Foolproof Tender Popovers

Foolproof popovers

It’s November and that means the beginning of my favorite time of the year. Thanksmas. Or should that be Thanksgivemas? It does not seem fair that the two best holidays in the calendar happen within about a month of each other. In Canada, we are given a reprieve between Thanksgiving and Christmas. By enjoying turkey day in early October, it seems like you’re better able to enjoy fall. You get to partake in all of the best of the harvest, see the leaves fall, and then top it all off with Halloween. Then you get two whole months to prepare for Christmas.

The holidays feel so much more compressed in the States. You barely get to tuck into the turkey, before you have to think about the crazy day that is Black Friday, and the kick off for Christmas. I love, love, love the holidays, so most days the short season seems that more festive. But I can see how it can be stressful for many.

To minimize stress, I like to plan. I plan just about everything, and often include a timeline. “The timeline!”, is often an exclamation the hubs like to say when we’re on vacation. It all started with our honeymoon in Maui, but I digress.

So here in early November, I am planning the Thanksgiving dinner menu. Last year we hosted about 14 people around our 9 foot dining table, to much success. There was some last minute defrosting issues, a 6 month old infant, and just enough chaos to make it all memorable.

Last year I don’t even remember if we had bread. I do remember the juicy turkey and the creamy homemade New York cheesecake. But I do not remember if we had rolls, or breadsticks, or what. This year is going to be different. This year I came across the perfect popovers by Food Network’s Melissa d’Arabian. The name isn’t hyperbole. It is in fact the easiest, most tender, and consistent popover recipe I’ve come across. Even with the little one under feet, it has come out just about perfect every time.

So this will definitely grace this years Thanksgiving table, ready to sop up all the gravy. And don’t be surprised if it’s on the Christmas Eve roast dinner as well. Foolproof popovers, the perfect Thanksgivemas accompaniment.

Popovers

Foolproof Popovers (from Melissa d’Arabian)

3 tablespoons melted butter, divided
2 eggs
1 cup milk, warmed for 30 seconds in the microwave (should be lukewarm to warm)
1 cup (8 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Using a pastry brush, coat 8 muffin cups with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter and put the tin in the oven for 5 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, mix the eggs in a blender until light yellow. Add the warmed milk and blend.

4. Add the flour, salt and remaining melted butter, and blend until smooth.

5. Pour the batter into the warmed muffin tin and return it to the oven to bake until golden, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve warm.

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/melissa-darabian/fool-proof-popovers-recipe/index.html?oc=linkback

Flaky Cheddar Pie Crust

Cheddar cheese pie crust

I first learned how to make pie crust was a teenager. I fell in love with quiche, but my mom didn’t know how to make it, so I taught myself. Back then, I used shortening and the two fork technique, and despite my lack of experience and kitchen tools, the crust came out okay. That is, until I discovered frozen pie crust. At the time, frozen crust was a revelation to me, and it cut my quiche prep time considerably.

Fast forward years later, and faced with a double batch of beef stew, I decide to make hand pies.  But frozen supermarket pie crust simply won’t do. Looking for a good crust recipe, I come across The Smitten Kitchen, whose use of vodka sounds intriguing. I love when a good recipe turns out because of science. The crust is flakier because of vodka’s low evaporation point? Sure, I’ll go with that.

But what made the crust fantastic, was the addition of good cheddar. The sharp tang of the cheddar along with the buttery crust just made it sublime.  It was a great foil for the stew, the bite of the cheese offsetting the richness perfectly. Have I been turned off frozen crust completely? Heck no. It has it’s place, as a time-saver and recipe helper, frozen crust is the way to go. But I am glad I took a chance with this recipe, and this is only the beginning. Apple pie with cheddar crust, chicken pot pie with parm crust, bacon quiche with pepper jack crust. Oh pie, I’ve only just begun.

Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen

Cheddar Cheese Crust

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp table salt
2 tbls sugar
1 cup of cold organic unsalted butter, cut into small dice
1 cup good sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

1. Once you’ve diced your butter, place it back into a small bowl and into the fridge.

2. Measure out flour (I like to weigh it) into a large bowl, and add salt, sugar and cheese. Mix to combine.

3. Add the very cold butter and cut it into the flour mix until it resembles coarse cornmeal.

4. Combine water and vodka into a measuring cup, and begin to fold in, a few drizzles at a time. Continue to drizzle in liquid and fold in dough until just combined.

5. Once the dough just comes together, use your hand to gather up the stray crumbs and knead a couple times to combine.

6. Divide dough into two balls, flatten into disks and place in fridge for at least an hour and up to 2 days. Roll out dough and use at will, brushing top with egg wash if desired. I found that baking at 375 degrees until golden brown resulted in a great crust.

Butternut Squash, Sausage, and Spinach Stuffing

Squash Stuffing

Ah butternut squash. Sweet and creamy, the perfect fall veg. Last week was Canadian Thanksgiving, so the hubs surprised me with fried chicken, mashed potatoes and brown gravy. Yes, fried chicken is indeed a proper substitute for roast turkey. So what was missing from this otherwise classic Thanksgiving dinner? Stuffing.

Stuffing is my favorite part of the holiday dinner, for sure. Especially when it’s cooked inside the bird, and the bread soaks up all the juices. Bread cubes saturated in poultry juice, heavenly! But when the dish is served outside the bird, it becomes the less flavorful cousin of stuffing, dressing.

Since one cannot stuff fried chicken (well I guess you could, but that’s for another post) what better way to liven up the boring dressing than with squash? Add some smoked sausage for a bit of meaty flavor, and throw in handfuls of baby spinach for some green and you’ve got the perfect Thanksgiving side. It was a weeknight, so to make things easy I went with a box of Stove Top. Of all the Thanksgiving food I like to make from scratch, stuffing is not one of them.  Perhaps I just haven’t tried a good homemade stuffing as of yet, but Stove Top just tastes better to me.  If you have a good stuffing recipe, let me know and I’ll try it. Until then, here is my doctored Stove Top stuffing, to go along with your fried chicken of course.

SquashStuffing2

Butternut Squash, Sausage and Spinach Dressing

1 box of Stove Top Stuffing (or your favorite boxed stuffing or homemade recipe, to feed 4)
2 cups diced butternut squash
1/2 lb diced smoked sausage
1 bag organic baby spinach
1 diced small onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tsp ground sage
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 egg, lightly beaten
Olive oil
Baking spray
2 quart baking dish

1. Prepare stuffing according to directions.

2. In a medium sauté pan, fry smoked sausage and onion in a tablespoon of olive oil until slightly browned. Add garlic and squash and allow squash to lightly caramalize.

3. Add spinach and cook until wilted.

4. In a large bowl mix prepared stuffing, squash mixture, parsley, sage, nutmeg and egg until combined.

5. Pour into a 2 quart baking dish sprayed with baking spray. Bake for 30 minutes or until top is golden.

Pineapple Salsa

Pineapple Salsa

Today the calendar says October, but with the temps still in the low 80’s here, I can’t help but feel its still early September. And I hate it. It just doesn’t seem right that I’m wearing shorts and sandals in October. The Canadian in me yearns for the cooler, more comfortable weather, the boots and bonfires, the apple picking and pumpkin carving. Yes, I love all of the cliches of autumn, because they are comforting and remind me of family.

Despite all of this, I just can’t cook like its fall. It’s just too damn warm to fire up the oven and braise a roast. Thankfully, a cold front is rolling in next week. But today I made pineapple salsa to go along with the Asian pork tacos I’ll be grilling later on. I couldn’t find any organic pineapple at the store, but there were organic jalapeños, garlic and cilantro. I love how the spicy kick is tempered by the sweetness of the fruit. It might say October, but here’s a salsa recipe to go with the last of the Indian summer.

Pineapple Salsa

Pineapple Salsa
2 cups fresh pineapple, chunked
2 organic jalapeños, small dice (you can remove the seeds and ribs, but I left them in for the spice)
1/2 medium red onion, small dice
2 cloves organic garlic, minced
2 tsp minced ginger
Juice of 1 lime
1 large handful of organic cilantro, chopped
1 tbls sesame oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation
1. Combine all ingredients. Let stand at room temperature for an hour, or in the fridge for at least 2 hours to let flavors develop.

2. Serve with grilled fish, chicken or pork or with chips.