Sunday, November 30, 2008


Abby and I thought that we were going to have a smaller group over for Thanksgiving this year, but we ended up with twelve people, and, let's see if I can count, 16 giant plates or bowls of food and several bottles of wine.
So, here are the dishes that I can remember: 1 free range organic turkey from Savenors, two kinds of mashed potatoes (with lots of cheese and cream and without lots of cheese and cream), two kinds of cranberry sauce (rosemary-cabernet and bourbon-orange), two kinds of stuffing (oyster and vegetarian), two kinds of sweet potato dishes (whipped and in a gratin with squash), braised greens, celery root salad, roasted carrots with dill, roasted Brussels sprouts with balsamic vinegar, spicy green beans, turkey gravy, and vegetarian gravy.Everyone brought at least one dish or wine, but Maia went the extra mile, bringing roasted Brussels sprouts
Two kinds of mashed potatoes and an awesome cheesecake.It might be a bit gratuitous, but here's another shot of our bountiful table. Everything was outstanding
And here are the desserts. Pumpkin pie, apple cake (two types), and cheesecake.

Turkey 101

Good turkey takes time. One of the keys to good turkey is the brine. You want to start soaking the turkey in brine on Tuesday evening. For the brine, I mix together kosher salt (about 1 or 2 cups), brown sugar (about 1/2 cup), several springs of rosemary and thyme, a head of garlic, an onion, an orange, and a handful of black peppercorns.
Put everything in a big pot and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil so all the sugars dissolve and let the mixture boil away for a while so the flavors meld. After simmering for a half hour or so, fill the rest of the pot with cold water and ice cubes. Dump this mixture into a container large enough to contain the turkey. Add enough cold water so the turkey is completely covered. You want to make sure the brine has cooled down before adding the turkey.

If the temperature outside is between 35 and 45F, you can just set the brine, covered, outside, and save fridge space for other stuff. Let the turkey sit in the brine all day, removing on Wednesday evening. Pat the turkey dry and then let it sit in the fridge overnight. This step lets the turkey dry out and makes it easier to get really crispy skin.

On Thursday morning, put together an herb butter for the turkey.
I combine a stick of butter with several cloves of roasted garlic with rosemary, sage, thyme, salt, and pepper. Whipped together, it looks like this.
Before buttering up the turkey, its a good idea to tear off a piece of foil and form it to cover the breast of the turkey. You'll add this midway through the cooking process, and it will help the breast cook more slowly.
Using your hands, separate the skin of the breast from the meat of the turkey. Put a spoonful of the herb butter underneath each breast and spread it around. Cut slits in the drum stick and thigh, and do the same thing. Spread the remaining herb butter around the outside of the turkey.

Place the neck, gizzards, and wing tips in the bottom of the roasting pan with a couple carrots, an onion, celery, a few cloves of garlic, a few sprigs of thyme and chicken or turkey stock. This will form the base of the gravy. Start cooking the turkey in an oven that has been preheated to 450F. After 20 to 30 minutes, reduce the temperature to 325F and put the foil shield on the breast. Cook until the breast meet reaches a temperature of 158F. Remove the turkey and tent it in foil. The temperature should go up another 10 degrees. Let the turkey rest at least 30 minutes before carving. While the turkey is resting, mix the pan drippings with a roux to make the gravy.

NOTE: The last time I made this recipe, I used a free range turkey, and it was a bit dryer than my usual turkeys. If you use a free range bird, you might try cooking until 155F instead. Also, if you are making turkey for a bunch of people, I highly recommend making the extra investment in an electronic temperature probe with an alarm that tells you when you get to the desired temperature. It is very easy to overcook turkey, so you need to be able to monitor your temperature precisely.

Sweet potato-butternut squash gratin

This was a new side dish this year. It turned out OK and was really easy to make. Start by peeling the squash and the sweet potato. Then slice them very thin using a mandoline.
Lay the squash and potato in alternating layers, covering each row with a little heavy cream. I mixed a little chipotle puree and maple syrup in with the cream, but you could just stick with a bit of salt and pepper for the seasoning.
Keep adding layers until you reach the top of the pan. You can put it together to this point a day ahead of time. Cook, covered with foil at 375F for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue cooking for another 30 minutes. Let sit at least 15 minutes before serving.

Cranberry Sauces

This was our last Thanksgiving in Cambridge, and a few dishes have become staples on our Thanksgiving table. One of them is a rosemary-cabernet cranberry sauce that I came up with a few years ago. I usually also make a mustard cranberry sauce that is really great on those next day turkey sandwiches, but this time I decided to change things up a little bit and make an orange-bourbon cranberry sauce instead. The ingredients for the two sauces are shown below.
Rosemary-Cabernet Cranberry Sauce
1 package cranberries
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cabernet sauvignon
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup water
2 sprigs rosemary
1/4 tsp 5-spice powder
1/2 tsp grated ginger

Combine liquids and bring to a boil. Stir in sugars and grated ginger. When the sugar is dissolved, add the cranberries and bring to boil. Stir in the finely minced rosemary and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the five spice powder. A little bit of this should go a long way. Let cool. If you want a smoother texture, you can take out a portion of the sauce and puree it. This recipe has a real "holiday" taste to it that would make it a good side for a Christmas dinner.

Orange-Bourbon Cranberry Sauce
1 package cranberries
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup bourbon
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup water
1 tsp orange zest

Reduce the bourbon to 1/4 cup, add water, OJ and honey. Bring to boil, add cranberries and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Finish with orange zest.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Clam and white bean soup with chorizo

Here's a fairly simple dish that I came up with last night. The dish is, I think, a Portuguese preparation. At least, the main ingredients are all commonly found in Portuguese cooking. I found that the broth was a little thin for my taste, so next time I make it I'll play around with the seasoning a little more. Below, I listed the ingredients that I used, but if you make this, I would suggest trying ways to improve the broth. I listed a couple suggestions.

Depending on how long you let things simmer, this meal should take only about 45 minutes to make. I served it with baguette toasts and side of greens the had been braised with garlic, chicken stock, red pepper flakes, and cider vinegar.

INGREDIENTS (2-3 servings)
2 lb clams
2 14oz. cans of white beans.
1/2 lb chorizo, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
4-6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 small bottle clam juice
1/4 cup white wine
olive oil
red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper to taste
parsley or cilantro for garnish

Start by cooking the onions, garlic, carrot and chorizo with 1 Tbsp olive oil a pinch of salt and red pepper flakes over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Add a splash of white wine and turn the heat up to high to reduce the wine. Let the wine reduce for about a minute then add the clam juice. Add another 2 cups of water, the beans, and bring everything to a boil. Turn the heat back down to medium and let everything simmer together for a while. It can be as little as 10 minutes or as long as an hour. The more time you let this cook, the more the flavors will blend together. As this mixture is simmering, you can start seasoning. You can add a bay leaf and/or a few sprigs of thyme to add some depth to the flavor. Add salt and pepper a little bit at a time, and keep tasting the broth until you like the taste.

As I mentioned above, the broth was a little thin. Perhaps it just needed more time, but replacing the water/clam juice mixture with seafood or chicken stock might have improved things. The right amount of salt and pepper did help out a lot, but it didn't get it all the way there.

Once you are about ready for dinner, throw in the clams and let cook, covered, until the clams open up (around 5 to 8 minutes). Garnish with parsley and lemon juice.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mussels in saffron cream sauce

The recipe is here. The one thing I would change is to go with a light cream instead of heavy cream....maybe even half and half and add garlic and some tomato paste or half a small can of canned tomatoes, hand crushed. This would add a bit more acidity to the sauce and improve the color. Is it stands, the broth is just too rich. Serve with toasted slices of baguette that have been brushed with olive oil (before toasting).

Beet soup

Wrap beets in foil and roast at 350F for 1 hour. Let cool, then peel and cut into chunks.
While the beets are cooling, cook roughly chopped red onion and ginger with butter and salt in a medium pan. I used 1 half of an onion and 1/2" of ginger for 8 small beets (about the size of a new potato). When the onions have softened (5 minutes), add the beets and enough chicken or vegetable stock to cover everything by almost an inch. Add part of an orange peel to the mixture and let simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove the orange peel and puree the mixture. Season to taste with coriander, orange juice and lemon juice. For the garnish, mix together soft goat cheese with a bit of sour cream in a food processor. For a more refined version of this soup, pass the pureed soup through a strainer a couple times. This will make the finished product thinner and smoother.

Pollo al ajillo

This is a simple Spanish recipe. Start by seasoning bone-in skin on chicken thighs with salt and pepper and browning in a large pan with some olive oil. Once the skin is crispy, remove the chicken and pour out all but 4Tbsp of olive oil. Add an entire head of garlic (for 8 chicken thighs) and cook over medium heat. You don't want to brown the garlic, so keep an eye on it. Add a splash of white wine and lemon juice and stir in a bunch of chopped parsley. Return the chicken to the pan and cook, covered for another 15 minutes.

Tuna burgers

I used the same recipe that I used to make the tuna meatballs here. If I make these again, I would use about half the amount of bread crumbs in the recipe. Serve on brioche with arugula that has been tossed in a very small amount of olive oil, lemon juice, and kosher salt.

Cumin crusted lamb with pomegranate sauce and basmati rice

Lamb loin (1 per person)
Salt, pepper
Demi glace
Pomegranate molasses
Basmati rice
Chicken stock
Bay leaf
Slivered almonds
Red pepper flakes
Lemon juice
Olive oil

Begin by toasting ground cumin in a hot pan until it become aromatic. Rub the cumin into the lamb with salt and pepper and set aside.
Next, get started on the rice. For two servings, finely dice one quarter of an onion and a clove of garlic. Cook in a medium sized pot with 1/2 Tbsp butter. Add a cup of basmati rice and cook over medium heat for another minute. Add 1.5 cups chicken stock and a bay leaf and bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for 20 min. When the rice is done, add onions sumac, and additional cumin to taste.
Once the rice is going, cut the broccoli into florets and steam for 5 to 6 minutes and then get the sauce started. For the sauce, you want to just combine a bit of demiglace and pomegranate molasses. I don't remember the ratios, so just adjust this to taste. If you don't have demiglace, just mix two parts beef stock to one part red wine and reduce to about one quarter of the original volume.
Now you can cook the lamb. Sear it for about 2 minutes on each side over high heat and finish in the oven at 400F for about 5-6 minutes (it might need longer, but check it at this point). When the lamb is done, it will need about 5 minutes to rest. Use this time to finish off the broccoli by sauteing it with sliced garlic, red pepper flakes and olive oil. After the broccoli is reheated, hit it with a dash of lemon juice. When you initially steam the broccoli, it isn't cooked through, so this step finishes the cooking. It should still have a bit of bite to it though.