Thanksgiving with Brine Roast Turkey and Desserts

This year we visited Peter’s parents in the Bay Area again for Thanksgiving, and as there were quite a few other guests invited to dinner, we naturally had a cook a feast.  Peter was put in charge of two very important things: fresh-baked bread and the turkey.  While the bread was not a problem, the turkey provided quite a challenge simply due to the sheer number of turkey recipes available on NPR, in Bon Appétit, Joy of Cooking, and every other recipe book, newspaper, and magazine in sight.  The main challenge, it seems, is cooking the dark meat for long enough to get it to 165 degrees F while not drying out the white meat.  My response to this, it seems, was to suggest that we make the whole turkey more most by soaking it in salty water overnight.  What was I thinking? Well, it turns out that the concept of soaking a turkey in brine before roasting is quite popular, but not exactly new.  We used a recipe originally from Alice Waters printed in the San Francisco Chronicle that had been tried and tested by a friend of Peter’s mother.  Below is the original recipe, along with the list of ingredients we changed and left out, on purpose or accidentally.  Despite the need for a bowl the size of turkey and a whole cup of salt, the brining process was quite easy and the turkey turned out quite moist, despite our best efforts to destroy it.  In fact, if we overcooked anything, it was the dark meat.

Brine Roast Turkey
12-16 lb turkey
2 1/2 gallons cold water
2 cups salt
1 cup sugar
2 bay leaves, crushed
1 bunch or 4 tablespoons dried thyme
1 whole head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
5 whole allspice berries, crushed
4 juniper berries, smashed

1)  Put the water in a large bowl or pot (make sure it fits the turkey too) and mix in all the other ingredients until the salt and sugar are dissolved.  Add the turkey and make sure it is submerged completely, holding it down with a heavy plate if necessary.  Refrigerate the turkey in the brine for 24 hours.

2)  Take the turkey out of the brine, drain well, and pat dry.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Massage 2 tablespoons of soft butter and 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper over the skin and in the cavity of the turkey.  Put an aluminum foil tent over the breast meat of the turkey and put it in the oven in a roasting pan with sides high enough to catch the juices of the turkey as it cooks.

3)  After the first hour of baking, remove the aluminum foil tent and baste the turkey using any turkey drippings/juice.  Baste the turkey every 20 minutes from then on.  The turkey is done when the internal temperature of the turkey thigh is 165 degrees F, which should take 1 3/4 – 2 1/4 hours, depending on the size of the bird.

Our actual brine had the following things:
1 gallon water
1 cup salt
Bay leaves, crushed
Thyme and allspice powder
1/2 head of garlic

Even though we cooked our 12 lb turkey for 2 1/4 hours the white meat was still moist.  Since we completely forgot to include the sugar in the brine, I think we may have to try this recipe again next year without omitting so many ingredients.  We used less brine overall than the recipe called for because the bowl we used only held that much in addition to the turkey.  Needless to say I look forward to turkey leftovers over the weekend.

In addition to delicious bread and turkey, we also made rice stuffing, roasted vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onions, and beets), baked apples, and biscotti.  Other guests brought pumpkin coconut soup, a pumpkin pie, an apple pie, a tossed salad, and green beans with almonds.  Did I mention we ate well?

Two of our Thanksgiving crew are vegan and one is gluten-intolerant, so baked apples without crust or butter seemed like a safe bet.  We mixed these tart green apples with brown sugar and cinnamon before arranging them in a couple of pie tins.

For some reason we were worried that we wouldn’t have enough desserts, so we made biscotti at the last moment.  What deliciousness!  I was secretly happy that we forgot to put them out after dinner in the excitement of all the other desserts, because then I got to eat them with my morning tea for the next three days.

One of the joys of baking at Peter’s parents’ house?  A legitimate kitchen aid to do all the hard work.  Am I a little jealous?  Perhaps, but then I realize there’s nowhere to fit a kitchen aid in my kitchen and I’m happy that I don’t have the luxury of making such a difficult choice.

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Homemade Almond Milk

If I can’t own a cow, at least I can buy raw almonds at the Farmer’s Market and make my own milk.  Even though I have been drinking soy and almond milk since I was very little, I had no idea it was so easy to make your own.  Enter Fieldguided and their link to a rather beautiful video about how to make your own nut milk by My New Roots.  Since buying a nutmilk bag (just a fine-meshed bag to strain the nut milk from the nut pulp), we have not been out of almond milk in our apartment for almost two weeks.  The only hard part is remembering to start soaking the almonds 8 hours before you actually get to make the nutmilk, which I am so bad at that I painted a fridge magnet to remind me.  The following recipe is the procedure for making any kind of nut milk, but I have only experimented with almonds so far.

Homemade Almond Milk
(Makes 4 cups almond milk)
1 cup raw almonds
Water
Nutmilk bag or other contraption for straining the nutmilk from the nutpulp

There are just a few easy steps to making almond milk:
Step 1:  Soak the almonds in enough water to cover them by a few inches for 8 hours.
Step 2:  Drain the almonds and rinse them until the water runs clear.
Step 3:  Blend the soaked almonds with 4 cups of cold water in a food processor or blender for about a minute.  I only have a small food processor, so I have to do this step in batches.
Step 4:  Line a clean container in which you’d like to keep the nutmilk with a nutmilk bag.  Pour the nutmilk and nutpulp into the nutmilk bag.
Step 5:  Squeeze the nutmilk bag so that you get all the nutmilk out of the nutpulp.
Step 6:  Drink the nutmilk within 3-4 days and do something with the nutpulp, such as making almond pulp cookies (recipe below).
So what is one to do with the 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups of almond pulp?  Well, I’ve now had a couple batches of almond pulp to deal with and I can suggest that at least one fun thing to do with it is to make “almond meal” cookies.  I just substituted the almond pulp for almond meal/flour in gluten-free almond flour recipes.  Here is one basic combination of ingredients (adapted from a recipe on Paleoz.com):

Almond Pulp Cookies
1 1/2 cups almond pulp (or whatever you are left over with after making almond milk)
1/4 – 1/3 cups honey
1/4 cups olive oil or other less flavored oil
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Chocolate chips for chocolate chip cookies OR lots of spices for spice cookies
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Mix all the ingredients until well-mixed.  I used lots of ground ginger, some cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg to make ginger-spice cookies.   Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and make little mounds of cookie dough.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the cookies are cooked through.  These almost have the texture of muffins, and I have no problem eating them for breakfast.

Lemon Pancakes with Potato Flour

Tapioca starch down on those delicious cheese puffs, and only potato flour to go… on my quest to use up the gluten-free flours that will soon be stale and unfit for baking adventures.  Again the King Arthur Flour blog saved me, this time with some of the most delicious pancakes I’ve ever eaten (except my Dad’s of course, a recipe that he has memorized and made for weekend breakfasts for as long as I can remember).  These pancakes are lemony and fluffy.  I made a very tart lemon syrup to go on top of them that could only be eaten in small quantities (yes, it was that intense).  The original recipe called for potato flour and cornmeal and was thus gluten-free.  As I didn’t have cornmeal, I substituted a coarsely-ground whole wheat flour that we buy from the Farmer’s Market, and which provided a somewhat comparable texture.

Lemon Pancakes with Potato Flour
3/4 cups potato starch
1/2 cups coarse whole-wheat flour
3 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/8 teaspoon xanthan gum
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cups milk
1 – 2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
Combine the ingredients and let the batter sit for 10-15 minutes (this resting period is important for gluten-free baking).  Heat a skillet or griddle and cook the pancakes for 1-2 minutes per side.  I usually cook my pancakes in butter because it tastes just so good, but I’m sure canola oil would work.  Enjoy with syrup, powdered sugar, honey, or fruit and maybe whipped cream!

The lemon syrup I made was essentially the juice of one lemon, a tablespoon or more honey, dash of salt, and a teaspoon of corn starch.  I cooked the syrup until it was thickened, adding a bit of more water when too much of the syrup had boiled off.  It was very tart, but somehow perfect on these pancakes.

And now, for other things I’ve been enjoying recently.  First, oven-roasted broccoli spears and thinly sliced carrots, drizzled in honey to make them caramelized:

Second, attempting to make homemade nut butter.  I started with some hazelnuts, but they never got very creamy.  I added cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and honey to make a sort of homemade nutella, but this would have worked much better with oilier, or perhaps just fresher, nuts.  Almond “nutella” coming soon!

Finally, after eating too many chocolate chips, I thought I would melt them and mix the melted chocolate with a little milk and some nuts to make my own chocolate nut clusters.  These are delicious!  They’re also dangerous, not only because then I eat them all, but also because dealing with the hot bowl of chocolate has added a total of two scars to my not otherwise unblemished fingers.  My favorite so far is a mix of walnuts and almonds made with Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips and a bit of homemade almond milk.

Apple Dutch Babies

That’s right, here at Black Holes for Breakfast we like to feast on the blood of Christian babes. OK, fine, I actually have no idea why they’re called Dutch Babies, nor does anyone I’ve talked to, Dutchman or not. They make for a delicious and remarkably simple Sunday breakfast–and the simple part is why this is a guest post from your favorite guest-poster, Peter.

This recipe starts off delicious with apples cooked in butter and honey, and just gets better. The only problem I have is waiting for it to cool. Without further ado, therefore, I present you with the recipe, as adapted from The Commonsense Kitchen:

Apple Dutch Babies
Apples:
3-4 tablespoons butter
3 large tart apples, sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey (or sugar)

Batter:
3 large eggs
3/4 cups milk
3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Melt the butter in a cast iron skillet. When hot and bubbling, add apples, then spices and honey. Stir intermittently for 10 or so minutes, until the apples are soft but still holding their shape. Meanwhile, prepare the batter by whisking the ingredients in a bowl until smooth. When ready, pour the batter into the skillet and immediately put the skillet into the oven. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake for 8 or 9 minutes more, until (you guessed it) golden brown. Enjoy!

Notes:

Four tablespoons of butter is probably a bit excessive (but wonderful), so I usually put in whatever chunk of butter is convenient. When I don’t have cinnamon I put in cloves and nutmeg, and sometimes I just put in all three when I feel like it. If the pancake puffs up in the first 10 or 15 minutes of baking you should deflate it by poking it with a fork, but as I usually use heavier whole wheat flour this isn’t an issue. The recipe says to wait for it to cool to room temperature so that the flavor of the apples becomes stronger, but we’ve never been that patient. Finally, in the original cookbook this is actually a variation on the plain Dutch Baby, which omits the apples, and then instructs you to serve hot with jam, syrup, or powdered sugar. That is delicious as well, but if you have apples, why not use them?

Epic Macaroni and Cheese (With Veggies of Course!)

This was a potential experiment that I only followed up on because the host of movie night said he liked broccoli.  But boy am I glad I did!  Peter did most of the work while I was busy de-antifying the house (also called cleaning by other people who don’t have the occasional attack of tiny black specks).  I came into the kitchen just in time to pulverize a couple things in the food processor and put the pretty colored veggies together… my timing was perfect!  If you don’t already follow 101 Cookbooks, I encourage you to stop by, if only for the version of this recipe I used (originally from Hungry? The innocent recipe book for filling your family with good stuff by Anna Jones, Vanessa Hattersley, and innocent).  Not only does the food blog feature delicious recipes focusing on whole grains and vegetables, but Heidi sometimes posts “Favorites Lists” of random links she likes, keeping me thoroughly entertained for entire evenings of internet surfing.

Epic Macaroni and Cheese Featuring Broccoli, Basil, Cherry Tomatoes, and Winter Squash in a Sauce of Cheesy Goodness
1 winter squash (kabocha or butternut… acorns are a pain to peel), peeled and cubed
3 cups whole wheat pasta, curlicue or macaroni shaped
2 slices toasted bread
1 bunch basil leaves
Olive oil
1/2 medium head of broccoli, roughly chopped (to fit in food processor)
4 tablespoons sour cream
1 heaping handful orange cherry tomatoes
1 3/4 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 3/4 cups grated gouda cheese
Salt
This has many steps, so I’m gonna break it down.  But start by preheating the oven to 400 degrees F.
1) Mix cubed winter squash with olive oil and salt and bake on a baking tray for 20-30 minutes, until cooked through.
2) Cook the pasta until al dente (the pasta will cook a tiny bit more when the whole casserole is baked).  Drain the pasta and mix with a bit of olive oil to keep the pasta from sticking together, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water for later use.
3) Make the topping: in a food processor pulverize the toasted bread, half the basil leaves, the broccoli, and a generous drizzle olive oil until pieces are crumb-sized.
4) Start the sauce for the macaroni and cheese: in a food processor pulverize the cherry tomatoes and the other half of the basil until the tomatoes are just broken up.  Mix with sour cream and the cheese.
5) Mix the pasta, sauce, and squash: mix the pasta with the tomato-cheese sauce from step (4). Add enough of the pasta cooking water for the sauce to be the consistency of cream (the final bake will allow the pasta to soak up more liquid). Add the baked winter squash. Add salt!
6) Assemble the casserole: put the pasta/sauce mixture into the desired oiled baking dish. Top with the broccoli-basil-bread topping.  Optional: top with additional halved cherry tomatoes.
7) Bake the casserole for 20-30 minutes.