Herb Butter (or how I started to roast a turkey)

When we moved here to our little homestead, there was an under utilized deep freezer hanging out on the car port.  The previous owners claimed it didn’t work, but after a deep clean (that sadly did include bleach….) and the realization that one must plug it in to work, I was elated to have extra freezer storage.  And let me tell you, a well stocked freezer will get you through the best of times, and the worst of times.

About a year ago our local Kroger had an amazing sale on turkeys, and as Mom always says, for $5 it never hurts to have an extra turkey on hand.  And she’s right–at 39 cents a pound, that bird could have saved the day if I needed a big fancy meal or just needed to serve a crowd.  But a fancy crowd never came, and something had to be done about the bird.  This week seemed like the right time to tackle to project (and subsequent culinary projects) since I have a few more days off before I have to head back to work.

I like to start my turkey off by stuffing herb butter just under the skin on the breast.  It’s not glamorous work, but what it does is both season the meat and keep the bird from drying out.  I used a mixture of lemon zest, rosemary, thyme and local honey because I like those flavors with poultry, and I have a plethora of rosemary and thyme on my hands thanks to our little herb garden.  I finely chopped about 3-4 long stems worth of rosemary and thyme leaves, grated the zest of one lemon, and mashed them all together with a fork in with the softened butter.  After the initial mashing, I added about a tablespoon of honey to add a bit of sweetness and also give the turkey a little something more to caramelize while it was in the oven.  I saved the stems of the herbs to use with the zested lemon to stuff the bird (waste not want not!).

But herb butter isn’t just for moisturizing meats–I save about two tablespoons of it because it is a great way to jazz up a slice of bread, add flavor to a soup, or a fun way to add flavor to most anything that you would add butter to.  The flavor combinations are endless as well–sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil would be outstanding, or anything that you have on hand that you like together.

Plus it’s just pretty.  Look at it, all festive and delicious–takes any old day and makes it a little fancy. And let’s be honest–with the inevitable post-Christmas slump and a New Year creeping up on us, putting a little fancy on your table never hurt anyone.

And stay tuned–the turkey has been picked clean, and we’ve got homemade stock and pot pies coming our way!


Things that make you go ewww…

I think my mom still is a little grossed out by the fact that I don’t use bleach in our house.  She’s especially squeamish about our kitchen sink, and no matter how many times I assure her that it is clean I think she needs the bleach as a comfort blanket of cleaners.  More aptly, bleach is to my parents what Windex is to the family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Yesterday I had a whole raw turkey in our sink, and when all was said and done and the turkey was in the oven, the sink/counters required disinfecting/cleaning.  In a past life I would have reached for bleach and had a field day (and subsequently a huge headache), but yesterday we did a combo of hydrogen peroxide, my homemade lemon all purpose cleaner, baking soda to scrub the sink, and then red thyme oil in the sink.  What that combo does is disinfect and deep cleans effectively, but it does so using ingredients that are not as toxic as bleach, and are relatively cheap.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’ll never go back to using the other mainstream cleaners, and I’ll certainly never go back to using bleach.  Even just walking through that aisle in the grocery store brings on a twinge of a headache if I linger too long, and their simply not as effective as the homemade stuff.

So never fear, Mom–I promise e coli is not running rampant amongst the house, and I promise we’re keeping it clean here at the homestead.

(and more to come on the turkey soon!)


Cranberry Upside Down Cake

I come from the land of cranberries.  Growing up there never seemed to be a shortage of the tart and sweet berries.  I have always had a penchant for them, and I’m not picky as to what form they come in–dried, fresh, in the can, you name it and I like it.  And for me, it’s not quite the holidays without them.

This Christmas I was charged with contributing to the dessert table, and after much hemming and hawing I landed on the Cranberry Upside-Down Cake that I had scoped out in my mom’s newspaper during Thanksgiving.  It felt like the thing to bake for the holidays, and I was thrilled to try something new.  It turned out extra sweet and not too tart, and the batter was buttery and a great balance to the cranberries.  I would absolutely make this again, and it would be PHENOMENAL with some extra vanilla-y ice cream.

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from the November 23, 2011 New Hampshire Union Leader, Page C3  
8 TBS butter at room temperature 
1 cup sugar (divided)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
dash of nutmeg, ginger, and cloves
1 3/4 cup fresh cranberries
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk (or regular milk is fine!)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Rub bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan with 2 TBS butter.  In a small bowl, whisk 1/2 cup sugar and spices together, and then sprinkle evenly over the bottom of the pan.  Pour cranberries in next and shake pan to distribute them evenly over the pan.
Cream butter and 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy;  Add egg and vanilla and beat until well combined.  In a separate bowl combine flour, bp and salt.  Add flour mixture to butter mixture in batches, and then alternate adding with almond milk until well combined (batter will be nice and thick).
Spoon batter over the cranberries and smooth over the top.  Place on a cookie sheet and place in oven; bake 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center.  When done, remove from oven and cool on wire rack for 20 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a pretty serving plate.  

Apple Butter French Toast

Christmas morning was perfect here at the Homestead.  We woke up early and “Santa” had turned on the tree, started a fire in the fireplace, and even turned on the record player so that David’s music filled the house.  After some coffee and some presents, we whipped up some french toast with bread from the local bakery that my dear friend Tasha gave us.  It had dried cranberries, raisins, golden raisins and walnuts in it, and was just perfect topped with apple butter and maple syrup.

Photo credits today go to JGL–he’s super handy with that camera, and doesn’t give himself enough credit!

Apple-Butter French Toast
Adapted from Every Day Food, December 2011 edition, page 66
1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
3 large eggs
1 tbs cinnamon sugar
dashes of ginger, nutmeg and cloves
1 tsp vanilla
5 think sliced bread
1-2 tbs butter
apple butter
Confectioners sugar or maple syrup to top (optional)
Pre-heat oven to 250, and head up a cast iron skillet.  In a shallow dish combine the first 5 ingredients and whisk together.  Place slices of bread in egg mixture and let the bread soak up the moisture.  In hot skillet, melt butter.  When butter starts to brown, add soaked bread slices and cook on both sides until brown and crispy.  Transfer to wire rack in oven while the other slices cook in the skillet.  
To serve, layer slices on top of one another with apple butter in between.  Dust with confectioner sugar and top with maple syrup.  

Coffee Cake

Years ago my grandmother gave me a bundt pan.  When I first moved out on my own I brought it with me, and it has served me well over the years–creating cakes, ice rings, flower-pot holders–all the good things a good bundt pan should do.  This time of year it’s not quite the holidays in my family unless you’ve made a boatload of Gram’s Sour Cream Coffee Cakes, and the bundt pan, particularly THIS bundt pan, creates a perfectly shaped cake, and it bears all of the battle scars of a well-loved kitchen tool to prove it.

But I lost it.  I went to make cakes last year and couldn’t find the blessed thing.  I had a freak out, and tore apart every cabinet and every shelf in the house, and tried to retrace my bundt-steps, and finally concluded that the thing grew legs and walked off.  I was inconsolable for about 24 hours, and then tried to accept my failure at handling precious heirlooms, and then gave up on coffee cake making all together.

This week I made my mind up to suck it up, use the other bundt pan, and get on with my life.  I reached into the cabinet that holds those pans, wrapped my fingers around one and pulled, and much to my disbelief Gram’s pan came out.  I have no idea where it was hiding, but like an old friend with whom the conversation is easy no matter how long you’ve been apart, this pan and I kicked some serious coffee cake ass.

The batter for these comes together super quick, and it’s very easy to bust out several (I made six in one day…eep!) in one session.  I love giving them as neighborhood gifts, but they also make welcomed additions at potlucks, breakfasts, or my favorite, Christmas Morning Breakfast.

Gram’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake
1/4 lb butter
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla (or for a nice twist almond extract)
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Cream butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla.  Mix dry ingredients together in a separate bowl.  Add dry ingredients to the sugar mixture alternately with sour cream.  Put half of the batter into buttered tube pan, and sprinkle filling liberally over batter.  Put the other half of the batter on top, and then top with filling.  Bake at 375 oven for 35-40 minutes.  Cool on rack, sugared side up, then serve.  
GAL’s note on filling:  I mix this in triplicate in a small tupperware container so it’s always on hand.  Makes for great cinnamon sugar toast or for when you want to whip up a quick apple pie.  

Shallot Honey Dressing

We had an amazing dinner with friends last night, and I was trying desperately to come up with a fabulous side dish.  In the end (and after a major pastry failure–more later), I settled on a simple salad–mixed greens, dried cranberries, fresh grapes, apples, goat cheese, and topped with my favorite go to home made salad dressing, a Shallot Honey Dressing.

There’s not exact measurements, but the basic methodology is for one pint sized mason jar put in one chopped shallot, 1 tsp salt, pepper to taste, about 1/4 cup honey in the bottom of the jar.  Fill 2/3rds full with lemon juice, then top off with olive oil.  Shake and serve–it’s great during the summer, but certainly adds a nice balance to heavier dishes in the winter.

Fighting Daylight

I’m struggling here at the Homestead.

I know, poor pitiful me who was able to take a week off of work and go hang out with my family.  Life’s so not hard for me. But truth be told, I’m really having a heck of a time getting back into the rhythm of things here–I’m getting up late in the mornings, going to bed early, and I blame this whole lack of light thing while I’m at home.  It’s just barely bright when I leave, and it’s definitely dark when I come come.  And what I really want to do most is take pictures of the cold frame and the lettuce that is THRIVING outside despite the hard frosts, or to try and capture the holiday smorgasbord that has become our neighborhood.

Old man winter has just barely settled in, and I’m already itching to get out.

I have to remember that this is truly a perfect time to plan, a time to till up the back garden, a time snag manure at the barn here at work to put in said tilled garden, to make seed catalog lists, to install the freecycled grow lamp Dad passed down to us, and to map out what exactly everything will look like so we’re ready when the spring will eventually hit.  But that’s all weekend warrior stuff–so for now during the 9-5 rush I’m relishing sun soaked lunch-time walks at work, being very thankful for not one, but TWO windows in my office, and also trying to remember that we can find gardening bliss even in the smallest of Solo Cups–and as long as I have that, Old Man Winter’s got nothing on this GAL!


Roasted Brussels Sprouts (aka, this one’s for you, LR!)

I had never had a brussels sprout until Thanksgiving 2011.  I was pretty sure I was going to hate them, but in anticipation of our good friend LR potentially staying with us for the holiday, my mom was really excited to have them on the menu.  LR loves the things, so much so I ragged her endlessly with her love of them.

And I’m so, so sorry for all of it.  I take every stinkin’ one of them back, because brussels sprouts are freaking amazing.  Brussels sprouts mixed in with bacon and shallots are mind blowing.  And caramelized in a cast iron skillet?  Food-gasm.  Plain and simple, not only will we be attempting to grow these guys next spring, I’m pretty sure I’ve been inspired to plan my whole garden plan 2012 around a Thanksgiving Day feast.

This one’s for you, LR–we missed you on Thanksgiving, and I’ll make these for you when you come down to visit!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Shallots & Bacon

Adapted from Yankee Magazine November 2011 issue

  • 6 slices thick-cut bacon
  • 2-1/2 pounds small fresh Brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise
  • 8 medium-size shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
  • 2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup pecan halves
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (such as Pinot Grigio)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 400°. On the stovetop, preheat a large (14-inch) cast iron skillet on medium setting.

Cook bacon in preheated skillet, stirring often, until it begins to brown and fat has rendered.  Remove bacon and crumble. Add Brussels sprouts, shallots, salt, and pepper, and stir. Vegetables should look rather glossy, not dry.  Cook, with the flat side of the brussels sprouts touching the pan to get the most caramelization. Add crumbled bacon, and when the cut sides of the BS’s are golden, Stir in pecans and transfer pan to preheated oven.

Cook until vegetables are tender, 15-20 minutes. Remove pan from oven; add wine and rosemary, stirring to pick up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Serve warm.

**GAL’s notes:  if I were to make this again, I probably would have only put in the oven for about 10 minutes to keep the BS’s a little more vibrant.  Not sure if it was the Thanksgiving rush or what, but while ours were delicious, they were on a little on the mushy side.  Deliciously mushy, though!