Turkey and Sweet Potato Croquettes with Cranberry Apple Salsa

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This dish may look fussy and fancy, but really it is some plain good eating.  I wanted a unique way to use up some leftover turkey and an extra sweet potato that I had lying around. After the first bite with a good dash of cayenne, I knew that I would not be waiting for turkey leftovers to make this again.

I like to use a red-skinned sweet potato.  Once roasted, the extra sweetness of this variety comes out even more.  I put it through the ricer to get rid of any fibrous strands and then measure out one cup for the recipe.  If there are any leftovers, use it to make a bigger batch. The croquettes can be made just before frying and frozen for up to one month in advance-- perfect for the upcoming holidays. The original recipe made small  croquettes, but I made these for dinner, so I wanted something a bit more substantial.  I doubled the recipe to yield 24 golf ball-size croquettes.

The salsa makes a nice use out of the seasonal cranberry.  I like mine processed to a fine consistency, but make yours as chunky or as puréed as you like.  Garnished with a few chopped chives for an extra savory flavor and a good dash of cayenne per each crispy fried ball of goodness-- these have made our holiday rotation for sure!


Sunday Dinner {take two}

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Triple Ginger Layer Cake
Cinnamon Ice Cream

Sunday Dinner {take two}??  My parents are on the road today heading South for the winter, so we shared a "Sunday dinner" with them last night for one more get together.  But, I made sure to make enough for us to have tonight, hence the {take two}.  The whole meal was delicious, but we were so busy visiting, sharing, laughing, and crying (miss you Mom and Dad), I only took a picture of the cake.  Since tonight will be a little more laid back, I will fry up some fresh fish and toss a fresh salad and snap a few photos to share recipes down the road.

I haven't made this cake in over seven years.  As good as it was then, I knew that a few changes would really make this cake shine.  My two major changes were in the triple ginger and the texture.  I didn't understand how it could be called triple ginger when there were only two types of ginger.  Wanting to stay true to the name, I substituted some of the ground ginger for fresh, giving it a real ginger taste.  The addition of fresh ginger serves to increase the amount of sugar without making it too sweet.  As far as texture, the original recipe was very dense.  With the thick cream cheese frosting, I wanted something a little lighter.  So, I added an extra egg and increased the baking soda slightly for a fluffy and tender texture.

I am not usually a fan of the classic cake and ice cream combo, but after one bite last night, I headed to the freezer for a container of ice cream-- boy was that good!  I am not happy that I won't see my parents for some time, but I am happy that there is enough cake and ice cream leftover for us to have tonight.


Pumpkin Cream Cheese Truffles

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As much as I love my sweets and post-dinner treats, after a big Thanksgiving meal (and knowing that I will be enjoying another leftover sandwich plate later in the evening:), I am a bit too full for a slice of pie or piece of cheesecake right then.  In come these little beauties to solve that problem.  One bite will satisfy that seasonal sweet tooth for anything pumpkin or spiced. The best description of these snow white balls-- the love child of a traditional pumpkin pie and a spiced pumpkin cheesecake.  In fact, it is the technique from a spiced pumpkin cheesecake recipe I have that I use to make the filling creamy and rich like a truffle and not like a cream filled chocolate. I'll explain more below.

The original recipe came to me a few years ago via an e-mail from Whole Foods.  I read the name and  was instantly smitten.  But after reading the recipe and a few reviews, I knew I had to make a few changes.  The original called for part gingersnap crumbs and part graham cracker crumbs, but I love the taste of homemade gingersnaps, so I use only gingersnaps (pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap crust-- oh, yes!).  The recipe also called for orange zest.  As much as I love the combo of pumpkin and orange, I omitted it for a straight spiced pumpkin pie taste.  The original recipe also made 30 truffles, but they were only a heaping teaspoon each, so I doubled the batch for a nice sized truffle.  The biggest modification came from the reviews, which were good for flavor, but the filling was too wet, and not stiff enough to roll.  This is where the handy technique from Cook's Illustrated comes into play.  To remove the unwanted excess moisture from the pumpkin purée...

Line a baking sheet with triple layer paper towels.  Using an off-set spatula, spread the pumpkin into a thin, even layer.

Place more paper towels on top to soak up more moisture.

Look at all that moisture!

Once the towels are completely saturated, remove the top towels and grab the one side of the bottom towel.  Fold the pumpkin in half onto itself.

Flip the pumpkin purée onto the baking sheet and discard the towels.  I actually squeezed several tablespoons out of the paper towel.  Transfer the purée to the bowl of a food processor and proceed with the recipe.

There is still time to put these decadent treats on your Thanksgiving dessert table.  A box or plate full of these with a warm hug will really show your family and friends how thankful you are.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day!


Cornbread Dressing with Fresh Herbs

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When I was growing up, we always had stuffing and dressing on our Thanksgiving table.  Same recipe, but two completely different dishes.  If you would have asked me back then if I was a stuffing or dressing gal, without hesitation I would have responded-- "Stuffing, for sure!"  The stuffing was always super moist, almost to the point of being gummy.  Every bit of turkey drippings was soaked up by the dried bread.  The dressing, on the other hand, always seemed a bit dry, or I should politely say, a good reason for another spoonful of gravy.  

Times have changed and my preference for food textures has changed as well.  If you are a reader, you probably know by now that I like to go homemade whenever I can.  It is fresher, it tastes better, and I know where it came from.  True, it does take more time, but the end result is worth it.  Mom always made the stuffing/dressing recipe using Pepperidge Farm bags of bread cubes, a box of Jiffy mix, and poultry seasoning.  It was good and well received, but like I said, times have changed.  That is where my homemade white bread and sweet cornbread recipes come in to play.  Great for sandwiches and dinner bread, they also give this dressing great flavor.  Using fresh herbs, like thyme, sage, and parsley, instead of the powdered poultry seasoning also helps to bring this much loved dish into the twenty-first century.

Along with the updated flavor, I knew the texture needed a makeover as well.  I wanted the tenderness of the stuffing with the crispness of the dressing.  A mixture of chicken broth, half-and-half, and eggs serves to bind the mixture of bread cubes.  Once baked, the dressing stays moist and tender on the inside while the top is golden brown and crunchy.  It is a food marriage of stuffing and dressing.  

If you are up for baking from scratch and using my recipes for white bread and cornbread, you will need about 12 slices of white bread and 1/3 of the recipe for the cornbread.  Save the ends of the bread for toast or sandwiches and the leftover cornbread for soups or stew.  If you are pressed for time or just not a baker, then purchase a good quality white bread and cornbread for tasty results.


Sunday Dinner

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Salsa di Parmigiano

Lasagne Bolognese
Sautéed Broccoli Rabe
Glazed Cipollini Onions 

Salted Chocolate Caramel Tart

The flavors of Thanksgiving food are wondrous.  I can hardly get enough of those classic flavors at Thanksgiving dinner and all throughout the following week.  Sometimes, though, the taste buds need a little shakeup during the endless parade of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, etc.   This spread has just the right mojo to do the job.  The flavor is a welcome departure, an ethnic oasis in a sea of classic American eats.    

Since this dish is all about the cheese, buy the best cheese you can.  Good aged Parmigiano-Reggiano and Asiago cheeses can be found in many supermarkets nowadays.  You can adjust the heat from the red pepper flakes according to your own taste.   Whether it is eaten before dinner on Thanksgiving Day as an appetizer or used for a shot of variety on the weekend of leftovers,  this Salsa di Parmigiano packs massive flavor. And if there are any leftovers, this "salsa" puts a spin on a rather ordinary sandwich. It is delicious tossed with your favorite pasta for a quick weeknight dinner or simply spread on a ripe tomato.


Dry Brined-High Heat Roast Turkey

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We are spending Thanksgiving this year at my parent's house and although my mother and father will be going back to basics (why mess with what is already good?) with the bird and all the trimmings, I make sure to make the whole nine yards just for leftovers when we get home for that late night turkey sandwich plate:)  I have shared appetizers, side dishes, breads, and dessert (all can be found on my recipe link at the top of the page), so now I would like to share with you our menu with any links to previous recipes and the recipe for the main event-- the TURKEY!

Thanksgiving 2011

Curried Chicken Log
(why my family insists on having chicken before turkey is beyond me)

Roast Turkey
Steamed White Rice
Giblet Gravy
Southern Green Beans
Braised Onions and Bacon

Now that I have you all good and hungry, it is time to get down to Tom, (Turkey that is).  This is hands down my favorite way to cook a turkey.  I use two methods to achieve the juiciest and best tasting turkey meat.  It also helps that I buy, in my opinion, the best bird.  I can't recommend enough the poultry products from Bell & Evans.  They are air chilled, antibiotic free, and organic with deep poultry flavor.  Yes, you will pay more, but the end result is worth it.  If Bell & Evans' products are not available to you, then find the freshest turkey in your area.  Steer clear of the frozen ones that have been injected with some sort of solution and extra fats.  They have too much white meat and too little flavor.  Now that I have given you some fundamentals for turkey purchasing, on to the method.

As I stated, I use two methods.  One is a dry brine and the other is a high heat roast.  I'll start with the dry brine.  Dry brining (rubbing kosher salt between the meat and the skin) balances the moisture in the bird and pulls the seasoning deep into the meat, not just on top of the skin.  I have used a wet brine before, but I feel that the dry brine leaves a better texture meat (firm, not mushy) that is still flavorful and very moist.  The high heat method is an easier and quicker way to roast a bird; no turing and no basting.  I can roast a 12-13 pound turkey in 1 1/2 hours!  For more on this method, you can find some good reading here, or check out the cookbook Roasting by Barbara Kafka.  Since you are roasting a turkey at 500º F, make sure your oven is clean.  A dirty oven means a lot of smoke, so turn the vents on.

To help you with the process, I have included a few step-by-steps below.  
Warning: Graphic turkey images.

Hellloooo!  Anybody in there?! (Sorry, couldn't help myself:)

First, choose a 12-15 pound fresh turkey.  Remove and reserve the giblets and neck for gravy, if making. Trim any excess fat from the cavity.

Carefully separate the skin from the meat. Separate the skin on each breast separately leaving the skin on the middle of the breast bone intact.  I like to use my fingers, but...

a chopstick can also help you get started.  Just make sure to press against the meat and not into the skin.  You do NOT want to break the skin.  Doing so will expose the meat to the high cooking temperature, which will result in dry meat.

Go on, get your hand in there; nothing to be afraid of.

Continue with the legs and thighs, wrapping your fingers around the leg and thigh meat to loosen the skin. It may look difficult, but once you start it becomes fairly easy.  Once the skin has been separated, sprinkle measured amounts (see recipe below) of kosher (see brand specific below) salt into the cavity, and rub into the breast, legs and thighs.  (Sorry, no picture.  Hard to do that and hold a camera at the same time:)

Wrap the turkey tightly in plastic wrap, place on a baking sheet, and refrigerate for 24-48 hours.  Remove the turkey from the refrigerator, unwrap, and thoroughly rinse of excess salt.  Gently run water in between the skin and meat several times to rinse the salt.  You don't want a salty bird or salty pan drippings.  Drain and completely dry the turkey inside and out with paper towels.  A dry skin will make for a crisp skin.  Wet skin will simply steam.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place an ice bag or freezer pack on top.  Place the turkey breast side down on the ice.  Place another bag on the neck of the turkey, making sure that the ice is not touching any of the dark meat.  Since white meat cooks faster than dark meat, this method ensures that the dark meat is is cooked thoroughly without the breast meat being overdone and dried out.  

Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and preheat the oven to 500º F (yes, that high).  Place a V-rack in a large, heavy-duty roasting pan.  Place the turkey in the V-rack breast side up.  Cover the tips of the wings and legs with small sheets of aluminum foil to prevent burning.  Roast the turkey until the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165º F (the temperature will continue to rise while resting).  Check the turkey after 30 minutes.  If the breast seems to be browning too quickly, lay a sheet of aluminum foil on top of the breast.  Remove the foil 30 minutes before the turkey is done.  A 12-pound bird will take about 1 hour 20 minutes.  A 15-pound bird will roast up to 2 hours.

Carefully drain the juices from the cavity of the bird into the roasting pan.  Reserve the juices for gravy and drizzling over unbaked dressing. (I yield almost 1 cup of juices and about 1/4 cup fat from a 12 1/2-pound turkey).  Transfer the turkey to a cutting board; lightly tent with aluminum foil and rest for at least 20-30 minutes before carving.

You can certainly go for presentation points and present your beautifully browned bird atop a bed of greens and herbs for a final resting place on your holiday table before... 

carving the meat, which has been roasted to perfection!  The dark meat is completely cooked through and the white meat is still juicy and tender.  After all that work, I am ready for a sandwich:)

I almost forgot-- here is a great kitchen tip for reheating Thanksgiving leftovers (without the microwave).


Homemade Green Bean Casserole (from scratch)

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Is there a dish more expected and roundly beloved at the holiday dinner table than green bean casserole? Other than the main event, I think not.  It has been years (like back in high school when Mom made it) since I have had this American staple, mainly due to the fact that I avoid canned condensed soups.  Yes, the cans are quick and convenient, but the positive qualities end about there.  Knowing that many of you (including family and friends) enjoy this dish, I thought it was high time to go homemade and put it back on the table.   
I have one child that does not care for mushrooms. I have one child that does not care for green beans. I have one child that does not care for either.  However, all three children more than care for this dish.  In fact, they go back for more!!

First, the beans are blanched until tender.  I like mine a bit more on the tender side, but cook yours according to your own texture preference.  It will also depend on the type of bean.  I like to use thin haricot verts, but use what you can find and blanch them until desired tenderness.  (Take a bite to be sure).  Once baked, the texture will not change much, the beans just absorb some of the good sauce flavor.  Speaking of sauce, it starts with a bit of butter (always good) and diced mushrooms.  I add shallots for a mild onion flavor and a clove more of garlic.  Flour, chicken stock, and cream are added to make a thick sauce.  To take the flavor and creaminess to another level, I add a bit of Gruyère cheese (an aged white Cheddar is tasty, too) and a splash of sherry.  Married with the mushrooms, shallots, and cream, it is a classic combo of flavors.   

As far as the topping, it is a blend of old vs. new.  A few cups full of those french-fried onions for nostalgia purposes along with the addition of Panko crumbs makes for a crunchy and pick-worthy topping that adds that loved texture and flavor.

After all that, there is still more. This dish can be made ahead of time-- bonus for the holidays!  The topping can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, then combined with the fried onions just before cooking.  Once the beans and sauce have cooled separately, they can be combined.  Transfer the mixture to the baking dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.  To serve, remove the plastic wrap and cover with foil.  Heat the the casserole in a 425º F oven for 10 minutes.  Remove the foil, add the topping, then bake for another 10-15 or until browned and bubbling. (I have included this in the recipe below). 

I may have forgotten (o.k. avoided) this all-American side dish in the last several years, but I can honestly say that now, my family will never have a holiday without it!

Other sides dishes you might enjoy for Thanksgiving


Shrimp Bisque

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As a child and young adult, I can't tell you how many times I attended a Garden Club luncheon with my grandmother only to see something similar to the picture above placed in front of me.  Shrimp Bisque has that great quality of being classy enough for a meal in that type of setting, but not so snooty as to be too good for your favorite soup list to make at home.  A batch of this for lunch after a brisk autumn walk in the woods is a warm welcome home indeed.  The multiple levels of flavor make themselves apparent with each spoonful.  Trust me, if you even kind of like shrimp, you will be going for another half bowl after the first has been slurpped spooned and savored.  Add a dash or five of cayenne pepper to really make it sing.

This shrimp bisque will make for a tasty departure from the regular holiday eats I have shared.  A nice bowl of soup can break up the meat/sides/roll assembly line.  Having said that, it might also fit quite nicely on a holiday menu as a first course.  


Apple Cider Cream Pie

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I know-- another sugary treat, but I wanted to share this one before turkey day in case anyone is looking for something new to place on the dessert table.  I recently made this pie for a Sunday dinner and it was definitely a crowd pleaser.  What I like most about this pie is that it is not overly sweet or filling, making it a perfect ending to a Thanksgiving day feast.

This recipe if from the current November issue of Food & Wine.  I didn't change it much, but I did use my favorite pie crust and substituted apple cider for water.  I also used a bit of brown sugar in lieu of granulated sugar and put some vanilla in the whipped cream topping.  Garnished with a few dried apple slices and a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar, this is a seasonal pie that delivers the flavor while staying a bit on the lighter side.  I will certainly be making this again and again.

Other desserts that you might enjoy for Thanksgiving


Sunday Dinner

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French Bread

White Wine Poached Pears with Créme Fraîche 

I am writing this post as we travel the roads of Northern Illinois this Sunday from a nice weekend getaway.  Since we we be arriving home later in the day, I needed a Sunday dinner where several components could be made in advance to help me when we get home.  I caramelized the onions for the appetizer ahead of time.  The chicken and vegetables for the main event are prepped and ready to go.  For dessert, I poached the pears before leaving.  Since I wanted a little crunch along with the pears and créme, I have a batch of gingersnaps stored in the cookie jar ready to be enjoyed and shared with you today.

This is a true gingersnap cookie.  To the original recipe, I added clove for a little more spice and freshly ground black pepper for a little heat.  I also substituted a bit of brown sugar for the white sugar for a slightly deeper flavor.  One of the best tips I can give for a good flavor is to use spices that are fresh.  Some recipes call for crystallized ginger, but I save that for other ginger cookies that are softer.   While they are great to eat as a simple cookie, they are also useful for desserts that call for gingersnaps in the crust or crumble.

Sunday Dinner one year ago


Browned Butter Pecan Tart

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If you told me years ago that I was going to one day make this tart, enjoy as much as I did, and then share the recipe with others, I would have laughed really hard. This tart (originally a pie) has been on my family's Thanksgiving dessert table for over 25 years and I have never touched it (o.k I tried a bite a few years ago, but-- no thanks at the time). I didn't care for nuts growing up, so this dessert was never for me.  It smelled good when Mom was making it, but I just couldn't enjoy a slice. Fortunately, in recent years my taste buds have changed their mind about nuts and I enjoy them many ways, but still never pecans in the pie.

Not wanting to give up on a dessert loved by my family, I decided to give it another try with a few minor changes. I knew immediately that I wanted it in tart form.  If you are a reader or if you just check out my recipe page under Desserts, you will know that I have an affinity for baking (and eating) sweet tarts. I feel that the crust to filling ratio is better. Don't get me wrong, I love a good pie with its flaky crust where you can finish the fluted edge like a cookie, but a tart is my first choice. The original recipe already called for browned butter (kudos to the recipe creator), so no changes in that department. I did, however, swap out a bit of the sugar for brown sugar for a deeper sugar flavor.  It puffs as it bakes then collapses slightly as it cools. The filling separates into a gooey custard-like base with a thin, nutty, almost meringue-like top.  But, how did it taste to me?

On the first bite, I was in love along with the rest of my family. Taste and texture-- it was all there and more! I said to my husband on Sunday night, "This is one of my top 10 favorite tarts" and I have a lot of tart recipes. So, whether you are a pecan pie lover or not, I urge you to try this tart.  Of course, don't forget the scoop of ice cream:)

*Typo Correction-- I used a 10-inch tart pan with this recipe, not a 9 1/2-inch.  Recipe has been corrected.

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