Holidays

Homemade Yogurt Cheese

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Photo Dec 08, 3 54 11 PM

Chef John from Food Wishes recently vlogged a homemade cream cheese recipe using the Labneh method. It’s actually yogurt cheese. It takes three days to make and costs more than regular cream cheese (can’t beat that combination: takes more time and money), but the results are well worth it. I used a non-fat Greek yogurt (Fage Total 0%) which was an excellent choice and worked great. High in protein, no fat, lower sugar and carbohydrates: Wow, this cheese is actually good for you!

Greek yogurt already has much of the whey removed. Hanging for 24 hours really did not extract much more. I did find that I needed to put a shallow bowl under the mold. Pressing did extract additional whey which had no where to go but over the side.

I added Chives and Green Onions to the mixture before molding and used more salt than Chef John. I served mine with some hot fish pepper jelly I made a few weeks ago on some bruschetta toasts. The tanginess of the cheese, the bite of the onions and chives, the sweetness and heat of the jelly and the crunchiness of the toast was a fantastic combination.

I highly recommend this recipe. Experiment with the yogurt and with any additives. The process is long, but the results can be fun and delicious. There is still time to plan some for that holiday party to impress your friends, relatives and/or co-workers and let them know, as Chef John said, you really are better than them.

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Thanksgiving Dinner 2013

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Tday_Dinner

A Yiddish proverb says, “Man plans and God laughs.” The plan was to be in Rochester, NY with family for Thanksgiving. Weather intervened and we ended up staying in Chapel Hill, NC where we had attended our daughter’s Ph.D. dissertation seminar earlier in the week. Luckily, there had been a possibility that we would be home for turkey day so I had already given a menu some thought.

I don’t normally build a menu around a salad, but I recently had a Kale Salad at Agricola Eatery in Princeton, NJ and wanted to start the meal with my version of that salad. The one at Agricola had roasted cauliflower, pickled pumpkin, shaved radish and a pumpkin seed vinaigrette. I would have liked to include pickled pumpkin, but mine were at home and they take time to cure. I opted for roasted butternut squash instead. In lieu of cauliflower and radishes, I used apples and dried cranberries and topped the salad with croutons and roasted pumpkin seeds. The roasted squash and pumpkin seeds became ingredients to tie the menu together.

I wanted a hearty, healthy bread for the croutons and dressing. I was thinking of an ancient grain bread that Wegman’s makes, but, alas, they have not yet expanded this far south. I did find some Omega-3 Seed bread with whole wheat and flax, sunflower and sesame seeds from Ninth Street Bakery in Durham, NC at Whole Foods that worked great.

For the turkey, I went with a Mediterranean recipe that I developed a couple of years ago. Last time, I used a traditional brine. This year, I did a shortened dry brine. I experimented with dry brining last year and will never go back to a soaking brine. The bird is much moister and flavorful with dry brining. The only reason I shortened the process this year was the time available for prep before the big day. The decision to stick it out was made Tuesday morning with freezing rain, ice, sleet and snow all along the route of travel. The recipe linked below has the full timing.

Sticking with a healthy, Mediterranean theme, I developed a pumpkin hummus for the appetizer and served it with apple slices and toasted pita chips. For this meal, we had cranberry orange relish made by my wife, daughter and sister-in-law. A Cranberry, Apple and Orange Chutney that has not yet made it out of my head and onto a plate would have gone great, as well, but that will have to wait for a future meal.

The “girls” also made the pies: apple and pumpkin. Both were outstanding.

Most of the prep was done the day before so little was left to do on Thanksgiving itself but spend time with the marooned part of the family.

All measurements referenced in the below recipes are approximate. I actually measured very little so I am not sure exactly how much I used. I realize there is some repetition in the linked recipes, but I wanted each to be able to stand on its own as well as being compiled here.

THE MENU

First Course:

  • Pumpkin Hummus with apple slices and whole wheat and garlic pita chips

Second Course:

  • Kale Salad with apples, dried cranberries, roasted butternut squash, roasted pumpkin seed vinaigrette, artisan bread croutons and roasted pumpkin seeds

Main Course:

  • Mediterranean Turkey dry brined in za’atar, garlic, EVOO and pomegranate molasses
  • Artisan Bread Dressing with green onions, garlic, roasted butternut squash and porcini mushrooms seasoned with za’atar
  • Homemade Turkey Gravy
  • Sautéed Green Beans with roasted butternut squash and roasted pumpkin seeds
  • Cranberry Orange Relish

Dessert:

  • French Apple Pie
  • Pumpkin Pie

Mediterranean Turkey – 2013

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Turkey

It’s amazing how many people I speak with who don’t think they can cook a turkey, at least one with moisture and flavor. Turkey is not difficult if you know a few tricks.

I guess the first would be getting the right bird. I avoid all those pre-brined (“Honey Brined”) birds. Pumping water into the meat will give you moisture, but who wants a watery turkey. I buy a good quality, fresh turkey with as little added water as possible.

As an aside, how come my “fresh”, “never frozen” turkeys and chickens always range from down right crispy with ice crystals to rock-hard frozen? Does the butcher use a different definition of “frozen” than I do?

Okay, we’re back. Number One: high quality bird. Number Two: dry brining. We will ignore the controversy about whether this is really brining or actually curing. A rose by any other name…. We are not going to dump our high quality bird into gallons of water and salt to sit for hours. Yes, this method will introduce moisture into the bird, but we are right back to the watery turkey again.

With dry brining, we are going to spice the turkey, cover it with a couple tablespoons of kosher salt, put it into a bag and refrigerate it. We are then going to let it sit for three day, turning it over every day. I don’t know the science behind it, but here is what I think happens. The salt draws moisture out of the turkey. The moisture mixes with the spices that you put on the bird. Then the spiced moisture is drawn back into the meat. You will notice that the bag will develop a watery mixture after a day and that by day three it is gone. I think something changes in the cellular structure of the meat, as well, but I will leave that to the scientists. From the chef’s perspective all you need to know is you end up with a moist, flavorful turkey and, after all, is our goal.

The night before cooking, remove the turkey from the bag and pat the skin dry with paper towels. Place the turkey on a plate and refrigerate uncovered overnight. This step ensures you end up with nice crispy skin. . . . or I should say, your turkey ends up with nice crispy skin. It is probably not your goal to turn your skin crispy! If it is, while the turkey is brining, visit the local tanning salon for three days, turning daily.

A few word on spices: let your imagination run wild! I have done Southwestern Turkeys with Ancho chili. I have done Miso Turkeys. You can use any citrus. I have used lemons, limes and oranges (not all together, but you could). This year it was Mediterranean Turkey, but more on that in a minute. The point is, think outside of the box . . . the Bell’s Poultry Season box that is.

Another trick is you want to get under the turkey’s skin, literally not figuratively. Get your fingers between the skin and the breast meat and work the skin loose. Liberally apply spice under the skin. This gets more spice into the meat and not just on the surface. Spicing well is trick #3.

There are many different ways to cook a turkey. You can roast it, grill it, smoke, fry it, sous vide it and probably a dozen other ways. I roast it in a Reynolds Oven Bag. I use the bag because it cooks faster and stays moister. Not a bad combination. Reynolds is still using old guideline on the turkey temperature. You can safely cook the turkey to 165 degrees F. You do not need to go all the way to 180 degrees. Concerning temperature, pull that little plastic pop-up thermometer out of the bird when you first get it and throw it away. Get a reliable meat thermometer and use it. Trick #4: proper cooking.

That is all there is to it! Buy a high quality bird, use some interesting spices, dry brine it and cook it properly. Overcooking the turkey is probably the biggest problem that people have. Overcooked turkey is tough and dry. The solution: a good thermometer and cooking to the proper temperature.

Thanksgiving Dinner was at my daughter’s house this year and I cooked my Mediterranean Turkey. The spice combo: Za’atar, Pomegranate Molasses and Garlic.

Za’atar is a Middle Eastern blend of herbs, sesame and salt. The blend varies from region to region, but is widely used. One of the main ingredients is Sumac. No, no, not the poison stuff we know in the Northeastern US. Sumac spice is the dried, ground fruit of the Elm-Leaved Sumach or Tanner’s Sumach shrub. The za’atar I used is thyme based. Za’atar can be purchased in any Mediterranean Grocery or the international section of most chain groceries.

Pomegranate Molasses might be a little harder to find. I can buy it a Wegman’s in the international section right near the za’atar. This time, I bought it at Whole Foods who had it with the regular molasses.

Ingredients:
13 lb. Fresh Turkey
6 Tbsp. Za’atar
4 Tbsp. Pomegranate Molasses
4 cloves Garlic, minsed
6 Tbsp. Olive Oil
2 Tbsp. Kosher Salt
Juice of two limes

Directions:
1) Rinse and dry Turkey
2) Combine 4 Tbsp. Za’atar, Pomegranate Molasses, Garlic and 4 Tbsp. Olive Oil in a small bowl.
3) Generously coat Turkey with spices including all surfaces and under the skin.
4) Sprinkle Turkey with Kosher salt on all surfaces and rub to ensure it is evenly coated.
5) Place Turkey in brining bag and refrigerate for 3 days, turning daily. (Reynolds nicely supplies two oven bags. I use one for brining and the other for cooking.)
6) The night before cooking, remove the Turkey from the brining bag. Pat dry with paper towels. Put Turkey on a plate and let sit overnight in the refrigerator, uncovered.
7) Remove Turkey from the refrigerator one hour before cooking to bring to room temperature.
8) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.
9) Place Turkey in clean oven bag.
10) Mix 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil and Lime Juice in a small bowl.
11) Pour Oil/Lime mixture over Turkey and sprinkle with 2 Tbsp. Za’atar.
12) Close bag with provided tie and make slits in bag, as directed.
13) Roast for 2 – 2 1/2 hours, until thermometer in thickest part of the breast reads 165 degrees F.
14) Remove from oven and let stand covered with aluminum foil for 30 minutes.
15) Slice, serve and enjoy.

Artisan Bread Dressing

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You can’t have Turkey without dressing. I think it’s a law or something. However, there is no law that dressing has to be boring. In U.S. v. Bell, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution allows variations beyond Wonder Bread, celery, onion and Bell’s seasoning. This year’s Thanksgiving Dinner had some strong flavor profiles so I wanted a rich, hearty dressing.

The bulk of dressing is bread so I wanted a hearty artisan bread. I was thinking of an ancient grain bread that Wegman’s makes, but, alas, they have not yet expanded into North Carolina where I was cooking dinner with my daughter at her house. I did, however, find some Omega-3 Seed bread with whole wheat and flax, sunflower and sesame seeds from Ninth Street Bakery in Durham, NC that worked great.

One of the key ingredients across the menu was roasted butternut squash, so it went into the dressing as well. To add to the richness, I added nice earthy porcini mushrooms. Never throw away the water in which you rehydrate dried mushrooms. If discarded, you are throwing away flavor. Carefully, filter out any sand and use the liquid in the recipe.

Since the dressing was by obligation accompanying a turkey, I wanted to use some of the same spices used on the bird. This year’s I was cooking my Mediterranean Turkey with za’atar. So I used za’atar in the dressing, as well. Za’atar is a Middle Eastern blend of herbs, sesame and salt. The blend varies from region to region, but is widely used. One of the main ingredients is Sumac. No, no, not the poison stuff we know in the Northeastern US. Sumac spice is the dried, ground fruit of the Elm-Leaved Sumach or Tanner’s Sumach shrub. The za’atar I used is thyme based. Za’atar can be purchased in any Mediterranean Grocery or the international section of most chain groceries.

Normally for Thanksgiving recipes, I would use homemade turkey stock; however, my stock was at home and, in what has always been a mystery to me, you can’t seem to find turkey stock at the normal grocery. I can buy it at Wegman’s, but it always sells out rapidly. This year, I had to substitute store-bought low sodium chicken stock.

I made the dressing the day before Thanksgiving and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. On Turkey-day, I took it out of the frig. an hour prior to cooking to bring it to room temperature.

Even with store-bought stock of a different fowl, the flavors really worked well together and, most importantly, we were in full compliance with the Turkey Accompaniment Act of 1621.

Ingredients:

Roasted Butternut Squash:
1 Butternut Squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
Olive Oil Spray
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon, ground
1/4 tsp. Cumin, ground

Artisan Bread Dressing:
1 1/2 Loaf of Artisan Bread, cubed
Olive Oil Spray
2 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
6 Green Onions (Scallions), chopped including the green parts
4 cloves Garlic, minsed
1 oz. Dried Porcini Mushrooms, rehydrated and chopped (filter and reserve the water)
2 cup Roasted Butternut Squash
4 Tbsp. Za’atar
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Poultry Stock, as needed

Directions:

Roasted Butternut Squash:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Cut squash into 3/4 inch cubes.
3) Line cookie sheet with parchment paper and place squash in a single layer on the pan.
4) Spray bread cubes lightly with Olive Oil on all sides and sprinkle lightly with Cinnamon and Cumin.
5) Bake until lightly browned and cooked through, but still firm, about 30 minutes, turning 1/2 way through.

Artisan Bread Dressing:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Cut bread into 3/4-1 inch cubes.
3) Line cookie sheet with parchment paper and place bread cubes in a single layer on the pan.
4) Bake until bread is dried, about 10 minutes.
5) Remove from oven and put dried bread into a large bowl.
6) In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat.
7) Add Green Onions and sauté until soft, about 10 minutes.
8) Add Garlic and sauté an additional minute.
9) Remove Onions and Garlic and add to bowl with bread.
10) Add mushrooms to skillet and sauté until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove from skillet and add to bowl with bread.
11) Add squash, za’atar, salt and pepper to bowl with bread.
12) Starting with the mushroom rehydration liquid and moving to the poultry stock when it is gone, add liquid to the bread and mix until moist. The dressing should hold its shape when gently squeezed without being mushy.
13) Spray the bottom and all sides of a 13″ x 9″ cake pan with an Olive Oil spray and move dressing to the pan.
14) Bake until cooked through and brown on top, about 30 minutes.

Kale Salad with Roasted Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette

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Kale_Salad

This is my version of a Kale Salad that I recently had at Agricola Eatery in Princeton, NJ. I don’t normally build a menu around a salad, but this was the foundation of a Thanksgiving Dinner that I cooked with my daughter at her house. The salad at Agricola had roasted cauliflower, pickled pumpkin, shaved radish and pumpkin seed vinaigrette. I would have liked to include pickled pumpkin, but since mine were at home I opted for roasted butternut squash. In place of cauliflower and radish, I used apples and dried cranberries and topped the salad with croutons and roasted pumpkin seeds.

I left the skin on the apples. That is where much of the taste and vitamins are. You can peel them, if you wish. I used Honey Crisps, but any tart apple will work.

For the croutons, I used a hearty artisan bread. I was thinking of an ancient grain bread that Wegman’s makes, but, alas, they have not yet expanded into North Carolina. I did find some Omega-3 Seed bread with whole wheat and flax, sunflower and sesame seeds from Ninth Street Bakery in Durham, NC that worked great. I made the croutons the day before Thanksgiving. I reserved the crusts from the bread for the artisan bread dressing I was making.

I used a Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette recipe from the New York Times. I am not replicating the recipe here. Just follow the link. I did find that I needed to add significantly more Olive Oil than called for in the recipe to achieve the proper consistency. I also made the vinaigrette a day in advance and then reheated it. When doing so, I had to work hard to restore the emulsification. I would suggest making it as needed.

The amounts below are approximate. It is a salad, after all. Adjust amounts to taste.

Ingredients:

Artisan Bread Croutons:
1/2 Loaf of Artisan Bread, cubed
Olive Oil Spray
Garlic Powder

Roasted Butternut Squash:
1/2 Butternut Squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
Olive Oil Spray
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon, ground
1/4 tsp. Cumin, ground

Kale Salad:
Two bunches of Kale, washed and shredded into fork size pieces
2 Honey Crisp Apples, cored and cubed
3/4 cup Dried Cranberries
1 cup Roasted Butternut Squash
Roasted Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1 cup Artisan Bread Croutons
1/2 cup Roasted Pumkin Seeds

Directions:

Artisan Bread Croutons:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Remove crust from slices of Artisan Bread. Cut remaining bread into 3/4 inch cubes.
3) Line cookie sheet with parchment paper and place bread cubes in a single layer on the pan.
4) Spray bread cubes lightly with Olive Oil on all sides and sprinkle lightly with Garlic Powder.
5) Bake until browned, 10-15 minutes, turning 1/2 way through.

Roasted Butternut Squash:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Cut squash into 1/2 inch cubes.
3) Line cookie sheet with parchment paper and place squash in a single layer on the pan.
4) Spray bread cubes lightly with Olive Oil on all sides and sprinkle lightly with Cinnamon and Cumin.
5) Bake until lightly browned and cooked through, but still firm, about 30 minutes, turning 1/2 way through.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Line cookie sheet with parchment paper and place Pumpkin Seeds in a single layer on the pan.
3) Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes, turning 1/2 way through.

Kale Salad:
1) In a large bowl, toss Kale, Apples, Cranberries and Squash
2) Add Vinaigrette, Salt and Pepper. Toss, coating salad well.
3) Top with Croutons and Pumpkin Seeds and serve.

Pumpkin Hummus

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photo

Homemade hummus is easy to make and far better than its store-bought cousin. It is also very versatile from a flavoring perspective. You can add all sorts of spices and flavor ingredients to give it the perfect profile for your event.

I came up with this hummus as an appetizer to a Thanksgiving dinner. The addition of the pumpkin and spices gave it a subtle pumpkin flavor. I served it with apple slices and pita chips. For the chips, I cut the pitas into wedges, sprayed them with olive oil and baked them at 350 F. for 10-15 minutes.

I always use dried chickpeas. The taste is far superior to the canned variety. If you do not have time to soak them overnight, simply bring the water to a boil, boil for 2 minutes, remove them from the heat and let them sit for 1 hour. You can also reserve your water when the chickpeas are done and use that water in the recipe.

For Thanksgiving, I was using Pomegranate Molasses as part of the turkey’s dry brine and roasted pumpkin seeds were used across the menu. I used both to top the hummus before serving.

Hummus can be made the day before and refrigerated to save some time on the day of your event. In fact, I would recommend doing so even if you have loads of time on the day of use. Sitting overnight helps the flavors meld.

Ingredients:
8 oz. Dried Chickpeas
1/2 cup Water
1/3 cup Pumpkin Purée
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tsp. Cinnamon, ground
1/2 Tsp. Cumin, ground
Juice of one Lime
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Direction:
1) Soak Chickpeas in 2 cups of cold water overnight. Drain and rinse well.
2) Place chickpeas in a food processor with 1/2 cup of water and purée until smooth.
3) Add Pumpkin Purée, Garlic, Olive Oil, Cinnamon, Cumin and Lime Juice. Process until smooth. Add Olive Oil and/or Water, as needed, to achieve the desired consistency.
4) Salt and Pepper, to taste.

Thanksgiving 2011 — Semi-Mediterranean Theme

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I decided to do something a little different this year and add some Mediterranean flare to Thanksgiving.  For the traditionalist, I rounded it off with some traditional fare.  The centerpiece of Thanksgiving is the bird so I went with a Mediterranean Turkey.  There are no recipes that I could find for such a preparation (not many turkeys in that part of the world), so I went my own route.

THE MENU:

Turkey with Za’atar and Pomegranate Molasses – picked up both in the international section of Wegmans.  The Pomegranate Molasses just happened to be on the shelf below the za’atar.  I first brined the turkey in pomegranate cider with apples and oranges  . . . and, of course, garlic.  Before roasting, I generously coated the bird with a mixture of the za’atar and molasses inside and out.

Cornbread Stuffing with Merguez Sausage — This is a twist on my normal cornbread and sausage stuffing.  Marguez is a Moroccan sausage typically made with lamb, beef or a combination of the two.  I could not find Merguez so I made my own with a mixture of pork and lamb.  The pork is not traditional (again they do not eat much pork in that part of the world), but goes better with turkey than beef would have.

Potato and Celery Root Gratin with Leeks — This recipe was from the November issue of Bon Appetit.  Very good.

Roasted Squash and Yams — Cut up various squashes and a few yams, tossed them with EVOO and Za’atar and roasted them at 425 for 50 minutes.

Arugula and Mint Salad with Oil-Cured Black Olives, Oranges, and Ricotta Salata — Olive and mint continued the Mediterranean theme.

Cranberry, Fig, and Pinot Noir Chutney — Not your mother’s sweet/sour cranberry sauce.  A rich, savory taste that perfectly complemented the meal.  I doubled the recipe and still had little left.  I made another double batch over the weekend.

Cranberry, Orange Relish —  for the traditionalists in the crowd

Za’atar, Feta, Olives, and Green Onions Quick Bread — A savory bread for the Mediterranean theme.

Pumpkin Cranberry Bread — for those of us who do not care for feta and olives.

Great flavors and a step up from the normal Turkey-day fare.  17 people at the house, a 21 lb. bird and double recipes all the way around.  We even had a few left-overs.