Bay Leaf Seasoning

bay-leaves-turkish-organic-1Penzey’s Spices used to put out an herb mix that was great for roasting  chicken. Apparently, I was the only one who bought it, because they stopped selling it a couple years ago. Here’s how to make it yourself. Aside from the bay leaves, you’ll only use a portion of the other ingredients, so you can make multiple batches, or use them in your other recipes. Not counting the salt and pepper, the total cost today is 16.44.

1/2 oz bag bay leaves (2.65)
2 T thyme leaves (2.95)
2 T rosemary leaves (2.49)
1 T basil leaves (2.45)
1 T dried onion (2.95)
1 T oregano (2.95)
1/2 t ground pepper
2 T garlic salt (2.95)
1 T plain salt

Grind together in a food processor or spice grinder until it’s a course powder.




How to pack okra for pickles

After you’ve trimmed off a bit of the stem end, and a bit of the pointy end, pack your one pint sterilized jars with okra, first filling the bottom with the enough okra to fill the bottom of the jar, thick end pointing down. Then cram as many more as you can in between then, thick end pointing up. Then tuck in as many tiny okra as you can in and around the top area. 2 pounds of okra should fill about 5 pint jars.




Best Damn Smoked Chicken Recipe, period

This may be the best thing that could ever happen to a chicken.

I get a whole lot of compliments on this one. There are some members of my extended family who insist I bring this to any family gathering, regardless of the time of year. The technique of putting lit coals over top of unlit coals ensures a nice, long burn, and will provide enough heat for the 2-hour long cooking time. This recipe specifically relies on using a Webber kettle grill. You’ll need to further experiment in order to come up with the proper technique for a different kind of grill.

2 whole chickens, 3 to 4 pounds each
2 fist-sized lumps of chunk fruit wood
1 aluminium drip pan, 10×14
20 – 30 charcoal briquettes
cooking spray
1 cup salt
1 cup sugar
7 quarts of water

Take two chickens and cut them each into 8 pieces — 2 breasts, 2 wings, 2 drumsticks, and 2 thighs. Save the rest for chicken stock. Brine the chicken in 6 quarts of water that you’ve dissolved a cup of sugar and a cup of salt for 30 minutes to an hour. Remove the chicken from the brine and dry with paper towel. Season it with pepper, and spray both sides with cooking spray.

Soak wood in water for 15 minutes. (I’ve tried both apple and cherry wood, and can’t detect any difference in flavor, but do avoid mesquite because it’s just too strong a flavor.)

Light half a chimney full of briquettes and let burn in chimney until the top is white with ash. In your kettle grill, put an aluminum pan on one side and fill it with a quart of water. On the other side, put in 20 unlit briquettes, and nestle the wood chunks in it. Close the top and bottom vents of the grill to the halfway point. Pour the lit charcoal over top of the wood and the unlit charcoal, and put on the grill, and let it heat for 5 minutes with the lid on, then clean the grill and put on the chicken, skin side up, and putting the breasts around the outside, over top of the pan of water, furthest from the heat. Put the cover back on, and let the chicken cook undisturbed for 90 to 120 minutes.




Bolognese Ragu

I ended up getting a bumper crop of red plum tomatoes from my garden this week, so I made this sauce. I prepared the tomatoes by peeling the skins off (dip into boiling water for 30 seconds), then cutting them in half, removing the seedy goo inside, and dousing them with a little balsamic vinegar on sheet pans, and then roasting them in a very hot oven. When they were done, I ran them through the food processor. But you could whiz a couple cans of plum tomatoes if you want. The trick about reducing the wine and adding it as a syrup is probably cheating, but it cuts down on the cooking time by 45 minutes. Overall, expect this sauce to take 2 to 3 hours to make. Freezes well.

1 onion, cut into 8ths
½c baby carrots
2 stalks of celery, cut into 3rds
2 T butter
½ lb ground beef
½ lb ground pork
½ lb ground bison (or ground veal)
2 T tomato paste
1 pint whole milk
2 c red wine
3 cans San Marzano plum tomatoes, whizzed in the food processor, or fresh tomatoes, treated as described above.
2 cups chicken stock

Run the vegetables through a food processor until they’re chopped quite fine. Put into a preheated, thick bottomed pot (over medium heat) with the butter and cook until softened and fragrant. Add the meat and break it up with your spoon. You’re not really trying to brown anything, just get it all into smaller pieces. Mix in tomato paste. Add the milk and bring it to a boil, then simmer until most of the liquid is evaporated, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, in a separate sauce pan, reduce the red wine to a syrup, then add it to the milk and meat mixture.  Add in the tomatoes and then simmer, simmer, simmer. Low and slow, with the lid off. You want it to barely bubble. Stir it often, and cook it until it’s thick.




Better Roast Chicken

So it seems pretty straight-forward, but I never actually tried it until last week. A better way to roast a chicken. I’ve often lamented the fact that the thighs and drumsticks are rarely ever completely cooked to my liking, or if they are, the breast meat is completely overdone. Taking a cue from recipes for roasted turkey, I decided to try twirling the bird.

First, salt and pepper the bird, inside and out. If you want to get fancy, put a couple spoonfuls of compound butter underneath the skin of the breast. Then put the 3 to 3½ pound chicken on a roasting pan that’s preheated in a hot oven (425°), but put it in on its side, and let it cook for 15 minutes. Then turn it on its other side for another 15 minutes. Finally, roast it breast side up for 25 to 35 minutes more, basting the bird every 10 minutes. You should hear the chicken sizzling the whole time while it’s in the oven. (You know it’s done when the joints move easily.) Then let it rest outside of the oven for 15 minutes more, covered with foil.

The result is an very moist and completely cooked chicken. What’s more, as with other roast chicken recipes, it’s just as easy to cook two chickens at the same time, either to feed a crowd or for copious leftovers. And though it’s a little more work, and I can’t wander far from the kitchen, it’s definitely going to be my go-to way to roast a chicken from now on — or, at least until some novel method presents itself.




Eleven Herbs and Spices Revealed?

Ron Douglas, author of America’s Most Wanted Recipes, claims he has discovered the secret recipe after lots of chicken, and years of testing. According to an article in The Guardian, the secret ingredients are :

1 teaspoon ground oregano
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon onion salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons Accent (MSG)

Unfortunately, it’s still pretty difficult to duplicate the fast food chain’s cooking methods, since they use pressure cookers to fry their chicken. However, the home cook does have the advantage of being better able to drain the excess grease from the fried chicken, since we’re not cooking dozens of chickens at once. Also, home cooks have the option of buying better quality, organic, free-range chicken if they choose to. The Guardian even claimed to have come up with what they call a superior mix of herbs and spices, that doesn’t include MSG. This is their recipe and recommended process, the best I can interpret it from the article, as they only roughly describe the process, but they do give a detailed listing of their choice of herbs and spices. The recommend poaching the chicken in milk to insure the chicken is cooked completely to the bone, but that’s a step I’ve never seen in any fried chicken recipe.

“It’s worth noting that chicken marinaded and poached in milk has an unbelievably suave flavour and texture, and that the poaching liquid thickens to create the most soothing cream of chicken soup I’ve ever achieved,” says the article.

1 half gallon whole milk
1 whole chickens, each cut into 8 pieces
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp sage
1 tsp celery seeds
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp dried onion flakes
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground white pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour
peanut oil
for frying

Cut the chickens into 8 parts, splitting the breast in half to allow for even cooking, and saving the backs, necks and wing tips for stock. Marinate overnight in the milk. The next day, lightly poach the chicken in the milk bath for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and drain. Use enough peanut oil to make a depth of 1 inch in a frying pan. Bring up to 350º heat. While the oil is coming to temperature, mix the spices with the flour. Coat each piece of chicken with the flour mixture, and let set for a couple of minutes, then re-coat each piece. Fry the chicken in the oil, 6 minutes on each side, or until the coating is golden brown. Remove the chicken to a rack and allow excess oil to drip off.

The results were ok. Nothing fantastic. Each piece of chicken was fully cooked, but I didn’t really detect the suave flavor and texture described. In fact, some of the skin was a little chewy and flabby. And frankly, the coating did not come near the flavor of KFC, or any other chain-store fried chicken place I’ve tried. In fact, I’d say it was comparable to cheap grocery store fried chicken.

In the end, my wife and I just didn’t think it came close to competing with my personal favorite recipe for fried chicken, which I think is better than anything you can buy. What I may do, though, is use most of my technique from that recipe, but try to spice it up with the different herbs and spices from these new recipes. Look for that in the coming weeks.




Julia’s Method for Cheeseburgers

I watched an old episode of Cooking with Jacques and Julia, on the topic of beef, and they demonstrated their methods for making hamburgers, so I decided to give Julia Child’s method a try for dinner last night. The result was really good.

1 lb. ground beef (85/15)
1 shallot diced
1 tablespoon butter
4 poppy seed kaiser rolls
salt and pepper
optional toppings : arugula, cheese, bacon, sliced tomato, ketchup, etc.

Saute the shallot in the butter until translucent, and set aside. Separate the beef into 4 equal parts. Work each part into a rough, thin patty, ½ inch thick, using a chopping motion with the back of a knife, working in a quarter of the sauteed shallot and salt and pepper. It’s not crucial that the resulting patty is perfectly round. Fry the patties on a cast iron griddle for 2 or 3 minutes per side. When you flip each over, you can add the cheese to get it melted. Remove from the heat and let rest. Meanwhile, spread a little butter or oil on the cut sides of the kaiser roll, and toast on the griddle.




Pan-roasting the Best Steak

My wife and I have pretty much stopped ordering steak when we go out, since I seem to be able to cook it better than they can, for less money… granted, I can’t say how my steak compares to the really expensive steak houses. They probably have access to better cuts of meat than I can get, so they might have an edge in that department. Still, I’m sure we’re saving money, even if it is an extravagant meal, but since I only do it about once a month, it’s bearable.

First off, you need to buy the proper steak. It won’t do to go to the Safeway, and buy whatever red meat they’ve got on sale. The cut of steak that you choose is important. It boils down to three, as far as I’m concerned : filet, strip, or ribeye. My wife prefers the filet mignon, but I usually always go for the strip. I’ll only buy ribeye if it’s on sale, since it’s a substantially fattier cut.

You’ll also want to find the best butcher that you can. For me, that ends up being at Whole Foods. Look for good marbelling — little lines of yellow fat flowing through the  deep red of the meat. I also like to get one that’s an inch thick.  I’ll sometimes go for the dry-aged steak, which costs $4 more per pound, but most times, I’ll just go for the prime. Recent prices peg that at $17 a pound, with one steak usually coming in at one pound, and one strip steak like this will feed both of us for one meal. Pricey, yes, but if you went to a fine steak house,  there’s no way we’d both eat for $17.

45 minutes to an hour before you’re ready to start cooking, take the steak out of the fridge and to let it start coming to room temperature. 20 minutes before you start cooking, set your oven to 300º and let it preheat. 5 minutes before you start cooking, turn a burner on high, and put a cast iron frying pan on it, and let it start getting hot.

Meanwhile, unwrap the steak, and dry the surface off with a paper towel, then liberally coat the steak with salt and fresh ground pepper. You can also put a couple drops of canola oil on one side, and rub it all over that side.

Now turn on the exhaust fan, and open a window a little bit, because there may be a little smoke. Put the steak(s) in the pan, oiled side down, and let it cook for 4 minutes. Then turn the steak over, and cook another 4 minutes. Then move the pan into the oven, and let it roast. The amount of time you let it roast really depends on how thick the steak was. I’ve found that for a 1 inch thick steak, roasting it another 8 minutes seems to give a good medium-rare.

There’s a way to tell how your steak is cooked by touch. Hold your left hand out, relaxed, and feel the section of skin at the base of your thumb and forefinger. This is how a rare steak will feel when you press it. Now flex your hand, stretching your fingers and thumb out. Press your finger at the fleshy base of your thumb near the palm. This is how a medium steak will feel when cooked correctly. (I can’t tell you how to figure out what a well-done steak feels like because I’ve never done it, and think it’s a bit of a sin.)

Once your steak is of the proper doneness, you’re still not ready to eat. You have to let the meat rest. Let it sit on a plate for 15 minutes, loosely covered with foil. This lets the piece of meat relax a little, and allow all the juice that’s been forced into the center of the cut to redestribute.

Bonus : You can do this same method on a charcoal grill. Follow the instructions for preparing the meat, but instead of preheating the oven and the pan, prepare your charcoal grill as you normally would, but keep the coals only on one side of the kettle. (In a gas grill,  if you only light one element, you should be able to replicate the same cooking conditions.) Grill the steak over the hot side, similar to above, at 4 minutes a side. (You could even cook it 2 minutes, then turn the steak a quarter turn, and cook it for another 2 minutes. This will give you those professional looking grill marks.) Once that’s done, move the steak to the cooler side of the grill, and put on the lid. There’s no telling how long you’ll want to cook it this way, since it really depends on how hot your coals are. You can try telling by touch, or by using an instant read thermometer.

On an instant-read thermometer, your rare steak should read about 110º in the center, before resting. Medium rare, 120º, and medium, 130º. If you must eat your steak well done, you’ll be ok if you get it up to 145º.




Portion Control and Plate Size

I’ve never been much on the importance of plate presentation, and I’ve got no scientific proof to back it up, but I can tell you that if you’re looking to lose weight, one of the first things you could do is get rid of all your plates and bowls. My wife and I are trying to lose weight — she’s using an organized program, and when she first started, I would dish out her evening meal, and it would sit, lonely, in the vast emptyness of the plates we had. Not long after, I bought a bunch of plain, white salad plates from a discount housewares store. These plates are probably 8 inches across instead of the 12 inches of our old plates. Now when I serve up our servings, the plates seem more overflowing. I also bought smaller bowls. These hold about a cup or so of liquid, half as much as our old bowls. If nothing else, it helps us both feel like we’re not skimping on our meals, and I do believe we both feel more satisfied, and less likely to opt for seconds.




Why are people afraid of pressure cookers?

Don’t let your grandma’s tale of kitchen terror dissuade you from using this great time-saving device.

(I realize I’ve been talking incessantly about my new toy, so I hope you’ll indulge me a little longer…)

Aside from the rattle of an old-fashioned pressure cooker, and the escaping of steam, there’s really nothing on the face of them that make them any different from a regular pot and lid. Except for the possibility of them exploding. And you might even have some family lore that would justify the fear.

The pressure cooker was invented back in the early 20th century, and was used as a method for industrial canning. They didn’t make it to the home market until the late 1930’s, and were thought to be completely safe. (They were even used on early transcontinental airline flights to provide hot meals for passengers.) Then came World War II, and the US government was hungry for the aluminum that the pressure cookers were made from. Companies that manufactured them were retooled to make military equipment, like airplane engine parts. Housewives were encouraged to donate their pots and pans for the war effort. After the war, the swords returned to ploughshares, and companies retooled once again to make household goods. But the quality of the pots and pans weren’t that great. Production methods favored quantity over quality. Tons of cheap, poorly made pressure cookers hit the market in the late 40’s and early 50’s, and they had the reputation — rightfully so — of exploding under the higher than normal pressures. So if you were a lucky enough cook not to personally experience an in-kitchen detonation, chances are you were wary enough of them to tuck the pots in the deepest depths of your cupboards — only to have them be resurrected by your heirs in the 70’s, who also experienced the same disasterous results.

These days, however, the newer pressure cookers are designed with safety features — pressure regulating systems, and durable, high-quality stainless steel construction. There’s little reason to fear them now.

And there’s certainly no reason to splurge on the electronic gadgetry that mesmerized me recently. Although I’ve used it for some aspect of every meal I’ve made since I bought it — either for the main course, or for a side dish — you can certainly make do with a less expensive, more conventional model. It’ll just require a little more attention and care, but you’ll save a lot on the price. A good 6 quart pressure cooker can be had for as little as $40.

One thing I’ve really noticed while working with mine is that pressure cookers seem to eat up garlic. No matter how many cloves of garlic I add, the flavor just vanishes.




Hook, Line and Sinker

Ok. So I fell for it.

I watched Jacques Pepin make chili con carne in an electric pressure cooker. I didn’t even know these things existed. I’d been contemplating purchasing a regular pressure cooker for awhile now. I added one to my Amazon shopping cart; I turned down the corner of the page in the Sur la Table catalog … but nothing pushed me over the edge until I watched this cooking show.

He just poured the dried beans into the pot right out of the bag. He added raw hamburger, and water and canned tomatoes and tomato paste and spices. He clamped on the lid, and said that he’d have chili in an hour. (I’ve snipped out just the parts where he demonstrates the chili recipe … the first video is the prep, and the second one shows him serving it. The whole episode is here.)

I looked on the internet, and saw recipes for pot roast in less than an hour. Chicken stock in 40 minutes. I read that this cooker let you brown your meat in it first without making you dirty up another pan. It also has a setting that lets you simmer the contents once the pressure is off, to keep it warm. Contrary to his demonstration, it really doesn’t seem to be designed to let you put the ingredients in, then go off to work or the store, and have it wait, and then turn itself on 45 minutes before you get home. Instead, the timer is more a way to limit the amount of time the food cooks under pressure — the device will build up the pressure, cook for the time you’ve set on the timer, and then shut off. (On re-reading the manual, it’ll cook for the allotted time, and then switch to “simmer” mode — so I guess you could set it up, let it cook, and then it’ll keep warm all day long while you were shopping or at work.)

Well, of course I had to have one. I had some credit built up on Amazon, so I ordered it.

And then I re-watched the cooking show, and only then realized that the whole damn show is sponsored by Cuisinart, the people who make the electric pressure cooker. What’s more, the unsweetened chocolate he puts in is made by yet another of his sponsors. I realized I’d been bamboozled. Oh, Jacques! How could you? If anyone would resist being a infomercial pitch-man, it’d be you.

So, the cooker showed up this afternoon, and I was tempted to make dinner using it, but then I figured I should wait and try some of the recipes from the little cookbook that came with it, instead of just winging it. I don’t have much buyer’s remorse. I’m still glad I bought it, but the proof will be in the pudding.

Cuisinart CPC-600 1000-Watt 6-Quart Electric Pressure Cooker, $149




Jacques Pepin’s No-knead Bread

2½ cups lukewarm water
a couple teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon yeast
4 cup  flour

Combine in a non-stick pot, stir with a spatula until gooey dough forms. Put on lid, and proof at room temp for 60-90 minutes. Stir the dough to break the first rise. Put on lid, and refrigerate overnight for 10-14 hours. Bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees for 40 minutes. Remove and allow to cool and deflate, and remove from pan.

If you want to watch him demonstrate the recipe,

Here’s the full episode, from KQED.




Roast Beast

I just tried a new technique for taking a relatively inexpensive cut of beef (the eye round roast) and turning it into a juicy and flavorful roast beef dinner. As usual for the meals I post about here, it’s not fast, since it takes about 30 hours total, but it’s definitely easy. Note: If your roast is smaller (2-3 lbs, 1 kilo), use 2 teaspoons; bigger than that, use 3 teaspoons of salt.

2-4 lb. (1-2 kilos) eye round beef roast, tied
2-3 teaspoons kosher salt (half that for table salt)
2 teaspoons fresh black pepper
3 teaspoons vegetable oil

42-17660079The day before: Remove the roast from the packaging, and coat all sides with the salt. Wrap it up in plastic wrap, and return it to the fridge, on a plate to catch any escaping liquid, and let marinate for 18 to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 225º/110º c. Remove the plastic wrap and rinse the excess salt off, then dry the meat off on paper towels. Coat the roast with 1 teaspoon of the oil, and apply the pepper to all sides of the roast. The oil will help the pepper stick. Put the remaining oil in a cast iron pan, and sear the roast on all sides, about 3 minutes each side.

Why tie a roast?  First, to keep it in a uniform shape so that it cooks evenly, and second, to hold in stuffing. Be sure to only use butcher’s twine or reusable silicone bands.

Put the roast on a rack in a roasting pan, and cook it for about an hour and a half, or until a thermometer reads 115º/46ºc. for medium rare. Turn off the heat, and let the roast sit in the cooling oven for another 30-45 minutes, where the internal temperature should be 130º/55ºc. Remove the roast from the oven, and let rest at room temperature for another 15 minutes, then remove the butcher’s twine, and slice crosswise, slicing as thin as possible.




Mysterious Food on the Internets

twinkiesDaily Lunch is a japanese site detailing one obsessive artist’s lunch box, and their artistic creative presentations.

How frozen pizzas are made. What’s in a twinkie?

(Amazing. Twinkies have been around for 78 years! They’ve been around as long as the Chrysler Building, in New York, and Betty Boop. Here are more events from 1930.)




Cornbread Stuffed Pork Roast with Pomegranate Glaze

I bet you could replace the whole sage with fresh thyme in both or either parts of this recipe with good results. And if you don’t want to go to the trouble of making the glaze, I’m thinking that a little chicken stock heated with some orange marmalade or apricot preserves, to make it a little more spreadable, might be just as good. The measurements given were for a small roast, but it’d be easy enough to feed a larger crowd with increased quantities and a heavier roast.

Glaze:

½ small onion, sliced
5-10 whole sage leaves
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
1 cup pomegranate juice
2 cloves garlic, bruised
¼ cup dried cranberries

In a saucepan, brown the onion with the sage leaves and coriander seeds in a little olive oil. Once softened, add the remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil. Lower the head and, simmer for 20 minutes, until the liquid is reduced to a¼ cup. Strain and cool.

Roast :

½ small onion
5-10 whole sage leaves, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup diced red bell pepper
1 cup cornbread, broken into small chunks
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
¼ cup chicken stock. white wine, or water
salt & pepper
2 lb. pork loin roast

In a small frying pan, soften the onions, garlic, and red bell pepper. Allow it to cool, and move it to a bowl,   then break up the cornbread, and add the rest, (except for the salt, pepper and meat). Mix gently to combine.

Take the roast and carefully slice it so you make a ½ inch thick flap of meat on the top, being careful not to cut all the way through. Turn your knife, and slice it again in the opposite direction, so you make another ½ inch flap on the bottom side. Unfold it, and keep slicing until you have, roughly, a ½ inch thick rectangle of meat. Generously salt and pepper, and slather on the cornbread stuffing mixture. Roll the meat back up, and tie with butcher’s twine. (Don’t worry if a good deal of the stuffing oozes out as you do this.

Preheat the oven to 325°, and heat up an oven safe (cast iron) frying pan on the stove top. Add a little olive oil, and once it starts shimmering, brown the roast over medium high heat, turning it every 4 or 5 minutes … about 15 minutes total. Once you turn it to the last side, put the pan into the oven, and let it roast for 30 minutes. Remove it, and check the temperature, and glaze it on all sides. Return it to the oven, and repeat the glazing step every 20 minutes until the roast has the internal temperature of 150°. Remove the roast from the oven, and let it rest, covered with foil, for another 10 or 15 minutes. Remove the twine, and cut into ½ inch slices.




My Turkey Plans

image courtesy of Corbis.com

(Note : Updated 11/26)

I usually don’t have to give much thought to serving Thanksgiving, since we’ve gone to my in-laws for the last decade, without fail. Aside from one year, when I decided to try and mix things up and do a deep fried turkey, my wife’s grandmother usually takes care of all the details.

Well, this year, a surprise. Without really thinking through all of the ramifications, I dutifully entered the daily give-away for a D’Artagnan organic, free-range turkey over on Serious Eats blog. I didn’t really think about the possibility that I’d actually win. Well, win I did, and so just a day or two before we head out on the 8-hour car ride, this bird is going to show up on my doorstep. I’m assuming it will be arriving fresh, not frozen, and the contest claims it will be a 12 to 14 pound bird.

My plan is to put it into a brine almost as soon as I receive it (recipe below), tucked inside a large zip-lock, and surrounded by ice in a cooler, in which it will travel on the car trip. Then, based on the recommendations of Gourmet Magazine, I went out and purchased one of those cheap-looking enameled turkey roasters with a lid. If all goes well, I will roast it on Friday morning for our delayed holiday dinner. A 14 pound bird won’t be enough to feed the whole crew, but we’ll be serving a whole ham, plus the usual amount of sides, so I hope it’ll all be enough.

Update: 11/26 — The bird arrived. 16½ lbs. It’s brining now. I ended up making a double batch to make sure there was enough to cover the bird in the cooler.

Here’s the brine recipe :

2 quarts apple juice or cider
1 lb brown sugar (dark or light)
1 cup kosher salt
4 lbs ice (“a pint’s a pound the world around.”)
1 quart water
3 oranges, quartered
4 ounces fresh ginger, thinly sliced
15 whole cloves
6 bay leaves
6 garlic cloves, crushed

Bring apple juice, sugar and salt to a boil over high heat, and add the ice to cool the cider down to room temperature. Add remaining ingredients, squeezing the oranges. Brine turkey for at least 24 hours. Quantity is sufficient for a 14 pound turkey.

Regarding brining bags … don’t scrimp. I originally tried using the 3 gallon zip-lock bags for my turkey, but it was too tight a fit; I was afraid huge sections of the bird were just sealed off from the brine liquid. So I went to a cooking supply store and bought bags specifically made for brining turkeys. Sure, they cost twice as much as the giant zip locks, but the bag is made of a thicker mil of plastic, and I felt like the double zip tops were sturdier and less apt to fail — which the zip lock bags did, a couple of times (one turn of the bird, and I lost half of the brine to the cooler). If you are using a plastic bag, be sure to remove as much air from the top of the bag as you can before sealing it up.

What are your Thanksgiving plans?




Lamb and Wild Rice with Roasted Autumn Vegetables

A good project for a lazy Sunday. It will fill your place up with some great aromas.

This recipe is a mixture of rich, tender roasted pumpkin, flavorful root vegetables, and earthy lamb and wild grains, and is based on something I saw in the October ’08 Everyday Food magazine. In their version, it’s rigitoni instead of rice, and it’s goat cheese instead of chunks of braised lamb shank.

You’ll need to decide what to use for your braising liquid. I chopped up 1 onion, 1 stalk of celery, a handful of baby carrots, 2 crushed garlic cloves, and a tablespoon of fresh rosemary leaves in 2 cups chicken stock, but I bet you could get by with two cups of good red wine. Later, I used a rustic multi-grain rice mix I found in the store, but you could substitute it with your favorite, though I think brown rice would work better than Uncle Ben’s. I made this over the course of 2 days — braising the lamb the first day, and doing the rest the second day. It’s probably not a recipe you want to make after a long day at work, but it would be a good project for a lazy Sunday, or you could make most of it days in advance, and then put it all together for a weeknight dinner.

2 lamb shanks, trimmed of silver skin
some kind of flavorful braising liquid (see above)
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon oil

1 medium sugar pumpkin (about 3 pounds)
3 shallots
1 fennel (anise) bulb
salt and pepper
several fresh sage leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup multigrain rice mixture
1½ cups chicken stock

Braising the lamb shank :

Preheat the oven to 325°. Trim the silver skin off the shanks by slipping the point under the shiny whitish layer that covers the meat, and remove it in long strips to reveal the red meat below. Trim off the really big blobs of fat, too. Season with salt and pepper, and brown them on all sides over medium heat on the stovetop, about 8 minutes. Remove the shanks, and brown your braising vegetables if you’re using any, and add the liquid, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan (aka deglazing). Return the shanks to the pan, cover, and cook in the oven for 1½-2 hours. Remove the shanks, and cool enough to handle, then pull the meat off the bones, removing any fat and gristle, and set aside.

Roasting the vegetables :

While the lamb is cooking, peel, seed and chop the pumpkin into 1 inch cubes. Cut off the stalks and fronds of the fennel, and then slice the fennel bulb 8 ways, diagonally, but so each wedge retains a bit of the core, so they’ll stay together. Peel the shallots, and cut them in half or quarters depending on the size, still trying to keep each part connected to the core. Toss all of this in a bowl with the salt, pepper, sage leaves, and olive oil, and spread on a foil-lined cookie sheet and roast in a 425º oven for about an hour, tossing after 30 minutes, and checking every 5 minutes for the last 15 to make sure nothing is burning.

Putting it all together:

Prepare the rice according to the instructions. (If you did what I did, and made the other two parts of this recipe earlier, you can reheat the lamb and the vegetables in the same pan as the rice by using a steamer basket.)

Combine all, and taste for seasoning.




Pickling in the News

“[P]ickles are kind of show-offy, even more so than bread. If you make your own, for some reason, it really knocks people out.”

The Washington Post has a longish article on a local woman who is starting a small business venture producing her own pickles. It details a few recipes (spicy dill pickle spears, dilled green beans) as well as general tips on keeping your canning process sterile to avoid the possibility of foodborne illnesses.

“First she sterilizes jars in boiling water that’s at least an inch over the top of the jars for 10 minutes… You want to take jars out of the water one by one, so they stay sterilized… a cooled jar has a greater chance of cracking once the ingredients hit it… Do not reuse lids… Before sealing, she removes air bubbles with a nonmetallic stick such as a skewer, a chopstick or the plastic one that comes with most canning kits. Metallic ones are more apt to break the glass.




Compound Butters

I had a huge bunch of organic dill sitting on my counter, waiting to shrivel and dry up, so I decided to make a compound butter — I tossed the dill, a shallot, some salt, and some softened butter into the food processor and gave it a whirl.

The idea is to mix flavorful additives with softened unsalted butter and then wrap it up in plastic wrap and allow the butter to solidify again, most recipes suggest putting it in the freezer, where it will keep for up to three months. Then, you take it out, slice off a piece, and dress up something that would be otherwise bland without it. A fish fillet or chicken breast, or even just dinner rolls. There are savory and sweet versions, and the variations abound. I did a quick search on google and came up with these variations…

Alton Brown‘s basic compound butter:

1 pound butter, softened
3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
1 tablespoon thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon sage, chopped
1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped

Slashfood :

  • Lemon zest and dill
  • Grated parmesan cheese, garlic and a bit of parsley
  • Pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon

Cook’s Illustrated, Online :

  • Chopped roasted red bell peppers and smoked paprika
  • Lemon juice, grated lemon zest, and minced fresh parsley leaves
  • Chopped fresh rosemary and grated Parmesan cheese
  • Crumbled Roquefort and ground black pepper
  • Chopped chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced garlic, minced fresh cilantro leaves, and lime juice
  • Minced shallot and chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • Curry powder, minced shallot, and chopped fresh mint and cilantro leaves
  • Minced sage leaves and finely chopped toasted walnuts
  • Honey, fresh orange juice, and grated orange zest
  • Roasted garlic and minced caramelized onions
  • Minced sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, or tapenade

101 Cookbooks :

  • Dry Desert Lime herbal tea
  • Dehydrated Strawberries and a little sugar
  • Raw Serrano chilis (var: roasted garlic and pan toasted serranos)
  • Smoked Paprika
  • toasted, shredded nori with sesame seeds
  • dried fig and Balinese long pepper
  • harissa

Ruhlman, Elements : compound butter

  • parsley, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper, aka beurre maitre d’ hotel, or hotel butter.
  • roasted chicken : shallot and fines herbes
  • salmon : citrus zest
  • steaks : minced chipotle peppers, lime juice and cilantro

Chowhound :

  • Chile-Lime-Tequila
  • anchos, lime juice, a little cilantro and a little garlic
  • crawfish, shrimp or lobster

Associated Press Feature

  • Banana, Brown Sugar
  • Strawberries, Black Pepper
  • Roasted Garlic, Sun-Dried Tomato
  • Asparagus and Thyme

The Nibble

  • Bittersweet Chocolate & Orange
  • Bourbon Cherry Butter With Orange
  • Cranberry and Sage
  • Honey and Sesame
  • Pomegranate and  Clementine
  • Pumpkin and Five-Spice



Different Ways to Coat a Cutlet

Flour, egg, and then what?

You’re confronted with it every time you want to cook up a cutlet, whether it is a chicken breast, a turkey cutlet, or a fillet of fish. A batter dip is an option, but I usually go with the basic procedure that’s always the same : season the cutlet with salt, pepper, and whatever spice mix you like; dredge in a light coating of flour; dip in beaten egg; and then what?

Dried bread crumbs are one option, but as Jacques Pepin demonstrated in his television series, Fast Food, My Way, it takes about 8 pieces of dried bread to make a half cup of dried bread crumbs, while the same amount of fresh bread will make 2 or 3 cups of fresh crumbs. Consider the calories, especially when you’re frying your cutlet in oil. Those dried bread crumbs will soak up much more oil than fresh bread crumbs would.

Panko is a good alternative – one I use often. In Japan, panko refers to all bread crumbs. Here in the states, it refers to a white, dried, coarse bread crumb that is lighter than traditional packaged dried bread crumbs, and when cooked, give you a lighter, airy coating that browns really well. Most supermarkets carry panko in their international section.

Cracker crumbs are a good option, too. Either saltines, or the buttery Ritz crackers, whizzed to a fine powder in your food processor. These have the same downside as dried breadcrumbs, but I find they add more flavor. Instead of on a cutlet, I’ll sometimes use these on a casserole, like baked macaroni and cheese.

Corn flakes are a good option, again, whizzed in the food processor. Or potato chips. Or nacho chips. All of these provide a good crunch, and give a flavor you can’t get with plain bread crumbs. When I fry chicken, I’ll skip the egg and breadcrumbs, and marinate the chicken parts in buttermilk, and then dip them in seasoned flour. A southern touch would be to dip them in a mixture of flour and cornmeal, but I’ve also seen recipes that have you dip it in the ground corn flakes.

Ground nuts, like pecans, almonds, or macadamias, are also a good option. I’ll usually mix these, 50/50 with bread crumbs, since they tend to burn too quickly and go bitter if you’re not careful.

Finally, here’s an unusual one that works surprisingly well — mashed potato flakes. I have a package of the instant mashed potatoes for soley this purpose. I find it works really well on fish filets. It gives a uniform coating that sticks well on the fillets. The catfish fillets pictured here were coated in potato flakes, and fried in a mix of butter and canola oil.

Have you got a technique for coating filets that I haven’t mentioned? Please leave a comment!




In Season Now : Plum Tomatoes

Roasted Balsamic Tomato Sauce will reward you with a delicious aroma while it cooks in the oven.

Every August, I end up making a couple of batches of this sauce, when the prices for plum tomatoes hits the floor, but it works equally as well with any kind of tomato you’ve got too many of in your garden.

Preheat your oven to 425° and spread olive oil all over the bottom of a sheet pan. Wash your plum tomatoes and slice them in half. Sometimes, I’ll use my thumb and pull out the seeds and pulp. If I’ve got the time, though, I’ll lay the tomatoes out, cut side down, on the sheet pan, and roast them by themselves for 30-45 minutes, allowing all the juices to dribble out, and thicken and caramelize. Take them out of the oven, and turn the tomatoes over, skin side down. Once that’s done (or if you’re pressed for time), mix a large onion, sliced, and a couple stalks of celery, chopped, and a few whole cloves of garlic, along with any other excess summer produce you’ve got, in a bowl with some more olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and spread it around the tomatoes — add a little more balsamic for the tomatoes, too. Roast in a hot oven for 45 – 60 minutes, or until everything is collapsed and roasted.

Allow it to cool a bit, and then transfer to a blender. You’ll probably get lots of sticky carmelized goodness left on the sheet pan, so deglaze on the stove top with a little water, and add that into the blender. Blend until smooth. Add more water for a smoother consistency, or use chunky, like a relish.

Since the tomatoes are high in acid, I plan on putting aside some jars for eating later this year, but you could freeze it, too. Tips for canning tomato sauce can be found on CanningUSA.com.




In Season Now : Peaches

Stores are selling peaches at a cut-rate price now. Sweet and juicy, now’s the time to think about canning some so you can have that flavor all autumn and winter, too.

Look for the best you can find … firm, but that have a fragrance. Even if they’re a little under-ripe, they’ll ripen at home, unmolested by squeezy shoppers. (One firm squeeze is enough to bruise them.) To ripen at home, place your peaches in a paper sack with a couple of ripe bananas. These will exude ethylene gas, which triggers the peaches to ripen even more quickly than they normally would. Ripening can happen in as little as 12 hours, so buy enough so you can keep tasting one to test for sweetness.

I wouldn’t start with anything less than 10lbs of peaches, since it’s not worth the trouble to work with any less. And resist the temptation to use nectarines.. even though most people dislike the furry skin of a peach — we’ll be skinning them — nectarine flesh tends to stick hard onto the pit.

Wash the canning jars in the dishwasher, turning on all the features to make it the hottest, sterilizing wash you can manage. Don’t wash the lids with the little rubber rings, though. The heat will compromise their integrity, and could give you a bad seal. Instead, wash these in hot water with some bleach in it, then rinse them thoroughly.

To prepare your peaches, boil a large pot of water, and have a bowl of ice water handy. I worked in batches of 6 at a time, but if you’re working with help, you can set up a regular assembly line. Cut an X in the bottom of each peach, just enough to cut through the skin, as you drop it gently into the boiling water, and let them heat up for about 30 seconds. Remove them all to the ice water bath. The skin should satisfyingly peel off. (If at all resistant, just dunk it back into the hot water for a little longer, then into the ice water again.) You can try to cut the peaches into halves, or even the neat little sections you see in industrial canned peaches, but I found it easier to just cut them randomly, in mouth sized pieces, discarding the pit, and any bruised or brown parts — keeping a sharp eye out for any tooth-breaking bits they sometimes leave behind. Toss the cut segments with Fruit Fresh (powdered vitamin C) or lemon juice to prevent oxidation. Repeat these steps until you’ve processed all of your peaches.

Now, prepare your syrup mixture. I went with a mixture of apple juice and a little Splenda, and some spices (cinnamon and star anise). I found that one gallon (64 oz.) of juice is enough to fill 12 pint jars mostly full of peach segments. I used three small sticks of cinammon, and 2 whole star anise. Pick good quality apple juice, preferably with the least amount of additives and no sugar added. I used ¾ c of Splenda for a gallon of apple juice, but you can increase or decrease that, depending on the sweetness of your peaches. Heat this to a gentle boil.

Spoon the peaches into the sterilized jars, leaving a little space at the top. Then ladle the hot apple juice in, covering the top, but leaving a little headroom. Cover and attach the screwtop rings to finger tight.

Once you’ve gotten this far, you can rest for a little while. Put your biggest pot on to boil, with enough water to immerse your jars with an inch of water over them. When the water is at a full boil, carefully lower your jars into the hot water, and let them boil for at least 20 minutes — longer if you live at altitude. Then remove the jars and allow them to cool. In 24 hours, remove the screwtop rings, and check the seal. If any aren’t solid, set those jars aside, and eat them within a week, storing them in the fridge. As for the rest, keep them in a cool, dark area, away from heat sources, for up to 12 months. When you go to eat them later down the road, inspect them carefully when you open them. Any that have obvious signs of decay — mold, smell, etc. — discard immediately.

Here are some links for more information :

FreshPreserving.com — the public website of Ball jars and canning supplies, in the business since 1884.

PickYourOwn.org — has a great guide, including charts for making different kinds of syrup mixtures, as well as boiling times for the last canning step, depending on altitude.




Alternatives to Reusable Canvas Grocery Bags

How To Carry Groceries With A Square Of Cloth





Fish Market : What to Buy, What to Avoid

Monterey Bay Aquarium provides an excellent list of which fish and seafood to buy and which to skip.

It’s fully hyperlinked, so you’ll find out why you should avoid a particular fish. Orange Roughy, for example, is a fish I’ve bought and wrote here about in the last few months, but I had no idea it was on the avoid list… (due to its slow reproductive rate and potentially high mercury content). I was also surprised to see Atlantic cod on the list (due to overfishing).

You can view the list by region (US only), and you can print the list out, and make informed decisions next time you’re at the market.