Archive for November 2010

A Turkey Twist

November 30th, 2010 — 8:00am

Turkey Soup with an Asian Twist

We are almost done with the turkey. With the exception of the chili we have been eating it in sandwiches and plain with a bit of gravy and leftover cranberry compote. This year’s version was so flavorful it did not need much adornment. You can only eat so many turkey sandwiches. I decided to turn the dark meat into a soup.

Of course turkey in a bit of broth with some vegetables is not a bad soup. But I wanted to try something different. I decided to take a more Asian direction with the addition of ginger root, soy sauce, and hot chili sauce, garnished with a bit of cilantro. It was decidedly Asian in flavor, the chili sauce and the ginger gave it a bit of heat. The soy sauce added some saltiness and a bit of sweetness. The cilantro finished it with a hint of lemon and pepper.

The arbiter of all things that “must stay on the ‘cook again’ list,” Will, commented that we should have this soup with some regularity. I am guessing he means made with roasted chicken because it would be hard to justify cooking a whole turkey just to make this soup. I do agree it is a very easy soup to add to your repertoire. You can find the recipe listed under Asian Turkey Soup.

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Turkey Avalanche

November 28th, 2010 — 8:00am

Turkey Chili

With the passing of Thanksgiving comes the issue of what to do with all the turkey leftovers. We can usually take care of the leftover mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing and cranberries with a quick lunch the next day. The turkey is another matter. With two of us and 13 pounds of bird it becomes a daunting task. I can eat turkey for breakfast. But Will is already talking about steak for dinner when over half the bird is still in the refrigerator.

My job then is to try to disguise the turkey in a dish so he does not really know what he is eating. This means the usual turkey tetrazzini, turkey casseroles, or turkey soup are out of the question. In fact yesterday when he was heading out to the gym he groaned when I told him I was going to do something with the turkey for dinner. He assumed some kind of pasta, bechamel, and cheese concoction.

I thought I would go a step beyond his thinking and made a turkey chili. I could have replaced the chicken with turkey from the chicken curried chili with white beans recipe that he likes so much. I decided to take a walk down chili lane and use red kidney beans instead. Making the whole dish a bit more hearty and warming on a cold night.

Suffering from Thanksgiving fatigue I made the whole thing simpler by mainly using canned ingredients. I suppose you could make your own beans and pickle your own chiles. I have done both. But not on Thanksgiving weekend. The chili turned out very satisfying with not only a bit of heat but a bit of sweetness as well. The turkey stood out from all the other ingredients, which is something I do not think chicken would do as well. So if you have about three cups of leftover turkey (and who does not right now?) you can throw the turkey chili together in a matter of minutes.

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Thankfully Yours

November 26th, 2010 — 8:46am

A Very Last Minute Meal

It has been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately. You would think that I was preparing for a busy Thanksgiving Holiday, running around buying ingredients to make a repast fit for a Busy Gourmand. You would of course be wrong on that point. The only preparation I made for Thanksgiving was the annual debate with Will over whether we should dine in or dine out for the meal. As I am usually on the losing end of this argument we of course dined in with me making most of the menu decisions at the last minute. Even at the very last minute I can sling a few ingredients together to make a decent Thanksgiving dinner.

The dinner itself was about as Betty Crocker-Pillsburyish as you can get; a 13 pound turkey, brined and cooked at 325 degrees, cornbread stuffing seasoned with jalapenos, mashed potatoes, cranberry compote, and of course the green bean casserole. For dessert we had pumpkin pie made from the recipe I found on the bottom of a pumpkin last year. About the only thing truly made from scratch was the pumpkin pie.

Green Plum Tomatoes

In anticipation of our first hard freeze I wandered out in the garden one more time to see if there were any fruity tidbits still on the vines that we could salvage. Much to my surprise there were about twelve green plum tomatoes on the vines. I thought about doing something with them for the Thanksgiving meal. The thought passed quickly and I will make something with them later in the week.

With our weather going from 80 degrees on Wednesday to 30 degrees Thursday night I am sure the garden has finally come to its long end. It has been amazingly productive with a bounty of surprises as well as vegetables. The plum tomatoes growing on the vine well into the end of November being just the latest surprise.

Apple Blossom Camillia

Lest you think we just garden for sustenance, this time of year also brings the blooming of the Apple Blossom Camillia. I planted these unobtrusive shrubs in the form of mere sticks about 5 years ago. Today they largely cover the western side of the house with beautiful pink blossoms from mid-November to early December. They have been sharing the limelight with the roses in the front yard. The warm days and cool nights have made them bloom anew. Although with the very cold weather finally arriving I had a final harvest of rose blooms and used them as the centerpiece for the dinner table.

Table for Two

So you see, there has been quite a bit going on around here. Most of it occurring in the garden and very little of it going on in the kitchen. With a bit of free time on my hands I guess I better get back to cooking.

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Let’s Stew On It

November 21st, 2010 — 8:00am

Lentil, Wild Rice, and Butternut Squash Stew

Occasionally I just get tired of thinking about what protein we are going to have for dinner and what should accompany the protein. Invariably the protein takes on the form of chicken, beef, pork, or fish. At some point I grow weary of all of them. It is not such a bad predicament in the summer when the garden is spewing out vegetables. However, in the fall and winter months it gets to be a bit harder to throw something together that does not involve ingesting meat.

In the colder months I tend to reach for beans or legumes to satisfy my need for protein. Sometimes though I want something with a bit more weight. Last night I came up with a stew of lentils, wild and brown rice, and butternut squash. The lentils provided the protein and an earthy flavor. The brown rice added some heft to the dish and a bold nutty flavor. The butternut squash rounded out the dish with a bit of sweetness.

What I especially liked about the dish is that by controlling the broth content I was able to get a dish that was less soup-like and more stew-like. The feeling in the mouth was more substantial than a soup. I think this makes the whole thing more satisfying on a cold night. Although the stew simmers for about an hour, the prep time is about 5 minutes to chop the vegetables. Not a bad time investment for a cold evening.

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You Call This Dessert?

November 18th, 2010 — 9:47am

Sabayon With Grapes

My aversion to cooking anything that requires measuring impacts my ability to serve complicated desserts. You will rarely see me make a pie, usually some free-form interpretation covered in an apricot glaze. I made a cake from scratch one time; big mistake. For breakfast I have been known to make a scone or two. But that does not count as a dessert.

I recently came across a seedless grape variety called Holiday in Whole Foods and at Central Market. It is an enormous red grape that is one of the sweetest things I have ever eaten. I splurged and bought a bunch of them thinking that I could work them into some kind of dessert. First I served them cut in halves all by themselves. They were very tasty if a bit uninspiring as the finish to a meal.

I then landed on the idea of a sabayon, an egg-based sauce that can be sweet or savory, requiring about four ingredients. The only complication was using a double boiler to make the sauce. I figured with four ingredients I could make the sacrifice. The recipes for sabayon seem not to follow any particular pattern other than using egg yolks. At that point the addition of wine, liqueur, or some other source of alcohol and a flavoring ingredient seem to go the way of the chef’s whims. Sounds like the ideal sauce for me.

I have to say the investment of five minutes of double boiler time turned into a rather delicious sauce for the grapes. I am sure the sabayon will also work with just about any other type of berry or fruit that may need a little sprucing up to qualify as a real dessert. So, yes, I call sabayon with seedless grapes a real dessert.

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“Of Cabbages and Kings”

November 13th, 2010 — 8:00am

Cabbage Gratin

I am not a person who muses over cabbage. I rarely cook it. More rarely do I even find it in a restaurant dish, with the exception of cole slaw as a side dish. When thinking of the cruciferous vegetables, broccoli, kale, and mustard greens are way up the list, high above brussel sprouts and finally the lowly cabbage.

Even the “Walrus and the Carpenter,” as recited by the legendary gourmands Tweedledum and Tweedledee, only used the discussion of cabbage to confuse the oysters before they ate them all. It was right up there with the weighty discussion of whether pigs have wings. They were not going to eat any cabbage. It was just a ruse to get the oysters to sit still and be eaten. No wonder cabbage has such a bad reputation.

It is a shame really. I think cabbage gets such a bad rap due to people who cook the version that has been stored for too long and gives off that rather putrid smell. When cooking a very fresh cabbage there is very little, if any, odor. And when fresh, the cabbage takes on a very sweet flavor, much like any other fruit or vegetable that is eaten close to harvest time.

I found myself in Central Market the other day and there was beautiful assortment of cabbage inserted in a mound of crushed ice just asking to be purchased. (They could make Moms Mabley look good in Central Market) How could I resist? Of course it could have come to the usual fate, the one where I forget that I bought cabbage and end up throwing it out a couple of weeks later when I find it in the back of the vegetable drawer. I actually stored it front and center in the refrigerator. Last night it became a cabbage gratin. A rather fanciful idea for such a lowly vegetable. I decided to enhance its normal mustardy flavors by adding some dijon mustard and some mustard greens, and increase its heft by adding a bit of corn meal. Of course adding cheese never hurt anything either. So next time you walk by a pile of cabbage screaming “buy me, buy me,” you can always fall back on the cabbage gratin.

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November 11th, 2010 — 9:39am

Mexican Lasagna

I am constantly amazed at was passes for Mexican food. Except for the habitues of fast food, most people from Mexico would not recognize most of what passes for their country’s cuisine in the United States. I am sure it all began during the western cattle drives when cooks used powdered dried chiles to mask the flavor of rancid meat and beans combining them in a stew and calling it chili. Although the seasoning is authentic the notion that this is some sort of Mexican favorite took on a life of its own. The closest combination in Mexico would probably be called a guiso, or stew.

This progressed even further with the invention of taco seasoning (also now called Mexican Seasoning) which became an all purpose way of designating something as Mexican. The inventors even had the brilliant idea of adding annatto to the mix giving everything a yellowish orange hue thereby making the grease in your taco a more palatable color. With a generic seasoning and color the wonderful world of Americanized Mexican food began.

Nowhere else has this taken on more mythic proportions than in Texas where the race to invent the best chili pie goes unabated. The most modern versions even use corn chips (they were invented in Texas) to make sure that any notion of Mexican cuisine is completely removed from the recipe. The Texicanization of Mexican cuisine can only get more ridiculous.

So you would think that our recipe for the day belongs in the Texicanization Hall of Fame; a Mexican lasagna. For this I run for cover from one of the best bargains in Dallas, the famous “Monica’s Aca y Alla.” A transplant from Mexico City Ms. Greene has been serving Mexican lasagna since I can remember. Unlike the Texicanized versions there is no taco seasoning or ground meats. It consists of layers of tortillas interspersed with corn, black beans, and chicken with a tomato coulis and some cheese. Yum! My version goes a bit more out there and uses alternating layers of bechamel mixed with salsa verde (a spicy tomatillo sauce) and bechamel mixed with spicy marinara. I alternate between corn and flour tortillas depending on my mood. I am sure my friends from Mexico would probably not recognize the dish. I think, however, they would enjoy it.

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Not So Fast Food

November 7th, 2010 — 8:00am

Braised Beef Short Ribs

During the warm weather months I am quite content to drizzle a few vegetables with olive oil, throw them on the grill for a few minutes, and munch away on them in a sandwich or salad or with some grilled fish, chicken, or other meat. The simpler the better. The less time the better. When the weather gets cooler I seem to be a bit more willing to take some time with a dish, allowing it to slowly braise or roast until it is complete.

Once again I saw something on sale that I ordinarily would not fix for dinner, beef short ribs. I have nothing against them. It is just that every recipe I have ever seen requires a long slow braise which is not normally my modus operandi. The weather got really cool last night so I thought it would be a good time to try out the short-ribs, braising them in the oven and heating up the house at the same time.

It is not unlike cooking a pot roast. The intent is to turn the marbling into a delicious gelatinous morsel. The long slow braising in wine and stock works wonders on what is already a pretty tasty piece of meat. So on some cold night when you want to invest a few hours I would recommend the beef short ribs. I served them with some freshly made white beans. What else was I going to do during the 3 hours of braising? The whole meal was something primordial; braised meat served with fresh beans. Now that is some not so fast comfort.

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Final Harvest

November 4th, 2010 — 9:43am

Pepper Cornucopia

We are supposed to have our first frost this evening. This causes me to go out and harvest every last bit of life off the plants in the backyard. I was struck by the number of peppers we have been enjoying this fall when we hardly had any peppers to eat over the summer. I guess the peppers are sensitive to high temperatures. They do not seem to mind the cooler nights and shorter days. I have been especially surprised by the habanero peppers. We did not harvest one of them until late September. As you can see from the picture we will have enough habaneros to last us for a couple of years. We already have several containers of pickled habaneros from the garden. I suppose it will be a very spicy winter.

We were also excited about an heirloom pepper called a St. Nick. It is a sweet pepper shaped like a pumpkin. While the plants grew to an enormous size, we have only had one or two to enjoy until now. They take a long time to turn the red color that people prize them for in cooking. I guess we will be enjoying some semi-red peppers for the next week or so.

This will also be pesto-making night at our house. All the basil leaves will be stripped off the rather thick branches of the basil. We will turn it into pesto to be enjoyed during the winter months. I have used the same pesto recipe for years, although you skip the cheese part if you are going to freeze the pesto. I like it just fine tossed with a bit of pasta. We did give you some other ideas about using the pesto including chicken and pasta and a lasagna. I also like to mix it with mayonnaise and use it as a salad dressing or as a spread on a sandwich.

We also had a very unusual purple basil this year. Usually I do not buy this variety unless I plan to toss it with salad greens. This particular type of purple basil has an especially strong anise flavor. I think we will try it as a pesto this winter. I am keeping some of the seeds just in case the pesto works out.

And finally our winter/spring salad garden left us some seeds in the ground. This has given us a bit or early arugula and some very tasty mustard greens. We have been using all of this in salads and stir fries. I am not one to argue with a delicious fate.

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