Tag: holiday (page 1 of 2)

10 Things I’d Rather Drink Than Eggnog

Here are ten things I’d rather drink than a glass of holiday eggnog:

  1. Not Your Father’s Root Beer. I hate Not Your Father’s Root Beer.
  2. A green smoothie.
  3. Three-day old coffee.
  4. Grape cough syrup.
  5. Liquefied White Castle burgers.
  6. Florida tap water.
  7. The liquid that collects on the bottom of the trashcan when your trash bag rips.
  8. Lye solution that hydrates lutefisk.
  9. The water in my dog’s water bowl that’s still sitting there when we come home from vacation.
  10. Beezlebub’s angry tears.

Roasting My First Turkey: Dry Brining & Starting Upside-Down

Last week I cooked a turkey all by myself. It was fun and kind of freaky.

Our parents love to cook for us. They prepare beautiful meals when we return to Minnesota and pull out all of the stops on holidays. Last week, we stayed in St. Louis over Thanksgiving. This was our first holiday away from home and so we prepared the meal together.

One of my favorite, local grocery stores Straub’s made it easy to reserve a fresh (not frozen) turkey the week before Thanksgiving. I visited the meat counter to pick up my bird the day before. When the butcher appeared from the backroom with a large box that he insisted on carrying to the register, my eyes widened in surprise. The small turkey I had ordered turned out to weigh 15 pounds. With our small fridge, wet brining was out of the question, so I followed Kim Severson’s dry brine method instead.

First Dry Brining Attempt
Removing the raw, fleshy turkey from its packaging and transferring it to a storage bag proved to be slippery and challenging. After I poured out the excess liquid from inside the carcass, I dried the outside of the bird with paper towels and rubbed it with kosher salt. Then, I wrapped it in two plastic bags and let it sit overnight in the fridge. This process involved a change of clothing.

The next day, I set the bird on my counter for a couple of hours to get closer to room temperature and blotted it dry again with paper towels. I rubbed it with butter and stuffed the inside with apple and onion. To make sure the white meat stayed moist, I also rubbed butter between the breast and skin. Finding a large enough baking dish was tricky. I smashed the turkey into an old, crinkled disposable baking pan and hoped for the best. It literally took up my entire oven. If the turkey had been any bigger, it wouldn’t have fit. Phew.

Roasting Upside-Down First
To roast my turkey in our convection oven, I followed these instructions from the Purcell Murray blog, except that I started roasting the bird upside-down. Somewhere on the internet, I remembered reading suggestions to roast the turkey upside down for the first part of the cooking time and flipping it during the second (until the temperature reaches 160 degrees F). The skin covering the turkey breast is so thin. This method seemed to prevent the white meat from becoming tough and dry. In fact, the combination of dry brining and roasting upside down seemed to work well as a whole. I only basted the bird with butter once between flips. Our finished turkey was perfectly seasoned. The meat was moist and tender and the skin was crisp. “Don’t tell our parents, but this is the best turkey I’ve ever had,” said Jake.

I did goof up, though. When I was breaking down the cooked turkey for freezing, I pulled out a paper bag filled with the gizzards. I had been wondering where they were!

What I learned
Our turkey tasted notably seasoned, but just shy of being too salty. If you do try the dry brining method, my word of caution is to thoroughly dry the bird before rubbing it with butter and roasting it. For one thing, the salt and butter won’t adhere to a wet surface. Most dry brining recipes don’t instruct cooks to rinse the bird before baking. To avoid an overly salty turkey, don’t go overboard and crust it with salt when dry brining. I didn’t even sprinkle any salt inside the bird. Finally, make sure you really blot off the excess moisture afterwards. The pan juices after roasting are delicious, but they concentrate and become salty. Keep this in mind if you plan to add them to your gravy.

My favorite part about cooking my own turkey was making sure that the special bits like crunchy wing tips and oysters didn’t go to waste. We remember a couple of turkey dinners where the host/hostess served only white meat and cast aside the skin and legs. I think they assumed that nobody wanted to eat them.

What are your tried and true tips for roasting turkey? Do you have any favorite recipes that utilize leftover turkey? 

Stuffing Is For Any Time: My Favorite Version

There are several foods that fall into the “Even bad ___ is good ___.” My small list includes pizza, french fries, nachos, gyros, and stuffing!

Boxed Stove Top Stuffing, corn bread stuffing, and homemade stuffing are all delicious. Fortunately, this stuffing is very good and is not just a Thanksgiving food; it’s an anytime dish. At least, it should be. My Godmother makes one of my favorite versions. She seasons stuffing with sage, thyme, and flavorful pieces of kielbasa. This is my take on her recipe.

Growing-up, I remember watching my grandma bake stuffing inside the bird. It tasted delicious and we never got ill. Baking stuffing in its own pan, though, is really easy and results in a delightfully crisp top. This version combines white bread and leftover corn bread that I thawed and toasted in the oven. Homemade stuffing is the perfect opportunity to use up any stale bread or crust ends, in addition to any bread hanging out in your freezer. Of course, you can use whatever bread you enjoy.

Serve it with your next holiday meal, or heat up a small bowl for lunch. There’s really no wrong time to eat stuffing.

DSC_0640

Savory Bread Stuffing With Kielbasa
Serves four. Measurements are an approximate guide. Add more or less of what you like. As long as you taste the stuffing before baking, all should be well. 

Ingredients:
5 cups toasted bread. I used a mixture of homemade cornbread (crumbled) and white bread.
Butter and/or olive oil (about 2/3 stick)
1/2 cup finely chopped celery (can use more or less).
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon + pinch of dried thyme
Stock (chicken or vegetable)
A few scallions, finely sliced.
Black pepper (I like a lot).
Sweet Hungarian paprika, a good sprinkle
Salt, to taste. Start with a little if your stock is already salty.
1 – 1 1/2 cups of kielbasa, cut into small pieces. If your sausage has thick skin, can remove.

Instructions:

  1. To toast bread: Heat oven to 350 °F. Crumble cornbread into small pieces and toast until dry and crispy. Tear white bread into small pieces and toast until crisp. Set a timer so it doesn’t burn.
  2. Heat butter in pan. Saute celery and onions until tender, adding a touch of salt and some black pepper. Set aside to cool briefly.
  3. In a large bowl, toss crumbled bread, celery and onion mixture, herbs, scallions, and a good sprinkle of paprika.
  4. Moisten the bread mixture with stock. Pour a little bit in at a time and stir. Stop adding stock when you like the texture of the stuffing.
  5. Taste the uncooked stuffing. Add more salt, pepper, and seasoning as desired.
  6. Spread stuffing in a small, greased pan. Cover with foil and bake for 20-30 minutes until heated through and the flavors meld.
  7. Uncover pan and finish baking until the top of the stuffing is crispy and golden brown.

Christmas in the Twin Cities: Five Memorable Tastes

We just returned to North Iowa after spending a frantic holiday week in the Twin Cities.

Christmas means cycling between our two families’ homes and visiting old friends. By the end of the week, we’re tired and cranky as hell, having raced around the metropolitan area every single day. But we have few regrets because we remember that once we get home, we’ll miss everyone all over again.

My best advice to those who visit the Twin Cities and seek restaurant suggestions is to simply ask a local! Just like any other city, the flashiest or most prominent restaurant don’t necessarily serve the best food or most ideal bang for your buck. Ask your friends for ideas or jump online and ask a stranger via Twitter. Despite rumors of “Minnesota Nice” equating passive aggression, Minnesotans really are nice. I can guarantee that any food-loving local would be willing to share his or her favorite places with you.

Two of our goals were to sneak away on a date night to try a new restaurant and revisit an old favorite. We accomplished all of this and more. Here are five of our favorite tastes from the week:

Taqueria Los Ocampo: Carnitas Tacos & Green Sauce
We crave Mexican-style street tacos fiercely, with the passion of a thousand burning suns. When I lived in Minneapolis, I visited Los Ocampo in Midtown Global Market. Now we often stay with Jake’s parents, we visit Taqueria Los Ocampo on Arcade St. in East St. Paul. This particular location is open until 2 a.m. which makes it perfect for late night taco runs.

First timers might be surprised to find Los Ocampo cooks masa dough to order for dishes like quesadillas and huaraches (flat, oval-shaped masa topped with re-fried beans, meat, etc). There are so many meat and vegetarian toppings, it’s difficult to choose. Our go-to order is tacos. Fortunately, customers can order multiples of the same tacos or one of each filling. So far my favorites include pork carnitas and beef cecina, a salted & partially dried beef.

Los Ocampos

If you order everything on the tacos, they’ll include onion, cilantro, radish slices and lime wedges. Meal combos come with the creamiest refried beans, fluffy rice, and choice of beverage. I always choose horchata, a sweet rice water. If I’m extra hungry, I might add an elote (a corn cob on a stick coated in mayo and covered in chili powder and cheese) and churro to nibble on later. Don’t forget to choose from their little cups of spicy salsas. Jake prefers the smokey red sauce while I prefer the creamy green. We’ve truly never ordered anything we didn’t like.

Birchwood Cafe: Savory Waffle
Breakfast with my old housemates typically occurs at Common Roots or Birchwood Cafe and I never complain. I hadn’t visited Birchwood since its recent remodel. The space is open and inviting. The cafe cultivates community from the way management treats its employees to how it sources foods from local producers. Plus, it’s fun to sit at their big community tables.

The first thing I seek in the morning is coffee. As a slightly lactose-intolerant individual, I jump for joy when cafes like Birchwood automatically offer soy milk at their beverage station. I ordered the Veggie Scramble dotted with roasted root vegetables and served with thick Birdseed toast and celery root puree.

Birchwood Collage

I was stunned by the beautiful presentation of my friend’s Savory Waffle.

Waffle Birthwood wm

This waffle differed from a traditional sweet waffle because it tasted of fresh herbs and Gruyère cheese. Birchwood tops it with fruit chutney, bacon, a sunny-side up egg, spiced pumpkin seeds, and maple syrup. My friend shared a bite which tasted as good as it looked.

1029 Bar: Wings & Fries
We accidentally found ourselves at karaoke night at the 1029.

A friend asked us to meet him at Grumpy’s. Having lived away from the Twin Cities for too long, we forget to ask which one! We showed up to two different Grumpy’s located at opposite ends of town, so we scrapped our original plan and met at the 1029 Bar in NE Minneapolis. We arrived as the hostess kicked-off karaoke, an event that appears to have a loyal following. Jake tested out his car singing skills and sang the worst rendition of Sam Smith’s “Not the Only One” heard by human ears. I silently laughed until I cried into my french fries.

Those expecting typical bar food will be surprised to find the Smack Shack menu. Sure, you can order a lobster roll at the new Smack Shack restaurant, but it’ll cost more and you won’t get to enjoy it under the glow of Christmas lights as Jake sings karaoke. We tried a couple of dishes and I liked the Smack Wings the best.

1029 wings wm

The wings were nicely sized and coated in an addicting sauce that tasted slightly spicy and sweet. It’s unlike any other hot wing sauce I’ve tried. I dipped all of the french fries from my shrimp basket into it the excess sauce. The crisp fries arrived in my favorite cut (similar to McDonald’s for lack of a better comparison) and tasted like what I’m guessing is Old Bay seasoning.

Many of the karaoke participants were very talented, but made everyone feel welcome to participate. Plus, the service was warm and just plain fun.

Spoon and Stable: Dessert
Spoon and Stable is Chef Gavin Kaysen’s month-old restaurant located in the North Loop of downtown Minneapolis. Dinner reservations might be difficult to come by at the moment, but the bar and small lounge accommodate walk-in seating. We arrived at prime dinner time and the wait for lounge seating was an hour and a half. Bar seats are always available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Jake noticed a couple leave the bar. He looked around, did not see anyone moving to claim them, and sat down. A trio of ladies standing around a table threw their arms up in exasperation, so I asked them if they had been waiting for the bar seats. They replied they had and rolled their eyes. I explained that the man who sat down was my husband and assured them that I’d grab him. They remained in a huff despite Jake’s apology. We watched in amusement as they asked half of the bar to move down one seat so their group of three could fit. The word, “Thunderdome” entered my mind and I giggled

Another group of women invited us to join them at a standing table and even offered to share their bar snacks. We were surprised to find we shared some Iowa connections, and, when a server informed them that their lounge table was ready, we couldn’t help but rejoice with them. Like I said, Minnesota nice does actually exist. We encounter it time and time again.

I sipped a minty green cocktail with an egg shaken in it and we nibbled the juicy duck sliders Dara Grumdahl suggested. Soon after, two seats the bar opened and we carefully claimed them without any difficulties.

We were surprised to make it to the bar, so we tried several dishes. This was our Merry Christmas present to each other. I especially enjoyed the bison tartare while Jake gravitated towards the bucatini with clams, bottarga, tarragon & uni cream. My favorite taste was actually Executive Pastry Chef Diane Yang’s  Lemon Curd Mousse with charred pineapple, thyme pound cake, and crunchy vanilla meringue. We found it delightfully tangy, sweet without being too sweet, and refreshing. Basically, it was like magic.

Lemon Dessert wm

The tiny tin of tiny cookies served with our bill was another magical touch. It contained shortbread, a macaron, and tangy fruit confection which I’m guessing are also Yang’s handiwork.

Cookies Spoon and Stable wm

We had hoped to feel like big city kids again, just for an evening, and Spoon and Stable made this happen. Despite the restaurant’s poshness, the staff was kind and not pretentious.

Woody’s Pet Deli (Trayse’s Pick): Raw Lamb Bone
My brother and sister-in-law recently adopted a cat from Woody’s Pet Deli in the Highland Park area of St. Paul and continue to shop there for pet food. Woody’s is unique because it specializes in human-grade pet food free of artificial colors, preservatives, and fillers. I spend a lot of time examining packages at big box pet stores, but felt at ease here knowing that every product was carefully chosen and safe. Mary Anne helped me find the perfect treat for Trayse: A pair of raw lamb bones for $2.

Trayse Bone wm

He floated on cloud nine as he enjoyed his Christmas treat out on the deck. My sister-in-law’s cat also loves his treats from Woody’s.

Pet treat Collage

We savored our week in the Twin Cities, but are also happy to be back in North Iowa. I appreciate all of our parents’ efforts to make Christmas special and treat us to home-cooked meals, but have to admit, it’s fun to be Queen of my own kitchen again:)

What was one of the best things you prepared or ate over the holidays? Do you have any New Years traditions? 

Grandmother Jane’s Old Southern Fruit Cake

This is the ninth installment in my series in which I cook all eleven recipes I found my grandmothers had submitted to their old church cookbooks. Previous recipes include Crabby SnacksRice Pilaf, Frozen Fruit AppetizerSalad with Cashew NutsHam & Sour Cream CasseroleOld Fashioned Cauliflower SlawApricot Jello Salad, and Ship Wreck casserole (the one my mom hated). 

Remember these?

Crabby Snack label

Hello crabby snacks. This is the Velveeta-canned crab concoction that derailed my quest to prepare all eleven of my grandmothers’ recipes I found in old church cookbooks. After mysterious casseroles and ice cream jello, Jake begged for mercy. We took an eight-month break from my grandmothers’ retro recipes and found her “Old Southern Fruit Cake” didn’t sound so bad.

I can singlehandedly dispute the rumor that there is actually only one fruit cake in the whole world that people keep re-gifting. Growing-up, my parents received a fruit cake every holiday season and I was the only person in my family who ate them. I don’t know where the cakes came from or if they were homemade, but I ate them all one slice at a time. Of course they were speckled with those fluorescent green and red candied cherries.

I examined my grandmother’s recipe and couldn’t do the candied cherry thing. Yup. I’d sooner dig into a bag of Lay’s Cappuccino chips or hack into a durian than purchase a bucket of green cherries for the sole reason that they just really freak me out. I followed the sound advice of a friend and substituted dried cherries instead. They lent a pleasing tart note and so I recommend you do the same.

Fruit Cake recipe watermarked

Grandmother Jane’s Old Southern Fruit Cake is totally not gross. I made half of a batch and live to tell the story. Like most fruit cakes, Jane’s is dense and thick with fruits and nuts, but it’s far from the store-bought bricks. We enjoyed slices fresh from the oven and relished the dried fruit which had become plump and gooey. I chose to add brandy to the batter and, after the cake baked for two hours, we were left with only a hint.

Fruit cake slice watermarked

If I had any qualms about this cake, it’s that I wished for more salt. Fortunately, this is a simple fix. Try adding a teaspoon of salt to the batter or swipe some butter on each slice and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.

This fruit cake is more like an energy cake with all of its dried fruits and nuts. Who needs chalky energy bars when there are glorious cakes o’ fruit? Thank you for this gem, Grandmother Jane.

My Take On Grandmother Jane’s Fruit Cake
This recipe halves the original and produces two loaves of fruit cake. I substituted dried cherries for candied cherries. 

Fruit Cake Cover Photo

Ingredients:
1/2 cup mashed banana
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup + splash of brandy or grape juice
1 1/2 tablespoon buttermilk (can substitute whole milk with a splash of lemon juice)
3/4 cup flour
2 eggs
1 scant teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups pecan halves
1/4 lb dried cherries
(optional) 2 slices dried or candied pineapple, cut into small pieces
1/2 lb. dates cut into large pieces

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 250℉.
  2. Grease pans and dust with flour so the cakes don’t stick.
  3. In a large bowl, mash the banana with the sugar until it forms a paste. Stir in the brandy, buttermilk and flour.
  4. Mix in the eggs until smooth.
  5. Add the vanilla, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  6. Stir in the fruits and nuts until combined.
  7. Pour batter into two loaf pans. Tap and shimmy the pans so that the batter is evenly distributed.
  8. Bake for one hour uncovered.
  9. Bake covered for another hour. Cool.

Only two grandmother recipes remain: Grandmother Jane’s braised Chicken Marengo and Crabmeat Casserole. I will not be preparing an entire Crabmeat Casserole which is a baked dish that contains crab, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise and cream. Fresh crab is not available here and frozen crab is expensive. Based upon the Crabby Snacks experiment, I’m afraid this dish would be a waste of resources if we prepared it with canned crab. Maybe I’ll try preparing a small ramekin of crabmeat casserole. 

Older posts

© 2017 Jeni Eats

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Facebook
YouTube
Pinterest
INSTAGRAM
SOCIALICON