Friday, December 10, 2010
A buckeye is simply a candy made from peanut butter, rolled into a ball and dipped in chocolate. What you end up with is like a Reese's Cup, but one that has been dressed up for the prom. The peanut butter is smooth, sweet and creamy, and they're robed in a semi sweet chocolate coating. They're adorable to look at, easy to produce, and the taste is out of this world.
I took these to so many parties, and delivered so many boxes at the holidays (by request!) that I *almost* got tired of them. Because no matter how many thousands I made, I always found myself going back to the fridge for just one more....they're that good. And if the kids find out I've been making buckeyes, well then Nelly bar the door. My oldest son will do anything - and I do mean anything - for these. Want the yard raked? Windows washed? Floors swept? Buckeyes. And when I say these are good - let me just say these will make a teenager keep his room clean. Bombshell in little balls, dipped in chocolate.
•1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
•1 stick butter, room temperature
•3 cups powdered sugar*
•pinch of salt
•1 12 ounce package semi sweet chocolate chips
•2 tablespoons shortening
1.In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend together peanut butter, butter and the pinch of salt. Mix until very smooth and fully combined.
2.Add about half of the powdered sugar, blending on low until incorporated. Add enough additional sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, until the mixture is stiff enough to hold a ball when rolled out. You may also add additional sugar to taste, but too much will make the centers crumbly instead of creamy. I normally stop at about three cups.
3.Once the sugar is fully incorporated, roll the mixture into balls about 1 inch in diameter. A small scooper or disher is perfect for this, or a tablespoon works well. They're prettiest in a group when they are even.
4.Melt chocolate and shortening together in the microwave, using 30 second bursts, and stirring well. You want it just to come together and be smooth.
5.Stick each peanut butter ball on a toothpick, and dip into the melted chocolate to cover 3/4 of the ball. The point is that they look like real buckeyes. Transfer to a waxed paper lined sheet and allow to dry.
6.Store in the fridge, although they taste best at room temperature, so allow to sit out for a few minutes before serving. If you wish, smooth over the little spot made by the toothpick before giving as gifts.
*You may need a bit more powdered sugar, up to 5 cups. This recipe is to taste, and the amount needed to make the peanut butter centers the consistency you wish.
Posted by Jan Charles at 12:41 PM
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Several years before that I had found Larb Gai, a Thai chicken salad that is served as a street food, wrapped in crisp fresh cabbage leaves. The salad is spicy, light, tangy and delicious, and quickly became one of my favorite all time dishes.
Like many stir fry recipes, this one seems to have a long list of ingredients, but most of the prep time for this one comes in the chopping. I find the easiest thing to do is to simply line all ingredients up on the counter, and measure out the sauce, then chop all the vegetables at once.
This dish comes somewhere between the two mentioned above - it contains a stir fried chicken like the larb gai, but has milder flavors (although they can be as spicy as you wish!). Instead of several fillings I've simplified it into one, served warm with a fabulous dipping sauce. Try this one - the flavors are out of this world, and you'll add it to your own list of favorites in no time!
for the sauce:
•1/2 cup soy sauce
•2 tablespoons rice or black vinegar
•2 tablespoons minced garlic
•2 tablespoons minced ginger
•1 tablsepoon garlic chili paste
•1 tablespoon plum sauce
•1 tablespoon mirin
•1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, minced
•2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
•1 teaspoon sesame oil
For the stir-fry:
•2 tablespoons canola oil
•1 pound skinless, boneless chicken, diced
•1/2 cup carrot, diced
•1/2 cup celery, diced
•1/2 cup bell pepper, diced
•1/2 cup sugar snap peas, thinly sliced
•1/2 cup onion, diced
•1/2 teaspoons minced peeled ginger
•1 teaspoon minced garlic
•1/2 cup mushroom caps, sliced
•2 tablespoons green onions, diced
•2 tablespoons peanuts, chopped
•Iceberg or butter lettuce leaves, or fresh green cabbage, for wrapping
1.Start with combining all ingredients for the sauce. Stir and set aside. Stir again before adding to the chicken.
2.In a large skillet or wok over high heat, stir fry the chicken until cooked through, about 3-4 minutes or so.
3.Add the carrot, celery, pepper, peas and onion and and stir fry until just crisp tender, about 2-3 minutes.
4.Add the garlic, mushrooms and ginger. Add 1/3 cup of the prepared sauce, and allow to cook for about 1 minutes, until the chicken and vegetables are well coated and the sauce has thickened slightly.
5.Place the stir fy in a large serving bowl, and top with the nuts and green onion.
6.Serve the stir fry with lettuce leaves or cabbage. Serve with the remaining sauce.
Posted by Jan Charles at 8:23 AM
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Moist, sweet and the color of warm honey, pumpkin bread also smells divine - it's like a holiday in a loaf pan. It's best if you have fresh pumpkin, but if you don't, the canned pumpkin is of such high quality that you'll still get great results. I love to make quick breads for my children for their after school snacks, and this pumpkin bread gets not only rave reviews, but requests for frequent repeat appearances. Try it for yourself and you'll quickly see why!
•3 cups canned pumpkin puree
•1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
•4 cups white sugar
•4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
•1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
•1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
•1 1/2 teaspoons salt
•1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
•1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
•1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
1.Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour three 9x5 inch loaf pans.
2.In a large bowl, beat together the pumpkin, oil, sugar, and eggs. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice; stir into the pumpkin mixture until well blended. Don't overmix! Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.
3.Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. A skewer inserted into the center of the loaf should come out clean and the top be slightly springy when pressed.
Posted by Jan Charles at 1:36 PM
Pumpkin Pie is a custard pie - meaning that a liquid filling is poured into a partially baked pie shell and baked until the filling has set. The richness comes from the eggs and half and half. Evaporated milk can be substituted for some of the half and half if you wish, as can cream if you want it more rich. The 'set' of the custard during baking is due to the eggs.
You can certainly use a prepackaged pie crust, although the link in the recipe explains how to make one from scratch, and it only takes a moment. You can use a graham cracker crust as well - the flavor with the pumpkin is wonderful. Whatever you'd like - this is a pretty forgiving pie. Just try not to over bake it - you want to pull it when the very center is still just a little wobbly. The pie will finish baking with carryover cooking once you pull it from the oven.
•1 8 ounce package of cream cheese, room temperature
•2 cups pureed pumpkin - canned is fine if you don't have fresh
•1 small banana, roasted
•1 cup sugar
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•1 whole egg plus 2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
•1 cup half-and-half
•1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter
•1 teaspoon vanilla extract
•1 teaspoon cinnamon
•1/2 teaspoon allspice
•pastry for a nine inch pie
•fresh whipped cream
1.Preheat the oven to 350F.
2.Fit the pie dough into the nine inch pie pan, crimping the edges. Press the dough gently into the bottom of the pan and along the sides. Place in the fridge to chill for at least half an hour.
3.Trip a piece of aluminum foil to fit the pie crust - making sure it's filled competely. Fill the shell with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for ten minutes with the foil and beans, then remove the foil and beans and bake for another ten minutes. You just want the pie dough to have begun to set and color, but not be cooked through. You can roast the banana while the pie crust bakes - it just needs 30 minutes in a 350F oven with the skin left on.
4.Meanwhile, place cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer. Beat it until soft and beginning to turn fluffy. Add pumpkin and banana and mix well. Add the sugar and salt, and beat well. Add the eggs, half and half and butter, mixing just until combined. Add cinnamon and allspice, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is well incorporated.
5.Pour the pumpkin mixture into the pie crust, and place it back in the oven. The pie will take approximately 50-60 minutes for the center to become set. The pie can be served either at room temperature or well chilled. Be generous with the whipped cream though!
Posted by Jan Charles at 1:33 PM
Now note that I said gin. I mean it. Lots of people make martinis with vodka, and if that's your thing, more power to you. But despite the fact that the nature of my culinary philosophy is to substitute at will, in this case I draw the line. A true martini is a gin martini. There. I've made my stand.
One of the three allowable variations is the amount of vermouth that's added. If you like less vermouth, then you're after what's known as a dry martini - the less vermouth the drier. I personally have been known to simply wave the bottle of vermouth over the gin - which is about as dry as it gets. To make what's known as a 'perfect' martini, then use equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. In either case, keep the vermouth to a minimum. It quickly will overwhelm the flavor of the gin.
You can also swap out the olive for pickled onion - in this case the drink is then known as a Gibson. The Gibson is also known as being the drink favored by those who really don't want a drink, but who don't want others to know they aren't partaking. Chilled water garnished with a pickled onion looks exactly like the regular cocktail. The story goes a businessman invented this 'version' during three-martini lunches with his competition - allowing him to keep a clear head while his competitors got tipsy.
One final small variation which, in my own humble opinion, is perfectly allowable is the 'dirty' martini or dirty Gibson. In this case, a small splash of the brine from the olives or onions is added to the shaker, and the resulting cocktail is known as a Dirty Martini. Or Gibson. So if you'd like you can order a martini dry and dirty, or just dirty, or just dry - and in any case you still have a martini.
Now don't get me wrong - the myriad of other cocktails which are known as 'martinis' of various kinds are wonderful. I think Appletinis are great, and one of the finer things in which I've ever partaken is a Chocolate martini made with Godiva liqueur. But these drinks honestly share only the glass in which they are served with the classic martini. So if you go to your favorite friendly neighborhood bartender, and order a martini, you should get exactly what I outlined in the recipe.
It's also critical in this case to use really good gin or vodka. Unlike most cocktails, where the liquor is covered up with the flavors of various mixers, in the case of a martini you taste almost nothing but the gin or (if you must) vodka. Therefore get the highest possible quality. It really matters here.
I also want to weigh in here on the shaken vs. stirred thing. I doubt I've seen more than two James Bond movies in my life, and don't think I've ever heard him actually utter his famous 'shaken, not stirred' line. But he's right. A martini made without the shaker just doesn't taste the same. I'd love to hear from someone who can tell me why, but the extra 30 seconds it takes to shake the martini with ice makes a big difference in the final product. Invest a couple of dollars in a cocktail shaker, and take the few seconds to shake it. You'll be glad you did.
2 1/2 ounces Gin
1/4 ounce Dry Vermouth
1 green olive OR a twist of lemon peel
a handful of ice cubes
Into a cocktail shaker, drop the ice cubes, then measure in the Gin and Vermouth.
Cap the shaker, and shake well for at least 30 seconds. You're looking for the shaker to begin to frost.
Strain and pour into a martini glass. Add the olive in the bottom of the glass or lemon peel twist on the edge, and enjoy!
Posted by Jan Charles at 1:29 PM
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Oh what a lovely name this cocktail has - and the name matches the delightfully refreshing flavor! It's a bit deflating to realize that the name arose during Prohibition, when fresh orange juice was added to cheap bathtub gin in order to mask the hideous flavor - although redemption does come when you realize that this drink is therefore a part of American history. Partaking of one is like sharing in the collective story of our country. Hurray!
All right - that might be stretching things a little bit, although I will say that the Orange Blossom is at the top of my list of all time classic cocktails. It's just plain delicious, especially when made with really good quality gin and orange juice. If you move to a top shelf gin and freshly squeezed orange juice, then the Orange Blossom becomes something akin to a nectar of the gods. On top of that it's one of the few socially acceptable morning cocktails, joining the Screwdriver, the Bloody Mary and the Mimosa as one of the rare drinks that you can get away with ordering with your pancakes.
There are also several variations on the Orange Blossom, all with 'blossom' in their names, giving you a veritable bouquet from which to choose. Apple, Magnolia, Cherry and Hawaiian Blossoms all follow the same basic recipe, just swapping out the type of juice used. Feel free to sample them all!
Good quality gin
Good quality juice - orange or apple
a cocktail shaker
For the basic Orange Blossom, fill the cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Pour in an equal measure each of gin and orange juice. Shake until frost forms on the shaker, strain and serve in a small highball glass.
For the Apple Blossom, use brandy and apple juice, with about two ounces of lemon juice added. Shake, strain and serve as above.
For the Hawaiian, use two ounces of gin, one ounce each of triple sec and pineapple juice, and two ounces of orange juice. Shake, strain and serve as above.
For the Magnoila - use 2 ounces of gin, and one ounce each lemon juice and heavy cream.
Posted by Jan Charles at 4:25 PM
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
There are a few tricks for mashed potatoes. There's tons of information about how to do them correctly in Potatoes, How to Make the Most of Your Tubers. The best way to get the creamiest, silkiest potatoes is to use a ricer, but you can get great results with an old fashioned masher. The important thing is to not overbeat them - using a mixer or getting too enthusiastic with beating will break them down too much, and they'll be gluey and sticky instead of fluffy.
You can also change these up easily - my personal preference is for russet potatos, but Yukon Golds or Reds are also great - just a little waxier, so the texture is different. Feel free to leave the skins on if you'd like a 'smashed' version. You can also change out the half and half for all cream, or all milk, sour cream or even evaporated milk - whatever you have and however rich you'd like them.
This recipe makes enough to serve 6-8 - I usually double it to get leftovers to use on shepherd's pie or for potato pancakes. Those are awesome with a little fresh chives or parsley.
2 medium heads of garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 pounds russet, red or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup half and half
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350F.
Cut the heads of garlic in half, making sure to take off the tips of the cloves of garlic, but leaving them attached to the head. Remove and discard extra paper. Place the garlic on a sheet of aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Seal packet, and place in oven for one hour. At the end of the hour, remove packet from the oven, open it to release steam and cool, and set aside.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add a big pinch of salt and add potatoes. Cook until tender, about fifteen minutes.
Place half and half and butter in a small saucepan over low heat. You really just want to warm these and melt the butter, not cook them. Squeeze garlic from the cloves in to a small bowl, and mash with the back of a fork, and add the garlic to the milk.
Drain and put back in hot pot, but off the heat. Add butter, half and half and garlic and mash. Stir in, and add salt and pepper to taste.
Posted by Jan Charles at 7:29 AM
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
I love how some of the flavors of Southeast Asia simply pop - the warmth of sesame oil, the bite of ginger, the crunch of cashew and the heat of chili flakes. Some of my all time favorite flavors come together in this quick and easy dish, and the best part is that the dish goes together in moments. Even better? It's just as good stashed in the fridge and chilled as it is hot.
This particular dish calls for soba noodles. Soba noodles are thin Japanese noodles made from buckwheat flour. If you can't find them, and I often can't in my little town, then feel free to use whole wheat spaghetti. That's what I almost always end up using. The shape, texture and flavor is similar enough to make a great substitution. If you can find them though - give them a try. They're delicious and pretty high up the nutritional scale.
The only 'required' ingredients for this dish are the ginger, garlic and sesame oil. Everything else can be changed as you wish - swap out other vegetables you may have. Juienned snow peas are great, as is fresh green, red or Napa cabbage. All of the veggies work raw, or briefly steamed or stir fried. Feel free to change the cashews for peanuts if you'd like. Swap the cilantro for fresh parsley if you prefer, and as always, add or subtract the chili flakes to suit your preferences. Easy peasy, quick, simple and delicious - Bombshell baby!
•1 16 ounce package soba noodles or whole wheat spaghetti
•1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
•1/4 cup soy sauce
•2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
•1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
•1 clove garlic, very finely minced
•1 tablespoon sesame oil
•1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
•1/2 cup water
•4 green onions, including green tops, thinly sliced
•1/2 cucumber, seeds removed, julienned
•2 radishes, julienned
•1/2 carrot, julienned
•1/4 cup cashews, chopped
1.Heat large saucepot of salted water to boiling over high heat; add noodles and cook as label directs.
2.While the noodles cook, in a medium mixing bowl, whisk together peanut butter, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, red pepper and water. Set aside.
3.When noodles have cooked, drain them, and rinse them well under cold water.
4.Place noodles in a large serving bowl. Add vegetable and sauce, tossing well before serving. Top with cashews.
Posted by Jan Charles at 5:49 AM
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Stay with me for a minute before you freak out - all right? Schmaltz is fat. Period.
Now there are various kinds - the most widely known schmaltz is chicken fat, used widely in Jewish cuisine, but strictly speaking, all rendered or purified animal fats are also schmaltz. Southerners have long been familiar with the glories of bacon grease and lard, and rendered duck or goose fat has been used in traditional French and Italian cooking for centuries. Even McDonald's used beef lard to fry their french fries until health concerns caused them to swap to less heart attack inducing oils for frying.
Why? Why in the world would you want to eat that stuff? Well - because it's seriously delicious. How many of us have lamented that the fries don't taste like they used to at the Golden Arches? And the best pie crusts you've ever had were most likely made with lard or butter or both. The fats I described have all been worked with, to use as a replacement for butter or other cooking oils - to fry other foods or as a spread on various breads. Some are even used to further preserve foods, as in goose or duck confit.
You also have to realize that schmaltz is not simply fat - in all cases it's been treated, rendered, purified or worked with in some form or fashion, to make it more useable. Plain chicken fat is not much use for anything - but chicken fat that has been turned into schmatltz and gribenes is pure lovliness. It can be doled out in tiny, golden precious portions to add a one of a kind flavor to all kinds of dishes, just as pork, duck or beef schmaltz can be.
And none of them are used in large amounts. While it's true that with making confit you need to have more than a tablespoon or two, the end result - the confit itself and the flavored fat resulting - is then parceled out in tiny amounts. Most of the time these types of fats are 'hard' to get - it takes me weeks, if not months to get enough chicken fat to make schmaltz, and duck fat is usually a once a year treat around the holidays, at least at my house.
If you want to elevate some of your dishes - and we're talking put-them-on-a-pedestal elevation here, then try a touch of one of these. Start with chicken schmaltz - if you don't want to try to gather the materials yourself, chances are you can find a butcher who will give you his trimmings, and you can experiment. Try the gribenes on a good winter salad. Make a basic potato kugel with it. Try just a touch with a sprinkle of salt on crusty warm French bread....see what you think. I can almost promise you'll be hooked. And it will happen once in a blue moon - just enough to have you looking forward to the next time.
1.Fat - a good bit. Try to have at least half a pound of chicken fat. I usually trim my own, breaking down whole chickens, and saving the bones for stock. When I do, I toss the skin and fat into freezer bags until I have enough to make schmatz. This works for duck too - check out the videos, where I've done both.
2.If you make your own stocks, then you've already got a source for the fat. When skimming the stocks, simply run the fat you skim off through a strainer and toss the fat in the freezer as well. One benefit to this is that it tends to be 'cleaner' - lighter in color in taste, since the proteins and impurities have already been skimmed off and discarded with the skimming from the stockpot.
3.When you're ready, you'll also need one thinly sliced onion. I use one small/medium onion per pound of fat or so. There's no strict ratio, but that's about right.
4.Place the fat and onion over medium heat in a medium to large saucepan. Slice any skin you're using as well (which makes the gribenes - the little crispy bits), into thin slices, and throw those in as well.
5.You'll see the fat almost immediately begin to melt and liquefy. The skin will also begin to render - poultry skin is rather fatty. In this case, you want the fat to render from the skin. What will remain for the gribenes will be a very small amount - but wil become crispy.
6.That's it - for a long while. Keep the mixture at a nice simmer - it will depend on how much you're making and how much moisture is in with your raw ingredients. I've made it in an hour, and I've had batches take both less and more time. You want the schmatlz to quit steaming, and the entire thing will turn a beautiful golden brown. The gribenes will become a darker color.
7.Strain the whole thing - separate the gribenes, and place the liquid schmaltz into a glass container. Cover tightly and store in the fridge. I've never had a batch last more than a couple of weeks, so I'm not sure how long it lasts. I do know duck confit can be stored this way for about a month, so keep that figure in mind.
Now - let me say this. This stuff is seriously disaster laden health wise. This is not a food that you wish to make part of your regular diet. We are talking pure animal fats here. But...beyond the fact that it is nearly as rare as hen's teeth and almost as hard to get, you don't need but a teaspoon drizzled over potatoes, or a few tablespoons baked into a casserole, or a bit with which to saute off green beans or a bit of chicken, veal or lean pork. I personally feel free to use the single cup of schmaltz or duck fat, all I'm able to produce every few months, with happy abandon on the three-four dishes I can make while it lasts. The rest of the time I behave, and wield my extra virgin olive oil. And wait...
Posted by Jan Charles at 6:28 AM
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Chicken (or turkey) a la king is often served as a dressed up meal, although it doesn't have to be reserved for a formal occasion. Sure - dress it up if you wish - but I love this one as much for a go-to family meal as anything else. This is also one of the most adaptable recipes I know - feel perfectly free to make substitutions at will. Change out the mushrooms for anything you have - my favorite is criminis or brown mushrooms, but I'll use whatever I have.
There are a couple of easy ommissions as well - if you don't have good sherry - the real, honest to goodness thing, then please don't use that stuff off the shelf at the grocery. It's just nasty. And of course skip it if you're feeding kids - most of the alcohol burns off, but not all of it. If you don't have fresh nutmeg, don't worry about it. The fresh is yummy, the ground stuff just isn't. And change out whatever you'd like to serve it over - I love puff pastry shells when I have them, but cut sheets into squares and it works just as well. Or use toast points, or biscuits, or rice or noodles...
See why I love the adaptability of this one? Because on top of everything else, the result is a beautifully creamy, silky chicken dish that epitomizes comfort food. Give it a shot and you'll be hooked as well.
This looks like a lot of ingredients - but check them out. Almost everything is a simple pantry staple, and nothing is unusual or exotic.
•5 tablespoons butter, divided
•¼ cup shallots, minced
•6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
•1/4 cup dry sherry (make it real sherry, not cooking sherry from the grocery)
•4 cups chicken or turkey broth, homemade if possible
•4 sprigs fresh parsley
•1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
•1 sprig fresh thyme
•1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
•½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more, to taste
•Scant pinch of cayenne pepper
•1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (if not freshly grated, skip it)
•8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced, button, brown, crimini or shiitake
•1/2 cup cream
•4 cups cooked turkey or chicken, cubed
•Fresh chives, minced to garnish
•In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter and sauté the shallots or onion until fragrant and becoming translucent – about five minutes or so.
•Sprinkle the flour over the butter/shallot mixture and whisk well until the flour is fully incorporated. Add the sherry if using, and the broth, whisking constantly, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a bare simmer. Add the sprigs of parsley and thyme, and cook the sauce for about half an hour, stirring frequently. Don't let it boil too hard or it will scorch.
•While the sauce simmers, in a medium skillet over medium high, melt the remaining butter. Add mushrooms and sauté until they are golden brown, about 6-7 minutes. Add salt and pepper.
•Carefully add the sauce to the mushrooms, and add the cayenne and nutmeg. Add cooked turkey or chicken, and taste. Re-season for salt and pepper if need be. Stir well to combine.
•Gently stir in the cream, bringing the temperature up but making sure not to allow the mixture to boil. Remove from heat and add remaining fresh parsley. Serve over your choice of pastry or toast points, and garnish with a little fresh minced chives.
Posted by Jan Charles at 6:56 AM
As a Southerner, I grew up with gravy all over the place. I've long understood the power of gravy, and I was blessed with a mama and granny who could make fabulous gravies of all kinds. Turkey gravy is no different from almost any other kind - you simply take the lovely stuff from the bottom of a roasting pan, get rid of the grease, make a little roux and add liquid. There are seriously only four steps.
Now with that said, there are some tips and tricks to keep in mind to make sure that the gravy you get is rich and silky instead of lumpy, pasty or the wrong consistency. But they're simple tricks.
1.Make sure that you remove the grease from the pan drippings - you'll need some to make the gravy, but probably not all of it by any means. If you remove as much as possible, then you'll be able to determine exactly how much you'd like to add back. This takes care of the greasy issues.
2.When adding flour, make sure that you really whisk it in well at the beginning. If you have lumps when making the roux, you'll have lumps in the gravy.
3.There are two main flavor components to the gravy - the pan drippings, and the stock. Although commercial stock is all right in a pinch, if you can use homemade it'll be fabulous. The stock is critical because there is so much of it in the gravy.
4.One tablespoon of flour will work with one tablespoon of fat to thicken one cup of liquid. This formula will make sure that your gravy isn't too thick or too thin. If you want a slightly thicker gravy, use a tablespoon and a half of flour. It's also easier to think gravy than to thicken it after it's too thin, but even thickening it isn't that hard.
5.To thicken gravy, you can make a slurry. Mix a tablespoon of flour with a quarter cup of cold liquid. Mix well, and whisk into the gravy. Bring to a simmer and allow it to simmer for at least one minute. You can also allow the gravy to reduce to the desired consistency if you wish, although this takes longer.
6.And at the end, if you end up with lumps - just strain it! That takes care of a myriad of problems and no one will know your secret.
This is certainly a method instead of a recipe, since the proportions work in any combination. It will halve or double with ease - so simply adjust to make the amount you need.
•The drippings from a roast turkey
•6 Tablespoons all purpose flour
•4-6 cups turkey stock, or chicken broth
•kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
1.Take the roasting pan and drain off as much of the grease as possible, with a spoon or a turkey baster.
2.Either place the roasting pan on the stove top, or scrape as much of the drippings as possible into a large skillet or saucier. If you have lots of lovely brown bits simply stuck to the roasting pan stick with that - that's flavor and you don't want to lose it.
3.Measure back four tablespoons of the grease into the pan, and turn the pan to medium heat. Whisk the flour into the fat, making sure that you've whisked out all the lumps. You really want the roux to be smooth at this point.
4.Slowly add half the stock to the pan, whisking constantly. Allow the mixture to come up to a simmer. It will most likely be very thick at this point. Simply add in enough additional stock to bring it to the consistency you like. It will be fully thickened at each addition after it simmers for a minute.
5.Taste and adjust for seasoning, adding kosher salt and pepper if need be.
6.Serve immediately - that's all there is to it!
Posted by Jan Charles at 6:41 AM
Friday, November 19, 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Turns out it was right about on the Mason-Dixon line. Dressing and stuffing are the same thing. The only reason they have different names is because they are 'finished' in different ways. If you bake the dish off in a casserole - it's dressing. It 'dresses' the bird on the side. If you stuff the bird with it it's stuffing. Why I had issues with this I'll never know, and this is one of my embarrassing culinary admissions - but there you have it.
This little version is a very traditional Southern dressing - sausage, cornbread, and veggies sauteed off and baked with butter and broth. Delish. Period. However, I also like this version to use when stuffing my Turducken - so it's both! It's dressing, it's stuffing. Best of both worlds - and I have to say, the Yankees have something on the whole stuffing thing. Something glorious happens to this stuff when the juices from the roasting birds saturate it - it's gorgeous. Even if you don't stuff a Turducken, fine - use it as stuffing for a regular turkey. You'll be glad you did.
For the stuffing, you'll need:
•one pan of Southern Cornbread (recipe on blog)
•8 slices bread, cubed and dried (you can do this in a warm oven)
•one sleeve saltine crackers
•1 pound bulk sausage
•2 cups chopped celery
•2 cups chopped onion
•1 stick butter
•6 cups chicken stock
•1 1/2 teaspoons dried rubbed sage
•1 teaspoon dried thyme
•6 eggs, lightly beaten
•freshly cracked black pepper
•skip the salt, remember you'll be getting it from the birds
1.In a very large bowl, crumble together bread, corn bread and crackers. Mix well and set aside.
2.In a large skillet over medium heat, crumble and brown sausage.
3.Add butter, onions and celery to sausage, and saute the vegetables for about 8-10 minutes, or until fragrant, and the onions are becoming translucent.
4.Add sausage and vegetables to the bread mixture. Pour stock over bread, and add sage, thyme and pepper.
5.Add the eggs, mix well. It's ready for either stuffing a bird, several if you're making Turducken, or putting in a buttered 9x13 casserole, and baking for just about 45 minutes.
Posted by Jan Charles at 6:59 AM
Here in the Appalachian Mountains, there are certain dishes that require cornbread - the ultimate dish is probably our humble soup beans - a bowl of slow simmered pinto beans, simply done with cornbread on the side. Or to crumble into the bowl.
This is the basic version - simple, quick, easy and delicious. You can certainly bake this off in a casserole dish if you wish, but there are a couple of things you can do to make it much more 'authentic' - and to improve the crust. Using a cast iron skillet is the first - cast iron gets hotter, maintains temperature better, and allows you to heat the oil or grease that will develop a better crust.
If you bake the cornbread off in a hotter oven, at 425F instead of 350F, you'll also get a darker, crispier crust. It's all about your preference - this is how I do it for my daughter. She loves the crispy outside crust the best.
I call for bacon grease in this recipe - it goes two places. It goes in the batter itself, and as a base to melt in the pan. This is the heritage cooking I grew up with, and I love doing it this way. You can substitute canola or vegetable oil if you just must - but if you happen to have pork cracklings to mix into the batter, you'll find yourself in Cornbread Heaven.
•1 cup self rising cornmeal
•1/2 cup self rising flour
•3/4 cups buttermilk
•2 eggs, lightly beaten
•1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons bacon grease or vegetable oil
1.Preheat oven to 350F. (Or to 425F for a darker cornbread).
2.Put 2 tablespoons of oil or grease in a cast iron skillet and place in the oven to preheat with the oven temperature. If you just have a casserole dish and no iron skillet, skip this part, and just lightly grease the dish.
3.Combine cornmeal, flour, buttermilk and eggs in a mixing bowl. Stir to combine, add bacon grease or vegetable oil, and pour into the hot cast iron skillet.
4.Bake for about 20 minutes at 350F, or until golden brown. Alternately, if you wish the darker cornbread, bake for about 15 minutes at 425F.
5.Invert the cornbread pan over a platter, to allow the crispy underside to be on top. All done!
This is fabulous hot out of the oven with just butter. This is wonderful with fried chicken, by the way, or warmed for breakfast with a little syrup. Or cold for that matter!
Posted by Jan Charles at 6:53 AM
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
In this case however, my buddy is trying to loose weight. We're going to long term, steady changes in his diet and lifestyle, and one of the things I'd like help him with are his recipes. So I wanted to 'tweak' the aspects of this desert to make it something that fits into his new eating habits more readily. It took some research and playing around in the kitchen, but I think this is spot on.
I'll include both versions - I really am a firm believer in holding on to our food traditions. And Granny Bert was a Southern Girl who knew how to work with few ingredients to get awesome results. Yet part of that is also not losing dishes entirely because they may not be the best - health-wise, that is. So here we go - the best of both worlds!
Now - one thing. Although the new version is certainly lightened up - it's by no means 'diet' food. Lighter does not mean you have free reign to eat the whole pie in one sitting. Spread it out over a few days - it'll keep in the fridge for up to 4-5 days as long as it's very cold and well wrapped.
Granny Bert's Butterscotch Pie
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
4 Tbs. Butter
2 cups milk
6 Tbs. flour
1 tsp. vanilla
few grains of salt
Mix sugar and butter in a double boiler. Stir flour to a smooth paste with a little cold milk - add remaining milk to sugar and stir in flour mixture. Beat egg yolks with salt and stir in. Cook until thick. Add vanilla. Then put in a pie crust and let cool to room temp.
•One recipe All Butter Pie Crust
•2 tablespoons butter
•3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar, tightly packed
•1 cup evaporated low-fat milk, divided
•1/3 cup cornstarch
•1/8 teaspoon salt
•3 large egg yolks, look for Egglands Best, they're lower in fat and cholesterol
•2 cups 1% milk
•2 teaspoons vanilla extract (use the real thing!)
•Topping - whipped cream, whipped topping or meringue
1.Preheat oven to 400F.
2.Prepare the crust as the recipe calls, all the way through rolling it out and placing it in the bottom of a nine inch pie pan. Chill the pie crust in the pans for about ten minutes before baking.
3.Blind bake the crust: cover the crust with a sheet of aluminum foil, gently tamping it into the curve of the crust. You can then use either pie weights, or a couple handfuls of dried beans, and bake at 400F for about twenty minutes. Remove the foil and pie weights or beans, and bake an additional 5-10 minutes or until fully done and golden brown.
4.Set cooked pie crust on a rack to cool completely while you make the filling.
5.Pace a large heavy bottom saucepan over medium heat.
6.Melt butter in pan, and add the brown sugar. Stir well cook for about 2-3 minutes or until the mixture looks crumbly and damp. Stir constantly!
7.Add 1/4 cup of the evaporated milk, a tablespoon or so at a time, stirring well after each addition. Once you've added 1/4 cup, bring to a boil, allow it to boil for 30 seconds, and remove it from the heat.
8.In a medium mixing bowl, combine the remaining evaporated milk, cornstarch, salt and egg yolks. Whisk together and set aside.
9.In a small saucepan, heat the 1% milk until the mixture begins to just bubble around the edges, but doesn't boil. Remove milk from the heat, and gradually add in the evaporated milk/egg mixture. Go slowly and whisk constantly.
10.Return the milk/evaporated milk mixture to the heat, and cook for about ten minutes, stirring constantly. It will thicken a good bit - resembling a heavy pudding. Remove from heat and add vanilla.
11.Place pan in a bowl filled with ice, stirring occasionally, until it cools to room temperature. Spoon cooled filling into the prepared crust. Cover tightly - pressing plastic wrap gently onto the surface of the filling to prevent a skin from forming. Chill completely, for at least 6 hours, although overnight is better.
12.Top with either whipped cream (see note) or meringe just before serving.
Note: The topping, for me, falls into the category of either the real thing or nothing. In my opinion the fat free whipped toppings are nasty, and I'd rather not waste any of my calorie allowance on them, even if they are fat free. I don't like 'diet' foods - most just taste bad. So my first choice would be a *tiny* bit of the real thing - go ahead and use a little whipped cream. Just be prudent. This whole dish is a reward after all.
If you are a topping fanatic (and I can understand that), then my next best choice would be meringue. This is relatively low-calorie to begin with, and also fat free. But it tastes GOOD. Simply whip egg whites with a pinch of cream of tarter and a few tablespoons of sugar until you get stiff peaks. Spread this on the cold pie, and run it under a broiler for a few minutes until the peaks are all nicely beautiful, golden and brown.
Posted by Jan Charles at 7:15 AM
Buttermilk Caramel - Sauce, Syrup, Glaze and Topping
Growing up in the mountains of Tennessee, it wasn't often that we were able to get real maple syrup. Not that it was ridiculousy expensive, it just simply didn't appear in our grocery stores very often. We were of course able to get all manner of maple flavored syrups, but those of course just aren't the same, and half the time when Mama or Granny made pancakes or French Toast, they'd whipped up a quick homemade syrup of caramelized brown sugar. We loved that stuff, and I still make it oftne for my own children. It tasted so much better than the imitation maple stuff that we preferred it.
Years ago I was poking around some cookbooks and came across several vintage recipes for syrups, sauces and candies that used buttermilk as a base. I was fascinated, especially by the syrup that sounded so close to what I'd had as a child. I made the first batch, and was absolutey hooked. My kids ended up clustered around the measuring cup after breakfast, dipping the remainder out with spoons. My youngest requests his 'caramel' sauce at every possible moment. It's luscious - rich, buttery and intensely caramel in flavor, with just a hint of tang in the background from the buttermilk, which provides the perfect balance.
I used it for years on just plain old pancakes, and it was awesome, but never seemed to come up often enough. Then I read a carrot cake recipe with a glaze of buttermilk sauce between the layers and a lightbulb appeared above my head. This stuff can go anywhere! Not just carrot cake, where the sauce keeps the layers decadently moist, but apple cakes, crepes, French Toast and waffles, on poached pears and baked apples, with pecans and walnuts in all sorts of applications. Tweak it and it becomes fudge candy.
Better yet - it goes together in moments, cooks for just ten minutes, and it's ready to go. No candy thermometers to mess with, no special equipment, and it keeps for several days. You may find yourself doing what we do - simply dipping little spoonfuls out from time to time. And that's just fine with me! The taste is one of those beautiful things that feels silky on the tongue and lingers for a few moments with a sweet, buttery glow. Mmmmmm. Bombshell Baby.
•2 cups white sugar
•1 cup buttermilk
•1/2 stick butter, salted - or if unsalted add a pinch of salt
•2 tablespoons corn syrup
•2 teaspoons baking soda
•2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1.Combine all ingredients except vanilla in a medium saucepan over medium with a very heavy bottom. Make sure the saucepan is large enough - the sauce will expand a good bit during cooking, and you don't want a spillover.
2.Stir constantly unti sugar dissolves, then continue cooking for about ten minutes. The sauce will turn a deep, rich caramel color when done, and begin to thicken. The time isn't as important as the final color - look at the pictures with this article for a guide.
3.Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, then stir in vanilla. Pour into a container, gravy boat, syrup jug or something else that will allow easy pouring.
Note: sometimes the sauce develops a foam on top - sometimes it doesn't. I have no idea why. If yours does, allow the sauce to 'settle' and either just skim it off with a spoon, or stir it right back in. The sauce will be more clear if the foam is skimmed off, but it doesn't affect the taste at all, and I usually don't bother, especially if using as a glaze between apple, spice or carrot cake layers.
Posted by Jan Charles at 7:02 AM
There are actually some simple ways to cut back on the amount of money needed to feed everyone at your table this Thanksgiving, and none of them are that difficult to tell the truth. Some of them are common sense, some of them are rather tricky, but none of them are difficult.
So relax. Even if you have to work with limited means, you can still do it, and there's a good chance most of your guests won't even realize that you've done 'less'. In my opinion, this is the way to celebrate anyway - giving what you can with an easy mind, so that you can all actually enjoy the day!
The best thing you can do is to start early with your planning - the earlier the better. If you need help with this, check out Thanksgiving Preplanned - How to Have a Stress Free Holiday. That article contains a lot of information that is even more important if there are financial restrictions. But starting early means you can watch for sales!
Many grocery stores start running big sales on turkeys late in October or early in November. Where I live, whole frozen turkeys are normally about 1.69 a pound most of the year. But if you watch, you'll be able to find them for under a $1 a pound - I bought several last week for .69 a pound. That's a huge savings.
In addition - many stores will offer 'free turkey' promotions. They work in a variety of ways - some will give a free turkey if you make a purchase of a certain amount - say $100. Some will give points per dollar spent toward a free turkey. If you are careful, and work your standard grocery purchases around these promotions, you can often get your bird for free. The trick is to look for these early in November - they rarely happen later in the month.
Starting early will also let you check for coupons, manufacturer's or store specials and 'buy one get one' promotions. If you don't already do this, start. It can seriously boost your grocery budget, as long as you are purchasing foods you already use. Even better? Many companies will publish a coupon, and the following week the stores will place that item on sale, making it worth twice as much or more. And on top of that, many items that are popular at Thanksgiving are the target of these specials. Again though, start early in the month to maximize this.
Make a Plan
Planning can't be over stated. I know - it's not really the fun part. but it's critical. Decide early how much you have to spend, and stick to it. It could very well be that you have to manage getting a holiday meal together for no more than you would an everyday weeknight meal. So be it. If you have a little extra, you'll know exactly how much.
This also means pulling together a guest list early. Find out as early as possible exactly how many will be coming, and if they are adults or children. This lets you set a menu, and you'll know exactly how much of what to purchase. You may have a coupon AND a sale on pumpkin, but if you need one can - the other fourteen you bought that will just sit in your cupboard mean you can't purchase something else you really need.
Decide on your menu as well. Seriously think about what needs to be there. Tradition in your family might call for lobster bisque, but fresh seafood this time of year, and lobster anytime, is horrendously expensive. Make it shrimp, or substitute a beautiful butternut soup. Decide as well how many side dishes you need. It might feel fun to have ten or twelve - but think practical here. Also - think seasonal. Squashes and pumpkin are traditional at Thanksgiving because they are in season. This also means they cost far less than something like asparagus or strawberries. They'll also taste better. So adjust your menu to use what's local and fresh. Your taste buds will thank you as much as your wallet.
Once you have a guest list, and a menu though, you can make the first serious boost in your budget. How? Ask each one on your list to bring something. It might be your preference to do it all yourself but if you take a look at what you want to do, and the money needs to be cut, allow your family and friends to help. Most people actually want to bring something - I almost guarantee the first thing they'll say after accepting your invitation will be 'what can I bring?" Have an answer ready. Tell them the menu you have planned, and let them have a couple of choices. And if anyone asks what happened to the lobster bisque, let THEM bring it.
Watch the sneaky things...
There are things that don't seem like terribly expensive items, but can seriously add up once your purchase enough for a group. Alcohol is tops on this list, as are soft drinks. Take it back to basics then for drinks. Go with coffee and iced tea. These can be prepped ahead, and if you want to add a bit of festivity to your drinks - go ahead. Add a splash of cranberry or orange juice to the tea, or a bit of cinnamon to coffee, and you still have festive drinks. But wine or liquor can seriously add up, so that might have to go.
If you have a little to splurge with, choose one type of good, moderately priced wine to serve. Most liquor stores are happy to help with these choices - so make friends with the nice people behind the counter just as you would your butcher or fishmonger. They'll be glad to point out budget friendly options, and help you know exactly how much to purchase.
Decorations can also put you over the top. Do you really need a fresh floral centerpiece? Try making arrangements of seasonal produce instead - which you can then put to use the next day. Or if you want to go casual, have your children decorate the table. Or ask one of your guests to bring something. If you have a someone on your list good at that sort of thing - put them in charge. They'll be flattered and most likely glad to help, and it's one more thing you can cross off your list.
For the most part, every single component on the Thanksgiving table can be made from scratch for less money than an equivalent store bought item. Off the top of my head I'm thinking first of breads and rolls. Not only do homemade taste better (and are easy! don't be afraid!), but large batches can be made for literally pennies. And your house will smell of freshly baked bread - a fragrance that is to die for. Pie crusts are the same - cheaper, better tasting and they can be made ahead and frozen.
Stuffing or dressing is also one of those things can be done for pennies - especially if you start saving your stale bread, and leftover bits and pieces in the freezer for several weeks before you'll need it. The only additional ingredients you need for a delicious, basic stuffing are a few veggies, some herbs and a little stock.
Watch the prices on herbs by the way. Fresh herbs are almost always my preference, but honestly, they can be expensive. Check the prices on fresh vs. dried - chances are dried herbs are far less money for larger amounts. Not always though - a few can be high if they are dried. Stick to the basics as well. Saffron is lovely, but you don't need it. No you don't. Rosemary, parsley, sage, and thyme will do just about anything you wish done on Thanksgiving.
Stocks are another thing you can do for pennies on the dollar, vs. purchasing them premade. Even better, they can be made in advance and frozen. Start early (hint, hint), and you have the opportunity to skip purchasing any premade or canned broth. Not only are they less, the flavor is so much better you'll probably become a homemade stock convert entirely.
I'm not kidding. You may not be able to pull out all the stops this year, but it doesn' matter at all. You're still going to get to spend the day with your family and friends - and that's priceless. Give yourself permission to take pride in the fact that you can do so much - and enjoy your guests. I almost guarantee not one person will realize that you spent so little. If you enjoy yourself and your family, they'll enjoy it just as much. So have fun. And Happy Thanksgiving.
Posted by Jan Charles at 6:15 AM
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
When my oldest son was still a baby, but able to talk (which was about two hours after birth and he hasn't quit yet), he started yelling 'stuff'! Took me a while to figure out that he was asking for stuffing - and this is the kind I would make for him. Usually I made it to go with roast chicken, which appears on our table on a regular basis, but it goes just as well, if not better, with roast turkey.
Now in the South, we usually talk about dressing instead of stuffing. For some mysterious reason the same dish down here was baked off alongside roast meats in a casserole dish, instead of being cooked inside the poultry. I have no clue why the difference - but there it is, and that's the one and only difference between dressing and stuffing.
Now despite my diehard Southern roots, I've recently discovered the glories of stuffing roasted off inside the bird. I have to hand it to my Yankee brethren - y'all got that one right. The juices from the roasting bird permeate the stuffing, baking off with it, and turning it into something truly glorious. Whichever you way you decide to do it - this is a fabulous, classic stuffing - simple, easy and delicious.
•About 8 cups, or 1 loaf cubed French Bread (or sourdough)
•1 stick butter
•1 large onion, diced, about 2 cups
•3-4 stalks of celery, diced, about 2 cups
•1 1/2 teaspoons rubbed sage (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
•1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
•1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
•2 eggs, lightly beaten
•kosher salt and freshly crack black pepper to taste
•2 cups (or so) chicken broth
1.Preheat oven to 350F. (Or if roasting turkey, wait until the oven hits this temperature in the roasting stage). Place cubed bread on a baking sheet, and toast 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crunchy.
2.In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add onion and celery and cook until fragrant and onion is becoming tanslucent, about ten minutes. Remove from heat.
3.Place toasted bread crumbs in a large bowl. Add onion/celery mixture and toss to combine. Add eggs, and stir well.
4.Pour about half the chicken broth over bread cube mixture and combine. Depending on how dry the bread was, you'll need more broth - I often use two full cups or more because I like very toasty bread. Stir everything together, and taste. Adjust for salt and pepper.
5.If using this to stuff a chicken or turkey, reserve about two cups, and place the rest in a buttered casserole dish. Chill stuffing before using in uncooked poultry. Bake the casserole in a 350F oven for about 30-40 minutes, until hot throughout.
Posted by Jan Charles at 6:11 PM