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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Roasted Butternut Squash Ravioli with a Sage Brown Butter Sauce


Roasted Butternut Squash Ravioli with a Sage
Brown Butter Sauce and homemade baguette slices. 
There was a time when I had never had any kind of ravioli (unless that horrible stuff from Chef Boyardee counts - and even when I was a kid I knew enough to know that was nasty). We certainly didn't grow up with it and none of the restaurants in the area served it.  Fast forward many years and here in New England, or at least in my little part of it, there are Italian restaurants on every corner. Some really good, some not so good but you can't avoid them here (not that I would want to!).  They all serve ravioli of some type and I've come to embrace it.

There was also a time when I'd run screaming if someone told me I had to eat butternut squash. Luckily, both I and my taste buds have matured a lot since then.  I now love it and have eaten it in many different ways but my favorite is in ravioli.  If you start searching you'll find lots of different recipes for it - some with and some without ricotta, and some with and some without a sage brown butter sauce. This one happens to have both (ricotta and a brown butter sauce) simply because that's the way I prefer it, but you can easily alter this recipe to suit your tastes.

Like more of a curried, middle eastern flare to your foods?  Add some curry to the filling.  Prefer a sweeter type of filling?  Add a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon instead.  In short, use this as a base and make it your own.

Likewise, if you don't have the time or energy to make the dough yourself or maybe you find it too overwhelming; you can use wonton wrappers from your local supermarket instead and fill them just like you would your own pasta.

After having said all that, here's my recipe, the way I made it today.  You should certainly feel free to alter it in any way that makes it easier for you and represents the tastes YOU like!

Roasted Butternut Squash Ravioli with a Sage Brown Butter Sauce

Ravioli Dough*
Rolling out the dough with the Kitchen Aid attachment (and
yes, my mixer has flames - that's about as macho as I get)

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup semolina flour
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  1. Thoroughly sift together all-purpose flour, semolina flour, and salt. On a clean surface, make a mountain out of flour mixture then make a deep well in the center. Break the eggs into the well and add olive oil. Whisk eggs very gently with a fork, gradually incorporating flour from the sides of the well. When mixture becomes too thick to mix with a fork, begin kneading with your hands.
  2. Knead dough for 8 to 12 minutes, until it is smooth and supple. Dust dough and work surface with semolina as needed to keep dough from becoming sticky. Wrap dough tightly in plastic and allow it to rest for an hour in the refrigerator.
  3. While the dough is resting, make the filling below, then continue with step 4.
  4. Roll out dough with a pasta machine or a rolling pin to desired thickness. You want it to be fairly thin unless you like really thick, chewy pasta and in that case roll it a bit thicker.  
There are a lot of different ways to make the ravioli itself, depending on your preferences and if you're actually using dough you've rolled out or just using wonton wrappers.  

To make with homemade dough:
Making ravioli with the ravioli "mold"
  1. Lay the rolled section of dough out on a flat surface.
  2. Starting about 3/4 of an inch from the edge, place a tablespoon of the filling mixture.  
  3. Place another tablespoon of filling (again about 3/4 from the edge) about one inch from the first.
  4. Repeat this process for the length of your rolled out dough.
  5. Dip a pastry brush in a little water and wet the edges of the dough and in between each filling pile.
  6. Fold the dough over onto itself and press down the area between the fillings, gently making sure there are no air pockets.
  7. Using a knife, ravioli cutter or pizza cutter, cut the individual raviolis apart.
  8. Using either a crimper, a fork or simply your fingers, be certain the edges of each ravioli are completely sealed.
    Finished ravioli, ready to be cooked
  9. Place the completed ravioli onto a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap.
  10. Repeat until all the dough (or filling) is used.
  11. You can throw the baking sheet in the freezer, and once frozen, transfer the ravioli into a tightly sealed plastic bag. When you're ready to cook them, just place the frozen ravioli into the salted boiling water and cook for about four minutes or until they float to the top of the pan.
If using wonton wrappers: 
  1. Lay out six pieces, keeping the rest sealed inside the package or under a very lightly dampened paper towel so they don't dry out. 
  2. Place 1 tablespoon of squash mixture in the middle of each skin. 
  3. Dip a pastry brush in a little water and wet the edges of the skin. 
  4. Gently fold the square wrapper into a triangle, making sure the edges are securely closed and there are no air pockets inside. 
  5. Place the ravioli on a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. 
  6. Before laying out another six wrappers, be careful to dry your work surface. This will help keep ravioli from sticking to the baking sheet. 
  7. Repeat this process until all the butternut squash mixture is used. 
  8. You can throw the baking sheet in the freezer, and once frozen, transfer the ravioli into a tightly sealed plastic bag.  When you're ready to cook them, just place the frozen ravioli into the salted boiling water and cook for about four minutes or until they float to the top of the pan.

Ready for the top layer of dough
*Okay, this is where I admit that I LIKE EASY!!  The easier the better!

I have "automated" several of these steps where possible.


For example, I use my breadmaker to make and knead the dough and it's BY FAR the best dough I've ever used for pasta when I do this.

I also use an attachment on my Kitchen Aid mixer to roll out the dough and use this wonderful gadget (less than $14 and well worth if you are going to make ravioli often) for making the actual ravioli.

Filling
Butternut squash filling, ready to go

  • 2 cups butternut squash puree**
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp freshly ground rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 2 large shallots, chopped 
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • pinch of nutmeg, to taste
  1. Saute the shallots in the olive oil. You want them to be translucent and just starting to brown. About a minute before they are done (it should take approx. three minutes), add the garlic to the pan as well and let it cook. Remove from heat.
  2. In a food processor, combine the butternut squash puree, the ricotta cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg, rosemary and oregano.  Pulse a few times to blend well.  
  3. Pour the mixture into a bowl and add the shallots and garlic.  Mix well. 


The filling can actually be made a day ahead of time and refrigerated if you'd like to save time on the day you are putting the ravioli together.  In addition, I had quite a bit leftover since I had a very large squash I was roasting.  I simply froze the extra filling mixture and will use it the next time I want to make this.

Cubed butternut squash, tossed with olive oil ready for roasting

**You can use canned butternut squash
Roasted cubes, ready to be pureed
puree. If you can't find it, feel free to substitute canned pumpkin as it has a very similar flavor.

It's also VERY simple to make it at home.

  1. Peel a butternut squash, cut in half, and discard the pulp and seeds. 
  2. Cut into cubes.
  3. Toss cubes with a small amount of olive oil and spread out on a baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven, tossing occasionally. 
  4. Let cool and put in a blender or food processor until smooth. A potato masher also works well if you prefer. 

That's it, you have butternut squash puree!





Sage Brown Butter Sauce

  • 1/2 lb. butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 cup fresh sage leaves
  • Fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup water (best if it's the water from cooking the ravioli)
  • 1/4 cup cream
    The Sage Brown Butter Sauce over the ravioli
  1. Melt the butter in a sauté pan with the sage, over medium-low heat. 
  2. Once sage and butter start to get golden brown, add the pepper and the water little by little. 
  3. Keep stirring and adding water on a low flame until you have a creamy, velvety butter sauce. 
  4. Add the cream and continue to stir.
  5. If the sauce looks separated or too oily, add warm water; if too runny or too watery, keep on the fire and reduce. 
  6. Serve over the ravioli (including the sage leaves - the best part!) and enjoy!


Friday, October 11, 2013

Baked Chicken à la Steven (and a vegetarian version)

Baked Chicken à la Steven.
Baked Chicken à la Steven served over rice
with homemade rye bread and green beans

Why would I call it that?

Pretty simple really.  I had to come up with a name. It's baked chicken. It's turned into one of my son's favorites and his name is Steven (plus he thought it was really cool that I named it after him). So, Baked Chicken à la Steven seemed as good as any other name!

This is actually one of the simpler recipes that I've posted and it's pretty versatile.  Like mushrooms? Put 'em in. Don't like them? Leave 'em out. Onions? Same thing.

I use white wine because I like the flavor it gives.  If you don't like it, don't have any around or just want to try something different, use a different kind of wine or leave the wine out altogether and throw some chicken (or vegetable) stock in instead.

There's also a vegetarian version (scroll down) that I made for my wife as well.  You basically make it the same way. I made a pan of each at the same time this evening.

If you try this, please let me know what you think in the comments!

Ingredients CHICKEN VERSION
Seasoned chicken legs starting to brown


  • 2 large boneless chicken breasts cut in half (or the leg and thigh equivalent - about 6 to 8 pieces depending upon size)
  • spices to season the chicken (I like to use Lawry's seasoning salt, ground rosemary, garlic powder, oregano, and pepper - use whatever you like in your household)
  • 1 1/2 cups white wine
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes (I use the ones with garlic and basil but any will do - and if you don't have diced, then stewed, etc. will work just as well)
  • 1/2 onion, diced (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
  • 8 oz package sliced mushrooms (optional)

Directions CHICKEN VERSION


  1. Preheat the oven to 350
    I did both white and dark meat in this batch.  This is half
    of the white meat (breasts)  browned and ready to go.
  2. Sprinkle the chicken with your choice of seasonings
  3. Put the butter and olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan and turn on medium heat
  4. Brown the chicken on all sides in the butter/olive oil mixture
  5. Put the browned chicken in a casserole dish
  6. If you're using onions, mushrooms or garlic, place them in the pan and saute until just done
  7. Pour the wine into the pan where you cooked the chicken
  8. Turn up the heat and let the wine come to a boil, scraping the pan to get off all of the "bits" stuck to the bottom
  9. Let the wine mixture boil until it's reduced by about half
  10. Covered with tomatoes
    and ready to go in the oven!
  11. Pour the wine mixture (with or without the onions/mushrooms/garlic) over the chicken
  12. Spoon the diced tomatoes over the chicken pouring any liquid from the can into the pan
  13. Cover and bake. The amount of time necessary will depend on the amount and types of chicken you're using (white vs dark meat). I typically give it about 20 minutes then start checking the temperature. You want it to be a minimum of 165 degrees to be sure it's cooked thoroughly.
  14. Remove the cover and serve!!  We like to serve it over white rice but it would be great over egg noodles as well.

Ingredients  VEGETARIAN VERSION


  • 2 pieces Quorn naked cutlets
  • spices to season the cutlets (I like to use Lawry's seasoning salt, ground rosemary, garlic powder, oregano, and pepper - use whatever you like in your household)
  • 3/4 cups white wine
    Quorn naked cutlets browned and ready to go in the pan
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes (I use the ones with garlic and basil but any will do - and if you don't have diced, then stewed, etc. will work just as well)
  • 1/4 onion, diced (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
  • 4 oz sliced mushrooms (optional)

Directions VEGETARIAN VERSION


  1. Preheat the oven to 350
  2. Moisten the cutlets with water or milk
  3. Sprinkle the cutlets with your choice of seasonings
  4. Put the butter and olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan and turn on medium heat
  5. Brown the cutlets on both sides in the butter/olive oil mixture
  6. Put the browned cutlets in a casserole dish
    Mushrooms, onions and garlic in a reduced wine sauce
  7. If you're using onions, mushrooms or garlic, place them in the pan and saute until just done
  8. Pour the wine into the pan where you cooked the cutlets
  9. Turn up the heat and let the wine come to a boil, scraping the pan to get off all of the "bits" stuck to the bottom
  10. Let the wine mixture boil until it's reduced by about half
  11. Pour the wine mixture (with or without the onions/mushrooms/garlic) over the cutlets
  12. Spoon the diced tomatoes over the cutlets pouring any liquid from the can into the pan
  13. Cover and bake. I typically cook it this way for about 20 minutes, but since this isn't really meat, you're just heating it up and giving the other flavors a chance to meld. I usually cook it at the same time as chicken in a separate pan and just pull it out when the chicken is done and it's fine.
  14. Remove the cover and serve!!  We like to serve it over white rice but it would be great over egg noodles as well.
    The naked cutlets topped with mushroom mixture
    and diced tomatoes.  Just needs to be covered and baked!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Parmesan Butternut Squash Pasta

Sometimes I simply get an idea in my head and want to try it. It's not always a GOOD idea, but I tend to try it nevertheless.
Finished pasta, ready to eat!

Thankfully, this time it WAS a good idea.

I'd been wanting SOMETHING with butternut squash in it but simply didn't feel like the "normal" things I make (soup, ravioli, etc).

That's when this idea popped into my head. Maybe it's something other folks make, maybe not. I certainly haven't heard of it before but I felt it turned out well. My sixteen year old son (who claims he doesn't even like butternut squash) loved it, and that's always a good sign. He told me that it tasted like the best macaroni and cheese he'd ever had. I'm not certain that's what I wanted to hear, but he's sixteen - I'll take it.

If you try it, please feel free to leave me comments, good or bad!

Ingredients 

Cubed butternut squash, tossed with olive oil ready for roasting

  • 1 pound uncooked pasta (I used elbow macaroni because that's what I had on hand but I would have preferred farfalle, fusilli, or rotini just to make it more interesting)
  • 2 tbsp butter 
  • 2 tbsp flour 
  • 2 cups milk 
  • 2 cups butternut squash puree*
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper 


*You can use canned butternut squash
Roasted cubes, ready to be pureed
puree. If you can't find it, feel free to substitute canned pumpkin as it has a very similar flavor.
It's also VERY simple to make it at home.

  1. Peel a butternut squash, cut in half, and discard the pulp and seeds. 
  2. Cut into cubes.
  3. Toss cubes with a small amount of olive oil and spread out on a baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven, tossing occasionally. 
  4. Let cool and put in a blender or food processor until smooth. (A potato masher also works well if you prefer.)  

That's it, you have butternut squash puree!

Directions 

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Strain.
  2. Time to make a roux! In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. 
  3. Whisk in flour until smooth (about a minute) 
    Pureed butternut squash - ready to add to the recipe!
  4. Slowly add milk while whisking and bring to a simmer.
  5. Simmer while stirring occasionally until the milk has thickened, about 3 to 5 minutes. 
  6. Add butternut squash puree, cheese, salt, and pepper. 
  7. Stir and simmer until mixture is smooth and thick (three to five minutes).
  8. Pour the sauce over the cooked pasta and mix. 
  9. Taste and add any additional salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Depending upon how long this sits before serving, just like in mac and cheese, you may have to add a bit of milk and stir to thin it a bit.
  11. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Baba Ghanoush!

If you've been reading my posts, no you're not crazy, I have posted about baba ghanoush before. It was posted along with a carrot and beet slaw that I made for July 4th. Since then, I have had a number of people tell me that they didn't see it so I decided it was time for it to get its own post. Besides, as my wife just reminded me this time of year is prime eggplant season.

Baba Ghanoush topped with a sprinkle of paprika and
olive oil.  Served with baguette slices and pita triangles.
    So, first things first.  What IS baba ghanoush? If you'd asked me a couple of years ago I couldn't have answered this question. I had never even heard of it much less made it. A lot can change in a couple of years and it's now one of my favorites.


    What does it taste like? Well, it's a lot like hummus, only in my opinion, better. The two are actually quite similar. Hummus is made with chickpeas and I've never cared for the texture of chickpeas. Baba ghanoush is made with roasted eggplant and doesn't have that chalky texture associated with chickpeas. 

    Even if you don't care for eggplant it's worth trying baba ghanoush. Grilling the eggplant adds a very different, smoky flavor that's not usually associated with eggplant.  It's typically served with pita bread triangles or a thinly sliced baguette.  We like it with baked pita chips as well.

    Ingredients

    • 2 large eggplants
    • 6 tbsp tahini (if you've never used it before, tahini is similar to peanut butter but made with sesame seeds)  Tahini can (and frequently does) separate just like natural peanut butter.  If this is the case, mix the oil and solid together before using
    • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
      Eggplant on the grill
    • 1/4 cup lemon juice
    • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (good quality)
    • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, minced
    1. IMPORTANT: Prick the surface of each eggplant several times with the tines of a fork.
    2. On the grill, on a grill pan or under the broiler (set to high) blacken/char the eggplant for 25 minutes or so. You want the skin to be completely shriveled and dark, and the eggplant almost fall-apart tender.  I prefer the grill if possible - it seems to add a smokier flavor than the other methods.
    3. Set them aside to cool slightly.
    4. When cool, slit the length of the eggplant and peel skin back.  Use a spoon and scrape out as much of the flesh as you can into a bowl - even the stuff that's stuck to the inside of the skin (yes, it's messy!)
      Off the grill and ready to split the skin and
      scrape the insides.  Time to get messy!
    5. Two choices for this part - either mix the eggplant manually or in a food processor. I've done both and prefer to do it manually.  There's nothing wrong with the food processor method but I've found that the texture gets TOO smooth.  If you choose to do it by hand, try to get it to a relatively smooth texture without being totally pureed.
    6. Add in all other ingredients, stirring and tasting before adjusting seasonings or other ingredients. In other words, if you really like lemon (or garlic, or parsley, etc), add more than the amount suggested.  Likewise if you don't like an ingredient as much, use less or even none.  There's no science here - just your palate and your tastes.  The one suggestion I would make though is not to skimp on the salt in this particular dish - it does make a huge difference and seems to bring out the other flavors.
    7. Serve with pita triangles, baguette slices or pita chips (or all of the above!)
    8. Enjoy!

    Friday, September 13, 2013

    Deep Fried Turkey

    Fried turkey!!  It's what's for dinner.
    Until tonight, I've only had a "real" fried turkey once.  That was many years ago when I was visiting a cousin in Missouri and they made one for me. I loved it, but just never did it myself. I actually have two different "oil-less" turkey fryers (one propane and one electric). They do a good job but it's not quite the same as really frying one.

    Today is my father-in-law's birthday. He had never asked me to make anything before so when he said the one thing he really wanted to try was a fried turkey (he had never had one), I jumped at the chance.

    I read as many things as I could about it first because I had heard all the stories about how dangerous it can be. I also asked for any helpful hints from my friends on Facebook (thanks to everyone who helped me out!).

    I finally decided that for safety reasons I'd go with my favorite chef, Alton Brown's, safety measures. His video is here - this is the third of three parts but it covers the safety aspect. Yes, it may be a bit of overkill but I figured it was worth it if it meant I didn't have to worry about getting burned with hot oil!

    I didn't want to sacrifice having gravy so I'll also tell you how to make it without traditionally roasting a turkey - because what's a turkey without it? It's just not the same in my book.

    Now, how did it come out?

    I think it was one of the best turkeys I've ever had. It certainly rivals the ones I cook on the rotisserie which up until now have been my favorite. Everyone who was here seemed to think the same thing. I attribute part of that to brining - my experience has been that brining poultry (or pork) makes it much better and the same thing definitely applies when frying.

    As always, if you try this, please let me know what you think in the comments - and if you have any tips for next time I'd love to hear them as well!


    Apple Cider, Maple Syrup and Orange-Lemon Brine


    Ingredients

    Turkey sitting in the brine
    • 7 cups hot water
    • 1/2 cup kosher salt
    • 2 cups apple cider
    • 1 cup maple syrup
    • 2 sliced oranges
    • 1 sliced lemon
    • 2 Tablespoons cracked black peppercorns
    • Whole turkey (this will work with any size - the one I fried was 14 pounds)

    Directions
    1. Stir the hot water and salt together until the salt is dissolved. 
    2. Add the apple cider, maple syrup, peppercorns, lemons and oranges. At this point, if you want you can also add other herbs/spices. I like to throw in some freshly chopped rosemary, thyme and sage if I'm cooking poultry and just rosemary if I'm cooking pork. 
      The bird getting ready to be
      lowered into the oil.
      1. Cool to below 45 degrees F. in the refrigerator. If you want to speed this process, use about three cups of hot water and follow the same process as above, after mixing well, add four cups of ice water.
      2. Remove the turkey from the packaging and rinse well. Remove neck and any giblets that may be packaged in the cavity.
      3. Place turkey in a large pan or food safe bag. For a large bird, I bought an orange Home Depot bucket that I cleaned out well and keep specifically for brining.
      4. The turkey should stay in the brine for a minimum of 24 hours. I've kept it brining for 48 hours with no problems. It also needs to stay cool while it's brining. If your refrigerator is large enough, use that. When I'm doing a whole turkey I'm also generally using my refrigerator space for other things so I have a VERY large cooler that I put it in along with a generous supply of ice.
      5. Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse well and pat dry.

      To fry the turkey


      1. Allow the turkey to sit at room temperature for at least half an hour prior to cooking.  It also 
        You want to keep the oil at about 350 degrees
        needs to be very dry. You'll be putting it in hot oil so this is incredibly important. At this point, there shouldn't be any ice crystals left in it (it should have been completely thawed before brining it) but it doesn't hurt to check - you want as little moisture as possible before lowering the bird into the oil.
      2. Place the oil into a 28 to 30-quart pot and set over high heat on an outside propane burner. It's very important that you do this in an OPEN area - NOT inside (including NOT in a garage!). 
      3. Bring the temperature of the oil to 250 degrees F. 
      4. Once the temperature has reached 250, slowly lower the bird into the oil and bring the temperature to 350 degrees F. 
      5. Once it has reached 350, lower the heat as necessary in order to maintain 350 degrees F. 
      6. After approximately 35-40 minutes, check the temperature of the turkey using a probe thermometer. (Timing will depend on the size of the bird - smaller birds will take less time, larger will take longer. A good rule of thumb is approximately three to three and a half minutes per pound.)
      7. Once the breast reaches 151 degrees F, gently remove from the oil and allow to rest for a minimum of 30 minutes prior to carving. The bird will reach an internal temperature of 161 degrees F due to carry over cooking. 
      8. Carve as desired.


      How to make turkey gravy without roasting a whole turkey!

      • 2 turkey wings

      • 2 turkey legs
      • 4 stalks of celery 
      • 1 medium onion, quartered
      • 4 cloves garlic, cut in half
      • 8 cups water
      • 1 stick butter
      • 8 tbsp all-purpose flour
      • 1 cup whole milk
      • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar (Yes, apple cider vinegar. I thought it was really weird the first time I ever heard about using it in turkey gravy but it adds a great flavor as long as you don't use too much!)
      • Salt to taste 
      1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and in a large sauté or roasting pan (I use one of my large LeCreuset Dutch ovens), roast turkey wings, celery, onion and garlic for 2 hours. 
      2. Remove from the oven.
      3. Place on the stove, add water and bring to a boil (I said 6 cups - but you really just want to be certain it's enough to cover the turkey pieces and vegetables). Turn the heat down and simmer on low for an hour, uncovered, to reduce the stock.
      4. Strain the stock into a bowl. 
      5. Put it into the refrigerator for a couple of hours (or overnight). This will make it much easier to remove the fat that will accumulate on top.
      6. In a large sauté pan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour (You are really just making a roux at this point.)
      7. Cook, whisking constantly over medium heat for about two minutes or until it starts to turn a light tan color. 
      8. Whisk in turkey stock and cook until thickened. 
      9. Add milk, cider vinegar and salt to taste. If your gravy isn't as thick as you'd like, simply mix together some cornstarch (or flour) and cold water. Whisk this mixture slowly into the gravy and that will cause it to thicken more. (Gravy tends to thicken when you take it off the heat so you don't want to make it TOO thick.)
      That's it - you now have gravy to use with your mashed potatoes! Easy to do and just as good as if you had roasted a whole turkey.

      Sunday, September 8, 2013

      Potato Pancakes (or Latkes)

      Finished breakfast: latkes with sour cream, challah
      toast (thanks Amy!) and a cheese omelette!
      Anyone that knows me knows about my potato fetish - give them to me in just about ANY fashion and I'm happy. If that fashion happens to have been fried, has onions and I can add sour cream to it, that simply adds to my happy factor!

      This recipe has all the above and this morning I was a happy camper indeed. (Well, I really wasn't camping; just an expression, but I WAS a very happy cook!)

      We never had potato pancakes growing up; plenty of fried potatoes (what they call home fries here in New England) but never potato pancakes.  I didn't try them until I was in my thirties, and then the ones I had weren't very good. They were the frozen ones at a cheap diner somewhere so I didn't try them again until three or four years ago. THAT time I had good ones and I was hooked. I tried many times to replicate them at home and they always came out too starchy or too "thick" - more like a blob of potatoes than what I had come to know and love.

      I had noticed the same thing anytime I tried to make hash browns (another favorite and not really that different than potato pancakes). A couple of years ago I stumbled across an easy trick to make your hash browns MUCH better (and lighter!). After shredding them, simply squeeze the excess water out of the potatoes. If you do that, they will improve immeasurably.

      Last night while I was trying to fall asleep I was thinking about surprising my wife with breakfast this morning (I'm strange) and thinking about making her hash browns. I had one of those odd little leaps in my brain and suddenly thought that I could apply the same principles (removing as much water as possible) to potato pancakes. It made a lot of sense to me (though admittedly, thinking about it when I was trying to sleep did NOT make a lot of sense). Unfortunately, I didn't sleep well because I kept thinking about how good they would be if it worked. Lucky for me (and now you!) it did and I'm going to tell you exactly how I did it if you care to follow along. If you do, you'll be rewarded with some of the best potato pancakes you've ever had - and if you don't, just maybe you learned something that will help the next time you decide to make hash browns.  (I do realize that this is probably common knowledge amongst many chefs, but it was a huge revelation to me!)

      Ingredients

      Makes enough to serve 3-4

      2 large russet potatoes, peeled
      1 small onion, peeled and diced fine
      1/4 cup all-purpose flour
      2 large eggs, lightly beaten
      1 teaspoon salt
      1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
      Olive oil and butter for frying

      Optional

      *garlic powder to taste (before cooking)
      *ground rosemary to taste (before cooking)
      applesauce (as a side to the latkes, after cooking)
      sour cream (as a side to the latkes, after cooking)

      *these are NOT traditional, but they ARE good!

      Directions

      1. In a food processor or a box grater, shred the potato (you can shred the onion as well if you prefer rather than dicing it. I prefer to dice it - it seems to lead to less tears).
      2. Mix the onions with the shredded potato. 
        Shredded potatoes (before being squeezed!)
      3. Remove as much water as possible from the potato/onion mixture. There are a couple of different ways to do this. If you have cheesecloth available, put a handful at a time into the cheesecloth, wrap it tightly and squeeze as much water as you can out of it and transfer to a bowl. If you don't have any cheesecloth, a messier (but just as effective) way to do it is to simply grab a handful at a time and squeeze it with your bare hands until you remove as much water as you can.
      4. Repeat this process until you've squeezed all of the potato/onion mixture.
      5. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, egg, salt and pepper together and optional ingredients if you're using them. 
      6. Stir in the potato/onion mixture until all pieces are evenly coated.
      7. In a medium skillet (cast iron is perfect for this), heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tbsp of butter until shimmering. Drop packed tablespoons of the potato mixture into the skillet and flatten them with the back of your spatula (you want them to be fairly thin so that they cook all the way through and are nice and crispy when done). 
        Potato/onion/egg/flour mixture before
        being spooned into the skillet.
      8. Cook them over medium high heat until the edges are just starting to brown, approx. 2 minutes; flip and cook until just starting to brown on the bottom, about 1 minute (if yours are a little thicker it will take more time). 
      9. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the rest of your potato/onion mixture, adding more oil/butter to the skillet as needed.

      NOTE: These are actually great to do ahead if you are trying to make them as a side for other things. Either keep them in the fridge for a day or two or just keep them in a warm oven while you're cooking everything else. If they've been in the refrigerator, reheat them in a single layer on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven until they crisp up again.

      Latkes are traditionally served with sour cream or applesauce. Either way (or plain!) it's hard to go wrong.

      Enjoy! And if you try them, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.



      Monday, September 2, 2013

      Cinnamon Roll French Toast

      Cinnamon roll bread
      French toast is one of my favorite breakfast foods. (Hell, let's be honest. It's one of my favorite foods, period.)

      As I posted a couple of days ago, cinnamon rolls rank right up there in that same rarified stratosphere of favorite foods for me.

      It seemed natural to put the two together - hence, "Cinnamon Roll French Toast".

      We had French toast fairly regularly when I was growing up, but we just made it with regular, sandwich cut, white bread. I still love it that way and had it that way for most of my life. A
      French toast, ready to eat!
      couple of years ago I decided to make it with "Texas toast" (which is really just much thicker cut white bread). It came out horrible (and I had my in-laws over for a big breakfast - I was seriously
      embarrassed). I had made it exactly the same way I did with thin slices of bread (which really meant just dipping it in the egg mixture and throwing it on the griddle).  The problem was that it was simply too dry. I learned from that and changed my technique considerably when I'm using thicker bread. That is reflected in this recipe since I use much thicker slices of bread.

      This recipe would work with ANY kind of bread you'd like to use - but you really want to use a thick cut slice (unless you simply dip it and cook with no soaking - in that case, feel free to use thin bread). I've made this with day old Italian bread, French bread, etc.  They all work well!

      Ingredients


      • 1 loaf cinnamon roll bread, sliced about one inch thick (8 - 10 slices, recipe here) or any thickly sliced bread.  Best if slightly stale.
      • Sliced bread, soaking in egg mixture
      • 4 eggs
      • ½ cup milk
      • 1 tbsp sugar
      • 1 tsp vanilla extract
      • 2 tsp of cinnamon
      • Butter
      • Maple syrup

      Optional

      • 1 ½ tsp orange extract
      • 2 tsp freshly grated orange zest
      • pinch of nutmeg

      Directions

      1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
      2. Beat eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon together. If using, add orange extract, orange zest and/or orange extract until well blended. 
      3. French toast, after being cooked on the griddle.  It's ready
        to go into the oven and bake for an additional ten minutes.
      4. Put your slices of bread in a flat, shallow dish (a casserole dish works well).
      5. Pour the egg mixture over the bread and allow to sit for at least ten minutes, turning over a couple of times (the majority of the mixture will get absorbed into the bread).
      6. Melt some butter over a skillet or griddle on medium high heat.
      7. Add as many slices as will fit at a time, and cook until brown.
      8. Flip the slices and repeat on the second side.
      9. Repeat until all the slices have been cooked.
      10. Put the cooked slices of bread on a cookie sheet and place in preheated oven.
      11. Bake the bread for about ten minutes (this will cook the egg mixture that was absorbed into the bread so it's not "mushy" in the middle).
      12. Serve hot with butter and real maple syrup.
      13. Enjoy!
      Breakfast, ready to go!  French toast, eggs,
      home fries and bacon.  I'm hungry again!

      Sunday, September 1, 2013

      Brined Whole Turkey (on the rotisserie)

      I heard about brining a long time ago. I really never thought much about it - another way to cook a turkey (or a chicken, or pork, etc.).  Big deal.

      Well, I was KIND of right.  It IS a Big Deal (capitals intentional!).
      Finished turkey, cut up and ready to eat!

      I've brined whole birds (turkey and chicken) and just cut up pieces.  I've brined pork chops and entire roasts. Without fail, every time I've brined something it's been indisputably better than the same thing I've cooked without brining.

      I've also found that when talking about a whole bird, if you have a rotisserie and the time - it's definitely the way to go. I think I've had enough guests over to try it (foul AND pork) that from what they've told me afterwards, I'm not alone in that assessment.

      Pork and turkey/chicken (the white meat) have a tendency to dry out quickly if they're overcooked - brining adds enough moisture to the meat that it is much more forgiving if you happen to overcook it (besides the incredible flavor it adds).

      I've used my gas grill, my trusty Weber charcoal grill and even the Ronco Showtime electric rotisserie grill (especially in the middle of winter when I don't feel like freezing outside with one of my other grills).  My preference is the Weber, but all three of them work well and produce an excellent product.

      This is my favorite brine - and I've used it for turkey, chicken and pork. The last time I brined, it was for a large cookout and in addition to the whole turkey I put pieces of chicken in the same container with the turkey and brined them all together (the chicken was then cooked on the grill, while the turkey was cooked on the rotisserie).

      As always, if you try this please feel free to leave me a comment and let me know what you think!

      Apple Cider, Maple Syrup and Orange-Lemon Brine

      Ingredients
      • 7 cups hot water
        Turkey sitting in the brine
      • 1/2 cup kosher salt
      • 2 cups apple cider
      • 1 cup maple syrup
      • 2 sliced oranges
      • 1 sliced lemon
      • 2 Tablespoons cracked black peppercorns
      • Whole turkey (this will work with any size - the most recent one I used was about 20 pounds)
      Directions
      1. Stir the hot water and salt together until the salt is dissolved. 
      2. Add the apple cider, maple syrup, peppercorns, lemons and oranges.  At this point, if you want you can also add other herbs/spices.  I like to throw in some freshly chopped rosemary, thyme and sage if I'm cooking poultry and just rosemary if I'm cooking pork. 
      3. Cool to below 45 degrees F. in the refrigerator (if you want to speed this process, use about three cups of hot water and follow the same process as above, after mixing well, add four cups of ice water.).
      4. Remove the turkey from the packaging and rinse well.  Remove neck and any giblets that may be packaged in the cavity.
      5. Place turkey in a large pan or food safe bag (for a large bird, I bought an orange Home Depot bucket that I cleaned out well and keep specifically for brining).
      6. The turkey should stay in the brine for a minimum of 24 hours*.  I've kept it brining for 48 hours with no problems.  It also needs to stay cool while it's brining.  If your refrigerator is large enough, use that.  When I'm doing a whole turkey I'm also generally using my refrigerator space for other things so I have a VERY large cooler that I put it in along with a generous supply of ice.
      7. Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse well. 
      8. Truss the bird (one of my favorites, Alton Brown, has a great video on how to do that here.  It's well worth the three minutes it takes to watch.).
        The brined turkey on the spit.
      9. Put the bird on the spit and be sure the grill is preheated if it's gas or charcoal (if using one of the electric ones it's not necessary).
      10. If you want any herbs/spices on the skin, put them on now (I frequently use garlic powder, salt, pepper and rosemary powder.  I also like to put sprigs of fresh rosemary under the string, next to the skin).
      11. Place the spit in place and start it turning.
      12. Cook turkey to internal temperature of 180 degrees in thigh and 170 degrees in breast.
      13. How long it's going to take is a function of how large the bird is and the type (and temperature) of your grill.  For a small bird (i.e., a four pound chicken) it may only take an hour.  The 20 pound turkey I did recently took well over four hours.  A good rule of thumb is about 10 to 15 minutes cooking time per pound - but it's just that: a rule of thumb, not a hard and fast guide.
      14. When the internal temperature is right, remove the bird from the grill and then from the spit.  Let it rest for at least ten minutes to let the juices redistribute themselves.
      15. Carve and enjoy!
      *If you're using this brine with pork, it typically doesn't take as long - you can cut the brining time back to 4-6 hours for chops and anywhere from 12-48 hours for a loin.

      Cinnamon Rolls (like Cinnabon, only better!)

      Small bits of ooey, gooey goodness.
      Iced cinnamon roll

      That's how someone described these cinnamon rolls to me and I have to agree with them.  Yes, you can always go and buy cinnamon rolls in a tube from Pillsbury.  It's a lot easier, but it's certainly not even close to tasting as good.

      It's worth making these just for the smells that will permeate your house while they're baking! When people come to the house while I'm making them I always get comments about how fantastic they smell - which is nothing compared to the comments about how they taste.

      The other thing about these is just how versatile they are - you can make them into cinnamon rolls like the ones I describe here or you can roll the dough a bit thicker and make it into a loaf of bread.  I always make extra dough just so I can do that, then in turn use that in the best french toast you've ever had!  You can also use the dough by itself (no cinnamon/sugar mixture) and turn it into some of the best dinner rolls you'll ever have - as a matter of fact, that's exactly what I do for Thanksgiving (and other occasions) every year.

      I want to thank my mom for this recipe - she's been making this for as long as I can remember.  I've made a few changes to it here and there as I tend to do with just about everything I make, but the basic recipe hasn't changed.  She's still the best cook I know and the inspiration for everything I make - love you Mom!

      If you try this recipe (or any of my others) please feel free to let me know what you think in the comments!

      Watch how to make them here!
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkbRbdHlp3A

      Ingredients

      Rolls
      2 packages yeast
      5 – 6 cups flour
      1 cup butter (2 sticks) 
      2 tsp salt
      1 cup sugar 
      1 cup warm water
      2 eggs, beaten 
      1 cup boiling water

      Filling
      1 pound brown sugar, approximately 2 cups packed
      2 tbsp ground cinnamon
      1/2 cup butter, melted (1 stick)

      Cream Cheese Icing
      1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
      1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)
      1 teaspoon vanilla extract
      3 cups confectioners' sugar
      1 tablespoon milk

      Directions

      Rolls
      1. Dissolve yeast in the warm water (if you add a teaspoon of sugar to the water and stir well it will help activate the yeast). 
      2. Cream butter and sugar and slowly add the boiling water. 
      3. Let stand until cool and all butter is melted (to speed the cooling, I usually only add 3/4 cup of boiling water, then when the butter is melted, I add a couple of ice cubes.  This will cool it enough that you don't have to wait). 
      4. When cool, add the yeast and eggs and blend well. 
      5. Add salt and mix.  Add flour slowly, you want the dough to be very moist, not stiff. (It probably will be closer to 5 cups of flour than 6, but flours vary widely; humidity can also alter how much you use).  I use bread flour because I prefer the texture, but all purpose flour will work fine.
      6. Once the dough is the desired consistency, place in a greased bowl in the refrigerator, and cover with a dish towel overnight. Depending upon the time I have available, I sometimes make the dough in the morning and make the rolls in the afternoon as opposed to sitting in the refrigerator overnight (if you do this, you don't need to refrigerate it). 
      7. Next day (or that afternoon, depending upon when you make the dough), roll the dough to approximately 1/4” thick*.  
      8. Spread with melted butter. I use 1 - 1 ½ sticks of butter for this. You can also spread softened (not melted) butter instead if you prefer.
      9. Mix together brown sugar and cinnamon (I also use a pinch of nutmeg - but this is optional). Sprinkle the mixture over the butter on the entire surface of the dough. I've actually tried different ways to do this. If you prefer, you can melt the butter and add it to the brown sugar and cinnamon.  This will make a paste-like mixture you can spread over the dough if you prefer.**
        Dough rolled out, spread with melted butter and
        sprinkled with brown sugar/cinnamon mixture.
      10. Roll up from the widest side and cut into slices about 1” wide and place in a non-stick pan***. 
      11. Cover with moist cloth and let rise about 2 hours. 
      12. Bake in a 400 degree oven until slightly browned on top. (About 15 minutes). 
      *If you want to make a loaf of bread instead, roll out to approx. 1/2" thick.

      **The original recipe from my mother didn't use brown sugar.  It instead used a sugar/cinnamon mixture in place of the brown sugar/cinnamon. Feel free to try this instead - it's equally good!

      ***DON'T CROWD THE PAN!  It's very important not to crowd the pan when you put the rolls in. The rolls will still expand and the middle won't cook properly if there are too many in the pan.

      NOTE:  Depending upon what I'm using the dough for (cinnamon rolls or straight dinner rolls), I will add a tablespoon of vanilla to the dough at the same time as the eggs/yeast mixture.  It's actually a great addition even if you're making dinner rolls.

      Cream Cheese Icing****
      1. In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, margarine, vanilla extract (in addition to vanilla extract, I make an orange extract that I sometimes use as well. This gives it a slight flavor difference that is worth the trouble), confectioners' sugar and milk. 
      2. Beat until creamy.
        Iced cinnamon rolls
      3. Spread the icing over the rolls
      4. Enjoy!
      ****This is another area where the original recipe from my mother varies from this one. The original recipe uses a much simpler icing. If you'd like to try this, simply mix together one and a half pounds of confectioner's sugar, one and a half teaspoons of vanilla extract and just enough milk to make a fairly loose frosting. Again, it's different from my recipe but excellent (some of my family would tell you it's better!).

      Best when served warm.

      COOK'S NOTE: These also make very light dinner rolls. Just roll out and cut with a biscuit cutter. Baste with melted butter and fold over slightly off center. Cover and let rise for approximately 2 hrs. Then bake as above.  Alternately, you can roll the dough into small balls (approx. 3/4 inch).  Place three of these in each indentation in a muffin tin, then bake as directed.
      Loaf of bread made from cinnamon roll dough.  Simply roll
      the dough thicker than you would with the cinnamon rolls,
      then continue as directed except don't cut them.  Pinch the
      ends together and bake.  Makes incredible french toast!

      Monday, August 26, 2013

      Eggplant Marsala

      Since I've been trying to cook more vegetarian meals for my wife, and since we just came from the farmer's market yesterday, I wanted to make something a little different.
      Eggplant Marsala over egg noodles with marinated
      cucumbers and basil and broccoli

      Marsala is one of our favorites, and I've made many different versions of it. (There's a post here for a version with polenta and a creamy marsala sauce).

      One of the things I saw that looked awesome at the market yesterday was eggplant.  We don't have them often and when we do it's generally either eggplant parmigiana or baba ghanoush (recipe also posted here).

      I couldn't pass them up but as I mentioned, I wanted to try something different, so I decided to try eggplant marsala.  It's something that I had never even heard of before so I looked it up and found a few recipes. I didn't want mine to be a copy of someone else's so I left it at that - I didn't read any of them, so if this one is similar to one already posted it's just a case of great minds thinking alike!

      Ingredients

      • 1 medium/large eggplant sliced into approximately 3/4 inch rounds
        This is how much you will get out of
        one medium sized eggplant
      • 1 cup flour
      • 1 egg beaten well mixed with two tbsp milk
      • 1 cup breadcrumbs (I would love to try this with panko, but I was out of it, so I used plain regular breadcrumbs and seasoned them with fresh rosemary, oregano, garlic powder and sage)
      • 3-4 tbsp butter
      • olive oil for browning (if you have infused olive oil, even better)
      • 2 small shallots or 1/2 small onion, diced
      • 2 cloves garlic, minced
      • 1 cup marsala wine
      • 2 cups vegetable broth
      • 1 cup portobello mushrooms sliced thin (feel free to use another variety of mushroom if you prefer)

      Directions

      1. Sprinkle salt lightly on both sides of the eggplant and place between paper towels.  Let sit for half an hour.  This will pull the moisture out of the eggplant and help make it crispy.
      2. After sitting for at least 30 minutes, rinse the eggplant off with water and pat dry. Sprinkle spices of your choice over sliced eggplant (I use garlic powder, dried ground rosemary, dried basil, oregano, seasoned salt and fresh ground pepper - very lightly).
      3. Dredge seasoned slices through flour on both sides.
      4. Coat with egg/milk mixture.
        Browning the eggplant
      5. Coat thoroughly with bread crumbs and set aside.
      6. Heat olive oil (I use a garlic or rosemary-infused oil) and butter over medium high heat in heavy bottomed pan.  I prefer to use something other than a non-stick pan for this.  Stainless steel works well.
      7. Cook all of the eggplant in batches until it's golden brown on both sides (add additional oil/butter if necessary).
      8. After the eggplant is finished, add onions and mushrooms.
      9. Cook onions and mushrooms in the same pan you used for the eggplant - if necessary add additional oil/butter.
      10. Add minced garlic to the onions and mushrooms for about one to two minutes (long enough to cook but not to burn).
      11. When the garlic, onions and mushrooms are ready, add the wine. Scrape the bottom of the pan to get all of the "good stuff" that may be stuck there and then reduce the wine by half.
      12. Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil.
      13. Continue cooking over medium heat until the sauce starts to thicken.  You may also thicken the juices with a water/cornstarch slurry if you'd like.
      14. Serve over egg noodles and enjoy!!

      If you try this, please let me know what you think in the comments!

      Sunday, August 18, 2013

      Baked/Steamed Potatoes on the Grill


      I love potatoes.  There.  I said it.  I keep trying to qualify them as a vegetable when we have dinner but my wife won't let me (if I could, I might be able to sneak two different types into my meals - baked and mashed, fried and scalloped - my idea of heaven!).

      Finished meal - corn on the cob roasted on the grill,
      potatoes, grilled zucchini, chicken and pork chops
      Tonight I wanted to take advantage of the wonderful weather and use the grill - and I had already brined pork chops, chicken and even some tofu for my wife so the grill was going to be used anyway so it became a "potatoes on the grill" night (actually, we really DON'T have potatoes all that often which is probably one of the reasons I always crave them so much).

      This is something I came up with a long time ago to make cooking potatoes on the grill quick and easy. I think they do a combination of steaming AND baking this way and when you take them off the grill you don't have to do anything else to them (maybe a bit of salt, pepper and butter, depending upon your tastes but they really don't need it).

      If you try this, let me know in the comments and tell me what you think!

      Baked/Steamed Potatoes on the Grill

      Ingredients

      Potatoes after being cut and onion
      added between slices of potato.
      • 2 - 10 russet or white potatoes (how many do you want to feed? how much do they like potatoes? how big are the potatoes? for four of us, I did about 10 small/medium potatoes and we had plenty of leftovers)
      • 1 small/medium/large onion, sliced thin (the size of the onion you use will depend on how many potatoes you use - and how much you like onions!)
      • olive oil - enough to drizzle over the top of the potatoes
      • seasonings to sprinkle over the top - use whatever you like.  I generally use garlic powder, Lawry's seasoning salt and some freshly ground rosemary, but anything you like will work
      Directions
      1. Preheat your grill - if using gas, just turn on all the burners (once it's lit) and close the lid.  If you are using charcoal, once it's lit and burning well, put the cover on to let it get good and hot.  You want to leave an area large enough for the pouch to NOT have a fire directly beneath it, so either a "U" shape or coals on only half of the grill usually works well
      2. In the meantime, start preparing the potatoes. Tear off a strip of aluminum foil. Size should be determined by how many potatoes you are cooking. This piece is just for the potatoes to rest on, so size accordingly
      3. Spray the side of the foil facing you with non-stick cooking spray
      4. Slice potatoes into approx 1/2 inch slices
      5. Place potatoes on the foil where it was sprayed
      6. Put slices of onion between each slice of potato. You can do this every other slice - or any other way you like depending entirely upon how much onion you have and how much you like onion.  I've also done this with garlic, but you have to be VERY careful how much you use or it can quickly become overpowering (and we LOVE garlic)
      7. Drizzle olive oil over the potatoes but be careful not to drown them with it.  If you have an infused olive oil, it works wonders for the flavor. You can use pats of butter here instead if you like
      8. Sprinkle whatever spices you want over the top of the potatoes 
      9. Tear another piece of foil the same size as the first.  Spray one side of it with the non-stick spray.  Place the side with the spray on it over the potatoes and fold all four sides up to make a packet
      10. Place the foil packet of potatoes on the grill.  If using a gas grill, turn off a burner to make sure that one area doesn't have a fire underneath it (that will burn the potatoes on the bottom)
      11. If you have a way to tell the temperature in the grill, ideally keep it around 350-400 degrees and let it go for an hour.  You don't need to move it or turn it - just let it sit and let the grill work its magic
      12. Carefully remove onto a plate or cookie sheet
      13. Potatoes surrounded by grilled corn on the cob.  Serve
        potatoes directly out of the foil or transfer to a serving dish
      14. Open (be careful - it's hot!), serve and enjoy!