Sunday, December 19, 2010

Spinach and Sausage Soup

For our Healthy Thanksgiving, I went in search of soup recipes that were broths instead of creams. To my dismay, the “fall” or “harvest” soups all contained squash. And we all know what happened the last time I peeled and cut up squash. I gave up my search, but not before bookmarking an intriguing recipe that I came across while exploring “you might also like” links.

This recipe has all of the usual vegetables (except squash) found in vegetable soups with the interesting addition of pearl barley and Italian sausage. I have to admit that my first reaction to reading “1 pound mild Italian sausage” was Yuck! Italian sausage and vegetable soup are not something that go together well.

For some reason, I kept going back to it and finally bookmarked it when I got tired of following links to find it. One crisp autumn day when I knew that I would be outside most of the afternoon, soup seemed like the perfect dish to chase away the chill. I decided to try this recipe.

Making it was simple. Even though I forgot to buy the spinach, the end result was delicious. The perfect antidote to a damp, chilly day. It is one of those rare dishes that is just as good the first day as it is the second day. In spite of my initial aversion, the Italian sausage was the perfect complement to the vegetables and barley. I didn’t drain the sausage enough before adding it to the soup because the next day, there was a thick layer of fat on the soup when I took it out of the fridge. I scraped it off before reheating. That got me thinking that I needed to find a low fat alternative to the sausage. Why not turkey?

Specifically leftover turkey from Thanksgiving. Instead of my usual pot pies, I would make this healthy soup and substitute turkey for the sausage. This time, the soup was very, very bland. I realized that the seasoning in the sausage had transferred to the soup, giving it loads of flavor. To make a turkey version, I need to add more seasoning than just salt, pepper and fresh thyme.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

Spinach and Sausage Soup

(source: Pinch My Salt)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 stalks of celery, sliced
1 pound red potatoes, cut into bite size pieces
5-6 cups chicken stock (homemade, or low-sodium broth)
½ cup pearl barley
1 pound mild Italian sausage
1 large bunch of spinach, thick stems removed, roughly chopped (about 4 cups packed)
Salt, to taste
Herbs or seasoning of your choice – I used some fresh thyme

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes or until onions are softened. Add potatoes, 5 cups of stock, and barley. Turn up heat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30-45 minutes or until barley is tender. Meanwhile, squeeze sausage from its casings, crumble and brown it in a skillet. Drain fat and set the sausage aside. When barley is tender, add spinach and sausage to the soup and fresh herbs if you are using them. Add more stock if necessary or desired, bring soup back up to a simmer and let cook for another 15 minutes. Season to taste with and pepper.

Serves 6

Recycle: olive oil bottle

Compost: onion skins, celery leaves, spinach stems

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rustic Pear Pie

I’ve had a heavenly recipe for sweet potato pie bookmarked for quite a while. I was sure that I could use it for our Healthy Thanksgiving. Sweet potatoes are healthier than pumpkins. But, like regular potatoes, the problem was what was added to them to make the pie filling: butter, sugar, milk and eggs.

Back to the drawing board or, rather, my recipe basket. I have a large basket where I throw copies of interesting recipes I come across in print publications. I knew that somewhere in that basket was a recipe for a pear pie that did not involve most of the unhealthy ingredients found in pumpkin and sweet potato pie recipes. It took a little digging, but I found it. It was part of a menu from the April 1, 2006 issue of Family Circle Magazine.

The recipe calls for a prepared piecrust. I opted for a homemade one using a recipe from Martha Stewart. I called on A’s expertise (she works in the nutrition field) to determine which was healthier, shortening or butter. She recommended I go with butter because it has far less trans-fats than shortening. With this in mind, I used Martha’s Basic Pie Crust which makes enough for a single crust pie.

I liked this recipe because it uses a food processor to blend the ingredients. I was surprised at how effortlessly the pastry came together. I’m seriously considering using my food processor for all of my pie crusts despite the fact that it is a pain to clean. This was also the easiest pastry I have ever rolled. In the future, I think I will use a shortening crust with this recipe because when it came time to fold the pastry over the pear filling, the pastry was quite limp. Instead of forming a nice pocket as you would expect from a stiffer shortening crust, Martha’s butter crust was more like wrapping the filling in a scarf.

I discovered that my A&P carries three varieties of pears, Anjou, Bartlett and Bosc. I don’t know if there are any taste differences but in terms of size, three Bartlett pears weigh almost exactly 1 ½ pounds as called for in the recipe. The recipe doesn’t specify that you should peel the pears but I couldn’t imagine that leaving the skins on would enhance the flavor or texture, so I peeled them. Unlike the Mushroom-Wild Rice stuffing, the 1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg enhanced, rather than overpowered, the pears and brown sugar. I left out the butter and could also have skipped the milk and sugar on the crust.

The end result was delicious. The recipe recommends the pie be served warm but I also liked it straight out of the refrigerator the next day. I’ve now added another fruit pie to my small repertoire.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

Basic Pie Crust
(source: Martha Stewart)

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for rolling
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 to 4 tablespoons ice water

In a food processor, briefly pulse flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons ice water. Pulse until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed (if necessary, add up to 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon at a time). Don’t overmix.

Turn dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap. Fold plastic over dough; press to shape into a 1-inch-thick disk. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour (or up to 3 days).

On a floured piece of parchment paper, roll dough to a 14-inch round with a floured rolling pin. Wrap dough around rolling pin, discarding paper; unroll over a 9-inch pie plate. Gently fit into bottom and up sides of plate (do not stretch dough).

Using kitchen shears, trim dough to a 1-inch overhang. Fold under itself to form a rim, and press to seal. Using thumb and forefinger, crimp rim of crust. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to 1 day.

One 9-inch crust.

Rustic Pear Pie
(source: Family Circle Magazine, April 1, 2006 issue)

3 ripe but firm Bartlett pears (about 1 ½ pounds total)
¼ cup light-brown sugar
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 refrigerated prepared piecrust (from a 15-ounce box)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut up
1 tablespoon heavy cream or milk

Heat oven to 400°.

Cut pears in half; remove cores. Cut in thin slices. In large bowl, toss with 3 tablespoons of the sugar and the nutmeg.

Place piecrust on work surface; gently roll out to 14 inches in diameter and place on ungreased baking sheet. Mound pear slices in center, leaving a 2-inch border. Dot butter over pears. Fold edge of crust up and partway over filling. Repair any tears by pressing pastry together. Brush pastry edge with cream. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar.

Bake on the bottom shelf at 400° for 35 minutes until filling is hot and crust is golden; place foil loosely over pie if crust browns too quickly. Let cool on pan or rack 10 minutes before serving. Can be baked ahead and reheated at 400° until warmed through. Serve with ice cream, if desired.

Compost: pear cores and skins

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Cookie of the Week - Angelettis

As I have noted previously, baking Christmas cookies was not a holiday tradition in my family. Because I’m not sure what is considered a Christmas cookie, I rely on lists such "Classic Christmas Cookies" or "Favorite Christmas Cookies" to guide me. Martha Stewart has several slide shows showcasing Christmas cookies on her site. While most of the cookies are familiar to me, a few are not.

I had never heard of Angelettis. The picture didn’t even seem attractive which I found surprising considering how meticulous Martha is (see below). A quick glance at the ingredients only pointed up two unusual ingredients, anise extract used in the cookies and lemon juice used in the icing. I decided to try them out to discover why Martha is so keen on them.

Like most Martha Stewart recipes, this one is very rich. It uses 6 eggs in the cookie batter and an entire box (16 ounces) of confectioners’ sugar in the icing. My only quibble with her is with the size of the bowl used to sift the dry ingredients into. Four cups of flour is a lot of four and requires a large bowl, not a medium bowl. Be very careful adding the dry ingredients to the liquid ingredients. They take a bit longer than usual to be incorporated into the liquid. Keep your mixer on low. Any faster and you should be prepared to be enveloped in a cloud of flour. The batter is very stiff, but scoops nicely into balls. I was surprised when they kept their shape instead of spreading out while baking. Fifteen minutes seemed long, but was exactly right.

Next up was the icing. Believe it or not, ¼ cup of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of water will dissolve an entire pound of confectioners’ sugar. The result is rather tart. I was hesitant to use it on the cookies which tasted great on their own but I was glad I did. Once on the cookies, the lemon taste was not obvious. It added a little tang to an otherwise very sweet cookie.

It turns out that I know these cookies. I have eaten them in the past. I can’t remember when or where, just that they were really good. Now I’m glad to have the recipe and to add it to my cookie repertoire.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!


4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
6 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla or anise extract
1 box (16 ounce) confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
Coarse sanding sugar, for decorating

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. On medium speed, add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla; beat until is incorporated. With mixer on, gradually add four mixture; beat until dough comes together.

Scoop dough into tablespoon-size balls onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or a nonstick baking mat. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Meanwhile, stir together confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons water. Place wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Once cookies have cooled, top with icing. Sprinkle with sugar, and let stand until icing is firm.

Makes about 6 dozen.

Recycle: vanilla or anise extract bottle

Compost: eggshells

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Easy Roasted Potatoes

Do potatoes fit into a healthy Thanksgiving? It all depends on the preparation. Potatoes themselves are quite healthy. It’s what you put on them that renders them unhealthy. Sour cream, butter, cheese, gravy and, of course, the whole milk or cream used in mashed potatoes.

For our Healthy Thanksgiving, I was in search of a roasted potato recipe. I envisioned a little oil, a little salt, a little pepper, pop them in the oven and presto! Healthy potatoes. Reality rarely lives up to my imagination.

It seems that you can either fry them in oil or roast them in butter. I did find one recipe on that roasted potatoes in olive oil, but used onion powder instead of “real” onions. I wasn’t happy about it, but beggars can’t be choosers.

I was intrigued by the use of baby potatoes. The ones I bought weren’t all that tiny. At least not tiny enough so that halved I was confident that they would cook all the way through. Potatoes, like carrots, are very dense and require a long to cook. There’s nothing worse than uncooked potatoes or carrots in a dish. Just to be safe, I cut up some of the larger potatoes into quarters instead of halves.

My biggest problem turned out to be logistics. I solved the one-oven problem by cooking the stuffing on top of the stove instead of baking it in the oven. But there was no getting around the fact that roasted potatoes, like roasted turkey, need to be in the oven. And potatoes need a long time to cook. In this case, 60 minutes. Turkey needs 30 minutes to "rest" after cooking, so I was left with a 30 minute overlap in the oven.

I finally solved the problem when I realized that a small turkey uses a small pan, so I could turn it sideways and slide the potatoes and their pan in right next to it. Phew! That was close.

In the end, I was correct about the size of the potatoes, as well as the onion powder. The potatoes didn’t cook all the way through and I didn’t care for the chemical taste of the onion powder. Real onions would have been preferable. The garlic was also an unwelcome guest to our feast. I think a little bit of poultry seasoning would have been more appropriate.

Verdict: What were they thinking???

Easy Roasted Potatoes

3 medium round red or white potatoes (1 pound), cut into eighths, or 10 to 12 tiny new potatoes (1 pound) halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
⅛ teaspoon paprika
1 clove garlic, minced

Place potatoes in a greased 9x9x2-inch baking pan. In a small bowl combine oil, onion powder, salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic. Drizzle oil mixture over potatoes, tossing to coat. Roast, uncovered, in a 325°F oven for 45 minutes. Stir potatoes; bake for 10 to 20 minutes more or until potatoes are tender and brown on the edges.

Makes 4 servings.

Recycle: olive oil bottle

Compost: garlic skins

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Mushroom-Wild Rice Stuffing

My search for a stuffing recipe for our healthy Thanksgiving had two parameters. It had to be healthy and it had to be cooked on top of the stove. I don’t have room in my oven for both a turkey and a dish of stuffing. My dream kitchen has two ovens. For now, I have to deal with a kitchen with only one.

When A and I were discussing the possibility of doing a healthy Thanksgiving, wild rice stuffing came immediately to mind. Whole grain, no nasty carbs and it’s cooked in water, not butter. Turns out that I was wrong about that last point. Seems every recipe I looked at, had butter in it.

I finally settled on a recipe from one of my favorite recipe sites, Not only is it cooked in water, but it also has a variety of fresh mushrooms, an excellent source of minerals such potassium. Healthy, indeed.

It should have occurred to me that if the rice recipe I normally make calls for 2 cups of water and 1 ½ cups of rice resulting in 6 servings, then a recipe that uses 4 cups of water and 2 cups of rice was going to result in a huge amount of rice. The line "Makes 12 servings" should likewise have been a clue.

I should also have done some quick conversions when I put mushrooms on my shopping list. One cup equals 8 ounces, so 8 cups equals … a lot of mushrooms. I bought two packages of 8 ounces each. One each of button and baby Portobello, conveniently pre-sliced.

Lastly, I should have done some comparisons among recipes that use nutmeg. My initial impression was that nutmeg would give it an interesting flavor. As it indeed might if only 1/8 teaspoon were used, but an entire teaspoon of nutmeg completely overwhelmed the delicate flavors of the mushrooms and rice and ruined this dish.

I would like to try this recipe again, but cut it in half, use chicken stock and just a pinch of nutmeg.

Verdict: What were they thinking???

Mushroom-Wild Rice Stuffing

1 cup uncooked wild rice
4 cups water
1 cup uncooked brown rice
1 tablespoon instant chicken bouillon granules
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
8 cups sliced fresh mushrooms (such as stemmed shiitake, baby Portobello, and/or button)
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups shredded carrots

Rinse wild rice in a strainer under cold water about 1 minute. In a 4-quart Dutch oven, combine wild rice, the 4 cups water, the brown rice, bouillon granules, salt, and nutmeg. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Stir in mushrooms, celery, and onion. Return to boiling; reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and cook about 25 minutes more or until rice is tender, stirring occasionally. Drain. Stir in carrots. Serve immediately. Makes 12 servings.

Make-Ahead Tip: Prepare Mushroom-wild Rice Stuffing as directed; spoon into a 3-quart casserole. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Bake, covered, in a 325 degree oven for 65 to 75 minutes or until heated through.

Compost: celery leaves, onion skins

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

OldRoses’ Brined Turkey

This recipe is still evolving. Stay tuned for annual updates on upcoming Thanksgivings.

I decided to join the 21st century this year and brine my turkey. Actually, I decided last year, but the recipe that I was using called for a dry brine which seemed counter-intuitive. I made a mental note to look into "wet" brining this year.

Last December I made a Cuban Pork dish for Christmas that required the meat be marinated overnight. I wasn’t able to find cooking bags at the grocery store, so I improvised with a clean, unused garbage bag. I placed the marinade and the pork shoulder in the bag, which was in turn placed in a large salad bowl on the bottom shelf of my refrigerator. The meat was turned periodically to ensure that all of it marinated properly.

My plan was to do the something similar to my turkey this year. I found cooking bags, not where I was looking for them last year in the plastic bags aisle, but in the "seasonal aisle" where A&P had helpfully assembled everything you could possibly need to cook a Thanksgiving meal. They were probably in that aisle last year also, I just wasn’t looking there.

All of the brining recipes I saw online required that the brine be cooked and then cooled. I was pressed for time this year, so cooking and cooling were out of the questions. I thought I had found a recipe that didn’t require pre-cooking the brine but when I looked at it Thursday morning, I realized that I was wrong.

Of course this is my kitchen where nothing ever goes right. The first roadblock that I ran into was that this turkey was too large for my big salad bowl. I didn’t realize that a 12 pound turkey was so large or that my salad bowl was so small. The second roadblock was the thinness of the bags. These bags were meant to cook the turkey in. I don’t know if there are special "brining" bags as opposed to "brown in" bags. And the third thing to go terribly wrong that morning (bad things always seem to come in threes) was that I didn’t have all of the (correct) ingredients for the brine.

No problem. I just improvised. I placed the turkey in the bag on the counter. I partially filled the bag with water using the sprayer. I dumped in 1 cup of sea salt instead of the proper amount of kosher salt, several hard shakes of ground pepper instead of pepper corns, ½ bunch of fresh thyme instead of a whole bunch and 5 bay leaves that have been sitting in my cupboard for an unknown period of time. I omitted the sugar because our theme was "A Healthy Thanksgiving". Besides, I couldn’t wrap my head around adding sugar to what seemed like a perfectly respectable brine/marinade.

I added more water and then I tried to close the bag. This is where I began to run into serious trouble. No matter how tightly I twisted the twisty tie, the water kept going sideways instead of up and covering the turkey. Plus, that bag seemed awfully thin. Was it strong enough to hold a 12 pound turkey and several gallons of water? I didn’t have a container large enough to put it in. I began to have visions of putting the bag in my fridge before work then returning home to find that it had burst while I was out, leaking all over my refrigerator and kitchen floor.

What to do, what to do.

I know! Garbage bags are really strong. How about I put the turkey bag inside a garbage bag? That way, if the turkey bag breaks, the garbage bag will hold all the water instead of spilling it. I should become a spokesperson for Glad Trash Bags.

I’m happy to report that the thin turkey bag didn’t burst. It seemed almost a shame to rinse all of those lovely ingredients from the turkey on Thursday morning, but I needed to get as much salt off the turkey as possible.

I was making wild rice stuffing on top of the stove, so I stuffed the turkey with the same herbs and apples that were so successfully last year.

Basting, as I discovered in my research, has become controversial. One school of thought says that pre-basted turkeys don’t need basting while another school of thought says that basting is done primarily to ensure the skin cooks and browns properly. A third school of thought says that constantly opening the oven door to baste the turkey lowers the temperature of the oven and prevents the turkey from cooking properly. I baste because I am old-fashioned. Normally I use butter but for our healthy meal, I decided to go with prepared chicken broth.

A recipe that I saw online recommended adding your choice of herbs to the broth such as sage or thyme. I couldn’t decide which to use, so I used them all by adding poultry seasoning. The broth that I used was Kitchen Basics, recommended by the Taste of Home Cooking School that A and I attended. I had previously used it in a soup recipe which came out very salty. Thanks to the brining and chicken broth, our gravy was much too salty.

Verdict: Needs work.

OldRoses’ Brined Turkey

OldRoses’ No-Cook Brine
1 cup sea salt
½ bunch fresh thyme
1 tablespoon ground pepper
5 bay leaves

1 ½ teaspoons black pepper
10 sprigs fresh thyme
½ bunch flat leaf parsley
2 small onions, halved
2 small apples, cored and halved

1 8 oz container chicken broth
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

Place turkey in a large plastic bag and partially fill it with water. Add brine ingredients. Add more water until turkey is covered. Refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.

Heat oven to 325°F. Discard brine and rinse turkey well. Pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle the pepper into main cavity of turkey; add thyme, parsley, half the onions and half the apples. Truss legs with kitchen twine. Put remaining apples and onions in neck opening and tuck neck skin under bird. Baste with seasoned chicken broth.

Cook a 12 pound bird for 4 to 4 ½ hours or until a meat thermometer registers 180°F, basting every 30 minutes.

Compost: parsley stems, onion skins and apple skins