk, that's why. I doubled the normal amount of orange zest I usually use for scone recipes, used some good quality dried cranberries, and a splash of good vanilla extract with the almond milk to round out the flavors. The result was actually really, really good. Hot out of the oven the scones are most delicious -- the butter is lightly flaked in the scone, the orange zest is most fragrant, and the vanilla and almond flavors shine through a bit more. If you wan wait until they cool, then make a quick orange glaze like I did by combining confectioner's sugar with some orange juice.
This recipe makes 8 individual proportioned scones (or you can cut them smaller for 16 pieces, however you wish). These are great for a brunch or breakfast, and during Lent or if you have dietary restrictions, these will sure to please without sacrificing flavor. Enjoy! 

Cranberry Orange Scones (D/N/E/S free)

2 1/3 cup all purpose flour
4 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp freshly grated orange zest
1 stick vegan butter*
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 cup almond milk**
1 Tbsp good vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and orange zest into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Add the vanilla to the almond milk and set aside.
Take the butter and cut into cubes. Remember to keep it cold! Add the butter to the flour mixture and mix on low speed until incorporated through, and the butter breaks into small pea-sized pieces covered with the flour mixture.
With the mixture on low, slowly add the almond milk-vanilla mixture to the flour mixture and mix until it just comes together. Add the cranberries and continue to mix on low speed another minute or two so the cranberries can be evenly dispersed in the batter.

Lightly flour a working surface and turn the dough out onto it. Sprinkle a little more flour on top. Kneed the dough three or four times to incorporate the flour and gather it together into a flat disk.

Press the disk outward and flat with your hands and fingers until you get a nice uniform disk, about 12 inches wide.
Now to cut the scones. You can either use biscuit cutters if you like, or an easier way is to just cut into triangles. This is how you do that:

1. First, cut through the dough in a vertical line going down. Then cut in a horizontal line going across (i.e. cut a cross into the dough).  
You want to make sure you cut right through the dough so you can separate it easily.

2. Now cut an "x" on top of the "+". Cut each triangle piece in half, going all the way down the disk.
Now you have 8 even triangles.

Once you have your dough pieces cut through, lay them on the parchment paper lined baking sheet and place in oven:

Bake in the oven about 15 minutes or until the scones are lightly golden on top. You can eat them right out of the oven, or if you desire to glaze them, make sure to cool them to room temperature first.

To prepare the glaze, simply combine confectioners sugar with orange juice until a thick glaze forms (the ratio will depend on the kind of juice you use, but it's about 1 cup sugar to about 1 tsp juice). Whisk together until it's thick but spreadable. Use a whisk to drizzle the glaze on top, or just pour it over if you want a thicker covering.

*Make sure the butter and almond milk are kept cold right up until mixing. This will make for better textured scones!

**You can try using rice milk or coconut milk, but be advise the proportions would probably change. Almond milk has a thicker consistency (more similar to real milk or cream) which is why I chose it for this recipe.

Grilled Rib Eye Steak with Creamy Cheesey Polenta and Broccoli Rabe

Friday, November 21, 2014

Food doesn't have to be super stressful and intricate. Three of my go-to dishes are steak, polenta, and broccoli in some form. They all taste amazing in their own right, all cook quickly, and bonus is they all go together.

The other night I threw this dish together for a last minute date-night in. The whole meal took about 30 minutes to execute (not counting the steak coming to room temperature on the counter). This meal is easy enough to pull off on a week night, but special enough to serve to guests. If you're getting sick of the seasonal soups and stews, this will hit the spot right on. And the heavenly cheesey polenta will warm your bones on even the coldest of nights. Enjoy it!

Grilled Rib Eye Steaks with Cheesy Polenta and Broccoli Rabe
2 thick bone-in rib eye steaks (at room temperature)
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup fine ground quick-cooking polenta
1/4 cup half n half or cream (not milk; half n half or light or heavy cream)
1/2 cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch fresh broccoli rabe, ends trimmed and washed
olive oil

Brush both sides of the steaks with a little olive oil. This will help them not stick to the grill. Season both sides generously with salt and pepper to your taste. Set aside and go preheat your grill.

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a saucepan. Once boiling, reduce the heat down to low, then VERY SLOWLY AND WHILE WHISKING ADD THE POLENTA. If you add the polenta all at once it will bubble up and destroy you. Whisk the polenta until it's nice and incorporated. Keep the heat on low, whisk in the cream/half n half, then cover the saucepan with the lid, and let it cook, stirring occasionally. Generally the broth has enough salt in it to flavor the polenta, but if you're broth is a bit bland you may want to add a small pinch of salt.

Bring another pot of water to a boil for the broccoli rabe.

While the polenta cooks, go do the steaks. Grill the steaks on both sides to your desired doneness. I prefer medium rare. By the time the steaks are done, the polenta should be fully cooked through and beautiful. Make sure while the steaks are grilling you go stir the polenta too a couple of times.

Add salt to the boiling water and throw the broccoli rabe in. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until they turn bright green. Remove quickly and set aside.

Rest the steaks on a platter. While they rest, finish the polenta.

Take the polenta off the heat. Whisk in the two cheeses until they melt right in and thicken the polenta nicely. Set aside.

To plate, I like to serve the polenta on the bottom of the plate in generous portion, layer a few broccoli rabe on the side, and I like my rib eye sliced thickly on top. But you can just add the entire steak too right on if you like. Serve and enjoy.

Wine: I like a good Malbec with this personally, but any wine will do.

Week Night Yum Yum: Sausage and Peppers

If you are looking for a hearty meal as winter is approaching that's easy enough to throw together during the week, that is filling and satisfying and super tasty then this is the dish. Digging back to my east coast times I remember I used to make this dish once a week during busy law school schedules between me and the Hubsters. It's tasty, fast to throw together, and everyone loves it. I like serving it with a hunk of freshly baked crusty Italian bread myself, but if you prefer pasta then go ahead and make a batch; this dish is hearty enough to stand up to a meatier noodle like rigatoni easily.

Here's what you need:

Sausage and Peppers
1 lb mild Italian sausage (spicy if you like it)
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 very large yellow onion, peeled and sliced
4 cloves garlic (we like garlic; hold back if you don't)
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
3/4 cup marinara sauce (store-bought is fine)
crusty Italian bread for serving

Bring the sausage up to room temperature. Cut the sausage into larger bit-sized pieces. (You don't have to, but the dish will cook faster this way if you do).

Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the sausage and cook, turning occasionally, until evenly browned. Turn the temp to low and remove the sausage out of the pan. In the same pan the sausage cooked in, add the sliced peppers and onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the heat up to a medium and cook stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened and beginning to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Throw the sausage back in with the peppers and onions, then add the marinara sauce. Stir to combine. Bring the temperature to low and cover with lid. Cook another 10 minutes so sausages can get cooked through.

To serve, simply spoon out the mixture and serve with a big piece of bread. If you prefer you can hallow out the bread and make sandwiches with the sausage and pepper mixture instead. Or, serve over cooked pasta of your choice. You can top it with some parmesan, but back east we didn't do that. :)


How To Survive Thanksgiving In 10 Easy Steps

Thursday, November 20, 2014

With Thanksgiving right around the corner I thought I'd resurrect my blogging skills and offer up some advice. Hope it helps you!
I used to loathe Thanksgiving. Some bullshit food-laden holiday stuck between fun and fascinating Halloween and more fun with the presents and lights of  Christmas, growing up for me Thanksgiving often meant overly dry turkey, boiled frozen vegetables, and some obscure ethnic dish thrown in for any non-locals that happen to be in the area visiting from Eastern Europe. As an adult I've since evolved to appreciate Thanksgiving more for what it should represent, and have a better understanding and different look for the other holidays as well. What hasn't changed is the Thanksgiving Intimidation -- where everyone freaks the f out at the idea of cooking a hundred dishes at the same time and serving everything cooked perfectly and looking beautiful.
After years of experimenting in the kitchen and figuring out recipes that work and recipes that bomb, failing miserably and succeeding spectacularly, I challenge you to the task and have faith that you can do this. Repeat: YOU CAN DO THIS.
And here's how:
1. Do A Little Every Day
The biggest mistake I used to do and many people do is saving absolutely everything for the morning of Thanksgiving. You absolutely do not have to wake up on that Thursday morning at 3 am and start baking or roasting your turkey. 85% of most traditional Thanksgiving dishes can actually be prepped and even made at least the day before, if not two or three days before. You must take advantage of this. Even if you have a tight schedule, try to do a little every day leading up to Thanksgiving.
Examples of what you can do ahead of time:
  • Chop all your vegetables for dishes (onions, carrots, celery, garlic, etc.) and portion them out in Tupperware with a post-it note for the dish they are to be used in.  
  • Clean your house, do your laundry, plan your outfit for the day of, etc. Get all your house chores done by Tuesday so Wednesday and Thursday can be spent exclusively on the food and table.
  • Polish whatever you need to polish, clean your crystal, wash your dinnerware and glasses, etc. the weekend before. If you have a set of dinnerware or fancy pants serving platters you break out once or twice a year, chances are they're dusty and dirty. Take everything out you plan on using and wash and polish them the weekend before when you have the time to do it right and not break anything. It's shocking how long it takes to wash and clean these items; you do not want to find out everything is dirty two hours before guests are arriving and your dishwasher is full!
  • Grocery shop on Monday or Tuesday. If you leave it until Wednesday or Thursday you'll be screwed, I guarantee it. 
2. Defrost The Turkey.
Oh man you'd be surprised how many people screw this up. Most people do the frozen store-bought
turkeys, which is totally fine. Some do the fresh, locally raised ones. Those are fantastic (but more expensive usually). Which ever method you choose, you have to make sure the turkey is ready as an ingredient to be used. If you had a frozen onion you wouldn't use it, right? Or bread that is half frozen? Same thing with the turkey. If you're using a frozen turkey, you must make sure it's defrosted all the way through. The proper way to defrost a turkey is in the refrigerator over a few days. Bringing the temperature down from the freezing point to cold takes a while and is safer in terms of microbes, etc. Take your frozen turkey out of the freezer on Saturday or Sunday before Thanksgiving. Literally remove it from your freezer, and place it into the fridge. Do not unwrap it. Don't put it in water first. Just transfer locales. It will be defrosted and ready to be used by Tuesday. If you plan on bringing it first you might want to take it out on Saturday just to be sure.  
3. Turkey, Butter, Herbs, Seasoning, Done.
Everyone freaks out about the turkey. It's the star of the show, and everyone has that image from Christmas Vacation of the turkey deflating in front of everyone. It's fine, it'll all be fine. The trick to turkey is first, starting off with a good product. If you're turkey is old or pumped full of crap it's going to taste old and pumped full of crap. Get a good turkey. Some have butter injections and all sorts of craziness; you really don't need that nonsense. Get a good, plain turkey from a reputable source. I like going organic and locally sourced because I like supporting my farms and think they taste better, but you do as you wish.
In terms of flavoring the turkey, I've seen everything from seasoning packets to injections to bringing liquids to rubs and all sorts of things. Different cooking methods will require different preparations; this advice is for if you plan on roasting the turkey.
I like a good brine. I used to not brine, but now I do. I like it. I like it mostly because it tenderizes the turkey and gives a really moist bird in the end. Also turkeys (especially wild ones) tend to have a gamier taste to them. If you're not into that then brining will also help mute that gamey taste if that's not your preference. There are a variety of brining recipes out there, so take your pick. The basics of it is water, acid (usually vinegar of some type), salt, sugar, spices. There are tons of variations so pick the one you like the most. But these basics should be there if you're brining.
If you don't want to brine or find you don't have time to, you can make a great roasted turkey. All you need is a shit-ton of butter, herbs, good seasonings, and an oven.
  • Make sure the turkey is at room temperature. ALWAYS AT ROOM TEMPERATURE. So you can ensure even cooking.
  • Wash the turkey inside and out. Make sure the bag of gizzards is removed and any loose particles in there. Wash with cold water inside and out.
  • Pat the turkey dry everywhere using paper towels. This is a super, super important step many people don't pay attention to and it will bite you in the ass if you don't take the time to do it. I mean everywhere. The neck, the ass, inside the wing armpits, between the leg and thigh bones, the rib cage, the breast all over. This bird should be d-r-y. Why? Because the butter will stick to a dry bird; it will fall off on a wet one.
  • Using room temperature butter (easier to spread), rub the entire turkey with the butter. Like two sticks' worth of butter. Salted, unsalted, I don't care, just use butter. All. Over. Everywhere you patted dry, now you're rubbing butter. And I mean rub. Massage that butter on that turkey like you're getting paid for it. You don't need to rub the inside of the turkey with butter; I just cute a few cubes and throw them in there.
  • Salt, pepper, dried herbs. Season the entire turkey, inside and out this time with salt and pepper. Even the cavity (i.e. where the gizzards were). Outside all over. A generous good sprinkling of salt and pepper. I don't care what salt you use; I like kosher salt for this because it roasts the best and tastes great. Also freshly ground black pepper is best. Use some dried herbs on top if you like -- I love a mixture of herbs de provence. It's classic, it goes perfectly, and the herbs are already mixed for me.
  • Stuff fresh herbs in the cavity. Fresh herbs have more water in them; if you use them on the outside of the turkey they will burn and taste like crap. Stuff them inside the cavity where they can flavor and be protected. Use dried herbs on the outside.
  • Stuff something inside the cavity for flavor and aroma. I like citrus with turkey a lot (lemons, oranges, clementines, tangerines) that I cut into quarters, garlic heads, onions, leeks, carrots and other root vegetables even. All of these will not be eaten, but they will help flavor the turkey as it cooks.
  • Roast it open (i.e. no bag, no tint foil) at 350 degrees for 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 hours (time will depend on how big or small your turkey is). You don't need to mess with different temperatures or sealing in juices or anything. Pop it in and let it gooooooo, let it goooooo.....
  • Here's my trick: start the turkey off breast side down for the first hour. All of the juices will sink down to the breast and make it moist. Plus you'll get good color all around this way. Then halfway through with some help from another person, turn it over so it's breast-side up now then continue roasting.
  • Baste the hell out of it the last 30 minutes, concentrating on the breast. All that butter and herbage and citrus and stuff will melt around it so suck it up and create a natural weather pattern made of seasoned butter goodness.
  • Cook until internal temperature reaches 155-180 degrees. *if you check the temperature at the white meat, pull it at 155-165; if at the dark meat, at 170-180.
  • Remove and tent the turkey in the pan with aluminum foil. You are resting the turkey, allowing the juices to redistribute inside so when you cut the bird it won't run like a bath on the cutting board and instead stay moist and delicious. Do not forget this step. Keep it rested covered in aluminum foil for at least 20 minutes; I prefer around 30 myself.
  • Carve and serve ceremoniously.
4.  Side Dishes: Something Old, Something Borrowed, Something New, Something Salad.
You'll be surprised to find that people actually don't get screwed up by the turkey, really for Thanksgiving. Rather, it's when you have to time and coordinate a variety of other dishes along with it that things get haywire. Now your attention is going from dish to dish, this is roasting there, that is sautéing here, that still needs to be chopped for that over there, and you can go crazy. Here's a rule I borrowed that works for Thanksgiving too.
  • Something Old: take a tried and true recipe to serve as a side dish that you know how to make with your eyes closed, shitfaced drunk at 2 am if you need to. I don't care if it's traditional for thanksgiving or not. Maybe it's mashed potatoes. Maybe it's a casserole. Maybe it's boiled green beans with garlic. Whatever side dish you love, know how to make easy, that you can bang out no problem. This is your standby, sturdy I Love You side dish you can depend on.
  • Something Borrowed: chances are you're having people over, right? Ask them to bring a side dish. Skip the wine and flowers, and ask them to either make or buy a side dish to serve at the table. This takes one thing off your plate to do (pun intended). If you're not having guests over or they're completely inept in the kitchen and/or cheap, then borrow a dish yourself from the store's ready-made section. Whole Foods prepares a variety of kickass side dishes you can "borrow" for your meal.
  • Something New: Thanksgiving is about tradition, but that's doesn't mean predictable and boring. Take a thumb through the magazines or pinterest and see if there's a new recipe you'd like to try. Make sure it's not too labor-intensive, or plan accordingly, and give it a go! The newness of it will invigorate your cooking and give the meal a fresh take.
  • Something Salad: worst case scenario, the oven breaks or the power goes out (this has seriously happened to me) and you're SCREWED. Not if you have a salad! Make a delicious fall-inspired composed salad full of yummies of the season that will thwart any kitchen disaster that may befall you. With a crusty fresh bread and a lot of wine, at least you have something delicious and festive to eat. It's also nice to have a healthy option, often vegetarian and gluten-friendly for your guests at the table as well. Win-win. You're welcome.
5. Set The Table The Day or Two Before.
Many people love to do elaborate "tablescapes" (PS I freaking hate that word) to get into the spirit of the season. I'm cool with that. Some people like bringing it old school, breaking out the fine china they registered for at their wedding. I'm cool with that. Some people like to throw a fresh pumpkin on the table and a bunch of candles. I'm cool with that too. Whatever your aesthetic is for decorating your dining table, it can be time consuming. The last thing you want to do is have ten different dishes fired in your kitchen and then you're screaming at your husband to help you set the table. I speak from personal experience.
Absolutely everything on the table, even flowers, can be set at least the day before. Get your linen washed or purchased, iron if you need/want to, set it all out with plates and place settings and all of it starting Monday or Tuesday. Everything. Even the glasses. They won't get dusty assuming you don't live in a dustbowl. Add the candles around, fold the napkins, use the napkin rings, whatever it is you're doing, do it all well before Wednesday. If you're doing fresh flowers get them on Tuesday or Wednesday, cut them, arrange them and right on the table. You should wake up Thursday morning to a table already set that all it needs is food and people. This way you can light the candles in under 10 seconds and it's done.
6. Just Use A Lot Of Candles
Speaking of table decorations, I know some people go nuts with the décor. I think that's great. I love it. But sometimes we don't have the time or the money to get it done. You don't need fancy stuff to make a nice looking table. Here are some tips that you can do cheaply and quickly:
  • Candles. Do a combination of candles for a nice warm arrangement. I like mixing differently heighted pillars with smaller votive candles. If you have canisters you can decorate with themed items to add color and texture to the candles. Try fresh cranberries, nuts in the shell, fresh herbs and greenery cut from your garden, even fresh colored leaves that have fallen from your tree. Honestly, my all-time favorite combo is elegant and simple cream colored candles and twigs. That's it. It's so simple and elegant.
  • Use real fresh pumpkins and gourds. By Thanksgiving they're all on sale anyway. And farms are giving them away. Throw some cute ones on the table.
  • A really good table cloth. You'd be surprised how just using a nice, good quality table cloth can class up a table with out all the hootin and hollerin of fancy china and crystals.
7. Invest In Good Booze (or Drinks).
I've had a couple of disaster holidays under my belt, where guests showed up already drunk or the stove wasn't working or the power went out. One time while pregnant I burned an entire side dish because I left my brother in charge of watching it (how he missed the black smoke coming out of the oven right in front of his face, I still don't understand). If all else fails, you can at least turn a disastrous dinner into a cocktail party.
8. Two Words: Ice Cream.
People equally freak out about desserts, especially if you're not a baker (ahem). You can do the pies and cakes and cookies and whatever you desire. There's absolutely no rule you need to have pie present at Thanksgiving. Yes it's a tradition, but if you can't make it or don't want to, then buy one or just don't' serve one! Frankly, to be totally honest with you, after a heavy meal of carbs and proteins the last thing I want is another carb heavy dessert. Personally, I love the refreshing and low maintenance of serving fancier ice cream for dessert. It's easy, it's already done (even if you make your own, you have to make it in advance!), and everyone will love it. Some ideas:
  • good quality vanilla with a homemade whiskey caramel and toasted pecan topping
  • bourbon pecan ice cream
  • chocolate with stewed cranberries and orange topping
  • coffee with vanilla caramel topping and toffee
  • classic rum raisin
  • cranberry ice cream with chocolate shavings
The idea is to take a classic dessert and incorporate the season into it. You can actually serve quite an elegant dessert with ice cream if you do it right!
9. Back Up Plan: Cheese Board, Crackers, Beer.
I told you had some bad Thanksgivings. One was when the power went out and I couldn't cook. We ended up having the dinner way later that night and the next day when the power came back on. But guests were already there and stores were closed back then. We busted out all the cheese, salami, ham, vegetable crudité we had in the fridge and the fresh bread and crackers we had in the house and it was still a fun gathering. Not quite traditional in the pilgrim sense, but traditional for us. I learned an important lesson from that year: to always have a backup plan just in case. Cheese and crackers and beer will keep well after Thanksgiving; no harm in buying some and keeping it. If you don't use it, you can have it later!
10. Football and Buffet: Thanksgiving of Champions
Some people get freaked out at the formality of Thanksgiving, and of hosting a lot of people at one time. The idea of setting a formal table for 12 people or more, all the dishes to be washed after they're all gone.....maybe you don't have time for that. Maybe you just don't want to! Although many people do like doing Thanksgiving formally, you certainly are not obligated to. Having football on all day already has a casualness to the day. I say go with it! Turn Thanksgiving into a big day-long football party! Make everything and serve it buffet style, with plastic plates and paper napkins. Set out a cooler outside full of drinks for everyone to help themselves to. Maybe you might want to add a few things to make it special. How about a seasonal champagne cocktail for the ladies? Maybe offer a seasonal beer as well, instead of the usual football watching libations. Class it up a little. Swap the cubed cheese for maybe a nicer cheese platter. Cook the turkey and leave it out whole on the table, everyone can cut their own piece. Make side dishes in big casserole dishes like gratins or steamed green beans that will stay well over longer periods of time, and can be reheated easily. Put out a couple of pies and a platter of cookies for dessert. Make Thanksgiving foods approachable and ask everyone to help themselves.
Look. I've learned Thanksgiving (and any holiday for that matter) is as hard as I make it to be. Figure out what you want to do, not what family or pinterest or anybody for that matter tells you it should be like. It's your house, your stuff, your way. Break the rules! Or follow them to the T, whatever you want to do. Just remember it's about getting together with people you love -- friends and family -- celebrating the end of a glorious season, enjoying the flavors that come once a year, and just having a good time. 
Happy Thanksgiving!  

French Breakfast Croissant Rolls

Friday, April 25, 2014

If you're looking for a very easy and very tasty breakfast or brunch item then this recipe is a must try. I cheat using store-bought crescent roll dough and do a simple but perfect combination for the filling. I use French ham when possible -- it has a great flavor (more taste than boiled boring ham but not as harsh as black forest style) -- and classically pair it with a little grain mustard and gruyere cheese. The mustard adds a nice sharp flavor that enhances the flavor of the ham as well as brings out the sharpness in the gruyere. The cheese adds great texture and warmth to the croissant, and that classic sharp/nutty taste we love from gruyere.
You can assemble these earlier in the day or even night before, wrap them up tightly with plastic wrap and bake off in the morning or when ready to eat. They are delicious piping hot out of the oven or just warm, even room temperature. For a vegetarian version you can omit the ham and go straight with the mustard-cheese combination. If you don't prefer gruyere, try a milder Monterey jack cheese or even pasteurized mozzarella (I.e. not the fresh mozzarella you'd use for a caprese) or mild cheddar. If you can't find grain mustard then use a little Dijon.
These are fantastic for quick weekday breakfasts, weekend brunches, snacks for the beach, or parties and church functions. I like serving them with cloth napkins; there's something warm and comforting and just "french" about serving these with cloth napkins for some reason to me. Enjoy! 

French Breakfast Croissant Rolls
1 container store-bought croissant dough 
about 1/2 pound French style ham
1 cup grated gruyere cheese
grain style mustard

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Take the croissant dough and unroll each piece. They will be in a triangle shape with a longer pointed end. Smear a little mustard in the middle of the triangle piece. Take a slice of ham -- you may have to cut the ham slices into halves to make them fit -- and place it at the long end of the triangle (i.e. the opposite end of the long point). Add a good pinch of the cheese.

Now starting with that longer end, begin rolling the dough into a log moving towards that pointy end of the triangle until you've rolled it all up into a log. You can gently move the roll into a crescent moon shape if you like or leave them straighter. Place on baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough.

Bake in oven about 10 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Cook time will depend on your oven's strength. If they are starting to brown too quickly reduce your oven's temp.

Remove and set aside to cool for a minute or two. The cheese may bubble and ooze out of the croissants; no worries -- it will solidify as it cools. Serve warm.

I like serving these with a hot cup of coffee or freshly squeeze orange juice. If for a party just pile them into a basket lined with cloth napkins or a serving platter. Oven-roasted asparagus would go great with these as well for a brunch or lunch meal. You can also freeze these and bake off as needed.