Monday, November 28, 2011

Holidays with a Heart

Get a Cocktail Recipe that Raises Humane Society Awareness, Plus Other “Paying It Forward” Ideas that Start in the Kitchen

Right now, the outside of supermarkets smell like pine needles and you can hear jingling bells as the red and green clad volunteers take up collections for good causes. This holiday season, I’ve got a few humanitarian initiatives of my own, starting with a cocktail that’s designed to raise awareness for humane societies across America. You could say my “pet peeve” is the idea of lost or abandoned dogs and cats in need of veterinary care, which is why I’ve been so active in the Avery Humane Society near my home in North Carolina.

In my quest to help the Avery Humane Society this year, I’ve created a special cocktail I like to call the “PAWSmopolitan”. With it’s refreshing combination of vodka, triple sec, fresh cranberry and lime juices and crushed peppermint as a garnish, this cocktail is perfect at your Christmas party and can be renamed just about anything that fits the charity you’re benefitting this year. You just have to put on your Santa/thinking cap!

Here are a few tips on mixing your next party with raising awareness and making the most of charitable donations.

Tip 1: Serve What they Want and They Will Come—Ask yourself: When you host a party, who usually comes? Knowing your regulars’ preferences will help you decide on a theme and menu that come across on the invitation, enticing the whole crowd into an RSVP of “YES”.

Tip 2: Suggest a Donation Amount—Whether it’s by word of mouth or evite, make sure you give a “suggested donation,” but make it clear that any gift is welcome. Ask the charity or organization you support for donation envelopes or blank credit card forms that can be filled out at your event. A good way to collect the envelopes, checks and forms is by wrapping a box in holiday paper, keeping it at the bar where your cocktails are being served, and marking that box as “Drop Donations Here”.

With efforts like these, organizations like my local humane society can raise enough money for positive community altering goals, like a new Adoption and Humane Education Center; click here for details on that. You’ll notice that Avery lets you donate online in ways that look good in your garden or courtyard: buy their specially marked bricks and pavers to show you care.

Save these links to my best recipes for wrapping up and giving as gifts this X-mas.

Bake & Take Savory Items:

• Grandma can heat up a serving of your Chicken & Broccoli Lasagna and enjoy it from her Lazy-Boy!
• Treat Someone You Love To a Cozy At-Home Dinner of Veggie Enchiladas

For Your Friends and Relatives with a Sweet Tooth…
• Santa’s Helpers could use a little crunch! Give ‘em the best Peanut Brittle!
Butterscotch Blondies are a hit in every X-mas tin!
• Adorable Individual Lemon Tarts make that someone special smile!

Bringing someone a holiday tin of fresh baked cookies or cakes, or a premade hearty meal is a wonderful present for birthdays, major holidays or any occasion where your aim is to help someone in need. Since the Christmas season is a wonderful excuse to check in with our elders, consider taking the meal in this handy, insulating thermo cooler bag I found, and stockpiled by the dozen for my gift-giving this year. The bags say “PAY IT FORWARD” on them; you can click around for this tote (and simular items!) on this fab website called The idea is to think of them a little bit like an edible chain letter. You give the stuffed-full-of-goodies bag to a neighbor, and they hold onto it until they feel like paying it forward to the next hungry person in line.

Sharing good food, drinks and memories over the holidays and blending these with charity efforts is the best way I can think of, of putting your money where your mouth is. Eat well and be merry. Happy holidays everyone!


1 ounce vodka
½ ounce triple sec
½ ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce cranberry juice
Crushed peppermint candy on the rim of the glass
Fresh pitted cherry for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker half full of ice. Pour in the vodka, triple sec, lime and cranberry juices. Shake vigorously and set aside.

In a separate bowl, grind a candy cane down into finely minced crumbs. Turn an empty cocktail glass upside down and coat the rim in the candy cane dust.

Strain the contents of your cocktail shaker into the glass and garnish with a fresh pitted cherry.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Get on the Gravy Boat

Gravy. Some cooks are painstaking in their efforts to ladle the very best over their turkey breast and roasted garlic mashed potatoes while others take shortcuts with “Gravy Master”. At the end of the day, it’s all pretty good, but understanding the importance of veloute, a French mother sauce, and its place in truly wonderful holiday gravy makes all the difference.

When you have the tools, you have the talent. Good gravy starts with a sturdy (and flame resistant!) roasting pan. I like this one from Williams & Sonoma because it comes with the most useful accoutrements I can think of for homemade stuffing, dressings and sauces. Don’t get sticker shock when you click the link. This 5lb.-6 oz. roasting pan can cook a Butterball big enough to feed the entire cast of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It also comes with a thermometer, and V-shaped non-stick roasting rack that cooks everything faster, more thoroughly, and lets all that fatty, buttery goodness drip to the bottom of the pan for later use in your gravy.

“Veloute” is a French Mother Sauce. It Means Velvety, and it So Belongs in Your Gravy

Once your bird is cooked and you’re within an hour and a half of serving it, it’s time to start the gravy. Here’s where your French mother sauce, veloute comes in; create it, simply by melting 1 tablespoon of butter in a sauce pan with 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour. Slowly pour in 1 ¾ cup chicken broth and, using a wire whisk, gently stir the mixture to get the lumps out.

Whisking It All Together

Next, turn your attention to the pan drippings from the now finished turkey. Carefully pour said drippings into a large Pyrex cup (or something like it) and wait long enough for the fat to separate from the liquid. Once you see the obvious divide, you can remove/save the fat and pour the drippings back into the pan; be sure to scoop the fat back into the roasting pan, and add 1 cup of white wine, salt and pepper—then stir, freeing clinging bits of turkey from the bottom of the pan as you whisk away. Add the veloute you just made, once again stirring with your whisk, and in about 5 minutes the mixture thickens into a beautiful thick gravy!

For My Own Twist on a Truly Savory Gravy…

Now that I’ve covered a classic gravy recipe that any purist can appreciate, it’s time for a truly Savory Gravy from my kitchen; you'll see it in the turkey recipe included here. Hint: I use pan drippings from a bird that’s been stuffed with pieces of orange and apple (try my Herb and Sherry Roasted Turkey recipe) and count on the turkey’s skin, rubbed with a heady blend of a half-dozen herbs and drizzled with Sherry as it slow roasts, to make incredible pan drippings that almost stand on their own as gravy.

But you’re not done yet.

The turkey’s long since removed neck and giblets need to simmer, along with celery, parsley and onions—and added to the pan drippings. Soon everything will come together in a complex blend of fruit, juicy meat and fragrant herbs.

For the Vegetarian, I recommend a Red Wine Mushroom Gravy

This mushroom gravy has been carefully modified for this blog with a vegetable broth, and—because of its white (aka “button”) mushrooms has the earthy, meaty texture of the most savory gravy one can imagine…and I hope you’ll enjoy it with the divinely garlicky mashed potatoes, I included with this post.

Feast well, my friends!

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Serves 8; preparation time about 30 minutes

4 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces (about 6 cups)
4 o 6 cloves garlic, roasted
6 tablespoons butter (about ¾ stick)
½ to 1 cup milk
2 tablespoons snipped garlic chives

Boil the potatoes in water until they are cooked, about 20 minutes.

In an electric mixing bowl, combine the potatoes, roasted garlic, and butter. Mix on medium high speed to blend.

Add enough milk to reach the desired consistency. For thicker potatoes use less milk. For thinner potatoes use more milk.

Mix in the garlic chives and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Red Wine Mushroom Gravy

2 pounds button mushrooms, sliced
(about 4 cups)
1 cup red wine
3 cups vegetable broth
¼ cup all-purpose flour, mixed with 1 cup cold water

Sautee the mushrooms in the pan drippings over medium high heat.

Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl.

Add the red wine to the pan. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

Add the vegetable broth and simmer for 5 minutes more. Add the flour mixture to the pan, a small amount at a time. Cook until the sauce thickens to gravy consistency.

Add the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper.

Herb and Sherry Roasted Turkey

Serves 15 to 20 people with plenty leftover

Preparation time: about 20 minutes plus roasting

1 large fresh turkey, 10 to 12 pounds or more
1 to 2 apples or oranges, cut into quarters
¼ cup butter melted
¼ cup finely chopped fresh rosemary
¼ cup finely chopped fresh thyme
¼ cup finely chopped basil
¼ cup finely chopped oregano
½ cup sherry or dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Turkey giblet, liver, heart, and neck parts
1 bunch parsley
½ onion, sliced
1 stalk celery
1 bay leaf
¼ cup all-purpose flour, mixed with ½ to 1 cup cold water

Rinse the inside of the turkey thoroughly. Place pieces of apple and orange in the cavity of the bird.

Brush the skin of the turkey with the melted butter.
In a small bowl combine the herbs. Rub the mixture over the top and under the skin of the turkey.

Place the turkey on a rack in a heavy roasting pan. Drizzle the sherry over the turkey and let it run off into the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Cover the turkey loosely with a foil tent to prevent over browning. You may place some water in the bottom of the pan. Roast according to the directions on the package for an unstuffed turkey.

Remove the foil with about one hour left to cook, and baste with the pan juices every 15 minutes. Let the bird stand for 30 minutes before carving.

For the Savory Gravy:

Remove the turkey parts from inside the uncooked turkey and place them in a large stock pot covered with water. Add the parsley, onion, celery stalk, and bay leaf to the pan.

Simmer over low heat for at least an hour adding water if the stock cooks down too quickly.

Add the leftover pan juices to the stockpot after the turkey has been removed.

Strain the mixture through a colander and return the gravy to the pan.

Thicken the gravy with the flour and water mixture. Add a little at a time and whisk briskly to avoid lumps.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sweet November Strudel

Who doesn’t love a good strudel? It’s one of those things that’s hard to say without an Austrian accent, where the most historic recipe—one for a milk-cream strudel with a mile-long German name—is exhibited as a handwritten recipe in the Viennese City Library. FYI: it’s stuffed with sweet bread, raisin and cream filling and served right in the pan with hot vanilla sauce. It’s the perfect intro image to get you psyched for Butternut Squash and Pear Strudel.

But first, an Ode to Strudel

I love it because it’s so versatile. You can stuff it with pretty much anything you want. As long as you’ve got a little phyllo dough or puff pastry for wrapping, you can take your strudel to sweet confectionary extremes with sugar-laced fruit, or go savory, with potatoes, turkey, cheeses and smoky meats. While I advocate strudel for using the leftover turkey you’ll soon have, the recipe I’m excited about today is full on sweet, with just a hint of chili powder. And it’s fun because it uses seasonal fruit.

Then a Nod to Perfect Winter Pears…

In the rearview of our fruit buying days, we can all look back and say we started buying good pears in the late summer, when we stocked our fruit bowls with Bartletts; those were soon followed by Bosc and Comice, in season during early fall through winter. But it’s the Anjou pear that made it into my sweet November strudel. The Anjou, A.K.A. “the winter pear.” has a crisp green skin, is very, very juicy, and doesn’t change color once it’s ripe.

I can’t tell you how good these pears smelled fresh out of the often, commingling with the bright orange squash and cinnamon and rosemary…it was actually kind of hard to complete the recipe at that point, prepare the phyllo dough and spoon in this heavenly mixture—made even better with the goat cheese I decided to use at the last minute instead of the Gouda. I could have substituted any number of things in this strudel and had it turn out fabulous: instead of pears, I could have used apples; raisins would have been a nice touch too.

And a Crash Course in Phyllo

And as for the phyllo dough, some home cooks may not be all that familiar with it, so I’m going to talk about it a little bit here. Many of my readers have enjoyed Spanikopita in a Greek restaurant, or baklava; these are Mediterranean and Middle Eastern favorites that call for phyllo (phyllo is the Greek word for “leaf” and when you see how sheath-like phyllo is, you’ll understand its name better).
Phyllo may be paper thin, but it’s not so brittle that you have to worry about it falling to pieces when you work with it. Just relax and roll it out in a sheet; no worries! You’ll find it in the frozen food aisle, with the pie shells. Keep your eye out for a rectangular box (looks just like a roll of aluminum foil, actually) marked “Phyllo.”

You could use puff pastry for this recipe too. The only difference between Puff pastry and phyllo is that you fold the dough when you’re working Puff and stack it for phyllo—once you’ve stacked the phyllo—as I suggest in this recipe with breadcrumbs separating each of the 5 phyllo layers that compose 1 log—you can then roll it to your heart’s content. Remember that with Phyllo, it’s very important to brush each layer with generous amounts of butter, or it won’t brown up in the oven the way you want it to.

Once you get comfortable with Phyllo, you’ll be making strudel every other weekend to go with your coffee. Make sure you make my other Phyllo Fav: Just like Grammy’s Apple Strudel. Happy Strudeling, everybody!

Butternut Squash and Pear Strudel

Yield: 8 to 10 pieces per strudel
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 12 to 15 minutes

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced into ¼-inch squares (about 4 cups)
2 large pears, peeled, cored and diced into ¼-inch squares, about 2 cups
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 to 4 fresh rosemary sprigs
4 ounces Gouda cheese, shredded, about ½ cup
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 package frozen phyllo dough (such as Pepperidge Farm) thawed
1/4 cup plain dry breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the diced butternut squash and pear onto a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with chili powder, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Place the sprigs of rosemary into the mixture. Roast until the vegetables are browned and soft, about 20 minutes. Cool mixture to room temperature. Remove rosemary sprigs. Gently stir in the cheese.

Melt the butter in a small pan and set aside.

Unfold 1 sheet of the phyllo dough. Brush the sheet with melted butter and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Repeat the process by laying a second sheet of phyllo dough over the first sheet, brush it with melted butter and sprinkle with bread crumbs until 5 sheets have been used.

Spoon a 1-inch wide row of the butternut squash mixture along 1 edge of the phyllo dough. Roll it up. Brush the top with butter and set aside. Repeat the entire process using the remaining phyllo dough and butternut squash filling. You will have 3 logs.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Score the strudel diagonally into 1 1/2-inch pieces and bake for 12 minutes, or until the top is lightly brown. Slice and serve.

You can substitute with any cheese, goat or brie cheese are good alternatives. You can also substitute apples for pears. You can prepare the strudel in advance and freeze. To bake, remove them from the freezer, place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper until golden, 12 to 15 minutes.
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