Monday, January 31, 2011

Sourdough Doughnuts

Deep fat frying terrifies to me. I don't have, and will never have, a fryer as I'm not a fan of specialized kitchen equipment. Though, I make an exception for the garlic press. In the long run, it is probably a good thing for my health that I fear pots of boiling oil. However, there are some things that are worth facing my phobia for. One of these happens to be sourdough doughnuts. I know of nowhere that it is possible to buy sourdough doughnuts. In fact, other than the ones I've made I don't think I've ever had them. Like most things sourdough I find them absolutely delicious.

Doughnuts are in some ways the quintessential American food. There is a bit of a debate as to where they originated, but most believe they evolved in Dutch settlements. The term doughnuts is found going back to the first decade of the 18th century; so, they have been around for a while. The idea of fry bread isn't revolutionary. The interesting thing about a doughnut is its shape, and the various toppings and fillings that have been developed for it. At some point, someone put a hole in the middle of their dough and discovered the modern doughnut. With the hole, it was easier to get the doughnut cooked through uniformly instead of having a gooey middle and a too crispy crust.

Doughnuts are really quite simple to make as long as you disregard the hot oil part. The general idea is that you are making a sweet bread, rolled it into a rope, and pinched together to make a circle. You let the doughnuts sit to rise, fry them in hot oil for just over a minute, top with whatever you desire and eat. Like many things, doughnuts are also much tastier when they are still warm from cooking, and warm doughnuts are difficult to find anywhere. The technique for making doughnuts is the same regardless of if they are sourdough or not, so if you do not have sourdough starter don't despair. Just make your favorite sweet bread, or look up a recipe for doughnut dough, and then follow the frying instructions below.

For me, the biggest issue with most doughnut recipes is the quantity they make. First, they are best fresh; so you don't want to make too many. Second, most of the time I am cooking for two, and forty doughnuts is too many regardless of how tasty they are. As doughnut recipes usually have eggs in them it is difficult to cut them down under the one egg level. Last time I did it, I made the below recipe for 20 doughnuts, and then got creative with the left over dough.

For: Sourdough Doughnuts (recipe adapted from

1 cup Sourdough Starter
1/2 cup lukewarm milk or butter milk
1 cup flour
1 egg
2 Tbs oil
2 Tbs sugar (more if you like sweeter doughnuts)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda

Extra flour for kneading
Oil for frying-- The best common oils for frying are canola, vegetable, and peanut. Or you can of course use lard. Don't use olive oil as its smoke point is too low and you will likely burn the oil while trying to fry the doughnuts.

These are yeast doughnuts and need to rise, so start them a bit early. You can start them the night before if you want to do a double rise, but I would say it usually is not necessary. If you do start the night before, leave out the soda. Your doughnuts will be more sour but should still be light due to the long rise time.

Mix together the starter, milk, and 3/4 a cup of the flour until smooth. Add eggs and oil and beat well.

In a separate bowl mix remaining 1/4 cup flour, sugar, salt and soda. Combine with the starer mixture.

Either knead the dough in the bowl by adding extra flour and then working the flour in with your hands or a spoon, or turn the dough onto a well floured surface and knead until the dough is soft and has absorbed about 1/2 cup of flour. It will still be a bit sticky, especially since sourdough is always more sticky than normal dough. You do not want to knead the dough for too long, just knead enough to get the flour worked in and the dough smooth. The longer you knead it for, the tougher the doughnuts will be.

Once you are happy with the consistency of your dough, grease a baking sheet, flour your hands, take a generous handful of dough, roll it with your hands into a dough rope about 5 inches long, and then join the two ends to form a circle. Place the raw doughnut on the baking sheet and repeat. You can make your doughnuts as big or as small as you like. It makes the cooking easier if they are all close to the same size. Once you have made as many doughnuts as you wish, set the rest of the dough aside, and cover. Cover the sheet of doughnuts with a dry dish towel and let rise for 45 minutes.

When there is about 10 minutes left in your rise time add oil to a pot. The oil needs to be about three to four inches deep. A small soup pot usually works if you're only making a couple of doughnuts. Place the pot on a burner at medium high and allow the oil to heat. If you have a thermometer then let the oil heat up to 375 degrees and maintain it at this temperature. I don't usually use a thermometer, so I let it heat for 5 to 10 minutes and then test it with a pinch of dough.

To test the oil, put a bit of dough on a spoon and carefully lower into the pot. With boiling oil you never want to make sudden movements. If you surprise it, it will start popping and crackling and spit all over you. Trust me, oil burns are never fun. If when added, the small ball of dough starts sizzling immediately then the oil is ready. If not then let the oil heat for longer, and turn the heat up on the burner. Test again in another two minutes. If the doughball sizzles like crazy and turns a burnt dark brown color then it's too hot. Reduce the temperature, wait a few minutes, and repeat the doughball test.

Once you're happy with the oil temperature, take a doughnut off the sheet and with a utensil (tongs, a metal spatula, silverware) or your fingers carefully lower it into the oil. The side that was facing up on the baking sheet should be facing up in the oil. Add as many doughnuts as the pan will hold without becoming too crowded. Let them fry for about a minute and then, with metal tongs or a fork with a long handle, flip them over and fry for another minute. If the oil is hot enough they should cooked through after two minutes. Take out of the oil with tongs and place on a plate lined with paper towels. Finish cooking any remaining doughnuts.

Last time I made these I coated them with cinnamon sugar (1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 - 1 tsp cinnamon) and served while still warm with honey. You can top them with whatever you like, but the cinnamon sugar and honey went quite well with the sourdough flavor.

Now, what to do with that left over dough? Well, I let mine rise until double and then formed it into a braided bread (make three long dough ropes and braid together) and placed it on a pizza stone dusted with cornmeal (you could use a greased baking sheet). You can brush with an egg wash if you would like to make it shiny. Then let it rise for another 30 minutes and bake it at 375 for 25 minutes. You also don't need to braid it, instead just shove the dough into a bread pan. Sourdough doughnut bread is almost as good as sourdough doughnuts and makes tasty french toast.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Hodgepodge Quiche

Quiche is magical. The dish claims its origins from the French-German border and was originally a savory egg and cream pie. It starts with a few basic ingredients, a crust, eggs, a milk product, and cheese if you wish. Though, even these ingredients are not sacred. Quiches can be vegan omitting, eggs, milk and cheese for various plant based products (usually tofu). For me eggs, milk, some cheese and oil and flour to make a crust are ingredients almost ever present in my kitchen. This makes quiches a common occurrence in my house, especially in the summer. After you've figured out the and crust, what makes up the rest of the quiche is entirely up to you.

Dennis is suspicious of any quiche that does not contain a meat product, and doubly suspicious if a meatless Quiche also happens to contain spinach. Not that this stops me from experimenting. Some of my favorite combination are broccoli-cheddar, smoked salmon and mushroom, and ham or bacon plus mushrooms, onions and whatever vegetables happen to be in the freezer (often spinach) or vegetable drawer.

When I make Quiche, I usually combine a few different recipes and my own unique twists. How many ingredients you need for a quiche depends on the size of the pan your filling and how you prefer your custard/filling ratio. What I usually do is get the crust and filling together, and then pour the filling over until my pie plate can hold no more. If I end up with too much custard I have found that an extra dish of cooked eggs and milk is no hardship to eat as a lazy breakfast.

I've made quiche from recipes originating in many different cookbooks. But, I'm not sure I really got the idea of quiche, and how simple it is until reading the "Quiche Formula" in The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest. Mollie Katzen reduces Quiche to a crust (she gives 8 different crust options, the spinach crust being the reason the Dennis is suspicious of spinach quiche), the cheese, the filling (veggies), and the custard. The cookbook is worth having on the shelf for its vegetable pie and quiche section alone.

To make a Quiche:

1: A Crust (hint: you can go to your local grocery and skip making one by hand-- though the ones at the grocery are usually loaded with nasty hydrogenated fat)

Pie crusts are one of my prime nemeses. I'm not sure why. I think part of it is that my mother makes such perfect pie crusts that no matter how hard I try mine always seem inferior. That, and I can't seem to get them to stop sticking to the rolling pin (another arch enemy). They fall apart when I try to put them in the dish and always end up looking crumbly. That said, I have had a few zen pie crust experiences, where everything came together perfectly.

Most of the time I am just glad that quiche only have a crust on the bottom. Without a top crust to deal with I have figured out how to make a decent crust in the pie plate, without any rolling. As most of it is covered by quiche filling, if there happens to be any spots that break, or tear, or have to be patched up, well... no one knows but me, and I don't usually tell.

Recently, I have been experimenting with olive oil pie crusts, in an attempt to convince myself that pie crust can be healthy. I also make the spinach crust from Enchanted Broccoli Forest which I find goes well with Quiche (poll Dennis separately).

For a Spinach Crust (The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest, pg. 127)

2 Tbs butter or oil
3/4 lb fresh spinach
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup fine bread crumbs (or wheat germ)
A few dashes of nutmeg.

If using frozen spinach, unthaw drain excess water. Place in bowl add melted butter and the rest of ingredients and toss with a fork until combined. Press into a pie plate by pressing up the edges of the plate first and then into the bottom. This ensures that you have enough crust to go around the entire circumference of your pie plate, if the bottom is thinner it is not that big of a deal. If want flute the edges( a good explanation on how to do this in most basic Betty Crocker or Better Homes and Gardens Cookbooks) with fingers or a fork if you wish.

Fluting the edges of a pie crust was something that intimidated me for a long time, all you need to do is on your non-dominant hand press your index finger and your thumb together. Place these fingers next to the crust you want to flute (I usually place them on the inside of the pie plate). With your other hand take your index finger and from the opposite side of the crust press the crust into the slight V created by your other fingers. Repeat around the entire circumference of the pie plate.

If using fresh spinach. Mince the spinach and heat 2 Tbs. butter or oil in a large skillet. Add minced spinach and salt. Saute until spinach is limp. Remove from heat, add remaining ingredients and mix well. Press into plate and flute edges as above.

Fresh or frozen this crust should be baked for about 15 mins. in a 375 degree oven before filling. You do not need to let it cool before filling

If your interested in trying an olive oil crust. Place the below in a pie plate.

2/3 cup of extra virgin Olive Oil
2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt

Place pie plate in the freezer and move onto sauteing your veggies and getting your custard ready. When everything is ready to go, take the pie plate out of the freezer and with a fork, or a pastry blender mix the flour and the now thick olive oil together. When well mixed add 1/2 cup ice water and a dash of vinegar and mix. Press into the pie plate and flute edges as above. Adding more flour to your hands if necessary to prevent excessive sticking. I do not usually precook my crusts when I use olive oil. If you would like to preheat oven to 375, cover the edges of the crust with aluminum foil, and bake for 15 mins.

Now that your crust is made.
2: The Cheese

There are three ways to put cheese on and in quiche, all equally important. If you are adding cheese, first, you always want to add some to the crust first, before any of the veggies or custard. The cheese will help to create a barrier between the filling and the crust and prevent your crust from getting sticky. Second, many people like to grate a small amount of Parmesan or other cheese on top of everything to help with browning, though this is not essential. However, it is tasty, and improves presentation. Finally, if you really love cheese, add grated cheese (or cubed cream cheese) to your custard.

So for the cheese, you need about 1/3 lb. (more if you love cheese and less if your counting calories) of grated or finely cubed cheese. You can use any kind of cheese (even cream cheese), though Swiss, Gruyere, and Cheddar work quite well. Sprinkle most (or all) of this on the bottom of your crust. You can add any remaining cheese to your custard, or to the top of the Quiche before you bake.

3: The Filling:

You need about 3 1/2 cups of chopped meats and/or veggies for a 10 inch Quiche, or about 3 cups for a 9 inch quiche. On the quiche pictured I used a combination of onion, mushrooms, zucchini, and Goose The Market bacon (from Dennis' bacon of the month club).

1/3 cup bacon
1 cup diced onion
1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
2 cups zucchini

Always saute your onions and/or bacon(meat) with a tsp of oil over medium heat for at least 5 minutes. I try to get my onions to brown and caramelize slightly before making adding the rest of your veggies to the pan. Once onions and meat are cooked to your satisfaction add the rest of the veggies and continue to saute for 2 to 3 more minutes. The goal is to get the veggies partially cooked before baking the quiche. It also can work to steam the veggies before adding them to the quiche. Whatever veggies and meats you want to add will work. My favorite quiches almost always contain mushrooms and onions, though this is not a requirement. After 2 to 3 minutes take your veggies off the heat, and put them into the cheese filled crust.

3. The custard

A custard for a quiche can be as light or as rich as you like it to be. The Fiddle Head Cookbook suggests about 2 cups of half and half and 4 eggs for a 10 inch pie plate. This is delicious, but for me it is a bit too rich. If you want rich mix:

2 cups half and half
4 eggs
a dash of cayenne
1/2 a cup of Parmesan (or other reserved cheese)
(add 1/2 to 1 tsp salt if not adding cheese, the cheese itself is salty)

(reduce this to 3 eggs and 1 1/2 cup of half and half if using a 9 inch pie crust.)

and pour over assembled quiche until the plate is full.

I prefer to use Mollie Katzen's suggestions for the quiche custard:
3 eggs
1 cup of milk (or yogurt/buttermilk)
(and any extra reserved cheese you want to add to the custard or 1/2 to 1 tsp salt)

Mix together and pour over the filling.

If you have extra custard put in a separate dish and bake with the quiche for about 10 minutes. It does make a decent breakfast.

If desired sprinkle extra cheese or grate Parmesan over the top of the assembled quiche to help with browning of the top.

Heat your oven to 375 and bake the quiche for 35 to 40 minutes.

Quiche is tasty hot and cold and good to eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It keeps well in the fridge, and if you like it hot is fine when heated in the microwave. I like quiche as a dinner with soup and a salad (pictured with German Mushroom Soup and a green salad).

Quiche may seem complicated, but actually it does not take long to assemble (once you master the crust). Just remember, crust (always can be bought a store), cheese (optional), filling (assorted meat and veggies), custard(eggs and milk). That's all there is to quiche.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

German Mushroom Soup

Soups become a staple of my kitchen as soon as the leaves start turning and the temperature drops. A couple of winters ago I decided to try to cook all of the soup recipes in the Fiddlehead Cookbook. The cookbook contains nine recipes for soup, and I have made six of them. Hopefully I will make the other three this winter. Every soup has been delicious and unique, and the reason I have not cooked though all of them is because these recipes demand to be made more than just once... and smoked halibut is hard to come by in Indianapolis.

One of my favorites is the German Mushroom Soup. I tried this recipe randomly a couple of years ago and it was the one that convinced me I needed to make all of the soups. I love mushrooms, and this soup excels at bringing out their savory, earthy, mushroominess. I am not aware of other broth based mushroom soup recipes. Though, to be fair, I have not looked for other recipes as I am quite happy with this one.

For German Mushroom Soup (The Fiddlehead Cookbook p. 22):

Heat 4 Tablespoons olive oil and or butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. The recipe calls for 2 Tablespoons of butter and 2 Tablespoons of safflower oil. I almost never have safflower oil on hand so I always substitute olive oil. I have tried both straight oil and with half butter. Butter and mushrooms do go together very well, but if you do not have butter, or are cooking a vegan meal then substitute olive oil.

Once the oil is hot add:

1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onion, cut stem to tip, not diced

Cook onion until transparent, string occasionally to prevent burning. This will take about five minutes. Once onion is cooked reduce heat to low.

Add 1/4 cup flour. And cook stirring for about 10 minutes until the flour and onions turn golden brown. The flour will help thicken the soup, and toasted flour also helps to impart on the broth a rich flavor. This is the method used to make roux in french and Cajun dishes.

Once your flour and onions are brown add:

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 dried bay leaf
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock (or use bullion or bullion paste)
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 1/3 cups dry red wine (I buy the little bottles of wine especially to cook with)
4 cups thinly sliced mushrooms (any type will work, but portobellos or crimini are especially tasty)
2 teaspoons soy or tamari sauce
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (if making vegan or vegetarian make sure to use vegan Worcestershire sauce as the normal one contains anchovies, you can also make your own vegan Worcestershire sauce.)

Bring the soup to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook at a simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

When soup has simmered dissolve 1 Tablespoon red or brown miso with 1/2 a cup of hot soup. Miso can be difficult to find and usually has to be purchased from an international or Asian grocer. It will usually be found next to the tofu in the refrigerated section. It is a salty fermented paste, usually made from soy and comes in many different varieties and flavors. Putting miso in a vegetarian soup is a great way to add a depth of flavor and savoriness that is most often associated with meat based broths. Originally, tamari sauce was a byproduct of miso production, though this is not the case of the sauce you commonly by in the grocery today. The recipes from the Fiddlehead make great use of miso, and making these recipes was my introduction to this versatile ingredient.

Once the miso is dissolved add the liquid and miso back to the soup pot and stir in. Taste the soup and add salt if necessary. Both the broth and the miso are salty, so additional salt may not be necessary. Serve at once and garnish with a dollop of sour cream if desired.

While delicious, this soup is too light to serve as a stand alone main course. Adding a 1/4 cup of barley or rice during the simmering process can help to make it more filling, though I dislike how this detracts from the flavor. I serve it for lunch or dinner with a couple of slices of bread on the side, or as a side accompaniment to salad, quiche, or grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Guacamole 1: "Best Guacamole You Will Ever Have"

We have at least three different ways of making Guacamole. We were first exposed to this particular Guacamole when attending a tequila tasting dinner hosted by Kahn's, a local adult beverage superstore. The Guacamole had rich and complex flavor and was completely green and silky smooth. It was missing the common addition of chunks of tomato. The taste was limey but we were assured that it came from tomatillos, not citrus. The key to the flavor apparently was to roast all of the peppers and tomatillos before adding them to the avocado.

We filed this fact away for future reference agreeing to try it the next time we had a craving for guacamole (which is quite frequently). However, before we had the chance to try our own version, I stumbled across the recipe from the mouth of the chef himself, in our local newspaper. You see, someone else at the dinner had loved the guacamole, gotten the recipe, and sent it into the newspaper. And there it was printed, a blurb about the chef, and the dinner, and a recipe titled 'Best Guacamole You Will Ever Have'.

We have made this version of Guacamole several times. It is the most complicated version we make, but also amazingly delicious. I won't say it is the 'Best Guacamole You Will Ever Have' because I have learned which Guacamole is preferred is very mood dependent. This Guacamole does have the benefit of keeping very well, better than those that use lime or salsa to help keep the avocado fresh. It does not go off color, get a funny texture, or lose the freshness of its flavor when made in advance. Which, if your making dip for a party, or a Tequila tasting dinner, is a huge advantage.

Best Guacamole You Will Ever Have

4 tomatillos, peeled and washed
2 peeled cloves of garlic (or more!)
3 to 5 Serrano peppers
2 tablespoons water
3 avacados
1 onion, diced
1 cup cilantro, chopped
~2 Tablespoons water
Salt and Pepper to taste

I have written about tomatillos before, but I have recently discovered these very versatile and very tasty tomato relatives. You can find them in most produce sections next to the tomatoes and avocados. They come with a husk on them that needs to be removed. They will be sticky but a wash in some warm water and a little bit of dish soap will help. They have a light citrus flavor and can help to thicken up sauces.

For the peppers, I do not always use serranos. They are good but can be difficult to find, at least in Indianapolis. A combination of fresh jalapenos and pablanos also works well. Adjust the number of peppers to how spicy you want your dish. I have added dried cayenne peppers to give it a little extra kick.

Take your tomatillos, choice of peppers, and peeled garlics and place them in a pan. Put your oven on broil and the oven rack in the top third of the oven. Put your pan in the oven and keep an eye on it. The skins of the vegetables will start to turn brown, dry out, and finally blacken. Rotate the vegetables with tongs and try to get all sides roasted and blackened.

Once the veggies are roasted place them all in a food processor or blender and add about 2 tablespoons of water (you may need more if using a blender). Blend or process until combined. I like mine smooth, but if you prefer more pepper chunks then blend accordingly.

Dice your onion and cilantro. The cilantro can be to taste. I think 1 cup is spot on, but if really like, or do not like cilantro then increase or decrease as desired.

De-pit avocados and spoon out flesh into a bowl. Add the blended or processed mixture to the bowl and use a fork to combine. Mash the pieces of avocado with the tines of the fork and mix until smooth. Mix in the onion and cilantro and season with salt and pepper. Adding enough salt is critical to drawing out all of the complex flavors in the dish, so do not be too shy. Usually I add around 2 teaspoons of salt to this dish.

This guacamole can be served immediately, or refrigerated. It may seem somewhat runny if served immediately. However, there is a pectin like substance in tomatillos that will thicken it up if it is allowed to sit and chill for a bit.

At some point I will write about the other guacamole variations that commonly make appearances in my kitchen. This one is great for parties. As we eat guacamole for a quick no cook dinner this recipe does not get made as often as other options. However, it is delicious and worthy of the title of the "Best Guacamole You Will Ever Have".

Monday, December 27, 2010

Grill-Smoked Turkey

For the last three years Dennis and I have had a turkey cooking and eating party in the early fall on a day that was not Thanksgiving. We're always busy on Thanksgiving with various commitments to relatives and turkey is really too tasty to just be resigned to being a holiday meal. I am not usually the one that grills the turkeys, so while I am aware of the process I am relying heavily on Dennis for the details.

The first year, soon after we purchased our new charcoal grill, (Dennis would tell you that gas grills are not really grills, but cheating) we brined and cooked a turkey for a long time at a low temperature. I don't think we intentionally cooked it at a low temperature, but we had just purchased our grill and did not quite have all of the quirks worked out. As it was cooking we added hickory chips that had been soaked in a cheap bottle of red wine to the coals. This produced a flavorful smoke. The turkey turned out moist and smoky. It had a beautiful pink smoke ring just inside the skin when we finally carved it. Dennis and I disagree if this turkey is grilled or smoked. Sometimes we compromise and call it 'groked'. Regardless of what you want to call it, grill-smoked turkey is definitely worth the trouble.

The second year we decided to branch out. We had both always wanted to deep fat fry a turkey and it happened that Dennis' uncle owned a turkey fryer or two. So we soaked a turkey in brine again, tracked down 5 gallons of peanut oil, made extra sure the turkey wasn't still frozen (apparently explosions happen if you try to fry a frozen or partially frozen turkey), and fried it. We managed to avoid any mishaps with hot oil and about an hour after dropping our turkey into the fryer we had a crisp and delicious fried turkey.

We thought about it for a while, and decided we liked grill-smoked turkey better than fried turkey. So this fall when our turkey event came around again we brined another turkey, soaked more hickory chips in cheap wine, followed some instructions indicating that our grill should be hotter and produced another delicious bird. While it was ready much more quickly when cooked at a higher temperature Dennis thinks it was better when it was cooked at a lower temperature. The longer cooking time at a lower temperature gives the turkey a smokier flavor.

The essentials: The Turkey

Any Turkey will work; do not pick one that is too large for your grill. I would suggest for grilling not to buy one of the 20 lb giant birds that are available around Thanksgiving. The turkey we cooked this last time was a heritage breed turkey that my sister had bought from a local farmer. While I love buying local the real advantage to this comes in the first step when you brine the turkey.

Most birds from industrial farms that you would pick up at the supermarket come injected with a saline solution. So, not only are you paying by the pound for salt water that is injected into the bird before you even get your hands on it, but that saline solution will work to prevent flavors from your own brine from working their way into the bird. Now, we have brined and grill-smoked both an industrial saline injected and a local heritage bird, and they were both good, but I recommend trying to find a non saline injected turkey as it will improve its ability to absorb flavor from the brine.

What's a brine?

A brine is like a marinade. It is a salt water solution infused with herbs, spices, and flavorings, in which you soak the turkey for several hours. Brines used to be much more in fashion, however, as salt has become something that many people are trying to get out for their diets most people now avoid them. However, they are the best way to ensure that a large roast (or turkey) absorbs the wanted flavors, and remains moist throughout the long cooking process. Brines will overwhelm smaller cuts of meat, but they are ideal when roasting or grill-smoking something large. Today, as most people won't soak their turkeys in a salty water solution prior to cooking the industrially farmed turkey's (and other large cuts of meat) come pre-brined and injected with saline solution. To find a turkey without saline solution look for ‘water added’ on the packaging, if water has been added then the turkey has been injected.


The recipe is a modification of Alton Brown’s brines for a fried turkey and a roasted turkey. The website where the original grill-smoked or grill roasted/smoked modification was posted is discontinued but we think we have captured the essentials in this entry.

When we brine we usually start the night before we are planning on cooking. The turkey needs to be thawed out at this point, so if frozen make sure you move it to the refrigerator 2 to 3 days ahead of time.

To make the brine:

1 cup Kosher Salt
1 cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock (can use bullion or bullion paste)
1 tablespoon black peppercorns (or more!)
1 1/2 teaspoon allspice berries (or more!)
1 1/2 teaspoon candied ginger (or more!)
1+ gallon heavily iced water for topping up

Add everything except the iced water to a large pot and bring to boil. This will help to dissolve the salt and sugar and the bullion or bullion paste if used. It will also start to bring out the essential oils and flavors in the spices. Once the solution has boiled and everything is dissolved, set aside and let to cool. If you don’t have time to wait, put your pot in the kitchen sink and surround it with cold water and if desired, ice. Stir the pot until the contents cool down to room temperature.

For brining we use a medium cooler. Place the turkey in the cooler breast side down. A 14 to 15 lb turkey is a tight fit. Pour the cooled salt solution over the turkey and then add another gallon heavily iced water. The resulting brine water should be very cold, if it is not frigid then add more ice. Remember, your turkey needs to sit in this for hours, so to prevent bacterial growth it needs to be at least as cold as the fridge (38°). Once the turkey and brine are in the cooler close the cooler and let soak for at least 4 and up to 16 hours. We prefer our turkey soaked as long as possible, and we have yet to have a turkey or roast turn out too salty from brining. While the bird is soaking, make certain to turn it at least once to get full coverage with the brine. If you are worried that the brine is too warm at any point you can add more ice.

The morning you are planning on grilling, set a stick of butter out on the counter (we’ll get to the butter later). Also, start the hickory chips (or other work chips) soaking in a cheap bottle of red wine; when I know we are going to be grill-smoking I always try to pick up a bottle of $2 chuck from Trader Joe's. The wood chips are essential to a good smoky flavor, and soaking them in wine accomplishes two things. First, you never want to put dry wood chips on to the charcoal, you want smoke not fire. And second, it makes the smoke even more flavorful.

About 30 minutes to an hour before your ready to start grilling remove the turkey from the brine, pat it dry, and set on the counter. It needs to come up to room temperature before the cooking starts. Once the turkey is on the counter some steps need to be taken to prepare it for the grill. First you need aromatics, second you need butter, and third you need to make a turkey breast plate.

Aromatics are things you stuff into the turkey’s cavity that help to give it more flavor and keep it moist from the inside out during the cooking process.

For the aromatics take:

1 sliced red apple
1/2 sliced onion
1 cinnamon stick

And heat with 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish for five minutes. When done place these (careful they are hot!) in the cavity of the turkey with:

4 sprigs of rosemary
6 leaves of sage

If you are using dried spices then add a generous quantity (a couple of tablespoons) of dried rosemary and sage to the water before you microwave the onion and apple. Remember aromatics can be anything you want, so if you would like to add an orange, two onions, and celery then feel free to experiment. The flavors they produce on the turkey are subtle and will not over power it. The above mix has worked very well for us, though I will admit my ‘sprigs of rosemary’ are usually more like branches, and my leaves of sage are usually more like sprigs. I tend to think most recipes always need a bit more flavor.

Once you have your aromatics in the turkey cavity then it is time to channel your inner Paula Deen and get all buttered up. Literally. Take a stick of soft room temperature butter and generously rub the turkey all over with it, bottom to top, underneath, around the legs and wings, even inside the cavity. This will use most of your stick of butter, and the rest will probably be stuck to your hands. Unless you are talented at starting the faucet with your teeth, it’s a good idea to have a helper so you don’t get turkey butter all over the kitchen when you try to wash up.

Next, make your turkey breast plate:

This requires a square of aluminum foil and some creativity. The result is usually a triangular wedge that covers the breast side of the turkey. Take your aluminum foil and fold and fit it to your turkey’s particular size and shape. It needs to fit well, and wedge under the legs so it doesn’t just fall off at whim. Your turkey is going to start out on the grill breast side down, and then be flipped. This contraption is to protect his sensitive side from getting too dried out during the remaining cooking process.

Cooking a turkey can be a bit of a logistics problem for a charcoal grill. The size of the bird means it has a long roasting time and for charcoal this means you are going to have to heat up more and add it during the cooking time. You will have to figure out a way to preheat and add charcoal to the grill either with the bird still on it, or by removing the bird. Be sure to figure this out before you get started so you don’t end up with a hot charcoal disaster. Luckily for us, we have a large grill where we have the real estate to move the bird to one side to refill the charcoal and we have our old grill to get the charcoal started.

Before putting the turkey on get your grill as hot as you can. You want to sear the turkey and then let the temperature reduce to around 300 for the remainder of the cooking process. Our grill has built in thermometers and we heat it up to around 500 degrees. We try to let the temperature peak before adding the turkey, as if it is still climbing the breasts of the bird can dry out quite a bit. For a turkey you’ll want to use indirect heat for grilling, so move the charcoal to the sides of the grill area so there are no coals directly underneath where you will place the bird. Once your grill temperature has peaked add a couple of pieces of drip-dried wine-soaked hickory chips and place the turkey on the grill breast side down. To drip dry the chips stack them a couple of pieces high in the wine before your ready to start grilling, and add the ones on top to the charcoal first.

Close the grill and disturb as little as possible. Let the temperature reduce to about 300 degrees. Add more charcoal as needed to maintain the grill temperature and add more hickory chips as needed to maintain the smoke. The grill should not emit smoke like a forest fire, you do not need neighbors calling the fire department, but a steady waft of smoke is ideal. If your grill is smoking too much try moving the chips to a cooler spot of coals, or allowing them to soak and drip dry for a bit longer. Both chips that are too wet and too dry will cause an undesirable amount of smoke.

After one hour of time roasting breast side down it is time to turn the turkey over. Rotate and turn the bird so that if the breast faced down and closest to the front of the grill before, it is now face up and at the back of the grill. This is the same thing as a 'flip', but trying to flip a turkey typically isn't very easy to do in one motion. After repositioning the bird, equip the turkey breastplate over the breast area to prevent it from drying out. Add some more wood chips, and charcoal if needed and maintain the temperature at around 300. Cook the turkey to around 155⁰, we find our digital meat thermometer with a metal lead very useful for cooking large roasts and birds on the grill. Depending on the size of your bird and the heat of your grill the cooking process can take from 2 to 4 hours.

Take the turkey off the grill and let sit 10 to 15 minutes loosely covered with aluminum foil before carving. Grill-smoked turkey is a real hit and as you can see the bird manages to disappear in large part before a snapshot can be taken. The leftovers are great in sandwiches, salads, pot pies, etc. If you have a grill I highly recommend giving this a try. Dennis says it’s not as complicated as it sounds and is really jut brine, prep, grill, eat. But if you don't have a grill, or do not feel confident enough to give this a try let me know. Maybe you can make it to our next grill-smoked turkey event!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Seafood Rigatoni with Basil

When not from The Fiddlehead Cookbook, I find that majority of recipes I try and like come from Bon Appetit magazine. On most of these recipes are searchable and at some point I realized that most of recipes saved to my online recipe box originally appeared in the magazine. This discovery necessitated buying a subscription and sometime early last spring I started receiving my monthly installment.

I have not kept track of how many recipes I have made from the magazines I have received. In some sense it is better just to have the internet search function on hand because at least for me, when I want to cook, I either have something on hand that I need to use or I want to make something specific.

With a magazine you never know what you are going to get. I have very much enjoyed receiving it every month, and I have gotten a lot of new ideas from what I have read . However, there was one particular month that we made several recipes out of. The September, 2010 edition of Bon Appetit included Baked Eggs with Bacon and Spinach (delicious, we learned it can be made in a microwave, and its a great way to eat veggies for breakfast), Mushroom Meatloaf with Mushroom Gravy, and Rigatoni with Shrimp, Calamari and Basil. All of these recipes were worth making and inspire me to do more than just let the pictures in my monthly Bon Appetit make me hungry.

The Seafood Rigatoni was part of the magazines restaurant edition and comes from a 'glitzy and expensive' restaurant called Marea in Central Park South, New York City. The printed recipe looked easy and delicious, and I happened to have some frozen shrimp and a bag of frozen mixed seafood (which included calamari). If you enjoy seafood this is worth giving a try and it happens to have one of my favorite ingredients in it: leeks.

If you have never used leeks in cooking you are missing out. This is one thing I have decided I have to figure out how to grow because they can be very difficult and/or expensive to find at super markets. I am convinced they just manage to make dishes delicious. Everything I have ever made with them has gone onto my 'must make again' list. They are somewhat like a large green onion, or a weird garlic/onion love child. When you cook with them you use only the white and light green parts but the way they are constructed makes finding all of the light green parts like unwrapping a present. I am convinced that the tops of the leeks would be great to add to a broth for flavor, even if they are too tough to eat; someday I will need to try that.

1 lb uncooked raw large (or medium) shrimp, peeled and deveined (most frozen shrimp from the grocery store come like this)
14 oz. cleaned calamari or seafood mix (I used the mixed frozen seafood from Trader Joe's) If you don't like calamari you could ad additional shrimp or substitute with another seafood option i.e scallops
12 oz. Rigatoni Pasta, for this recipe make sure to invest in high quality pasta
6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups thinly sliced leeks (white and pale green parts only; about 3 large. If you are confused about how to use a leek try this)
3 large garlic cloves (or more!), thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon (or more!) crushed dried red pepper
1 8 oz. bottle of clam juice-- this can be found with the canned seafood at the supermarket
1/3 cup(or more!) frozen peas thawed
4 Tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup + finely grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

The recipe suggests that you take 1/2 your shrimp and 1/2 of your calamari and/or sea food mix and set it aside in the bowl. Take the remaining shrimp and calamari and dice or put through a food processor until finely chopped. Place the finely chopped mixture in a second bowl.

Cook Rigatoni in a large pot of boiling water until al dente. When done drain the pasta and return the drained noodles to their pot. The next steps do not take too long so they should be able to be completed while the pasta is cooking.

While pasta is cooking heat 5 Tablespoons of olive oil in a large skilled over medium-high. When the pan is hot add leeks, garlic, and crushed red pepper. I love my food with extra garlic and spice so I almost always double recipes garlic and pepper suggestions.

Saute these ingredients until the leeks are tender. This will not take more than 5 minutes. Make sure to stir as they cook so they do not stick to the bottom.

To the leeks add the chopped or food processed seafood and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the clam juice and the peas and cook for an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in 3 Tablespoons of butter, season with salt and pepper, and cover and set aside.

Add 1 Tablespoon of oil and 1 Tablespoon of butter to a skilled. Heat over medium high until butter is melted. Add the remaining shrimp and cook 2 minutes then add the calamari or seafood mix and cook until the seafood just turns opaque. Seafood is a bit tricky to cook because you know when its done when its color changes. It happens very quickly and the only way to tell is that the seafood suddenly doesn't glisten or look raw any more. It will not taste horrible if overcooked, however, the texture does become chewy. When seafood is done take off heat and set aside.

Add chopped shrimp/seafood mix to drained pasta noodles with 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup basil.

Divide pasta into bowls, top with seafood. Sprinkle remaining grated cheese and basil on top.

This recipe serves four and, as it is seafood, it is not as good when reheated. The shrimp tends to get tough. Regardless, it is delicious so if there are leftovers there will be little complaining. When we made it we really enjoyed it, and enjoyed the leftovers. I was suspicious about the frozen peas but they were great. I ended up added more than the called for 1/3 cup. My one addition would be to add about 1/2 cup of cream to the chopped seafood sauce. The recipe already has 10 Tablespoons of oil or butter in it, so there is no pretending it is low calorie. I figure one might as well do a thing properly. I like my pasta sauces just a bit creamy and I would enjoy this addition.

One of the things I loved about this recipe is that for something that looks so fancy it is easy to make... As long as you have a food processor. I do not have one, and hand mincing seafood was an experience. This is a great meal for seafood loving company or for a special weeknight treat.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Spicy Peanut Pasta

I am not sure if this blog and my backlog of yet to be written about meals accurately reflect my meat eating tendencies. I do eat meat. However, it seems that most of what I have written about or put on the 'to write about list' since starting this project are vegetarian or vegan meals. Perhaps I am subconsciously self-conscious about my meat eating tenancies, or am trying to present a that I consume a more healthful diet in this public forum. However, I believe this to be unlikely as I have a planned forthcoming post on doughnuts. I think the most likely explanations are that I am very conscious of other peoples eating habits, so when I find good vegetarian or vegan recipes I always make sure to note them down. Also, of the recipes I make over and over again, the ones that I really look forward to are vegan or vegetarian. These recipes are in some sense my comfort food, more so than pot roast or roasted chicken. I suspect that once I get through writing up my favorites carnivorous dishes may make more frequent appearances.

One of my favorite all time vegetarian recipes is Spicy Peanut Pasta. The first time I had this recipe I was living with my sister and we spent a good amount of time debating over the strangeness of pasta with spicy peanut sauce, then just as much time trying to find the soba noodles, and finally almost gave up in the time consuming process of vegetable chopping. The result was delicious to the point of going back for thirds. And, I believe the first time we made it I got a stomach ache from eating too many vegetables-- how often does that happen?

Since that first meal, Spicy Peanut Pasta has been on my 'must cook again' list. It is something that gets made whenever it seems I am going to overwhelmed by my produce drawer. The recipe calls for specific vegetables, but the real keys are the peanut sauce and the soba noodles. Any veggies that are on hand can be substituted, and the recipe is very generous when it comes to guessing on quantities. I think I often have double the recommended amount of veggies and it always turned out delicious.

This is a great dish to make for company that does not eat meat and could also have chicken or pork added if meat was felt to be essential. I have added tofu to it before, but if a vegetarian meat option was wanted I would recommend seitan as it holds up better and would be delicious with spicy peanut sauce. The only difficult part about this recipe is the vegetable chopping, so unless you have a real love for your chef knife and want to get rid of some negative emotions by thinly slicing onions I suggest you do not cook this recipe alone. Of course, you could always purchase frozen chopped veggies and get out of the most time consuming part. Like my recipe for Sourdough French Bread, and many other of my favorite recipes (yet to be written about) the recipe for Spicy Peanut comes from The Fiddlehead Cookbook page 128.

For the Hot Peanut Sauce (above cookbook page 223)

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup oriental sesame oil
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar (or substitute apple cider vinegar)
1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger (I always at least double this, ginger is delicious)
1 Tablespoon mince fresh garlic 3 to 4 large cloves (again I always at least double the garlic)
1 Tablespoon (or more!) finely chopped green onions (use the white and green parts)
1 Tablespoon (or more!) oriental hot oil -- hot oil can be found in most international food aisles in major grocery stores or at your friendly Asian Market
1 Tablespoon (or more!) chopped fresh cilantro

In a large bowl by hand, or with a mixer, whip together all ingredients until creamy in appearance.

You are now done with the spicy peanut sauce. You can set it aside in a bowl, or refrigerate for later use.

As you can see, I like my spicy peanut sauce with extra flavorings. This has always come out well for me and, at least with this pasta, it has never been overwhelming. The cookbook indicates that this sauce can be used for stir fried veggies, chicken, pork or noodles. So there may be some cases where you want to stick to the quantities suggested by the recipe so as not to overwhelm your dish. However, for spicy peanut pasta you can at least double all of garlic/ginger/etc. without worrying about having a sauce with too much flavor.

For the Spicy Peanut Pasta:

You can slice all of the veggies early and put in a large bowl in the fridge until you are ready to cook them. All veggies should be sliced lengthwise or on a diagonal so they mix in with the noodles easily. To think of it another way, the veggies should be sliced so that they could be eaten with chop sticks. To prevent slices of green pepper, carrot, or zucchini from getting too long they can be cut in half or thirds or thinly sliced on the diagonal. The careful chopping does increase the prep time for this recipe but I have tried it with normal chopped or diced veggies and I definitely think it is worth putting forth the chopping effort.

Thinly slice
2 cups - at least one large- onion (any color) sliced from tip to stem
1 1/2 cups -1 to 2- bell peppers (any color) sliced as above
1 to 1 1/2 cups carrots sliced as above
1 to 1 1/2 cups zucchini sliced as above
1 to 1 1/2 cups broccoli florets and thinly sliced trimmed stems
1 small eggplant peeled and cut into cubes (about 2 to 3 cups)

As stated earlier this recipe is forgiving. The above calls for around 9 cups of veggies. If you happen to have 12 cups of veggies, peas instead of green peppers, or hate broccoli just substitute and go for it. Spicy Peanut sauce is delicious on everything. If you have 6 cups of vegetables just add a few extra noodles or reduce the amount of liquid added at the end.

One thing that I think is important in this recipe is the eggplant. I didn't used to like eggplant but it is very good in this recipe. If possible, I would recommend getting smaller chinese or thai eggplants, or making this with freshly picked eggplants in the summer-- the giant woody eggplants you find at most supermarkets are not nearly as delicious. For more on eggplants look up Alton Brown's eggplant Good Eats episode. After some wonderful eggplant experiences I am fully convinced that the reason most people don't like eggplants is that they have not eaten good ones.

When everything is chopped bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook in boiling water 1 lb Buckwheat Soba Noodles to al dente. These noodles cook fast, so be careful to not over cook. You can find Buckwheat Soba at an Asian Grocery or, if your supermarket has a good selection, in the international aisle. They apparently are superior to wheat noodles in terms of nutrition and are delicious and worth going through the trouble to find for this recipe. I have substituted normal pasta before and was not as happy with the result. When noodles have cooked to al dente drain them, rinse briefly with cold water and set aside.

While your noodle water is heating in a another large wok or pot heat up 2 Tablespoons of oil (look at the quantity of veggies you have and try to find a pot that you fit all of them in). Once oil is hot add veggies. Stir veggies to evenly coat with oil and cook in a very hot pan or wok for about 2 minutes. Cover with a lid and cook 2 minutes more. Veggies should be softened but still crisp. If your adding any meat (precook meat), tofu, or seitan add at this point to heat through.

To the veggies add the Hot Peanut Sauce and at least 1/2 cup of coconut milk. Coconut milk can be found in a can in the international section of most grocery stores. I usually just add the entire can, but if you have not chopped up as many veggies just start with 1/2 cup. You can always add more later. Mix the veggies until combined with peanut sauce and coconut milk. Add the cooked noodles and toss until combined. Add more coconut milk if desired.

Serve with sliced green onions, chopped cocktail peanuts, and chopped cilantro as garnishes. I always like to add Sriracha as I love my food spicy.

This dish makes a ton, so make it for a crowd or plan on freezing some for later. It is great as leftovers and thaws and heats up well. Last time I had so many veggies that we froze some for later and had a weeks worth of leftovers for lunch. I will offer the warning that veggies paired with buckwheat noodles and coated with peanut sauce come close to being addictive. Though this dish is relatively healthy it is so tasty that you may have the strange experience of a veggie based caloric binge.