Sunday, March 31, 2013

Pressed for time? 10 lb Roast Turkey in 1.5 hours!

Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence. – Buddha 

Today’s Easter, a day that brings chaos to many a kitchen. If you're having a family dinner with all the trimmings it can be a bit of an ordeal. Too many side dishes trying to be prepared all at once can do that. 

A lot of it’s due to the main course – turkey. People get up at the crack of dawn to prepare that bird for dinnertime. There is a simpler way...spatchcocking.

Beep! beep! This turkey could almost be a roadrunner it’s so fast. Imagine a 4.5 kg (10 lb)roasted turkey that’s ready – from the oven – in about 1 hour 15 minutes. That's how long mine took. 

Usual roasting time for a 10 lb bird is 3.5 to 4.5 hours! A larger bird will take longer. If you're not in the camp of bringing a roasted bird to the table for carving, this technique can be a godsend.

What is spatchcocking?
Spatchcock is one of those words thats meaning has changed from being a noun to a verb. 

Originally, a spatchcock was a juvenile chicken or game bird. These birds we generally butterflied for much faster cooking than if left whole. I have done it a few times. 

Today, spatchcocking (butterflying) is removing the backbone from poultry and flattening the breastbone by firmly pressing it down with your hands.

In this way the meat is all of fairly even thickness and will cook evenly in the same amount of time. Poultry is notorious for having dry breast meat and undercooked dark meat. This technique minimizes that problem.

When you look at the pictures you will see mine is in two pieces. That was an unfortunate circumstance of not being in my own kitchen. I had it beautifully spatchcocked but I did this at my mother’s house with her bakeware. I needed a bigger pan (or a smaller bird!).

So I finished the cut through and roasted it in two halves. The principle is the same. Of course this technique does not bring a turkey in all its glory to the table, but the sage herb butter can be just as easily used on an uncut bird.

To slowly baste under the skin and make the bird flavourful I combined butter, sage and orange rind. The mixture was then massaged between the flesh and the skin.

If you’re like most folks who don’t have a massive banquet table your bird probably doesn’t make it to the table whole anyway. That makes spatchcocking a very convenient option.

Being tied to the kitchen takes a lot of fun out of any holiday. With this recipe you can cut your time in half for your Easter turkey. Enjoy your family, rather than talking to them from the kitchen door!

Sage Roasted Spatchcock Turkey
Prep: 20 min  |  Cook: 1.5 hr, maximum
4.5 kg turkey, butterflied
the herb butter
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup chopped fresh sage
grated rind of 1 orange
1 pinc each of salt and pepper
the baste
juice of 1 orange
2 tbsp olive oil
1 pinch each of pepper and salt

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Take out the neck and giblets that come inside the bird and set aside. Place your victim on a countertop. This can get a bit messy and you need a little room.

With a pair of sharp kitchen shears cut down on both sides of the backbone from the neck to the tail. Remove and set aside with the other pieces. Trim off the first joint of each wing as well.

Remove any extra skin and fat and set it aside also. These pieces can be made into stock by simmering in water with onion, carrot, celery and herbs. If they’re meaty you could turn that stock into soup.

Place the bird skin-side up and press down on the breastbone with both hands until you hear a crack. The bird will then flatten out.

Loosen the skin from the bird with your fingers. You don’t have to do all the skin, just most of the breast, thigh and partially down each leg. Mix the butter, sage, rind and a little salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Spread the mixture evenly under the skin.

Place the turkey in a large pan big enough to accommodate it flat.

Take the juice of the orange and whisk it with the oil, salt and pepper. Brush the surface with the mixture, reserving any extra.

Roast the bird for between 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes until the internal temperature reads 180°F. Test the breast and thigh with an instant read thermometer. Brush the surface of the skin partway through with the remaining basting liquid.

When done, remove the turkey from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes.


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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Fantastic Lamb and Eggplant Pastisio

The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. – Vince Lombardi

Deliciousness, in rectangle form.

If you’ve got too much time on your hand, you may want to try this recipe. Or perhaps I should say if you’re in need of a really good dinner try this recipe.

I even have to admit making pastitso is a time commitment. There’s a lot of prep that goes into this one. But, oh my, is it worth it! 

While you’re (merrily) working on the main course there’s nothing holding you back from making bread to round out the meal. Or a Greek salad, in case you don’t like fresh bread...

Making this dish is a multi-step process before it hits the oven to bake.

So what is all this work? First you have to broil eggplant slices. I find this an imperative. Broiling drives some of the moisture out and gives an overall smokey flavour.

Then there’s meat sauce to make. But the smell while you’re reducing down tomato, wine, onion, garlic and cinnamon with lamb is undeniably a near out-of-body experience. It’s worth paying admission to walk into a kitchen where this sauce is being made.

Then you have to boil pasta – and make a béchamel. Ugh, travails...

But what do you get from accomplishing the Labours of Hercules? You get one of the finest Greek dishes you will ever experience. If you’re into “good” food (as opposed to fancy food) you will love this. Guaranteed.

I found myself this Saturday up too early and with too few things to do (that I wanted to do). Do you know what I mean? Make a new task rather do a task you need to...

We’re still in uproar here from the move and have started the demolition of the current bathroom in favour of one from this century. There’s also a thousand things yet to unpack, etc., etc., etc....

But pastisio won out. Good thing, too. All that worrying about what I should have been doing really worked up an appetite!

I know I’m asking a lot, but you really should try this recipe. If you’re having family or friends over do the salad as well as the bread.

As added incentive, this dish is great to make ahead and then re-heat. That way if you have guests you can enjoy their company while you easily make a side salad, reheat the pistatsio and just pull this marvel out of the oven with a flourish!

As a parting shot, here’s two secret ingredients to add to your Greek salad dressing: diced anchovy and hot banana pepper. Try it. You’ll never do it any other way.

Lamb and Eggplant Pastisio
Time: 1.5 hour  |  Bake 1 hour  |  Serves 8
6 tbsp olive oil
2 medium eggplants
1 lb ground lamb
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
4 garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp nutmeg
28 fl oz diced tomatoes and their liquid
1/2 cup red wine
salt and pepper
454 g penne, cooked
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Béchamel Sauce
1/2 cup butter
6 tablespoons flour
3-1/2 cups whole milk
2 eggs
1/2 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper, to taste

Prepare a cookie sheet by rubbing with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. 

Slice the eggplant into 1/2 thick slices. Place the slices from one eggplant on the sheet to coat the bottom with oil. Turn, oiled side up and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil on high until browned. Turn, sprinkle with more salt and pepper and broil again.

Remove the broiled slices to a plate and repeat the procedure with the other eggplant slices. (2 tbsp olive oil, flip, season, broil, flip, etc.) Set the slices aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a wide sauté pan. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is softened. Add the ground lamb,cinnamon, oregano and nutmeg and cook until the meat is no longer pink. 

Then add the canned tomatoes, red wine and some salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, partially cover, reduce heat to medium low and let cook until the mixture is almost dry and the tomatoes have broken down, about 45 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Boil the pasta while you make the béchamel.

To make the béchamel, melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and let cook for about one minute. Then add the milk, one cup at a time. Let the mixture come to a boil and let cook, whisking constantly, for two or three minutes.

Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Then whisk in the two eggs, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain and add the egg, milk and cheese. Stir in well.

To assemble, place 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a 9x16 baking dish. 

Arrange the eggplant slices on the bottom. Then add the meat mixture. Top with the noodles and then finally the béchamel. If desired grate a little more parmesan on top.

Bake uncovered at 350°F for 1 hour. This dish is better if allowed to cool and then reheated. The béchamel sets up for a better consistency if you do.

Serve with a Greek side salad. See secret ingredients I listed above to make your salad the best ever.


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Friday, March 29, 2013

Easy Chicken Soup with Bacon and Chard

Make big pots of soups, stews and chillies -– they stretch a buck, and you can live off them for days! – Rachael Ray

My spouse said "now doesn't that look healthy." It tasted great too!

As I am writing this I just finished dinner and I do have to say for a simple chicken soup this one isn’t too bad. Not too bad at all.

This is another recipe where I am stretching greens. Over the last week I’ve used kale in three very interesting – and different – ways. This time it’s red Swiss chard.

This much chard...
You have to realize that there’s only two of us here so "greens stretching" is pretty easy if you're smart about it. But my experience extending meals with chard was a bit different than with kale. Most of the Swiss chard was used as a steamed side dish, so the number of meals was cut down to two.

I had two chicken breasts remaining on my refrigerator that were on my hit list, too. Something had to be done to accommodate both. It seemed options would be difficult.

That was until I started to think about it. I had an opened bag of egg noodles (from God only knows when...) so my mind started to think towards chicken noodle soup. But with chard?

Why couldn’t you put Swiss chard in soup? There’s no law (I know of) against it. The only thing to overcome – or enhance – is chard's earthy taste. But when life gives you lemons...

...and this much chicken. Fork is for
size reference.
There’s many herbs I know of that really go with earthy vegetables, but one stands out to me – thyme. Now thyme often goes in regular chicken soup, but what if I increased the dose, just a little.

Things were really coming together in my mind now. Toss in some garlic (not all that common in many chicken noodle soups) and you’re pretty much ready to roll.

The soup turned out wonderfully. You really couldn’t taste Swiss chard that much at all. But you definitely got the health benefits.

Stretching greens is a great way to use up those parts like stems that we often discard. That’s waste, and vegetables cost so much when shipped from faraway places.

This soup, besides using up the tail end of chard, os good enough to grace any homeey table. In fact, it’s reason enough to go out and buy Swiss chard especially for the purpose. Save the top 2/3 of the leaves for another time!

Chicken Soup with Chard
Prep: 5 min  |  Cook: 25 min  |  Serves 4
2 bacon rashers, diced
1 medium onion
1-1/2 cups finely chopped carrots
3 garlic cloves
2 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
6 cups chicken stock
2-3 cups chopped red Swiss chard
200g egg noodles
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
salt to taste

Dice the bacon and render out the fat in a soup pot until the bacon is browned, about 5 minutes.

Dice the onion and carrots into small pieces and add to the pot. Chop the garlic and add. Sauté the vegetables with the bacon and fat until the onions are translucent.

This recipe easily makes four good sized bowls
for a hungry family.
Add the chicken stock, pepper and thyme. Do not add salt until the end because chicken stock salt content can vary greatly.

Bring to a simmer and then add the whole chicken breasts. Cover, reduce to simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the breasts to cool and then shred with a fork.

Add the egg noodles to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and cook for half of the recommended tile for the noodles (in my case 5 minutes).

Add the finely chopped chard and shredded chicken. Cover and cook for the remaining time for the noodles (5 minutes for mine).

Taste for salt and adjust as desired.


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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Easter Baking: Hot Cross Buns!

My mom used to say Greek Easter was later because you got stuff cheaper. – Amy Sedaris

Light, fluffy, spicy and sweet. What more can one ask?
Some things are very seasonal. Pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving and barbecue in the summer are two good examples. So are hot cross buns at Easter. Try to find them in a bakery any time other than the week before. Impossible.

That's a shame because they're delicious. Hot cross buns are a sweet bread roll with spice and currants – or raisins – and icing in a cross shape on top. They're kind of like a sticky bun in a different shape (and without all the sticky). What's not to love?

After kneading, before first rise. Currants will fall out as you
knead. Just stick them back in the dough.
For success you need to find a recipe that gives you moist buns. I have a perfect one, courtesy of my much-loved Great Aunt Hilda, or more accurately her handwritten cookbook. Her recipe dates from at least the 1960s, and probably quite a bit earlier. My recipe is almost identical, but of course I couldn't leave well enough alone... I fiddled with the spice amounts.

The amount of both the spice and currants can be adjusted to your own liking. I find “store-bought” very frugal on both counts.

There’s actually some interesting history surrounding these spiced, moist buns. Read on.

After first rise.
History and Folklore
Abridged from Wikipedia
Hot cross buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday, with the cross standing as a symbol of the Crucifixion. They are believed by some to pre-date Christianity, although the first recorded use of the term "hot cross bun" was not until 1733.

It is believed that buns marked with a cross were eaten by Saxons in honour of the goddess Eostre (the cross is thought to have symbolized the four quarters of the moon); "Eostre" is probably the origin of the name "Easter". Others claim that the Greeks marked cakes with a cross, much earlier.

One superstition says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or become mouldy during the subsequent year. Another encourages keeping such a bun for medicinal purposes. A piece of it given to someone who is ill was said to help them recover.

Sharing a hot cross bun with another person is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if "Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be" is said at the time.  If taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwreck. If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly. 

So rolls that will last a whole year, eh? I doubt that quite a lot. These never last more than a day or two in my house! These are excellent, and 8-12 will be nowhere near enough if you have family coming. So double the recipe. They always make a good gift.

Hot cross buns only take a few hours to make, and most of that time is in waiting for the dough to rise, so there’s really no reason you can’t start them in the morning, do whatever you need to do during the day, and come back and finish the process.

They’re well worth the very minimal effort.

Here's a useful kitchen hint. Buying yeast in packets can be expensive if you do a fair amount of baking. Buy yeast at a bulk food store and place it in a jar in your freezer. It does nothing to the yeast and will last for months and months, remaining as fresh as when you bought it.

Also, don't forget today is Thursday. Depending on where you live stores are closed tomorrow (Good Friday), open on Saturday and then closed again on Easter Sunday. So if you have to do any holiday shopping (turkey, ham, roast, whatever) do it today to avoid disappointment!

Dividing into 8 makes large-ish buns...12 makes more manageable
sized buns but take a few minutes more to bake.
Old-Fashioned Hot Cross Buns
Prep: 20 min  |  Rise: 2-2.5 hours  |  Makes 8-12 buns
3/4 cup water, heated to 110°F
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup powdered milk
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tbsp active dry yeast 
1 cup dried currants
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/2 tsp allspice (or nutmeg)
2 lg eggs 
3 cups unbleached flour
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
3 tsp coffee cream

Heat the water, powdered milk, butter and sugar in a small saucepan until the butter is melted and the liquid reaches a temperature of 110°F. If it's any warmer you'll kill the yeast when you add it.

Sprinkle the yeast over the top of the liquid. Stir gently, cover and let sit for 10-15 minutes to proof. At the end of the time the yeast should be creamy. If not, throw it out and start again with fresh yeast.

Icing in a plastic bag ready to apply.
Place the currants in a large bowl. Add the salt, cinnamon, allspice, eggs and proofed yeast liquid. Mix well and then add the flour. Stir until it comes together, then transfer to a board and knead for 5 minutes. The dough will still be “wet” but won’t stick to your hands or the board.

Place back in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a tea towel and let rise in a warm spot until doubled. This will take about 2 hours. (I didn't have as warm a spot as usual for my bread and my first rise was 2.5 hours...)

At the end of the rise, punch down and divide into 8-12 equal balls. 8 balls make good sized buns, 12 make the number of apostles…

Arrange the balls in an 8” x 8” oven-proof dish. Let rise again until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 375°F. Just before baking cut a small cross in the top of each bun. This will help the icing stay on top in a cross shape.

Bake for 20-25 minutes (30 min if making 8 because they're larger). Remove from the oven and rub with butter. Let the buns cool for 10 minutes.

Mix together the confectioner’s sugar, vanilla and cream. Place in a plastic bag, snip off the end, and squeeze a cross on the top of each bun.

My "crosses" leave a little to be desired. I think I snipped too big an end off my
icing bag. It should only be 1/4" wide.


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Questions? Comments? Derogatory remarks? Just ask! I’ll answer quickly and as best as I can. If you like this post feel free to share it. If you repost, please give me credit and a link back to this site.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

How to Wine Poach Salmon

Necessity is not an established fact, but an interpretation. – Friedrich Nietzsche 

A necessity.

Some things everyone really needs to know how to do: ride a bicycle, swim, tie your shoes...

In a culinary sense, poaching salmon is almost as important. At least to me it is (thanks, Nietzsche).

It’s such a simple thing, but so many people seem to be able to bollocks it up like nobody’s business. I used to be one of those people, but no more.

For liquid you could add just water, or water with a little
vinegar or lemon. But I find 100% wine is best.
Salmon is quite a delicate – and expensive – fish. So you may as well try to cook it to perfection whenever you are lucky enough to have it. For simple preparation this can’t be beat. And it’s impressive too. Any perfectly cooked piece of fish is, though.

It’s a shame that salmon is so expensive. It’s among the most beneficial fish we can eat. It's mostly because of the omega-3 fatty acids it contains.

Two servings of salmon per week can potentially reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease and heart attack. 

A Swedish study (decades long) also found a 30% reduction in prostate cancer among men who consumed salmon regularly. Omega-3 fatty acids also play a role in preventing depression.

Salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), which are important for heart health. Most salmon in grocery stores is farmed salmon. Notwithstanding the controversy over salmon farming and wild populations, the health benefits of eating either are the same.

So if you’re looking for wild salmon watch what you buy. Wild salmon is alsways labelled as “wild.”

This is one of those recipes that take no time and no fancy techniques or ingredients. Try this one the next time you’re having someone over for a romantic dinner for two. Just halve the amount of fish, not the other ingredients.

There were two of us so that’s what I did. For side dishes I prepared broccoli and quinoa. Both take the same amount of time to cook as the fish.

Wine Poached Salmon
Prep: 5 min  |  Cook: 10 min  |  Yield 4 portions
4 salmon portions, about 1” thick each
1 medium onion
rind of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp tarragon
1/2 to 3/4 cup white wine (depending on surface area of your pan)
1/4 cup butter
1/2 tsp salt
lemon wedges

Place the onions in the bottom of a sauté or frying pan with a lid. Trim the rind from 1/2 a lemon and julienne. Add the lemon, peppercorns and tarragon to the onions.

Then pour in the wine and add the butter. Lay the salmon on top of the onions and sprinkle with salt.

Cover the fish, bring to a boil and reduce the heat to medium low. Let the fish cook for 8-10 minutes for 1” thick pieces. Make sure not quite all the wine evaporates. If your lid doesn’t fit well you may have to add a slight bit more

To serve, remove the salmon and turn the heat up under the pan. Cook for a minute or two until almost all the wine has evaporated. 

Strain out the solids and pour the flavoured butter over the plated fish. Serve with a lemon wedge.


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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Frugal, delicious living: Kale Pesto

Thrift comes too late when you find it at the bottom of your purse. – Seneca

Kale pesto, in my opinion, is only surpassed by traditional basil pesto.
Many people don't like kale. That's a real pity. It's extremely good for you. I have also proved over the past week that you can get three distinctly different meals for four out of one standard-sized bunch of kale.

Of course this is kale being used as an ingredient (as opposed to a side dish) in three different meals. But one bunch of kale it was, coming in at about $1 per meal.

The first recipe was Beef and Kale. This recipe combined kale with hamburger, chickpeas, corn and tomatoes into a very filling, and nutritious soup.

Yesterday I posted recipe number 2: Sauerkraut, Sausage and Kale bake. This was a twist on the old Nova Scotian German favourite, sausage bake.

Today it's recipe number 3. If you're getting a little tired of kale by now you're in luck for two reasons. Reason one is this recipe will keep in the refrigerator for several days. Reason two is that it really doesn't taste like kale at all.

As you can imagine my bunch of kale was starting to get down a bit in volume. I had a few inches of green leafiness and then the stems. The stringy, tough stems… What's about the only thing you could do with them except make a purée?

And then it hit me. Green. Vegetable. Purée... Pesto!

Although purists will say that you should only ever (EVER!!!) make pesto with basil, you can pretty much make "pesto" with any herb or vegetable that won't crawl away from you.

The name "pesto" comes from the Italian word pestâ, which means to pound or crush, in reference to the traditional method of preparation with mortar and pestle. So as long as you're pounding something into a paste you can engage in a war of semantics with whoever questions you on this recipe.

I have successfully made cilantro pesto, Italian parsley pesto, sun-dried tomato, and if I remember correctly dandelion green pesto. If I haven't written about it I probably will this spring.

Of all the different pesto I have made I do have to say I think my favourite after basil may be kale. There's a peppery taste to the kale that is not too bad at replicating the pepperiness in basil.

So what does it take to make pesto? Only a few ingredients. You need garlic, something green (most times), olive oil, parmesan and nuts. Traditional basil pesto uses pine nuts, which are very expensive.

I have used walnuts and pecans in some of my non-standard mixtures. Don't use peanuts. They have too recognizable a taste. I had almonds on hand so in they went.

This was a pretty good pesto, to be truthful. I also kind of lied when I said this was meal 3 from 1 bunch. This is actually meals 3 and 4! This makes enough kale pesto to toss with spaghetti for two dinners. Or perhaps as a pizza "sauce"... Hmmm...

We had our kale pesto pasta topped with seared chicken breast. A fine, frugal and delicious meal, to say the least. 

Kale Pesto
Prep: 5-7 min  |  Yield: about 2 cups
1/2 cup almonds, unsalted
4 large garlic cloves
3 to 4 cups chopped kale, leaves and stems*
1-4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Place the almonds in a food processor and process until ground to a rough consistency with no large pieces.

Add the garlic cloves and pulse until combined. Then add the kale and pulse until nearly smooth.

With the motor running slowly add olive oil until you have a mass inside the processor bowl that moves relatively freely. You don't want a liquid, but it needs to be "loose." Scrape down the sides as necessary.

Grate the parmesan and add to the pesto, with some salt and pepper. Pulse again just until combined. You want small pieces of grated cheese to remain.

Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to use.

To "loosen the sauce" before using either add a little pasta cooking water or some cream just before adding to pipping hot spaghetti.

* This volume depends on if you have more stems or leaves. Leaves will take up more volume than the dense stems.


Questions? Comments? Derogatory remarks? Just ask! I’ll answer as best I can. If you like this post feel free to share it using any of the links. If you repost, please give me credit and a link back to this site.