Archive for the ‘Comfort Food Ideas’ Category

Thanksgiving on a Bun..

No, I’m not talking about the next day after partying too much, staying up to late watching old movies, or even a bad date. I’m talking about the day after Thanksgiving. You know, you have eaten yourself to the “I’m almost to full to move point”, tomorrow is Black Friday and do I go shopping or stay home. Plus you still have a house full of out-of-town family & friends. What to do?

You wake up  hungry as your food induced coma from the day before has worn off. Pancakes? French Toast? Omelets?  Nah, that all requires effort, something one is sorely lacking this morning.

No, what I think is the perfect “morning after” Turkey day nosh is what I call Thanksgiving on a Bun. While that pretty much describes it perfectly, there are a few guidelines to be followed. Sort of like a pirates code, but slightly more flexible.

To start: you need a sturdy vessel to hold all the ingredients, and while I have made do with a buttermilk biscuit in the past, my bun of choice is a toasted, buttered brioche roll. Perfectly toasted, golden & glistening with a nice smear of sweet butter. If alas, you have no access to brioche or cannot make your own, an english muffin will suffice in a pinch. Thomas’s only though please.

Next assemble the components. Fresh sliced turkey, white & dark meat is my choice, a tablespoon or two of cornbread stuffing ( no sausage or mushrooms, though onions are fine). Dollop of cranberry sauce or cranberry chutney, NOT the stuff out of a can, and a teaspoon or so of homemade sage mayonnaise. If you can’t make your own, Hellman’s / Best Foods will do and just stir in a chiffonade of fresh sage, dash of lemon & white pepper. Lastly some leftover turkey gravy, as much as your heart desires, to dunk in.

Build your sandwich: warm the turkey & stuffing. I do this separately. take the golden toasted bun. Layer stuffing on the bottom, top with turkey, then cranberry sauce & spread the sage mayo on the top half of the bun. Place the  top half on the bottom half.  Heat the gravy. Serve that in a small side dish for dunking. If your feeling indulgent its okay to add a sprinkle of durkees french fried onions to the works.

Feel free to eat this standing over the kitchen sink, with your bowl of dunking gravy next to you. Or make numerous sandwiches, awake your house guests, let them munch and send them out into the abyss that is known as Black Friday.

At least they will have sustenance to get them thru the day and they wont need a can of pepper spray. Or so one can hope. There is always the option of enjoying said sandwiches at home by the fire and shopping from ones’ laptop while the rest of the masses knock them selves out trying to nab the latest computer game. Let them be the stupid ones. This way you can always go back for seconds and even toss in a piece of pie. After all, Thanksgiving does only come once a year. Why not enjoy it!

Will upload a picture tomorrow. If that doesn’t inspire you I don’t know what will. 🙂

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The Little Blue Box

Those who know me are well aware of my obsession with Doctor Who, though this has nothing to do with the Tardis. Though I suppose Time and Relative Dimension(s) in Space could be applicable to some of the rather bizarre food pairings going today. No, I’m referring to that ubiquitous little blue box. Childhood comfort food. Something your mum made when you feeling blue (no pun intended) or just needed a bowl of something warm. Soft. Gentle. Soothing for the soul. Yup, macaroni and cheese. There is something supremely satisfying in a bowl of macaroni and cheese. Tender little pastas,  rich golden cheesy sauce clinging to each and every bite. Ooey. Gooey. Creamy. Damn, this is sounding dangerously like food porn. LOL. Though food is an aphrodisiac and fills that basic desire to feel loved.

I can honestly say I tried Kraft mac & cheese once. Only once. At college. My stoner buddies swore by the stuff. So one night I made a box. The orange glop glowed in the dark. I was wary, but I gave it a shot. Ick was my basic reaction and I immediately set about making a pan from scratch. There was no turning back after that. I was hooked. Making mac & cheese from scratch is easy. After you master the basic sauce making , it can be whipped up in no time.  At first I stayed with the basics. As my culinary spirit grew more daring, so did my additions. Tiny cubes of ham and oven roasted tomatoes. Fresh herbs. Poached julienned chicken and asperges dotted with creamy goat cheese. Trio of wild mushrooms. Smoked salmon. Though my all time favourite being Lobster. Who doesn’t love lobster? Lobster mac and cheese just seemed a natural. And they were made for each other. Luscious chunks of butter poached lobster intermingling with tender baby penne. Lots of creamy cheesy goodness. Zest of lemon. Sprinkling of fresh chives. Crispy crunchy panko crumb crust. Drizzled with truffle oil. Or even better dots of truffle butter. If that’s not orgasmic I don’t know what is. Childhood never tasted like this. So here is my recipe for Lobster Mac & Cheese. Be prepared to be transported to a happier time and place.  The Doctor would approve.

Lobster Macaroni & Cheese

Cook 1 box of baby penne ( I like this because the slender little tubes hold lots of extra sauce)  according to package directions. Drain. Rinse. Toss w/ small amt of olive oil and set aside.

Sauce: this is a bechamel w/ cheese incorporated into it.

Melt 4 tbsp unsalted butter . Whisk in 4 tbsp flour. Cook for 2 minutes to remove the starch. Add 1 cup heavy cream. 1 cup chicken stock.  1/2 t sp sel. Pinch of white pepper. Pinch of nutmeg. Stir til smooth, thick and creamy. Set aside to cool.

Cook a 1 1/2 lb lobster. Steam in a small amount of water. Do not cover the lobster w/ water.  After 5 minutes remove from heat, drain & let cool. Remove meat from the shell. Chop in good sized chunks. Use all the meat. Tail/ claws/ knuckles. Warm a small knob of butter in a sauce pan. Add lobster meat. Remove from heat. Set aside.

To the cooled cream sauce add 8 0z shredded jack cheese, 8 0z shredded white cheddar. If to thick add small splash of white wine. Add the zest of 1 lemon. Sprinkle in fresh chopped chives.

Pour sauce over cooled pasta. Add cooled lobster. Stir. Spoon into 6 buttered individual  baking dishes. Top w/ a 1/2 cup toasted panko crumbs. Dot w/ butter. Use truffle butter if you have it. 🙂 or drizzle w/ truffle oil.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes til golden and bubbly.

You can also bake in one large gratin dish.

Serve w/ a baby spinach/ cranberry & pecan salad. Light lemon vinaigrette. Crusty bread. Pop some bubbly and toast being a grown- up. Just watch out for a little blue box.  It may very well be The Doctor dropping by to pay you a visit.

** for the vegans .. you too can travel beyond the realms of  being deprived of this treat and find your childhood smile. Follow the basic recipe above, making these substitutions.

Cook 1 box penne. If your gluten intolerant, cook one of the many gluten-free pastas available today.

Make a bechamel : I use cornstarch & olive oil. Add vegetable stock & soy milk. Add the seasonings. Add  1 package soy-sation cheddar/ mozz/ jack cheese blend ( available at trader joes or whole foods). If you indulge in seafood, add the lobster. If you don’t, leave plain or add sautéed mushrooms/ or zucchini, or both.  Finish according to recipe and enjoy.

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The Golden Globes

No not those golden globes silly, that’s next month and I’m not in Beverly Hills just quite yet. No..I’m talking about poached eggs. There is something supremely satisfying about a perfectly poached egg. The firm egg white giving way to reveal a runny yolk, oozing its golden richness and intermingling with a combination of crisp buttered english muffin, smoky salty, sweet ham, light lemony hollandaise.  Yup. Eggs Benedict, that’s what I’m talking about. The ideal food. Whether for breakfast, brunch, dinner or as its original intent, to cure a hangover. It is one of the ultimate comfort foods. Satisfying, elegant and humble all at the same time.

This might have been more apropos to post the day after New Years Eve, but since I indulged the night before myself, I spent New Years Day making Eggs Benedict’s rather than writing about them. The first meal of a new year sets the tone for whats to come. I see golden sun shines and warm gentle days in my future.  So here we go, though first a little history if you please.

The story goes that in 1894 a wall street banker named Lemuel Benedict wandered into the Waldorf Hotel in hopes of finding a cure for his hangover. He ordered buttered toast, poached eggs and crispy bacon with a side of hollandaise sauce. The maitre d’ hotel, Oscar Tschirky was so impressed he put it on the lunch and dinner menus, substituting english muffins for the toast and ham for the bacon and gilding the lily with a truffle slice. History was made.  There are various other accounts but this is the earliest and most accurate. The first printed recipe for Eggs Benedict appeared in 1898 in the slim volume “Eggs and  how to use them”. Good luck finding that treasure today!

Many variations have since come along though its use as a breakfast food/ brunch/ dinner/ hangover cure remains steadfast.  So here are two recollections of my most memorable Benny moments, at two vastly different establishments and on opposite ends of the country.  The first was on the tiny island of Nantucket where I spent a week in March interviewing for a Chefs position at the Harbour House, a rather bustling establishment. Wandering the cold snowy streets I came upon the Fog Island Cafe. A simply wonderful little restaurant that also happens to be open all year. Warm, small, inviting and packed with year round islanders it was a winner. The classic Eggs Benedict was executed perfectly, and the side of homefries that accompianied it were outstanding. Crispy chunks of melting tender potatoes studded with bits of bacon, cheddar, scallions and sour cream.  It was delightful. I went back for breakfast everyday for the next 4 days I was “on-island”.

My next experience was just recently during my trip to Los Angeles. Walking around Beverly Hills, yes you can walk in this city, we came upon “The Farm”.  This has to be one of my current favourite restaurants in BH.  I ordered the Farmer’s Benedict. Poached eggs over a twice baked potato on a bed of sauteed spinach napped with a slightly spicy cheddar hollandaise. It was  stellar. Now while I have been vegan for over a year and no longer do meat or dairy, this was vacation and an exception. One I do not regret! For it gave me many an idea to make a vegan version of Eggs Benedict.

Yesterday I whipped up Lobster Benedict’s w/ chive hollandaise. Filet mignon & sautéed shiitake Benny’s with horseradish hollandaise on cheddar biscuits/ smoked salmon Benny’s on toasted brioche w/ creme fraiche hollandaise & caviar and classic Benny’s on english muffins w/ ham .  All were delightfully yummy I was told. With these I served yukon gold hash browns and small sides of raspberries & blueberries w/ a dollop of fresh carmelized ginger whipped cream. Everyone was happily satiated for the better part of the day.

A few more well-known interpretations include: Eggs Sardou . Poached eggs a top artichoke bottoms, with anchovy filets, chopped ham & shaved truffles. Originally from Antoine’s in New Orleans for the french  playwriter ~Victorien Sardou. Brilliant.  Eggs Florentine where the golden orbs are perched a top a bed of creamy spinach.  Lastly a “Country” Benny. Southern style buttermilk biscuits split and topped with spicy sausage patty, poached egg and creamy peppery country gravy. All are yum. For they serve to satisfy that basic need for something comforting and soothing. A feeling of well- being and being cared for. So the next time your tummy is rumbling and your feeling under the weather or unloved or just blasie. Make your self an Eggs Benedict. Let your imagination soar. You will be instantly transported to a happier place. Enjoy!

For my vegan friends: Here’s a Benny for you!

I make yukon gold hash browns ( for those with no time use Alexia hash browns)  form into a round. I use an O’ ring for this. Crisp/ flip and get golden on both sides. Keep warm in the oven. Take extra firm tofu, press out the excess water and pat dry. Lightly brush with olive oil & dip in panko crumbs. Sautee til golden on both side. Keep warm. Make creamed vegan spinach. Use fresh baby spinach, sautéed w/ minced red onion, and tossed w/ small amount of soy mozz/ cheddar & splash of plain soy milk. Season to taste. Make a hollandaise using soy mayo. Whip in a bowl w/lemon zest, dollop of white miso paste, chopped fresh basil or chives.  To assemble: bottom ~ crispy hash browns topped with tofu topped with creamy spinach topped with hollandaise.  Proceed to smile widely. You have just consumed a gluten/ meat / dairy free version of Eggs Benedict. Be happy.

* This post was inspired by a question from a fellow vegan / music lover. Thank you  “S” .

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Wouldn’t that be cool if there was nothing to dessert?  Making them, consuming them, ‘wearing’ them, in essence a sweet little nothing. I mean we all can dream, can’t we? With that thought aside I shall commence with the subject at hand. Dessert, the end, the grande finale. Dinner is over, everyone has had some down time to digest, the kitchen is almost cleaned up, the coffee is brewing, tea kettle ready, so now it’s time to linger one last time at the table.

Now most people make the obvious, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple pie. But why not shake things up a bit? This is the end of the meal and it is what people most remember, a ‘lasting impression’ if you will. If thought of baking terrifies you, assign the task to someone who loves to bake, or if all else fails, get thee to a really good bakery! Just please, no grocery store-bought generic mass-produced pumpkin pie. Cardboard would taste better.

We will have 3 desserts at my house this year, none to difficult or requiring a degree in pastry arts. I save that for the Christmas meal! Think pastry 101.

First up is a pie. This recipe is so easy it will astound you. A gift from a Southern friend who simply called it ‘The Pie’.  Fresh whipped cream is an absolute must. No exceptions.*

My next offering is going to be a Pumpkin Creme Brulee with very thin crisp gingersnap cookies. I am going to ‘cheat’ and buy the swedish brand of Anna’s cookies. They are full of flavour and the time saved can be put to other uses.**

With that I am serving a Raspberry Tart in a puff pastry crust. Good vanilla ice cream optional. ***

Lastly, a beautiful platter of Dark & White Chocolate dipped Strawberries, stem on. These are aren’t really dessert, more of a sweet treat, requiring only your fingers.

*1)  ‘The Pie’ ~ 3 egg whites  ~ 1 tsp.baking powder ~ 1 cup sugar ~ 1 cup (12 single) crushed graham crackers ~ 1 cup chopped pecans ~ 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips ~ 1 tsp. vanilla.  Beat egg whites until soft, then add baking powder, sugar. Fold in the rest of the ingredients. Spoon into a 9′ sprayed or greased pie pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool. Serve in wedges w/ huge dollop of fresh whipped cream.

**2) Pumpkin Creme Brulee ~ 2 cups heavy cream ~ 8 egg yolks ~ 1/2 tsp. cinnamon~ 1/2 vanilla bean/split ~ 1 cup sugar ~ 1/2 cup canned pumpkin ( not!! pumpkin pie filling) if you have fresh cooked pumpkin that has been oven roasted to reduce the water content, use that instead.

Heat cream, vanilla bean, cinnamon, over medium heat, do not boil. Set aside to a few minutes so the vanilla can infuse. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar & pumpkin. Slowly add the hot cream. Strain into a pitcher. Arrange 8 low ramekins on 1/2 sheet pan w/ sides, line the bottom w/ a tea towel to keep ramekins from sliding. Fill w/ mixture and fill sheet pan w/hot water. Bake 300 degree oven for 30-40 minutes. Mixture will still be ‘jiggly’ in the center, it will set as it cools. Remove from water bath, chill. Sprinkle the top w/ sugar & torch or run under a salamander. Serve w/ gingersnap cookie or a tuile.

***3) Raspberry Tart ~ 1 jar good raspberry jam (I make my own) ~ 1 box Trader Joe’s puff pastry sheets ( or the next best brand, Pillsbury frozen being your last resort) ~ egg wash made w/ 2 eggs & splash of cream. Apricot glaze to finish.

Open 1 sheet of the puff, roll it slightly into a long rectangle. Brush puff w/ egg wash, and spoon a thick layer of jam from one end to the other, along the left side. One the right side, make a series of small slits. Fold that half over to make the ‘top’. Pinch all seams to seal & fold edges to make a border. Egg wash & sprinkle w/ gran. sugar. Bake in 375 degree oven, for about 25-30 minutes until golden brown and the bottom is fully baked. Cool on a rack, glaze w/ apricot glaze. Make this the day of! Cut in slices and serve w/ some fresh raspberries & scoop of vanilla ice cream.

The End ~ thats all folks!

****One more post to follow for “The Vegans”, hey vegans need to eat well too!

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Wow! I can’t believe I am getting close to the end. So far, so good. The next objects of my obsession are very important to the overall outcome of your thanksgiving feast. I mean what good is a beautiful juicy turkey, skin crisp and golden, light and fluffy mashed potatoes, moist stuffing, if the gravy is greasy and tastes like paste, and the cranberry sauce was plopped out of a can, with ridges no less! The only food that needs ridges are Ruffles potato chips. Enough said.

Yup, that’s what I’m talking about, pan gravy and fresh cranberry sauce.  Two of the easiest things to make, yet so often badly executed. Why cooks fear making pan gravy is beyond me, same with the cranberry sauce. Me thinks that cooks get tired by this stage of the dinner preparation, so they take the easy way out. In my opinion gravy from a packet or jar belongs in the trash, ditto with cranberry sauce from a can. This is not rocket science my friends.

Sink or swim, the gravy boat holds some of the most flavour enhancing goodness of the entire dinner. With a little knowledge you can have this done in a snap. From Scratch. Quickly. By Yourself. With the turkey carcass ( that you had the butcher give you) from your deboned, rolled & tied turkey breast, make a stock. The night before or the morning of. Big pot, bones, onion (be lazy & leave the skin on) cut in 1/2, 2 carrots, black peppercorns, bay leaf, sel, 1 quart or so water, bring to a simmer, lower heat, skim any crud that floats to the top. Let it cook for an hour or so. Cool, stain, toss solids. Back into pot, let reduce until you have about 2 cups.

After turkey has roasted, remove from pan, set aside. With a ladle, skim visible grease/fat from pan. Do scrap up the little bits w/ a wooden spoon. Sprinkle in 1/2 cup flour. Stir to cook. Add stock slowly. Whisk until thick, just barely coating the back of a spoon. Add more water if necessary. Strain for smooth, leave as is for more body. Taste for seasoning. Ta-Da! Gravy. Now wasn’t that easy?

Now for a visit to the cranberry bog, and if you are nowhere near Cape Cod, don’t fret, the store will have plenty of bags of fresh cranberries awaiting you. So, to create that ruby-red jewel of the table, here is what you do. Into a large heavy bottomed sauce pot put 2 bags cranberries ( I sorta look them over first) 2 cups of sugar, the zest of 2 oranges, plus the flesh, chopped small, no seeds please, a small cinnamon stick tied w/ twine, to retrieve it later, tiny sprinkle of kosher salt & if you are feeling frisky, a few finely ground pink peppercorns and a big glass of port or Merlot ( one for you too!). Cook until berries ‘pop’ and sugar is dissolved and sauce has thickened. Cool*, stir, final taste, into gorgeous crystal bowl. Bingo! There you have it.

Okay so that leaves just a few loose ends, to tie up. No, not your sisters out of control 5-year-old, though the thought will undoubtably cross your mind. Just smile at him/her and tell them their father is looking for them, the kid will be scarce in no time, believe me. No, what we have left is the good stuff. Bread and dessert. Short and sweet, no wait, that’s me!

On to the bread basket, by now you are ready to get this show on the road, so to speak. So my advice? Keep it simple! Offer 1 or 2 at most, a bread and some good biscuits. By all means get the bread from your local bakery, a lovely chewy crusty loaf. It will make excellent sandwiches around 11pm. Put it out on a beautiful cutting board, and let your guests have at it. If you fear a trip to the ER in the making, simply slice and place in cloth lined basket. Next, a quick buttermilk biscuit nice & rich, soft and flaky. A crock of sweet cream butter of spreadable consistency and maybe some really good lavender honey. Thats it! Almost as good as winning the lottery. Well almost.

Your dinner is now complete, with the exception of dessert, which is its own entity. So eat well, don’t rush, enjoy the food, the wine, the conversation, the company, you may not have the same chance again next year. Be here now. Clean up can wait!

* Cranberry sauce can be made up to this point and stored in a plastic container in the refrigerator 5 days before.

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Of course one must include some form of vegetable, the trick is to make it so tasty and appealing that your guests will actually want to eat it! The obvious being fresh frenched green beans or asparagus spears. Well, I tossed the ubiquitous frozen green bean, cream of mushroom soup & fried onion casserole out the window years ago. No one ever ate it anyway. Banished into a wasteland only Mad Max could navigate. May it rest in peace. Roasted or blanched asparagus, well frankly my dear, boring at best.

Now, you have your spuds & stuffing so its time to round things out a bit so to speak (by the end of this meal everyone will be round!). HaHa. Belt loosening to commence later, not just yet.

Of late I have been enjoying Brussels sprouts. Eww you might think, smelly, gas inducing little green buggers, not so! Properly treated very good indeed. I trim the sprouts, make a small ‘x’ in the stem and briefly blanch. Drain. Saute some shallots and bacon in a pan, add the sprouts and glaze with a grainy Dijon mustard & white wine sauce. Bliss. Good for you too.

What to go with that? Why roasted root vegetables, of course. Easy to prep, and they cook on their own requiring little or no hovering on your part, leaving you free to move on to something else. Hey, nothing wrong with that! Since you already have butternut squash in your gratin, omit them. Do use small thin baby carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, cipollini onions and baby bella mushrooms. Keep the carrots whole, if they are small enough, cut the parsnips on the bias, cube the sweet potatoes, keep the cipollinis whole and ditto w/ the bellas. Toss all in good olive oil, sprinkle w/ kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper and some whole peeled cloves of garlic. Place on a foil lined 1/2 sheet pan and roast at 375% for about 30-45 minutes. Do not turn them into mush, please. Drizzle with some good balsamic vinegar, a squirt of honey, splash of red wine and toss gently. Serve!

If you think the butternut squash & yukon gold potato gratin is too rich, or you feel offering 2 potato dishes is a bit of an overkill, then by all means don’t make them. I would suggest serving something along that same vein instead. Corn souffle or corn pudding or even corn spoon bread, which is not a bread at all. Since not everyone froze quart bags full of fresh shucked summer corn, as I did, then use green giant or bird’s eyes frozen white shoepeg corn. Don’t even think about opening a can, you risk kitchen excommunication if you do! This can be made the day before and kept in the refrigerator until needed.

One last side, and you are good to go! This one will appeal to children and adults alike. Escalloped apples*. I do not mean the Stouffer’s red box of baked sugar mush that resembles canned pie filling. No, just a nice bowl of peeled, sliced, apples. Sauteed in butter with some cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, and few golden raisins until soft and that is all she wrote!

*Just a word: if you do make a sweet stuffing with apples in it, then leave these out/off the menu. You don’t need the same flavours competing with each other.

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Stuffing, dressing, call it what you will every family has a version of their “one & only” never to be touched, altered, added to, spiced up or changed in any way. Ever. Frozen in time for all eternity. Which is okay, but it is 2009, not 1989. So why not make a good thing even better.

My mom had a big green Tupperware bowl, which looked enormous to me! All the better to make lots, with ample leftovers for snacking later on. She would fill this with cubed dry day old white bread, then saute onion, celery and crumbled sweet sausage in lots of butter. This went on top of the bread along with dry sage, and pepper. Next came a broth she’d make with the turkey neck, giblets, & gizzards, and a few chicken bouillon cubes tossed in for good measure. More butter, and over the mix it all went, then cover it & let it stand for about 20 minutes. This is when my brother and I would sneak in and eat it by the spoonful.

We still have that stuffing every “T” day, my family would revolt if we didn’t.  I just don’t make quite so much, and always have a 2nd offering. This changes upon the weather that November, what’s available, looks good or in general strikes my fancy.

I am not about to post a recipe, just give a few ideas to nudge you in a different direction*. Keep the old, bring in the new. Think of it as a legacy in the making. Who knows, 20 years from now it could be “the” stuffing that graces the holiday table.

So whether you want to use day old baguettes, brioche, sourdough, or cornbread, by all means be my guest. I have even heard of stuffing made with dry rye bread or pumpernickel! Who would have thought. Not my cup of tea, but probably very interesting to say the least. Additions could include, but are not limited to: leeks, apples, pears, chestnuts, apricots, dried cherries, cranberries, shallots, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, pecans, mushrooms, oysters, parsley, chives, tarragon, scallions, cubed pumpkin, bacon, parmesan, cooked wild rice and even black or white truffles.

There are no rules! Just be creative, have fun and above all remember to taste as you go, and leave the fusion/funky combinations for another day.

To bake in the bird or not? My family gave up stuffing the turkey long ago, it got soggy and we prefer it drier. Bake in a side dish for about 30 minutes and drizzle w/ a small amount of the turkey juices to moisten. This year I plan on making stuffing muffins, certainly not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination, but a fun presentation and not to mention easy to eat & clean up. With the added benefit of a crisp exterior and moist interior. Best of both worlds! How can you go wrong?

*You can have all the ingredients prepped out the day before, and just assemble on “T” day. Just a note: Stove Top is not an option! Nada, nope, zip, forget about it.

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Now its time to get serious and pay attention to those well loved, but often under rated side dishes. A “prelude” to a feast if you will.  You may even get lucky enough to warrant a prelude to a kiss from your better half, for your outstanding display of culinary expertise and skillful demonstration of keeping your cool ‘under pressure’. *

Now, not to waste precious time, I will get to the subject at hand so that we may continue onward with this seemingly endless ode to the thanksgiving feast. Yes, I know it was my idea, so I best get on with it since I also have to post recipes, take some pictures and upload a song or three. That said, without further ado, here are some ideas for everyone’s beloved side dishes. Some conventional, some not. The choice is up to you.

Ah, potatoes! Thank god for the ancient Incas or we may never have discovered the joys of this humble tuber. From the earth to your table, every one loves potatoes, and has a firm opinion on what to do with them. The #one preparation being mashed. Now I love mashed potatoes, especially with turkey & gravy, the big debate here comes with what type, how to prepare them, and who does it best. If more than a few cocktails have been consumed things could get ugly, so stick with your classic mashed potatoes** and to quell the beasties from uprising, pull out a showstopper. You know, the kind of dish that illicits an ‘ooohh” when you bring it to the table and then your guests take a bite and promptly shut up! Having been rendered speechless by your sheer genius in the kitchen.

Now, I will give a few guidelines for making mash for those novice intrepid souls attempting them for the first time, but the vast majority of us can do this blindfolded. When craving something a little less ordinary, I make a butternut squash & yukon gold potato gratin. Rich, creamy, decadent, indulgent and seductive. Slightly caloric yes, but who cares! Thanksgiving only comes once a year.

Breaking from my idea of posting recipes after I complete the thread of this blog, I decided to include it now. Maybe you want to have a ‘trial’ run before next week, or just an excuse to be bad. I say, do it!

Butternut Squash & Yukon Gold Potato Gratin: serves 6-8

Butter a deep oval baking dish and set aside ( about 9 x 13)

1 very large butternut squash~ you want about 2 lbs after it is peeled & seeded

3 lbs yukon gold potatoes

1 quart whole milk

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups imported gruyere cheese~ grated

2 Tbsp sweet butter~ well chilled and cut in small cubes

Kosher or sea salt ~ fresh ground white pepper ~ fresh grated nutmeg to taste

Small bouquet garni~parsley sprigs, mini bunch of thyme, and 1 leek (cleaned!) wrapped in cheesecloth and tied w/butchers twine

Cut the squash into slices by hand or w/ a mandolin. Peel and do the same w/ the yukon golds. Place both into a large pot & cover w/ the milk, add the bouquet garni. Bring to a boil and reduce to low heat & simmer for about 5 minutes until they are fork tender, but not falling apart. Discard the bouquet. Save some of the milk in case you need it.

With a slotted spoon remove half the squash & spuds to the baking dish & sprinkle w/ salt, pepper & nutmeg. Pour 1 cup cream over & top with 1 cup of the cheese. Dot w/ 1 tbsp butter. Add 2nd layer of spuds, season, finish with remaining 1 cup cream & 1 cup cheese. Dot w/ butter. If the gratin looks to dry, add some of the milk to cover.

Line a 1/2 sheet pan ( or cookie sheet w/ sides) w/ foil, this will catch any spills and make clean up easier! Place gratin dish on pan. Into oven &  bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Until golden brown and bubbly and a knife inserted in the center pierces easily. Serve immediately.

Note: if the gratin is getting to dark, lower the temp to 350.

* Might be a good time to ‘cue’ Queen’s Under Pressure!

** Always use well scrubbed Idaho potatoes & when incorporating the liquid to make sure it is warm & add the butter a Tbsp at a time. Never, ever make mashed potatoes in a food processor!  Unless you want elmers glue. I prefer to use a mouli (french food mill) then add my other ingredients one by one. If desired stir in 2 Tbsp of sour cream for richness & snipped chives for flavour & color.

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By now your guests have had a nibble to whet their appetite, a libation to slake their thirst and are now leisurely relaxing in front of a roaring fire watching snowflakes gently falling from the afternoon sky while the aroma of pine cones, cinnamon and roasting turkey fill the air. Okay, that last bit could be purely fantasy, but I am the one writing this! More like the sounds of go team! or you idiot emanating from beyond as the football game plays in the background, and Aunt Sally is yelling at little Johnny to go see what his cousins are up to. Here’s where an Xbox or play station in a room far from the kitchen is desirable.

Now its time forge onward and start thinking about getting the actual meal underway and on the table. Quickly! Before the natives get restless and start poking around the kitchen trying to snag something and getting in your way. Not good.

So, to pull off this next act with a minimum of fuss here are a few simple rules for you to follow, making the reality of it all seem like child’s play.

1) Keep it Seasonal! No garnishing w/champagne grapes when their season is long over. Think of where you live and what’s available.

2) Keep it Simple! A dish that requires a 3 day lead time to buy, prep, assemble & finish is best left to a restaurant and its professional kitchen staff to do it justice. Make what you are familiar with. It is a recipe for success, not failure.

3) Keep it Clean! You do not need wasabi, chai, or sirrachi sauce muddling together on the plate. Do by all means taste ~ taste~ taste as you cook! Find a nice balance of flavours and stick with it. Keep your work space clean too! You will be grateful later.

4) Feel no Shame! Ever. If you know of a superb baker, go buy the artisanal wild yeast bread from him. Ditto a deli with sublime smoked salmon. If you have never made it, now is not the time. Save the kitchen “play-date” for a snowy winter day. Never be embarrassed to use a product that is as good, or better than your own. Trust me. Caterers do it all the time.

With this in mind, here we go. Starters can be a soup, salad or appetizer. I always make something that can be prepared in advance and put together with little or no effort in just minutes. Choose only one offering! Remember you still have a full meal ahead of you.

Think of what appeals to you and your tastes. You are the chef here! Recipes and plating techniques to follow.

Salad *

Fennel, blood orange, shaved red onion & smoked salmon over baby field greens with a simple light lemon vinaigrette.

Romaine Leaves w/small crunchy rye & pumpernickel croutons, shaved parmesan curls and homemade classic caesar dressing.

Baby spinach w/ roasted beets, crispy fried shallot rings, sprinkling of sun-dried cranberries, pecans & balsamic dressing.

Soup **

Tomato fennel soup w/dollop of kalamata olive tapenade.

Creamy roasted corn chowder w/ smoked bacon lardons & frizzled leeks.

Curried butternut squash, leek & apple soup w/ brunoise of caramelized squash & red apple.


Wild mushroom & goat cheese phyllo w/port wine reduction.

Terrine de mousse of foie gras w/ toasted brioche & quince jam.

Feuilletee of white and green asparagus spears in a champagne veloute.

*Have all your salad mise en place at the ready, greens cleaned & kept chilled, dressings in a squirt bottle or bowl w/ large oval sauce spoon. Plates should be chilled. Assemble no more than 20 mins before sitting down at the table, dress the salads at the last-minute.

**Soups can be made the day before and warmed over low heat. Have the bowls warmed, ladle in soup & top w/ appropriate garnish.

***Appetizers can also be prepared almost to the point of completion the day before or the morning of with the exception of the terrine & jam. **** See note about both in recipe that will follow. Then it is only simply a matter of warming, plating & serving.

Eat well and enjoy for there is more yet to come.

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Well folks it’s that time of year again! Yup, Thanksgiving, 17 days and counting until T-day and to insure that your kitchen doesn’t end up looking like the beaches of Normandy on D-day, here are some easy ideas (more on the way ) to ensure a stress free holiday.

First, depending on what role you play in the kitchen, has a profound impact on whether or not you enjoy yourself on this day of love filled family gatherings. Snide comments aside, if you are the “designated” chef for the first time, either by choice, or you haplessly volunteered, remember that Grandma’s old recipe cards were culled through years of  hard work, now is not the time to channel your inner Martha Stewart. So don’t be afraid to call in the reserves for help. Your guests will be grateful, believe me.

Second, even if you are an “old hand” at this, stick with the tried and true. This is what your family and guests have come to expect. The familiar, like a soft pair of slippers. Now is not the time to make a foie gras & black truffle stuffed turkey galantine with a lingonberry-cognac reduction, though it sounds good, huh?

So starting with this gangly bird, here is my favourite way to cook turkey for the holidays. This does not include wrestling with a 22lb bird, taking up precious oven space for 6 or 7 hours. Nor does it require  the mess of “brining” a rather useless waste of time and space if you ask me. Lastly, mass quantities of oil for deep-frying need not apply, not only is it potentially hazardous, but usually produces a somewhat unevenly cooked, dry yet greasy bird. Ick.

Nope, my game plan (which does not include football) revolves around one of the easiest ways to cook turkey. Equalling in moist meaty results with minimum fuss, leaving you enough free time to maybe even have a glass of wine and nibble on some good smoked almonds or nice sliver of blue cheese w/pear slice. Civilization ho!

Go to your local market and talk to the butcher, if you are already friendly w/him or her, all the better. Ask for a 12-14 lb turkey breast on the bone! If you’re butchering skills are less than stellar, ask them to do it for you. You want two nice 6lb pieces. Save the bone! You will use it for your stock to make the best pan gravy later in the day. Keeping the skin on, roll and tie each breast. Get a roasting pan~ coarse chop 2 carrots, 1 onion, 2 celery stalks, and a small bunch of thyme place these in the bottom, drizzle w/2 tbsp olive oil. Rub each breast w/ sweet butter, sprinkle w/kosher salt & fresh cracked pepper, I like white. Place turkey on top of the vegetables, they serve as a rack (breasts~rack) haha. Okay lame jokes notwithstanding add 1 cup water, 1 cup white wine and 1 cup apple cider.** Loosely tent with foil, and bake in 325% oven for 1 1/2 hours, uncover and roast another 30 minutes or more til skin is golden, crisp and an internal temp reads 160%. Remove from oven, gently cover with the foil and let meat rest at least 20 minutes. One breast will yield enough turkey meat for 6 people. Leaving you with one more for the late night sandwich making munchies.

** This can be done the night before and stored covered with Saran in the lower, coldest part of your refrigerator.

You can also make a “pocket” in the breasts and fill with the stuffing of your choice. Following the same procedure thus resulting in glorious golden spirals of moist  juicy turkey & stuffing. Thereby killing 2 birds with one stone!  My bad. Just remember to make an extra dish of stuffing for those carb lovers. And yes, you can stuff the breasts the night before and refrigerate, as there is no cavity to become a breeding ground for bacteria, just be sure to cook a stuffed breast to 170%.

Now you are good to go, and no huge turkey carcass to deal with after the meal. I mean who really wants to fool with that after a long day, and Friday well come on. It’s time to go shopping! Then home for a nice turkey, gravy, cranberry, stuffing sandwich on a lovely toasted brioche! Or my mom’s favourite, buttered wonder bread, turkey and Hellman’s mayo. Hey, each to our own,right?

Next posts to cover appetizers/nibbles~what to serve for a first course~potatoes~ stuffing~vegetables~gravy & cranberry sauce and desserts. Whew..I”m getting sleepy. Time for a nap!

For those who absolutely can’t do without dark meat, I buy 3 or 4 turkey thigh/leg portions and roast in oven for the last 45 minutes or so.

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