November 30, 2010

Breakfast for Champions

I will get back to Thanksgiving recipes in a bit, but I had to write about the best breakfast I've had in months.  You may think I'm going to write about my love for bacon, eggs and waffles - the typical breakfast for champions.  Nope!  For the past week, breakfast for the Tso's have been Nutella toast with bananas.  Protein:  Nutella.  Fruit: Bananas.  Bread: Toast.  Check, check and check!  Plus, this is super fast to make and only requires three ingredients!  (Note, don't use butter on your toast!)
Let me talk about Nutella for a moment.  I adore Nutella.  If you don't know what this is, I'm incredibly sorry and order you to go to the store immediately, have a taste and then you will understand the greatness that is Nutella.  I first discovered this when I was in London several years ago and would have it with anything and everything.  Nutella on toast after a late night out, Nutella crepe with fruit, Nutella on a spoon.  I die.  I love the creaminess, the hazelnut flavor and how it isn't too overly sweet. I love it so much, it deserves a picture on its own:

November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010 Part 2: Brussel Sprouts w/Bacon

I love brussel sprouts and during my weekly grocery visits, I tend to gravitate towards those mini cabbages.  These have consistently been on our holiday menu for the past few years, and each year, we make slight adjustments.  We've roasted, we've boiled, we've steamed, we've added pinenuts, we've added pancetta, we've added proscuitto, we've added orange...  So many variations, but I think this year's recipe could be it.  So good!

Brussel Sprouts w/Bacon

2 lbs brussel sprouts (We had two large quart containers from the store so I'm estimating two lbs)
3 strips of bacon cut into small cubes (if you used the thanksgiving turkey recipe, save three strips for this dish as well)
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
1/4 of an onion, sliced into thin strips

1. Clean and cut the hard end off of each brussel sprout. Boil a large pot of salted water. Once boiling, add the brussel sprouts and cook for 2 minutes - no more!  Take out and put into a large bowl of iced water - to spot the cooking process immediately.  Once they are cooled enough for you to handle, but each into quarters (you can leave whole, cut into halves, whatever you prefer).
2. I like to cut up my bacon, onion and garlic before cooking (picture below is the bacon, garlic for both my brussel sprouts and green bean dish). 
3. Add the bacon to a pan and heat up.  Let it crisp up (roughly 4 minutes) before adding the garlic and onions.  Let this cook for another 5-7 minutes until the onions and garlic are soft.  Continually mix this so nothing overcooks or burns. Add just a tad of salt (bacon should have added some saltiness) and freshly ground pepper.
4. Add in the brussel sprouts and mix well.  Let the flavors coat the brussel sprouts and have a quick taste.  Add some more S&P if you need.

Optional:  You can add in roasted pinenuts.  You can also then put these on a pan and put them under the broiler to let the brussel sprouts crispen up a bit.  Lastly, you can also add a small drizzel of balsamic vinegar (not to be mistaken w/balsamic dressing...) and lightly toss.


November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010 Part 1: Turkey Brine Success!

Look at that Turkey.  Thanksgiving dinner was a success!  With only five people this year for Thanksgiving, we made sure to portion control what we cooked to avoid a week's worth of leftovers. This year's Thanksgiving was spent in Dallas with my sister, brother in law and my new niece so cooking in a different kitchen in an apartment also played a factor.  No brand new recipes (except the turkey brine) and enhanced current recipes. 

Thanksgiving 2010 Dinner consisted of:
-Brined turkey
-Green beans
-Brussel sprouts
-Mashed potatoes
-Apple crisp

I'll post those recipes in the coming week but first, the most important Thanksgiving defining dish: the TURKEY.

I've never brined a turkey but have heard several friends highlight their success with it.  Our maple glazed bacon turkey was a success two years ago, but I do have to admit, the white meat is always a little dry.  I received a note from a colleague for a brining recipe found on her aunt's food blog here.  I followed most of the brine recipe (few changes) but did not follow the cooking directions - I went back to the maple and bacon recipe we used in the past, which was from my friend, Linds.  You may remember her from guest blog post of delicious chocolate chip cookies.  

The result?  Ooo-eee.  The meat was deliciously tender and moist.  I don't normally like white meat but I didn't mind eating that this year because it tasted so good.  I think brining will be a must at every Thanksgiving moving forward.  Please share your brining recipes if you have done it before.

Brined Turkey Cooked with Bacon and Maple

For the brine (which you must do two days before Thanksgiving: 1 day to brine and 1 day to rest):
Recipe adapted from Carol Blonder

12-14 lb fresh turkey
8 thick slices of fresh ginger
4 bay leaves
1 Tbsp allspice
6 whole cloves
3 cups apple cider
3 cups water
2/3 cup salt
2/3 brown sugar
1 orange, washed and quarter (keep the skin)

For the turkey:
Recipe adapted from my friend, Linds

8-10 slices bacon (whatever flavor you want)
2 bunches of fresh sage
3/4 stick of butter (soften to room temp)
Zest of one orange
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup white wine
1 head of garlic (sliced in half)

Brining Process (two days before Thanksgiving):
1. Put the cider, water, salt, ginger, bay leaves, spices, clove into a pot and bring to a boil.  Take off stove and let it sit until it comes to room temperature. 
2. Wash and pat dry your turkey.  Remove the gibblets and such.  Trim off any excess fat. Put it in a large zip lock bag (or a large stock pot to fit the turkey and have liquid enough to cover).  Take the orange quarters and put into the cavity.  
3. Pour the cool/room temp. brine into the bag and let the turkey sit in the fridge for 24 hours.  I flipped the bag halfway through this to ensure the brine is absorbed on each side.
4. After 24 hours, discard the brine, wash and pat dry the turkey. I covered the turkey with wrap and put it back into the fridge for another 12-24 hours. 

Turkey Day (Sorry for the lack of pictures on this part but my hands were too greasy to stop and take pictures at every stop):
1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

2. Take turkey out about 1 hour prior to cooking.  Place turkey into a roasting rack - if you don't have one (like me), I used an turkey aluminum pan and used slices of potatoes and oranges underneath the turkey so it was slightly raised from the bottom of the pan since you'll be pour liquid into the bottom (pic below). Tuck the wings underneath so they do not burn.  Cut the entire head of garlic in half horizontally (don't worry about the skin) and put inside the cavity with the orange quarters you already had from the brine.
3. In a bowl, mix up the soften/room temperature butter, chopped/minced sage, orange zest, S&P.  With your fingers, gently separate the skin from the turkey around the breast area.  Taking a big spoonful of the mixed butter, put under the skin and then using your fingers (on the outside) "massage" the butter so it spreads.  Put butter into every nick and cranny you can. 

4.  Wrap the top of the chicken and legs with the bacon.  Lightly pepper.  Pour the chicken broth and the white wine into the bottom of the pan.
5. Bake in the oven at 475 degrees for 30 minutes.  Then turn down the heat to 350 degrees.  Take the chicken out real quick and baste with the maple syrup (i only baste the bacon).  Put back in oven with a sheet of aluminum foil loosely on top (so the bacon doesn't burn to a crisp) and cook for approximately 3.5 hours (for a 14 lb turkey).  Take out throughout to baste with the maple syrup - I did this three times.

6. Once done, take out the turkey and leave the aluminum foil on top to slightly cover.  Let this sit for about 15 minutes so the juices are encased within the meat.  Cut too early and the juices will flow out.  I know the turkey will look at you and egg you on to cut it and sneak a small piece but you. must. resist.  It will be worth it.

7. Slice, serve, making sure to get pieces of the bacon.  Make sure to spoon some of the juices out to make gravy! 

November 19, 2010

Epic Fail: Squash Soup

Not everything turns out as good as I hope.  Some are pushed into my fail category because the taste doesn't turn out as harmonious as I hoped.  Some, like the below, are epic fails when you can't even create a meal.  One night, my Twinkie came over to tell me the details about her recent engagement, see the ring and celebrate with some wine.  Squash was in the oven before she even came over and before long, we were talking and time was passing.  A bottle of wine later and a random sniff of the air, I could see a slight smog in my living room (my kitchen has almost zero ventilation...).  Damn!  I forgot about the squash and below is the unsalvageable remains of my attempt at squash soup...  So, don't always follow directions on how long things need to be in the oven.  Check, lesson learned and I'll check often throughout the roasting period but a bottle of wine later should have been a sign...
Dinner is gone so we ended up going out to Block 7 for dinner, which was incredibly good!  It can be pricey but Jen brought a coupon so we had 50 off the entire meal.  Not bad at all.  Order the fries and they come with their own, restaurant made ketchup - delicious!

November 10, 2010

Why Deny Yourself Happiness? Asian Noodles w/Pork and Shitaki Mushrooms

My folks made this asian noodle dish for us growing up, and we typically requested it as a must for any holiday meal - Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, you name it.  There are a few different ways my parents make this and can take a while to make.  Normally, you stirfry the pork and veggies together, boil and cook the noodles, which you then quickly add oil and toss in the air to cool, then you need to add to the veggie/pork mixture and add soy sauce, seasoning, etc.  Well, my mom found a short/easy recipe to cut the time in half and you use only ONE pot.  How fantastic is that?

So many of the ingredients, you can find in the Asian grocery store - noodles, chinese cabbage, shitake mushrooms.
Asian Noodles
Recipe from my Mom!

1 bag rice stick noodles
2 carrots, shredded
1/2 head of chinese cabbage, shredded
1/2 head of broccoli
6-8 shitake mushrooms, sliced (I used dried shitake mushrooms found in Asian markets, soak in room temperature water for at least 1 hours to soften them; don't discard the water!)
1/2 lb pork loin
3 tsp rice wine
3 tsp soy sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 can (2 cups) chicken broth

1. Several hours before you start cooking, cut the pork into thin strips.  Add the rice wine and the soy sauce. Put in fridge to marinate before you start cooking.
2. Soak the rice noodles in a big pot of room temp. water.  This is to soften the noodles so they cook appropriately. Cut up all the veggies and mushrooms into slices/shreds. 

3. In at LARGE pot, add some oil and add the pork, broccoli and carrots. This should quickly cook since they are sliced so thin.  Next, add the mushrooms and cook for an additional few minutes.  Next add the cabbage and cook for a few more minutes.
4. Drain the noodles and then add to the pot (do not mix!).  Add the 2 cups of chicken broth and cover the pot.  Let this cook for 15-20 minutes.  I check every five minutes and add in more hot water, if needed. After the time is up, mix the noodles, veggies and meat together.  Make sure the noodles are soft and tender. 
5.  Pour the soy sauce into a bowl first. Then, add this in slowly to the noodles to make sure you are not over salting/soy saucing the dish.  Once you've added the right amount (keep tasting), you can add salt (I usually omit and add more soy sauce) and pepper - lots of pepper!