Monday, November 26, 2007

Christmas already?!: Dulce de Leche gifts

No break between Thanksgiving and Christmas...just go go go... well, we're game. Tonite we tried out the first of our Christmas-present recipes, dulce de leche. I researched recipes over the past week, my favorite being from Pomelo Pleasures, a blog I found whose author, unfortunately, just started law school and hasn't been writing very often. (There's a link to her beautiful blog on the right hand side of this one).

But D did his own research, and by the time I got home, he was doing a classic recipe: boiling a quart of whole milk on the stove. He added 2 cups of sugar, a teaspoon of baking soda, and a few drops of vanilla to taste. It took forever to cook into a thick sauce....we boiled it over a few times, and worried that we were cooking it too long. But my Pomelo Pleasures guide told us not to fret, just keep cooking until it gets to the right consistency.

Ours was delicious, but it turned out a lot darker than any of the ones we've seen. We're going to keep trying, and maybe add some rum or coconut to our gifts, but I gotta run. D just poured some over ice cream, and we have to get down to business.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Enough with the Turkey

Thanksgiving Detox Dinner

Salmon coated with toasted sesame seeds
Mashed cauliflower with garlic, onions, and white truffle oil
Sauteed green beans
Massive glass of water

And, unfortunately, leftover pecan pie with a glass of spiked eggonog!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Moist Turkey Through & Through? You Better Believe It.

I was listening to the Brian Lehrer show on NPR after Thanksgiving...he had three of NY's "top chefs" (as Lehrer put it; but I know better. NY's top chef lives with me and he couldn't be on the show because he was playing ultimate frisbee in the Turkey Bowl at the time) on the program talking about incorporating recipes from other cultures into the traditional American Meal. The host invited recent immigrants to call in and talk about the alterations to the meal that they had made for their families.

It was a great program, but two of the "top chefs" said that it was impossible to cook a turkey like they show it in the magazines: perfectly bronzed and evenly cooked. One of them said that the only way to ensure that the legs were cooked the whole way through and the breasts weren't too dry was to separate the legs from the breast and cook them separately. I wanted to call in and tell them that they were mistaken, but Lehrer had asked immigrants to call in, so I felt like I shouldn't. But let me set the record straight here:

You can absolutely cook a magazine-cover beautiful turkey that's moist all the way through.

The secret? Brining, seasoning, and basting.

We brined our 20 lb turkey in a big trash bag in a cooler on our back porch for about two days. I used enough water to fully immerse the turkey, 2 cups of kosher salt, a healthy Tbsp of pepper,2 onions (quartered), a few cloves of garlic, and bunch of fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, a bit of oregano). You can throw in some carrots or celery cut into fours; I didn't this year, but it's worked in the past.

Don't stuff the turkey! Just season it well. We put a few stalks of celery, about 5 cloves or garlic, salt, pepper, and uncut herbs in the cavity (the same as above, thyme, rosemary, and oregano--on their stems)--all tossed with some olive oil. We brushed olive oil over and dusted the turkey with paprika, salt, pepper, and a bit of cumin and put it in the oven covered.

Every hour or so, we took a look and basted the turkey with the juices from the bottom of the pan, being careful to continually spread the herbs over the turkey with its juices.

We took the aluminum foil off of the turkey about 35 minutes before it was done and re-seasoned with paprika, pepper, and a little bit more salt so that the skin would get crispy and brown.

You don't need one of those pop-up things to tell you if the turkey is cooked. In general, you cook a turkey by calculating 20 minutes per pound at 375. When you think it should be done, stick a knife in the joint of the hip of the turkey (where the leg joins the body) to the bone, and if the juices are clear, it should be done.

If you're nervous, you can always slice into the turkey and take a look. If you slice neatly enough, no one will ever know.

So now you know. For next year.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Homemade Frozen Bouillon

What a perfect day-after-Thanksgiving. D had to work; I slept in, and when I woke up, I turned NPR on in every room in the apartment. (D hates NPR, so you can't imagine what a luxury this was). The only thing on my to-do list? Make turkey stock. D clued me into this very interesting (and space saving!) idea for what to do with the stock: make frozen turkey bouillon.

This was the most expensive turkey I've ever had, so I was determined to use every last bit of it.

We started boiling the two carcasses from our main turkey (about 20 lbs.) and our 10 lb. turkey breast last night shortly after some of the dishes were cleared. We boiled it until we went to bed at around 1:30 am, and then left it on the stove, covered. I turned it back on at around 10 am, brought it to a rolling boil and boiled it until all of the meat fell off the bone. I let it sit, and then strained the liquid from the bones and meat. I boiled the liquid down for about 2 hours to a concentrated thick stock and cooled it off. I poured the liquid into two ice cube trays and stuck em in the freezer. I now have 24 cubes of frozen bouillon that I can use for various dishes for the next few months. I also have about 32 ounces of turkey meat that we'll use for croquettes!

I used one of the cubes to enrich the soup I made for the next day.

Two-Days-After-Thanksgiving Soup

2 carrots (slightly wilted)
3 stalks of celery
2 onions
4 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper
1 homemade bouillon cube
1 cup of fresch stock
6 cups of water
1 cup of pearl barley

Chop up the veggies. Sautee the onions and garlic in a little bit of olive oil, seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper. Add the carrots and celery and saute until tender. Throw it all in a pot with the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil and then simmer for about an hour. Serve steaming hot with toasted bread.

A Green Thanksgiving

How can you measure success for a dinner like this? Everything came out perfectly? Everything got to the table at the correct temperature? The kids didn't all beg for Cokes despite the fact that we'd made what we thought was some very cool fruit-juice punch? those measures, we wouldn't have been so happy with the results. Nothing's perfect, and kids just love them some Coke. So how did I measure success? By the fact that at least one person from every family asked me for a recipe, and where to find their own local Green Market. That was awesome.

What wasn't perfect? The playlist I'd made didn't really work; the kids needed to put on the TV, and D got absorbed in a Monopoly game that lasted for hours while I was busy playing hostess. We neglected to put pepitas in the pumpkin soup, ruined the mashed cauliflower, and forgot to tell people about the creamed onions until well into the second set of servings. But none of that really mattered.

We had about 25 people over in our modest Gowanus apartment and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves--they all left with a generous bag of leftovers. The last guests left around midnight, and we ended the evening by cleaning while listening to our playlist. We were thankful we did it when we woke up to a clean house the next morning.

The last thing I made before the guests arrived was a yogurt dip for the crudite. I made it with a Lebanese strained yogurt called Labne that we got at Damascus Bakery with lemon juice, paprika, salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, scallions, and a touch of sugar. A great alternative to a sour cream dip--the same consistency, but a lot healthier.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Late Night Shopping at the 24-hour Supermarket

Tuesday night D and I did some last-minute shopping for Turkey Day at the local Pathmark under the BQE in Gowanus. I got home at about 10 pm from a work dinner, and we started to worry about everything we had to do between then and Thanksgiving day. I proposed a quick trip to the all-night store, so we jumped in the car and off we went. On the way, we called my mother, who had told me earlier that day that she was disappointed we weren't making creamed onions for the meal. She told me what we needed to get and D and she debated how to make the sauce as I pulled into the lot. We weren't the only ones with the idea: there were about two dozen other couples walking through the aisles, the woman with the list, the man pushing the cart listlessly. The produce at Pathmark is horrible, and the selection of other stuff was pretty scant, so it was good that we only needed a few basic things.

Creamed Pearl Onions

1 bag of pearl onions
chicken stock
heavy cream
touch of corn starch mixed with water (or cream)

Peel the onions, being careful not to cut down to the root which will cause the onion to separate in the sauce. Place them in a sauce pot covered with some chicken stock. Hit the onions, when tender, with about 1/2 cup of cream (or more if you like it like that). Thicken with a mixture of corn starch and water (or cream). Season to taste with some salt and pepper. Place the mixture in a crock pot or slow cooker and keep it warm until serving. Enjoy!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Holiday Spirit at the Green Market

This past weekend was shopping weekend in preparation for our Thanksgiving feast. I had ordered a 16-18 lb turkey & a 10 lb breast from Dipaola Turkeys in Hamilton, NJ--local, free range, and fresh--and we added on a spiral of spicy turkey sausage as well. My heart stopped beating when we were told how much it all cost, but after a few deep breaths, and repeating the mantra: "local is good, the turkey will be delicious, I'm paying for sustainability," I was okay. After we'd loaded up on all of the veggies and herbs we needed for the meal, I had about $10 left. There's two women who sell flowers each week, and near Thanksgiving and Christmas, they start selling aromatic centerpieces, door wreaths, and swags. Last Christmas, we bought a centerpiece for D's mom and she loved it. (And we loved how it made the car smell for about a week afterward!) I asked the woman behind the table whether she had any decorative wreaths for $10 or less, and she said "no," and sadly shook her head. I asked D for the last $5 he had in his pocket and happily walked up to the woman with the $15 and a door swag. D was standing a few yards away looking stricken by the amount of money we'd just plunked down and I looked over at him; the woman turned to look at him, too, and when she turned back to me I said: "We just spent our entire life savings on fresh turkey for our family for the holidays." She handed me back a $5 bill and said "Happy Holidays." I couldn't really meet her eye, because I started crying, which made D laugh and hug me close to him. What a wonderful way to start the season!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Spicy Gingered Pumpkin Soup

We've been cooking parts of our Thanksgiving meal that will last for the week, and today, D and I prepared the spicy gingered pumpkin soup that will be our appetizer.

On Saturday night, I roasted two medium-sized pumpkins--the kind that are like a peach-tan color, not the bright orange ones. I quartered them, removed the seeds and pulp (setting them aside to roast later on) and seasoned the pumpkin meat with cumin, coriander, black pepper, paprika, salt, and lots of ginger. I laid them skin up in the oven at 400 degrees for about an hour.

We cooled them off outside on the porch, and then today I peeled them and cooked the pumpkin with carmelized onion and apples and more of the same spices. Then I had to leave to go to work for a bit, and while I was gone, D put the mixture through a blender and ta da, now we have about a gallon of soup. We'll just add some light cream to the soup on Thursday, and serve it in cups as our guests arrive.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Roasted chicken & turnips--on a budget

It was a miserable day in New York--drizzly and windy--but I had the good fortune of being called out to an unexpected meeting in Lower Manhattan. I knew there was a Green Market across from Century 21, and I remembered that the lady who I usually visit when I get a chance to go is full of good humor, and always offers to cut the long stems off of the veggies I buy (unless they're something I can cook, and then she'll advise how to do it). I was in luck: it was Green Market day, and I stopped to pick up some veggies to roast with the chicken I took out of the freezer this morning. What fun! I found some stuff I'd never seen before and decided on a bunch of small white Japanese turnips and some thin carrots. I've never roasted turnips before and I thought it might be fun.

I got home at around 7 pm with a bottle of Spanish Grenache and started on the chicken. I thought I could just wash it up, cut off the ends, and place it in a pan with the chicken, salt, pepper, paprika, and honey. But D was not having it. He had to step in and take over. He soaked the veggies to get all of the sand out, cut up some garlic, onion, and a potato I found. He cut the chicken into pieces, and tossed everything in a bowl with some fresh thyme. I insisted on drizzling the honey, but he mixed it all up in there, too. 400 degrees for an hour, and wow. We served it with the turnip greens that I sauteed with garlic, and it was really nice. I wanted to cut the carrots in half lengthwise, but D advised against it and roasted them whole. He admitted as we were eating, thought, that I'd been right; we should have cut them in half.

The best part of the meal: the cost. I picked up the chicken a few weeks ago on sale at the local grocery store and froze it: $2.35. The carrots and turnips were $3.50. The rest of the stuff I had hanging around, but it couldn't have cost more than $5.00 for everything altogether: half a Spanish onion, five cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, 10 sprigs of thyme (a sprig meaning only one twig about 3 1/2 inches only--leaves, of course), and about 2 tablespoons of honey. And the bottle of wine was only $13.00. The whole meal was about $24.00 at the most, and we have two generous lunches for tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Thanksgiving planning

We're having D's clan over to our small Brooklyn apartment for Thanksgiving, and we started planning the menu and getting together the "To Do" list this weekend.

I ordered a 14-16 lb turkey from the farmer's market at Grand Army Plaza this Saturday, along with an 8-10 lb breast (for additional meat). I also made spicy pumpkin soup from our Hallowe'en decorations (the ones that weren't cut into jack-o-lanterns), and froze 64 oz of it. I also canned some cranberry sauce (cranberries, onions, apple, and raisins with a bunch of spices).

I hope to do some shopping both at my regular old farmer's market, but also at the Red Hook Community Farm Farmers' Market, which has two more days left until Thansgiving: Saturday, October 10th and Saturday, October 17th, 9am-3pm. The Red Hook Community Farm is so cool: it was opened in a neighborhood that was really suffering from poor nutritional options, and has really evolved into a community hub. The farms are run by community youth, who learn about sustainable living and business management at the same time. Info on the organization:

You can also get directions to the market by going to the website.

So here's a sketch of our Thanksgiving menu so far:

Appetizers: Brie and crackers
cheese and guava paste

First course: Spicy gingered pumpkin soup

Second course: Green salad with tahini goddess dressing or a mustard viniagrette

Main course: Roast turkey with apple walnut stuffing with a pumpkin chipotle sauce
Green beans with bacon, red pepper and almonds
Pureed cauliflower with scallions
Roasted winter vegetables
Cranberry Chutney, and traditional cranberry sauce

Dessert: Pumpkin cheesecake bars and various pies brought by D's relatives

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A New Take on Meat & Potatoes

I just got paid from a relatively lucrative consulting gig and I went to town on menu planning for the week. Last night we had grass-fed lamb chops (coated with honey that I brought back from Ukraine, allspice, cardamom, salt and pepper) on top of curried couscous with cranberries.

Tonite, we had filet mignon au Jus, fresh stringbeans with bacon and almonds, and pureed parsnips with white truffle oil. I dry rubbed the meat yesterday afternoon with thyme, allspice, salt and pepper, and wrapped it in plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge. This afternoon, I boiled the parsnips in chicken stock and skim milk, then put it through the food processor and added salt and pepper. D blanched the stringbeans, shocked them in cold water, and then sauteed them with the bacon and almonds. We braised the meat in olive oil, then stuck them in the broiler for 26 minutes. We made the sauce by adding shallots, thyme, and brandy with beef stock and the beef juices. Then we heated the parsnips and added the white truffle oil at the end.

Served it with an Organic Rioja from Spain.

A completely new take on a traditional meat and potatoes meal. The pureed parsnips were like pudding. Kids would never know the stuff was healthy. They'd be too busy lickin' it off the plate.

It was an exquisite meal, perfect to top off an exquisite weekend. Last week was hard: Me recovering from some health stuff and D getting over a cold, and me just finding out that I've deveoped some kind of allergy with spots on my forearms. Here I sit watching interesting Sunday night television, finishing off the last of the wine, being fed Marzipan chocolate after D's cleaned the entire kitchen after the meal. And to top it all off, D said despite my spots, he might have to do me anyway.

The whole meal must have cost me $35 at the most (the most expensive thing was probably the white truffle oil, and we've got plenty left for other recipes. Or maybe D's labor). The Rioja sounds fancy, but it was really just $11 at "Big Nose, Full Body" on 7th Avenue in Park Slope. Mostly everything else came from the Farmer's Market at Grand Army Plaza, and the best neighborhood butcher on Prospect Park West and 16th Street--a great little Italian place, family-owned, just the kind that are disappearing from all over New York. I even bought a big ole dill pickle while I was there. Had to go to Fairway in Red Hook for the truffle oil, though.