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Monday, December 21, 2009

More chocolate - in gingerbread cookies

Here's a wonderful cookie recipe from Martha Stewart's Cookies book. Lots of great cookie recipes in here, every kind of cookie you can imagine.

I am not a huge gingerbread fan but these are awesome.

Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
(makes 24 big cookies)
1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons boiling water
7 ounces large semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips (or use coarsely chopped chocolate bars)
about 1/4 cup sugar

1. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or SilPat.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cocoa.
3. In a large bowl, beat together butter and fresh ginger with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add brown sugar and beat until combined. Add molasses and beat until combined. Make sure to scrape the bowl to make sure mixture is well-combined.
4. In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda with boiling water. Add 1/2 flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until combined. Add baking soda and water and beat. Add the rest of the flour and beat until combined. Scrape down the bowl as necessary.
5. Mix in chocolate chips or chunks with a spatula. Scrape dough into plastic wrap, flatten to 1 inch thick and wrap well. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. I would say overnight because the dough is quite sticky.
6. After dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Remove dough from the fridge and divide it into 24 pieces. Place on prepared baking sheets. Chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
7. Take each piece of dough and roll it into a ball and then roll it into the sugar. Place on baking sheet, about 2" apart (they spread a lot). I needed to use a spatula to remove the dough from the baking sheet as it stuck a little.
8. Bake cookies for about 12 minutes or until cracks form on tops of cookies. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes. Take cookies off baking sheets and cool completely on racks.

Store cookies at room temperature. I didn't bake enough to freeze but I bet they freeze just fine.

Note: I made no modifications for altitude.

Link to PDF of Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Recipe

Friday, December 18, 2009

I love chocolate. Not all chocolate. Only really good chocolate, like Callebaut, Cocoa Barry, Valrhona, and Scharffenberger. I have a couple of friends who not only love great chocolate like me, but are also crazy enough to make things like truffles and filled chocolates. About 12 years ago, they invited me to join their chocolate-making party. We have missed a few years since my friend Mary Ruth relocated to Arizona for the winter, but this year we made sure to get together with pounds of chocolate before she ran off to the Grand Canyon State.

Unless you want to invest in a tempering machine or are really serious about working with chocolate, you are not going to dip truffles. Chocolate has a complex crystalline structure which makes it difficult to melt to use for dipping. You can melt it easily, but getting it to set up properly is tricky. If you have ever melted a chocolate bar on your dashboard and then found it after it has set up again, you have experienced chocolate in the wrong crystalline state. The original chocolate bar is shiny, smooth when it melts in your mouth, and has snap. The re-solidified bar has none of these properties - it's dull, coarse-grained, and crumbles rather than breaking cleanly. You do not want to eat it because, aside from taste, it bears no resemblance to your original chocolate bar. Chocolate in the correct crystalline state is called "in temper" and the process of getting chocolate to this state is calling "tempering." You can temper by hand (if you care to try, Mark Bittman has an recent article in the New York Times on how) or you can spend a few hundred bucks to get a machine that will manipulate the temperature of the melted chocolate to make sure it is tempered, and then hold the chocolate at the correct temperature so it stays that way. Crazy chocolate person that I am, I have one of these machines, as do my friends Mary Ruth and Ronnie.

Maybe you don't want to play with melting chocolate like Mr. Bittman? You just want to impress your friends with some good chocolate. Luckily, truffles are perfectly wonderful if they aren't dipped in chocolate. The centers, which are made of ganache, are easy to make. A little messy, but do-able by anyone. Instead of dipping them in chocolate, you roll them in cocoa. These truffles actually look more like their namesake, the mushroom truffle. The cocoa is supposed to look like the soil that clings to the mushroom, which grows underground.

Ganache is so simple yet so wonderful. In its simplest incarnation, it's chocolate and cream. It's pretty decadent stuff, provided you use high quality chocolate. Nowadays, you can find good chocolate in most supermarkets. I have seen Ghiradelli and Guittard in my local supermarkets. Both are decent, though not exceptional, American-made chocolates (Guittard does make some excellent chocolate but you are not likely to see it at your local supermarket). The brands I mentioned at the start of this entry are all exceptional chocolates and, except for Scharffenberger, European-made. Scharffenberger is a standout for an American chocolate. You can usually find these chocolates at Whole Foods and they are quite a bit more expensive.

This basic recipe is from Nick Malgieri's Chocolate. You can change up the liquor. Don't add too much additional liquid though, because the truffles will be too soft to shape. This year I added 2 tablespoons of Chambord, a French liqueur made from black and red raspberries.

Ganache for Truffles
(makes 35 - 50 truffles depending on the size)

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
9 ounces bittersweet, semisweet or milk chocolate, melted
up to 2 tablespoons of liquor(s) of your choice
about 2 cups of sifted cocoa

1. Combine cream, butter, and corn syrup in a stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a simmer over low heat. Remove from heat and allow to cool 5 minutes.
2. Add cream mixture to melted chocolate and whisk smooth. Whisk in liquor.
3. Allow ganache to cool for 2-3 hours at room temperature.
4. At this point, you can scoop them with a melon baller which will result in a dense truffle. Or, you can whip the ganache with an electric mixer for about a minute and then scoop out the truffles, which will result in a lighter truffle. Place the balls of ganache on a sheet pan lined with waxed paper. Don't worry if they are rough; you will make them round later.
5. Place the sheet pan in the freezer to firm up the ganache.
6. If you want to stay cleaner, pull on some latex gloves. Take the ganache out of the freezer, and roll each ball in your palm to make them round. Don't work them too long because they will melt. Place back on the sheet pan.
7. After you have rounded all the truffles, drop them one by one in the cocoa, and fish them out, shaking off excess cocoa.
8. To store, place in a tightly-lidded container and store for up to 1 week at a cool temperature.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Lamb, Lentil and Kale Soup

I derived this soup recipe from a lamb stew recipe in The Gourmet Garage Cookbook. I wanted a soup, not a stew, but the flavor combination was intriguing. It is originally an Iranian recipe and full of wonderful herbal flavors. It is substantial from the lamb and lentils but the flavor is light and refreshing.

Lamb, Lentil & Kale Soup
(serves 8)

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound stew lamb, cut into small dice
3 medium leeks, white and light green part, cleaned well and chopped
3 scallions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch of kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons fresh dill, coarsely chopped
2 cups fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 cups chicken stock
1 cup lentils, rinsed
2 teaspoons lemon zest
3 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter with 1 tablespoon oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Fry lamb in two batches until browned. Remove lamb with a slotted spoon and reserve.
2. Melt remaining butter with remaining olive oil in soup pot, and reduce heat to medium. Saute leeks, scallions and garlic until tender.
3. Add kale, dill, and parsley and cook until kale is wilted.
4. Stir in turmeric, pepper and salt and cook for a minute or two.
5. Add cooked lamb, chicken stock and lentils. Bring soup to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
6. Add lemon zest and lemon juice, cover, and cook for an hour or until lentils are tender.
7. Taste for salt before serving.

Note: You can substitute 1 pound of ground lamb for the diced lamb. I prefer the texture of the diced lamb.

Link to PDF of Lamb, Lentil and Kale Soup Recipe

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rugelach - a Special Cookie for the Holidays

My grandmother Rose made fantastic rugelach. Rugelach are rich, buttery cookies rolled around chopped nuts mixed with cinnamon sugar, though I have seen them filled with chocolate. Rugelach are not easy to make because the dough is very soft. Don't even attempt to make them in hot, sticky weather. You will end up with a mess. If your kitchen is very warm, even in the winter, I suggest turning down the heat when you roll these out. Because winter is the best time to make these cookies, they are perfect for bestowing on your friends for Christmas or Hannukah. They will be impressed.

This recipe is from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies(1977). When I asked my mom for her mother's rugelach recipe, she said use Heatter's. Grandmother Rose and Ms. Heatter both use a dough with cream cheese and butter. There are other variations for the dough, but I think this one is the best. Not the easiest, but the best.

(makes 36 cookies)

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 pound cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sifted all purpose flour

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup dried currants
5 ounces (1 1/4 cups) walnuts, finely chopped

1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon water

1. In a large bowl, cream together butter and cream cheese until completely blended and smooth. Beat in salt. Reduce speed to low and slowly add flour. The dough will come together towards the end to form a ball on the beaters.
2. Remove from the bowl, flour your hands and knead lightly. Roll into a short, fat roll and cut the roll into 3 even pieces. Form each piece into a ball, flatten into a thick disc, and wrap each disc tightly in plastic wrap. 3. Refrigerate overnight. The dough has to be thoroughly chilled or it will be too soft to roll out.
4. The next day, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set two racks to divide the oven into thirds. Line 3 cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.  
5. Stir together the filling sugar and cinnamon.
6. Place one ball of dough on a well-floured container or board. I use a marble board because it stays cool, but the countertop works as well. Flour a rolling pin and pound the dough to soften it slightly. Roll out the dough into a 12" circle. To keep the dough from sticking, spin it a quarter turn as you roll it out. Sprinkle on more flour if the dough starts to stick.
7. Brush the dough with 1 tablespoon melted butter and quickly, before the butter hardens, sprinkle with one-third of the cinnamon sugar. Sprinkle with one-third of the currants and one-third of the nuts. Lightly press the currants and nuts into the dough with the rolling pin.
8. With a pizza wheel or a long, sharp knife, cut the dough into 12 pie-shaped wedges (like cutting up a pizza into 12 slices). Starting at the fat end, roll up the dough to the pointy end. Place the cookie, point down, on prepared cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining wedges, spacing them 1" apart.
9. Clean up all the stray nuts and currants, and flour the board again. Roll out second ball of dough and assemble cookies. Repeat for third ball of dough.
10. In a small bowl, combine egg yolk and water. Brush glaze on top of cookies.
11. Bake cookies for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Check the bottoms to make sure they don't burn. As soon as cookies come out of the oven, transfer them from the cookie sheet to a rack to cool.

Note: These cookies are best within 2 days of baking, but they freeze extremely well. No adjustments are necessary for altitude.

Link to Recipe for Rugelach

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Turkey Creole with Chayote

Here's another recipe from my mom, provenance unknown. A few things I like about this recipe:

  • It stretches a pound of ground meat to feed 8.
  • It's full of lots of healthy vegetables.
  • It's hearty, good for a cold winter night.
  • I have modified it to use chayote rather than okra. I'm a big fan of chayote, not so much of okra.
Chayote is a subtropical American squash. The name "chayote" is Mexican but it is also a popular vegetable in Louisiana where it goes by the name mirliton. So, using it here in a recipe for Turkey Creole is not as strange as you might think. Chayote is an excellent squash and deserves to be eaten more often. I prefer it to zucchini. It's less watery, sweeter, and just plain tastier.

You can use okra, if that is your preference. I've included it as a substitute for the chayote in the recipe.

Ground Turkey Creole
(serves 8)

2 tablespoons butter
2 cups chopped onions
1 green pepper, cut into 1" chunks
1 pound raw ground turkey (or use ground beef)
2 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 bay leaves
2 chayote squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4" chunks (or a 10 ounce box of frozen cut okra, slightly thawed)

1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stoneground
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
3/4 cup diced red and/or green pepper

1. In a large dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. Add turkey and cook, stirring to break into small chunks, until browned.
2. Add onions, green pepper, and saute until tender.
3. Add tomatoes and seasonings in filling. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Remove cover and simmer for 30 more minutes.
4. Add chayote (or okra) and cooked uncovered for another 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
6. To make the topping, combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
7. Beat buttermilk, oil and eggs together. Add to dry ingredients, stirring just to combine. Fold in chopped peppers.
8. Remove bay leaves from filling. Spoon topping onto filling and spread to cover filling.
9. Bake for 25 minutes until topping is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Notes: For 5000 ft. altitude, reduce baking powder to 3/4 teaspoon. You can use whole canned tomatoes rather than crushed. Mash them up or puree them in a food processor before adding to filling.

Link to Recipe for Ground Turkey Creole

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hannukah is coming - it's time for Latkes!

Hannukah (or however you want to spell it) starts on the night of December 11. Since potato latkes are a huge favorite in my house, Hannukah is greatly anticipated each year. Hannukah is a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, but its proximity to Christmas has elevated its importance. Honestly, any holiday that includes crunchy fried potatoes is plenty important in my book.

Good latkes are not hard to make but they take some work. And there is that pan of hot oil that spatters all over the place. I don't have a good solution for that, but they are worth the mess at least once a year. And that time of year is fast approaching.

Latkes are always best fresh out of the frying pan. They can be cooled on a rack, refrigerated, and reheated in a 350 degree F oven until hot. They will never be as delicious as fresh but they are still pretty darn good. They can also be frozen. Freeze them on a sheet pan in a single layer. Once they are frozen, you can put them in a plastic bag; they won't stick together. You don't need to thaw them first but you should reheat them at 300 degrees to prevent over-browning.

This recipe is based on one in Ethnic Cuisine by Elisabeth Rozin. Her recipe calls for frying the potatoes in schmaltz, aka rendered chicken fat. Since most of us don't have schmaltz sitting around, I have substituted olive oil. It's a marriage of my Ashkenazi heritage with my husband's Sephardic background.

Potato Latkes
(serves 4-6 as a main dish, 8-12 as a side dish)

8 large russet potatoes
1 large onion
3 eggs
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
olive oil for frying (pure is preferred over extra-virgin here)

1. Peel potatoes and soak for 1 hour in cold water to cover. Drain and dry well.
2. Coarsely grate the potatoes in the food processor. Remove the blade but leave the potatoes in the food processor bowl.
3. Squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the potatoes, catching the moisture in a small bowl. The easiest way to do this is to take small handfuls of the potatoes and squeeze hard. Then put the squeezed potatoes into a large bowl.
4. Drain off any water left in the food processor but transfer any potato starch to the large bowl. Do the same with the small bowl and transfer any potato starch to the large bowl.
5. Lightly beat the eggs in the small bowl and add to the potatoes.
6. Finely grate the onion in the food processor and add to the potatoes.
7. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper to the potatoes. Mix to combine. Hands are the best tool here. Make sure to combine the the flour and potato starch well.
8. Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large frying pan. To get the oil hot enough for quick frying, you will need moderate to moderate high heat.
9. When the oil is hot, gently drop small handfuls of potato mixture into frying pan. Flatten out potatoes with a spatula. Don't try to make the pancake too neat. The bits of potato that stick out are the crunchiest part.
10. When the pancakes are nicely browned, carefully flip over and cook the other side until browned.
11. For best crunch, let cool for a couple of minutes and eat. OK, if you have to share them, place on a rack over a sheet pan in a 180 degree F oven. Cook the remaining potatoes, adding more oil to the frying pan as needed. No one said this was a low-fat recipe!

I like to eat my latkes with ketchup which I'm sure is considered sacrilegious by some. Applesauce is the traditional accompaniment.

Note: A box grater works as well, but you need to grate the potatoes into a bowl so you can catch the potato starch. And expect to shed some tears grating the onion!

Link to PDF of Potato Latkes Recipe

Monday, November 30, 2009

Recipes in a better format

It has been pointed out to me that it is hard to get the recipes out of my blog for saving and printing. Since I want to make my recipes useful to you, I have added a link to a PDF of the recipe in each post that contains a recipe. They are now in all the archived posts and I'll add them to any future posts.

Hope that helps! And thanks to Ronnie T. for suggesting this improvement. I'm so glad I was able to figure out how to make my blog more user-friendly.

Turkey and Wild Rice Soup

I think turkey and wild rice go together exceptionally well. They are both native Americans. One can imagine that they have been served together in the Upper Midwest for many centuries. 

Wild rice is not a true rice, but it is close relative. It is an aquatic grain native to the Great Lakes and wet forested areas in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Much of it is no longer "wild" as it is grown commercially in California. When I am very good, my dear friend Kasja brings me wild rice from Minnesota, where it is the state grain.

This is a hearty soup, perfect for a post-Thanksgiving dinner. Just add crusty bread.

Turkey and Wild Rice Soup
(serves 4)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 small onion, peeled and diced
4 cups turkey stock
1/4 cup wild rice, rinsed
1 16 oz. can white or yellow hominy, drained
1 cup diced cooked turkey (optional)
3-4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Heat oil in a 4 quart saucepan over moderate heat. Add carrot and onion. Saute until onion is translucent.
2. Add stock and wild rice. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cook partially covered for 1 hour. Wild rice takes quite a while to get tender. If the rice has absorbed a lot of the stock, add 1-2 cups of water.
3. Add hominy and turkey (if using). Cook for about 5 minutes until hominy and turkey are heated through.
4. Add cilantro, lime juice, pepper and salt to taste. If your stock is unsalted, you will need at least 1 tsp. If your turkey was brined, the stock will be seasoned with some salt already and you'll need less.
5. Serve hot. 

Link to PDF of the Turkey and Wild Rice Soup

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The turkey carcass

Is that turkey carcass still hanging out in the fridge? What are you waiting for? That's a great pot of soup just waiting to happen. All great soups start with great stock.

Anyone can make great stock. Stock is always made with bones. Since most people pick the carcass clean, that's exactly what you are left with after Thanksgiving. I often throw in the neck too but this year I used them to make a quick stock Thanksgiving day for the gravy.

The method is simple and the same for any white stock where the bones are not roasted. Put the bones in a large soup pot. Cut the main carcass into pieces so it fits nicely. Peel an onion and cut into eighths. Peel a couple of carrots and cut into chunks. Clean two stalks of celery and cut into chunks. They all go in the pot. If you have drippings from the turkey pan, these can go in too. A cleaned leek is also nice if you have one. The typical aromatics are a smashed clove of garlic, 6 whole peppercorns, a bay leaf, a few sprigs of fresh parsley and a sprig of fresh thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon of dried). If you are neat, you can wrap all of these in cheesecloth for a nice bouquet garni. I usually toss all of them in the pot since they will get strained out after cooking.

Cover everything in the pot with cold water. Set on the stove on medium. As the water comes up to a simmer, you want to spoon off the foam that floats to the surface. This will assure a clearer stock. Another tip for getting a clearer stock is don't ever let it get hotter than a simmer. After the water gets to a simmer, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for at least 2 hours. You can let it go 6 hours if you want.

Take 2 pieces of cheesecloth big enough to cover a large strainer. Wet them, wring them out and place in the strainer. Put the strainer over another large pot or bowl and pour in your finished stock. If you are going to make soup right away, you are ready to go.

If you aren't going to use the stock right away, it's important that you cool it quickly. Put it in the fridge, or your garage if it is cooler than 40 degrees F. I have a couple of small energy drink bottles that I fill with water and freeze. I put them in the stock to cool it down even faster.

You can freeze turkey stock for at least 3 months. It's always nice to have a cache of turkey stock from Thanksgiving hiding in the freezer for a lovely pot of turkey soup in February.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Turkey - Cooking

Thursday morning rolls around. The bird must get cooked before the horde of hungry guests arrive. I'm going to assume you followed my advice and allowed ample time for thawing if your turkey is frozen. Please check your bird the night before, not just before it has to go in the oven (been there, done that). Do not panic if it is still slightly frozen. You can put it in the sink with ice water. Replace the water every hour. It will thaw surprisingly fast. Don't leave it in the sink overnight, even in cold water. It will not stay cold enough.

Since I have two birds every year, one bird goes in the oven and the other goes on the rotisserie on the grill. The rotisserie turkey is always the most beautiful. The skin is crispier and it is an incredible mahogany brown. I throw cuttings from my grapevine onto the grill to add a little sweet smoke.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. We need to season the birds first. When it's time to roast the turkey, pull it out of the brine and dry it off. My oven-roasted turkey gets the same treatment every year, which is the way my grandmother made it. I rub it with butter or vegetable oil. I sprinkle it inside and out with paprika (helps the color), garlic powder, salt (go light for a brined turkey), and black pepper. Cut a lemon in half and stuff the halves in the cavity. Do the same with a peeled onion. Take some sprigs of herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage) and stuff those in the cavity too. Oh yeah, I don't stuff my birds. Since stuffing has to get to 165 degrees F, it makes it more difficult to cook the turkey properly. In order to get the stuffing hot enough, you need to overcook the bird. Stuffing tastes just fine cooked outside the bird and I don't like my turkey overcooked.

The second turkey gets a southwestern twist. Instead of paprika, I use ground ancho chiles - pure ancho not chile powder. It's a lot like paprika but it has more oomph. Then garlic powder, a little salt, and black pepper. You can use any dry rub you have as long as it is not heavy on the salt. Like the oven turkey, I stuff a halved lemon and onion in there. Sometimes, I put in a halved orange too, if I have one. For herbs, I use thyme only.

I need to truss the turkey for the rotisserie but I don't truss the oven-roasted bird. Take the last wing joints and bend them under the body. Or cut them off and use them for stock.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place your turkey on a rack in a large roasting pan. Add 1 cup of water to the pan. Put the turkey in the oven and cook for 45 minutes. Baste and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Add more water if it has all cooked away. Baste every 30 minutes and check the water. For a 10-12 lb bird, total roasting time is 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours. I start checking its internal temperature at 2 hours because I have a convection oven and my turkey is about 10 lbs. The temperature taken in the thickest part of the thigh must reach 170 degrees F. USDA, Butterball and many other sites says 180 degrees but if you cook it that long, you get cotton, not turkey. 170 degrees F is sufficient to kill nasty bugs like salmonella provided you haven't stuffed your bird. Remember to wash your thermometer before sticking it in the turkey again.

Some recipes, like Cooks Illustrated, call for starting the bird on its breast and then flipping it over. I don't bother. It's a real pain in the arse to flip it and I don't know that it makes a big difference, especially in a brined bird. I roast it breast side up the whole time. I usually cover the breast with foil about half way through cooking to keep it from over-browning.

When the bird has reached 170 degrees F, remove it from the oven and cover it with foil. You should wait at least 10 minutes before craving and we often wait longer. Make sure to put your turkey on a heated platter so it doesn't cool off before you have a chance to serve it. Heat your dinner plates too.

I hope your bird is delicious and you have a very happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanksgiving Turkey - Brining

Many of my friends ask me about cooking a turkey this time of year. Some of them have eaten at my house for Thanksgiving and want to recreate my turkey at home. Others just figure I know everything about cooking, therefore I must know how to make a great turkey.

It is true; I make a helluva turkey. There really isn't a secret, other than a whole lot of salt. Brining makes the best darn turkey.

First, we should talk about turkeys. If you get a frozen supermarket turkey, odds are they have done the work for you. These turkeys have been "enhanced" with the addition of salt and possibly flavorings which will result in a very juicy and flavorful turkey. I don't see the point of brining these turkeys (actually I'm not a big fan of these turkeys but they do happen to be very cheap at Thanksgiving). If you buy a fresh turkey, on the other hand, brining will produce the best turkey ever.

Brine is merely water and salt combined in a prescribed proportion. The formula is 1 cup kosher salt to 1 gallon of water. It's easiest if you use 1 quart of warm water to dissolve the salt and then add 3 more quarts of cold water to get to the correct proportion of salt to water. Your brine should be cold before you immerse your turkey. You need enough brine to cover the turkey, so if your container is large you may need more than one batch. If you are using a bucket, one batch should be enough. You can add herb sprigs or halved citrus (squeeze the juice into the brine first) to the brine. The turkey will absorb some of the flavorings as it takes up the salt.

Folks ask how I deal with a big bird and a bucket of salt water. It doesn't fit in the fridge. This is often true because the turkey is enormous. I am not a "big turkey" gal. Since I have a grill with a rotisserie, I make two 10-12 pound turkeys rather than wrestle with a gigantic 20 pounder. But, you may not have that choice because you only have one place to cook said bird. The answer is, I don't put it in the fridge. I suggest a large camping cooler, one big enough to hold the bird(s), the brine and a bunch of ice packs (more on this in a minute). A five gallon bucket is usually big enough to hold a small turkey but since it's not insulated, you need to fit it in your fridge. Fat chance. A cold garage can sub for the fridge, but you may not have a cold garage. Which is why I use a cooler.

Place your turkey(s) in the cooler/bucket. Cover with brine. If it's not going in the fridge, add a bunch of ice in plastic bags to the cooler. This will keep the turkey chilled. You can skip the ice packs if you can put your turkey in the garage and it's going to stay before 40 degrees F. But, do not just throw a bunch of ice in the brine. This will dilute the brine as the ice melts. Weak brine does not produce a tasty turkey.

The nice folks at Butterball suggest brining turkeys under 12 pounds for 6-8 hours. I put my turkeys in the brine the night before Thanksgiving, so I'm in line with their recommendations. If you have a 12-14 pound turkey, Butterball suggests 12 hours in the brine; more than 14 pounds, the turkey can stay in the brine between 12 and 24 hours.

Next, I'll discuss cooking the marvelous bird.

A friendly reminder - if your turkey is frozen, take it out of the freezer right now and put it in the fridge! Never, ever thaw your turkey at room temperature. It's going to take a good 3+ days for even a small bird to thaw in the refrigerator.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Carrot Cake

Update from January 23, 2011

I finally made this recipe and can give actual altitude adjustments. See my updated recipe below.

I haven't made this recipe in years. I think I was in high school the last time I made it. Just like in those bygone days, it was a huge hit. It's a bit more robust than other carrot cakes, filled with carrot (of course), pineapple, coconut, and walnuts. And no raisins.

But, first, a little story. My mother made this often for her business. The business was a family affair. My aunt was Mom's partner and we all chipped in when there was a big party. My dad helped too sometimes, which usually worked out ok because he does know his way around a kitchen. One day, he was helping to make this cake - a lot of this cake since Mom never made a single recipe. My dad measured out the ingredients and as he was doing that, Mom walked by. She looked at the pile of dry ingredients and said "Something isn't right." My dad had mistakenly pulled out the salt bin for the sugar bin! Mom could tell by looking at the white crystals that it wasn't sugar. She was good.

14-Carat Cake
(from Farm Journal's Best Ever Recipes)

2 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups neutral vegetable oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups finely shredded peeled carrots (8 ounces)
1 can (8  or 8 1/2 ounces) crushed pineapple in juice, drained
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (2 oz)
1 1/3 cups flaked sweetened coconut (3 1/2 oz)

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
16 ounces confectioners sugar

Grease and flour 3 9-inch round cake pans.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add sugar, oil, and eggs. Beat at medium speed for 1 minute. Stir in carrots, pineapple, walnuts, and coconut. Divide evenly among prepared pans.

Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans on racks for 10 minutes. Remove from pan. Finish cooling on racks.

For the frosting, cream together butter, cream cheese, and vanilla on medium speed. Gradually add confectioners sugar, beating well until smooth and creamy. If the frosting is too thick to spread, beat in a tablespoon or two of milk.

Fill the layers and frost top and sides.

Modifications for 5,000 ft: Reduce baking powder to 1 1/2 teaspoons. Reduce baking soda to 1 teaspoons. Reduce sugar in cake by 2 tablespoons.

Makes 12 servings

Link to PDF of 14 Carat Cake Recipe

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cheesecake Cupcakes

This is a recipe with some history. My mom gave it to me; I have no idea where she got it. I carried it with me to Stanford, where I snagged a husband with them. They are that good. And unlike most cheesecakes, they are unbelievably simple to make. Pamela has been making them for years now. Her gymnastics teammates ask for cheesecake cupcakes on their birthdays. Mom, me, Pamela - three generations of cheesecake cupcake makers winning hearts. Maybe you can win over some hearts with them too.

Cheesecake Cupcakes

24 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Line 18 regular sized muffin cups with cupcake liners.

For the filling, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Make sure egg is fully incorporated before adding another. Beat in sugar and vanilla. Divide among muffin cups (about 1/4 cup per cupcake).

Bake for 45 minutes or until just set. Do not overbake! They should not brown at all.

Cool for 5 minutes in the pan.

Combine topping ingredients in a small bowl. Fill the depression in each cupcake (it will form while cooling) with 1 teaspoon sour cream mixture.

Bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Cool completely.

Store in refrigerator. Serve chilled.

Make 18 cupcakes

Link to PDF of Cheesecake Cupcakes Recipe

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lemon Love Notes

This recipe was one of my favorite cookies from my mom's catering business. I have made many lemon bar recipes, but they don't compare. The recipe was lost for quite a while, on two separate occasions. After my mom passed away, my sister and I divided up her cookbooks. I got most of them but not the book with this recipe. I didn't even know what book contained it. I was visiting my sister in Connecticut and found the boxes of cookbooks in her basement. I wasn't actually looking for this recipe, just looking through the books she had. And there it was! My sister generously gave me the book, Farm Journal's Best Ever Recipes since the book has long been out of print. As you can see from the photo, the book has seen better days.

Now I knew what book had the recipe, but that didn't mean I could keep track of the book. When you have over 800 cookbooks, sometimes they get misplaced. This week, I was going through the few boxes left from our kitchen remodel last year and in a book full of novels, I found it again. I hope you all enjoy it. Pamela certainly did; I almost didn't get that photo before she ate half of them.

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup sifted flour
1/4 cup confectioners sugar

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest

confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine crust ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix until crumbly. Press into an ungreased 8-inch square pan. A little confectioners on the fingers is useful to prevent the crust from sticking as you do this. Bake for 8 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack.

Combine sugar, 2 tablespoons and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add eggs, lemon juice and lemon zest. Mix well. Pour evenly over baked, cooled crust.

Bake for 25 minutes. The top will puff up during baking but falls in cooling. Cool in pan on rack and cut into 2-inch squares. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar.

Note: for altitude, use a pinch less baking powder.

Welcome to World on a Platter

Welcome! This blog is dedicated to the memory of my mom who started a catering business in the late 70's. It was called "World on a Platter" hence the name of this blog. At the time, I wasn't a foodie. In fact, I was a pretty picky eater. It wasn't until I left my mother's amazing cooking that I started exploring the wonderful world of food. Now, most people would call me an adventurous eater, and a very serious cook.

I love to cook and I love to try new recipes. I love to tweek recipes. This is a place for the recipes I've found that are worthy and to give advice on making recipes better. Just because it's published somewhere, doesn't mean it works!

I will also use this space to comment on food, from products I like (or don't like) to the broader issues in food such as eating local and slow food.

But, mostly this is about recipes that I love. I hope you enjoy them too!