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