Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011-Style

There were two 12 lb turkeys, mashed potatoes made w/ ricotta, corn w/ butter, stuffing a la my great-aunt's recipe, and possibly the best gravy my mother has made in years.

Queen Of Turkey Rides Again
It was very similar to last year... with a few exceptions:

Get up under that turkey skin w/ the softened herb butter!
My mother checked the liquor cabinet before I arrived and thought the open bottle of Apple Jack would work in place of regular brandy this year. She might have been right.

Make sure the alcohol you use to deglaze the bacon fat has not been open for more than a decade (or 4), as you will end up with more water than booze in the pan, and not only does that not add flavor, it will spit at you like a dozen flaming ornery llamas.

Remember to roast the neck for added richness in your gravy,
as well as a snack while the bird rests!
Additionally, try not to have the element in your electric oven suddenly glow white-hot and crack, dripping molten metal onto your oven floor. That puts a kink in ones' cooking marathon.

Luckily my parents have two stacked wall ovens, so with careful planning everything got made on time, and the above pale yet promising turkey (note the flecks from the bacon drippings) turned into:

...the golden number you see above.
Once more: Bacon, Brandy, Butter, and 12 minutes/pound at 325º
Make sure your bird is completely defrosted before cooking, and weigh your bird once defrosted for best accuracy.

Save the skin from bird #1 and in the last 10 minutes of cooking bird #2, lay the foil w/ skin over bird #2's breast, baste the extra skin, and you will have extra cracklings to serve.

After resting for 45 minutes, I carved the bird (without mishap) and we all sat down to one of the most pleasant Thanksgivings we have passed in the last decade.

I hope the same can be said about yours.
Happy Holidays!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Fennel-Braised Chicken Legs

I love Autumn weather as it inspires weekend after weekend of slow-cooked, satisfying foods in my kitchen. I have been braising things left and right, but as there has been a lot of red meat lately, I tried to lighten it up with some chicken this time around.
Sadly, I didn't find this (Michael Symon recipe) to be the most enjoyable dish as the fennel flavor was a little too pronounced for my taste, but if you are a fan, try this out.

Start by browning your seasoned chicken legs in a large heavy-bottom pan with a bit of olive oil. When crisp and easy to lift, remove and set aside.

The other goodies: one whole fennel bulb, one medium onion, four cloves of garlic, fresh thyme, potatoes, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, and one orange.
Chop the fennel, onion, and potatoes into large wedges.
Add the fennel and some of the onion to the pan drippings and allow to brown.

Add the potatoes, garlic, any remaining onion, red pepper flakes, and thyme. Season with salt.
Deglaze the pan with 1 cup of white wine, scraping up the tasty brown bits with a wooden spoon.
Then add the chicken back into the pan on top of the veggies and add chicken stock until almost halfway up the sides of the legs.

Add the bay leaf and a few more sprigs of thyme, place the lid on top and place into a 350º oven for 35-45 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Remove the chicken to plate and add the zest and juice of the orange to the pot for a bit of brightness.
 Reduce the drippings until thickened as desired and pour over the chicken and vegetables.

Tho the chicken was tender, I found the flavors in this a bit thin in general. To combat this next time, while reducing the liquids I would add a bit of chicken glacé to make a richer sauce, and definitely use stock instead of the suggested water for the braise. I love braising chicken in cider, whether apple or pear, as it adds a sweetness to the meat once cooked. Water does nothing to help flavor chicken.
While I really like Michael Symon (his giggle kills me!) and I want to like fennel, this did not succeed in winning me over.
If you try this and come up with something delicious, pass along your tips!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Count Down to Turkey

Thanksgiving is less than 2 weeks away, so I thought I would just relive the glory of last year repost last year's Thanksgiving post for those who are wondering what to do with their turkey this year.
Or in my family's case, with 2 turkeys.

Turkey #2 from last year
The Three B's will not let you down:

Go forth and make awesomeness for those you love.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cauliflower & Lentil Soup

I am not a huge fan of lentils. I have to say that up front. I have memories of dark and mushy-yet-grainy lentil soup that just looked like murky mud. No thank you.
But as they are such a great source of protein, fiber, iron, and folate, I'm trying to learn to like them.

This summer my mother brought home some lentil soup from a gourmet deli that she had thought was chicken vegetable, mistaking the hunks of cauliflower for potatoes. 
She was no longer interested once she discovered her error, so I gave it a try.
It was GOOD!
It had light flavors, broth I could see thru, and was tasty while being massively healthy. So I looked online and actually found the recipe, which I have to say I made with great success... if a few tweaks.

Step one if you know you want to make this soup: you have to let your lentils soak for about 24 hrs.
So annoying for this Instant Gratification Girl, but many good things take time, so, try to plan in advance!
After 1 cup of lentils have soaked, drain and rinse them and they're ready to go.

Fine dice on 2 carrots and 2 celery stalks, as well as one onion.

With 2-3 TBSP of olive oil in the bottom of a large pot or dutch oven, start by browning 3 slices of prosciutto. (Clearly, this is not a vegetarian dish, but you could skip this step if you need to. But this is where I began to see why I liked this soup...) 
Next add the onions and allow to soften for about 4 minutes.
After that add your celery and carrots, a pinch of salt, and give a good stir.

Next throw in one whole head of cauliflower, broken down into bite-size pieces, the drained lentils, and 2 bay leaves.

The recipe called for a 14 oz can of plum tomatoes. I only had 32oz of crushed, and that was not the right consistency, so instead I diced 1 late summer heirloom tomato and added that in, as well as enough chicken stock to cover everything.
(Recipe called for vegetable stock, but I rarely have that on hand, so I just used a combination of homemade chicken stock and stock in a box. My substitution had the Hubs eating cauliflower without complaint, so do whatever works for you!)

Bring everything up to a boil and then lower the heat to allow the soup to simmer for 45 minutes with the lid on. I also threw in 4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme about halfway thru cooking when I went to stir everything. (I was wary of bay leaves being the only extra flavor agent.)
After 45 minutes check to see that the lentils are tender, remove the bay leaves and thyme stems, and season the soup with salt and pepper.
Remember, much like beans, lentils absorb seasonings so you might end up adding more than you would first think. Add a little/taste a little until you find the right balance.

Whether converted to a vegetarian/vegan soup or adjusted the way I made it, this soup was warm, comforting, filling, and so healthy I actually felt smug while eating it!
It can also feed an army of 10 on a really small budget.
Add a baguette, ciabatta, or crusty bread of preference and you're all set!