Monthly Archives: November 2013

Putting the pumpkin back in pumpkin spice.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

I got riled up the other morning.

This does not happen often. I am typically pretty happy-go-lucky, but Facebook took me over the edge.

It wasn’t a political statement, first-world problems or one of the uglier -isms, no it was pumpkin spice. In  a world where we increasingly vilify real food in favor of weird, processed and extracted things like the powders, bars and Big Macs that are slowly killing us, I hit my wall at this autumn’s onslaught of pumpkin spice.

The aforementioned lattes, scones and pancakes are delicious, I’m sure, but they owe their flavor to pumpkin as much as a green Jolly Rancher gains its tart/sweet bite from apple juice. Rather than stew, I stood up and entered the kitchen, pulling a container of freshly roasted Galeux d’Eysines pumpkin out of the fridge. I combined it with oatmeal and baking spices, two tablespoons of maple sugar and a pinch of salt.

And…? Success! Pumpkin spice that tasted like pumpkin. A breakfast with enough fibre to make every dietary organization in America faint with delight. Most importantly, it was hearty and delicious, the perfect start to a crisp fall or brisk winter day. You could even enjoy it with a latte.

Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal

Serves 4

Fresh pumpkin makes his extra special. Roast a peanut pumpkin, Speckled Hound, Long Island Cheese or Hubbard. Or open up a can. Just make sure there’s real pumpkin.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh pumpkin purée
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 3 tbs maple or brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ginger
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground all spice
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 cups water

Directions:

  • Mix together all ingredients in a small saucepan.
  • Cook over medium heat, stirring as oatmeal thickens.
  • Cook to desired thickness, remove from heat and serve.
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Let’s talk turkey.

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IMG_1680My friend Sam, the guy who takes all these stunning food photos, is cooking his first Thanksgiving dinner this year. Last night as we talked turkey, Sam said something profound: “I don’t even know where to start.” Even the few lucky enough to learn from mom are often reenacting kitchen rituals last updated a couple of generations ago.

Here then is my Thanksgiving gift to Sam, a quick and simple guide to a straight forward turkey, no special ingredients, no crazy techniques, but it will put a delicious and respectable bird on the table so you can get back to sharing a special day with those you love.

1. Buying your turkey: You’ll need 1 pound of bird per person. That may sound like a lot, but it takes into account the weight of the bones. Turkeys typically range from 8-24 pounds. If you’re serving less than 8 people, congrats! you’ve got leftovers for late night sandwiches. If you are serving more than 16 people, I’d consider buying and cooking two turkeys.

When choosing your turkey, be just fussy enough. If what you can afford to feed your family is a $.98 per-pound bird from the grocery store, go for it. If you can afford a free-range organic bird for $4 a pound, it’s probably worth the expense. You don’t need to spend $10 a pound, period.

If at all possible, buy a fresh turkey. Frozen birds can take more than two days to thaw safely in the fridge (about 24 hours per 5 pounds). Remember that the neck and gizzards are usually placed in the cavity of the bird, often wrapped in paper or plastic. Remove them and save them for stock.

2. Brining: Brining, at its simplest, means soaking your turkey in heavily salted water, about 1 cup per two gallons. Coarse kosher salt gets the job done at a reasonable price. If you want to chop up and add one onion, one apple., 3 ribs of celery, 3 bay leaves and a tablespoon of peppercorns, go for it, but a simple salt brine works wonders all on its own. Any time in the brine helps, but 24 to 36 hours is ideal.

3. Use the right pan: If you are going to drop some money, do it here. Get ready to spend $100-120 on a roasting pan. Buy a multi-ply, stainless pan with a better heat conducting metal like aluminum or copper in the middle. This is the one place that All-Clad falls down. Check out Calphalon or Mauviel.

The reason for the heavy pan is so that you can take it out of the oven and put it over a burner or two to make the gravy. Do not buy non-stick, it reduces browning, which means less flavor.

4. Getting it ready to roast: There are four things to remember for a great turkey:

  • IMG_1676Rub your bird with butter: Rub the turkey inside and out with a cup or so of softened butter. Then salt and pepper the cavity.
  • Stuff it: I’m a stuffing-inside-the-bird guy. If you want to stuff your bird, nuke it first, as hot as you can get it, then stuff the bird right before putting it in the oven. This reduces the time needed to get the center of the bird to a safe 165 degrees, reducing the likelihood of drying out the lean white meat. If you don’t want to stuff it, add some aromatics to the cavity, try a halved lemon and a few sprigs each of parsley, thyme and rosemary.
  • Tie it up: My Mom uses a magic, ancient system of cruel-looking, metal skewers to hold her turkey together. This is easier. Tuck the wings into the body, and, using kitchen twine, tie them in place, running the string once around the thickest part of the bird. Using a second piece of string, overlap the legs and the big meaty piece at the butt, and tie those together, sealing the cavity.
  • Lay it on a bed of aromatics: This is the secret to great gravy. Cut an onion into thick slices. Cut a carrot in half the short way and the long way. Cut three celery ribs in half. Lay these in a single layer on the bottom of your roasting pan with a couple sprigs of parsley and thyme, and two bay leaves. Add 3-4 of cups of dry white wine, about 1/2″ deep. Place the bird directly on the bed of vegetables.

5. Roasting: There are a million right answers here, but I’ll give you two.

  • 350 degrees for 13 minutes per pound. Place the oven rack in the bottom position in your over and pre-heat it to 450.When you put the turkey in reduce the temperature to 350. Baste it every 45 minutes with the pan juices. Starting at 2 hours, check the temperature inside the thigh and the breast, with a quick read thermometer. Make sure the thermometer isn’t touching bone. The turkey is done when both the breast and thigh have reached 165 degrees.
  • 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes per pound. This method is for unstuffed turkeys weighing no more than 16 pounds. Larger or stuffed birds just need more time for the heat to penetrate. Baste every 20 minutes with pan juices. Check the temperature with a meat thermometer starting at 1 hour. The turkey is done at 165 degrees.
  • Tenting and turning. I’m a fan of turning my turkey halfway through cooking. I think it gives you moister breast meat. To do this, simply start your bird, breast side down in the pan, and flip it breast side up halfway through your projected cooking time. This isn’t a must, but it’s worth the work. If your turkey is browning too early, tent it with foil. This will prevent the skin from burning.

6. Resting: This may be the most important thing you do all day. When you take your cooked turkey out of the oven, place it on a platter and cover it in foil. Let is rest for at least 15 minutes. But let’s be realistic, you’ve got a gratin to pop in the oven and some squash purée to reheat, so your bird’s got a good 30-40 minutes to rest, and it will be juicier for it.

7. Great gravy: You will be remembered forever for bringing rich, flavorful, thick gravy to the table. Once the turkey is out, tip your pan toward one corner and skim off the fat, or use a gravy separator. Return the liquid to the pan over medium-high heat and reduce to about 1/2 a cup, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom. Add 6-8 cups of homemade turkey stock (which you’ve made ahead of time) and reduce by half. Strain the stock, reserving the solids.

Take one cup of stock and whisk in 1/4 cup of flour to make a slurry. Return the remaining stock to the pan over medium heat. Chop about 2 cups of the vegetables and add those to the pan as well. Once the stock is simmering again, whisk in the flour mixture. Let this cook for 10 minutes longer to thicken.

Remove the gravy from the heat and whisk in 2 tbs of cold butter, along with a splash of brandy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Now, bring your gravy to the table and prepare to be revered.

8. Carving: There’s no way around it, this is going to be awkward. Even the best YouTube video won’t prepare you for feeling your way around the leg and wing joints, as you separate them from the body. But don’t worry about it.

First, remove the legs and wings, feeling for the joints. Next, remove the thigh from the drumstick. A pair of sharp kitchen shears will make this much easier than a knife.

Next, remove the breasts, slicing down from the top along the breast bone. Continue, pulling the breast away from the bone and slicing out horizontally to remove the meat.

Now carve the breast and the thighs, cutting the short way across the pieces of meat. It will kind of be a mess the first few times. Just heap it on a platter and then watch no one care, as they load up with turkey and slather it with gravy.

Congratulations!

Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Remember, if you want to do this like a pro, you’ll have to cook a turkey more than once a year. Otherwise, just eat that delicious turkey and toast to the many blessings in your life. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sharing the spotlight.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Not only have Brussels sprouts become the trendiest member of the Brassica family, but they have been pigeonholed for caramelization. No one wants to hear about a Brussels sprout today unless it’s roasted, flash fried, or sautéed in bacon fat…

…sorry, the thought of caramelized Brussels sprouts with salty, sweet, fatty bacon is so mesmerizing, I forgot what I was saying. I may actually have forgotten my name.

But it gets me thinking, “How do the other Brussels sprouts feel?” Can I create an equally tempting, saliva-inducing dish with no caramelization what so ever? Some quick reading on other flavors with a strong affiliation for Brussels sprouts offers clear direction. Strong bleu cheese and sharp mustard pair with shallot and vinegar, all folded into farm-fresh butter. Melting over briefly boiled Brussels sprouts, the dish is as tempting as any caramelized concoction.

These sprouts may not displace their sugary cousins, but they will certainly earn equal billing.

Blue Cheese and Mustard Buttered Brussels Sprouts

Serves 6

Use any leftover bleu cheese, mustard butter for steaks, chicken, green beans, cauliflower, squash, crusty Sourdough bread…

Ingredients:

  • 1-1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
  • 1/2 pound butter, softened
  • 4 ounces sharp bleu cheese, softened
  • 2 tbs grainy mustard
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 2 tbs minced parsley
  • Cava Rosé vinegar or other red wine vinegar

*Sapore’s Cava Rosé won me over instantly this summer. It is refined, offering the depth and complexity of a high-quality red wine vinegar, but far less bold, a perfect match for summer vegetables and to add just the right bright, bite to this compound butter. 

Directions:

  • Trim bases of Brussels sprouts, cut in half and remove any loose or discolored leaves.
  • Bring a 4 quart pot of salted water to a boil.
  • Blend together butter, bleu cheese, mustard, shallot and parsley using a spatula or food processor.
  • Blend in 1/2 tsp Cava Rosé vinegar, a few drops at a time. Season to taste with salt, pepper and more vinegar as needed.
  • Add Brussels sprouts to the boiling water. Cook until just crisp-tender. The core should still be very firm.
  • Remove Brussels sprouts from water and toss with 3-4 tbs butter.
  • Roll remaining butter in parchment or plastic wrap and freeze.

Company’s coming.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

It’s Thanksgiving! Family and friends are about to descend for a dinner you have spent days, if not weeks, preparing for. Right about now then, is when it hits you like a quick punch to the gut: those guests are staying for three nights, and you haven’t planned any other meals.

Wednesday night you’ll order pizza, and a bag of bagels covers breakfast. There are turkey sandwiches for lunch on Friday, but what are you going to do that night for dinner?

Let’s face it, you’re exhausted. After getting a 23 pound turkey on the table with stuffing, mashed potatoes and 8 other side dishes – all ready at the same time, you might add – there is no way you are returning to the kitchen to cook another full diner for 10-15 people.

So, make a pot of soup! It actually does get better after a day or two, so you throw it together on Tuesday. With cold weather forecast all week, you can leave it out on the porch, saving plenty of room in the fridge for Thanksgiving dinner groceries. Best of all, it’s Moroccan, which will be a welcome break from the hearty American fare you’ll be eating until Thanksgiving leftovers finally run out.

Now sit back and enjoy a glass of wine. You’ve got a busy week ahead of you.

Moroccan Meatball Soup

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. ground pork*
  • 1/2 pound ground lamb
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp hot Paprika
  • 1 tbs chopped, fresh thyme
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/2 tsp each cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 4 medium sweet potatoes, cut in a 1/2″ dice
  • 1 bulb celery root, cut in a 1/2″ dice
  • 1 large carrot, cut in a 1/4″ dice
  • 6-8 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 pound spinach, chopped
  • Sherry vinegar

*If you are also celebrating Hanukkah this week, leave out the pork and increase your lamb and beef to 3/4 lb. each.

Instructions:

  • In a medium bowl, mix together lamb, pork and beef with egg, paprika and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. To check seasoning, fry a small meatball and taste.
  • Shape mixture into 1” meatballs.
  • Warm 1 tbs olive oil in a 6 quart soup pot placed over medium heat. Fry meatballs in batches until browned. Reserve on paper towels to drain fat.
  • Pour off all but 2 tbs fat from the pot and add onions. Cook 5 minutes until soft.
  • Blend spices with a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir into onions and cook 1 minute.
  • Add remaining vegetables to the onions. Season with salt and pepper, and sauté for 5 minutes.
  • Add stock and cook until vegetables are fork tender.
  • Return meatballs to pot and cook 5 minutes until heated through.
  • Add spinach and cook until wilted. 2-3 minutes.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper and vinegar.

Tarting up cranberries.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

With all due respect to my Mom’s version of Gram’s stuffing, Auntie’s Rum Chiffon pie and Aunt Jane’s coffeecake, it was Aunt Ali’s cranberry mold that made Thanksgiving dinner exceptional.

The meal, shared at a table that eventually held more than 30 Forgiel aunts, uncles and cousins, along with Auntie and Gram, was certainly delicious. Gram’s stuffing was flavored with giblets and onion, the squash was fresh, the peas and pearl onions frozen, and the potatoes light, full of butter and cream. But even the best Thanksgiving meal can be brought down by a table whose celebration of cranberries extends no further than a can of jelly.

Aunt Ali, my godmother, chopped fresh cranberries, mixed them with earthy walnuts and suspended them in gelatin, set in a Bundt pan mold. The result was tart-sweet and fresh, a welcome break from the rich vegetables, starches and gravy-slathered turkey that crowded the other 95% of our heaped plates.

Every year I celebrate cranberries, sometimes cooked with port and orange zest, other years bright with baking spices, and last year with rich pork belly. This year, however, I was inspired by Renee Shields-Farr at Sapore Oil and Vinegar, who asked, “have you ever tasted a pink peppercorn?” I hadn’t.

Biting in, I first tasted a mix of pear and berries that was reminiscent of sugary breakfast cereal. Then came the peppery bite. So pears and berries it was. I added jelly, rather than pure sugar, to sweeten, and rosemary for balance and depth. It’s different, and it’s good.

As for the can of jelly, I’m sure it will still grace the table for Uncle John and my brother Alec. Thanksgiving, after all, is first and foremost a meal of family traditions.

Cranberry Pear Pink Peppercorn Compote

Makes about 2 cups compote

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz, about 3 cups cranberries
  • 2 large Bosc pears cut in a 1/2” dice
  • 1 cup tart jam like red currant or beach plum*
  • 1 cup apple or pear cider
  • 2 tbs chopped rosemary, separated
  • 1 tbs pink peppercorns, crushed
  • Lemon juice

*My favorite is Sapore’s Cranberry Port jam. If all you have at home is strawberry or raspberry, add a splash of port and a little extra lemon juice to balance the simple sweetness.

Directions:

  • Combine cranberries, pears, Cranberry Port jam and cider in a 2 quart saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  • Cook for 5 minutes until cranberry begin to pop and release liquid.
  • Stir 1 tbs rosemary and pink peppercorns into the saucepan of fruit. Leave uncovered and continue to cook for 20-25 minutes until thickened.
  • Stir in remaining tablespoon of chopped rosemary and season to taste with a fresh squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.
  • If the compote is tarter than you’d like, add 1-2 tbs sugar or honey.