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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Joys of a Kitchen Garden

This beautiful parsley is from our garden. Some of it is from a store-bought parsley plant that's been growing here for a year and a half. Some of it is from parsley plants that grew from seeds that I sowed in the spring. All are raised organically.

Lots of food plants are totally impractical, given the amount of time and money they require compared to their yield. Don't even get me started on those blasted rats with fluffy tails (squirrels) that ate all of our spring/early summer tomatoes! Herbs are a wonderful exception to that. We had great luck this season planting seeds for cilantro, basil, and parsley. We also planted basil, parsley, rosemary, culantro, chive, and oregano plants. We've had a great yield from them. We're already planning what herb seeds to plant next year.

It's so rewarding to grow a "kitchen garden." Fresh, home-grown herbs are the perfect addition to your recipes and besides being healthier than chemically raised herbs, they're also so much tastier when harvested just before cooking. We use organic fertilizers and as little pesticide (also organic) as possible. Of course, when we harvest herbs to cook with, we have to soak them for a while to be sure there are no cute little inchworms clinging to the leaves.

In the case of the parsley, the only real "pest" it has is the Monarch butterfly caterpillar. They seem to like the curly parsley much more than the flat-leaf Italian parsley. One caterpillar will pretty much strip a curly parsley plant of its foliage; however, then it moves along and the plant typically regenerates. Sure, we could use poison to keep the caterpillars away or crush them when we find them, but isn't it worth sharing a little of our parsley to nourish the caterpillars that will become the amazingly beautiful Monarch butterflies soon?

Giblet Gravy

3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup chopped shallots
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups homemade turkey broth (see
Shredded turkey neck meat and drumstick meat from preparing homemade turkey broth
Assorted giblets of your preference (hearts, livers, gizzards)*
2 cups milk
Lots of fresh ground black pepper

Melt butter in saucepan over medium to medium-high heat. Saute shallots until tender-soft. Add flour and whisk for 3-4 minutes over medium to medium-high heat. You want the flour to cook a bit so that your giblet gravy doesn't take like paste!

Slowly add the turkey broth, whisking constantly. Add plenty of fresh-ground black pepper. Simmer for a few minutes. Add giblets and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add milk and bring back to a simmer. Add shredded turkey neck and drumstick meat and simmer another 15 minutes.

* I was able to find large packages of chicken hearts, chicken livers, and chicken gizzards at my local Asian market, so that's what I used. You can also use the little packet of giblets from the turkey if you're cooking one. I use lots of giblets in my giblet gravy because I love, love, love them. If you or your family doesn't share my enthusiasm for organ meat, just use a small amount of giblets.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Homemade Turkey Broth for Holiday Cooking

Thanks to Kalyn and her Kalyn's Kitchen blog for giving me this idea . It's kind of a lightbulb moment that makes me wonder why I didn't think of this before. I always make some recipes for Thanksgiving and Christmas that require turkey broth, even if I don't cook a turkey myself. Instead of using canned turkey or chicken broth, why not make some fresh, flavorful, nutrient-packed homemade turkey broth?

First Step
1 package turkey necks, 1-2 lbs.
1 package turkey drumsticks, 1-2 lbs.
1.5 quarts veggie stock or water
4 ribs of celery
3 carrots
1 large onion
2 green bell peppers
2 large shallots
1 head of garlic
1 bunch of parsley

Second Step
1/4 cup Penzey's chicken soup base or turkey soup base (or a couple cubes of chicken bouillon)

Clean celery and trim ends. Cut each stalk into several pieces. Clean carrots and trim ends. Cut each carrot into several pieces. Remove root end and top end and skin from onion. Rough chop. Prepare bell peppers by removing stems and seeds. Rough chop. Remove root end and top end and skin from shallots. Rough chop. Separate the garlic into cloves. With a paring knife cut off the papers top of each clove. Remove garlic skins. Rinse parsley and rough chop.

I did my prepping late at night and I was tired, so I decided to finish the broth prep the following day. I put all my prepared veggies in a zip-top bag and popped it in the fridge to be ready for broth-making the next day.

Don't forget to save all your veggie trimmings in a gallon zip-top bag and pop it in the freezer to make veggie stock next time.

When ready to prepare your turkey broth, boil all First Step ingredients for several hours, until veggies are very soft and turkey parts are fall-off-the-bone tender. Let cool to a manageable temperature. Remove veggies and turkey parts to a plate with a slotted spoon. Pick out the turkey parts, remove all the meat from them, and put the turkey meat into a zip-top bag to save for giblet gravy.

Strain turkey broth through a fine sieve (using cheesecloth if desired) to remove solids. Add Second Step ingredient and simmer for half an hour. Cool and store in refrigerator or freezer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tips and Tricks and Helpful Hints

Here are two handy hints for the price of one. Don't say I never gave you anything :)

First off, before you go and buy expensive equipment and gadgets at those great gourmet cooking stores, check out your local ethnic markets. For instance, you can buy a muddler for muddling the limes and lemons for your favorite alcoholic beverage at a gourmet store for a premium price; however, you can go to your local Asian market, where you can find many different-sized pestles for many different-sized mortars. The pestles work perfectly as muddlers and cost a fraction of what you'd pay for a muddler at your gourmet store. It's amazing what you can find at a well-stocked ethnic market. These wonderful stores are a treasure trove for interesting cooking implements at a bargain-basement price.

Second tip, one of a cook's best friends is the waterproof bandage. I'm sure you never cut yourself cooking, but I on the other hand have had some major finger gashes. Regular bandages get really water-logged and then start sliding off your fingers ... yuck, not cool for a cook. Be sure to keep a supply of waterproof bandages in your kitchen drawer. They'll protect your ouchies and stay put, much more protective of your boo-boo and much more hygienic for cooking.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My Simple Comfort Soup

My precious hubby often prepares a soup that is his comfort food. It's what he cooks when he needs to relax or de-stress after a challenging day. It's a quick and easy soup with a few simple ingredients. It's not to my taste because I'm not crazy about some of the ingredients and because he likes it XXX spicy. I do love the aroma when he's cooking his soup, but I'm just too whimpy to eat it :)

I've discovered a comfort food soup of my own. I like to make a simple miso soup loaded with fresh ingredients. It's light but tasty and I think it's probably pretty healthy.

Boil 2 or 3 cups water. Add 2 to 4 tablespoons dashi miso paste (available at Asian supermarkets), depending on your taste. I like my soup pretty strongly flavored; however, I have to caution you that miso contains a lot of sodium.

Forgot to take the pic before I opened the dashi miso, but here's what you're looking for when shopping at your local Asian market:

Boil for a few seconds and then quickly add to that broth small portions of your selections of any of the following:

Diced tofu (medium or firm)
Mung bean sprouts
Chopped snowpeas
Sliced green onions or chives
Sliced mushrooms, whatever kind you like
Shredded cabbage
Sliced Thai bird chilis
Shredded carrot
Dried seaweed (available at Asian supermarkets), soaked and rinsed several times to remove the salt
Chopped water chestnuts
Quick-cooking Asian noodles such as rice noodles or bean thread noodles (available at Asian supermarkets)
Chopped cilantro
Chopped basil

Boil for just a few seconds until all ingredients are heated through, then immediately pour into a serving bowl, preferably a pretty Asian soup bowl which can be purchased affordably at your local Asian supermarket. Using a spoon (or an eyedropper if you're Food Network superstar material) sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon of chili sesame oil over the surface of the soup for color and flavor. When serving the soup, use an Asian soup spoon and chopsticks if you have them. This recipe makes just 1 generous serving, so increase the amounts if you need to comfort more hungry diners than just yourself!

I'm sure there are plenty of ingredients that would be wonderful in this Japanese-style soup that I haven't thought of, so as with all of my recipes, feel free to customize, and please post comments if you have ideas to improve the recipe.

Miso is a fascinating ingredient. I've been reading about it on this website, which you might find informative: