December 27th, 2008

Smokin’ Bird

When I got word on the 23rd that the number of guests attending our Christmas Eve food and gift-giving frenzy was swelling, I realized that I had to augment my game plan. I could make more of everything—the idea of which made me cringe—
or I could add one more menu item.

But what?
With beef tenderloin, stuffed shells, and sundry vegetable side dishes on the menu, stovetop and oven space were at a premium.

A-ha! Time to commandeer my trusty Big Green Egg, and smoke a turkey.

We tend to relegate outdoor cooking to warm weather months, but it’s just as fine in winter. For the most part, you can put bird or beast in the smoker and forget about it while you tend to the rest of the meal prep. (All afternoon this past Christmas Eve in Nashville it rained heavily—and at a slant—but my egg chugged right along!)

The key is having time—at least overnight—for brining.

Sherry and locally produced sorghum add a rich, sweet layer to this brine.
Out of deference to my brother, whose lips swell to Bozo proportions if they touch anything capsicum, I eliminated the otherwise delightful couple of glugs of Louisiana Hot Sauce.

For one 12 lb. fresh turkey, use a container large enough to submerge the bird in about
1 ½ gallons water and the following:

The Brine
1 cup kosher salt
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup Sorghum
1 cup sherry
1 onion, quartered
1 orange, quartered
1 apple, quartered
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 Tablespoon cracked black pepper

Submerge the turkey in the brine and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, stoke the smoker; bring temperature up to 250 degrees.
Remove bird from brine. Rinse off, drain, and pat dry.
Place turkey inside, breast up, and lower lid.
After 3 hours, flip the turkey over to brown the breast.
Total smoking time: 4 ½ -5 hours

Serves 20

Caterer’s Tips: Turkey prepared this way is juicy and flavorful and doesn’t need any embellishments.
But a honey-dijon sauce, or a pear chutney, is a welcome condiment, especially when spread on rolls for little smoked turkey sandwiches the next day.

Posted in Meats/Poultry, Recipes | 4 Comments »

December 21st, 2008

Tally’s Turnips

When I picked up my order from Fresh Harvest Coop, I was drawn to these small white globes lying in a basket on the sales table.

“They’re harukei salad turnips,” grower Tally said.

“Turnips?” For me, turnips fall into the category of something beneficial, but avoidable, like castor oil. “These look beautiful. But, I’ve never been a fan.”

Tally smiled. “That’s been almost everyone’s reaction. But these are so sweet; you can eat them raw. I think you’ll really like them.”

Since I believe that there are few people more trustworthy than our local farmers, I heeded Tally’s words and made the purchase.

When I arrived home, I washed one off and took a bite. I was surprised by its earthy sweetness, a firm but tender texture—I immediately sliced one up and tossed it into a salad. A few nights later, another found its way into a tomato-based vegetable soup. In both instances, the harukei was an amicable background player.

But I wanted to cook something that could bring it to the fore, and show off that sweetness and texture. On a chilly day that begged for more soup, I decided that a vegetable bisque might be the perfect vehicle for these babies.

Potatoes create the creamy base for the bisque without adding any cream. As the potatoes cook down and get mashed up, they provide body. Because I live with a vegetarian, I use vegetable stock to extend the base. If I don’t have some already made, I use the types you find in those pourable cartons. Adding the turnips at the end keeps them chunky and the flavor fresh.

“This is really good,” my vegetarian partner said, ladling another bowl.

“It’s the turnips,” I said.


Sweet Turnip Bisque
2 Tablespoons olive oil–divided
1 Tablespoon butter
3 medium potatoes, (about 1 ½ cups) peeled and diced (I used russets, but try others!)
2 carrots, diced small
2 celery ribs, chopped finely
1 medium white onion, diced
2 cups diced turnips (don’t peel)
2 Tablespoons fresh dillweed
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup lowfat milk
salt & white pepper, to taste
a few grindings of black pepper, a few sprigs of dillweed to garnish

In a 2qt. saucepan on medium heat, melt the butter with 1 Tablespoon oil.
Add potatoes, carrots, celery, and onions and sauté, stirring frequently.
Add one cup of the stock, stir, and simmer until the potatoes become tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and mash the potato-vegetable mix with a hand potato masher until the mixture resembles a thickened puree-like base.
In a separate skillet with the remaining Tablespoon of olive oil, sauté the turnips for 5 minutes. Scrape the cooked turnips into the saucepan with the potato-vegetable mix. Add remaining stock and milk. Stir well and return to heat. Season with salt and white pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Garnish with black pepper and dillweed.
Serves 2 hearty main meal appetites, or 4 regular ones

Posted in Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegetarian Dishes | 8 Comments »

December 17th, 2008

Savory Cheesecake

Cheesecake, that indulgent combo of cream cheese, eggs, and what-you-fancy, is a crowd-pleaser in all its guises. Everyone is familiar with the myriad sweet versions: New York original, chocolate, chocolate chip, strawberry, mocha…and no doubt, has a favorite.

But the cake’s savory sides are not as known.

I’ve had guests ask me, “This looks really good. What is it?”
and cock their heads with uncertainty when I say “It’s a Savory Cheesecake.”
When I explain that it’s got cream cheese, feta, artichoke hearts, green onions, fresh dillweed and oregano; just spread it on a cracker, Eyes Light Up.

This has all the right Big Party elements: rich Greek-inspired flavors and show-stopper looks, easy to make at a modest cost. One cake goes a long way—up to 50 guest’s worth of slathers on crackers—not to mention the yummy puff pastry crust.

Savory Cheesecake
2 lbs. softened cream cheese
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 cup (or more) chopped artichoke hearts
3 minced garlic cloves
5 finely chopped scallions
2 Tablespoons fresh dillweed (2 t., if using dry)
2 Tablespoons fresh oregano (2 t., if using dry)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
4 eggs
pinch red pepper flakes
½ cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
1 10”x15”puff pastry sheet (you can use smaller sheets and piece together–the pastry
pieces easily.)
9” springform pan

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Line the bottom and sides of the springform pan with puff pastry.
In a mixing bowl, cream together the feta and cream cheeses.
Beat in the artichoke hearts, scallions, and minced garlic. Add herbs, salt and pepper.
Beat in eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl, mixing well.
Pour into pastry-lined springform pan and bake for 50 minutes. Allow to cool, then unmold.
Garnish with sundried tomatoes and fresh oregano or dill.
Serve at room temperature with crackers or crostini.

Caterer’s Tips: This can be made several days in advance and refrigerated. I have had success freezing it, ungarnished. For a holiday look, I used English ivy and clusters of nandina berries clipped from my backyard to garnish the platter.

Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Recipes | 9 Comments »

December 16th, 2008

Welcome Volunteer

This celadon beauty is an heirloom pumpkin—a jarrahdale blue.
It grew at the end of a long and persistent vine that originated in the flower bed off my urban front porch and tendriled its way through the yard to the street. I’d like to claim that I had something to with it, but other than allowing last year’s pumpkins to rot and slump into that flower bed, I did not. My prized baby blue is a true volunteer.

Hurray for volunteers!

It’s in that spirit that this blog is created:
A place to share stories, tips, and recipes about foods that I’m cooking at the moment, or finding at a farmer’s market, in a friends garden, my front yard, or teaching about in a class. For all our obsession on food in our culture—the fast, the slow, the exotic, the celebrated—I find that focusing on what we can make simply, with fresh ingredients, can best nourish body and spirit.

Good Food Matters.

Posted in Articles | 18 Comments »