Category: Holiday (page 1 of 2)

The JeniEats Brief Guide To Ham: Cooking It + Ideas For Leftovers

One thing that’s not a mystery: How much I love ham.

Growing-up, I looked forward to our family’s Easter dinner because of ham. Partly because of that cheesy potato hot dish topped with crushed corn flakes, but mostly because of ham. The leftovers were the best.

The good thing about preparing a ham is that it’s really, really easy. It’s already cooked, so all you have to do is heat it through and add some sauce. Our family was divided over raisin sauce. Half loved it and the other half hated it, reaching for the mustard instead. My favorite glaze combines the best of both worlds: Sweet fruit jam and mustard.

Ham ramblings aside, here’s a guide to all of my recipes that include ham. You’ll find my first adventure cooking a giant ham to ideas for using up your leftovers.

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Celebrating The Lunar New Year At Mandarin House

Our Lunar New Year meal began with an auspicious start.

During the Lion Dance, the lion regurgitated a head of lettuce and it flew across the room. We heard wine glasses clatter.

“This hasn’t happened before,” exclaimed our hostess. She held up a water glass into which the flying lettuce had made a perfect landing. We clapped and the festivities continued.

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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.

Put A Bird On It: Wreath-Making Class & Fried Mushrooms At West Fork Wharf

Earth be still, I tried to make a craft!

I have all of the patience in the world for putzy baking projects like lefse and pita bread-making, but feel my temper and blood pressure rise when I make crafts. Growing-up, I loved crafts. I spent hours making friendship bracelets and pot holders woven with those stretchy bands. Of course, we 90’s children also loved Shrinky Dinks and those Perler beads we arranged on a plastic grid and melted together with an iron. I’m not sure what changed between now and then, but suspect my fondness of crafts is related to whether or not I can eat the finished product.

This week, I joined some North Iowa Blogger friends at Carlson Tree Farm in Hampton, Iowa and tried to get crafty with holiday wreaths. I noticed Sophie the dog the moment I walked into the wreath lodge and became distracted. Dogs always take precedence over crafts;)

Dog Sleeping wm

I spent a lot of time with Sophie who’s expecting puppies in a couple of months. Sophie got lots of pets while we waited for a wreath station and when I became impatient with my wreath-making skills. Very few things in life make me happier than a dog.

dog Collage

Left photo taken by Beth Ann Chiles.

Beth is one of my first North Iowan friends and frequent partner-in-crime, so it’s fitting we were paired as wreath-making partners (you can read about her experience here). Tree farm owner Michelle provided a wreath tutorial. She showed us how to arrange three types of evergreen into neat, little bundles. Each bundle fits into a space around the wire wreath “mold” where a quick push on the foot pedal clamps the branches together. Finally, the long branch ends get a little snip-snip so the next bundle can fit around the circle.

Putting together these bouquets is a perfectionist’s nightmare. Many thoughts like these filled my mind as I sorted through the evergreen piles:

“Ooo, this branch is a little too wide.”

“This branch is a little too short.”

“This branch is kind of curvy.”

We struggled through our first wreath, but, as you can see, laughed a lot through our trials and errors. Our instructor took one gander at our asymmetrical wreath and commented on its whimsical appearance. This made us giggle because we hypothesized that whimsical was a code word for wild, floofy, or lopsided, which our wreath most certainly was.

Making the wreath with Beth Collage

My wreath had a tail. The Carlson family did not seem too concerned and promised they could disguise it with decorations. I doubted them, but they were right. Our second wreath turned out much better. We had gotten the hang of the process by then. Our instructor explained how her family turns the branches we toss aside into the most beautiful wreathes.

We each paid $35 for our wreaths which included our choice of decorations from ribbons to bells. Beth, their resident bow expert turned my favorite ribbon into a stunning bow which balanced out my wreath’s tail.

Basket of supplies wm

Decorating and coordinating colors are not my strengths, so I added a few pine cones and a bird. When in doubt, put a bird on it. Now, if only I could figure out how to hang the wreath on my front door!

Jeni Wreath Collage

If you knew each of us, you could easily match us with our wreaths. They’re almost like holiday Rorschach tests.

Wreaths wm

Beth and I had arrived at class hungry and missing our afternoon naps (I’m an old soul). We were thrilled to find the Carlson’s stocked their workshop with hot cider & homemade cookies. Even so, we had all worked up an appetite for dinner at West Fork Wharf in Sheffield, Iowa, a restaurant several people have recommended.

West Fork Wharf is located along the town’s main street. Bob and Kim Jensen opened the supper club in June 2013. The inside of the restaurant feels both classy and comfortable. I found it fascinating to learn Bob’s hosted the local fishing show Fishing In The Midwest for over 20 years and that he constructed the tables and bar from the community high school’s old gym floor.

Several friends suggested we order the fried mushrooms. West Fork’s are unlike any I’ve tried before. The batter was thin and crispy and the mushrooms almost melted in my mouth. They’re served with ranch and the group favorite, a sauce resembling a combination of barbecue sauce, honey mustard & french dressing.

The cheese curds (or cheese balls, as they’re often called in North Iowa) had a delightfully chewy texture. Of course, they were served with ranch too. I mean, we are in Iowa, right? Both appetizers were fried well so that neither were greasy.

West Fork Wharf serves good ranch. I explain my definition of good vs. bad ranch in this post

WFW Food Collage

I ordered the fish sandwich for my entrée. The Chef toasted the sandwich bun and battered the fish in a thin coating, similar to the fried mushrooms. It tasted very fresh and I liked its moist, flaky texture. Most sandwiches come with the restaurant’s version of french fries called “propellers,” battered potatoes shaped like propellers. My dining companions’ green salads looked fresh. Next time I’d pay a few extra dollars for the fish platter my friend Amy ordered which comes with a salad and side.

The evening steak special appeared to be a popular choice. I saw many people enjoying large steaks drizzled with homemade cheese sauce and what looked like sautéed mushrooms. You can certainly find healthier options on the menu, but I was in the mood for splurging.

West Fork Wharf is a gem. The restaurant’s emphasis seems to be on scratch-made food prepared with thought and priced reasonably. The city of Sheffield is located about 30-minutes from our Mason City home and I’d like to return with Jake. If you find yourself in Franklin County, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend stopping here for dinner.

Adult craft projects may test my patience, but I enjoy new experiences like this wreath class. Next month, we’re taking a group painting class from Creative Spirits of Ames, Iowa where an artist will walk us through one painting, step-by-step. There might not be a big friendly dog like Sophie to calm my nerves, but at least there will be wine.

*Thank you to the Carlson family for showering us with warm hospitality. 

Reader Question: Do you prefer crafting, cooking, or both? I’m curious if any of my non-crafty readers have taken a group painting & sipping class and how their painting turned-out. Does wine help or hurt? 

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