Monday, November 16, 2015

Using Offal Isn't So Awful...Really: Learning to Use Turkey Guts

This past weekend, Chef Reiton and I had the kids home for our "Thanksgiving" since we won't get to see either of them on the actual holiday.  We spent Friday night experiencing the "T," wandering the North End, and trying out Carmelina's amazing pasta and Modern Pastry's fresh cannoli:

YUM to both.  

Saturday was to be "Thanksgiving," so while the rest went winter coat shopping, I stayed home to work on a classic Thanksgiving dinner.  Little did I know what I would discover in my solitary moments in the kitchen that afternoon.

Right before he left, Chef Reiton pulled out the Cook's Illustrated cookbook The Best New Recipe and said, "Let's make this gravy for our dinner tonight."

"Yeah, sure!" I agreed, quickly noting that he was leaving the book open to a particular page and then turning back to what I was doing.  And then he left.

I finished setting out pots and pans and got ready to stoke the fires, then turned to read the recipe.

The recipe that was titled: "Giblet Pan Gravy."

GIBLET.  As in guts.  Innards.  Organs.  Gizzards.  Offal.

Never in my life had I touched giblets, much less cooked with them.  I quickly scanned the recipe to see if I could somehow skip the giblet part.  But alas—it is hard to skip the main ingredient that the recipe is named for.  

I read on in further detail.  What the recipe largely wanted me to do was to make a stock from the giblets.  And the neck.  And the tail.  Which I had to CUT OFF.  Oh, Lord, could this get any worse?

But, really, I thought, trying to calm myself down, a stock isn't so bad. I didn't have to cut anything up.  All I had to do was brown up the whole lot of parts in their entirety and then add some herbs and broth and water and let it all go.  I could do that...

So I did.

Turkey giblet stock for Thanksgiving dinner

As I stood over what looked to me like witches' brew, steam began to rise up out of the pot and bubbles started blurping on the surface.  I took a stir or two when suddenly... DEAR GOD.

It smelled like Thanksgiving.

Oh, for all you believers in a no-giblet/organs/offal Thanksgiving dinner, you must believe me.  That smell that we associate with Thanksgiving, that amazing aroma that our grandmothers' kitchens always had for the holidays that we just haven't been able to replicate and we never knew why?

Offal is why

It is the ingredient that releases that intensely dark meaty fragrance into the air—and into your gravy.  I silently praised my husband for once again unknowingly teaching me a lesson about the adventures of food...and then found myself stirring the pot ridiculously more times than was probably necessary.

As the simmering time drew to its close, I read on to my next steps in the gravy making: strain the broth, cool the gizzards...

then chop them up and save them to add to the gravy LATER???


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A French Apple Tart Recipe for My American Veterans

Happy Veterans Day, family, friends, and strangers alike! Thank you, THANK YOU for your service to this great country of ours. Let us all be sure to pause today to think on both the emotional and physical sacrifices that millions have made to provide a homeland of peace for all of us.

In honor of our selfless men and women of service, I thought I would share with you the apple tart that I made for my parents a few days ago (how on earth did apples become associated with American pride?). It's a tarte tatin, really, not an apple pie—an apple tart made by caramelizing apples in sugar and butter and then plopping a pie crust on top and baking it. This is my I-kind-of-remember-how-this-goes version. I tend to do that a lot when I travel and cook. So this may not be the official French way of preparing it. But it was still pretty damn good.

You are going to want to make the pie crust first. While it is chilling in the fridge, you can peel and cut up the apples and get the caramel and caramelization going. So, first, here's the recipe for the dough:

Dough Ingredients and Directions:
  • 1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tblsp. sugar
  • 10 Tblsps. unsalted butter (1 1/4 sticks)
  • 3 Tblsp. ice cold vodka
  • 1 Tblsp. ice water

1.  In a food processor, combine only 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, salt, and the sugar, then pulse together with a few 1-second pulses to blend. Drop in the cold butter, cut into 1/4-in. slices, and process for about 10 seconds. The mixture will look like curds the size of cottage cheese. Scrape down the sides and the bottom and redistribute the mixture evenly around the bowl. Sprinkle the remaining flour over the top, then pulse about 5 or 6 more times. The dough will come together into a ball, and then redistribute itself around the bowl. Dump the mixture into a medium bowl.

2.  Mix together the vodka and ice water. Sprinkle the dough with the mixture, then take a rubber spatula and start smashing, folding, and flattening the vodka-water into the dough, pressing the spatula down into the dough to help mix in the liquid. It's going to look like it's not going to do anything at first; just give it time and keep flipping, smashing, folding, and pressing; it will get there. The dough is going to resemble Playdough when you are done. (If it looks too dry, sprinkle in the tiniest amount of ice water--like 1/2 tsp. at a time).

3.  Gather the dough into a ball, then dump it onto a square of plastic wrap. Lay another piece of plastic on top, then flatten the ball into a 4-inch disc. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and lay it in the fridge for at least 45 minutes.

Now, preheat the oven to 375°.

For the apples and caramel: 
  • 3 medium to large apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 8 wedges (I use one of these to make it easy, then I just trim away any of the tough core bits left)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick or 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • ground cinnamon
  • a couple pinches of kosher salt
1.  To a 10 to 12-inch skillet with relatively straight sides, add both the sugars and the butter.  Place on a burner and turn the heat on to medium to medium-low, depending on your burner.  Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the sugar and butter have melted and are completely combined.  This takes awhile, but be patient; you don't want the butter separating.  Let the caramel slowly bubble for a couple minutes as you continue stirring.

2.  Place the apple slices on top of the caramel, nestling them into the sugar mixture, making two concentric rings.  Sprinkle with two pinches of kosher salt and a heavy dose of ground cinnamon.  Let the mixture bubble for a couple minutes together while you roll out the dough.

caramel apple tarte tatin

best pie dough ever!

3.  Roll out the dough on a floured surface to be just barely bigger than the skillet.  Wrap the dough around the rolling pin to make it easier to move (use a metal spatula or bench scraper if necessary to get it up off the counter), then unroll the dough on top of the apples.  Tuck the edges of the dough down into the caramel sauce.

4.  Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, depending on your oven.  You want a nicely browned crust.

golden brown crust

5.  Let the tart cool in the skillet on a wire rack.  If you flip it too soon, the caramel will still be too warm and will run off the tart.  When it is cool and you are ready to dive in, take a small rubber spatula, wet it, then run it around the edge of the skillet, loosening the crust and caramel.  Now take your plate or platter, lay it upside down over the top of the skillet, hold the pan and plate together like you would a sandwich, and then—FLIP!

tarte tatin

See? Ridiculously simple.  If you are terrified of pie crust or are in a terrible rush, buy a pack of Pillsbury, for heaven's sake.  But this dessert is just TOO easy to not make.  And yummyyyyyyyyy.

tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream

Have a wonderful holiday, all!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fall-ing for Scallopini: A Recipe for Chicken with Apple, Fennel & Thyme

I just got back from a visit to PA, right in time for the final "hurrah" of fall splendor.  The leaves on the drive down were just glorious.  My parents were having an Indian summer. The sun was shining almost every day.  The air smelled of dirt and decaying leaves.   It was exactly what I have always remembered autumn to be.

If only the visit were under better circumstances.  I drove down to be with my aunt Annie who had suddenly gotten quite ill.  She is home now, thank God; we are all very grateful.  But for a few days, things were quite scary.

My other aunt, Judy, came over for dinner one of those nights.  We were planning on going to the hospital right after we ate, so I wanted to make something quick and easy.  I decided on scallopini for ease, and in keeping with the beautiful fall weather, I chose to top it with apple, fennel, and thyme.

Aunt Judy loved it, so I decided to post the recipe for her.  This is another meal that you can really do whatever you want. Scallopini is any type of meat (although usually chicken or veal), thinly cut, and then sautéed.  You can top it off with whatever you choose, or just make a pan sauce like I taught you to make a few posts ago.  Or do both! It's all up to you.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.  Or create a different topper and share. We all would love to get some new ideas!

Chicken Scallopini with Apple, Fennel and Thyme

Serves 4

Special tools needed: large skillet, medium skillet, pie plate or cake pan, serving platter, foil

  • 4 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts, each one sliced crosswise into two 1/4-in. thick pieces (if large, cut them into 3 slices); pound to tenderize between two sheets of plastic wrap, if you have the time
  • 1 large apple-y apple that holds its shape when cooked (I used a Fuji), diced into 1/4-in. cubes
  • several sprigs worth of fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 small fennel/anise bulb, the hard root end cut off and tossed, the white part sliced very thinly (Tip: save the green part to use when you make stock)
  • 1/2 cup flour in a pie plate or cake pan (use almond flour to make it gluten-free)
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tblsp-ish olive oil
  • 2 Tblsp. butter
  • 1 Tblsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup water or dry white wine


1.  Salt and pepper both sides of each piece of chicken.  Turn the oven on to 200° for warming purposes.

2.  In the large skillet, heat the olive oil until it is hot and shimmery.  While it is heating, dump the flour into a pie plate or cake pan and dredge (that just means lightly coat by dragging) the first two chicken pieces (called cutlets) in the flour, making sure that both sides are coated.  Gently shake off any excess flour, then lay the chicken cutlets in the skillet and brown both sides of the meat, about 2 minutes per side.  I always watch for when the chicken becomes opaque halfway up the side; that's when I flip it.

3.  Move the two cooked cutlets to a plate and cover the plate with foil to hold the moisture in; put the plate in the oven to keep warm.  Repeat the process with the rest of the chicken, adding oil to the pan if you need to.

4.  When you are halfway done with the chicken cutlets (or you can do this step after the chicken is done), melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in the medium skillet over medium heat.  Add the apples and fennel, sprinkle on a little salt and pepper, and sauté until both are starting to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the thyme leaves and continue sautéing until the apples and fennel are golden, about another 5 minutes.

5.  Reheat the large skillet with all the browned bits in the bottom, then add about 1/2 cup of water or dry white wine to the skillet.  Simmer and scrape up all the yummy brown crud on the bottom of the pan, stirring to allow those bits to melt into a sauce.  When the water/wine has evaporated until only half is left, turn the stove off and stir in the tablespoon of butter until it has completely melted and slightly thickened the sauce.

6.  Arrange the chicken cutlets on a platter, pile the apples and fennel on top, then drizzle everything with the pan sauce. Serve!

Feel free to print the recipe by clicking on the image below.  (That is going to be project #2, once I'm done setting up the recipe index: creating printable recipes! If you find something you want a recipe for, let me know, and I'll create one for you.)

Happy November!

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