November 29, 2010

Smoked Salmon Spinach Labne Dip

1 1/2 lb labne (Kefir cheese)
1/2 lb smoked salmon (not lox), flaked
3/4 cup squeezed dry, defrosted frozen chopped spinach
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons herbs de Provence
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon pepper sherry
1 tablespoon minced chives
1 teaspoon dry mustard
zest of one lemon
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl until well combined and distributed.

My thoughts:
I'd never really had labne, a type of yogurt cheese, much but the tub I had recently made me a instant convert. I had heard it was a great sub for cream cheese or sour cream which I thought was just hyperbole but it really was. It was kind of tart fresh from the tub but once mixed with the other dip ingredients it really tasted like and had the consistency of cream cheese. So good but much less fat. Awesome. For this dip I combined elements of several of my favorite dips into one. It was so good!

November 26, 2010

Turkey Ruebens

sliced leftover roasted turkey
4 slices Swiss Cheese
8 slices rye bread
1 cup sauerkraut

Russian dressing:
2 slices dill pickle, minced
1 shallot, minced
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
white pepper

Stir together the dressing ingredients. Spread on 4 slices of bread. Top each with a layer of turkey then sauerkraut then Swiss. Top with the remaining slices of bread. Melt the butter in a skillet and cook each side until golden brown, covering briefly if needed to warm the sandwich through. Slice and serve.

My thoughts:
When I had faux Thanksgiving last month, we ended up with a lot turkey leftover. I like the traditional cranberry sauce + turkey sandwich but I wanted to try something different. Since I live in Baltimore, I had plenty of sauerkraut leftover so reubens sprung to mind. I normally don't like them at restaurants because they are invariably made with Thousand Island dressing (both incorrect and yucky) and/or too big and greasy. Making them at home was awesome. The Russian dressing was quick to put together and only involved ingredients I always have on hand. It added a zippy flavor that sort of tied into sauerkraut much better than the cloying, bland bottled dressing you often get in delis.

Quick tip: let the turkey and sauerkraut sit out a few minutes before making the sandwiches. It helps them cook through more quickly.

November 24, 2010

Figgy Cranberry Sauce

12 oz whole cranberries
6 dried figs, quartered
1 cup orange juice
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 inch knob ginger, grated

Bring the cranberries, ginger, figs, sugar and lemon juice to a boil. Reduce heat then simmer until thickened, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, stir. Serve hot or cold.

My thoughts:
We make cranberry sauce a lot during the months when cranberries are in season. I like them to tie into the central dish and I hate making the same thing again and again so I added figs to this one to coordinate with the fig glazed turkey I make this year. They added a fun texture contrast (love the seeds) and tempered the cranberries' tartness. The leftover sauce keeps for weeks in the fridge and is awesome on sandwiches, either turkey or PB&J. Or of course, cranberry ribbon cake, triple ginger cranberry sauce bread, oatmeal cranberry sauce muffins or cranberry cheesecake squares.

November 22, 2010

Thyme and Portobello Un-Stuffing

25 slices torn sandwich bread
2 large onions, diced
1 bunch celery, diced
1/2 cup chicken or turkey stock
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons minced parsley
4 portobello mushroom caps, diced
1 teaspoon white pepper


In a large pan, saute celery, mushrooms and onions in butter and olive oil over very low heat until the onions are translucent. Do not brown. Add to bread cubes in bowl and add the spices and herbs.

Combine with egg and broth. Form medium-sized balls. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to overnight.

Place balls in the bottom of the roasting pan under the rack and around the turkey (or chicken) on the rack for the last 1/2 hour of roasting and cook until cooked through.

Yield: 8-10 servings
My thoughts:
I love stuffing. Sometimes I make a whole turkey or chicken just so I can make stuffing. Of course, this is technically not "stuffing" but it is way better than the in-a-separate-dish "dressing" people make. It is the best of both worlds: infused with juices from the turkey and crispy around the edges. Yum, yum, yum. My mom made stuffing this way growing up but much plainer. The herbs and meaty mushrooms add a lot to the awesomeness. My brother was so enthralled by it, he packed a baggie full of stuffing scraps to take home.

Also pictured:
slow cooked sauerkraut
hot pepper butternut squash
fig glazed turkey
herbed green & wax beans

November 19, 2010

Fig Glazed Turkey

1 14-16 lb turkey
sea salt
coarsely ground pepper
4 dried figs
1 small onion, quartered
1 small bunch thyme

1/4 cup fig jam
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon minced thyme
1 teaspoon grated ginger

Preheat oven to 325. Place the turkey on the rack and position in the roasting pan. Whisk together the glaze ingredients or pulse them in the blender. Brush over the bird. Sprinkle the turkey thoroughly with salt and pepper. Stick the figs, onion and sprig of thyme in the cavity of the turkey. Roast for about 3 hours or until the juices run clear and the leg is easily wiggled. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes before carving.

My thoughts:
We had my brother and his girlfriend over for our annual Faux Thanksgiving so I could develop these recipes to share. I was a little nervous about my theme* this year, figs, because I've found they are not something people always enjoy or are familiar with outside of the Newton. I shouldn't have worried because they really liked it! The glaze helps sell in the juices of the turkey and eliminated the need for basting, which I appreciate. The skin was slightly sticky but not in a bad way. I'd rather have a glazed skin than a dried out bird! Stuffing the cavity with fruit and vegetables instead of stuffing makes for a moister turkey as well. There is still air circulation (yay for no food poisoning!) but it generates some steam that seems to help.

*I do a theme each year because 1. it is fun 2. it helps with planning/shopping when you can use the same ingredient in more than one dish. Look for another figgy recipe next week!

November 17, 2010

Slow Cooked Sauerkraut

28 oz sauerkraut
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons yellow mustard seed
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh sage
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon charnushka (aka black caraway or kalonji)
1 1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar
1 small onion, thinly sliced

Place all ingredients in a 2 or 4 quart slow cooker. Stir to evenly distribute all ingredients. Cook on low 8 hours or 4 hours on high. Stir. Serve hot.

My thoughts:
I know I've mentioned it before but it wasn't until I was in college that I realized not everyone has sauerkraut at Thanksgiving. It really is a Baltimore thing, probably the result of the large number of German immigrants that settled here although other areas with similar populations did not adopt the sauerkraut tradition. I guess I am biased, but sauerkraut is perfect for Thanksgiving. It goes great with turkey and cuts the sweetness of the cranberry sauce and some side dishes. In recent years, I've started to make it in the slow cooker, which is I think is one of my more clever holiday ideas. While sauerkraut is easy to make on the stove, it does take up an extra burner and is prone to scorching if you don't keep an eye on it. No worries in the slow cooker. Last year I made a porky version but this year I created a vegetarian (well, vegan, actually) recipe that I think might be even better. The other one was still very, very good but I am not sure if it is the absence of pork or the addition of new spices but this was great; pickle-y but not too sour and with just the right amount of fresh herbs and spices to keep it from tasting too flat and one dimensional.

As an aside, here is a Mencken story that mentions Baltimore's love of sauerkraut at Thanksgiving.

November 15, 2010

Hot Pepper Butternut Squash

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed
2 jalapenos, minced
1 shallot, minced
3 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seed
1 teaspoon pepper sherry
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1/2 cup chicken stock or water
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

for the seeds:
seeds from the squash
1/4 cup sea salt
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 350. Saute the shallot, peppers and squash until the shallot is translucent. Add the remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer until the squash is fork tender.

Meanwhile: Place the butternut seeds in a large pot. Fill halfway with water. Add salt. Bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Drain. Sprinkle lightly with olive oil, then the spices. Stir to evenly distribute spice. Place in a single layer on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Stir the seeds then bake for an additional 5 minutes or until they no longer look wet are instead toasted and crunchy looking.

Sprinkle the seeds over the squash and serve.

My thoughts:
Butternut squash is perhaps the most popular of the winter squashes to make at home. It is easy to make it the same way over and over again but I wanted to try something completely different than the usual. Rather than giving into the natural sweetness, I went with contrasting flavors that were inspired by Caribbean cuisine. It was a big hit with everyone.

I love roasted butternut squash seeds (possibly even more than pumpkin!) because they puff up a bit and have a great "pop" when you bite down on them. They make a great garnish.

Tips: Make it easy on yourself and cube and peel the butternut squash the day before you want to use it. You can roast the seeds ahead of time too.

Keep an eye on the squash as it cooks and add more water if needed, the sugars in the squash can caramelize quickly which can turn into the cubes sticking to the pan.

November 12, 2010

Sweet Potato Rolls


for the rolls:
4 cups flour
1 cup mashed roasted sweet potato
1/3 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 oz dry yeast
2 eggs, at room temperature

In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast on the water. Using an electric mixer with a dough hook combine the yeast, butter, water, sugar, egg and sweet potato. Add the flour and mix on low until smooth. The mixture should become a sticky dough at this time but it shouldn't feel damp or look wet. If it does, mix in a small amount of flour. Knead on a floured surface or in a stand mixer until smooth but still slightly sticky. Place the ball of dough in a buttered bowl. Cover with a tea towel or loose plastic wrap and let rise for about 45 minutes or until it doubles in size.

Preheat oven to 350. Remove dough from bowl and break into 10 even pieces. Roll each into a ball. Place in two 9 inch round cake pans that have been lightly sprayed with nonstick baking spray, forming a circle with one roll in the middle. Allow to rise for 20 minutes.

Bake for 15 minutes or until fully cooked. Remove to a wire rack to cool for a minute then invert and pull apart to serve.

My thoughts:
Oh my, these were good. I am honestly not a huge fan of sweet potatoes, they are just too, well, sweet for me to eat at a regular meal. Too dessert-y. However, everyone else I know likes them so I am always trying to find a new way to use them that everyone (including me!) can enjoy. These completely fit the bill. They were a lovely light orange color and tasted like sweet potatoes but were still firmly a savory dinner roll. They were great spread with butter along side dinner but I am imagining leftovers transformed into rolls for sandwiches. They were wonderfully light and fluffy but substantial enough to hold some serious filling.

Note: This is a really forgiving recipe. Letting it rise for longer than the times listed here is perfectly fine.

November 10, 2010

Oyster Stew

1 lb oysters with liqour
1 large onion, chopped
1 large russet potato, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 habanero pepper, chopped
1 cup diced smoked ham
24 oz evaporated milk
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil

Heat the butter or oil in a dutch oven or large pot. Saute the onion, pepper, potato, celery and ham until the vegetables are softened. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer until the oysters are cooked through.

My thoughts:
This past weekend we went to the oyster festival in St. Michaels. One of the events was a oyster stew competition. For $5 you got a mug and could try 8 different stews then cast your vote. I honestly had never had oyster stew before but I liked it a lot. There was one that I loved but all of them were pretty similar. They were also pretty rich; lots of cream and butter. Which, to me, overpowered some of the oyster flavor. After the 6th or 7th sample, I even started to feel a little queasy. When I noticed that local oysters were under $7 a pound at our local Safeway, I figured I'd try to make an oyster stew that was both flavorful and not so heavy. To help accomplish that goal, I turned to one of my favorite ingredients: evaporated milk. I love it because, undiluted, it is super creamy and rich tasting but not heavy at all. In this case, I thinned it out with a bit of 2% milk and really liked the result. It didn't taste "canned" (the biggest fear I find people have about using evaporated milk) and it really let the oyster's flavor shine through. Some of the stews we tasted had bacon but I didn't really like the texture it had in the stew and it seemed to make the stew kind of oily. I liked the idea of a smoky flavor so I added some lean ham from one of those spiral sliced hams that are so readily available right now. It did exactly what I wanted: smoky flavor with no extra fat.

November 08, 2010

Kadota Fig & Candied Ginger Jam

3 lbs Kadota figs, stems removed and finely chopped (about 4 cups)
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup bottled lemon juice
1/4 cup diced crystallized candied ginger
3 ounces liquid pectin (one pouch)

Prep the jars/lids. Place the figs, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in pectin and candied ginger. Boil 5 minutes. Fill and seal the jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Yield: about 5 8-oz jars

Note: A great source for canning information is the Blue Book guide to preserving. I highly recommend it for learning how to can. Here is a bunch of other canning books and equipment I find useful.

*I used bottled lemon juice instead of fresh because figs are a low acid fruit and I wanted to make sure that the acid content was high enough to safely use the hot water method. The acidity of fresh lemons can vary but the acidity of bottled lemon juice is constant.

My thoughts:
Kadota figs have light green skins and pretty pink centers. Like most figs they are pretty sweet but I think they have a more floral, almost honey-like flavor than other varieties I've tried. I had some really good candied ginger and thought it would work well with this particular fig. Of course, I am a big ginger fan anyway but it kept the jam from being crazy sweet while at the same time keeping the floral note. I also liked how the ginger and fig ended up with similar textures which made for great spreadablity. I look forward to using this jam in other recipes. I think it would make an awesome filling for cookies.

November 05, 2010

Herbed Purple & Wax Beans

1 1/2 lb mixture of wax and purple beans
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons minced thyme
1 teaspoon minced parsley
olive oil
freshly ground black pepper

In a skillet, saute the garlic and shallot in olive oil until translucent. Add the beans, lemon juice and zest. Cook until the beans are tender, just a few minutes. Sprinkle with herbs and spices. Stir to coat.

My thoughts:
This is one of those recipes when less is really more. I love when wax and purple beans come back in season in the fall because it lets me put off switching to squash as my sole local fruit for vegetable for a couple of weeks. Not that I dislike squash but that's pretty much all that is available until April, so I like to take advantage of whatever is still in season. Plus they are just so fresh and crisp, I don't know anyone who could resist them. Purple beans do lose their color as they cool so if they are tender enough, I just barely heat them through so they stay as purple as possible. I don't think they need much more than a simple dressing of lemon juice and herbs to make them sing. Just take care not to over cook.

November 03, 2010

Mac + Cheese with Tomato + Bacon

12 oz evaporated milk
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
2 cup shredded extra sharp, aged cheddar
1/3 cup panko
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 slices thick cut bacon, crumbled
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
14 oz canned, diced tomatoes, drained
1 lb small or medium sized pasta, cooked

In a medium skillet, heat a small amount of olive oil. Saute the onion and garlic until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and heat through. In a small, dry skillet, quickly toast the panko.

In a medium pan, melt the butter. Add the flour along with a sprinkle of nutmeg, salt and pepper and stir until smooth. Add the milk and evaporated milk and whisk together until slightly thickened. Whisk in the cheddar until smooth. Pour over the drained pasta. Add the tomato mixture and bacon; stir to evenly distribute. Pour into lightly oiled baking dish. Top with a sprinkle of panko. Bake covered about 15 minutes, then uncover and cook until hot and bubbly, about 10-15 additional minutes.

Yield: about 4-6 meal sized servings, 8-10 side dish sized servings

My thoughts:
Years ago an older lady lived across the street from my mother. She was really nice (in fact she gave me my first slow cooker!) and we would visit her and my mom would take her shopping and out to lunch. To repay us (not that she had to) she would occasionally make this macaroni and cheese that was unlike any mac and cheese that I had ever had. It had bacon and a tomato-y sauce. I never did get the recipe but I've thought of it fondly over the years and thought I'd try to recreate it with a few of my own touches. It actually ended up being pretty much nothing like her mac and cheese beyond the bacon and tomato additions but I think she'd like it just as much. It is creamy and flavorful and surprisingly, not as heavy as you would think. The perfect comfort food to help ease into the colder months.

November 01, 2010

Roasted Pork & Asian Pears

4 Asian pears (I used Saitama), peeled and sliced
2 1/2 lb boneless pork roast
1/2 lb pearl onions*
2 tablespoon five spice powder
1/2 cup white wine or shaoxing
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 350. Sprinkle the pork on all sides with the spices. Heat oil in a stovetop and oven safe dutch oven. Add the onions and pears and saute until the onions start to brown. Push the onions and pears to the sides of the pan and add the pork. Cook to slightly brown each side. Add the wine. Roast for 40 minutes or until thoroughly cooked. Slice and serve. The juices make a great gravy, if you are into that sort of thing.

*I get bored too easily to peel tiny onions so I just use (undefrosted) frozen. They can be tricky to find but most stores seem to carry them during the holiday season. Stock up!

My thoughts:
I love Asian pears of pretty much any variety. We bought some locally grown ones at the farmers market but I've seen them sold at the regular supermarket as well. I've seen them labeled as "apple pears" due to their apple like crisp crunch and round shape but they are, indeed, a variety of pear. They hold their shape better than most regular pears do during long cooking time. They are also not terribly sweet so I feel free to use them in relatively savory ways. At any rate, this is a delightful, if slightly unphotogenic dish. Truly one of my better pork roast recipes; rustic yet flavorful. The pork was so tender, it practically melted beneath my fork. Not bad for a recipe with virtually no hands on time and very few ingredients. And it made the whole house smell fantastic!