Saturday, December 26, 2015

Sauerkraut Even the Kids will Love ~ with Ham, Pork Roast or Brats!

Braised apples, onion, carrots and even a bit of garlic, make this sauerkraut a crowd pleaser. I've served it to many and it is universally admired. Unlike it's original namesake, which literally means 'sour cabbage' mine isn't all so sour. The added vegetables along with a bit of brown sugar, improve the flavor while reminding you of the central ingredient, fermented shredded cabbage.

Julian's Glazed Ham with Sauerkraut
As I wrote about previously, sauerkraut is a New Year's day tradition for many and brings a year of good luck. So, today I'm pairing the kraut with ham, but you could easily substitute a pork roast. This kraut is also excellent with bratwurst, and I use the same recipe when making it. If you have kids that like hot-dogs, through some of those in too. Below I'll give you tips on how to do the kraut for brats and pork roast, as well as the classic holiday ham.

Saute the Vegetables
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped (red, Spanish or sweet)
salt and pepper
2 medium carrots, shredded
1 large apple, sliced and cored (golden delicious preferred)
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons mustard (Dijon or stoneground)
2 packages (32 ounce each) sauerkraut, drained
1/3 cup brown sugar (more optional)

If you are making a pork roast or bratwurst, brown the meat first on all sides in a dutch oven or deep skillet using a little vegetable oil. Use the drippings to saute the vegetables in the next step instead of the vegetable oil.

Core the apple, no need to peel.
Over medium-high heat, add oil to a dutch oven or large deep skillet. When shimmering, add the chopped onion and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the shredded carrots and cook 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir in the sliced apple, chopped garlic, and mustard then add the drained sauerkraut. Stir to combine and add the brown sugar, using more or less to your desire sweetness.

If making a ham, add the sauerkraut mixture around the ham in a roasting pan, cover with foil and bake until the ham is just warmed through, about 2 hours at 275F degrees (follow package directions). Drain the sauerkraut before serving.

If making a pork roast, sprinkle the browned pork roast with a thin layer of sugar (white or brown) and add the pork roast to the sauerkraut. Roast until the meat is done, stirring the sauerkraut several times during roasting to ensure even cooki
ng. If it begins to brown excessively, cover with foil. Drain the sauerkraut before serving.

If making bratwurst, add the brats to the sauerkraut mixture and add two cans of dark beer or a similar amount of chicken broth. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cover the pan. Cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the sauerkraut before serving with or on top of, the brats.

Julian's New Year's Day Dinner Table

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Cranberry White Chocolate Biscotti

If you're looking for a great baked item as a gift or for holiday company, this is it! It's both festive (cranberries and white chocolate) and tasty. You can make it days or weeks ahead and it holds quite well. The technique is the same as that of my other biscotti recipes on this blog, although the ingredients are slightly different. These bake at a slightly higher temperature due to the moist fruit in the batter and the recipe makes more biscuits. This recipe is easily converted to other biscotti combinations so use it as your base recipe and experiment with different versions throughout the year.

Cutting the Baked Biscotti
This is my sister's biscotti recipe which I got from the "Cooking Down Memory Lane" cookbook produced by St. Joseph Church in Dover, Ohio. The cookbook also has great historic local photos and commemorates the 50th anniversary of the church (1965-2015).


Separate the Dough Into Halves
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/2 cups flour, plus a little extra
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries (about 6 ounces)
6 ounces white coating chocolate (see note)

Note: Coating chocolate is not quite the same as chocolate chips. I don't advise using white chocolate chips for this purpose. Rather use Wilton Candy Melts or another chocolate specific labeled as 'coating chocolate'. These are widely available at JoAnn's, WalMart and K-Mart. It will melt and perform better than melted chips, which are made for holding their shape in cookies. If you use chips keep them away from all liquids. If they do not melt properly and seize up which is common or remain lumpy, you can rescue them by mixing in vegetable oil until you have the desired consistency.

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line with silicon pads.

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter on medium speed for 30-45 seconds with the standard mixing paddle attachment. Mix in the sugar, then add the eggs and almond extract mixing until well combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Switch to the dough hook attachment. Mix in the flour a little at a time until combined. Add and cranberries and mix.

Ready for the first baking.
Sprinkle a work surface with a little sugar and flour. Dump the dough on to the work surface and combine with the heal of your hand, turning it several times until combined and formed into a disk. Sprinkle with extra flour/sugar if sticky. Separate the dough into two equal parts.

Shape each portion into an 11-inch long roll. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and straighten so they are approximately three inches apart. Slightly flatten the tops of each roll with your fingers until the rolls are about 2 1/2 inches wide.

The second baking dries the biscuit.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the tops are lightly brown, cracked and almost firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and turn off.  Let the rolls sit on the baking sheet for 3-5 minutes until just cool enough to handle with your bare hands. Transfer to a cooling rack being careful not to break the rolls. Let cool 30 minutes until just slightly warm.

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Transfer to a cutting surface and using a sharp serrated knife or electric knife, cut each roll diagonally into 1/2 inch slices. Place cut side down on a prepared baking sheet. Bake for eight minutes, remove from oven and turn each piece over. Bake an additional 8 minutes on the second side and remove from the oven. Cool on the baking sheets, to permit some additional baking time out of the oven.

Cranberry on the Left
When cool melt the white chocolate coating according to package directions. Using a your hand covered in a latex or food safe glove, place the tips of your fingers into the melted chocolate and shake them across the biscotti in the same direction. (See image)  Continue doing this until the biscotti are drizzled to your liking. I refrigerate the trays at this point to speed the setting of the drizzle, although this is not necessary if you have more time to let them dry.

Biscotti can be stored in an air tight container for up to 3 months if kept in a cool, dry place.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Roast Duckling with Orange Balsamic Glaze

If you are having a small gathering for the holidays and want to give them something different, consider a roasted young duckling. The flavor is lovely, particularly with this glaze and it's a relatively unique dish they will appreciate.  Duck meat, even the breast, is dark and more flavorful than turkey or chicken. But it cooks and carves much the same, although does take longer in the oven.

Julian's Christmas Table with Roasted Duckling
I paired this with my chestnut stuffing and braised red cabbage, which made for a festive holiday meal. But you could prepare this dish any time of the year and it would be appreciated.

A single duck will however only feed four adults at most, so plan accordingly. Most grocers have duck in the freezer section, but if you can get yours fresh by all means do. If yours is frozen, it's best to let it thaw slowly in the refrigerator for 2-3 days prior to preparation.

Roasting time: 1.5 - 2 hours

1 ducking (4-5 pounds)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
4 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup orange juice, no pulp
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons orange liqueur

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees with the rack set into the center position.

Rinse the duck and remove any organs/meat inside the cavity. Dry and set aside.

Stir together the remaining ingredients in a bowl that will make approximately 2-3 cups of liquid.

Spray the roasting pan with food release (Pam) and add 1 inch of water. Place the duck on a roasting rack set into the roasting pan. Using the point of a sharp knife, pierce the skin of the duck all over and particularly on the lower portions to permit the fat to drain.  Brush it with the glaze mixture.  Place in the oven and roast until the leg joint is loose and approximately 160F degrees. This should take about 1.5 - 2 hours. 

While the duck will be darkened from the glaze, you may need to cover it loosely with foil during the last 30 minutes to stop excessive browning.

Let the duck rest 30 minutes before carving.

Julian's Roasted Duck with Chestnut Stuffing and Braised Red Cabbage

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Gingerbread Cakes Grandma Would Be Proud Of

My memories of gingerbread cakes are of a moist, dark cake with a perfect crumb and a lot of flavorful spices. I've posted a recipe previously and while it's not bad, it still wasn't my ideal cake. So this year I set off to make a really great gingerbread cake that anyone's grandma would be proud of.

As it turns out, most Americans don't really seem to know what gingerbread is supposed to taste like anymore. Most seem to think of cinnamon and nutmeg, but we aren't making a pumpkin latte here, but rather a rich, delicious, spicy cake that is loaded with flavor yet still has the perfect cake crumb. While the ginger is the headline ingredient, I've found the real key to great gingerbread is using molasses, or if you're British, treacle. I like a mix of dark (robust) and light (golden) molasses, and since I usually have both on the shelf I do that. But you can do either one alone. The dark will give you a somewhat darker cake with more robust flavor but even the all light molasses version will be delicious.

Scooping into Paper Liners
Gingerbread, as we know it today, descends from Medieval Europe and the cakes we enjoy are largely a British custom during the holidays. So for that reason, I turned to a English friend for a bit of taste testing and came up with this wonderful recipe which I think you and yours will very much enjoy.

Today I'm making gingerbread cupcakes, but this recipe works equally well for a traditional square cake. I've doubled the recipe to make two dozen cupcakes but if you want to double it for a larger cake, you can do that, but it's best to make them in two separate nine inch square baking pans (rather than one larger pan.) This helps the cakes bake more evenly.

Julian Frosting Gingerbread Cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes or a 9 inch square cake

Pecan Frosting
1 1/4 cups boiling water
6 ounces molasses (3/4 cup) dark or golden
3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt

6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg (room temperature)

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line cupcake molds with paper liners or spray baking cups or pan with food release (Pam) or butter them lightly.

Bring water to a boil.  Off heat add the molasses and baking soda. Stir together and set aside to cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl whisk together the dry ingredients (ginger, cinnamon, cloves, flour, baking powder, salt).

In a mixer, whip the butter until softened and distributed. On low speed, stir in the brown sugar. Increase speed to medium and mix until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Beat the egg with a fork and with the mixer running, add the egg to the butter/sugar mixture. Reduce mixer speed to low and pour in the room temperature molasses mixture. Remove the mixing bowl and fold in the dry ingredients. The mixer will be loose, like a cake batter.

If using cupcake/muffin tin, scoop in about 1/4 cup into each mold to distribute the batter evenly. If making a single cake, pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan. Bake 30-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

If you are going to serve this slightly warm from the oven, really no topping at all is necessary, but a good whipped cream will nicely complement the flavors. As you can see in the photos, I've topped my cupcakes 4 ways: cinnamon cream cheese frosting, pecan frosting, chopped pecan and crystal of sugar.

Cream Cheese Frosting with Cinnamon Whipped In

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Crock-pot Chicken and Dumplings with Biscuit Topping

This is good way to warm up the family on a chilly autumn evening, and it's so very simple to prepare. In fact, you put it in a slow cooker (Crock-pot) about 4-5 hours before dinner and pretty much forget it until it's nearly dinner time. I'm baking all day today so the options are out for dinner tonight or something simple. As the weather is miserable, I'll put this in the Crock-pot and when dinner time arrives it will be ready.

Julian's Crock-Pot Chicken and Dumplings with Biscuit
Oven Version: If you prefer to make this in a baking dish in the oven rather than the Crock-pot, remember the high setting is about 300 degrees Fahrenheit. You will also need to increase the amount of water used, since the Crock-pot retains all moisture that usually evaporates when cooking in the oven. Check your the baking dish several times during cooking to see if more liquid is needed. If so stir in. For a great conversion table and other related tips see this Crock-pot conversion table.

Biscuit Note: You'll see I recommend browning the biscuits in the oven. Actually the biscuit topping is completely optional, and if you prefer dumplings you can just add all of them to the mixture that way. It makes the dish even easier to prepare. All Crock-Pot® brand slow cooker removable crockery inserts (without lid) may be used safely in the oven up to 400°F. If you own another slow cooker brand, please refer to your owner's manual for specific crockery cooking tolerances.

The mixture before cooking.
Leftovers:  In the top photo you can see I made two individual portions for serving. I did this because the biscuits do not reheat well (the ones you place on top) because of the time it takes to reheat the chicken base.  So if you are going to have leftovers, set aside the raw biscuits you will use for a future meal by placing them in a zippered storage bag in the refrigerator. Then re-heat the chicken mixture until it's hot, then place the unbaked biscuit on top and bake at 350F for 10-15 minutes until the biscuit is browned. If you will eat all of the meal. place all of the biscuits on top and serve family style.

Chicken: When selecting the chicken breast halves, note that they are served one per person. Some chicken breasts in the store are huge, so you may need to cut those in half or just look for pieces that are not so large when making your purchase.

Ingredients (serves 4)
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 can of condensed Cream of Chicken soup
1 soup can of water
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
16 ounce bag frozen mixed vegetables
12-16 sliced mushrooms (optional)
1 tube of Pillsbury Grands biscuits

Turn the slow cooker to high. Pour a little of the melted butter in the bottom of the vessel and place the chicken on top and pour the remaining butter on the breasts. Sprinkle with a good coating of freshly ground black pepper. In a separate bowl, mix together the soup and water until blended. Stir in the onion, frozen vegetables and optional mushrooms. Pour the mixture over top of the chicken, spreading to cover the chicken. There is sufficient salt in the soup that no additional is needed.

Put the lid on the Crock-pot and cook for 4 hours on high. Open and stir once or twice during cooking if you walk by. If the sauce is too thick add a little more water.

Take half of the biscuits and cut each into 6 pieces and place in the mixture and stir well to distribute the biscuit pieces in the sauce (these are the dumplings). Let cook for 30 minutes more stirring once during cooking.

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees and top the mixture with the remaining biscuits. Turn off the crock pot and, if your Crock-pot bowl is oven safe, remove the bowl from the Crock-pot heating element using oven mitts and place it into the oven for 10-15 minutes so that the biscuits can rise and brown. Please note that this is an optional step and should not be used if the Crock-pot vessel is not oven safe.

Remove Crock-pot bowl from oven and serve, one piece of chicken per person in shallow bowls.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Kale and Apple Salad

A winter salad with kale, apple and cheddar cheese looks perfect on the holiday table and really is good any time of the year. I've added dried cranberries for a special holiday feel, but they are optional.

Julian's Kale and Apple Salad
(Click to Enlarge)
Kale is all the rage cooked and in salads this year. It is a hardy cabbage-like leaf vegetable but does not form a head. Kale is one of the healthiest vegetables around. It's said to lower cholesterol and support the body's detoxification system.

Kale greens can provide an intense addition to salads if not properly prepared. When finely chopped and combined with oil, lemon juice and vinegar, kale's flavor is noticeably reduced and more suitable for a salad. Soaking the kale for 15-20 minutes in the dressing also helps to soften the tough leaves.

Core, but do not peel the apple. I used a Granny Smith in this photo, because I had it on hand, but I prefer Fuji or Gala. Attempt to dice the apple about twice the size of the cheddar cheese if possible. Dress the apple and kale immediately to stop the apple from browning.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)
4 cups finely chopped kale, washed
1 apple, Fuji or Gala preferred, cored and diced
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 small garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper, to taste
2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, small dice
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
4 tablespoons dried cranberries
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Finely chop the washed kale and combine with the apple in a large bowl. Whisk together the oil, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper. Pour over the kale and apple, and toss to combine. Set aside for 15-20 minutes.

Plate the dressed salad and add the cheddar cheese, almonds, cranberries and top with the grated Parmesan.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Roasted Turkey ~ Pictorial Step by Step

Nothing is more daunting to the uninitiated than the first Thanksgiving turkey. While I've posted my trials and test on best turkey technique previously (which you should read to fully understand what you are doing and why), I've still had many questions from those trying to follow my recommendations. So this year I'm doing a simple pictorial step-by-step guide. This surely will produce the best roasted turkey you've ever encountered.

Julian's Turkey
What You Will Need
  • turkey, fresh preferred (15-20 pounds)
  • brine mixture, or 20 ounces salt and 2 gallons of water
  • brining bag or a large pot and possibly a cooler (see notes below)
  • 2 large carrots, 2 celery stalks, 1 medium onion
  • poultry seasons
  • salt and pepper
  • package of cheesecloth
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
  • 1 bottle (750ml) white white
  • 2-3 tablespoons flour, for gravy
  • roasting pan and roasting rack
  • basting bulb or large spoon
  • silicon oven mits
  • gravy fat separator
  • ingredients for dressing/stuffing (optional)
  • ingredients for glaze (below and optional)

2 days ahead (Tuesday morning, for Thanksgiving Dinner)
Make the Brine (and defrost the turkey if using frozen)
Brine Ingredients
You should make the brine ahead so it has to cool before use. You can use a package brine mix, or make your own. There are many good recipes online and I like the one by Ree Drummond, but really any recipe will work well.  Just remember that you need 10 ounces of salt (by weight) per gallon of water. Salt crystal sizes mean that it will weigh differently so do not just substitute dry measures for weight. Weigh the salt. For a turkey of 15-20 pounds you will need two gallons of brine, and to that you can add additional water if needed to cover the turkey. If you just want to use salt and water, that will work fine too. Bring about half a gallon of water to a boil and add 20 ounces of salt, stir until dissolved and let cool. Refrigerate for tomorrows use. When ready to use, add the remaining water (1 1/2 gallons) and stir to combine. This will result in two gallons of brine.

Make sure you have a large container or a big heavy plastic bag. They now make bags just for turkey brining, so buy one of those if you like. I got mine at Bed, Bath and Beyond. If you are using a large container make sure it fits into your refrigerator. If you are using a cooler, clean it and make sure the garage is cool enough to maintain the temperature below 40F degrees. If not, be prepared to periodically add ice to the water to maintain a safe temperature.

1 day ahead (Wednesday morning, for Thanksgiving Dinner)
Brine the Turkey

As you can see here, I've put a large zip locked plastic bag into my refrigerator's meat drawer, where I previously had my fresh turkey stored. if you bought a frozen turkey, it must be thawed before you brine it. 

Pour some of your brine into the bottom of the bag or container. Wash the turkey inside and out and place, breast side DOWN into the brine. Set aside the neck, giblets, etc. and refrigerate for later use.

Pour on the remainder of the brine and add water to cover.

Put the brined turkey into the refrigerator or in a cool place where you can maintain temperature to between 32F - 40F degrees.

In the meat drawer, with brine.
Stuffing/Dressing Prep
I assume you will likely be wanting dressing for dinner with the turkey, as it's certainly traditional. I do not recommend stuffing the turkey, as it will slow cooking and make it cook unevenly, causing dry breast meat. So if you are using fresh bread, you can cube it and prepare the bread the same day as you brine the turkey.  I like to use a crusty bread, which could be a French loaf or a Focaccia bread. Cut it into large cubes.

Place the cubes on baking trays and lightly toast in a 250F degree oven for about 45 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let set, uncovered so the bread dries out completely. Drying the bread ensures that it will soak up the broth you will be making to finish the stuffing.  You can finish making the dressing now (the day before Thanksgiving), placing it in a baking dish in your refrigerator for tomorrow's service, if you follow a recipe like mine where all ingredients are pre-cooked on the stove top before mixing together. If you are using any raw ingredients then you should make it only the day you will bake/serve. My recipe for classic Chestnut Stuffing is always a hit!

Now, remove two sticks (1/2 pound) of butter from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature for tomorrow's use.

Serving Day (Thanksgiving Day)
Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse dry about 1 hour before baking. This permits it to warm up slightly. Make sure it is well dried with paper towels on all sides and inside. Most turkeys in the 15-20 pound range will take 2-3 1/2 hours to roast. See timing on the package for estimates, but remember only temperature should be your guide as to when it comes out of the oven.

While the turkey is coming to temperature roughly chop two carrots, two stalks of celery and a medium onion. Spray the bottom of your roast pan with food release for easy clean up. Add the vegetables and the turkey neck. This will become your gravy base. Add water until the vegetables are about half covered. This will prevent smoking from the drippings as they hit a hot pan. Place a roasting rack into the pan and make sure it is stably seated (i.e., not sitting on vegetables.)

Using room temperature butter, give the turkey a good massage all over with 1/4 pound of butter (1 stick). Get under the skin where you can reasonably do so, and do the skin surfaces as well.

Pre-heat the oven to 425F degrees. Season the turkey all over. You can use any seasonings you prefer. Many people use the pre-mixed poultry seasoning and that will work just fine. You may also just want to use salt and pepper. Whatever you use make sure you also do inside the body cavity. 

Tie the legs together with butchers twine, or tuck them into the skin fold or metal clasp they often provide in a dressed turkey. Tuck the wing tips under the bird as shown in the image above, then place the turkey breast side DOWN onto the roasting rack. Place it in the 425F degree oven for 30 minutes.

While the turkey begins roasting, melt one stick (1/4 pound) of butter and with one 750ML bottle of white wine. This doesn't need to cook, just simply be warmed enough to melt the already soft butter. Once melted turn off the heat and let sit on the warm burner to keep the butter melted. Cut four pieces of cheesecloth big enough to cover the turkey and set aside.

After 30 minutes, remove the turkey from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 350F degrees. Have someone hold the hot roasting pan stable while you turn the turkey over, breast side now up. I like to use silicon oven mits for this task as they can easily be wiped clean. Careful when handling, as the turkey will already be quite hot. 

With the turkey now breast side up, holding the four layers of cheesecloth together, dip them into the wine/butter mixture. Let drain a bit then lay over the turkey covering it completely. Insert a meat thermometer into the thigh area, going down between the leg and the body. Do not allow it to sit on a bone but rather into the meat itself. Place the turkey back into the 350F oven.

After 30 minutes, baste the turkey over the cheesecloth. Close the oven and roast another 30 minutes and baste again. Observe the temperature of the turkey.  If the temperature is already 135F degrees or so, remove the cheesecloth and baste directly on the meat with the wine/butter mixture. If not, baste on the cheesecloth and check again in 30 minutes.

It's necessary to remove the cheesecloth about 30-60 minutes before the turkey will be done if you would like a brown crispy skin. If your timing is off and the cheesecloth is on too long, it's better to remove the turkey with a pale skin then to continue cooking to brown, as this will over cook the meat making it dry. If the color is important to you because it's going to serve as a center piece before carving, a quick painting with my glaze recipe and a few minutes more in the oven will finish it off nicely.

Glaze (optional)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
4 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup orange juice, no pulp
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons orange liqueur

Stir together the above ingredients and paint the turkey. Return to oven for five minutes, baste again, and return to oven for another 5 minutes.

Continue roasting the turkey until the meat thermometer reaches 170-180F at the thigh and 160F at the breast.  Remove from the oven and onto a cutting board with drainage channel (to catch juices that run off.) Lightly tent with foil for 30-60 minutes before carving.

Julian's Roasted Glazed Turkey
Now make the gravy by straining the drippings and vegetables and reserving the liquid. Use a gravy separator to remove the fat. Heat the drippings to a low boil, and separate 1 cup of the liquid and set aside keeping it hot. To the remaining liquid, make a slurry of flour and cold water, and stir in to lightly thicken.

When ready to serve, carve the turkey and place on a platter. Pour the reserved cup of hot turkey broth onto the sliced meat and serve. The gravy is for use on potatoes and stuffing, and on individual turkey servings. The hot broth will keep the carved turkey on your platter moist and warm.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Chestnut Dressing ~ A Perfect Holiday Side

A perfect turkey side-dish and certainly classic, is chestnut dressing or stuffing. I make it several times every year  and always with my Thanksgiving turkey. But it goes well with any roasted bird and is great in a crown roast of pork. But as noted in my roasted turkey recipe, I do not recommend stuffing the turkey to ensure even roasting.

Chestnuts headed into the Dressing
I'm making it here with Italian sausage, which I do recommend. But if you are feeding vegetarians you can skip it, or easily make a batch of both as the sausage is added just before turning it into the baking dish(es). And I purchase chestnuts already roasted and shelled and ready to use. 

This brand is always good.
I also recommend you use at least one loaf of good crusty bread. Two days prior to cooking, I cube and lightly toast the bread (250F degrees for 45 minutes), and then set aside to continue drying. Dry bread better absorbs the sauce. For a large crowd you may also want to have a bag of stuffing croutons to mix into the bread.

In the photo above I show one large loaf of french bread, although Focaccia bread is also a great option for stuffing. I recommend selecting whatever bread looks good in the bakery and has a nice firm crisp crust.

1 loaf French or Focaccia bread
1/2 pound bulk Italian sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large celery stalk, chopped
1 small carrot, grated
1/2 cup butter
1 cup chicken/turkey stock

1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
12 ounces dried bread croutons
5-6 ounces fresh whole prepared chestnuts

Prepare the loaf of bread as noted above so that you have fresh, dry bread cubes ready for use. Then chop the vegetables.

If using the sausage, which I do recommend, brown it in a large heavy sauce pot. Remove the meat and keep the drippings for the next step.

If you have not used sausage, heat the butter in a large sauce pan until melted and add the onion. If you did use the sausage, add the chopped onion to the sausage drippings. Cook until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add the celery and carrot and stir to combine. Add the turkey stock (and the butter if you have not yet used it) and heat until simmering. Cook the vegetables for 15 minutes, stirring regularly.

Add the milk and remaining seasoning and warm over medium heat until just hot, about 10 more minutes. Do not scald or boil the milk mixture. While the milk warms, cut each chestnut in half.

Place the bread and half of the croutons in a large mixing bowl. Gently turn in the wet mixture. until combined. Over mixing will break up the bread and you do want some shapes to remain. Add as much of the remaining croutons as necessary to make the dressing to your desired consistency. My husband doesn't like it too wet, and yet others prefer a very dense dressing. So here you will have to use your best judgement.

Now add in the optional sausage and the chestnuts and gently combine so as not to break up the chestnuts.  Turn into a prepared baking dish (I spray mine with food release) and the dish is ready for baking. You can refrigerate for 24 hours if necessary. When ready, bake in a 350F degree oven for 30-60 minutes covered with foil for the first half of baking. Remove the cover for the latter have to make a nice crust on the top. If you refrigerated the dressing you will need the full 60 minute baking time.

Julian's Dressing Ready for the Oven
As I noted earlier, this dressing makes a great side dish for most every kind of foul, including turkey, duck and chicken.

Julian's Roasted Duck with Chestnut Stuffing

Saturday, October 31, 2015

A weekend in Montreal ~ Local Dining Treasurers

If you've never been to Montreal, you really should consider it at least for a long weekend. The city is in the Canadian province of Quebec and the largest city in the province and the second-largest in Canada with a population of over 1.6 million. It is named after Mount Royal, the triple-peaked hill in the heart of the city, where we had a lovely morning hike up and down the mountain.
On Mount Royal overlooking Montreal
French is the city's official language and is the language spoken at home by more than half of the population. Interestingly, it is the second largest primarily French-speaking city in the world, after Paris. But not to fear if you are not ‘parlant français’, because Montreal is one of the most bilingual cities anywhere. Nowhere did we encounter difficulties because of our lack of language skills.
The city is a cultural gem, producing jazz, rock, pop and many visual arts. But as a foodie, today I wanted to tell you about our dining experiences in this historic city.

This was my fourth time in Montreal and when I think back on my visits I find that food is such a strong part of the Montreal identity. Poutine immediately springs to mind, as well as their unique method of making bagels. Of course Montreal is also famous for smoked meat, fine French dining and the national maple syrup. So on this visit we attempted to once again enjoy each of these.

Bagels: You're not in New York anymore!
Montreal is a city shaped by an immigrant population. It's interesting to note how many of their foods have Eastern European, and specifically Jewish, roots. For example, is there any food that says “Montreal” more than the bagel?

Since 1957, St. Viateur Bagel’s 24-hour operation has been churning out 12,000 hand-rolled bagels daily. Founder Myer Lewkowicz brought his famous recipe over from Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, one block over, Fairmount Bagel founder Isadore Shlafman was baking bagels at the Original Fairmount Bagel Factory using the same technique. Each has its fans, although I could not tell them apart, but each has a line out the door, Be prepared to wait.

New York-style bagels are soft, chewy and doughy. Montreal-style bagels, on the other hand, are smaller, denser, crispier and sweeter. Both are boiled before they are baked, but Montreal bagels are boiled in water that has been sweetened with honey -- a defining characteristic of this style. Additionally Montreal bagels are baked in a wood-burning oven, which makes them extra crispy. About half the size of New York bagels and containing a much bigger hole, Montreal bagels are not meant for slicing. You can dip them in cream cheese, but we've been told that most Montrealers wouldn't typically slice them and spread them with cream cheese like you would a New York bagel.

Poutine - A classic lunch!
This dish is pronounced,"poo-tzin" not "poo-teen", although the server will understand what you are ordering either way. Quebec's preeminent fast food staple of french fries with gravy and cheese curds, was recently promoted to the official rank of Canada's National Dish. 

Pulled Pork Poutine
In 2001, this dish became the symbol of chef Martin Picard’s groundbreaking highbrow-meets-lowbrow style. His version starts with a bed of french fries, topped with a cream sauce laced with foie gras and egg yolks, and a final topping of cheese curds and seared nuggets of foie gras, Picard’s poutine set the stage for restaurants of all types to add varying toppings to the dish. Kevin and I enjoyed two varieties: one with shredded duck and the other with pulled barbequed pork with bacon. Both were delicious at this microbrewery in Montreal's historic city center, Vieux-Montréal.

Gibby's - Steak and Seafood in an Historic Setting
The entrance archway to Gibbys stands on what was once the south bank of the Little St. Pierre River near the original Huron settlement in the old city. In 1833 the Little St. Pierre River was covered over to allow the construction of St. Anne’s Market, now Place Youville, where Gibby's is located. The site housed the Parliament buildings of the newly united Province of Canada in 1844 as well as part of a series of buildings once belonging to the Sisters of Charity General Hospital, founded by Marguerite d’Youville, and hence the street name. Most of the current building where the restaurant is located dates from 1765 to 1850 and was part of the Youville Stables.

Gibby's opened about 40 years ago and has been popular with locals and tourists alike. Because of its historic nature, restaurant reservations are needed well in advance for weekends and holidays, and are even a good idea on weekdays. Gibbys’s success can be attributed to not only have good food, but also friendly service, free parking, an extensive wine list, which pairs nicely with its warm decor with candlelit, stone-walled, low-ceilinged, wood-beamed dining rooms. As for the menu, think classic steak house fare plus extras, including sour pickles and warm bread. All main courses are served with a salad – and a small scoop of palate-cleansing lemon sorbet that arrives just before the main course. For seafood lovers, there was a local fish called a 'salmon trout', which consisted of a fillet of a large fork-tailed trout from the lakes of Canada. It had the pink color and flavor of salmon but the consistency and thickness of lake trout. Kevin pronounced it quite good. The shellfish options (from lobsters large and miniature) to shrimp prepared in different ways, were all quite good with generous portions. If choosing steak, I would recommend the "Gibby's Cut (bone-in)  Rib Eye, which has the best flavor and texture of the steak options.

Gibby's Shrimp
Dinner is not inexpensive, and main courses run between $30 and $50 Canadian dollars. There’s no children’s menu (perhaps surprising considering the number of families that you see here) and if there is a birthday in the group let them know in advance for a free birthday cake. Portions are large, and a soup or salad is included with the main course, which explains why there are so few appetizers listed on the menu. Overall, a nice dining experience that travelers should enjoy.

Schwartz’s Smoked Meat
If you’re a Montrealer, chances are you grew up eating smoked meat. There are countless restaurants in the city where you can get a good smoked meat sandwich, but the one that has been the subject of documentaries, inspired musicals and written about in books is Schwartz’s. Founded in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Romania, Schwartz’s is a long and narrow, white-tiled room packed with communal tables where everyone sits elbow to elbow enjoying his famed sandwiches with fries, Cherry Coke and pickles. The preservative-free smoked meat is made from briskets marinated with herbs and spices for 10 days and then smoked. The hand-slicing of the hot brisket, results in slices of smoked meat that retain their shape and juiciness, and when spread with yellow mustard and served between slices of rye bread is perfection.  But like the famed bagel houses, the lines are out the door from noon to the wee hours  of the morning, so be prepared to wait.

Fine French Dining
Montreal is packed with well trained, creative chefs and it's not hard to find restaurants that prepare food in the French haute cuisine style, which is characterized by meticulous preparation and careful presentation of food (usually at high prices). This trip we enjoyed two such dinners, one at the dining room of the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth and the other in old Montreal at Chez l'Épicier.

We rarely ever eat in hotel restaurants as the food is not usually anything to write home (or this blog) about. However, we were intrigued by the seasonal table d'hôte menu offered at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth (Fairmont Le Reine Elizabeth) where I always stay when in Montreal. Fairmont hotels are well known for the quality of their food, well trained and creative chefs and exceptional service. So we decided to try the October's Mushroom Festival menu. Each course was creative and well prepared, but not stuffy or arranged so as to impress only visually. Each course was of a moderate size perfect to enjoy the flavors of the season, which were complex. And as you can see in the photo, the menus were in both French and English. The price was also extremely reasonable.

Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Mushroom Festival
HOTEL SELECTIONS:  As noted above I always stay at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth in Montreal because it is both centrally located and one of the best hotels in the city. If you are just wanting to tour the old town or you are attending a convention, then Le Westin Montreal Hotel or the InterContinental Montreal are both good choices. The Fairmont sits between the old town and Mount Royal, in the business district. Within a few block you have shopping and museums. An easy 20-25 minute walk takes to the Basilique Notre-Dame (highly recommended) and then right into old Montreal. The same 20-25 minutes in the other direction and you've entered the park at the foot of Mount Royal. The service and staff are incomparable at the Fairmont. 

At Chez l'Épicier you'll find a classic French fusion menu printed on brown paper, with tables covered in crisp white linens.  The menu includes seasonal creative dishes. Chef Godbout is a master of his trade and a meal at Chez l'Épicier is a feast for all the senses, if you choose to splurge. The restaurant is listed on USA Today's 10 Best, although you might be surprised at this when viewing the venue humble storefront located in the heart of tourist area in old Montreal.

Chez l'Épicier in Vieux Montréal
Chez L’épicier’s trademark cocktail is a classic sparkling apple cider with a splash of blueberry maple syrup and it's recommend you begin your evening here. The amuse–bouche (complementary small appetizer) for the evening was a melt-in-your-mouth Macaroon flavored with an olive and goat cheese filling, for which the restaurant is also well known. It whetted our appetite for the first course (mine the seasonal squash soup and Kevin's the raw fish), both of which were playful and full of flavor. Kevin greatly enjoyed the duck entree, which had been de-boned and the meat placed into a round mold surrounded by the crispy duck skin. It was tender, juicy and flavorful. I enjoyed the scallops for the main course, and while very tasty, were unremarkable. Montreal Gazette food critic Lesley Chesterman probably put it best; “In a nutshell, I’d say Godbout’s food is out there, with fancy plate presentations that you will either appreciate or leave you scratching your head. I like his food when it’s simple, but when he plays it fussy, it’s VERY fussy.”

Maple Syrup & Poor Man's Pudding
According to the Quebec Federation of Maple Syrup Producers, 77% of the world's maple syrup is produced in the province Montreal calls home. The inhabitants of the  province consume more maple products per capita than anywhere else in the world. And when you've tasted the sweet maple sap in its many forms, you can understand why. While it's sold everywhere for tourists to take home, find the time to enjoy it during breakfast or made into one of many pastries and desserts.

One of my favorites is pouding chômeur (poor man's pudding)  which is a dessert that was created by factory workers early during the Great Depression in Quebec.  Pouding chômeur is served as a regional dessert, perhaps more popular during the saison des sucres, when maple sap is collected and processed. It is usually part of the meal at a sugar shack where the hot syrup is poured over the cake mixture before baking.  The cake then rises through the liquid which settles at the bottom at the pan, mixing with the batter and creating a distinct layer at the bottom of the dish. For these reasons, it is best prepared in individual ramekins and served with a whipped cream topping.