Brussels sprouts sprouting…

I am really excited for this year’s garden.  Nevermind that it is only mid-February.  I’ve been getting into gardening mode for a month now.  Every December I get my Seed Saver’s catalog and in January, when all that holiday bustling is past, I pore over my catalog, ogling the beautiful squash, strange tomatoes and beans with intriguing names.  Yes, I think squash are beautiful.

Anyway, this year I am more excited than normal because I bought a grow light.  This past Monday I started my first set of seeds–hot and sweet peppers, tomatoes, ground cherries, Brussels sprouts, basil and onions (which take a surprisingly long time to grow).

After only 3 days my first seedlings started to peek through.

The humble, yet beautiful… Brussels sprout.

Yes, I think Brussels sprouts are beautiful, too.

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Dried Tomato Pesto

This was a quick pesto I threw together to fill a Turkey Roulade with.  If you want, you can chop everything by hand.  I have a one-year old and use a food processor for speed and convenience.

Toss into the food processor:

1 quart dried tomatoes

1/2 cup dried bell peppers

8 oz. shredded parmesan cheese

2 T minced garlic

Pulse the food processor until the food seems to be turning into some sort of chunky powder/paste.  Then while the food processor is running drizzle in

1 1/2 c Olive Oil

Keep processing until it looks like a nice, even paste.  Add Salt and Pepper to taste and enjoy!

Posted in Food Preservation, Vegetarian | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Turkey Roulade

Pretty Bird has wanted me to do a Turkey Roulade for a while now.  It’s one of those awesome dishes that is infinitely versatile, always impressive both visually and flavor-wise.  Best of all, its pretty easy to make.  Fortunately, we had both a turkey boob and a large hunk of turkey skin in our freezer from our Turkey Demo, as well as family coming into town.  It was time!

One of the best things about Roulades are the fact that you can use virtually any meat, AND anything for the stuffing.  In this case we decided to use turkey and a dried tomato pesto that I whipped up from tomatoes and peppers we had dried this fall.   First step, prepare the turkey!!

I find it helpful to butterfly the turkey breast first before I pound it.  If you have a breast with the tenderloin still attached, open it like a book so the thinner loin is laying next to the thicker boob.  Then using a nice, sharp knife gently slice the boob in half, being careful not to cut all the way through it.

When you’ve finished you should have one large piece of turkey.

Now comes the fun part.  This turkey breast is still far to thick for easy rolling, and too uneven for even cooking.  There is only one thing to do–beat it into submission!!!  I’m sure you’ve all seen cooking shows where they’ve done this.  They use cube meat hammers and insist you need one if you want to pound out meat.  They’re wrong.  You can use anything from a small sauce pan to a rubber mallet to a plain ol’ ordinary claw hammer, just as long as you can swing it and smash it into the meat!

Before you begin, do yourself a favor and cover the turkey with at least one layer of plastic wrap.  This keeps the meat off your hammer, the hammer off your meat and little bits of turkey from flying all over your kitchen.  Pound away!!

I find it best to use the flat side of the hammer, but do whatever feels comfortable for you.  You’re looking for the meat to be about 1/4 – 1/3 of an inch thick, depending on how bad your boss pissed you off or how frustrating your spouse/children are being at the moment.  Try to pound it out as evenly as possible.  When it’s all done, take a deep, cleansing breath.

Your turkey breast should look something like this.

It is now time to add the filling.  Slather it on as thick as you think you can get away with, I was pretty generous with the pesto.

More stuffing = More Better!

The way that I rolled this boob was I had it on the counter in a roughly rectangle shape as you can see above.  Position yourself at one of the short sides of the rectangle.  No matter how hard you try to keep things even, chances are one of the ends will be a little thinner than the other, that’s the end to start rolling from.  Tuck the turkey under itself as you roll, trying your best to keep it tight, even and the outside as clean as you can.  Don’t worry if you can’t keep the outside spotless, just do your best.  Here’s what mine wound up looking like.

Here comes another of my tricks.  Way back when I did that boning demo, I removed a large piece of skin from off the front of the bird and froze it, this is what I was saving it for.  Take the piece of skin and lay it as flat as possible on the counter, then roll up the boob in the skin.

Now it’s time to cook the thing.  Get a frying pan nice and hot. Put the breast in SEAM SIDE DOWN.  This keeps the skin from unraveling as it cooks and shrinks.  Keep it there until it’s a light golden brown.  Then flip it over and do the other side.

Put the breast into a deep baking pan and bake it at 350 for about 25-35 minutes.  Then crank your oven up to 425 and roast until the the skin is a deep golden brown and it has an internal temperature of 165-170.  Slice and enjoy!

I teamed this roulade up with some flash-fried asian style brussel sprouts.  A good meal was had by all!

Serves 6-8.

Posted in Cooking Tips & Techniques, Fall & Winter Recipes, Meat | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Pesto Winter Lasagna

This picture really doesn’t do this lasagna justice.  It is really tasty, vegetarian and filling.  Of course, enough cheese and any dish will be filling.

Like most of the dishes we’ve been posting through the winter months, the vegetable portion of this dish relies on seasonal produce.  This buttercup squash has patiently sat on our dining room table these many months waiting for its time to become dinner.  (As someone whose goal is to eat only seasonal and local foods, and who works full-time and has a baby, I love squash because it requires absolutely no messin’ with to preserve for a long time.)

For the frozen spinach component we actually use greens taken from our garden last summer and blanched and frozen.  The greens are actually a combination of kale, chard, collards, and beet and turnip greens.  However, since spinach is the only widely available frozen green and it seems tedious to list “frozen spinach, kale, chard, collards, or beet greens” in the recipe, spinach is what I listed here.  Incidentally, this combo of greens is what we actually use in any recipe we post that calls for frozen spinach.

Last but not least, the PESTO.   If you are like me, in August, when basil is everywhere and the garlic is freshly cured, you make and freeze lots of pesto.  More pesto then you will ever actually use.  Well, if you are in this predicament, then this is the recipe for you because it uses a fair amount of pesto.

One more thing about this dish, there are several steps that can be done a day or two ahead of time–par baking the squash, cooking the noodles, making the pesto sauce–that make the actual assembly and cooking of the dish very fast.

Pesto Winter Lasagna Makes one 9 x 13 dish (10-12 servings).
Cook off 12 lasagna noodles.  Toss them in oil so they don’t stick together.  Set aside.

Halve and seed a small winter squash, such as buttercup or butternut.  Bake at 425 for half an hour.  When cool enough to handle, peel and slice 1/4-inch thick.  Set aside.

For the pesto sauce you will need:
2 T. butter
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
8 oz. (~1/2 c.) basil pesto
3 c. milk (preferably whole)
In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter.  Stir in the flour, mixing constantly, until the flour has browned a little.  This should take only a few minutes.  Mix in the pesto, then whisk in the milk.  Adding the pesto first gives an added boost of fat that helps to ensure the milk doesn’t break when making the sauce.  Let the sauce almost boils, stirring often.  Then reduce heat and let simmer several minutes, whisking, until thickened.  Set aside.

When you are ready to assemble the dish, mix together:
1 lb. frozen spinach, thawed
1 lb. ricotta cheese
You do not need to squeeze the excess water from the spinach because it makes the ricotta more spreadable.  Moreover, by squeezing out the excess water you lose water-soluble vitamins.

Okay, now we are going to assemble the dish.  Preheat the oven at 350.  The other ingredients you will need are:
1/2 lb. mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 lb. parmesan cheese, shredded

Lightly oil a 9 x 13 baking dish.  Spoon ~1/2 c. of the pesto sauce into the bottom of the dish.  Put down a layer of 4 noodles.  Add a layer of ricotta-spinach mixture.  Next do a layer of sliced squash.  Sprinkle with mozzarella and parmesan cheese.  Ladle over some of the pesto sauce.  Repeat for a total of three layers.  Finish with the rest the sauce then sprinkle with cheese.  (You will probably have some squash left over.)  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until bubbly and delicious.  Eat!

Posted in Fall & Winter Recipes, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Turkey Lentil Stew

Baby, holidays, work…it’s been awhile since I’ve done a blog post.  Fortunately, we’ve still been cooking (and taking pictures).  So for my first post in the new year I’d like to share a recipe that utilizes my favorite spice of the moment–fennel seed.  I used turkey drumsticks but, as my husband pointed out, this is one of those recipes that would go well with many different meats, including white meat or pork.   Anyhoo, I think it is the best stew/soupy thing I’ve made.  And it requires very little effort.  Yeah!

The other great thing about this stew is that it makes its own broth.  Well, as long as you use bone-in turkey drumsticks, that is.  But do not fear, if these aren’t available you can substitute a couple pounds of your meat of choice and use stock instead of water.

Turkey Lentil Soup ~ 8 servings.
Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for an hour:
2 turkey drumsticks (~ 2 lbs. meat)
2 quarts water

While you are waiting for the water to boil you can get almost everything else going as well:

1.  Over low heat, toast 2 tsp. fennel seeds.  My husband says toasting them well is key to getting the best flavor out of them.  I don’t really know because I just listen to him.

Don’t worry if that last sentance sounds really subservient, it doesn’t actually happen very often.  Listening to him, that is… You don’t want to burn the seeds but you want them about twice as dark as they were before toasting.  Mix them periodically to keep from burning and add them to the stew once toasted.

(Cockroach says: You have to go by smell, not color.  Once the seeds become very aromatic, i.e. you can smell them without stooping over the pan, they’re done!)

2.  Large dice and sweat, in a little oil over medium heat:
1 medium onion
1 large carrot
1 medium apple
1 large potato

Once this mixture is nice and aromatic, add it to the stew pot along with:
1 tsp. curry powder
1 T. marjoram

Once your broth has started to get some color and flavor, go ahead and add:
1 c. dried lentils  (I used French green but I’m sure any type will do)

Simmer an additional half hour or until your lentils are cooked through.

Once your lentils are cooked, add:
2 c. blanched & frozen spinach or kale
1 T. cider vinegar
Salt to taste
Do NOT add salt or vinegar until your lentils are cooked through because they inhibit the absorption of water by the lentils.  That being said, adding them after your lentils have reached the desired consistency prevents them from over-cooking and turning to mush.  This also applies to dried beans.

Simmer a half hour more to allow the flavors to meld.  By this time your meat should be falling off the bone.  Remove the rest of the meat from the bones, tear/slice into desired size and add back to the stew, discarding bones.

Posted in Beans & Legumes, Fall & Winter Recipes, Meat, Soups & stews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Five Grain Sausage Avocado Muffins

Wow!  Last day of January and the first post of the new year.  To all ten of our loyal readers, sorry.  We had a whizz-bang trip back home for Christmas and upon our return, SOMEBODY decided that they were no longer interest in sleeping by themselves… so when was I supposed to blog?

I'm a Cheeky Knave!

About the time we got that sorted out, our lovely mountain valley said “Screw convention, if we want two weeks of 50 degree weather in January, then dammit, we’ll have it!”  Needless to say, our Cheeky Knave has been properly introduced to the wonders of swings.  Oh, yeah, then I tripped over a stack of excuses, twisted my ankle and became lame.  Enough of this blathering.  We have also been COOKING!

I used to work at a fantastic restaurant that had an amazing sweet breakfast sausage bread, think banana bread only with sausage.  My wife suggested maybe I should make a savory version, and one that had more whole grains in it.  Here’s what we came up with:

Stuffin' Muffins!

Five Grain Sausage-Avocado Muffins – aka – Stuffin’ Muffins

P.B.:  What he means is, these muffins would make a great stuffing.

First the boring stuff.  Preheat the oven to 425.  Take a muffin pan and grease the hell out of it.  Now onto the goodness!

1/2 cup + 2T Masa Corn Flour

1/4 cup + 1T Quinoa Flour

1/4 cup + 1T Amaranth Flour

1/2 cup A.P. Flour

1/4 cup Whole Wheat Flour

2 tsps. Baking Powder

1/2 tsp. Baking Soda

1/2 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. Coriander

1/4 tsp. Cumin

1/4 tsp. Chili Powder

Holy Crap is that a lot of different kinds of flour!  Why for the love of Mike would you ever put yourself through that?  About a year ago Pretty Bird and I had the realization that you could make flour out of ANY grain in your cupboard (and some beans) using nothing more than a standard coffee grinder.  And we discovered a new toy.  The Masa makes the muffins taste like cornbread, the Quinoa adds a delicious nuttiness to it, the Amaranth gives the muffins an incredible earthiness without weighing them down and the Whole Wheat is just good for you.  Any-hoo, whisk all these delicious dry ingredients together and set aside.

Now it’s time to break out the mixer.  Add to the bowl

1 lb. of your favorite ground Sausage

2 large Eggs

2/3 cup Milk

2/3 cup Buttermilk

Now turn your mixer as high as you dare and beat the crap out of the mixture.  If you are using one of them fancy-pants mixers, use the paddle attachment.  What we’re accomplishing here is we’re breaking down the meat into tiny little pieces and that will be evenly distributed throughout the muffin.  In other words Tasty Sausage with Every Bite!
Once thoroughly mixed fold in

1 Avocado, cut into small pieces.

Then add the wet mix to the dry mix and stir just until moistened.  The fold in

3 T melted butter (because there just wouldn’t be enough fat without it!)

This is a thick batter, so spoon it into your cupcake pan.  Once evenly allocated, stick that puppy into the oven!  Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, blah, blah, blah, about 10 – 12 minutes.  FYI, this would also make a great loaf!  If you want to do it loaf style, bake it 20-25 minutes or until toothpick, clean, blah!  Either way, delicious.

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Blue Sage Cornbread Stuffing

Blue Sage Cornbread Stuffing

I love stuffing, I love how versatile it is.  All stuffing (or dressing) requires is some sort of bread soaked in some sort of liquid until wet and then bake it until the top is crisp again.  It can be anything from bread crumbs and wild rice to a crusty black rye.  It can be soaked in anything from heavy cream to vegetable stock, or even just seasoned water.  It can be smooth like mashed potatoes, or crusty and moist like a good bread pudding.  You can add whatever vegetables you want, whatever seasoning you want and as long as you balance flavors, it will probably work.

This is one of my favorite stuffings.  It adds unexpected color to an  otherwise standard stuffing.  You can use whatever your favorite cornbread recipe is.  I like the Southern Style Cornbread from the Joy of Cooking.  I use Blue Cornmeal instead of yellow, and sometimes I like to throw in a little Buckwheat flour just for fun.  I’ve also made this recipe using Jiffy mix and it turned out fine.  Anyhoo- Here’s the recipe!

1 batch of Cornbread

2 small onions

3 cloves garlic

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pepper

3 T rubbed sage

2 tsp. gumbo file

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups veg stock.

1 lb. browned sausage (optional)

Sweat the onions and garlic until tender (you can saute them up with the sausage).  Cube the corn bread.  I find how large I dice the cornbread depends on what kind of stuffing I’m in the mood for.  Small cubes provide a wetter, softer stuffing while larger dice give you more texture and even a little crunch on top where the bread gets good and toasty.  Either way, toss the cornbread in a bowl with the onions, garlic, herbs and spices.  Beat the eggs and the stock together and toss into the bread.  Put in a greased casserole dish and let it sit for a while (10 – 45 minutes depending on your patience level.)  Then bake at 350 for 25 – 40 minutes.  One of my favorite things about this stuffing is the way it makes my house smell by the time it’s done.  The smell of sage and roasted corn permeate the house to let everyone know it’s time to eat.

Posted in Americana, Fall & Winter Recipes, Holidays, Meat, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Sweet Potato Dauphinoise

This is one of my very favorite creations, it combines the richness and texture of dauphinoise potatoes (basically French for scalloped potatoes) with the sweet and earthy taste of the traditional midwestern sweet potato dish.  Don’t let the ingredients scare you, this dish isn’t overpoweringly sweet, but a nice blend of many flavors.  It is very important with this dish that you make it the day before you need it, as it needs to sit overnight and then get reheated.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Preheat the oven to 425.

Firsts step is to get the sauce going.  This amount makes just enough sauce for the entire dish, but if you want to go heavy feel free.  In my experience, you can’t have enough sauce with this dish.  In a heavy bottomed sauce pan combine:

1 pint Heavy Cream
1 sm. jar Marshmallow Fluff
2 cloves Garlic, smashed
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. Pepper
2 Bay Leaves
2-3 Cloves
1/4 tsp. Nutmeg
1/4 tsp. Cinnamon

Mmm, Saucy!

Bring this mixture to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer the mix for an additional 5-6 min until nice and thick.  Then whisk in:

1 heaping cup Shredded Swiss Cheese (any cheese will work, but I especially like this one.)

Stir constantly until the cheese is fully melted into the rest of the sauce.  Try some, it’s delicious!  Finish the sauce with 1 T Lime Juice and it’s good to go.

While you’re waiting for your sauce to thicken, peel and slice thin:

3 large Sweet Potatoes.

This is about as thin as you need!

Keep the slices in water to avoid oxidation and discoloration.  Once you have all your slices, drain the slices well before you put them in the pan.  To much water left on the slices will thin out the sauce and make your overall dish less creamy.

All right, now you’ve got your sauce and your sliced potatoes, let’s put this together!  Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking dish.  Start with a ladle full of the sauce in the bottom of the dish, then layout the Sweet Potatoes until they cover the bottom of the dish.  Sprinkle lightly with Salt and Pepper.

Repeat until you’ve filled the pan or until you’ve run out of ingredients.  Note, in this recipe it’s far better to be conservative with the sauce at first and have to lay it on thick at the end versus starting off heavy and having to skimp later.  Heavy sauce on the top will make it’s way down to the bottom as it cooks, but it won’t make it’s way up.

Pouring out the remaining sauce onto the top of the dish!

Cover with foil and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a knife easily penetrates the middle of the dish and the potatoes are done.  Remove from oven.

Here’s the crucial part that raises this overall dish from really good to amazing.  As soon as the potatoes are out of the oven you need to weigh down the Dauphinoise.  The easiest way to do this is to place the pan on a cookie sheet to catch any spills, place a piece of wax paper over it, then take an identical baking dish and lay it on top of the hot ‘taters.  Put in about 5 lbs. of weight and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the weight, cover with more shredded cheese and reheat in a low (325) oven until the cheese is golden brown and the sauce is bubbly.  Cut into squares and serve.

Cheesy Goodness!

Posted in Fall & Winter Recipes, Holidays, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Porter Glazed Ham

To answer your first question, yes, we glazed a ham with beer.  Porter is a remarkable beer that’s perfectly bitter with chocolate and coffee undertones and hints of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg–flavors that go hand in hand with Christmas.  The slightly bitter porter contrasts deliciously with the saltiness of the ham and the sweet honey that is used to finish the glaze.

And then, to make a good thing even better, as the ham bakes the excess glaze mingles with the onions in the bottom of the roasting dish.  Since it reduces further in the hot oven, what you are left with is a porter syrup infused with the flavor of roasted onions. You should drizzle this over your sliced ham.  I love this ham so much my husband swore I’d tear a rotator cuff patting myself of the back.

To make enough glaze for a 5-10 pound ham start with:
4 bottles (48oz.) of Porter
1/2 inch of fresh, peeled ginger, sliced
1 cinnamon stick

Pour all into a sauce pan and put on a low flame to reduce.  You want to reduce it down by 2/3, so the porter gets nice and thick.  This is really going to turn bitter as it cooks down.  Fear not!  Once it gets to the desired consistency add:

3/4 c. Honey

Whisk in the honey then pass the sauce through a strainer to remove the ginger and cinnamon.

While the glaze is reducing you can prep the ham:
Pre-heat the oven to 350.  We used a 5lb. fully cooked ham cut in half the long way that we studded with cloves.  To stud the ham, make a series of 1/2-inch deep slices running the perimeter of the ham, then repeat at a 90 degree angle to make a grid.  At the intersection of the two lines, push in a whole clove.

Studded Ham

Studding with cloves is a very traditional way of serving ham.  An old chef said it stemmed from the days pre-refrigeration when hams had to be a lot more smokey and salty to preserve them.  Clove is a natural anesthetic that numbs the mouth slightly, making such a roast infinitely more palatable.  Now days, we still stud it with clove because it tastes good and is pretty!

Now, on to the roasting!  Rough chop 2 onions and 3 cloves of garlic.  Toss them lightly in oil and add 2 bay leaves.  Spread this out on the bottom of a roasting pan.  Then put your two hams on top of the onions.  We used a rack to keep the meat from directly touching the onions, but if you don’t have a cooking rack don’t worry about it.  Pour half the glaze over each Ham and put into the oven for about 20 minutes a pound, in this case we put it in for almost two hours.

This next part is VERY important.  If you want to get a nice glaze on your ham, re-glazed it EVERY 15 MINUTES!  That is, every 15 minutes gently pour out all the liquid from the bottom of the roasting pan (or you can use a turkey baster) and re-pour it over the ham.  When you are done, remember to strain out the liquid from the bottom of the pan.

The finished ham has an almost candy-like rind from the thick glaze.

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Cooking Tips & Techniques, Fall & Winter Recipes, Holidays, Meat | 1 Comment

Christmas Dinner

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Christmas time is almost upon us, that means another excuse for a great big family meal!  Pretty Bird and I live far away from our families, so it is seldom that we get a chance to host the event, but we always get to cook something.  This year we came up with something special–a great mix of the traditional and the unconventional.  But first, a couple of notes that, hopefully, you will find helpful when it comes time to hosting your own family Christmas.

How Much Food?

This is the standard question most people ask themselves.  You never, ever want to run out, but you also don’t want to be defrosting Christmas leftovers come Valentine’s Day.  Here’s a good rule of thumb:

Meat – 4-6 0z. per person.  Remember to round up to account for weight loss in cooking and Uncle Sasquatch’s appetite, but that’s a good rule of thumb.  It translates out to a portion about the size of a deck of playing cards.

Sauce – 2-4 oz. per person.

Veggies – 6-8 oz. per person.

Starch  – 6-8 oz. per person.

Keep in mind that a pound is 16 oz. so this is in no means a skimpy menu.  These numbers should satiate even the hardiest of midwestern appetites.

But enough math!  On to our Christmas Menu!

Porter Glazed Ham
Sweet Potato Dauphinoise
Blue Sage Cornbread Stuffing
Broccoli Almondine
and Cranberry Almond Custard for dessert.

Over the next few days we’ll be posting recipes for all these tasty treats.  Enjoy!

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