Monday, November 26, 2012

Turkey, Kale, & Wild Rice Soup

Thanksgiving was wonderful, and I hope everyone had a marvelous holiday of eating and gathering with friends and family! I am so thankful for so many things! My family, my giddy and magnificent daughter, my soon- to- be husband, our new homestead, inches upon inches of snow, and succeeding in my life here in the northern most reaches of the north shore of Lake Superior to name a few things. I am also thankful for everyone who helped along the way, to get me where I am right now. Life is awesome and it somehow feels like it's only just beginning....

Leftover turkey is humble, yet most are grateful for it. It's versatility is endless. Turkey sandwiches are probably on the menu for many folks this week. I thought I'd add a new recipe to the leftover turkey category. I am forever trying to add an element of healthiness to our everyday eating which you'll get a glimpse of in the following recipe. We are a pretty healthy bunch, but there is always room for improvement.  Eating real, whole foods is our main goal. Paying attention to quantity and quality. For instance, a whole pie may not be the best choice for breakfast. A slice would be better. But if you did over indulge in a whole pie, tomorrow is a new day. It's best if that pie is homemade and not some weird pastry made by a lady named Sarah Lee. I think that eating should be enjoyable, and balancing that factor with trying to stay in shape and eating well in the hustle and bustle of everyday life can be a challenge. I start by stocking our fridge with healthy choices. I seldom buy soda, candy, or packaged foods. If it's not available in our house, chances are greater that we won't be consuming it. I always have on hand plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. They play a major role in my everyday cooking.  It's easy to put together a recipe such as the following, when you have great ingredients on hand.

Turkey, Kale & Wild Rice Soup:

2 pieces of bacon, chopped (optional)
1 small onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small sprig rosemary, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried sage
6 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups left over turkey, chopped
2 cups cooked wild rice
1 small bunch kale, chopped
sea salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste

In a large stock pot, over medium heat, saute the bacon until crisp and golden. Remove the bacon from the pot, leaving the bacon fat. You can omit this step and start with a drizzle of olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat.  Add the onion, celery, and carrot to the fat or olive oil and saute about 5 minutes, or until the onions just begin to turn translucent. Add the garlic and the herbs and saute a few minutes more. Add the wine and deglaze the pan. Add the stock,  turkey, and the wild rice and reduce the heat to medium low. Allow everything to simmer together about 10 minutes. Add the kale and simmer an additional 10 minutes. Taste the soup and adjust the flavors, adding sea salt and black pepper to taste.

Garnish the soup with fresh lemon zest, chili flakes, and/ or Parmesan cheese. A drizzle of toasted sesame oil and some fresh chives would be equally nice.
A few add ins to play around with; a cup of roasted cherry tomatoes, a variety of root veggies (parsnips and golden beets along with the carrots), or using a different grain in place of the wild rice such as red quinoa or barley. Have fun creating a wonderful bowl of soup! Belly up!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Eat your way thru Thanksgiving!

As per request from the lovely pair of ladies whom I have the joy of chatting with on WTIP this morning, I have put together some tips, quick recipes, and menu suggestions for Thanksgiving. We tried to d-mystify the roasting of the bird, stuffing options, and what to choose for a side- questions on the air this morning. I think it went pretty well. We all felt a longing for roasted turkey and all the fixings in our bellies immediately after our Thanksgiving conversations!

The turkey. I view this big bird as I would a chicken. It's just bigger, and requires a bit of prep work before it gets roasted. I use a brine for the turkey. A brine can be as simple as 1 cup of salt and 1 cup of sugar per 2 gallons of water. You can modify the brine by steeping herbs and spices in the liquid, replacing the sugar for brown sugar, molasses, or maple syrup, or  by switching up the liquids used for, say a 6 pack of Guinness or a flavorful chicken stock. If you have never brined before, stick with the simple recipe above. The brine will add moisture and flavor to your bird, so you can throw away the turkey baster. For a 14-16 pound bird, submerge the turkey, breast side down in the brine overnight. This can be done in a clean 5 gallon bucket stored in the fridge. The following morning, remove the bird from the brine, rinse inside and out, and place in your roasting pan. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels, and liberally coat the skin with olive oil. You can put some aromatics in the cavity of your turkey at this point. Think sprigs of rosemary, sage, thyme, and maybe a lemon cut in half. Roast the turkey at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue to roast the turkey until the internal temperature in the thickest part of the breast reaches 155 degrees. If the skin on the breast begins to brown too much, cover the skin with foil or strips of bacon.

The stuffing. If you have a tradition of cooking the stuffing inside the turkey then you should go for it. I prefer to bake mine in a baking dish for I can get a bread pudding like consistency with a buttery crisp top, much like a savory bread pudding.  Here's a simple stuffing recipe:
Melt one stick of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 cups of each diced onion and celery. Saute a few minutes, then add 1 tablespoon each minced sage, thyme, and garlic. Season with salt and black pepper and continue to saute until the onions start to become translucent. Add 3 cups of chicken stock to the pan and set aside. In a large bowl mix together 3 eggs and 1 cup of cream. Add 16 cups of cubed, stale bread, then pour in the veggie/stock mixture. Transfer to a buttered baking dish, dot with butter, cover and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Uncover the pan and bake until the top is golden, about 20 more minutes.  To this simple stuffing recipe you can add in your favorites. I like crisped bacon and sauteed kale, or wild rice and goat cheese. You could also try sauteed apples or pears and toasted pecans.

The sides. I like to keep these pretty simple, or ask my dinner peeps to bring a dish to pass. Some easy options I'm planning on this year are horseradish mashed potatoes, sauteed brussel sprouts with blue cheese, and savory scones. The key to keeping the sides simple is to keeping  the ingredients high quality. For the best mashed potatoes I use Yukon Gold potatoes for their buttery flavor. The brussels sprouts will roast in the oven with a simple drizzle of olive oil and sea salt with blue cheese crumbles added at the end of roasting. I prefer making savory scones not only because they are so buttery, flaky and delicious, but also because I never end up having the space or time to deal with yeast doughs.

Dessert. This year I am embarking on a pie marathon. Well, not really, but I am making several pies, and I plan on eating a piece of each, even if that means for breakfast the days following Thanksgiving. The key to a better pecan pie, toast and chop the pecans. Toasting the pecans brings out their flavor and chopping them disperses them evenly throughout the custard. I also like to substitute grade 'B' maple syrup for the corn syrup used in traditional pecan pie recipes. I have a plan for building a better pumpkin pie containing a layer of cheesecake, a layer of traditional pumpkin pie custard, and then topped with a crunchy- nutty stuesel. I'll keep you posted on this pie later.

Food and Wine magazine,, food network, and many other resources will be available for you Thanksgiving day if googling  assistance is needed. Remember that eating should be fun. Enjoy your Thanksgiving! Belly up!!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Shepard's Pie

As the snow comes and goes, I hardly notice as I sit in front of our wood stove, snuggled between a lazy Labrador and a sleepy four year old. It is this rare moment when I seize the opportunity to have total control of the television remote, and watch cooking shows. I know, I know, I usually read a book, but I have been deprived of television for nearly 10 years. I quickly make notes as I watch cast iron cooking, Greek cooking, some guy who travels around and eats grilled meat, and etc....Okay, it becomes mindless very quickly, and the fire is dwindling, and my four year old found a whoopie cushion, and so off goes the t.v., and back comes reality. I liked the ideas of the cast iron cooking show. I have a set of cast iron skillet, passed down from my grandparents, very well seasoned, and very ready to be used.

I settled on Shepard's pie. I had some ground lamb I had gotten from a barter a month ago. I love how bartering is so embraced in rural northern Minnesota. Give a friend a ride and swap some lamb meat. It has been a while since I have eaten lamb. I had forgotten how tender and delicious it is. I sauteed the lamb, then set it aside. I poured out all but a few tablespoons of the fat and left it in the pan. I then caramelized onions, celery, and carrots in the lamb fat. While the caramelizing was happening, I boiled equal parts cauliflower and Yukon gold potatoes in salted water. I really like eating cauliflower this way. The cauliflower adds a bit of earthy vegetable-ness, and the Yukon gold potatoes lend their buttery-ness to create a great mash to top the Shepard's pie with.

It all came together very easily. There were minimum spices; salt, black pepper, and some cinnamon in the lamb and vegetable mixture. I used freshly grated asiago cheese in the cauliflower/ potato mash, and topped the whole pie with extra grated asiago. I served it right out of the skillet, and it was the perfect ending to a busy, wintery day.

Shepard's Pie

1 pound ground lamb
1 onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbl flour
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup chicken or beef stock
sea salt and black pepper to taste

The topping
1 pound fresh cauliflower, cut into medium florets
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, large dice
4 Tbl butter
4 Tbl sour cream
1/4 cup Asiago cheese, grated
sea salt

You'll want to pre-heat the skillet on medium-high heat.  Add the lamb and saute until golden brown. Remove the lamb from the skillet, and drain off all of the fat except a few tablespoons. Add the onion, celery, and carrots and caramelize until they are golden around the edges. Add the garlic, cinnamon and flour and saute a few minutes to caramelized the garlic and cook the flour a bit. Slowly add the red wine (I used an Australian Syrah), all the while slowly stirring. Add the stock, and give it one last stir making sure it is all combined. Turn the heat down to low, and allow the mixture to reduce a bit and for the flour to completely do its thickening, about 5 minutes. If the mixture seems too thick, add more stock. You also don't want the mixture to be too wet, or it will bubble and ooze out of the pan while baking in the oven. Give this mixture a taste, adding more cinnamon, sea salt, and black pepper to taste. Turn off the heat, and let this mixture hang out a few minutes while you mash the cauliflower and potatoes.

While all of the above is happening in your cast iron skillet, bring the cauliflower and the potatoes to a boil in salted water. Boil until fork tender, and drain. I used an old fashioned potato masher to mash the potatoes, cauliflower, butter, sour cream and cheese together. Add sea salt to taste. Carefully spread this mixture on top of the mixture in the cast iron skillet. I used an off-set spatula to make a smooth surface, sealing the edges. Top with grated asiago cheese, and bake at 400 degrees until the cheese starts to brown, about 8-10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, and allow it to cool for at least 10-15 minutes before you try to cut into it. Waiting that 10-15 minutes is the toughest part of this entire recipe. Your house will be warmer and fragrant from the lamb and cinnamon. I enjoyed this with a glass of the same wine I used in the recipe. Belly up!!