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Turkey Day Trials 2016

16 Nov

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Here we go again, folks!  It’s Turkey Day Trials, 2016!

I’m going to invite the teacher to the blog for a moment and grace all of you with a brief history of the tradition.  Turkey Day Trials dates all the way back to November 2010 with culinary experimentation to prepare for the most anticipated foodie day of the year.  It started with prepping for the first Thanksgiving I prepared, lead to grocery store meltdowns, microwaved turkey breast, Kindergarten Turkey cooking (ironically, the frustration of being volun-told to cook for an elementary school “feast” taught me how to make the best bird), appetizers and dips galore, berry mistakes, and finally, comfort food leftovers.  There have been ups and downs, but all have been fun (except last year when I had the stomach flu and could barely scarf down the stuffing).

Clearly, I love Thanksgiving.

So this year’s Turkey Day Trial kind of happened on accident.  By my husband.

Yes, credit is due where credit is due and Chef Robert II (Chef Robert I is my dad.  And it’s pronounced Ro-BEAR by the way) came up with a most fantastic, keep in the fridge all season long, use on everything Pumpkin Butter.  It’s really amazing.

The other day, I just happened to add a bit of spice to that Pumpkin Butter and used it with some braised greens and mushrooms, making one of the best accidental Thanksgiving-worthy-yes-it-will-be-on-my-fancy-table-this-year side dishes ever.  Yes, I said it – EVER.

Sig (the dog) would disagree, but pumpkin by itself isn’t all that flavorful.  It’s a little musty and calls for brightening.  Sweetness and warm spices give pumpkin its quintessential autumn flavor, and in this recipe, water is added to turn the clumpy pumpkin into that silky, smooth, glazy texture fruit “butters” are known to embody.

The Pumpkin Butter is easy: 1 can of pumpkin puree, 1 c of water, 4 tbsp sugar, ¼ c brown sugar, ¼ tsp each of nutmeg, cinnamon, and pumpkin spice.  Mix all together in a sauce pan, and heat until the puree and the water have formed a smooth, silky consistency.  That’s it! 

Now, I did mention that I spiced this baby up.  To ¼ a cup of the Pumpkin Butter, I added 5-6 dashes of my favorite hot sauce: Tapatio.  Honestly, the chili spiciness mixed with the sweetness and nutmeg-y goodness is a flavor I can’t get enough of.  Granted – important note from Chef Robert II here – if you are going to use this Pumpkin Butter in coffee for an excelled Pumpkin Spice Latte, please omit the Tapatio.  That would just be silly.

So, onto the Turkey Day Trial side dish.

Southerners loooooove their braised greens.  Collards, actually, and I just can’t jump on that bandwagon.  This isn’t for lack of trying – I’ve had collards every which way.  But I simply do not like them, Sam I am.

But, in an accidental mix up of wild mushrooms and kale, a bit of sherry vinegar, plumped dried cranberries, and a drizzle of salt and honey, I found a sturdy cooked greens dish that could kick the chlorophyll out of those darn collards any day.  Also, it speaks heavily to my Scandinavian roots and Pacific Northwest taste buds, so there’s that for the sake of full disclosure.

Kale, basking in its endless superfood limelight, is softer than collards but still cooks well keeping integrity (it doesn’t disappear like spinach) and offering a bit of sweetness.  The mushrooms, oh the mushrooms, when those buggers are cooked till they just can’t be cooked anymore, they are amazing.  Browned, nutty, addictive; they taste like the smell of the woods next to the ocean after it’s just rained.  It’s a trick I’ve learned from my mom – let the mushrooms be.  Well, my mom and Paul McCartney.

Then – wait for it – I drizzled the Spicy Pumpkin Butter over the greens.

Un.  Bel.  Ievable.

I turned that one dish into a couple different things (Thanksgiving leftover ideas coming!  Hint hint, wink wink!).  I poured the greens on top of creamed barley for an earthy grain bowl, and I also pulled out a breakfast by shmearing some cream cheese on toast, topped with the greens and pumpkin butter, then “garnished” with a fried egg.  Again – delicious.

Time is running out on Thanksgiving countdowns, but luckily these gems are no fuss.  Rob’s Pumpkin Butter and my Mushrooms and Kale are perfect for your holiday feast.

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Mushrooms and Kale
(makes a lot, but you’ll need a lot)

  • 1 bunch curly kale (usually 7-8 stalks are in a bunch), leaves only, thinly sliced
  • 1 pint crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 pint shitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 pint chanterelle mushrooms, sliced
  • ¼ c sherry vinegar
  • ¼ c water
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg (freshly grated is better, but do just a bit less)
  • ¼ c dried cranberries
  • 1 tbsp really good local honey
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • s&p

In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add all the mushrooms and DO NOT yet season.  Stir the mushrooms, let them absorb the butter, and then finally release their own juices (without the help of salt).  Once the mushrooms start to caramelize, lower the heat to medium-low, and stir occasionally, letting the mushrooms brown, and then brown some more.  Once they are fully caramelized (and considerably smaller) lightly season with s&p.  Turn up the heat to medium, and pour in the sherry vinegar to deglaze the pan.  Once the vinegar has reduced to almost gone, add in the water and the kale.  Season with a bit more s&p, nutmeg, and add the cranberries.  Once the kale has cooked (it will wilt a bit, still look wrinkly, and have a dark green color), and the cranberries have plumped, turn off the heat.  Drizzle over the honey, and serve. 

Enjoy!

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Turkey Tetrazzini

30 Nov

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Wow. Sigh…. Phew. Did anyone else have a whirlwind of a Thanksgiving? This year, it felt like Thanksgiving plain right snuck up on me. Also, coming down with the stomach flu the week of the biggest food holiday of the year was less than ideal. But despite the craziness of the holidays at work, and the flu, the worst part of the whole shooting match is that I didn’t do any Turkey Day Trials!

For any long-time readers, you know the joy I’ve had with practicing and perfecting my Thanksgiving foods for the big day. This year, I did do a Sweet Potato Turkey Roulade that stole the show on a random Friday a few weeks back, but that was about it.  By the day of Thanksgiving, even though my mom and I were splitting the cooking for the day, I had not pre-prepped anything leaving me a stressed hot mess on the day. My standard Bourbon Butternut Squash Soup curdled, my Bacon Wrapped Dates didn’t get wrapped, and I was still cooking things when my guests arrived (my personal pet peeve).

The turkey, however… was delicious.

I tried something new this year with my farm fresh turkey. Instead of brining (what a mess), and stuffing (that never works), or even brown-bagging the bird (my mother in-law swears by it!), I simply tented the turkey with foil for the first hour of cooking, then let the thing hang out at 350, uncovered, for the last 2 hours. The only seasonings were salt, butter, and white pepper, and I used a bit of chicken stock on the bottom of the roasting pan for some basting. My standard for resting is 45-minutes to an hour to create the perfect temperature for, well, handling, but also for carving. And I have to say, even without Turkey Day Trials, this year’s bird took the gravy.

Now, it’s back to the grind. My students were so excited to tell me that they saw the “big Tom” and the “leg kicking ladies” on the televised Macy’s Day Parade, and North Florida is back to its supernatural-for-this-time-of-year 80-degree weather. With Thanksgiving, back to the grind also translates to leftovers.

Like many, I am a huge fan of the extra-mayo, turkey and cranberry sandwiches. There’s nothing wrong with those buggers, but there is something better: it’s a standard, it’s a classic, it’s perfect for lunch at work, it’s the infamous Turkey Tetrazzini.

I’m not a huge casserole lover (simply because I like having a diversity of food during the week, and when there are only two mouths to feed, those mouths get a little tired of the same thing 5 days in a row). But when it’s Turkey Tez, it’s no holds barred. This is an easy casserole, and one that nixes the 1985 canned mushroom soup rendition. Also, with the switch from regular to whole wheat spaghetti, the added structure and nutty taste compliment the turkey perfectly. A word to the wise, though: make sure the casserole has cooled a bit before serving. Once when my mom served up a healthy-right-out-of-the-oven scoop to my dad, it cracked the plate!

This one is simple and satisfying.   If there is any turkey left in your house, give this recipe a try and savor the start to the next holiday season (omg, it’s here already!).

Enjoy!

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Turkey Tetrazzini
(makes 1, 9-inch square casserole)

  • Leftover turkey meat, shredded, and however much you’ve got! (I used the meat from 2 legs, and the rest of the breast meat, about roughly 4 cups)
  • ½ package of whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 5 stalks celery, sliced into half-moons
  • 2 pints cremini mushrooms, stems removed, sliced
  • 5 springs fresh thyme, leaves removed
  • 8 oz sour cream
  • 2 c chicken broth
  • 2 c shredded mixed cheese (I like the shredded Mexican blend)
  • 4 tbsp butter, plus 1 tsp for greasing
  • s&p

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-in x 9-in baking dish with the tsp of butter.

In salted boiling water, boil the spaghetti noodles until they have just left the crunchy stage. They should still have some bite to them, and will continue to cook in the oven. Drain the pasta, and set aside in a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, heat the butter. Sauté the onion, celery, and mushrooms, season with a pinch of s&p, until they start to soften. Off the heat, stir in the thyme leaves and sour cream. Transfer the veg to the bowl with the pasta, and mix to combine. Pour in the chicken stock, mix, and then pour into the greased baking dish. Even out the mixture in the dish, and then evenly top with the cheese. *Note, you may want to put the baking dish on a sheet tray, just in case the mixture bubbles over a bit.

Bake until golden and bubbly, and bits of sticking-out pasta have become browned and crunchy (oh those are so good), about 30 minutes. Let cool a bit before serving (don’t crack a plate!), pour a buttery chardonnay to pair, and savor the season.

Enjoy!

Happy Harvest Season

8 Oct

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Is there anything better than the start of autumn? The cooler weather, fresh and breezy air, and all the yummy food that arise at this time all bring about a welcomed reset button. At the first feel of a slight wind, I’ve got 5-year olds yelling, “It’s autumn! Can you feeeeeel it?!”

Years ago, when I lived in Orange County, California, I worked at a year-round school where we started the year in July and received a 3-week fall break come the end of September. Oh holy goodness that break was so exciting! For the last week in September, and half of October, I gallivanted around SoCal visiting farmers markets, specialty food shops, and cooked most of the days away. The very best part, however, was taking a yearly trip up to Napa to visit my friend, Heather, who just happened to work for a very prominent winery.

Traveling to Northern California specifically during the grape harvest is simply special. There is a magic in the air matched only to that first nose, first swirl, first sip of fabulous wine.   The wine in Napa is big and exciting – tastes of fruit, mineral, and spices inevitably convert the faint of heart. Those in Sonoma are intricate, earthy, hitting the front of the tongue with brightness and pungency and almost leaving a feeling of urgency for more. Even the everyday oyster crackers served to cleanse the palate tasted better in wine country. As written endlessly in boundless foodie mags, the restaurants are fabulous, the food is fresh, and the locavore movement is thriving. Just thinking about the smell of hot, vine-laden grapes (sweet, earthy, and pungent) and the sight of the Russian River Valley (breathtaking does not do justice), literally makes me want to pop open a bottle right here and now.

Please excuse the drool.

Moving from California to Oregon created some initial sadness, but as Rob and I quickly warmed to the cold and wet climate, and we found a whole new world of wines. Not only was the now-infamous Willamette Valley a mere day-trip away, but the Umpqua Valley wineries proved to be some of our favorites. They were smaller, quainter, and not at all stuffy as the winemakers themselves would be happy to pour a perfectly Oregon-air-chilled glass of Baco Noir and chat the day away. Our Oregon wine excursions created a brand new set of memories of the Harvest Season. We would pack a lunch, sit on a picnic table in the vines or one overlooking the cascading evergreen hills with pockets of clouds blurring their branches, sip wine, and just be. It was quiet; not much talking, and there were never any hooting wine tour buses tainting the experience, nor the pressure to “hit up” as many wineries as possible. The whole experience was so relaxing, so picturesque, so perfect it felt unreal.

Recently, my mom and I went antiquing and I found a gem of a book: West Coast Cookbook by Helen Brown. The copyright is in Roman Numerals (which I’m convinced were invented only to make people’s shoulders drop and eyes roll), and after too-much-for-an-educated person-deliberation, I figured the copyright was 1952.

This book has more character and personality then expected in a dusty, antique find, and filled with so much culinary information. Aspics, cheese, bread, game meat, coffee, chocolate, all have sections devoted to their significant history rooted in the West, and Ms. Brown discussed it with mouthwatering eloquence. Phrases like, “You can’t turn off a cow,” and “tortillas are the staff of life,” keep the pages turning and the stomach grumbling. That is, until my eyes stumbled upon this:

“This is a vinous book. Good food is nothing without good wine, and our generous use of it as a beverage and as a necessary part of our cookery has much to do with the pleasure of our table…. When I speak of our wines, I mean Californian. The amount produced in Oregon and Washington is negligible.”

What?! Oregon, Washington – insignificant wine? Sorry Helen, you’re wrong on this one. While California has its fancy viticulture charm, the Pacific Northwest has its own delicious backbone of wine history that California would be envious of (but surely never admit).

Alas, it’s a pain in the neck to hold a grudge, so I won’t. Helen is still a cool gal. So as I’m remembering Harvest Days memories, and enjoying my antique find, a fantastic meal dedicated to the West during the Harvest Season is in order. Turning to the Fish & Shellfish section of the cookbook, Ms. Brown states “fish is not a food to be eaten only when nothing else is available, but is, when properly prepared, food as good as it comes.”

Ain’t that the truth?

So here it comes: good food! To be paired perfectly with good wine, no less!

There are a few parts to this Smoked Salmon Layered Salad. First off, layering salads should be the new thang if you ask me. They are so pretty and so much fun to eat. Oh, and a whole meal served on one giant plate, family style. Easy? Yes. No fuss?   No problem. And the gourmet-ish mushroom croutons? Get out of town! Such a show stopper.

Pair this meal with a great glass of Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay, and you’ve got yourself a West Coast, harvest-inspired meal. Enjoy!

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Smoked Salmon Layered Salad
(serves 4)

  • 2 tins of quality, hot smoked salmon (for the canned version, King or Coho would be best; Chuck’s Seafood in Charleston, OR, and Josephson’s in Astoria, OR both ship throughout the country).
  • 1 lb. fresh, end of the summer green beans, cleaned and stem-end removed
  • 1 pint crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 large sweet potato, diced into ½ -in pieces
  • 1 head tender lettuce – either romaine, red lettuce, or the baby lettuce mix from a bag. If using romaine or red lettuce, roughly chop.
  • 4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed and roughly chopped
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • s&p

** This meal pairs perfectly with Oregon Pinot Noir (I love Giradet from the Umpqua Valley), California Rose (Louis Martini makes a good one found in the heart of Napa), and Washington Chardonnay (Three Rivers is a great Columbia Valley un-oaked version).

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the sweet potato dices on a baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil, s&p. Roast the sweet potatoes until the edges are browned and the insides are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the green beans by seething them in a large sauté pan. Seething is a combination of steaming and sautéing in one pan. Put the green beans in the pan with 2 tbsp of olive oil, ¼ c water, and a good pinch of s&p. Heat over medium heat, turning the green beans often, until the liquid has cooked away, and the green beans are bright and cooked through (the beans should still retain a bit of a crunch – they should not have the texture of a stewed bean). When the beans are done, set aside.

To make the mushroom “croutons,” simply put the mushrooms in a sauté pan with the 2 tbsp of butter on med-high heat. Stir, then let be to brown, stir, then let be to brown, until all the mushroom pieces are so browned and lovely, and almost crunchy. Transfer mushrooms to a paper towel-lined plate, season with a bit of salt, and let cool. They will continue to crunch-up while cooling. (Seriously, these things are addicting. They may not even make it to the salad.)

To make the dressing, mix the Dijon mustard, lemon juice, honey, and a pinch of s&p together. While pouring in the extra virgin olive oil, whisk until combined and smooth. Set aside.

For the smoked salmon, open the container, drain if necessary, and flake the salmon using a fork. Set aside.

Now for the assembly! On a large serving plate, first put down the lettuce, and then sprinkle over the sweet potatoes, and the chopped thyme. Then evenly spread out the green beans, and the smoked salmon. Top with the mushroom croutons, and serve with the dressing in a carafe on the side for individual drizzling (I’ve found that this salad has enough flavor as is, that some enjoy without the dressing).

Dig in, image you are sitting among the vines, and enjoy!

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