Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy ThanksWeen

It's spooky turkey. Same turkey you make on T-day, just earlier. The black spots are paprika. Paprika does burn -- but in a good way, I think, unlike garlic, which gets nasty when it burns. Ok, because it is ThanksWeen, I also added a little cayenne pepper, to make it more devilish.

Oh, yeah, I do roast it upside down, after brining it overnight. The goal is to keep it from drying out. And then I carve it and make a big batch of turkey stock from the carcass.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bread --also, the proof is in the .... proof

Wish you could smell this, and taste it. Nothing smells as good as fresh-baked bread. And it's so easy, really.

First, this is my basic recipe for French bread: Water, flour, yeast, salt, and a little oil and a little butter. It's also about checking your facts, or having the courage to try and possibly fail.

I wanted to check that my flour was still fresh and good, ahead of making pies and such for Thanksgiving. So my plan was, make bread. Then I reached into my fridge for the jar of freeze-dried yeast, and saw -- expiration date, 2003. Uh-oh. I'm pretty sure it worked a couple of years ago, but, uh-oh. Also, I can't believe it has been that long since I baked bread. Duh.

Now, most things, you would toss, with an expiration date like that. I would. But I know that the yeast is in hibernation, so the thing to do is proof it. I poured the yeast (normally I would use about 2T, in this case slightly more) into 2 cups of very warm water (think baby's bath, the wrist test) and threw in about a cup of flour and a teaspoon of sugar. Bubbles occurred. That meant, whoo, baby, that yeast was wakin' up. Six years past expiration date. I left it overnight. It bubbled further, and proved it was still good. It was ... ALIVE! (And, yes, I do have to go to the store to buy a new jar of yeast, but only because I used it up.)

Then I added more flour* and about a tablespoon of salt, until I had to turn it onto the counter and add even more flour* kneaded it, put it in a bowl that was lightly oiled, covered with a clean dish towel and let it rise. And it did. Twice. (That is not expired yeast.) Then rolled it into a loaf (remember your Play-Doh skills), let it rise again, then baked it. 400 degrees, about an hour, watched it, brushed it with butter at the very last minute. Broke off chunks to consume with cheese, grapes and wine.

I have all kinds of bread recipes, mostly using whole wheat and healthy stuff, but this really is my fave. Yeast, water, flour and a little salt. And a little oil, but only that teensy bit in the bowl. And butter, that teensy bit on the top at the very end.

*Footnote: I once asked my dad, who taught me how to bake bread, "How much flour do you add? " He said, "Enough." OK, really, I had put about 1 cup in with two cups of water. So I added somewhere between 3 and 5 cups more of flour. Enough. You just have to know. You add it in the bowl until it is too stiff to whisk, then turn it out on a floured board, flour your hands, and knead until it becomes, well, satiny. Once you know, you know what "enough" means.

What about the time involved? Well, most of the time is waiting. Most important about bread is waiting. You work for 5 minutes, and wait -- even overnight -- then work for maybe 10 minutes, then wait. At least an hour, maybe two or more. Oh, and then work for a minute and wait. Repeat. Now put in the oven at 400 and -- wait.

You can leave the house while waiting, except for the hour of baking. Making bread lends itself to multitasking. You do have to be there to take it out of the oven. I even saw a recipe once timed to a football game. Get the dough mixed up, watch the game. At halftime, punch it down. Etc. I'd actually rather watch dough rise, but maybe that's just me.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bean Soup and Mixed Greens

Well, I normally wouldn't serve these together, (Editor's note: Not so fast -- see addendum below) as there is too much in common with the whole ham broth/smoked turkey broth flavor, but they sure are easy to make together. Or, either one is a good way to use up a ham bone and leftovers or a couple of smoked turkey legs. I happened to have both.

The smoked turkey legs were new to me, and I made the mistake of baking them, you know, like turkey. Or ham, for that matter. I was thinking sandwiches or salad. It may have just been this particular brand, but they came out way too salty and too dry. It tasted like very salty ham with just a little bit of a turkey "finish." Next time, if there is a next time, I'll try a very wet braise, with plenty of liquid to try to leech the salt out. Maybe even the slow cooker.

I also had a ham bone with some scraps still attached.

The two most obvious things to make are bean soup and a mess o' greens.

After removing most of the meat from the bones, I boiled the turkey bones and the ham bones together for a couple of hours. Not a riotous boil, just above simmer. Now I had a nice broth, and some meat set aside. (The meat still on the bones gives up its flavor to the broth and doesn't have much left to offer! But that's kind of the point.) For either the beans or greens, you could throw the bones in while cooking the rest, but then you have to fish them out, and the turkey legs, especially, have those dangerous sharp little splinters. I wanted to have that all taken care of. In fact, I refrigerated the stock overnight.

Bean Soup
Turkey/Ham stock
1 pound white beans -- I used Great Northern
1/2 an onion, chopped
ham and/or turkey meat, a cup or two, chopped into bite-size pieces

Rinse and pick through the beans -- the package always warns that there could be little rocks or other debris, and my dentist already makes enough money from me.

Put the beans in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and boil for a minute or two or five. Remove from heat and let stand an hour. (Alternatively, you can soak the beans overnight in cold water.) Drain and rinse with cold water.

In a large pot -- I used my cast iron Dutch oven -- heat the stock if it has been refrigerated. Add the beans, onion and meat. Add water if needed to cover the beans. Cook for at least an hour, or until the beans are tender. There's only one way to tell! As you taste for doneness, check the seasoning; in my case, there was no need to add salt. I stopped short of cooking them until they were mushy, because this is a big batch and will be reheated. The beans definitely soften further during refrigeration in the liquid. One of those cases when "it is even better the second day."

For serving, I added a dollop of Greek yogurt, and it was a good call. Balances the saltiness. When I was growing up, we added ketchup to bean soup at the table, and that was good, too. I think it's the touch of acidity. If I had good, ripe, fresh tomatoes, I'd garnish with them, in fact.

Now for the greens. This makes a huge batch, but not as huge as you will think when you start, because all the leafy greens cook down.

You can use any combination, but this is what I was taught: Use at least two, and preferably three, kinds of greens. I used about half a pound of each, and yes, at the beginning, my big stock pot was full.

Collard greens
Mustard greens
ham/smoked turkey stock
1 or 2 cups of ham and/or turkey, bite-size pieces, as much as you have left over, really
1/2 an onion, chopped
secret ingredient: sugar -- at least a spoonful, probably up to 3 for this amount of greens. Less, or maybe none, if you are using honey-roasted ham and it still has some of the sweet "sauce" attached.

Rinse the greens REALLY well, preferably in a sink full of cold water. Chop or tear, removing any big, tough stems. They can go in the compost as far as I'm concerned; it's not as though there's a shortage of greens here.

Put everything in your biggest stock pot, add water to cover, and cook for about an hour. Taste once in a while. Again, you probably won't need to add salt, but you never know. And if you are using mustard greens, pepper probably isn't necessary either.

But you might decide to add another spoon of sugar. It definitely cuts the bitterness of the greens as well as complementing the saltiness of the ham. Isn't that why we all like honey-glazed ham? I learned about adding sugar several years ago when I was buying kale and a ham hock at the store, and the cashier, obviously a Southerner, and obviously a woman who knew what I had in mind, told me that I needed collards, mustard greens and at least a spoonful of sugar. Bless her heart for helping an obvious Northerner.

Oh, I wish I had made corn bread, too. It would go well with either the soup or the greens.

I've packaged up and labeled some of the soup to go in the freezer. I don't think the greens will freeze well, but I may try. And I saved all the liquid from the greens, so I'll at least freeze any of it that I don't slurp down. It IS a beverage, right?

Addendum: I took some soup and some greens, in separate containers, to work for my dinner, to reheat in the extremely low-end microwave. There was only one clean bowl (I don't like to microwave things in plastic), so I put some of the greens and "pot liquor" (greens juice) in with the bean soup to heat. They were very, very good mixed together. I would still cook them separately, for the flexibility, and because I don't have a pot big enough to cook both at once, but ... beans and greens do go together nicely. Still wish I had made cornbread.


About Me

My photo
This is me enjoying a limoncello in Rome on the last night of our trip to Italy. Funny thing is, I don't really like limoncello that much, but thought it would be great in a dessert. And wouldn't you know, The Barefoot Contessa just did a great fruit salad with limoncello. So now I can't. Oh, well.