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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Planning A Thanksgiving Feast

Can someone please tell me how the heck it is already the week of Thanksgiving? If you were to ask me what time it felt like, I might say mid-September. Huh. Thanksgiving's really this week? I guess maybe I should start planning my meal. At least this year I only have a modest gathering of people to cook for. Last year, now that was another story. I had great intentions of posting more about it at the time, but it was tricky enough making dinner for twelve with a nine month old, let alone posting about it, but it's all about the planning. Even when you don't have a baby, it's all about the planning.  

Let me show you what I mean by planning. The first step, obviously, is to decide what (and how much) you're going to make. This was my menu last year. At the top, you can see the appetizers that I wanted to make. Then you can see the main meal, followed by dessert. I smoked the turkey on my Weber grill. Because I had never done it before, I smoked a test turkey a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. It worked pretty well and, hopefully, I can share how I did that with you this week, too. I always have great intentions of posting holiday appropriate recipes in a timely manner, but... well, you can see that it doesn't always happen. 

After I made the menu (and the requisite grocery list), the next step was to come up with my timing planning. When preparing food for large meals such as this, I always try to prepare as much as I can in advance, especially when a lot of the work is limited to nap time. As you can see, I started the Friday prior with making the bread, which I was planning to use in the stuffing. 

As you can see, as I finished tasked, I crossed them off... usually, I'm not sure why the name card cookies task isn't crossed off, since I did get them done. You can also see that I allow for some changes as I go as well. Note that I switched a couple tasks between Monday and Tuesday. Flexibility is the name of the game when preparing large, complex meals. Another important thing to point out is my oven plan at the bottom of the page. When you only have one oven (or even two) with many items needing to be baked, this step is essential. If I plan on having more than one item in at the same time, I make sure the dishes that I plan on having the items in will, in fact, all fit in the oven at the same time. There's nothing worse than planning so well only to be foiled by dishes that won't fit!!

And then, because turkey day itself is always crazy, especially if people are showing up early in the day, I make sure to have a timeline for the day of. Not only is it important to think through the logistics of how it will all work ahead of time, I find it critical to have a list to keep me from forgetting things the day of. 

As I mentioned, my meal this year is quite a bit simpler. Thank goodness, since I've only just planned my menu. Since I'm a traditionalist, it's very similar to what I make every year. The big change is that, this year, I'm not baking up a whole turkey. I'm going to stuff a turkey breast and roll it up into a roulade. If I can find the meat in the store, I would like to also roast some turkey legs and thighs to be able to serve some dark meat (and help make gravy), but we'll have to see how the grocery stores are around here! I plan on making/prepping almost everything ahead of time, so Thursday, hopefully, will be relaxed and festive. That's my favorite kind of Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bran Muffins - Perfected!

I know I updated my original bran muffin recipe not that long ago... and I love that recipe. I really do. I love that there is no refined sugar in it. I love the rich flavor from using only date sugar to sweeten them. But you know what? Date sugar is expensive!!! That recipe calls for more than a cup of the stuff, and as I started making these muffins more and more (they're really tasty!), I found I was spending a fortune on date sugar.

So, I went back and decided to see if I could modify them a bit to maintain the flavor that I loved in this new version without breaking the bank. I think I did it, well - geeze - I know I did, because I make this new recipe all the time. These muffins are my new go-to breakfast. The half a cup of date sugar the recipe now calls for is enough to make them really yummy without making me go through ridiculous amounts of the stuff.

Incidentally, since I have moved away from the "big city," I've had to start buying my date sugar online. I've been really pleased with the NOW Real Food brand date sugar. It's very dry and powdery (which can lead to a crazy cloud of it in my kitchen), but I no longer have to sift the stuff and get out a sledge hammer to break up the clumps, which I kind of like.

If you like moist and rich, sweet but not cloying muffins, you'll love these! They are full of dietary fiber (a back of the envelope calculation suggests each muffin has over 3 grams of dietary fiber) which is an important part of a healthy diet. Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too!

Bran Muffins - Perfected!
Yield: 12 standard-sized muffins

1/4 cup canola oil
1 TBS honey
3 TBS molasses
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup wheat bran

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup date sugar
1/2 cup chopped dates (optional)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the first group of ingredients. The bran in included with the wet ingredients so that it has time to soak up some liquid and soften. This helps the texture of the final product. Let this bowl sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In a separate bowl, mix together the second batch of ingredients. Stir together. If adding the chopped dates, mix those in as well so that they are covered with flour. This step helps to keep them from sinking to the bottom of the batter. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir just until mixed. Line a muffin tin with papers and scoop approximately 1/4 of a cup into each paper. I use a #16 disher (blue) flat filled. If you want, sprinkle the tops of the muffins with some turbinado sugar and/or wheat bran. Bake in the  preheated oven for 18-22 minutes or until they are gently browned.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Bison Saute

Here's a dish that may sound a little odd but tastes super great. To be honest, it was one of those "let's clean out the fridge" dinners that turned into a smashing success. The combination of flavors was just right and the bison really puts it over the top. Now, you could make this with ground beef, I suppose, but why would you (well, yeah, bison costs a lot more, but other than that)? The good news is that bison not only has a heartier flavor, it is healthier for you! Unlike beef, bison has minimal saturated fat and trans fat. Who'd a thunk it? Those big behemoths are packing around some good meat! I absolutely love the savoriness of the bison in this dish. Such a winner!

Bison Saute
Yield: 4 servings

1 lb ground bison
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 pint baby bella mushrooms, coarsely chopped
2 cups zucchini, thickly sliced/chunked
1 1/2 cups steamed butternut squash chunks
1 TBS minced garlic
1 tsp seasoned salt, or to taste

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Brown the bison meat until it is cooked through. Drain the bison onto large a paper towel lined plate or bowl, reserving a tablespoon of the drippings in the pan. If your bison was really lean, you can add a small drizzle of oil to the pan. Let the pan heat back up over medium-high heat and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally until they are tender through and slightly browned. Remove the paper towel from the drained bison and put the onions in with the  meat.

Return the pan to the heat and repeat the saute process separately for the remaining main ingredients, the mushrooms, zucchini, and squash. If you try to saute them all together, they will just steam and you won't develop the full range of flavor. For each ingredient, cook over medium-high heat until they are browned and tender through. Add to the bowl/plate and continue with the next item. When all items are cooked, add the garlic to the pan, stirring briefly. Then return all items to the pan to heat together. Add the seasoned salt to taste and then serve!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Raspberry Chocolate Cake

I always love taking a tried and true recipe and giving it a little twist to end up with something that has a whole new feel to it. In this case, I took my favorite chocolate cake (the only chocolate cake in the world, as far as I'm concerned) and instead of making my usual decadent and rich chocolate frosting, I whipped together a batch of raspbery whipped cream. Making raspberry whipped cream is absolutely no more difficult than making regular stabilized whipped cream, but it ends up with a lovely pink hue and a delicate touch of raspberry flavor. What I love about this version is that it has a lighter feel and is fresh and beautiful looking when topped with a ring of fresh raspberries. Be sure to use stabilized whipped cream for this application so that it keeps for a few days without weeping and deflating.

Raspberry Chocolate Cake
Yield: 1 two layer 9 inch cake

1 recipe for Audrey's Chocolate Cake, baked in two 9-inch round pans

Double recipe of Stabilized Whipped Cream
1 pint fresh raspberries, mashed with a fork

8-10 large, fresh raspberries for decorating

Let the cake cool completely before assembling. When ready to put the cake together, make the double batch of stabilized whipped cream. Once it reaches stiff peaks, gently stir in the mashed raspberries. Place one cake round on a plate and spoon half of the whipped cream on it. Spread the whipped cream evenly to the edges. Gently place the second cake on top and spoon the remaining whipped cream on top of it. Spread to the edges. Place fresh raspberries, upside down, at even intervals around the edge of the cake. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Will keep, refrigerated, for two to three days.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Cran-Orange Marmalade

I can't tell you how excited I am to finally be posting this recipe. I've only been working on it for five years now!! While every batch has always turned out good, I was having trouble standardizing the recipe. There were a couple of batches that ended up with jelling issues, either too jelled or not jelled enough, but I think I've got it perfected now. This marmalade has a wonderful blend of sweet and tart. I absolutely adore the bits of orange peel in it; they are tender and sweet with a citrus bite. There is no bitterness here!! I often just eat it straight out of the jar, but it's good for other things too. It's an important part of my favorite sandwich (Chicken and Herb Cheese Panini). It could easily take the place of straight-up cranberry sauce at your holiday table this year. And it is absolutely gorgeous! Make it for gifts; no one will be disappointed!

The first step is to prepare the peel. You need about 8 average sized naval oranges. Use a peeler to remove all the skin on each orange. Then slice the peel into thin strips. Place in a bowl and cover with cool water. Soak the peel for ten minutes and then drain.

The next step is to cook the peel. Place it in a small sauce pan with the apple juice and sugar and simmer until the peel is soft and translucent, about an hour.

Then add the dried cranberries so they can soak up the syrup as well, This helps to keep them from floating in the final jam. Let them cook with the peel for 20-30 minutes. I especially love the dried cranberries in this jam because they hold their shape and have such a nice chewy texture.

In a separate pot, cook the fresh (or frozen) cranberries with sugar and a small amount of water. Cook until they are split and nice and soft. Cool slightly and then press through a sieve. We want the flavor of the berries without all the seeds of skins.

Lastly, supreme the oranges (that's where you peel and then cut the sections out of the membrane) and cut the flesh into small pieces. You do not want all the excess juice, just the flesh cut in pieces. Cook these pieces in a large pot with sugar until it comes to a boil, and then continue boiling for 3-5 minutes.

The last step is to put all the pieces together. Add the peel mixture and the sieved cranberries to the cooked orange and stir. Bring to a hard boil and add the liquid pectin packet. Return to a hard boil and boil one minute. Let sit five minutes before ladling into half-pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Process in a water bath canner for 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the jars sit in the water for five minutes before removing, otherwise they may ooze and weep.

Cran-Orange Marmalade
Yield: approx 7 half-pint jars

1 1/2 cup firm-packed orange peel
3/4 cup apple juice
1 cup sugar
1 cup dried, sweetened cranberries

Use a peeler to remove the peel from approximately 8 average sized oranges. Slice into short, thin strips. Soak the peel in a bowl of water for ten minutes and then drain. Then simmer in a small sauce pan with the apple juice and sugar until soft and translucent, about an hour. Add the dried cranberries and let cook another 30 minutes. Set aside.

1 bag of cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar

Cook the cranberries, water, and sugar together until they split and are soft and then pass the mixture through a sieve to remove the seeds and skins. Set aside.

1 cup chopped, supremed orange sections
2 cups sugar

Supreme the peeled oranges (cut off the skin and cut out the sections from the membrane) and then cut the sections into small pieces. In a large pot, add the orange sections and sugar and cook until boiling, and then continue to cook for 3-5 minutes.

1 pouch liquid pectin

At this point, add all three components together. Add the peel/dried cranberry mixture and the sieved mixture to the hot orange sections. Stir together and bring to a boil. Add the pouch of pectin and return to a boil. Boil hard for one minute. Let mixture sit five minutes before ladling into prepared half-pint jars. Leave a 1/4 inch head space and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes. At the end of the processing time, remove canner from heat and let the jars sit in the water for five minutes before removing (this helps keep them from oozing). Note that this jam may take 24 hours to fully jell.

If you need more guidance on canning basics, see my Canning 101 post.

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