Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bountiful But Beautifully Easy Thanksgiving Recipes 2010

Soups and Hors D’oeuvres
Soup is usually an entrée in our home, whether a classic French Onion or a hearty meat and vegetable with chunks of bread on the side. Thanksgiving, especially if you’re entertaining for the day, offers a number of opportunities for soup to complement light hors d’oeuvres, and gives the gentle cook a reason to get some food in the belly while preparing the feast. Here is a quick-ish soup along with some complementary pre-feast nibbles for your consideration:
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup (serves approximately 8)

This is perhaps the best-known Thanksgiving soup, and there are at least a few dozen recipes that will entice even the most hard-core Curcurbita-phobe to have at least a taste. My recipe is nothing too fancy, and can be prepared the day before and frozen in order to save time and space.

4lbs Butternut Squash (2 med squash), halved lengthwise, clean and set aside the seeds
2 Tbsp Olive Oil, divided
1 Tbsp Soy Sauce
2 Tbsp Rubbed or Fresh Chopped Sage
4 Cups Chicken Broth
½ Cup grated Carrot
½ Tsp Ground Cinnamon
½ Tsp Ground Nutmeg
1 Tsp Salt
Ground Pepper to taste
½ cup Heavy Cream or Half-and-Half
2 Tbsp Butter
2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
Preheat your oven to 400F.  Dice the squash into 1-inch pieces and place into a baking dish with 1 Tbsp of the olive oil and toss to coat. In a small saucepan on low heat add the carrots, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg, stirring constantly until the sugar is melted and the carrots are soft and beginning to caramelize. Pour the mix from the saucepan over the squash chunks, toss thoroughly to coat and arrange the pieces in a single layer in the baking dish. Bake for one hour, tossing to recoat the squash after 30 minutes.  Mix the remaining olive oil, soy sauce and the sage in a small dish until well blended, then add the seeds to the dish. Stir to coat the seeds and lay them out on a cookie sheet or shallow pan in a single layer. Drizzle the remaining soy/sage mix over the seeds, then put them into the oven to bake with the squash until browned (usually 30-45 minutes), remove from the oven and allow them to cool.
 In a large saucepan heat the chicken broth until just boiling, then add the cooked squash and stir until mixed. Simmer for 15 minutes and the allow to cool until just warm to the touch. Transfer to a food processor (or use a blender or hand-mixer in the saucepan) and blend until smooth. It will be a bit thick when you’re finished with the blending, then transfer the soup back into the saucepan and slowly heat on low, slowly stirring in the cream or half-and-half until rich and creamy. At this point you can cool the soup and refrigerate or even freeze it to be reheated just before serving. If serving immediately, pour into a tureen or individual small ramekins and garnish with the roasted seeds.  

Chocolate Crostini (serves 8-12)

Some readers may think that chocolate should wait until dessert, but this is Thanksgiving- I say “why wait?”  This recipe is super-quick and easy to make with ingredients most people always have on hand, and chocolate as an appetizer is usually greeted enthusiastically:
1 Crusty Baguette, cut into ½- to-1-inch slices
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Bar Dark (Bittersweet) Chocolate, divided to match the bread slices

Turn your oven to broil, or set your toaster oven to high. Line a cookie sheet with foil and place the bread in a single layer, not touching. Place under the broiler for no more than two minutes until lightly browned and toasted. Flip the bread and toast the other side in the same manner. Remove from the broiler or toaster oven, turn off the heat but leave the oven closed (more about why in a moment) and flip the bread again without allowing it to cool too much. No, I’m not compulsive- the side that was toasted first will have an indentation from toasting, and acts as a little “dish” to hold the chocolate. A chef-friend of mine- a real chef – taught me that about twenty years ago. Next, drizzle a bit of the olive oil over each piece of toast, enough so each piece has a decent amount. Next, place a piece of the dark chocolate in each little indentation on the toast. It will begin to melt just a little from the warm bread, and put the tray back into the warm oven (not on, but still hot) for a couple of minutes. Remove from the oven and set it down firmly on the countertop; if you should drop it a few inches it would do the same trick. Why? It “sets” the chocolate in that little dent in the toast, plus it will make your guests wonder what you’re about in the kitchen.  For an added kick, add the merest pinch of red pepper or a couple of red pepper flakes.

 I’m no fool: There are so many variations of sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, casseroles and the like which find their way to the table at Thanksgiving that I will not insult you or your ability to make your own. However, it’s a good idea to have a few quick and interesting recipes that will satisfy the need to add something a bit different to the menu- but not so different that it seems incongruous.  I love green beans, parsnips, potatoes and carrots: I grew up eating lots of them, and my Dad still grows beans and potatoes in his garden.  Here are three fairly quick and very simple sides to toss into the Thanksgiving fray:
Honey Almond Green Beans (serves 6-8)
These are always a favorite with kids: It’s very colorful, crunchy and sweet.  It takes about 10 minutes from beginning to end if you’re practiced at cutting vegetables, so it can also be whipped up at the last minute as long as you have room for another pan on your stove.

8 Cups Fresh Green Beans, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 Red Bell Pepper, sliced and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
½ Tbsp Butter
¼ Cup Sliced Almonds, toasted or raw
1 Tsp Pepper, coarse ground or cracked
2-4 Tbsp Honey (depending on taste)
Salt to taste

Heat the olive oil and butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted and hot, add the almonds and toss until they are just beginning to brown. Add the green beans and bell pepper and toss until coated. Add the honey, salt and pepper and toss to coat again. Increase the heat to medium-high and sautee 5 minutes, tossing to assure even cooking. Place into a covered dish to keep warm until serving.

Orange Ginger Beets
We love beets. We love the greens, the roots, everything about them. We especially love the way it looks like a massacre has just concluded when they’re sliced up for cooking.  Unfortunately, beets by themselves are a bit bland for all their sweetness. So, we use the sturdy root as a foundation on which to add orange and ginger and then cook them to tender perfection. This recipe assumes 3-4 beet slices per serving, adjust more less as you desire:
6 Medium Beets, greens removed, scrubbed or peeled and beards (roots) trimmed
1 Cup Orange Juice, with pulp (fresh squeezed is best, just save some of the pulp)
2 Tbsp Fresh Grated Ginger or Ginger Paste
1 Tbsp Olive Oil or Butter
In a large skillet or saucepan, heat the olive oil or butter on medium-low heat. Slice the beets into ½-inch thick slices, cut to fit the pan in as few layers as possible. When the oil/butter is hot, place the sliced beets into the pan and coat with the hot oil. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. While the beets are simmering, mix the orange juice and ginger together until well-blended. When the beets have begun to soften a bit, increase the heat to medium, stir the orange-ginger mixture once more and add it to the pan, stirring to mix the beet juice and the orange juice. Cover and simmer another 15 minutes or until the beets are tender, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. For a thicker sauce, simmer uncovered until the liquid is reduced by one-third. Place in a serving dish and serve warm.
Parsnips and Carrots in a Rum Butter Rosemary Glaze (serves 6-8)
Image courtesy McCormick's

Those readers who know me well are aware that I have a fondness for working spiced rum into many dishes. Here’s one that you can prepare while making sure the rum is properly spiced, in your glass as well as in the pan. I don’t shy away from the butter in this one, because it adds such a savory counterpoint to the sharpness of the parsnips and the greenness of the rosemary:

1 Pound Medium Parsnips, scrubbed and trimmed
1 Pound Medium Carrots, scrubbed and trimmed
2-3 Tbsp Fresh Chopped Rosemary (more if you like)
4 Tbsp Butter
½ Tbsp Olive Oil (to keep the butter from burning)
2 Oz Silver or other Spiced Rum
2 Tsp Salt, divided

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Slice the parsnips and carrots into 1-inch pieces and add them to the pan, tossing to coat with the oil. Add 1 tsp salt to “sweat” the vegetables and cover for 5 minutes, tossing occasionally to keep from sticking. Add the butter slowly, tossing the vegetables to keep it from burning, then add the rosemary. Toss until the rosemary is mixed into the vegetables, and then add the rum. Cook until the liquid begins to thicken, then increase the heat to medium-high. Toss or stir until a glaze begins to form, then remove from the heat. Place in a serving dish and serve hot.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Menu 2010, Round Two: Stuffing vs. Dressing

Stuffing vs. Pan Dressing
There’s always been a debate between aficionados of stuffing and dressing. Stuffing is more or less self-explanatory, while dressing seems to have a more varied definition based upon regional influences. One would tend to think that there’s not much in the way of comparison, as the only thing stuffing and dressing have in common is bread, but my ears have been burned by the vehement opinions of friends and family. My take on the matter is that stuffing can be prepared either stovetop or baked inside the bird whereas dressing is baked in a pan separate from the main entrée. Here are a couple of recipes that you can add to your Thanksgiving Day table, to quell the strident opinion that may arise should one or the other be left out of the day’s offerings.

Mrs. Pat’s Pan Dressing
When I was growing up my Mom always made pan dressing with Thanksgiving dinner, many times her mother- Grandma Ruby- would also show up with a slightly different but still-substantial pan of dressing. It was dark and savory, more like a casserole or bread pie with cornbread and chicken. It was actually a meal in itself, and Mom always makes an extra pan for late-night leftovers when the munchies set in. I find pan dressing to be the perfect complement to the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special we always watch later in the evening. It’s my comfort food of choice, and I will eat an entire pan of this stuff if I’m not prevented from doing so. As an entrée-type offering I’ve added instructions for the extra step of adding chicken to the recipe, but as listed below it is offered as a competitor or alternative to the side of stuffing. This is best prepared the day before and left to chill in the refrigerator overnight to let the flavors mingle. Just take it out and let it return to room temperature before baking so it won’t go soggy.

4 cups Cornbread, Crumbled
2 Cups White or other Loaf Bread, Torn
1 Large Onion, Diced
4 Stalks Celery, Diced
2 Tbsp Fresh Chopped or Rubbed Sage (fresh for a stronger flavor)
2 Tbsp Butter or Olive Oil
2 Tsp Poultry Seasoning
2 Large Eggs, Beaten

Put the bread into a large mixing bowl. Heat the butter or olive oil at medium heat, then sautee the celery and onion until translucent. Add the broth, sage and poultry seasoning and stir for 2 minutes. Add the broth and vegetable mix to the bread, stir and allow to cool a bit. Then mix in the eggs until the mixture is lumpy and pourable but not soupy. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours (preferably overnight) to allow the flavors to mix, then allow to return to room temperature. Pour into a greased (or sprayed) 9 x 12 baking or casserole dish. Preheat your oven to 350F and bake until crisp on the edges and a toothpick comes out clean. Cut into squares in the dish and serve.

Entrée Option: Bake whole small chicken, cut meat from breast, legs and thighs into strips and boil the bones and carcass for broth.  Add the chicken meat to the mixture and bake as usual.

Mister C’s Fruited Nut Stuffing

Some of you who have been fans of Cookin’ With Mister C for a while will recognize the stuffing recipe I’m reproducing here as the Fruited Nut Stuffing I use for Cornish Hens. Stuffing generally takes two forms: Stuffing made in a pan and stuffing that’s actually stuffed into the bird. They are very different dishes: one is fluffy and kind of crisp and the other is dense and very complex with the juices of the bird cooked into the bread mix.

4 Cups Stale Bread, cut into small cubes (whole grain or multigrain is good because it’s very firm)
1 Cup Chopped Celery
1 Cup Chopped Onion
2 Tbsp Butter (just enough to moisten the bread)
1/4 Cup Chopped Walnuts, Almonds or Pistachios
1/4 Cup Dried Apricots, finely chopped
1/4 Cup Dried Cranberries, finely chopped
2 Tbsp Olive Oil and Butter, combined equal parts (1 Tbsp each, warmed and mixed)

In a large sautee pan or cast iron skillet heat the olive oil/butter mixture and add the onions and celery, sauteeing until just soft then remove it to a bowl. In the skillet add the remaining butter and bread chunks, moving the bread until it is moistened then stir until the bread is very slightly browned. Then add the onions, celery, nuts and fruit to the bread and stir on medium-low heat until it’s thoroughly mixed, steamy and soft. Then increase the heat to medium-high or high and toss until the bread is lightly browned and just barely toasty. Remove the stuffing from the heat and cover it to keep it moist until time to move it to a bowl for serving. If you are making this to stuff the bird, triple the ingredients (dividing the portions as needed to accommodate pan size)- trust me, you’ll be surprised how much stuffing it takes to stuff a turkey! If you make more than you need, just plate the rest and use it as garnish when the bird comes from the oven.

Tomorrow: Soups, Cheeses and Other Hors D’Oeuvres

Sensible Suggestions for Thankful Thoughts: Thanksgiving 2010 Recipes

Hello friends- it’s that time of year! Cooks and nervous Significant Others will once again begin the planning and fretting over the Thanksgiving Day dinner: How large a turkey should I bake? Should we have ham? What about both? Dressing or stuffing? Sweet potatoes or mashed? Gravy? Soups? Green Beans? Desserts? Wine and Cheese? Oh dear… but before we dive in I need to let you know that the Cookin' With Mister C part of this blog will be moving to it's own website: Cookin' With Mister C , yes, I know: how original. Hey, I figure Go With What You Know...  Go ahead- bookmark it, I'll wait.

I wouldn’t be Mister C if I didn’t offer at least a few suggestions, completely unsolicited (like advice from your old Auntie, who manages to hover at your elbow while sitting in the recliner in the den) but this is the season for unsolicited and vaguely helpful… er, help.  So, I decided to publish a half-dozen recipes that you may enjoy or decide not to prepare for that all-important day of family togetherness, heavy social drinking and reminding oneself of why you all live so very far away from your relatives.

So, with much further ado- we’ll start with the Big One- the turkey.

Turkey: Now, I’m not going to get involved in issues of whether frying or baking makes for a moister or more tender bird. Let’s just say that I’ve fried my share of turkeys, but for tradition’s sake I’ll stick to the baked variety.  Oh, yes: and whatever size turkey you decide to bake, cook it at 350F until it reaches 165F in the thickest part of the bird. It will continue to cook after you remove it from the oven, although USDA recommends 180F I find that the turkey dries out as the internal temperature can rise as high as 220F before beginning to cool. That makes for one dry bird.

This Turkey looks a bit DRY-
I’m a big fan of glazes and various basting concoctions for all manner of fowl. It helps to keep the meat moist and adds an additional layer of flavor in what’s usually reserved for a gravy platform. Do yourself a favor and save the gravy for the rolls and potatoes, and whip up a nice baste or glaze for the bird. Here are a couple of each to try out next time you think the turkey was a little boring.

Mister C’s Orange Ginger Sweet Turkey Baste
4 Large Juice Oranges, peeled and sectioned
¼ Cup Red Wine
¼ Cup Dark Honey or Brown Sugar
3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Tbsp Butter (not margarine)
2 Tbsp Grated Ginger or Ginger Paste

This makes a sweet, tart essence as a baste – actually it’s very light so be sure to season the bird with salt and pepper or better yet, brine the day before. In a food processor, add everything except the butter and pulse until chunky but not smooth. Heat the mixture in a medium saucepan (except the butter) to just boiling and remove from the heat. Add the butter, stirring until it is completely mixed. Pour the warm mix into a small dish or bowl and baste the bird with a brush before placing in the oven. As the bird bakes, baste with the mix every 20 minutes until the skin turns golden or you’re out of baste, then place foil over the pan and continue baking until done. It helps to keep the basting bowl on the stovetop or other warm place so the butter won’t thicken. Before carving, spoon out a quarter-cup or so of the juices, mix them in the basting dish with whatever’s left over and give the turkey a final baste so it’ll glisten for your efforts.

To make a glaze, double the oranges, honey and wine, then reduce by at least half or until it’s thickened. Rub the bird with a thin layer of olive oil and then use half the glaze to cover the bird before baking. Baste again in one hour, making sure to cover the entire bird. This should caramelize and make a sticky glaze when the bird is done.

Mister C’s Rosemary Sage Baste

The idea behind a baste is to keep the skin of the bird moist by flooding it with juices and other savory stuff until just before the turkey is done, then browning the skin the last half-hour or so. A baste takes a lot more effort, but it does make for a more “marinated” taste and is pretty much guaranteed to give you a tender bird.

¼ Cup Olive Oil or Vegetable Oil
3 Cloves Garlic, Crushed
¼ Cup White Wine
3 Tbsp Chopped Rosemary
3 Tbsp Rubbed or Fresh Sage

This is easy: Put everything in a food processor or blender, puree until smooth or it resembles Italian dressing- your preference. Some people don’t like the texture of herbs so process according however you like, it won’t affect the flavor. Pour the mix into a small dish or cup, and either brush onto the bird before baking or use a bulb. A brush will use less to cover the bird so you can use up the basting mix while the bird is baking. If you use a bulb, use no more than half the baste before baking- you’ll want to add a bit of the fresh baste each time you open the oven, and it will slowly infuse the juices cooking out of the bird. When you baste (every 20 minutes or so), first baste with the juices from the pan, then a bit of the fresh baste. This baste is very light, more of an herb essence for those who prefer their turkey less rich and ready for the gravy or cranberry sauce.

Tomorrow: Stuffing vs. Pan Dressing