Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Tour -- Bringing It All Together

I am having a hard time believing that tomorrow is Thanksgiving. It seems like a week ago that the kids were just going back to school. I am also having a hard time believing that I still have two recipes to post!

For the Thanksgiving salad, Fuyu persimmons and Bosc pears are tossed with a blood orange vinaigrette and topped with toasted almonds and pomegranate seeds. It's simple and lovely. No blood orange olive oil on hand? No problem, just use another excellent extra virgin olive oil.

You could substitute Fuji or Gala apples for the pears, but please make sure to get the Fuyu and not Hachiya persimmons. The Fuyu are firm, shaped somewhat like a doughnut, and much tastier to eat straight out of hand.

And last, but certainly not least, the stuffing (or dressing). On day one of this adventure I posted about the Wild Rice and Roasted Squash Salad. I also promised that I would transform those same ingredients into the stuffing.

When I made the stuffing I used the leftovers from the Wild Rice Salad, added toasted baguette cubes, cranberries, walnuts and some fresh chicken stock. It was delicious. I have written the recipe up for you here from scratch since I am figuring you may want to make this and don't have the Wild Rice Salad in your fridge.

On a final note, thank you for reading, sincerely thank you! This is my 18th post in 35 days. That's a lot of blogging. And now, I think I am going on a hiatus, for a few days anyway. . .

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pear & Butternut Squash Pie

Recently, a local mom launched her Milk & Honey ice cream business. When she announced one of this month's flavors, Rum Ginger Caramel, a couple of weeks ago I started imagining pies to go with it. And that is how the Pear & Butternut Squash Pie was born. The pie was totally sublime with the ice cream.

Now I realize not everyone has Rum Ginger Caramel ice cream in their freezer. So we tested the pie with good quality vanilla ice cream as well. (You know, purely for science, we had to make sure it was still good!) You could also make a rum caramel sauce to swirl with some regular vanilla ice cream from the store.

Sliced squash.
This pie uses winter squash differently than you are probably used to. The squash is not pureed, but left in pieces. A concept I first ran across in Dorie Greenspan's book, "Baking From My Home to Yours." I quartered the squash and then thinly sliced it.

Now about the crust, I used leaf shaped cookie cutters to create the top crust, but you can also cut them out with a pairing knife, or make a lattice pie crust. I made the crust with white whole wheat flour, but all purpose flour works fine to of course. If this is your first foray into pie crust making, it is not difficult, but I do have a few helpful tips. There are some nice tips, with pictures, here as well.

  •  Don't over process the dough, you want to mix only until the dough just begins to form a ball.
  • Let the dough rest for 30-60 minutes after you've mixed it.
  • The dough is easiest to roll out and handle when it is cooler than room temperature, not cold though.
  • Don't be afraid of using plenty of flour when you are rolling out the dough. You can always brush off any excess.
  • You can make the balls of dough ahead and refrigerate, or freeze, until you are ready to use, allow the dough to warm before rolling out.
  • When the dough is rolled out and in the pie plate keep it cool. I return it to the fridge whenever I am not working with it.

Happy baking, and, stay tuned for a Milk & Honey giveaway here next month!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Butterscotch Pie, Version 2.0

Image of pie available at:
You may recall not long ago I blogged about the Butterscotch Pie with Curry Crust from Bon Appetit. You also may recall, that I did not exactly love the recipe. However, I kept thinking about that pie. I thought there was a good idea there, and I thought the recipe could be improved upon. Yes, the GourmetsBon Appetits, and Saveurs of the world do not always have perfect recipes. Sometimes they are fabulous, and sometimes they need a little work.

So I decided to go to work on that recipe, and, let me tell you, I have changed my opinion -- this one will make it to our Thanksgiving spread. I started with modifying the texture. The first pie was too much like Jell-o for my taste. I upped the cornstarch, and decreased the gelatin, and voilà, much nicer mouthfeel. Secondly, I got rid of the molasses -- the caramelized sugar and brown sugar were plenty flavorful, and, I added whiskey, because heck, why not?

Now, about the crust. The crust is a big deal, it is what takes a kind of straight up custard pie and makes it interesting. And, while the curry in the crust was a great idea, I didn't want to hit diners over the head with it. I was hoping for more of a subtle, mysterious flavor that would make you go "Hmmm, what is that deliciousness?" I decreased the curry and the butter in the crust (there was way, way too much butter as the recipe was originally written). I also left out the sugar in the crust entirely. You use vanilla wafer cookies to make the crumbs -- given that these are already sweetened, I thought it unlikely the crust needed more sugar.

Disclaimer: this is not an easy recipe. It involves caramelizing sugar, and making a cooked egg custard on the stove -- arguably two of the more difficult techniques in cooking. But please, don't let this dissuade you from giving it a try. Whether it turns out perfectly, or gets messed up, you will learn a lot (which is fun!), and you might just end up with something of a showstopper on your Thanksgiving dessert table.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thanksgiving Tour Continues

We continue today with a vegetable side dish, my favorite part of the menu, except for perhaps the pie.

I love this recipe because it is simple, fresh, and if you've never had sautéed snap peas, well then you are in for a treat. For the olive oil in this dish I used a basil infused oil, but any very good quality oil will do.

As far as timing goes, this is the one dish you should really do à la minute.  Begin this dish 15 minutes before you are ready to sit down. Then all that's left to do is carve the turkey and serve.

I love getting things done ahead, so below is a sample schedule I have sketched out of the cooking preparation.

Sample Preparation Schedule

2 days before -- Make stock.

1 day before -- Make cranberry sauce, make pie crusts, cube bread for stuffing, rub the turkey.

Morning of -- Make pies, assemble gratin (cover and refrigerate), assemble stuffing (cover and refrigerate), set out ingredients for vegetables.

3.5 hours before -- Start roasting turkey (2.5 hours for 14 lb, if your bird is larger, back up the start time accordingly).

2 hours before -- Make gravy base, make salad dressing.

1 hour - 45 minutes before -- Take turkey out of the oven to rest, bake gratin and stuffing, finish gravy.

15 min before -- Assemble and dress salad, make Peas and Carrots, carve turkey.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thanksgiving Tour -- Turkey

With one week until Thanksgiving this seems like the perfect time to "talk turkey." There are probably as many ways to cook turkey as there are . . . well I don't know what, but there are lots of ways to cook your turkey: grill, fry, smoke, brine, stuff, even, God forbidmicrowave.

The thing is that a lot of these techniques are, frankly, a pain in the ass. I mean, to wet brine your turkey, you've got to get a big cooler, sanitize it, fill it, and go through a lot of hassle. You can purchase special turkey roasters. Heck, you can even buy an indoor turkey fryer for the low, low price of $209.99.

As I have mentioned before, simplicity and minimalism are important to me. Less is more, and all that. I was going to go ahead and cook a turkey specially for this post, to try to develop one of those other techniques mentioned above. But Thanksgiving is about tradition and gratitude. So I am grateful for my simple regular kitchen oven, and classic roast turkey.

Image available at:
A couple of years ago I followed this recipe from The Way the Cookie Crumbles (Which also happens to be the food blog that introduced me to food blogging). It came out PERFECTLY. I mean, perfectly perfect. The meat was moist and flavorful, and the skin was nice and brown. It left nothing to be desired -- so I present to you my favorite Turkey recipe.

May your Thanksgiving be peaceful, simple, thankful and tasty!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Stocks Are Rising

Yes, the market is up today, but I am not talking about those kind of stocks. I am talking about homemade chicken, turkey or vegetable stock. I cannot emphasize enough how much better fresh stock is compared to the canned or boxed stuff they sell in the grocery store. It is about one hundred million times better.  I wish I could invite each of you over to my house to do a taste test. Seriously! But, I can't. The fire marshal said he'd get a court order if I tried that again. So, you are going to have to trust me.

I know it is a generally accepted practice to use Swanson Chicken Broth to make soup, sauces, or to add to your Thanksgiving stuffing. However, whatever you are making will be vastly better with homemade stock. Even some of the "better" brands such as Pacific Free-Range Chicken Broth just can't compete with homemade.

You will see that many times the words "broth" and "stock" get used somewhat interchangeably. And that is kind-of alright, since usually you can interchange them in recipes. The main difference between the two comes down to the ratio of meat and bones that are simmered. Broths result from simmering mainly meat, sometimes on a few bones. Stocks are simmered bones, sometimes with a little meat on them. So the short version: broth from meat, stock from bones. 

The result is that stocks will be more full bodied, both in flavor and in texture. When they cool, you will see that they thicken considerably from the natural gelatin in the bones. But it really is all on the same spectrum, like Fifty Shades of Grey ...

So how do you go about making your own stock. Well first of all, it is easy and there is a lot of leeway. You can add carrots and celery ... or not. You can add a bay leaf and peppercorns ... or not. You can simmer it for 2 1/2, or 3 hours, or 4 hours. You can even make it in a crock pot.

I usually just pick a Sunday afternoon that I am going to be around the house anyway, and make it in my stock pot which you can borrow if you want (and are willing to pay shipping and handling -ed.).  Here's what you need:

1) Approximately 4 lbs of chicken, or turkey, wings.
2) Approximately 16 cups (4 quarts) of water.
3) 1 large yellow onion quartered.
4) 2 garlic cloves, unpeeled.
5) Optional--3 medium carrots, washed and cut into 2 inch pieces.
6) Optional--6 medium celery ribs, washed and cut into 2 inch pieces.
7) Optional--2 bay leaves.
8) Optional--1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns.

Image available at
Place everything in your large stock pot and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, and simmer for approximately 3 hours. Periodically skim off any foam or particles that accumulate on the surface. When you're done simmering, allow it to cool to room temperature. Pour it through a fine sieve, or a strainer lined with a couple of layers of cheesecloth. 

There are a lot of recipes for vegetable stock out there. Some of them have you add cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli or chard. I don't recommend that, since these vegetables have a high sulfur content and can turn bitter. I also think adding mushrooms, and caramelizing the vegetables before you add the water are important components. So when I make vegetable stock, I follow this excellent method described at Simply Recipes.

After whatever stock you are making is cooled and strained, go ahead and divide it up into smaller storage containers. It will keep in the fridge for 3 days, or the freezer for up to 3 months.  You can even freeze it in ice cube trays, and then transfer it to a Ziploc bag. Each ice cube is about 2 tablespoons, which means you will already have pre-measured amounts to add to sauces or other recipes as needed. 

I am telling you here and now, if you do nothing else this holiday season, make your own stock. Make a big huge batch of it, and then freeze it to use through the winter. You could even pass out containers of it as Christmas presents. Your friends will love you. Well, I would love you.  So make some stock this weekend. And tell me about it, I'd love to hear what kind of stock you made, how it turned out, and any questions that popped up along the way.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thanksgiving Tour 2013 -- Day 4

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I have a fun and easy to make side dish for you today -- Potato "Fill-in-the-Blank" Gratin.

I adapted the recipe from Williams-Sonoma's Potato and Celery Root Gratin.

The idea here is, you use a waxy potato, like yukon gold, or red-bliss, and then pick your other favorite winter vegetable to mix in.

Choose from any of the following to fill in your "blank":

Celery Root

I used whole milk instead of cream as the liquid, a trick I learned from the Smitten Kitchen. For my taste, the dish is plenty rich and savory with the milk, and then you can save the cream for your pie.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Thanksgiving Tour -- Day 3

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For today. . . fresh cranberry relish. Honestly, I can just eat this out of the bowl with a spoon, but it really does make the perfect refreshing condiment to serve along side all those other rich foods. My dad has been making this for as long as I can remember. Over the years I have tried various cooked cranberry sauces but this remains my favorite.

The recipe comes right from the back of the bag of Ocean Spray Cranberries and couldn't be simpler to make:

1 12 Ounce bag fresh cranberries
1 Small seedless navel orange, washed and scrubbed
1/2 to 3/4 Cup sugar (I use sucanat)

Cut the whole orange into cubes, place in a food processor with the cranberries and sugar and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl, cover and let sit overnight. Since you are eating the entire fruit, skin and all, I prefer to use organic cranberries and oranges.

Incidentally, this also makes a great spread for turkey sandwiches.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Thanksgiving Tour 2013 -- Day 2

So for todays Thanksgiving post I thought I'd kitchen test a recipe for you all. I saw this recipe, Butterscotch Pie in a Curry Crust, in current issue of Bon Appetit. A dessert that uses herbs or spices is bound to capture my interest.

The way the recipe was written didn't exactly match up to my experience when making it so it seemed worthy of making a few notes:

  • 6 tablespoons of butter was too much for the crust. I started over reducing the butter to 5 tablespoons with much better results.
  • Reduce curry powder and fennel seeds to 1/2 teaspoon each.
  • Have all ingredients at room temperature, mixtures will come together more smoothly.
  • Tempered egg mixture took about 10 minutes to thicken, not 2-3 as the recipe suggests. The second time I made this the mixture thickened right up in 3 minutes. I attribute this to the additional cornstarch, higher heat on the stove, and better carmel mixture to start with.
  • Molasses flavor was over-powering, leave the molasses out and add 1 tablespoon of whiskey instead.
  • This one just begs for a delicious dessert wine.
It is a fun pie to try, however, I am still going to stick with a classic pumpkin pie for our Thanksgiving table. After reworking the recipe, this is definitely one I'd be proud to serve.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thanksgiving Tour -- Day 1

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Welcome to the first ever Olive Oil, Salt & Pepper Thanksgiving Tour. Over the next three weeks we will be exploring all things Thanksgiving: food, wine, menu plans, and some culinary traditions of the holiday.

For our first stop on the Thanksgiving Tour, we are going to explore a recipe that would make an excellent main course for the center of your vegan Thanksgiving feast. And, later in the month I will show you how to transform these same ingredients into a delicious stuffing.

The base of this dish is nutty, earthy wild rice. Let's talk about rice for a minute. . . I can't cook rice.  Well, wait a minute -- I couldn't cook rice.  

When I say, I couldn't cook rice, I mean I really, really sucked at it.  I was always lifting the lid, peeking into the pot, adjusting the heat up and down, and adding a little more liquid. All strategies that lead to rice frustration, rather than rice bliss.

Now I know you are probably thinking, "Geez woman, just buy a rice cooker already!" Well we don't have a huge kitchen, and I am also a minimalist (I don't have a waffle iron, either). I like to keep things simple, and aside from a toaster, my Kitchenaid and the coffee machine, we aren't big appliance people. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Image available at:
Actually, risotto is the perfect dish for me -- rice that likes lots and lots of babysitting. But that is for another post, on another day. Today, I am talking about cooking wild rice (Zizania palustris), which, incidentally, is not related to what we commonly refer to as "rice"(Oryza sativa). This cooking method works like a dream for wild rice, white rice, brown rice, red rice, purple rice, Ray Rice, and Jerry Rice. OK, just kidding. Ray Rice can't cook to save his life.

So how did I overcome my rice cooking problem . . . The oven. Yep, the oven. Cook your rice in the oven and easy peasy, beautiful results. I learned this from my dad -- this is how he would cook the rice for the restaurant.

Delicata Squash
Here's what you do: in an oven safe pot with a fitted lid, bring your liquid to a boil, add rice and salt, stir, cover, pop it in a 350 degree oven, and go put your feet up for a while. (Or if you're like me, run around and sweep the floor, make the kids lunches and start some laundry.) The oven provides a nice even heat all around the pot, and unless you get really, really distracted it is very unlikely that you will scorch the rice. How much and how long depends on what kind of rice you are making -- Martha Stewart has a nice little rice cooking reference chart here.

So now that I can cook rice, what will I do with it? Well, when I read this recipe for Roasted Pumpkin Salad on “101 Cookbooks” several weeks ago, I was intrigued by the idea of using sunflower seeds to make a sauce. Plus, it featured wild rice, and even better, our CSA share that week included these adorable delicata squash. The skin of these squash is tender and completely edible (the word "delicata" is translated from Italian to mean delicate and mild).

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Cup Is Not Always A Cup.

Flour straight out of the bag.
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My favorite kitchen tool is a digital food scale. It has really changed the way I cook. My infatuation with the scale no doubt has something to do with my training as a chemist (that, and my perfectionist tendencies). I spent a lot of time measuring out reagents on a lab scale. The kitchen has now become my laboratory, and I swear, once you get used to cooking with a scale (especially baking) you will wonder how you ever lived without it.  Here's why -- a cup of flour can vary dramatically in weight, depending on how it is milled, or whether it is sifted. But, 125 grams is always 125 grams.

I did a simple little experiment to demonstrate this. I pulled my recently purchase bag of flour out of the cupboard, scooped out a cup, leveled it with the back of a knife, and weighed it: 159 grams.

Then I took the same flour and "aerated" it, by just gently whisking the flour in a bowl. I scooped out a cup, leveled and weighed: 128 grams! 31 grams less flour, about 20% less than the original measurement. My cup now looked more like 1 1/4 cups. If you are baking, which is all about ratios of ingredients, this is a big difference.

Measuring the whisked flour.
Just for kicks, I took the same flour and sifted it, scooped a cup, leveled and weighed again: 129 grams. Kind of interesting -- whisked, or sifted, didn't make much difference, but chances are if you are scooping your flour straight from the bag, you are using too much flour.

A couple of years ago I started experimenting with gluten-free recipes. We are not a gluten-free house, however, my food ethos is variety, variety and more variety. I like to incorporate lots of different kinds of grains into our diet. Things like pancakes and muffins are great for this. They are not yeast risen and therefore don't depend on gluten for the structure of their crumb. Plus, kids love them. Sometimes I like to make a double batch on the weekend and freeze half. Then you can just pop them in the toaster when you want a quick, delicious breakfast.

Gluten-free Girl and the Chef has been a great resource for me in exploring this subject. They have a fabulous post on how to make your own gluten-free whole grain flour blend. It is super cool because you get to choose from a bunch of whole grain flours and make your own mix. Basically you weigh out 70% of a whole grain flour, and 30% of a starch. I used that formula to develop these gluten-free pumpkin pancakes.

I have tried quinoa flour, sorghum flour, almond meal, oat flour, teff and brown rice flour in different combinations throughout the years. For the starches, Cornstarch and Arrowroot have been my favorites. I tried the potato starch with less than great results. It just sucked up so much moisture that the batter became to thick. Feel free to choose your own flours to find the taste and texture combination you like best.

For these pancakes I used fresh pumpkin puree that I had made the day before. If you have never used fresh pumpkin puree in your baking, I highly recommend giving it a try. It is easy to do and, while canned works, the fresh pure has a lighter texture and purer flavor. You could also use other squash purees in this recipe; butternut squash would be delicious.

Bosc pear and spices.
There is a great post here on how to make pumpkin puree. I had a nice sugar pie pumpkin that I cut in half, roasted until tender, and then, here's the important part for baking applications--let the extra moisture drain off overnight. My set up looked like this. I used a fine mesh strainer and coffee filters. Cheese cloth also works wonderfully, I just didn't have any on hand and was in the mood to head out to the store.

You may remember me mentioning  Sonoma Harvest here before, this time I used their Pear & Cinnamon Honey, to make a pear topping for these pancakes. I have to say, it turned out even more delicious than I had imagined when I was dreaming this recipe up. I am dying to try it over vanilla or hazelnut gelato.