30 November 2009

Pomegranate Goat Cheese Gems


What is it about miniatures that people find so fascinating?

It seems that most people are inclined to believe that good things do come in small packages. I’m no exception. I have always loved little tea sets, miniature perfume bottles, and my daughter’s Polly Pockets. Miniatures fuel our imagination, make us feel strong and powerful, and draw out our most tender inclinations as we appreciate and admire these tiny treasures.

With food it is the same. I remember my delight when I first discovered baby corn in a Chinese stir fry. I enjoy the convenience of tiny grape tomatoes and, more recently, kiwi berries that are just like tiny kiwis but without the fuzz.

Another natural food miniature is the pomegranate. A beautiful shade of garnet on the outside, a single whole pomegranate is a treasure box filled with dozens of richly succulent jewels of fruit. Each brightly translucent flesh-covered seed, or aril, is a diminutive indulgence. Pomegranate seeds are so decorative and delicious that I have spent a lot of time experimenting with them this autumn, trying to discover their secrets as I pair these flecks of jewel toned tartness with any number of flavors both sweet and savory. Finally I settled on a combination that best represents my discoveries of the season.

In keeping with my fascination for miniatures I baked savory mini tarts of goat cheese and Greek yogurt. Then I topped them with a light dusting of nutmeg and crowned them with a spoonful of pomegranate arils drenched in Spiced Pomegranate Molasses. Delicate, sweet and savory, with a complex note of spices, these little finger foods deliver a luscious abundance of flavor in one pretty little bite-sized gem.


Spiced Pomegranate Molasses

1 cup pomegranate juice (I used POM Wonderful)
3 - 4 Tablespoons honey (according to taste)
½ vanilla bean
½ inch slice of fresh ginger root
5 cardamon pods
10 pink (or white) peppercorns
1 small Serrano (or jalapeno) pepper, whole
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Combine juice, honey, vanilla bean, ginger, cardamon, peppercorns, and Serrano pepper in a small saucepan. Simmer slowly until reduced liquid to between ¼ and ½ cup of molasses, approximately 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Strain the molasses. Discard the ginger root, cardamon pods, peppercorns and Serrano pepper. Stir in the balsamic vinegar. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds back into the mixture, stirring until well blended. Discard the remaining vanilla bean pod.

Store the Spiced Pomegranate Molasses in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Pomegranate Goat Cheese Gems

Nonstick cooking spray
fine dry bread crumbs
8 ounces goat cheese – chèvre
5 ounces plain non-fat Greek yogurt
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tablespoons shallots, finely minced
1 Tablespoon butter

ground nutmeg
2 Tablespoons Spiced Pomegranate Molasses (recipe above)
3/4 cup fresh pomegranate seeds
snipped fresh parsley leaves, for garnish


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a nonstick 24-count mini muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray until well coated. Sprinkle each mini muffin cup with fine dry bread crumbs tilting and tapping until the crumbs thoroughly cover the bottoms and sides of the pan. Set aside.

Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add shallots and sauté until soft and beginning to brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, beat the goat cheese, yogurt, and egg until smooth and well combined. Add the sautéed shallots and stir to incorporate.

Spoon the cheese mixture evenly into the prepared mini muffin cups. Tap the pan on the counter top to distribute the batter evenly.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until the tarts are set.

Remove from oven and place the pan on a wire rack to cool.

When cool, remove mini tarts from the pan. (You may need to carefully run a knife around the outer edge of the tarts and tap the pan on the bottom to remove.)

Dust the top of each cooled Goat Cheese Gem with a faint sprinkle of ground nutmeg.

Stir together 2 Tablespoons of the Spiced Pomegranate Molasses and the fresh pomegranate seeds, or arils, until they are well coated.

Top each tart with a small spoonful of the coated pomegranate seeds. Garnish with snipped fresh parsley.

Serve and enjoy!

27 November 2009

Walk & Knock


Seasons of Abundance

Ahhh! Cooks around the country breathe a satisfied sigh of relief. Another Thanksgiving is under our belts…. in more ways than one. Thankful for our blessings we have feasted and now take a moment to smile before sliding into the next season of giving.

This Thanksgiving my family gathered and enjoyed a traditional holiday meal. Our time together was a reminder of how much we have been given and how richly God has blessed our lives. Though the economy has been better and the future seems less certain than it did in times past we have eaten well this week and been blessed with the warmth and presence of friends and family. Our house and most especially our kitchen seem to be overflowing with the abundance of the season.

As we nibble on leftovers and scramble for the last slices of pie my mind races ahead to preparations for the holidays soon to come. There are Christmas and New Year’s plans to make. There are special dinners to be prepared, appetizers and party fare to be shared, cookies to be baked and gifts to be made. As we finish the Thanksgiving leftovers I am also mindful that we need to clean things up and make room for what comes next.

Looking through my cabinets there is an extra can of this and an extra bag of that, things I picked up on sale or items I bought but didn't get around to using. I am reminded of Jesus with the loaves and fishes. After all had eaten their fill, the scraps were gathered and there were twelve baskets full. Sometimes I wonder what to do with it all. Abundance brings challenges of its own.

Every Penny and Pound

In Clark County Washington the local service organizations come together just after Thanksgiving to offer residents a special opportunity to share some of that seasonal abundance. This event generates a lot of excitement in the community. Volunteers of all ages and abilities are encouraged to get together on the first Saturday in December for a project that strives to fill area food banks to overflowing. This community effort is known as Walk & Knock. Last year it collected over 140 tons of food and $35,000 in cash donations used to purchase additional food. All of this was accomplished by volunteers. Walk & Knock is 100% privately funded. Every penny and pound of food collected goes to feed needy individuals in Clark County.

My family has been participating in this food drive for years now. I clean out my post-Thanksgiving pantry carefully bagging any item I didn’t use for Thanksgiving, haven’t used in the past six months or can’t remember why I bought and offer it to those who can make good use of it, community members who are having a hard time making ends meet in this economy, people who need to know that someone cares.

Knock and the Door...

My family also volunteers to pick up food door to door and bring it back to the collection site. Last year I tagged along camera in hand:

First, volunteers assemble at designated sites.


Coffee and sweet rolls are provided for those who feel short on breakfast.


Collection groups are organized.


Maps are handed out and strategies developed.


Volunteers spread throughout the community to collect food.


Bags are collected at every door.


Where there are no bags volunteers are encouraged to knock and ask.


Food collected is brought back to the collection point to be sorted and boxed.


A cup of hot chili is prepared and served to hungry volunteers.


Volunteers disperse, satisfied with a job well done.


This year's Walk & Knock food drive will be held on Saturday, December 5, 2009. If you live in Clark County, WA take advantage of this opportunity to clean out your pantry and get your kitchen cabinets in order before the holiday cooking and baking begins. Pick up a few extra items if you can, like tuna fish or peanut butter, and set it all out on your front porch early that Saturday morning.

Once your bag is out (collection begins at 9am) grab your coat, hat and gloves and join your neighbors and other great people in our community at one of the staging sites to help out. Have some coffee. Join a collection team. Have a conversation. Make a friend. You will go home full, knowing the generosity of the human heart and taking with you the first gift of the season, a certain knowledge that it is better to give than to receive.

23 November 2009

Cranberry Cheesecake Spread


Every year I find myself buying fresh cranberries and making some sort of cranberry relish though, I must know by now, beyond a curious taste or two no one is going to eat it. It’s not that they don’t like it really. It’s just that everyone seems to know what they do like for Thanksgiving and that’s what they concentrate on eating.


When it comes to cranberries what my family craves is jellied cranberry sauce from a can. They like it in the shape of the can, with the little can marks on the side. It goes in a certain old glass dish that has been in my family as long as I can remember and is served with a pierced silver tomato server that goes with my mother’s set of silver flatware, the one she bought when she went to work, before she got married. That’s just the way it is around here.

Personally, while that was the way cranberries were served as I was growing up I never liked them that way. I scarcely ever even tasted the jellied sauce we had each Thanksgiving though I did think it was pretty and admired the dish and the serving spoon.

So now I buy fresh cranberries and enjoy the discovery of taste combinations and textures each year knowing that even I will make other choices from the bounty of our table when it gets right down to enjoying the Thanksgiving meal. Along the way I have grown to love the fresh tartness of cranberries and have come to believe that a cranberry is a terrible thing to waste. That’s why, this year, I tried to think of a new way to actually use that fresh cranberry sauce.

What I came up with was an appetizer to serve while family and guests are waiting for the Thanksgiving feast to be served, or in the weeks before or after Thanksgiving when the flavors of the season are most welcome. This is not a new flavor combination by any means but it is a variation on the cranberry cream cheese combinations my attention has been drawn to this year. This recipe is for a small, crustless, slightly sweet cheesecake made with traditional cream cheese and non-fat Greek Yogurt. The batter is marbled with the cranberry relish of your choice. I used the Bourbon Vanilla Cranberry Relish I discovered last year, but you could use Cathy’s Cranberry Tangerine Chutney or another cranberry relish from your own list of favorites. To that I added an optional scattering of toasted pecans.

Once the cheesecake spread has cooked and cooled it is topped with the remaining cranberry relish and more nuts if desired. Then garnish and serve with gingersnaps, vanilla wafers, sugar cookies or crackers for a pretty holiday appetizer or light dessert.




Cranberry Cheesecake Spread

1 Tablespoon butter
3 Tablespoons graham cracker crumbs
8 oz package cream cheese
5 oz container non-fat Greek yogurt
1 egg
¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Bourbon Vanilla Cranberry Relish ( or other Cranberry Relish of your choice)
½ cup pecan pieces, toasted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Use 1 Tablespoon butter to generously grease the bottom and sides of a 6-inch spring form pan. Add the graham cracker crumbs, tilting and tapping until the crumbs thoroughly cover the bottom and sides of the pan. Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the yogurt and egg, beating until well combined. Add the brown sugar and vanilla. Continue mixing until smooth.

Pour filling mixture into the prepared pan.

Randomly drop 1/3 cup of the cranberry sauce on top of the cheesecake batter with a tablespoon. Tap the pan on the counter top to settle the batter. Insert a butter knife straight down into the batter, not quite touching the bottom of the pan, and drag it back and forth at 1 to 2 inch intervals, front to back then side to side. Repeat as necessary to achieve a marbled effect in the batter.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until done.

Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Loosely cover and refrigerate until completely cooled, several hours or overnight.


Remove sides of spring form pan. Settle cheesecake onto a serving plate.

Before serving top with remaining cranberry relish and pecans.

Serve with ginger snaps, vanilla wafers, shortbread cookies or crackers.

Enjoy!

21 November 2009

Southern Style Green Beans


Kitchen Confessions

After I got married and moved across the country my Aunt Hen confessed, “When you were still at home I got so sick of green beans.” Of course there was no denying that it was my fault. Green beans were my favorite vegetable and I would eat them every night if she would cook them for me. More often than she probably should have, she did.

Cooking in my own kitchen I continued to eat a lot of green beans. When I first began to cook for myself I was happy enough to eat them straight from a can and warmed slightly. In time I learned how much I like fresh green beans in salads or cooked crisp tender with a simple dressing. I also discovered that frozen green beans are delicious steamed with a dash of sesame oil or soy sauce.

Eventually I discovered lots of different ways to enjoy green beans. What I couldn’t seem to reproduce was the wonderful flavor of my Aunt Hen’s Southern Style Green Beans, flavored with down-home ingredients and cooked slow until they were permeated with the essence of those seasonings.


Simply a Matter of Time

Really what I think it comes down to is a matter of time. The ingredients are simple enough: green beans (canned or fresh), bacon grease and/or ham scraps, a little onion and ground pepper and maybe a spoonful of sugar. Then you cook them and cook them and.... longer than I used to have the patience for, about 2 hours for canned green beans and up to four hours for fresh. So put them on early, before you start preparing anything else and then let them slowly simmer on the back of the stove while you work.

While these green beans cook for a long, long time, they are simple and undemanding to prepare. Still, you should be warned: they are nothing special to look at. They can be dressed up in a pretty bowl for special occasions but whether they are or not they are still well appreciated, in an understated way, at my family's table. As plates are filled everyone will take a serving and leftovers will be hard to come by.

At my house these Southern Style Green Beans are a constant and can be found at every holiday meal: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, and Derby Day. While they may not be the star of the table their presence is both expected and enjoyed. They remain one of my very favorite comfort foods. While they do take their time getting ready, the wonderful old-fashioned southern style flavor is worth it ....

and, believe me, they go with everything!



Southern Green Beans
Adapted from “We Make You Kindly Welcome: Recipes From the Trustee’s House Daily Fare” at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky

4 15-ounce cans cut green beans
½ teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon bacon grease
2 Tablespoons minced onion
1 Tablespoon ham scraps (if you have them)
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper (or to taste)

Mix together in a large pot and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to low. Slow-simmer uncovered, adding liquid if necessary, for two hours or until dinner is served.

This recipe can also be used with 2½ to 3 pounds of fresh green beans cleaned and cut into 1 to 2 inch pieces. Cover beans with water. Add other ingredients, and salt to taste, then cook slowly until very tender, approximately 4 hours.

Serve and enjoy!

16 November 2009

Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake Spread


Is it possible for chocolate to be out of season?

Chocolate has become such a common favorite it is hard to think so. Yet late in the summer, when the temperature soars, I find myself using it sparingly. Maybe I add some chocolate chips here and there but densely rich desserts get replaced by something lighter at that time of year and chocolate is relegated to being offered in small doses.

Then in the autumn, when I begin to crave heartier main dishes to ward of the gathering chill, chocolate seems to disappear from the menu altogether. There are, of course, chocolaty Halloween candies that I sometimes grab for between meal snacks but chocolate seems absent from most of my thoughts about autumn cuisine. It gets overlooked in favor of rustic apple pies, pumpkin flavored quick-breads, tart cranberry dips, nutty bar cookies and gingerbread cakes. Rich texture and crunchy fillings seem to be the stars of dessert menus as crisp air and rich colors grace our landscapes.

These wonderful fall flavors can be tricky though. Not everyone likes the strong flavors and distinctive textures of the season. Personally I have never cared for the texture of pumpkin pie. My children avoid cranberries that aren’t smoothed into a gelatinous sauce and then they only eat them for Thanksgiving dinner. In many ways chocolate is a safer bet, especially when you are the guest and are bringing a dessert or party food to share with people whose tastes you are unsure of. Chocolate, it seems, is almost universally appreciated.

So how can we dress chocolate for the season? This recipe gives it just a spark of spice and texture. It can be dressed casually as a spread for crunchy purchased gingersnaps, even passing on the praline in the ganache if time is short. Or it can be dressed up as a small plated dessert, settled on a swirl of chocolate sauce and adorned with bits of candied hazelnuts or with additional coffee hazelnut truffles. In either case this cheesecake highlights the elegant versatility of chocolate while also offering a hint of some of our favorite flavors of the season.


Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake Spread

Praline:
1 Tablespoon coffee liqueur
¼ teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon espresso powder
½ cup hazelnuts, chopped and lightly toasted
6 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons water
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

Filling:
1 Tablespoon butter
3 Tablespoons of chocolate wafer crumbs
8 oz package cream cheese
5 oz container non-fat Greek yogurt
1 egg
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 oz dark chocolate, melted

Ganache:
½ cup heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons coffee liqueur , if desired
½ teaspoon espresso powder
8 oz bittersweet chocolate chips, or other dark chocolate broken into bits


1. Prepare the praline:
Note:The hazelnut praline can be prepared up to several days in advance. If time is short, or if you prefer no candied nuts in your cheesecake, then feel free to skip this step and to leave the candied hazelnut bits out of the ganache.

Lightly oil or butter a 12-inch square of aluminum foil. Set aside.

In a small bowl mix together 1 Tablespoon coffee liqueur, ¼ teaspoon ginger and 1 teaspoon espresso powder. Microwave on high for 15 seconds and stir to dissolve the espresso powder. Stir in the hazelnuts, mixing until well coated. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, stir together 6 Tablespoons sugar and 2 Tablespoons water. Cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture begins to turns a light golden color (approximately 4 minutes).

Stir in the hazelnuts and cook until coated and golden brown, (approximately 1 minute).

Remove from heat and immediately pour onto the prepared foil, sprinkling the sea salt evenly over the candy and spreading the candy with a spoon as thinly as possible.

Let set until completely cool.

Break into pieces. Set aside a few attractive fragments for garnish and a few whole nuts. Place the rest in a food processor and process until the biggest pieces are small bits.


2. Prepare the filling:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Use 1 Tablespoon butter to generously grease the bottom and sides of a 6-inch spring form pan. Add the chocolate wafer crumbs, tilting and tapping until the crumbs thoroughly cover the bottom and sides of the pan. Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the yogurt and egg, beating until well combined. Add ¼ cup sugar, vanilla and the 2 ounces of melted dark chocolate. Continue mixing until smooth.

Pour filling mixture into the prepared pan.

Set aside.


3. Prepare the ganache:

Scald the cream over low heat in a small saucepan until hot but not boiling. (Small bubbles should form around the edge of the pan).

Stir in 2 teaspoons of coffee liqueur, if desired, and ½ teaspoon of espresso powder. Remove from heat.

Pour mixture over the chocolate chips and allow it to sit for a few minutes until the chocolate is very soft. Stir until smooth.

Stir in the processed candied hazelnut bits.

Randomly drop 1/3 cup of the ganache on top of the Chocolate Cheesecake batter with a tablespoon. Tap the pan on the counter top to settle the batter. Insert a butter knife straight down into the batter, not quite touching the bottom of the pan, and drag it back and forth at 1 to 2 inch intervals front to back then side to side. Repeat as necessary to achieve a marbled effect in the batter.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until done.

Cool on wire rack.

Loosely cover and refrigerate until completely cooled, several hours or overnight.

Cover and store remaining ganache in the refrigerator.


4. Assemble Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake Spread:

Remove sides of spring form pan. Settle cheesecake onto a serving plate.

Rewarm the remaining ganache in the top of a double boiler or carefully microwave on high, at 15 second intervals, stirring each time until soft.

Pour 1/3 cup or so of the ganache on top of the cheesecake smoothing to the edges and allowing it to drizzle down the sides slightly, if desired. Garnish with reserved pieces of Hazelnut Praline.

Serve Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake Spread with ginger cookies, sugar cookies, chocolate wafers or sweet crackers. Or cut the cheesecake into slices and serve plated on a swirl of chocolate sauce or Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache and garnish with Hazelnut Praline pieces.


Note: Use any leftover ganache to make Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles by shaping into teaspoon sized balls and rolling them in a mixture of 1 Tablespoon cocoa powder and 1 teaspoon espresso powder.

12 November 2009

The Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey


The Controversy

I’ve heard it all, especially when it comes to cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. I have never been impressed by the high overhead of the very latest trends including deep fat frying and brining. I don't worry about ordering our turkey fresh, organic or free range and I am not interested in serving Tofurky. The issues and ideas involved are interesting but they don't make it to the top of my list of priorities at this time of year.

That does not, however, mean that I am immune to the controversy. I remember the great Thanksgiving debate as I was growing up. My aunt and my dad each had their own opinions as to which brand of frozen turkey was the best and whether or not it should be “self-basting.” My aunt was a brand name kind of lady and she wanted nothing but a self-basting Butterball. My dad was less particular and he was the one who cooked Thanksgiving dinner every year. He tried all of the brands, usually buying the one that was the best value and, while he was known for cooking a variety of wild game, he never ventured beyond the realm of frozen turkeys for our Thanksgiving dinner.

About a week before Thanksgiving he would bring home a frozen bird, the largest he could find. Then it would thaw in the refrigerator until Thanksgiving Eve. That evening we would gather in the kitchen to ready the turkey and do all of the chopping for my dad’s famous plain bread stuffing. We would cube the bread and toast it if needed. Then we chopped the onions and celery and gathered what we would need for the relish tray before taking a coffee break and discussing the plan for the next day's preparations.


Nudging it to Perfection

The next morning Dad would get up early and put together his plain bread stuffing. Then he filled the turkey and nestled it in the oven to roast. After that he watched it carefully, basting it every hour or so, nudging it to a perfect finish around noon.

I always woke on Thanksgiving morning to that iconic scent of turkey roasting in the kitchen. As my dad readied the rest of the meal we watched parades on TV until our guests began to arrive. Then much ceremony was made of making the gravy in our big cast iron skillet after my grandmother arrived with the Pumpkin Pies. It was a delight to the senses. Finally the turkey was taken from the oven, browned and crispy, ready to be carved with the beautiful carving set from my mother's silver flatware.

It was always perfect no matter how the turkey actually turned out. Sometimes the meat was juicy and sometimes a little dry. Sometimes it cooked on schedule and sometimes it was slow. Whatever the details the turkey was a beautiful centerpiece to our celebration, reminding us through all of our senses, that we had reason to be truly thankful. And Dad always found a turkey that was large enough to provide ample leftovers to keep reminding us into the week to come, in soups and sandwiches for school lunches. It really wasn’t the quality of the turkey or the method of cooking that mattered so much as the holiday and the drama and the guests, those parades and the warm conversation wafting in from the kitchen and surrounding me with tradition and fond memories and belonging.



The Next 28 Years

When I got married and moved away from home I continued to buy a frozen turkey for Thanksgiving and was prepared to get up early to roast the bird for a noon time meal but my new husband had different family traditions. In his family they had cooked the turkey in a oven roasting bag as long as he could remember. He did remember the first time when his dad was sure it would melt all over the turkey in an unappealing mess. All the same his mother persisted and triumphantly cooked the turkey in a fraction of the time required to roast it as my father did. My husband encouraged me to try it his way assuring me that the turkey would be juicier and quite delicious.

I complied with his wishes. Why not? The turkey turned out fine. It wasn't golden brown all over with crispy skin and a beautiful presentation but it still smelled wonderful and it still produced leftovers for those sandwiches I loved and it still framed the meal just fine. Fine enough, in fact, that I continued to cook our Thanksgiving turkey in an oven roasting bag for the next 28 years.


How Things Change

Then, last year, something happened. I got an extra turkey for free from the supermarket. This was not the first time I ever had an extra frozen turkey but it was the first time I totally ignored it for most of the following year. I just wasn't desperate for the freezer space until a few weeks ago when the guys went on a frozen pizza buying spree. Suddenly my freezer was awkwardly overcrowded so I decided it was time to figure out what to do with the bird.

It was a plain store brand turkey of about 16 pounds. There was nothing special about it. It had been frozen with a little temperature probe in it and had been sitting in my home freezer for a year. Something about it reminded me of those Thanksgivings long ago and I decided to forgo the oven roasting bag and roast it old school, much like Dad would have done.

After it thawed in the refrigerator, I prepared the turkey, placed it on a rack in a roasting pan and tucked it into the oven. Several hours passed as I went about my business until that wonderful smell of Thanksgiving began wafting through the house. Then I began to check once in a while to see if the probe had popped to tell me it was done.

Checking, I couldn't help but be impressed by how beautiful it was! What had I been doing all these years cooking a moist but anemic turkey? But the proof is in the pudding or, in the case of turkey, in the breast meat which is often dry. Finally it was done. I took pictures, then carved it and took a taste. The breast was wonderfully herb scented and moist. I've never had better.


Thanksgiving Advice

I know that not every turkey will be like that. Like relatives and friends, some are tough or temperamental, some are laid back and forgiving, but that is more about the individual turkey than the brand or technique you employ, whether the turkey is fresh or frozen, brined or basted, cooked in a deep fryer or an oven bag. Still this turkey, a store brand frozen turkey thawed and simply roasted, was perhaps the best turkey I have ever cooked. It’s skin was crispy, its meat tender, juicy and flavorful.

So my advice this Thanksgiving is to keep it simple... and relax. All will be well. Serve the dishes your family cherishes and eat them with joy as you offer thanks for the special blessings you have gathered around your table.



Herb Roasted Turkey

1 whole turkey, fresh or thawed
1 fresh lemon or orange, halved
salt
freshly ground black pepper
Several large sprigs of fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley)
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2-3 ribs of celery, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Unwrap the turkey and empty the contents of both cavities, removing the neck, giblets and whatever else you find in there. Wash the turkey with cold water, if needed, and pat it dry with paper towels.

Rub one half of the lemon or orange over the turkey, inside and out. Season the cavity with salt and pepper. Squeeze the juice from the other half of the lemon or orange inside the turkey and tuck the rind inside the cavity, along with the onion, celery and several large sprigs of fresh herbs.

Settle the turkey on a rack in a large roasting pan. Rub the olive oil all over the skin of the turkey. Season with salt and pepper. My turkey came with a gizmo that allows you to easily tuck the legs into place. Without that you can tie the legs together with string, if you like. Then scatter more coarsley chopped herbs over the turkey and lay a few sprigs on top to crisp in the oven.

Place the turkey in the middle of the oven to roast for several hours, until the little plastic thermometer pops up or until a meat thermometer placed in the thickest portion of the thigh reads 180 degrees. For a 16 pound turkey this will take approximately 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 hours.

When the thermometer indicates it is time, remove the turkey from the oven. Tent it loosely with aluminum foil and allow it to rest for 15 to 20 minutes.

Serve and enjoy!

06 November 2009

Smokey Blue Cheesecake


Pacific Northwest Blues

Last spring I saw a fabulous performance by King Louis and Sweet Baby James along with Linda Hornbuckle and Janice Scroggins at the Joyce Garver Theater in Camas. It was a great experience. I was reminded of the fact that we are blessed with a wealth of talented blues artists here in the Pacific Northwest.

It is not only performing artists that express the blues with award winning talent in this part of the country. We also have artists and photographers with a gift for expressing the blue notes of our experience with soulful skill and enthusiasm. Our experience of life’s more pungent notes is something that can be conveyed at a creamery too, and even in the kitchen

At Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Oregon they have a gift for focusing flavor notes from around the world with naturally occurring molds that reflect the unique terroir of the Pacific Northwest. Add to that the innovative touch of smoking the blue cheese over hazelnut shells and you have a beautifully complex cheese that plays a sharp tang against a hint of darkly sweet nuttiness. This cure imparts a sultry smokiness to the rich voicing of Rogue's Smokey Blue.

This season Camas's Joyce Garver Theater has been closed and the Performing Arts Series that brought us King Louis and Sweet Baby James last season has lost its long standing venue. The school district that tore down an elementary school this year and replaced it with a newer, more modern building and is preparing to update its existing stadium with one that is bigger and better, does not want to spend the money to update this well-loved community asset. It's too bad. Yet standing in the shadow of sweet notes remembered and hope denied, when life deals us a taste of its sharper edge, what can we do? Try singing the blues!


Smokey Blue Improvisation

This composition came from the recipe collection at Rogue Creamery's Cheese Shop just off I-5 in Central Point, Oregon. They offer quite a variety of recipes but the most intriguing was for this Blue Cheese Cheesecake.

On the drive home I found myself trying to work out the chords and pair it with just the right topping to enhance the impact. The recipe itself suggests pairing it with a Fig Rum Raisin Dessert Sauce or with a Port Wine Sauce. Both sound interesting but I couldn't find the dessert sauce or fresh figs and I wanted to try a fruit topping rather than the port wine reduction. Finally I decided to bend it in another direction by combining the earthy complexity of this unusual dessert with the drama of a Hazelnut Pear Flambé topping.

The result was rather unusual but interesting and worthwhile. Some bites of cheesecake have more of a blue cheese bite than others, offering a sharp salty flavor that contrasts the smooth creaminess of the more traditional cheesecake on top. The pear sauce provides a lovely sweet-spicy counterpoint and the hazelnuts add a touch of resistant crunch.



Smokey Blue Cheesecake
adapted from a recipe distributed at Rogue Creamery

¾ cup graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup finely ground hazelnuts
2 Tablespoons melted butter
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1½ 8-oz pkg’s cream cheese (12 oz total)
4 oz Greek style plain nonfat yogurt
3 medium eggs
¼ cup sugar
½ Tablespoon lemon juice
2-3 oz Smokey Blue or Crater Lake Blue cheese, crumbled

Let cream cheese, yogurt, eggs and blue cheese come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease the bottom of a 6" springform pan. Combine graham cracker crumbs, ground hazelnuts and 2 Tablespoons of sugar in a small bowl. Stir with a fork until well blended. Add the 2 Tablespoons of melted butter until combined.

Press the crumb mixture evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake 5-10 minutes or until golden brown.

Crumble 2-3 oz of blue cheese evenly over the bottom of the warm crust.

Beat cream cheese until soft; add sugar, yogurt, slowly add eggs one at a time. Beat until combined. Add lemon juice. Pour mixture into the pan. Bake for approximately 45 to 50 minutes, or until cheesecake is just set, and beginning to get slightly golden around the edge.

Let cool for 2-4 hours, or refrigerate overnight before serving for best results.

Top with Hazelnut Pear Flambé.

Serve and enjoy!

02 November 2009

Hazelnut Pear Flambé


These shorter days of autumn mean less variety at the fruit stand. Once again the produce bins are filled with apples and pears. In muted shades of red, green and yellow, pears subtly complement the rounder shape, glossier color even the crisp texuture of seasonal apples. Yet all the while pears gently hint at a quiet complexity and sophistication apples can only dream of.

I have always found pears fascinating though, I must admit, I only started cooking with them recently when I suddenly seemed to get the hang of ripening them at home and figuring out when they were ready to use. After poaching pears and roasting pears last year, I recently found even more great hints on choosing and ripening pears at Sizzleworks. So, when I was recently unable to find the suggested ingredients for a cheesecake topping, the first thing I thought of as a substitute was pears.

It didn't hurt that I also found this wonderful recipe on an old newspaper clipping from the Oregonian. I saved it because of its combination of simplicity and drama as well as its inspiration to combine Asian spices and Northwest pears and hazelnuts. I was also intrigued by the step that called for setting it aflame! I've always wanted to master a flaming dessert and add it to my repertoire.

Of course, the flambé step here is optional. If you don't have the time or interest for the drama this recipe will still taste terrific. It can even be made ahead, if desired, to cut down on last minute preparation. I must say though, especially if you like to entertain as you cook, the flambé step adds a lot of interest at serving time.

This dessert sauce fits into a number of different seasons gracefully depending on what it tops, ice cream or cheesecake, gingerbread or pancakes. It’s uniquely spiced fruit and earthy crunch lend Northwest flair to a variety of simple but elegant desserts.


Hazelnut Pear Flambé
adapted from FOODday where it was attributed to "Martin Yan Quick and Easy"

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
2 pears, peeled, cored and sliced
1/4 cup light rum
1/4 - 1/2 cup hazelnuts

Place a frying pan on the stovetop over medium heat. When hot, add the butter, brown sugar and five-spice powder. Stir to combine. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves.

Increase heat to high. Add the hazelnuts and pears to the sugar mixture and cook until the pear is tender, approximately 2 minutes.


Remove the pan from the heat. Pour the rum over the mixture. Be sure you are not standing over the pan, that the pan is not under an exhaust fan, and that it is clear of any flammable items, then CAREFULLY set the rum aflame. Return the pan to the stovetop and continue cooking for another 2 minutes.

Spoon the Hazelnut Pear topping over cheesecake, gingerbread, pancakes or coconut ice cream.

Serve and enjoy!