Tuesday, November 29, 2011

homemade stock

I made a little mistake ordering the turkey this year. What I should say is that I made a mistake ordering the turkeys this year. I decided to go easy, and just order bone-in turkey breasts, versus the whole bird. I know, I know. Some of you are fainting at the mere thought of not having the big bird there on display.

This just made a lot more sense, since we all prefer my brined white meat. I didn't think to ask if they were single or double breasts. So, we ended up with 4 plump bone-in breasts. Oops (though the cook in me was secretly thrilled). We enjoyed a fabulous feast on Thanksgiving...some hearty turkey sandwiches picnicking at our local Nature Center the next day, and enjoyed a follow-up meal or two of the whole shebang. But I shredded a bunch of the turkey up and froze it along with both sets of bones, knowing that we'd tire of turkey before too long, and that I'd be inspired to cook again this week.

The urge to cook again came up more quickly than I expected. On Sunday, while my husband hung the outside lights with my dad, and the kids decorated our tree with their Meme, I made my first soup: Mark Bittman's super easy Turkey-Noodle Soup with Fresh Ginger. It was delicious, and fortuitous, since a head cold has had me sidelined the past two days. Nothing better than homemade soup when you're feeling sorry for yourself-- I mean sick.

Anyway, you can certainly make homemade soup with a multitude of good store-bought broths, but there's something special about starting with a homemade stock. So, if you tucked those turkey bones in the freezer last week like I mentioned on the FB page, then haul them out and make a pot with me. As you can see above, my turkey bones went straight from the freezer into the pot...

Homemade Stock

bones from a turkey, chicken or ham
a few stalks of celery
a few carrots
an onion if you have one, skin removed, quartered
a little garlic if you'd like, rough chopped
any fresh herbs you may have on hand
salt to taste
splash of cider vinegar (optional)*

Place the bones in a large pot and fill with water. Add any vegetables or fresh herbs you would like to use to flavor the stock. Bring to a simmer and let it boil until desired level of flavor and thickness. Remove bones. You may also remove the veggies and herbs you used to flavor the broth, or leave them in. Up to you. Proceed as you would with any soup recipe. Stock freezes beautifully so if that's all you feel like cooking today, totally fine. Simply tuck it away in the freezer for a winter day when you want to make homemade soup.

*adding vinegar to your broth helps pull the minerals from the bones, making it even more nutrient-dense 

Friday, November 25, 2011

of course they are cooked!

Seriously you guys? The number of emails asking if I gave my family RAW eggs. Come on people. That was the before photo. No one commented on the sweet verbiage, but you all wondered if I cooked the eggs.... yes, I cooked them at 375 until they were set. You should do the same. They were fabulous.


thankful for our sweet boys,

our plentiful feast,

and waking up to both this morning. for more fabulous ideas on what to do with leftover turkey & sides you may have, mark bittman is definitely your guy. i hope your Thanksgiving gathering was wonderful!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

simple side: wild rice with cranberries and pecans

My goal was to have the majority of my Thanksgiving sides made before the weekly cleaning crew comes through this afternoon. I was thinking how nice it would be to have the cooking done ahead of time and a clean house. Done! (Although I still need to scurry around cleaning up for the cleaning crew.) Last night I made our stuffing and sweet potatoes and baked a bunch of small pumpkin breads for our house cleaners, mailman, school bus driver and neighbors who help us out throughout the year. My one son wants mashed potatoes, so I'm going the super easy Alexia Yukon gold & sea salt route, so that's a-few-minutes-before-the-meal side (and not homemade.. I am living in the edge this year, I tell you). This morning, I made the brine that our turkey will go in tomorrow morning, and put it out in our cold garage until I'm ready for it. My mom and dad have offered to come bearing simple green beans, sauteed kale and cranberry sauce this year (making my end of the cooking super easy to do ahead). This morning, I realized I had one extra Trader Joe's carton of chopped garlic, shallots and onion*, so I checked the pantry and decided to make one more (healthful) side ahead of time. Oh, and I had a few extra cups of sage cream sauce from the Savory Pumpkin Cannelloni I made on Sunday....so that extra sauce is going to morph into peeled pearl onions (I got at Trader Joe's) braised in sage cream. Mmmm, decadence. Here's that healthy side first though:

Wild Rice with Cranberries and Pecans
(makes 8+ servings, can be made 2-3 days ahead and stored in fridge)

1 cup chopped onion, garlic & shallots* (or you can just use onions if you're making it from scratch)
olive oil
1 cup of wild rice, rinsed and drained
4 cups vegetable broth
handful of dried cranberries
handful of chopped pecans
drizzle of balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper, to taste

Rinse and drain rice, then cook rice according to package. The ratio is usually 4 cups liquid to 1 cup rice and it takes about 45 minutes. (I used vegetable broth instead of water.) While the rice is cooking, saute onions/shallots/garlic in a bit of olive oil for a few minutes, until the soften a bit and start to become translucent. Once rice is done, stir in onion mixture, cranberries and pecans while still warm. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar, to taste. Add salt & pepper, to taste. Can be made 2-3 days ahead, as the flavors will meld and it will just get better! You can serve this dish room temp or warm.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

simple turkey brine recipe + what I put inside and on top

This brine from The Pioneer Woman is sooooo good. I've modified her recipe just a little bit...

The Pioneer Woman's Turkey Brine with a few small changes
(you make the brine, let it cool down to room temp
and then brine your raw turkey 24 hours in advance, so plan ahead)

3 cups apple cider
2 gallons cold tap water
a bunch of fresh rosemary
10 cloves of garlic, minced (double what she uses in her brine)
1 1/2 cups Kosher salt
2 cups brown sugar
handful of peppercorns
5 bay leaves
zest or peel of 3 large oranges

Combine all of these ingredients in a very large pot. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat off and cover the pot. Allow the mixture to cool completely. Make sure you remove the neck & giblets if they're inside your turkey. Place raw turkey into brine solution, then refrigerate for 24 hours. Northeasterners: I have been known to bolt the lid down with big rocks to keep the animals out, and store the pot outside on the patio if it's cold out...

When ready to roast your turkey, remove it from the brine and wash or hose it off. The idea is to remove the excess salt. Pat the turkey dry then proceed with your normal turkey roasting instructions. I forget what those are each year, so here's a link to the Whole Foods site with all sorts of helpful information, including cook times based upon the size turkey you are cooking.

I don't put our bread stuffing into our turkey, but I do stuff our turkey with a few aromatic herbs and citrus...

I also like to put some onions and herbs into the roasting pan.

And (achem), I have been known to lather up the turkey breasts I order for extra white meat with a wee bit of butter.

my go-to stuffing recipe each year

I have made stuffing from scratch in the past, but doctoring up store-bought stuffing results is just as good an end product (without counter tops covered in stale bread...).

My Favorite Stuffing Additions
(can be made up to 4 days in advance and stored in the fridge)

your favorite store-bought stuffing*
*veggie broth (I like Rapunzel brand bouillon cubes, amt depends upon the stuffing)
*butter (optional, depending upon the stuffing you're using)
celery, chopped
onion, chopped
leeks, chopped (optional, you can always just go with onions)
apples, chopped
fresh sage, chopped
steamed chestnuts, broken into pieces (found in a jar or box, depending upon your store)

We like a lot of stuffing, so I use my big soup pot and saute the chopped celery, onions, leeks and apples in a bit of olive oil, until the onions are translucent. At that point, I stir in the chopped sage and chestnuts (which I let my kids break up with their hands, if they're in the kitchen). Then, I simply dd the packages of store bought stuffing mix and broth (and butter, if your stuffing calls for it too) and stir it all together.

I make the stuffing at least one day in advance, to let the flavors meld...but you could make it up to 4 days in advance. Just store it in the fridge and reheat it Thanksgiving day (any temp 350-400), for about 30-40 minutes or until warmed through, loosely covered with foil if you like it moist...or uncovered halfway through the reheating if you like a crispy top to it.

homemade mashed potatoes

In past years, I have made mashed potatoes from scratch. They are easy enough, but this year, I've discovered Alexia brand mashed potatoes, which....well, are even easier. (I find them in the frozen section of most of our local supermarkets.) If you opt to make them from scratch, here's my go-to mashed potato recipe. I'm not holding back here when it comes to decadence, Thanksgiving happens but once a year:

Homemade Mashed Potatoes
(makes 8 servings, can be make up to 4 days in advance and stored in the fridge)

4 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into about 3/4" cubes
about 1/2 cup whole milk (maybe a little more)
16 oz Rondele garlic and herb cheese (two 8 oz tubs)
salt & pepper, to taste
up to 1/2 stick of butter (optional, if you want to really go over the top)
roasted garlic, mashed (optional, to taste)

Cook the potatoes in a large pot, until tender when pierced with a fork (10-14 minutes). Drain well. Return potatoes to the same warm pot and add the milk and cheese. Mash until desired consistency. We keep ours a little "lumpy" because I like them to have some texture, especially if they're being served alongside sweet potatoes at the same feast. Add salt & pepper to taste.

These can be made up to 4 days in advance and stored in the fridge. When reheating, you might like to add a bit more milk to the dish, so they don't dry out. You can either reheat them in the oven, lightly covered with foil, or in the microwave.

simple side: roasted brussel sprouts

Every Thanksgiving feast needs at least one green veggie. And with all of the decadence on the plate, I kind of think, the simpler the better.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts
(best if made right before dining)

brussel sprouts (halved if they're really big)
avocado or olive oil
salt & pepper
rimmed baking sheet

optional additions to the baking sheet:
lemon zest
garlic, minced
bacon, chopped
pancetta, chopped
walnuts, pecans or pine cuts (add last 3 minutes of baking)

My favorite way to prepare brussel sprouts is to simply drizzle them with a little olive (or avocado) oil, a sprinkling of good quality salt & pepper and roast them on a rimmed baking sheet at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until they are al dente. They get this crispy, caramelized outer edge and moist center. Delicious. Serve warm, right from the oven. I simply serve them as is, but I have also listed some additions if you want to make them fancier/more decadent...

Because this is best right when they come out of the oven, on Thanksgiving, I would take the turkey out, and while it's resting (before carving) pop these babies in the oven right before you eat. This is the only thing I actually "make" on Thanksgiving day-- besides roasting the turkey, of course!

simple side: roasted + mashed sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes always play a part in our Thanksgiving feast. Depending upon the year, I have roasted slices of them in the oven in a rustic fashion, par-baked them and then grilled them, mashed them and topped them with a homemade sweet/savory struesel (a la Epicurious), and yes, I have even been known to smother them in marshmallows (winning mom-of-the-day with that batch)... but last year, I went even simpler and healthier. Depending upon the other sides you plan to make, you can start with this super-simple recipe and modify it to get to your ideal health profile and taste for this year.

Super Easy Roasted + Mashed Sweet Potatoes
(makes 8 servings - can be made 3-4 days ahead, stored in fridge)

4 lbs sweet potatoes, whole, skin on
rimmed baking sheet
tin foil
salt & pepper, to taste
splash of orange juice (optional)
1 T fresh ginger (optional, I add it using a microplane zester)
1-2 T agave or brown sugar (optional, I don't find it necessary)
2 T butter (optional)
1/2 cup praline pecans, crushed (optional)

Preheat oven to 375. Wash potatoes and pierce each one a few times with a fork. Place on foil lined baking sheet and bake until tender, about 1 hour. Cut each sweet potato in half and scoop the flesh out into a bowl. Mash with a fork, or potato masher, until desired texture, adding a splash of orange juice to thin them a bit, if you'd like. You may leave the sweet potatoes as is, for a very healthy side dish or.... if you want to make the dish sweeter and more decadent, you can mash in 2 T butter and/or 1 to 2 T agave (or brown sugar) and top them with 1/2 cup of crushed praline pecans. (Trader Joe's sells them rather inexpensively. Best way to crush them is to place them in a zip-loc bag and let your children roll a rolling pin over them, or thwack them with a meat mallet or heavy spoon...)

Can be made 3-4 days in advance and stored in the fridge. To reheat, simply cover loosely with foil (so the top doesn't get too brown) and place in the oven you are using on Thanksgiving at some temp between 350-400, for 30-40 minutes or until warmed through.

our family's Thanksgiving feast-- side dish recipe round-up

Our feasts are plentiful each year, but not over the top. I read somewhere that it helps if you think of Thanksgiving as dinner with a few extra sides. Last year, I pared back on the sides and made a colorful, delicious spread that offered up enough variety, but was totally do-able-- particularly since most of the sides can be made in advance.

First, the turkey. Here's the scoop on the brine I make. It's a slight modification of The Pioneer Woman's brine, which is so, so good.

We dine in the late afternoon, so I served a super easy baked brie as an early afternoon appetizer, alongside Trader Joe's mini crabcakes and a veggie crudite, to munch on something light before we delved in.

Our late afternoon family feast included:
I made all but one of the sides in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, so all I had to do on Thanksgiving was roast the turkey and brussel sprouts. This year's feast will probably be quite similar, though I plan to try my friend Janet's Winter Herb and Fennel Slaw in lieu of the braised cabbage and I'd like to try a pumpkin flan for dessert if I can get up the courage to make a flan. Hopefully having my go-to Thanksgiving side links in one post provides some inspiration when it comes to planning your family's Thanksgiving feast!

another homemade gift idea: pumpkin bread

Yesterday's post about the Pumpkin Cannelloni with Sage Cream Sauce inspired a bunch of emails from friends who said they liked the idea of making something for their teachers/friends/neighbors, but wanted a less time-consuming idea. Here's another good one: Jane's Pumpkin Bread. Depending upon when you want to deliver it, it freezes well. So, maybe it would be a perfect recipe to make together this weekend, before launching into your Thanksgiving recipes!

Friday, November 18, 2011

planning my peaceful pre-Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving: the food, the family, the crisp Fall day dedicated to nothing other than both. But somehow it snuck up this year, and I am finding myself feeling slightly overwhelmed by all I used to do in past years. Inspired by this post on Simple Mom (which, ironically, my dear friend Leslie forwarded me on... um, November 11th, and I didn't have a chance to read until this morning...), I have decided to pare back a bit this year. The good intentions are still there, but there's a need to be more practical this year. I will still cook the feast on Thanksgiving (despite our kitchen that is bordering on full collapse with now 1 or 2 working burners (depending upon the day), and a semi-functioning fridge and now single oven), but I am going to get organized this weekend and be realistic about what I can accomplish cooking-wise. And, I still want to continue our tradition of gifting dishes of Homemade Pumpkin Cannelloni with Sage Cream Sauce to the boys' teachers, but this year we are simplifying a bit.

Last year, we made pumpkin cannelloni for all of them. It started out simple enough. Some onions, shallots and garlic chopped in the Cuisinart...

...so many cans of organic pumpkin puree, marscapone, and bottles of sherry I lost count...

...Legos spread out all over the kitchen floor, the amazing smell of the pumpkin filling bubbling away on the (then fully functioning) range.

I'd thought nothing of a day trip to the Container Store, where I filled two shopping carts with glass containers,

excitedly filling them with this labor of love.

Our kitchen was transformed into a pumpkin cannelloni factory, of sorts.

A happily humming factory, where every surface was put to good use.

And at the end of the day, the fridge was filled with 28 dishes (yes, 28) of Pumpkin Cannelloni. The boys and I delivered each dish to one of their current or past teachers the next day, to be enjoyed with their families during the week of Thanksgiving. It was one of those times when 'tis way more fun to give than to receive. But this year, for a variety of reasons, I just can't swing this massive effort. It's been in the back on my mind, this guilt that we did something so special last year and we're not doing it again this year. But then I had to take a step back and think about how my children and I can still do this fabulous project together, but keep it manageable from a planning, time and cost perspective. It's not the majesty of last year, but I have to remind myself that it still means a very special, very well-deserved night "off" for each of my children's two current main teachers and their families.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

recent rainbow plates to (hopefully) inspire you at dinnertime

TJ's "autumn mix" (parsnips, rutabagas and turnips-- see meals in a snap's facebook page for the simple recipe) + homemade turkey-pesto meatballs (the recipe my friend Cara shared with me is on the FB page too) + sauteed kale + ketchup (pick your battles...)

BLTs + cream of broccoli soup

shredded cheese (because it's way more fun than a slice) + quinoa-veggie salad + pistachios + Bell & Evans chicken tender

cherries + grapes + cucumbers + low sodium Tamari sauce + veggie dumplings
various cheeses + the last strawberries of the summer (clearly this photo was delayed in being posted) + bananas + a slice of hearty whole grain-nut-raisin bread

more lunchbox ideas

whole wheat mini bagel with Trader Joe's pumpkin cream cheese + cherry tomatoes + carrots + ants on a log (and "beetles on a log" - aka cranberries in lieu of raisins) + a juice box as a treat

ham & cheese + fruit salad + assorted crackers + cookies and a fruit leather as treats (must not have had enough coffee when I packed this one)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

calgon take me away....even if it's just to Stamford

Hmmm, so on Tuesday two weeks ago, that was my bicycle resting at the top of a hill in Sicily...

....and that afternoon I'd gone to an agriturismo olive oil tasting, before hopping back on my bike and riding to a castle. What a difference two weeks makes!! I haven't had time to write a post about the trip, or the simple meals I've been whipping up back here, because I'm still playing nurse until both of my children are healthy again.

But, I have a special treat for my readers!

Whether you have the luxury to zip off to Italy for a much anticipated vacation, or just need a few hours this coming weekend to remember what it's like to be a carefree adult, I have 8 pairs of tickets to the Buick/FOOD & WINE magazine culinary event in Stamford, CT this weekend. If you would like the chance to go to this demonstration and tasting event, please leave a comment below telling me, hmmm... how about you tell me your favorite family vacation. (Since a vacation sounds really good right about now...even if there's not a chance of it happening. Still, a girl can plan ahead, and next time we'll bring the whole family on our getaway.)

OK, so here's the fine print about the give-away:

You have until 8pm (EST) Wednesday evening, November 9th, 2011 to leave a comment here on this post, or on the meals in a snap facebook page. I will use random.org to pick the winners, sometime after 8pm, when the kids are tucked in. You may enter a comment in both places, doubling your chances or receiving tickets. Winners must be 21 years of age, and present a driver's license, since there's a wine tasting component to the event. (This just keeps getting better, doesn't it?!)

Guests will have the opportunity to attend full cooking demonstrations and sample several dishes, while also getting a first-hand look at Buick’s 2012 line-up. Guests may attend the event one of five different time slots: Saturday, November 12 from 11:00am – 2:00pm; 2:30pm – 5:30pm; or 6:00pm – 9:00pm. Or, Sunday, November 13 from 12:00pm – 3:00pm or 3:30pm – 6:30pm.

Guests will experience the following discovery sessions:

  • Cooking Demonstration with FOOD & WINE Best New Chef 2007 Gavin Kaysen, Executive Chef at Café Boulud in New York City and James Beard “Rising Star Chef” award winner

  • Pastry Demonstration with Chef Ben Roche, Executive Pastry Chef of Moto in Chicago, Ill., and Co-Host of “Future Foods” on Discovery’s Planet Green Network

  • Buick Test Drives, featuring the new Regal Turbo, Lacrosse and Enclave

  • Wine Tasting with Michael Green

  • Cooking Demonstration and Sampling with Celebrity Chef Michael Psilakis, owner of several New York City restaurants, including Kefi and Fish Tag; Psilakis has competed on The Food Network's "Iron Chef America" and was named FOOD & WINE Best New Chef 2008 and Bon Appétit’s Chef of the Year 2008.

  • For every guest, Buick will make a donation to The FEED Foundation, in support of its efforts to create good products to help feed the world’s hungry, one bag at a time. "

    • If this sounds like a fun way to spend 3 hours with your spouse, partner, or friend this weekend then line up a sitter and go ahead and leave a comment letting me know your favorite family vacation. Remember, you can leave a comment here, or on the blog's facebook page, or both!