Friday, December 30, 2011

Savory Palmiers

"Palmier" (pal-mee-ay) is French for little palm leaf, the shape they resemble.

These may look complicated, but they are ridiculously easy to prepare. As an hors d'oeuvre, they're amazing if only because of their beautiful appearance. And the fillings are endless. For this, I chose the classic palmier: pesto/parmesan/prociutto. A bit on the salty side, but perfect with cocktails! Next time, I'll keep it simple and go with goat cheese and garlic. You don't have to be a fancy pants--Velveeta and some deli ham will work just as well.

The key to making these is to keep the puff pastry cold. As soon as it begins to warm, it becomes sticky and difficult to handle. Other than that, these are a snap to prepare. 

  • 1 sheet puff pastry (I used Pepperidge Farm)
  • 2 oz. softened cream cheese
  • 2 oz. jarred pesto
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
  • 3-6 slices paper-thin slices prosciutto* (or other fine deli ham)

Mix cream cheese and pesto together. 

Lightly flour your counter and unwrap your pastry sheet. If necessary, lightly roll to form a perfect square--about 10 x 10 inches. Evenly spread with cheese/pesto mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan and carefully lay the ham slices on top:

Begin rolling at one end until you come to the middle. Then begin rolling at other end. You now have two coils joined in the middle. Squeeze/roll a bit to form a roll. At this point, wrap in cling wrap and place in freezer for about 20 minutes to firm the dough.

Preheat oven to 400 F. degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Remove log from freezer and with a very sharp knife, slice into about 3/8-inch slices--larger than 1/4-inch and not bigger than 1/2-inch.

Place on baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden, rotating pan after first ten minutes.

Allow to cool just a bit and serve while warm and flaky.

(I debated to post this recipe because I found it overly salty. But, then, I'm not a huge fan of pesto and I should have known better with the Parm. which is very salty. And with cocktails, the saltiness may be a plus. In the final analysis, I figured this recipe was more about technique and presentation than taste.)

*I think prosciutto is over-rated and way over-priced. You could just as easily use any type of deli ham and I wish I would have.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sausage-Stuffed Chicken Legs with White Sauce

A de-boned chicken leg is stuffed with sausage
and served with a cheesy Bechamel sauce and onions.

Beef prices are atrociously high. Chicken legs are a few 
bucks a pack. Sausages are usually inexpensive,
or purchase when they are on sale! 

De-boning a chicken leg is really quite simple. Having a sharp knife is essential even though you do more "scraping and pulling" than actual cutting. Stuffing it is even more fun. For this recipe, I simply used Italian sausage, but you could use a bread or apple stuffing as well. Soon, I'll try a potato stuffing. The first time I made this, I had some bottled Alfredo sauce on hand, which I used instead of the Bechamel sauce. You can go that route. Or you can add a bit of stock to the pan before baking to give you some gravy juices. I've done that, too. I prefer the Bechamel. It's really not difficult to make and the taste and texture beats anything you can get in a jar.

Look for large drumsticks. Processors simply cut through the bone that joins it to the thigh. That's unfortunate since you won't get a flap of skin on the underside which makes for a neat fold.

1. Wash and dry your drumsticks. Begin by cutting/scraping around the top to loosen it from the bone and joint. This is the most "complicated" part of the task. 

2. Holding your knife at an angle, scrape downwards or,  using your fingers, begin pulling the meat downwards. It will release pretty easily:

3. Grab the "ball" of meat and simply pull. You may need to make a small cut or two at the base to release it from the base of the bone:

4. Now simply turn the inside-out drumstick right-side in. Below is the completed, boneless leg, backside and front.


  • 4 plump chicken legs, de-boned
  • 2 Italian sausage links (I used Johnsonville mild)
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • Poultry seasoning (I use Bells)
  • Olive oil


  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced onion or shallot
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely minced or pressed garlic
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • Nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated cheese, such as Parmesan or Gruyere

Remove sausage from casings. Divide into 4-5 parts and stuff it into each chicken leg being sure to fill the "handle" of the drumstick. Also be sure to push the meat of the leg back into place as you go.

Sprinkle with poultry seasoning.

Notice the leg in the lower right-hand corner. It still had some skin from the thigh so I was able to neatly fold it over. 

Pull skin over legs and shape and plump to make them look nice. 

Slice an onion into rings and place in the bottom of a baking dish/pan. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and toss to coat. Neatly arrange stuffed chicken legs on top, meat side up.

Looking at these, one would never guess they are boneless.

Bake at 375 F degrees for 15 minutes. This will firm the stuffing. Remove from oven and turn skin-side up. Melt a bit of butter on each leg and return to oven. Raise temperature to 425 and bake for another 20 minutes, basting once with pan juices.

Remove and allow to cool while preparing the sauce:

In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onions and cook until soft (I had some mushrooms on hand, so I added them, too). When soft, add the garlic and swirl until fragrant. Add the flour. It will turn into a paste. Cook for several minutes while stirring constantly. Begin adding the liquid a little at a time and whisking to avoid lumps until liquid is used and sauce has thickened. Remove from heat. Add several grates of fresh nutmeg. Stir. Stir in cheese until melted. Taste for seasoning. If sauce thickens too much before serving, just add a bit more liquid.

To serve: place a few spoonfuls of sauce on plate followed by some of the onions and then a stuffed chicken leg.

NOTES: Never add liquid to a glass baking dish that is hot. It will shatter. Add liquid before placing it in the oven. If desired, cut away the tendons from chicken leg. 

I think it would be interesting to replace the bone with a mozzarella stick wrapped in ham or proscuitto. I used just a splash of brandy on the legs when I put them in the oven.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mushroom Lasagna

Earthy mushrooms sauteed in brandy and then layered between ribbons of pasta, a garlicky bechamel sauce, and three cheeses. Oh, my! 

I scaled this recipe to fit  a 10 x 7 dish, so it's perfect for a few people. As a first course to, say, a roast-beef dinner, it would be gorgeous. 

Lasagnas require many steps, so have everything measured, sliced and diced, and ready to go. I really wanted a smoked mozzarella but my market didn't have it so I settled for fresh. You may forego the mozzarella and simply add Gruyere if you wish. The Parm. keeps the recipe light but "cheesy." And don't skip the brandy. I think it makes the dish. For extra flavor, I add chicken stock to the bechamel.

I buy a pre-packaged variety of mushrooms at my market that include crimini, shitake and oyster and then I add baby bellas. Always soak your "no-cook" pasta in hot water before using. I love Barilla sheets which are flat. I don't get frilly-edged pasta at all.

  • 12 ounces mixed mushrooms, sliced and chopped
  • 3 shallots, chopped (a good 1/2 cup), divided
  • 2-4 tablespoons brandy
  • 1.5 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced
  • 1 cup fresh-grated Parmasan/Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Gruyere
  • Mozzarella, preferably smoked, 1/2 of a fresh round or shredded
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-grated nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 8 no-cook lasagna noodles (I use Barilla)*
  • Olive oil and butter for frying mushrooms

Shallots make all the difference!

Add some olive oil and butter to a large pan. When melted, add 1/4 cup of the chopped shallots and cook until translucent. Add sliced and chopped mushrooms and cook over medium heat until they release juices, about 10 minutes. Add brandy and continue to cook until liquid is re-absorbed into mushrooms and the mixture becomes "syrupy." Add a bit of salt and pepper. Set aside.

Fill a pan with hot tap water and submerge your no-cook pasta sheets as you prepare the sauce. (A bread pan works great.)

In a medium saucepan, add the 1/4 cup butter. When melted, add the remaining 1/4 cup shallots and cook just until translucent and soft. Add the pressed garlic and just stir to combine for a bit. Now add the 1/4 cup flour. The mixture will thicken immediately. Lower heat a bit and continuously stir the paste to cook the flour just until it gets a bit "nutty." Be careful not to burn the garlic or shallots. Begin adding the milk a little at a time, working away any lumps and keeping the mixture moving at all times. Whisk in the chicken stock and continue stirring. Add a dozen grates or so of fresh nutmeg. Stir. Remove from heat and blend in 1/2 cup Gruyere cheese. Taste for seasonings and re-adjust as needed. Set aside.

If your sauce is too thick, don't be afraid to add more liquid.
It should easily coat the back of a spoon when done.

Remove pasta sheets to drain. Lightly spritz/butter a 10 x 7 x 2 casserole dish. You will make four layers of pasta. Cut sheets to fit the dish. Preheat oven to 350 F. degrees.

  1. Smear a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the dish. Place one layer of pasta without overlapping. Cover with some sauce. Sprinkle on 1/3 of the mushrooms and then sprinkle with 1/3 of grated Parm.
  2. Place down layer 2 of pasta. Spread with some sauce and then another third of mushrooms and 1/3 third of Parm.
  3. Place down layer 3 of pasta, spread with sauce and remaining mushrooms, but this time top with your Mozzarella.
  4. Place down layer four of pasta. Spread with rest of sauce and top with remaining 1/3 grated Parm. (I added a bit more).
Go easy on the cheese. Keep things light.

Cover lasagna with foil and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove foil and raise temperature to 500. Bake just until the top begins to brown a bit and lasagna is bubbly. Keep an eye on it. Allow to rest for a good 20-30 minutes before slicing.

By the time mine was done, I had lost the natural light:

*Barilla no-cook flat lasagna sheets measure 3.5 x 6.5 inches. It's important to always soak no-cook sheets in water first. I used half of a box, 8 sheets, about 4.5 ounces

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fried Potato Pancakes (Latkes)

Simple. Basic. Classic.

Whenever my grandmother babysat, we were guaranteed two foods: potato pancakes (latkes) and dumplings (Kreplach). To this day, nothing instills greater excitement in my family than the promise of those two foods. Our tongues literally quiver in anticipation. As Catholics, potato pancakes were a given on Friday, the day of no meat. They were certainly economical, but time-consuming in their preparation. My mother labored with a mountain of potatoes to grate.

I deviate from my mother's and grandmother's recipe in three ways: I drain the potatoes after shredding which allows them to cook quicker and crisper and less mushy in the center. I fry them in peanut oil. My mother and grandmother got out the can of Crisco and melted great mounds of the white stuff. I've also used olive oil, but peanut oil can withstand high temperatures without burning. I also now use two grates: one small and one large with is more visually appealing and which gives a really great "crunch" to the outer edges.

Wonderfully crunchy on the outside, warm and soft on the inside.

Sorry, but a blender of food processor just doesn't cut it when grating potatoes for latkes. It's a labor of love and best done by hand. The small holes on a box grater are too small and will result in a mush. You want about five grating holes to an inch.

With a salad and a side of fruit, these can be a meal in themselves. Traditionally, they are served with sour cream or applesauce. They go well with just about any wine, but I still prefer a tall, cold glass of milk. They also go well with smoked sausages or leftover ham. I just love them with butter and salt. My mother loved them with cottage cheese.

Notice the crispy, crunchy edges as a result of using two sizes of grating.

 Makes about 14-16 pancakes

  • 1.5 - 2 lbs. Idaho potatoes, peeled
  • 1/2 of a small onion, about 4-6 oz. leave root end intact
  • 1.5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, sightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • A few shakes all-purpose black pepper
  • Peanut oil for frying

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. (warm) and line a baking sheet with foil.

Add peanut oil to a heavy frying pan (I use a cast-iron pan) at least 1/4 inch in depth. The oil does not need to cover the potatoes when frying. Turn heat to low-medium to begin to heat it up and keep an eye on it.

Cut potatoes into fourths so they are easier to fit into your hand while shredding. Shred five of the quarters on a medium-fine grate. Grate the remaining three on the large holes of a box grater. Grate the onion on the large holes of the box grater (keeping the root end intact prevents the onion from coming apart while grating it).

This grater has five holes to the inch. Perfect.

Transfer potato mixture into a seive and jiggle out most, but not all, of the potato juice, pressing down a bit. Save the juice and allow it to rest.

Beautifully "shredded" and not at all mushy.

Allow the juice to rest.

Carefully pour off the liquid which will reveal
the potato starch that has settled to the bottom.

Place drained mixture into a bowl and add the slightly beaten egg, flour, salt and pepper. 

Gently drain the potato liquid being careful to leave behind the white potato starch which will have settled to the bottom. Add starch to potato mixture and mix through.

Raise heat on oil and when shimmering, add forkful of potato mixture forming in a round and pressing down a bit. Do not overcrowd the pan. When edges begin to turn brown, flip and fry other side. DO NOT WALK AWAY from frying the pancakes. They can burn suddenly and easily. You will have to adjust heat as you fry.

Never walk away from the pan. Do not crowd the pan. Adjust heat as necessary.
The heavier the pan, the better. I prefer my cast iron frying pan.

When golden brown, remove to drain and then place on baking sheet in oven to keep warm while preparing subsequent batches.

Serve with butter, sour cream, apples sauce, cottage cheese and salt and pepper. 

If you've never had these, congratulations. You're now an addict!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Baked Chicken with Sausages, Apples & Onions

A great autumn blend of flavors!

When I tell people I'm making apples with onions, they turn up their nose, "Ewwww!" They don't know what they're missing. In fact, it has been one of the consistent top, all-time recipes for Kitchen Bounty.

At first, I just made this recipe with chicken, apples and onions. And it was great, but I wanted something a bit more. Pairing chicken with sausages is nothing new in Europe. And I just happened to have some sweet Italian sausage on hand, so I added a few links. It made the dish. Sometimes I serve with a simple side of noodles or savory stuffing. Either way, this is sure to be a favorite from your kitchen. And the only noses turned up will those inhaling the wonderful aroma as this bakes.

  • 1 large yellow onion peeled and sliced for a final weight of 8 oz.
  • 2 sweet apples, cored, unpeeled, and sliced for a final weight of 8 oz.
  • 4 bone-in chicken thighs (or two leg quarters), skin on
  • 2 Italian sweet sausages, cut in half
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seed
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme (or several pinches dried thyme flakes)
  • 2 tablespoons chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon Cognac
  • 1 tablespoon butter, cut into fourths
  • Poultry seasoning (I use Bell's*) Buy Bells
  • Old Bay Seasoning
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.

Rinse and pat dry the chicken. Remove any extra fat or skin, if desired. Season the underside well with poultry seasoning a bit of salt and pepper. Sometimes thighs have a "hinge" of skin which I like to fold over the seasoned meat. Turn over and sprinkle tops with Old Bays. Set aside.

Slice the peeled onion into thick 1/4-inch slices and then cut the slices in half. 

Core, but do not peel the apples. Cut in half, And then cut each half into thirds. You want the slices to be a bit on the thick side. For this recipe, I used one Gala and one Golden Delicious. 

Heat just a bit of olive oil and butter in a pan. Add the onions and cook just until they begin to show color. Add just a bit of salt. It's not necessary to cook them all the way through. Add the fennel seed and apples. Stir and cook just until apples begin to take on a bit of color.

Evenly spread apple/onion mixture in a 10 x 7 dish. Add the one tablespoon of Cognac to the hot pan to deglaze and add two tablespoons of chicken stock and just a bit of butter. Simmer for a minute or two and then drizzle the mixture evenly over the apples and onions. Scatter thyme springs on top.

Place chicken thighs on top of apple mixture and tuck in sausages.

Bake, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and skim one piece of the quartered butter over each thigh. Turn over the sausages. Return to oven for another 15 - 20 minutes, removing once to baste chicken with the juices and bake until golden brown.

Remove from oven and allow to sit a good 20 minutes or so to allow juices to settle and absorb. Serve each thigh with one sausage and a spoonful of apple/onion mixture.

Serves 2-4.

UPDATE: You can also add green cabbage to your apple and onion mixture.

NOTES: I used Johnsonville Sweet Italian sausage. I placed several julienned strips of smoked pork jowl over each thigh before baking, but I realize that is something many people may not have access to. If desired, fry two strips of bacon until crisp. Remove from pan and fry your onions in the bacon fat along with just a bit of olive oil. Crumble the bacon over the apple/onion mixture before you add the chicken. 

A note on liquor. If you're like me, you don't have a variety of "hard liquor" on hand. I buy the tiny  4 oz/50 ml bottles of liquors that I use most for cooking. They are inexpensive and handy to have. Grand Marnier, Cognac, Brandy, Rum, and Amaretto are the ones I use most.

*Bells Seasoning is a blend of rosemary, oregano, sage, ginger, marjoram, thyme and pepper. I love it. You can find it at:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Star "Rolls" in the Kitchen

Whenever a sheet of tin foil zips across the metal teeth of a roll, I think of my Grandma Mary who called it "one of the greatest inventions." She, of course, lived through The Great Depression and WWII when anything "metal" was considered dear, indeed. And worth saving. She rarely crumpled up a piece to toss into the garbage. Instead, it was wiped down and neatly folded to be used again. And again. Along with pieces of twine, rubber bands, and paper bags.

During this, our own Great Recession, tin foil isn't cheap. And, if you're on a budget or just trying to make ends meet, like me, you, too, may think twice about wadding up a sheet and non-chalantly shooting it into the garbage. I find myself wiping it down, folding it neatly, and storing it in the cupboard. Why not?

But for my money, the star "roll" of the kitchen is paper towel. On occasions when I accidentally run out, I go crazy. Nothing can compare to its utilitarian necessity or invention. How did people survive without it? They must have had piles of dishrags,  towels, sponges, mops. And that, of course, meant extra work of washing and drying them. And then folding and storing.

Most paper towels today are just about as strong as a "rag." But since they are disposable, they are really more sanitary. In fact, that's how paper towels really got started back in 1907. They were used for "medicinal" purposes in schools--to wipe runny noses of children to prevent the spread of colds and flu. They were then called "Sani-Towels." It wasn't until 1931 that they were introduced in the form we know today, but it would take a few decades before they caught on as an everyday kitchen staple and a grocery aisle all to themselves.

Window washing, cleaning up pet (and human) "accidents" require paper towels. But so do the following: skimming off grease from a stock or gravy, absorbing grease when microwaving bacon, lining refrigerator vegetable bins, liners between dishes and pots, emergency toilet paper. The list goes on and on. And, unlike tinfoil, paper towels are biodegradable.

Plastic wrap is another star of the kitchen, although it's debut didn't occur until well after WWII. But it's rise was meteoric and I can still remember the neighborhood excitement when "sandwich" bags appeared, replacing the old stand-by, wax paper.

Plastic wrap is a storage unit in-and-of itself. It is indispensable for covering leftovers.  My favorite use is to wrap wet paint rollers and brushes with it and then put them in the freezer until needed the next day.

Wax paper doesn't get much use in my kitchen. I use it primarily to spread out bread crumbs for dredging, measure flour when baking or to cover a dish loosely, such as a pie. Of course, as a child, it was used regularly to grease a metal slide or to iron leaves between two sheets for school projects.

I keep a roll or freezer paper handy although I don't use it much. Once something goes into the freezer . . . it's a certain slow death and I tend to forget about it until I exhume the anonymous frozen corpses one by one . . . and usually toss them into the garbage. A roll of parchment paper is a must for baking.

Although they are now mostly built-in, my first dishwasher was an apartment-sized portable that rolled on wheels. I worshipped it. My last kitchen didn't have a dishwasher and was really too small even for a portable (which are difficult to find). I went insane. Never again. Never.

Foil, plastic, paper all on a roll. They may be supporting roles, but they're crucial and essential to the star of the show: the cook.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sausage and Sage Stuffing

Ready for the oven with slivers of unsalted butter to give a crisp top.

The five ingredients for Thanksgiving? Turkey. Cranberry sauce. Sweet potatoes. Pumpkin pie. Stuffing. Some might add green-bean casserole and, if you are one of those unfortunate souls, I shall pray for your culinary redemption.

We all grow up with a "stuffing." My grandmother did rice stuffing. I grew up with the traditional, American favorite of pork and sage. Some prefer fruit stuffings. I do not like the addition of fruit to my stuffing. My feeling is that if one wants fruit, make it as a sidedish. Fruit in stuffing can be overpowering and not everyone likes it. 

Stuffing at the turn of the last century had more to do with economy and stretching a meal, I believe, than in gastronomical feats. Hence, locality dictated ingredients. If you lived on a coast, stuffing was made from oysters and rice. In the Midwest, apples and fruits. In the South, sweet potatoes. Urban areas used chestnuts and dried fruits, such as prunes. Pennsylvania Dutch used potatoes. Older cookbooks usually had a section reserved just for stuffings which then were called "dressings." Recipes ranged from "Potato and Celery Dressing," to "Liver Dressing."

You don't have to use dried bread, but dried will soak up the stock when you add it. Finding dried bread cubes can prove difficult, but a good grocery store will often stock them made from their own bread. Packaged, seasoned bread "chips" have many unwanted ingredients, including fructose corn syrup.

Use turkey stock, not chicken broth, to make your turkey stuffing. Add the rinsed neckbone and giblets with a bit of carrot, celery and onion to pot and just cover with water. Simmer for a few hours and use that liquid to make your stuffing and your gravy. Or buy a package of turkey wings or turkey necks and do it that way. If you need to "stretch" your stock, then add some canned chicken stock.

Making your own turkey stock makes all the flavor difference in the world.

Because of fears of bacteria, it is no longer recommended one actually stuff the bird. Usually, the bird is finished cooking before the stuffing leaving behind bacteria that has seeped into the stuffing. It's important to take the temperature of both the bird and the stuffing. Stuffing is done when an instant-read thermometer reads 150 F. degrees.

Stove Top Stuffing sells over 60 million boxes of the stuff (sorry, couldn't resist) every Thanksgiving. And with good reason. It's good. Add your own turkey stock and some sausage, and it's even better. And the quality and consistency is, well, consistent, and it's something our taste buds have grown up with. But for the holidays, I prefer to keep corporate blends behind as much as possible. I'll start from scratch.

The recipe below is sufficient for a half dozen people. You'll want to double it for more.

  • 24 ounces dried bread cubes (about 13-14 cups)
  • 8 ounces diced onion (a heaping one cup)
  • 8 ounces diced celery (a heaping one cup)
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon all-purpose pepper
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 16 ounces sage sausage
  • 1 teaspoon pressed garlic or finely minced
  • 1 heaping tablespoon freshly minced sage
  • 3 tablespoons freshly minced curly parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon or more poultry seasoning or Bell's Poultry Seasoning
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
  • 2-4 cups homemade turkey stock
  • 2 small/medium eggs

It's important to have everything diced, cut weighed and ready to go. You'll be using pots and pans and bowls, so have your counter and kitchen cleared of clutter before proceeding. I weighed the bread cubes, onions and celery to be more accurate.

Using the largest bowl you have, add the dried bread crumbs, poultry seasoning or Bell's and the Parmesan cheese. Mix through.

Use the largest bowl you have for easy mixing.

Add just a bit of olive oil to a 12-inch skillet and brown the sausage, breaking it up as it cooks. I use a pastry blender. When done, remove to a separate bowl.

In the same pan, melt the six tablespoons of butter and add the onions and celery, cooking over medium heat until tender and opaque and just beginning to turn brown. Add the garlic and stir through just until fragrant and scraping up brown bits from bottom of pan as you go.

Add cooked sausage to onion/celery mixture and mix through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add one cup of turkey stock. Remove from heat. Set aside.

In a small bowl, add one cup turkey stock, the eggs, chopped parsley and sage. Whisk until well blended.

Add the sausage mixture into the dried bread cubes, mixing with a spoon and your hand to incorporate well. Now begin mixing in the egg mixture. It's important to mix well.

Now comes the trickiest part when making stuffing. How much more liquid to add? If you are actually going to stuff a bird, you want the stuffing mixture a bit on the fluffy or dry side. If baking, you want it a bit more moist. I ended up using another 1.5 cups of turkey stock. Begin by adding 1/2 cup at a time. 

A bit on the wet side? A bit on the dry side? It depends on one's preference. But no one likes dried-out stuffing.

Transfer stuffing mixture to a greased deep bowl or casserole dish. This is the second trickiest part of making stuffing. I prefer a large oven-proof bowl. If using a casserole dish, it will cook sooner and be crispier. 

Dot with butter and cover tightly with foil. Bake at 350-400 F degrees F for about 20-30 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake until crisp and brown, another 15-20  minutes. Remember, it must register at least 150 F degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Chances are, it will read higher and that's fine. 

Crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, and filled with flavor.

Notes: I added just a pinch or two of Cayenne pepper when I added the sausage to the onion/celery mixture. That's entirely optional.

My favorite Thanksgiving movie: Pieces of April:

Pieces of April (2003) - Check Trailer - YouTube

Monday, November 14, 2011

Make Your Cranberry Sauce Now--And Other Thanksgiving Suggestions

It pays to keep holiday meals simple but delicious. Prepare as much as you can ahead of time. Plan one to two WOW dishes, not the entire meal. Don't go overboard with "decorations." Remember, what you put up you have to take down. Leave all the complications for family relationships. Take a deep breath. You still have Christmas and New Year's to go . . . Keep the liquor cabinet well stocked.

Everyone has an opinion about cranberry sauce. A lot of people hate it. And for good reason. It's often overly tart if not just disappointingly sour.

My "sauce" is not cooked. And, trust me on this, people will eat it. And want more. But it has to be made in advance so the berries marinate in the sugar. The longer it marinates, the better it becomes. I will have a bowl in the fridge from now until fresh cranberries disappear in the markets.

I think Thanksgiving is just as much about apples as it turkey and sweet potatoes. Try my casserole for sweet potatoes layered with apples. It's a bit more grown up than yams with marshmallows. 

If you've never had apples with onions, you're in for a treat. And don't turn up your nose a the combination. It's actually Kitchen Bounty's top recipe. 

For some reason, sweet potatoes and pumpkin are the only "orange" allowed at Thanksgiving. Try carrots. 

Mashed potatoes don't have to be boring. A bit of dried onion and fresh garlic bring them to a new level. Use real butter and cream. And don't use an electric egg beater.

If your main dessert is the traditional pumpkin pie, a scoop of apple crisp alongside is a nice treat. And it's easier to make than an apple pie. 

Appetizers are a great start to any holiday meal. Try shelled fish, such as clams, oysters or shrimp for a stellar beginning to the holiday season. Serve with cold Champagne. Cheers!

If you have a hunter in the family who insists on venison, I've got the perfect recipe for you!

Friday, November 11, 2011

More Tales from the Grocery Store: Women's Purses

Women love to shop. But not for groceries. The sooner that endeavor is over, the better.
Even when they leave with a full cart of bagged goods, they are already worrying about unloading it and putting it away. I've been to homes where groceries are removed from the car but that's as far as they get--the kitchen floor. Perishables are grudgingly put away. The rest of the household graze out of the scattered purhcases like feed bags or rummage through the sacks like street people.
Were the purchases clothes and/or accessories, well... such a cart of loot would be unloaded immediately, tried on, flaunted and lovingly put away.
But I have observed this rather strange, unique phenomenon amongst the female species. To make grocery shopping more appealing and motivating, women often bring the largest purse they own. It's one occasion when a saddle bag becomes feasible--they plunk it into the cart as though it were a horse. Giddy up! Astride the child seat, it rides with them as though it were their trusty friend Tonto.  And they fiddle through its cluttered interior, elbows resting on the cart handle, as they meander the aisles happy not to have to lug it on their shoulder and to have something, anything, as a diversion to the task at hand.
When they check out, the purse stays put. They. Will. Not. Move. It. And who can blame them? It weighs more than a bag of canned groceries! I need to re-fill that cart with their groceries as I bag them. After they unload their purchases onto the conveyor belt, they still guard that purse. But I can't wait. I have to re-fill it as I bag.
I used to be polite and trot over to it. Now I just yank it forward. Most women become alarmed. "MY PURSE!!!" It amuses me to see their terrified faces as though I'm going to steal it and run out the door. No one can run burdened down with a weight like that. Not even the best of New York muggers.
The situation is complicated when they choose one of the compact, small carts. The purse takes up most of the space. Where to put the groceries as I bag them? Simple. Right on top of the purse. Most women get the idea and move it. Many couldn't care less. Oh, well . . . 
Women also love, love, love, to have the exact change. Down. To. The. Penny. The line behind them can be a a mile long. No matter. If it takes all day, they are determined to rummage through that purse for the exact change! They then lay it down. Coin. By. Coin. OMG! Don't even get me started if they write a check. It takes forever, like putting on makeup. 
But, WAIT!
Are they done yet? NO. They put everything back into their purse. Look around. Have I forgotten something? Oh, let's check the purse one last time. Where are my keys.... Do they move aside to do this so the next person in line can move forward? Never.
Men could care less. Men love a quick get away. I think they're wired for it. They only carry what will fit into their pockets. They pull out a wad of bills and that's that. They don't even care about a thank-you. And they're gone. They got what they wanted. I guess . . . it's kind of like sex.

P.S. And remember, please leave your dirty, filthy, germ-infested, dog-hair-covered, stored-in-the-car-trunk recyclable bags at home. They're nothing more than dirty laundry. [The other day a woman brought in a bag that was truly disgusting. When they're stained and dirty, I just put them inside a plastic bag and stick it in their cart. Well, this woman was in last week again--but she had all brand new recyclable bags.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sweet Potato Pie #1

Potatoes are unassuming in their appearance but gracious and generous in their bounty and versatility. Nothing could be truer than the sweet potato.

I never had sweet potato pie until I moved to North Carolina. It's not quite as sweet as pumpkin pie and I prefer it over that old stand-by. I looked over several recipes and put together one I thought I would like. It was good, but it needs some more experimentation. Still, the pictures came out grand.

My recipe had 1/2 cup melted butter. I thought it a bit excessive but went with it. It ended up making the crust too soggy, by one main complaint, and by the end of baking some had risen to the top of the pie which I absorbed with a paper towel. Next time, I will only use 1/4 cup and maybe I will pre-bake the shell a bit before adding the filling. I'll use three eggs next time, not two, to give it volume and I will increase the amount of the dry spices. I used one tablespoon of rum which gave a great taste.

At the last minute, I decided to put the mashed potatoes through a sieve for a smoother texture.

I've read that baking the potatoes gives a better texture and taste than boiling. I may try that, too.

Baking temperatures were all over the map. As was sugar. Some called for as much 1.5 cups of sugar. Some called for baking at a very high temperature then lowering it. I settled for 3/4 cup sugar, 1/4 being brown sugar and I baked it at a consistent temperature of 350 for about 45 minutes and it came out perfect without any cracks, even after it cooled, perhaps because of all that butter.

  • 1.5 cups mashed sweet potatoes, about 3 large
  • 1/2 cup butter (next time I will use 1/4), melted
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten (next time I will use 3)
  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon} you may want to increase this amount or add another 1/2 teaspoon or so of pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-grated nutmeg} since nutmeg is strong, be careful about increasing this too much
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum, spot on (or whisky or brandy)
  • 1 9-inch pie crust

Pre-heat oven to 350 F degrees.

Boil potatoes until soft when pierced with a knife tip or fork. Drain. When cool enough to handle, remove from skin. It will peel right off. Mash or put in a food processor and/or  work through a sieve.

Roll out pie crust and fit into a nine-inch pie plate. If it's a bit smaller, that's even better. Set aside or pre-bake for about 15 minutes. Set aside.

Add mashed sweet potatoes to a large bowl and mix with the butter until fluffy. Whisk in the eggs. Add the evaporated milk and whisk. Add sugars, flour, spices and vanilla. Whisk well. Taste and re-adjust seasonings if necessary. Add the rum and mix.

For mixing, I used an old-fashioned hand-held rotary beater.

Pour custard mixture into pie shell and bake in center of oven for about 45 minutes or until set. Allow to cool completely. Top with whipped cream.

Notes: I've read where it is not a good idea to prepare the mashed sweet potatoes ahead of time and then refrigerate since it creates a "watery" pie. Just saying . . .