Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thinking About Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is literally just around the corner. Excited is an understatement. Since I want to share with you my ideas for recipes before Thanksgiving so that you can actually attempt them for the actual holiday, my personal photos wont apply. But I have referenced recipes from other chefs, for you, that I would trust with a feast for kings.

Unlike most holidays, Thanksgiving meals don't give that much room to play. It's very traditional. The turkey, the pies, the green beans. So this Thanksgiving my plan is to reinvent the classics.

Turkey: Lets start with the turkey. I think we, Americans have come a long way from the old fashioned, dry as a bone, turkey, smothered in gravy, so that it will actually slide down your throat. Never really understood how peoples turkeys turn out dry. Mine is juicy every year, and I don't know how because I still don't know how others cook theirs. Mine is pretty simple. I make a crap load of basting sauce, something savory and delicious and baste the turkey often. My bastes are not too liquidy. I would call it more of a thin glaze. Just like your skin, water can actually pull out moisture so you want to make a baste is thicker in consistency, instead of watery. I also cook my turkey completely covered in foil until the last 20 to 30 minutes. It results in a super moist turkey that also has that gorgeous golden crust on top. For stuffing, see the next paragraph, but just to note that I don't  cook the turkey with traditional stuffing. Instead I fill the cavity with citrus and herbs like lemon and or orange wedges, rosemary sprigs or sometimes an herbs de Provence bundle, and garlic. This technique infuses the whole turkey with amazing flavors, not to mention is a great aromatic for your home when the guests walk in.

Baste: Like I mentioned in the turkey section, I prefer a thicker baste. I prefer one that is not based on water or stock, rather than juices and flavors of actual foods. Here are a few different flavor bastes which will be the flavor for your entire turkey, so choose wisely
1) Citrus and Ginger Glaze: This is a glaze I use many times on chicken but I fancy it up with fresh herbs and flavored olive oils. The recipe is right HERE, from my post The Five Sauces You Should Know By Heart. Add to this mixture an extra virgin olive oil that is infused with flavor. Today they sell everything from rosemary olive oil, to lemon, to lavender. The possibilities are endless and they really do give your food immense flavor. My favorite is Tuscan herb which can be easily found in a specialty store like Whole Foods. Also add your own herbs. Rosemary would do wonders combined with the honey in this. Sage would be great too.
2) Balsamic and Honey Marinade: Also from The Five Sauces post, is the balsamic sauce. This not only will cause your guests to act inappropriately, licking their fingers, but creates a stunning golden brown skin on the poultry. Balsamic and honey sauce.
3) Red Wine with Carrots and Mushrooms: The carrots give sweetness, the mushrooms earthiness and the wine, rich luxury. Start by frying 3 large onions in a pot until translucent, and then adding the 5-6 large chopped carrots. Cook stirring often until the carrots have slightly softened. Add about 1 to 2 cups of  cremini mushrooms or baby portabellas and saute until the vegetables brown a bit. Add an entire bottle of  good red drinking wine. Something semi dry like Merlot or a well rounded Cabernet. Lower the heat and simmer until the wine has  reduced by half. Season your turkey well with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with chopped Italian parsley and baste with the sauce. Pour about 1 cup over the turkey and using a pastry brush, soak up from the bottom of the pan and brush generously, massaging into the skin. Cover and bake. Baste every 30 minutes.

Stuffing: As for stuffing, I go for one that people will actually eat. It's not cornbread based. It's just simply delicious hearty, and juicy vegetables. Lots of carrots, lots of celery, lots of garlic, lots of caramelized onions, maybe some nice croutons mixed in. All cooked on the stove top and only after the turkey is done, do I spoon it in, after I have removed the citrus and herbs. Sometimes I replace the croutons with quinoa or farrow. Adding a starch or grain is crucial as it will really create a stockier stuffing. So remember, the key to a great stuffing is cooking it separately. Some even serve it separately, but stuffing the turkey is one tradition I like to keep. So stuff it later, no one wants to eat soggy stuffing.

Sides: If you like tradition and want to do green beans and mashed potatoes, at least give them a makeover. Surprise your guests with green beans cooked with dried cranberries or dates. Fry some shallots in sesame oil, add your dried fruit (dried apricots would be incredible here too) and let the oil and juices that has been released by the onions reconstitute the fruits. Add your green beans, cook until just aldente and add in the sesame seeds. Get fancy and throw in white and black sesame seeds! If you really want to pull out all the stops. Place some scallions in a hot water bath to wilt. Tie them with a bow around little bundles of the green beans and place all the bundles on a platter, so everyone could just grab an individual package!

If you love the idea of soft mashed potatoes, keep the soft and toss the mashed. This is my recipe I call Tuscan Scalloped Potatoesmandolin blade, I slice potatoes paper thin. Toss them in a large bowl with an infused olive oil and lots of herbs. Think, rosemary, sage, dill, Italian parsley and oregano. Make sure to really get every potato coated in oil and herbs. This might require a lot of oil. Hey, everybody knows thanksgiving isn't forgiving! Pour the potatoes into a casserole dish and cover with foil. Bake on 350 for an hour and then uncover under the broiler on high for 10-15 minutes or until crisp and brown. This will be gone before the turkey, I guarantee you!

For those of you who can't get enough butternut squash on the holidays, here are a few nutty suggestions. Butternut squash soup is always a pleaser, but why do a carrot and butternut squash soup with ginger, or how about 2 soups poured into one bowl for a wow effect. Cook butternut squash soup and beet soup, (here is the recipe for Velvety Beet Soup from Food & Wine. Place each soup into a large glass measuring cup. Holding one cup in each hand, pour the soup into each bowl simultaneously. Half the bowl will be a curry yellow, the other a deep crimson! And another idea I love is trading your ceramic or porcelain bowls for seasonal squash, like gourds or round squash, but cutting the top of and carving out the inside. Another optional decor idea- using a toothpick, zig zag down the middle of the soup to make an artsy effect. This dish is both delicious and beautiful.

Dessert: When you think of thanksgiving dessert, you automatically think of pumpkin pie. Don't skip the pumpkin pie. In my opinion it's not thanksgiving with out some simple traditional pumpkin pie. Buy it if you have to, but don't leave it out. But what about combining all the greatest flavors of fall and decedent desserts. I think I will be leaning toward this recipe for my holiday!  Pumpkin Spice Is Twice As Nice as Nice from How Sweet It Is.

These are just some of the things that are on my mind for thanksgiving. I will be sure to update you when I get more, or come across ones that I have to share. Until then, happy holidays to everyone!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Muffins With Cinnamon Butter

Remember my recent post on the apple cinnamon pound cake? Well this recipe is a spin off to that cake. These are fluffy buttery muffins with a much lighter batter that are perfect for Sunday breakfast. The batter in this recipe is my go-to muffin base. It never fails to deliver a fluffy airy consistency. I add blueberries, almonds, cranberries, chocolate chips, anything you can think of. Store this in your recipe file because it is easy and amazing.

So it's Sunday. My favorite day of the week. It is a beautiful crisp fall morning so I decided to make muffins. And what better way to have my husband wake up then to a house filled with the aroma of cinnamon, brown sugar and nutmeg? Seriously it will consume your entire house. It's incredible. To make these muffins, I added diced apples, cinnamon and nutmeg. Then I made a streusel topping of brown sugar and cinnamon with bits of butter. And to finish it off, like the pound cake, this recipe has a cinnamon topping of its own as well. Brown sugar butter. Simply sweet butter and brown sugar combined and spread onto the fresh out of the oven hot muffins. What you get when you take that first bite is a warm cinnamon infused silky cake with the most decadent crunch top caressed by a luxuriously cozy butter. I swear. It's that intoxicating.

These are the ingredients to the basic muffin recipe

And this is my personal addition. Like I said, you can add anything you like.

Hmm... the smell of rich dark vanilla....

Baking on Sunday morning is like taking a walk in the clouds with angels!

Ya, I know, I even add a little stylista into my baking!

I recommend you really fill the muffin cups up to the top if you want a tall crisp topping. I'm not a fan of flat top muffins. I like me a big fat muffin top!

Sprinkle on the goodness and try and make sure that there is at least 1 or 2 cubs of butter on top of every muffin to ensure a gorgeous golden color and perfect crunch.

Take a whiff. Can't you just smell it?

A lot of recipes I have seen for brown sugar butter call for first melting the sugar and then whipping it into the butter. But I like the crunch that the raw sugar adds to the sweet butter.

A soft fluffy inside contrasted by a sweet crisp outside is my idea of perfection. Opposites totally attract.

Now if you're NOT like me, you will share these with your loved ones.... I prefer to keep them all to myself. Sorry, go make your own batch. :)

Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Muffins with Cinnamon Butter
Makes 12 Muffins

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
3 tsp. baking baking powder
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1 cup milk
2 apples, peeled, cored and diced small
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 cup brown sugar
1 heaping tablespoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter diced

Brown Sugar Butter:
1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Pre-heat oven to 375.
To make the batter:
Combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg and set aside. In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium high speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg, egg yolks and vanilla and beat to combine. Alternating between the milk and flour mixture, gradually add each to the batter. After the batter is well mixed, add the apples and turn on the mixer to medium just to evenly incorporate the apples, a few seconds. You don't want to beat it longer or the paddle will break the apples. Generously spoon tablespoon scoops of the batter into a muffin pan with greased muffin cups.

To make the streusel:
Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and butter and mix lightly, careful not to break the butter. Top the muffins with the streusel, making sure that there is at least 1 or 2 cubes of butter on top of each muffin. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle muffin comes out clean. Let cool.

To make the brown sugar butter:
Using a fork, mash the butter and sugar together. Spread onto slightly cooled muffins and enjoy.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cream Pesto Baked Pasta

It's no surprise that lately I have a slight obsession with sun dried tomatoes. I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe it's because I love tomatoes in general. They make my top five favorite foods list. Or maybe its because they are chewy and sweet and savory. They are so versatile and easy to use. One of my favorite ways to use sun dried tomatoes is as a pesto. It's an escape from the now basil version that everyone associates with pesto. Pesto simply means paste in Italian so you can basically make any type of paste you want and call it a pesto. This pesto  is super easy to make and is so delicious you will have forgotten about your old friend basil. After preparing the pesto, I sauteed it for a few minutes in a pan and added cream. After mixing the pasta and cream pesto together, I placed it in ramekin and topped it with some shredded mozzarella and stuck it under the broiler for just a couple minutes so that the top gets golden and crispy. This entire recipe takes under 30 minutes to make and is so creamy and satisfying, I promise you it will soon become one of your favorite comfort foods.

The colors of Italy... :)

Into the food processor they go. The only problem here is that after pulsing this a few times, I realized that it wasn't going to be enough to make into a paste since I used dry packed sun dried tomatoes. So I switched to a hand blender. Although I would recommend (and I wrote the recipe as such) jarred sun dried tomatoes packed in olive oil.

I used olive oil when pulsing the ingredients in the food processor, but because the jarred ones would have been soaking in the olive oil, it will paste much easier.

After using my hand blender (and after using olive oil jarred sun dried tomatoes in the food processor) this is what the pesto should look like. 

Add the cream to the sauteed pesto and let it simmer for a few minutes to thicken.

I placed the mixed pasta into a fancy French onion soup style ramekin. For the sake of the beauty of the  blog... :)

A little shredded cheese never does any harm.

Hmmmm and the final product. Creamy, crispy, heavenly.

Cream Pesto Baked Pasta
Makes 4 servings. 
1 bag rotini shaped pasta
1 cup sun dried tomatoes, jarred in olive oil
5 garlic cloves 
1/2 cup chopped parsley
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.
In a food processor, put sun dried tomatoes, garlic, parsley and 2 tbsp. of the jar oil and pulse until finely minced like a paste. 
Pour the pesto into a skillet and saute over medium heat for 2 -3 minutes stirring constantly. (Do not leave unattended, will burn easily) Add the cream and bring to a simmer. Cook until thickened slightly, about 1-3 minutes. Pour over pasta and mix well. Place in oven safe ramekins and top with shredded cheese, 1/4 cup per ramekin. Broil on high for 5 minutes or until cheese is golden crisp and bubbly.