A Smoked Turkey Makes Quite the Savory Gift

     One of the most delicious gifts that we received this Christmas was a mesquite smoked turkey prepared by dear friends on Christmas Eve.  Turns out that a smoked turkey is the gift that keeps on giving.

Don’t let the blackened crust scare you.

     After being the centerpiece of our Christmas dinner, the carcass became 26 cups of smoked turkey stock the next day.  I placed two cups each into quart freezer bags, then placed them on a tray to put in the freezer.

Now I’ve have stock in convenient amounts that will serve as the basis for many a smoked soup in the coming winter months.

     I also had enough leftover meat to make three casseroles.  In addition to the family favorite, Tamale Casserole, which was particularly delicious with the smoky flavor, I experimented with a basic turkey and wild rice casserole recipe that I found on Cooks.com.  With some simple adjustments, I added a bit of green to this otherwise very white dish and got loads of compliments to go with it.

Turkey with Wild Rice and Spinach Casserole

1 medium onion, chopped
8 0z. sliced mushrooms
1/2 C butter
1/4  C flour
1 1/2 C chicken or turkey stock
1 1/2 C half and half
3 C cooked turkey, cut up
1 box Uncle Ben’s Original Wild Rice
8 oz. package chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dried of as much water as possible
1/2 C slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350° and lightly grease a 2 quart casserole dish.

Cook onions and mushrooms in butter over low heat, stirring frequently, until onions are transluscent but not browned.  Gradually stir in flour until thickened and well blended.  When it begins to bubble, stir in the stock and half and half.  When blended, bring to a boil while stirring constantly.  Once boiling, continue to stir for one minute.

Remove from heat and stir in spinach, wild rice and seasoning packet and turkey.  Pour into prepared casserole and cover with aluminum foil.  Bake for one hour.  Remove aluminum foil, sprinkle evenly with almonds and bake for an additional 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool slightly.

Serves 6-8.

     So many delicious dinners from one little ol’ bird.  What a wonderful gift!


Share Your Sweet Side with Peppermint Cookie Trays

     While baking Christmas cookies is always a tradition around our house, the kind of cookies that we bake is not.  Every year something new comes out of the oven, and this year is no different.  Not surprisingly, this year’s inspiration came from Pinterest and a post from the blog, Joy the Baker, forwarded by my dear friend who had also forwarded on the letter from the Newtown PTA about the Sandy Hook snowflakes.

     When the flour and powdered sugar dust had settled over the weekend, we had Peppermint Trays filled with these:

Peppermint Meltaways

Rosemary Clementine Thumbprints

Blueberry Banana Mini-Muffins

Red Velvet Black & White Cookies

A few filled trays were gifts to neighbor students studying for exams.  The rest of the cookies are being inhaled right here at home.

     The Black & Whites are definitely this year’s favorite, no doubt because they are the most time-consuming to make. I really like the grown-up, not-so-sweet flavor of the Thumbprints. The Meltaways were super-simple and are egg-free, while the mini-muffins are an old Southern Living recipe that I have been making in a variety of sizes for years.

     Next up on the baking agenda:  Christmas Morning Scones.  In addition to Cheddar and Canadian Bacon Scones, I’ll be trying Cranberry Pumpkin Scones using the basic scone recipe but substituting ½ cup pumpkin for the sour cream.  What are you baking this Christmas?

P.S.  The Rosemary Clementine Thumbprints and the Red Velvet Black & White Cookies were prepared for a blogger cookie swap with Ina Garten for Better Homes and Gardens.  Can you imagine being one of those lucky bloggers?  What a Christmas gift!

Fresh Strawberry Bundt Cake: No Jello Required

     All I wanted was a simple cake recipe to use up the beautiful local strawberries that I cannot resist buying by the quart at my local.

On-line searching proved to be such an eye-opening disappointment.  It seemed like every recipe called for a box of strawberry-flavored gelatin.  Why would anyone put jello into a cake?

     Just the thought of the strawberry-flavored sugary mix makes me think of pink fingers from swim meets of my youth.  Who came up with the idea to stick your finger into a box of the stuff to give you energy anyway?  Have you looked at the ingredients?  Strawberry-flavored gelatin mix contains sugar, gelatin, fumaric acid, sodium citrate, salt, artificial flavor, potassium sorbate (mold inhititor), FD & C red #4, dimethylpolysiloxane (prevents foam).  Enough to make your teeth crawl, right?

     Fortunately there are a couple of other blogging moms who agree, and I found inspiration from Week of Menus for this simple Fresh Strawberry Bundt Cake that turns out moist and has nothing artificial about it.

Fresh Strawberry Bundt Cake

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups white whole-wheat flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
½ cup sour cream
½ cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups diced strawberries

Preheat oven to 350°.  Butter and lightly dust inside of 10-inch bundt pan with confectioner’s sugar.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.  In a separate bowl, blend together sour cream, coconut milk and vanilla.  Set both aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add butter and beat on medium speed with a paddle attachment for 2 minutes or until fluffy.  Gradually add sugar, then eggs one at a time.  Reduce speed to low and beginning and ending with the flour mixture, alternatively add it by quarters and the sour cream mixture by thirds until all have been incorporated into batter.  Remove bowl from stand mixer and gently fold in strawberries.  Transfer batter to prepared pan.  Place in center of oven and bake for about one hour until tester inserted near center comes out clean.

Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes before inverting onto wire rack.  No frosting is needed, but you could always dust it with confectioner’s sugar or after the cake cools completely add something like my Double Cream Frosting.

     The perfect snack cake for the family, this simple dessert would also be perfect for a spring brunch. Fresh and berry-liscious:  just what a strawberry cake should be.

All photos by Avad Fan.

Slow-Cooked Beouf Bourguignon Can Be Quick and Easy Plus Elegant

      Ever since dropping by Dana Gibson‘s relocated eponymous shop and studio on Horsepen Road last week, I haven’t been able to get these good-looking crockpots out of my mind.

A friendly creative force, Dana sells her beautiful ceramics and other home decor items in high-end specialty stores throughout the country, and she has now licensed two of her trademark designs to Hamilton Beach, which had the inspired idea to dress up its 6-quart utilitarian slow-cooker.  These are so pretty that you could leave one of them sitting out on your counter all of the time if you are a crockpot aficionado.

      I am really not such an aficionado because most of the recipes that I have read call for either too much pre-pot preparation or cream soups.  I have absolutely no patience for browning the meat in one pan before transferring it to the crockpot.  I do have one crockpot recipe, though, that is truly superb not only because it comes together in about 10 minutes max, but also because it tastes as good as it makes my house smell while it is cooking.

      This recipe was featured years ago in the weekly, syndicated Desperation Dinners column that used to run in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  I still use a handful of the D.D. recipes that got me through the years of heavy afternoon carpooling that defined my life as a younger mother.  This version of French beef stew tastes nothing like desperation and would be absolutely fabulous cooking on your countertop in one of Dana’s fancy crockpots.

Slow-Cooking Boeuf Bourguignon

1 can (14 ounces) reduced-sodium, fat-free beef stock
1 cup burgundy wine or other full-bodied red wine
¼ cup water
1 envelope
(1.2 ounces) plain brown gravy mix, such as Knorr
2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
2 bay leaves
¾ teaspoon dried thyme
5 slices already cooked bacon, (see note)
1 large onion (for about 1 cup chopped)
20 baby carrots
8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms
2 pounds beef cubes for stew, well marbled
1 bag (16 ounces) frozen small whole onions,  or 1 jar small whole onions, drained (not pickled onions)
Salt to taste, if desired
3 tablespoons cornstarch
5-6 ounces rinsed and dried baby spinach leaves (optional)

Pour the beef broth, wine and water into the crock of a 4½-quart or larger slow cooker.  Pour the powdered gravy from the envelope into the broth mixture, and whisk until any lumps disappear.  Sprinkle the garlic, bay leaves and thyme over the broth.

Cut bacon into 1/4-inch pieces.  (Do not crisp bacon first.)  Scatter bacon in the crock.  Peel and coarsely chop the onion.  Scatter the onion pieces, baby carrots and sliced mushrooms evenly in the crock.  Place beef cubes evenly over vegetables, and press down and stir as necessary to make sure most of the beef is submerged in the broth mixture.  Add whole onions to the crock.  Cover the crock, and cook on the low setting for 8 hours.  (The stew can cook on low as long as 9 hours.)

Before serving, remove lid and stir stew well.  Remove bay leaves, and taste the broth and season with salt, if desired.  Mix the cornstarch and 3 tablespoons of water in a jar that has a lid.  Shake well until mixture is smooth and no lumps remain.  Pour mixture evenly over stew.  (The stew needs to be hot when you do this step.)  Stir well.  (Optional:  Add spinach onto top of the stew after mixing in the cornstarch liquid.  It will wilt and can then be stirred in as the gravy thickens.)  Continue stirring from time to time until stew reaches desired thickness, about 5 minutes.

Serve in  6 bowls.

Start to finish: 10 minutes preparation, plus 8 hours unattended cooking time.

From “Slow cookers perfect for fast-paced lives”, Desperation Dinners, October 6, 2004, by Beverly Mills with Alicia Ross, syndicated by United Features Syndicate Inc.

      This dish is elegant and tasty enough to serve to guests.  It may not be Julia Child, but Slow-Cooking Boeuf Bourguignon will leave you relaxed, sated and proud.  You can choose whether to let your diners know how easy it truly is to make.

All photos but the first by Avad Fan.

The Perfect Flourless Chocolate Love Cake: Chocolate-Almond Soufflé Torte

     February is another month filled with celebrations.  Between Valentine’s Day and birthdays, there are so many excuses around here to indulge in cake.  But what can you do if a loved one or friend is one of the many who are gluten-free?  Answer:  the Chocolate-Almond Soufflé Torte that I have been baking for years.  This is no meager substitute for a real cake.  It is rich and chocolatey and soul-satisfying.

Chocolate-Almond Soufflé Torte

     I made this one for C’s early birthday girlfriend celebration at the Rivah this past weekend.  In addition to tasting divine, it can be prepared a couple of days ahead and travels well in its pan.  Just whip up some cream with amaretto at your destination, and you have an impressive finish to any celebration dinner.

1 cup (about 5 ounces) whole almonds, toasted, cooled
2 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing pan and parchment paper
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 large eggs, separated, room temperature
1 cup chilled whipping cream
2 tablespoons amaretto or 1 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons powdered sugar, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup almond slices, toasted

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F.  Butter 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides and dust with cocoa powder.  Shake out excess powder.  Line bottom of pan with parchment paper; butter paper.

Combine 1/2 cup whole almonds and 2 tablespoons sugar in processor.  Using on/off turns, grind nuts finely.  Transfer mixture to bowl.  Combine remaining 1/2 cup whole almonds and vegetable oil in processor.  Process until mixture is thick and pasty (consistency will be similar to that of peanut butter), scraping bowl frequently, about 3 minutes.

Stir butter and 1/2 cup whipping cream in heavy large saucepan over medium heat until butter melts and mixture simmers.  Remove from heat.  Add chocolate and whisk until smooth.  Stir in both almond mixtures.  Cool slightly.

Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in large bowl until soft peaks form.  Gradually add 1/3 cup sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Beat egg yolks in another large bowl until very pale and thick, about 5 minutes.  Gradually beat chocolate mixture into egg yolks.  Fold in egg whites in 3 additions.

Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake cake until sides crack and puff and tester inserted into center comes out with moist batter attached, about 35 minutes.  Transfer cake to rack.  Cool cake to room temperature, about 2 hours (center will fall slightly as cake cools.)  Cover and refrigerate.  Can be prepared up to 4 days in advance.

Beat chilled cream, amaretto and 2 tablespoons powdered sugar in large bowl until soft peaks form.  Tip:  chill bowl and beaters in freezer before whipping.

Run small sharp knife around pan sides to loosen cake.  Release pan sides.  If desired, dust cake with powdered sugar and sprinkle toasted almond slices around top edge of cake.  Dollop slices with whipped amaretto cream.  Serve chilled  for a dense, fudgey texture or at room temperature for a creamy texture.

Serves 12 to 14.

Slightly modified from Chocolate-Almond Soufflé Torte, Bon Appétit  | February 1997, and found here.

Slice of Chocolate-Almond Heaven

     Show your sweetie the love with this chocolate confection.

All photos by Avad Fan.

Warm ‘Em Up with Dijon Chicken Stew

     Since the cooking marathon of the holidays, I really haven’t been inspired to do anything in the kitchen beyond the simplest food preparation.  The to-do list from my New Year’s resolutions has gotten in the way, as well.  When we finally got a bit of a cold spell this past weekend, though, I was finally compelled to pull out the Le Creuset pot and get something aromatic stewing on the cooktop.

     One of my go-to cold weather recipes was published as Dijon Chicken Stew with Potatoes and Kale in the Richmond Times-Dispatch 6 years ago.  I cannot find it in their archives, so I have no one to whom I can attribute this melt-in-your-mouth dish.  If that chef should stumble upon this post, please reveal yourself so that I can give you proper attribution, as well as my thanks for this favorite.

     Unlike most of the other recipes featured on Avad Fan, this one is not quick, but what good stew recipe ever is?  It takes at least an hour and forty minutes from pulling out the pan to putting it on the table.  Over an hour of the time is spent simmering, so the home chef is not busy all of the time, but she should plan ahead and not try to prepare it when she has a busy afternoon of carpools.  Fortunately, the ingredient list is very manageable.

1 teaspoon PLUS 1 tablespoon olive oil

Don't forget to soak and rinse your leeks to get all the grit out.

2 cups sliced leeks
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup PLUS 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs,
  cut into bite-sized pieces
½ lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast,
  cut into bite-sized pieces
½ teaspoon salt, divided
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper,
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken broth, divided
1½ cups water
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 cups ½-inch cubed, peeled white potato,
  about 1 pound
5-6 ounces fresh spinach or kale leaves, washed
Crushed red pepper, optional

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add leeks; sauté 6 minutes or until tender and golden brown.  Add garlic; sauté 1 minute.  Spoon leek mixture into a large bowl.

Place 1/3 cup flour in a shallow bowl or pie plate.  Dredge chicken in flour, shaking off excess.  Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in pan over medium-high heat.  Add half of chicken mixture; sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper.  Cook 6 minutes, browning on all sides.  Add browned chicken to leek mixture.  Repeat procedure with remaining chicken mixture, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper.

Add wine to pan, scraping pan to loosen browned bits.  Combine 1 cup broth and 1 tablespoon flour, stirring with a whisk until smooth.  Add broth mixture, remaining 2 cups broth, water and mustard to pan; bring to a boil.  Stir in chicken and leeks, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and remaining ¼ teaspoon black pepper.  Cover and simmer 30 minutes.

Stir in potato.  Cover and simmer for another 30 minutes or until potato is tender.  Stir in spinach; cover and simmer 10 minutes.  Garnish with crushed red pepper if desired.

Makes six 1½-cup servings.

     When the cooking is done, you have a healthy and delicious winter stew that the whole family will enjoy.  What a warm and wonderful way to start off a February week.  Bon Appétit!

Photos by Avad Fan.

Making 50 Fabulous Thanks to The Inn at Little Washington

     Yes, the big number arrived yesterday.  It’s a little hard to stomach, but the Hub made it much easier to face with a splurge trip to The Inn at Little Washington.  For years, my dear friend A has wistfully described this Virginia treasure as the most desirable of escapes.  With only a single night to spare, the two hour backroads drive from Richmond made for a perfect getaway.

     Well known by D.C. insiders who are only an hour away from the cellularly-remote hamlet of Washington, Virginia, highly acclaimed chef Patrick O’Connell‘s Inn is nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains, but don’t let its rural location fool you.  It offers tasteful opulence and the finest cutting edge American Cuisine.  Even before we arrived, the warm and professional staff was preparing for my birthday celebration.

     Starting with an upgrade to a beautiful loft suite, everyone at this Relais & Châteaux property made sure that we were pampered during our entire stay.  While the primary focus at The Inn is on the amazing food, comfort and luxury in the room has not been overlooked.  With everything and more that you would expect at a Five Diamond and Five Star restaurant and inn, my new decade has started in style.  How can I bemoan such a big number when it was so decadently recognized at this paragon of hospitable excellence?

All photos by Avad Fan.