Saturday, December 19, 2009

Holiday Turkey Gravy

Another addition to the Holiday cooking guide: Gravy has to be the best part of the Thanksgiving meal. I mean, you can pour it on the meat, the mashed potatoes, the dressing, or sop it up with a roll.

I have never really tried to describe how to make gravy before so I have put a lot of thought into this. Have you heard of a roux before? That is a fancy French cooking term for cooking flour with fat that becomes the binder for gravies and sauces. Basically, to make roux-based gravy, there is a magic ratio of 1 Tablespoon fat (butter, oil, pan drippings) mixed with 1 Tablespoon flour and thinned with 1 cup of liquid (stock, broth, or milk).

You can make sauce using other thickeners like corn starch or egg. But if you are looking for a certain texture, the way to go is probably using a flour roux.

I have read lots of cookbooks and lots of websites and lots more cookbooks. I have been cooking since I was little kid, so gravy was one of the first things I learned. It's really easy, you just have to stir the liquid in just right to prevent lumps.

pan drippings from your Roast Turkey
Turkey Stock
salt and pepper to taste

1. Carefully pour the pan drippings into a large measuring cup or gravy separator. You want the bottom layer of flavorful juices. The top layer is just boring fat.

2. In a large frying pan, add about 1/4 cup of the bottom layer juices. Bring it up to a simmer and add 4 Tablespoons of flour. Using a whisk, continue cooking about 2 minutes. Your roux should look like pasty. This is normal.

3. Slowly add your turkey stock, about 1/2 cup to one cup at first, while whisking.

4. When that has started to look evenly blended, add some more stock, still whisking. Then add the rest of the liquid, whisk until blended well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Bring the gravy up to a boil and let it slowly boil until it has thickened, stirring occasionally. It should nicely coat a spoon.

6. Serve in a gravy boat with a gravy ladle for the ultimate classy presentation.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday Turkey Giblet Dressing (or Stuffing)

Another recipe from the Holiday cooking guide, my mom's recipe for Turkey Dressing has been one of my all-time favorites.

I suppose you could stuff the bird with this, but I don't like squishy stuffing, so we always make it in a separate pan. It gets nice and toasty this way.

I just have to say here that I don't like it when people get all fancy with their dressing/stuffing. Cornbread. Rice. Sausage. Mushrooms. YUCK. Just give me some good turkey giblet dressing. Especially if I can drench it with turkey gravy.

And now I have to admit one more thing. I don't always use ALL the giblets. I have a dog, and she appreciates a little holiday dinner too so I normally use just the neck meat in the dressing, then give Sitka the chopped up heart and gizzards. (I also boil the liver separately so she can have turkey liver sauce for another meal. No, she is not a spoiled dog. Really!) But if you are in love with using the heart and gizzards in your dressing, go for it.

A note on the bread cubes. We buy good bread and then cut it and dry it ourselves instead of buying crap in a box. I like a blend of good dark rye, wheat, and a hearty white bread. I bought some Oroweat dark drye bread this year. Cube about 4-5 slices of each flavor, toss into a baking dish and let dry out in the oven overnight at about 175 or 200 F.

1 cooked turkey neck, reserved from the Turkey Stock recipe
1/2 of a medium onion, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
6 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
8 cups dried bread cubes
1 cup Turkey Stock (chicken broth will do in a pinch)
a dash of poultry seasoning
salt and pepper to taste

1. If you haven't already, remove the meat from the turkey neck. Chop or shred it and place in a mixing bowl. Add bread cubes to the bowl.

2. In a small frying pan, sautee the onion and celery in the butter and olive oil until softened and the onions are translucent.

Before cooking

After cooking

3. Add the onion-celery mixture to the mixing bowl. Add turkey stock and seasonings. Toss to combine. You want to moisten the bread cubes without breaking them up. If dry, add a little more stock.

4. Place in a greased 9" x 13" pan, or 6 mini loaf pans as shown here, and bake in oven. Grandma's oven was too small for everything so we had to use the mini loaf pans so they would fit around the turkey. Temperature should be whatever the turkey is cooking at (325 or 350, depending on your turkey instructions). Bake 45 minutes to an hour, or until toasty.

Almond Kringle

Kringle! This is a family tradition. My family is a little short on traditions, so the few I can grasp, I hold on tight. My mom's family is Czech, and we have lost many of the Czech traditions. I think this particular recipe is not Czech, per se, but it is in the same family as kolache or rugelach.

Kringle is a type of pastry, like a Danish. The shape is what makes it stand out. You can honestly make any shape you want, wreaths, twists, whatever, but "Kringle" means "knot" from what I remember. Whatever language it is, it's tasty.

For the dough
4 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. salt
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
4 cups AP flour

For the filling
1 cup almond paste
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar

For the topping
1 egg white beaten with 1 teaspoon water
3 T. slivered blanched almonds, divided
extra white sugar for sprinkling

1. Proof your yeast in the warm water with 1 teaspoon sugar for about 10 minutes. It should foam up quickly.

2. Combine the milk, sugar, salt, and butter in a glass bowl. Microwave until you melt the butter. Combine the butter mixture with about 2 cups of the flour, beaten eggs, and proofed yeast. Using an electric hand mixer, beat on low to combine.

3. Now, using a wooden spoon, mix in more flour about 1/3 cup at a time, until you have a soft dough that isn't very sticky. You may not need to use all 4 cups of flour. I used about 3 3/4 cups for this batch.

4. Lightly sprinkle your work surface with flour. Knead the dough until it has become elastic, about 10 minutes. If you are unfamiliar with kneading, you will go in a fold-turn 90 degrees-press-repeat pattern to knead.

5. Grease a large bowl. Place dough in the bowl and let rest, covered, in a warm place until doubled in volume.

6. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Mix almond paste with butter and sugar until evenly combined. It will be grainy. This is OK. (Fresh almond paste straight from the tube should be soft and spreadable. If it's hard, it's old.)

7. Remove dough from bowl. Punch down. Cut into three, evenly sized lumps.

8. Roll one lump of dough out into a long rectangle, about 4" x 30" (or as long as you can get).

9. Spread about 1/3 of the almond filling on the dough rectangle.

10. Roll up along the long side to make a very long tube. Twist and arrange into a pretzel shape with the seam down on an ungreased cookie sheet.

11. Brush the top with the egg white wash. Sprinkle generously with the extra sugar and slivered almonds.

12. Repeat steps 8-11 to make two more kringles.

13. Let kringles raise about 30 minutes, or until they have roughly doubled.

14. Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for about 25-30 minutes, until golden brown, top and bottom.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Turkey Stock

Continuing the Holiday cooking guide, I present Turkey Stock. Useful for making incredible Turkey Gravy and Turkey Dressing (or Stuffing, if you prefer it by another name).

By the way, the recipe below works equally well with chicken parts to make chicken stock.

giblets from one turkey (minus the liver)
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
1 small onion, roughly chopped
about 1 quart water
salt and pepper to taste

1. Place neck, heart, and gizzard in a 2-quart saucepan. Do not use the liver because it will make your stock cloudy and gritty.

2. Add carrot, onion, and celery to the pot. Cover it all with the water.

3. Bring pot a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let simmer about 1 hour.

4. Remove neck, heart, and gizzard. Reserve for dressing recipe.

5. Strain liquid into a large measuring cup. Discard vegetables.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holiday Oven-Roasted Turkey

TURKEY! I love turkey! I mean, I really LOVE turkey!

This is my favorite time of year, food-wise by far. I get to have turkey, and leftovers using turkey, and cranberry sauce, and's all sooooo good.

And I think I may have misled some people of Facebook about my turkey-cooking expertise. I am not a turkey novice. I have cooked many in my time. I have to admit that this year was my first year being in charge of the whole Thanksgiving meal. I am typically the kitchen donor (you know, people come to my place and cook) so the roles were changed this year.

We ventured to the throbbing metropolis that is Winnemucca to spend Thanksgiving with Justin's grandmother. My folks joined in as well. Their original plans to go to Arizona were thwarted by a buzzrd that insisted on committing hara-kiri using my dad's brand new Escalade as his method of death.

This post is the first of my holiday cooking guide. And just for reference, this year was my first time cooking a "fresh" turkey that was not the previously frozen variety. It was damn good!

1 turkey
1 stick of butter, melted
garlic salt

1. Clean the turkey. Remove the bags of giblets and set aside (you will need them for stock and dressing). Pluck any feathers left behind. Trim excess skin and fat from the openings.

2. Pat the turkey dry.

3. Sprinkle turkey liberally with salt, pepper, and garlic salt, inside and out.

4. Massage the outside of the turkey with about 2/3 of butter. Pour remaining butter into the cavity.

5. Arrange turkey in roasting pan with breast up, wings tucked, and legs tied together with twine.

6. Place in the pre-heated 325 F oven. Time depends on size. My tukey was 18.5 lbs and it took exactly 4 hours. (Read the info that came with your turkey for cooking details.) I do not recommend starting hot (450 ish) and then reducing the temperature. I have found this dries out the bird.

7. You will need to baste or rub extra butter on the breast and skin during cooking about 3 times. I used 1/4 intervals. So for my turkey cooking 4 hours, I checked it after 1 hour and applied more butter. After two hours, I applied more butter and covered the breast with a piece of foil to keep it from over-browning.

8. To test for doneness, I give a leg a twist. If it easily twists away from the meat, then I check the breast meat. Poke it and check that the juices are clear. If yes, it's done. If the juices are still pink, give it another 15 minutes.

9. When done, remove turkey from oven and let rest while you make gravy (recipe to come).

10. Carve and serve.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Elk, Venison, or Beef Stew

I used to make stew a different way. It was the way my mom made it, which technically happens to be a vegetable beef soup. My "official" stew recipe, this one I'm posting right now, came from Justin's grandmother Rose.

The technique of dredging the meat in flour, then frying, helps to thicken the liquid so it's not so soupy, and it adds complexity to the meat flavor. Simmering the meat in tomatoes also tenderizes the meat very well. It works on tough cuts of beef, which may take longer to really get tender. However, it also works well on wild game meats, which typically don't have as much fat marbling as beef, which would make them more dry.

We actually made our first meal of Justin's elk as stew, the photos shown here are from that meal. I have to admit, I usually prefer deer meat to elk, but this one is especially tender and mild. This summer we had record amounts of rain and apparently, the game had plenty of tender and tasty greens to eat. I also have to credit Justin and his brother Brian for their butchering skills. We've had game meats from other sources that really tasted horrible because the butcher left the silverskin on, or didn't age it properly, or left the bones and fat on the carcass too long...whatever the reason, if you don't clean wild game just right, even good meat will taste off, almost spoiled.

So today, I will rant no more and get down to business. Here is a fantastic, substantial stew perfect for a cool night's meal. Serve it up with French bread and you have a classic comfort meal.

2 pounds stew meat, beef, venison, elk, Big-horn sheep, other wild game meat, or a combination of what strikes your fancy
2 bay leaves
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
1 15-oz can whole stewed tomatoes
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
2-5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
7 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1 cup whole wheat flour or unbleached AP flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
red pepper flakes
about 1/4 cup vegetable oil (you may need more or less depending on your meat)

1. Prepare seasoned flour for dredging the meat: Place flour, pepper and salt in a pie plate. Mix up. Toss meat chunks into flour so they are evenly coated.

2. Using a large pot (4 or 6 quart), heat about 1/4 cup vegetable oil. When hot, brown the meat in the hot oil until evenly browned. Do not burn.

3. Add the garlic and let cook about 1 minute.

4. Add the canned tomatoes with juices, thyme, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes to taste. Cover and simmer on low heat about 1 1/2 hours, or until meat is tender. Stir occasionally.

5. Add the water if it looks like the tomato sauce is cooking down. You want to keep the meat covered and moist.

6. Add celery, onion, carrots, potatoes, and parsley to pot. Stir and simmer until the veggies are tender, about 30 minutes to an hour.

Serves about 6.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pumpkin Bread

I have a problem. It's a horrible addiction to baked goods and chocolate. There are some days on the drive to daycare and work, all I can think of is eating pumpkin bread, or a croissant, or whatever strikes my fancy that day.

Since the weather has offically turned cold, I have been looking for more reasons to bake. One fine day, not too long ago, I set up my mixer and started tossing things together, hoping to get a good home-made replacement for Starbuck's pumpkin bread.

A few tries later, (including one semi-disaster involving a molasses) I'm happy to share my discovery. The coloring is good, spices aren't too overpowering, texture is good. I made a batch as muffins a few days ago for a bake sale at daycare. Eric helped mix the dry ingredients and put liners in the muffin tins. I like having an assistant.

This recipe will make 36 standard size muffins or two cake loaves.

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 eggs
2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup golden brown sugar
1 can pumpkin puree (15 oz)
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
Optional: dry roasted pumpkin seeds.


1. In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Mix well.

2. In a separate large bowl, beat eggs, sugars, and vanilla together until the color is nice and lemony-yellow and the texture is slightly frothy.

3. Beat in pumpkin puree and oil.

4. Add dry ingredients to the wet ones and blend. Don't over beat it or the texture will be grainy and tough.

5. For Muffins: Line muffin tins, or spray generously with nonstick spray. Bake at 350 degrees F for 17-22 minutes. My muffins took 19 minutes to reach a nice even, golden color and pass the toothpick test. Carefully remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.

6. For Loaves: Line two 5" x 9" loaf pans with parchment paper, or spray generously with nonstick spray. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45-55 minutes. Mine took exactly 50 minutes to pass the toothpick test. Cool about 5-10 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to complete cooling.

7. If desired, sprinkle pumpkin seeds on top of the batter before baking to really make it look like Starbucks. I would use a few tablespoons of chopped seeds per loaf. Alternatively, you could mix the seeds into the batter for a more uniform flavor.

I think next time, I will try substituting some applesauce for a portion of the oil to lighten up the fat and calorie content. I'm positive this recipe is horrible for health-conscious eaters. Sugary, fattening baked goods are usually not recommended.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Justin's Shrimp Scampi with Garlic Rice

Who knew such a simple thing as shrimp and rice could be so succulent? It's one of the few things that Justin still makes because he can do it better than I can. I don't know how, but he can just tell by looking at the sauce that it's ready.

We only make this on special occasions, which ends up being about twice a year for someone's birthday or a holiday.

But, for shrimp lovers, this is a must have dish.

For the scampi
3 lbs shrimp, deveined
2 cloves of garlic per 10 shrimp (You'll probably need 6-8 cloves for the sauce), chopped
4 Tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 cup butter
1/4 cup regular olive oil
1/2 cup cream sherry
1/2 cup white wine, we usually use a Chardonnay

For the rice
2 small cloves of garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cups long grain white rice
3 cups water
1-2 Tablepoons parsley, chopped

1. Start the rice: I always rinse the rice grains two times with cold water. Drain off as much rinse water as you can. Add the measured water and rice to a 2-quart saucepan. Add garlic and parsley. Bring to a boil. Cover and let gently simmer 15-20 minutes, or until water has been absorbed and rice is tender.

2. While rice is cooking, start the sauce. Using a large electric skillet or frying pan, melt the butter. Add the olive oil, garlic, parsely, wine, and cream sherry. Gently simmer about 10 minutes. Do not let it scorch. You may add some extra wine or butter to adjust the sauce if it's too hot/ too thick/ too thin.

3. Add shrimp in a single layer covering the pan. As soon as they start to turn pink/orange, flip them over. We go systematically in a pattern to make sure they cook evenly without being overcooked. This will go very quickly. By the time you finish placing the shrimp in a layer, you will need to start turning the first ones. Total time should be about 5 minutes, or 2 1/2 minutes on each side of the shrimp.

4. To serve, place a neat heap of rice in the center of a place. Arrange shrimp on top. Ladle the garlic-wine sauce over top of it all.

5. Serve with French bread, a simple salad, and more wine. Enjoy!

Note: Some people are unsure of garlic terminology. The bulb is referred to as a head of garlic. A single segment of the bulb is called a clove. If this is all too much, use pre-chopped garlic in a jar.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Homemade Baked Chicken Tenders (or Nuggets)

I knew I should have grabbed the camera when I was making these. These are fast, easy, and taste good. Picky eaters ate them! So DING DING DING WE HAVE A WINNER! Try them and see!

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs, such as Italian or Garlic-Herb
2 Tablespoons olive oil

1. Wash and pat dry the chicken. Remove any fat or sinewy, tendon pieces. Slice each breast into four narrow strips. Or slice into small chunks for nuggets.
2. Using the olive oil, brush or rub each piece of chicken.

3. Spread the breadcrumbs in a shallow dish or plate. Roll the chicken in the breadcrumbs so it has an even coating on all surfaces.

4. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for about 15-20 minutes, depending on the chicken's thickness.

Note: If you have plain breadcrumbs, add your own seasoning and mix well. You can use just about anything you like. I have some Luzianne Cajun Seasoning that is really good. You will need to taste-test the crumb mix just to be sure the amount of seasoning is right for you. Start with 1/2 teaspoon and work your way up if that's not enough.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pumpkin Pie Recipe

It's Autumn! It's pumpkin season!

I love visits to the pumpkin patch with the kids and smelling the crisp, cool fall air. It makes me hungry for baked squash, pumpkin pie, pumpkin scones, pumpkin bread, hot tea, hot chocolate, soup...I think you get the idea.

About a week ago, we visited the pumpkin patch with the kids. That got pumpkins on my mind. We happen to have three very large pumpkins waiting to be carved for Halloween plus a variety of squash in a bowl on the counter. I already fixed the butternut squash and it's history.

Then Justin went hunting. For the second trip to get a buck. I told him if he got one, I'd make a pie when he got home. He loves pie. LOVES pie. Even Eric got excited for pie.

Saturday afternoon Justin called and said they got the buck. So now it was up to me to make the pie.

Sunday afternoon I started baking. I made up a batch of pie crust mix. Eric dragged all three big pumpkins into the kitchen "helping" me so I could "use" them in the pie. Such a sweet, thoughtful little boy!

Then I started mixing and blending and rolling and baking. The house smelled so good!

So for your enjoyment, this is how I make pie.

pie crust for one 9 inch plate, uncooked
1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree, plain
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup turbinado sugar (like "Sugar in the Raw") or golden brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 eggs
1 12-oz. can evaporated whole milk

1. Mix sugars, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves in a small bowl.

2. In a larger bowl, beat the egss. Add pumpkin and sugar mixture.

3. Beat.

4. Gradually mix in the evaporated milk.

5. Prepare pie shell.

6. Pour mixture into shell. It's OK to not use it all. You may have about 1/2 to 1 cup of filling leftover.

7. Bake in a preheated 425 degree F oven for 15 minutes. Then, reduce temperature to 350 degrees F. Continue baking about 40-50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Mine took 44 minutes.

8. Cool the pie for at least 2 hours before serving or it will fall apart.

9. With the leftover filling mixture, fill a small 8-oz ramekin.

10. Bake ramekin at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, then continue baking at 350 degrees for another 35-40 minutes. Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream as a treat for the Chef.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Haley's First Birthday Cake

Saturday was Haley's first birthday. We had a small family party at our house. I put Haley in a super-cute pink dress.

I made Haley's cake and frosting completely from scratch. I took photos of each step along the way. I was excited!

Then it was time to dig in.

I decided NOT to post the cake recipe. It was not an instant success. The batter was good. The only problem, once I cooked it, it was hard to get it to come out well. I live in "high altitude" Nevada, so baked goods always need adjusting. I had to cook it more than the recipe said. The recipe said bake for 20-24 minutes. OK. I went for 22 to start. It was still pretty liquid in the center. I gave it 4 more minutes. It looked set up, but the toothpick test yielded a wet toothpick. Another 3 minutes later, the edges were brown, pulling away from the pan, and I got a dry toothpick. Lesson learned: shaped pans with uneven depth make cooking a bitch.

I cooled it in the pan a few minutes, then on the rack. I let it sit wrapped up overnight Friday and started decorating early Saturday morning. At 6:30. Let's say, I was in no hurry to mix up the frosting. I made regular and chocolate buttercream frosting. I made some of the vanilla frosting green, the rest was pink. The chocolate was purple. I smoothed the pink over the cake as a crumb coat. I realized I was in for touble when the frosting didn't want to stick to the cake on the sides. Guess I was too liberal with the nonstick spray on the butterfly-shaped pan. I made it work. I piped stars for the purple wing decor and green body decor. I was done by 8:30.

This is what I got. (photos taken with natural light so the colors look different, deeper).

We sang "Happy Birthday" and had Eric help blow out the one candle. (I missed taking pictures of this so I could hold the cake up for Haley. Everyone got pics so I will get some from Dad's camera later.)

Then Haley grabbed for the corner of the cake, I served up pieces to everyone, and we all went "Mm. Cake."

Then it dawned on me, the cake was tasty, but dry.

Oh well. Can't get it right every time. At least it looked good.

And Haley seemed to have fun crumbling up her slice.