Wednesday, December 26, 2012

I have been loving these sandwiches:

A butter croissant, muenster cheese and avocado.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Oh, Martha!

Martha Stewart never ceases to amaze me with all of her crafty ideas. From cooking to cleaning to actual crafting, the woman does and knows it all.

Over the years, I have made an effort to have a gentler impact on the planet in all aspects of my life, stemming from my collegiate background in marine and environmental science. Food is an easy one, as is most seen in this blog, but I also try to use less harsh products when it comes to cleaning my home. It's better for the planet, it's better for my pets and it's better for me. Strong chemical products quickly leave me with a headache, so my go-to cleaners are usually a spray bottle of white vinegar diluted with water or a spray bottle with two to three ounces of Dr. Bronner's liquid pure castile soap (peppermint scent) diluted with water.

Earlier this week, I came across the recipe for Martha Stewart Tub Scrub on Pinterest. With all the ingredients already at home, I mixed up a small batch and gave it a shot. I wet the tile walls of my shower, and armed with a tough bristled scrub brush, glopped on some of the Tub Scrub and let the abrasive power of baking soda and a little elbow grease do the rest.

A little while later, I had shiny white tiles in my shower. In Philly, hard water build-up is no stranger. I spray tough spots with diluted bleach and scrub, but that doesn't always do the trick. In the past, I've tried CLR (lime is a key component of hard water stains), but the smell was so strong I gagged. No thanks. As I scrubbed with my Tub Scrub mixture, I was surprised (okay, and pretty grossed out) to see beige water running down the walls. Looking at the walls before scrubbing them, the tiles looked clean!  Obviously, not so much.

If you don't mind putting in a little scrubbing power, this is an effective and inexpensive cleaner.

Tub Scrub
Baking soda
Liquid soap
Essential oil with antibacterial properties (peppermint, rosemary, tea tree or eucalyptus)

My mixture contained 1/2 cup baking soda, 1 teaspoon liquid dish soap, 6 drops of peppermint oil and about 7 teaspoons of water (enough to make a paste but not be too soupy). Scoop it up on your scrub brush and get to work!

Friday, December 7, 2012

"Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat..."

No, there will not be a goose on my table at Christmas. There will, however, be a delicious ham and maybe salmon, too!

I love planning elaborate holiday meals. Spending most of my evenings cooking for one or two, I don't often have the chance to plan and prepare a large meal with one or two main courses, several sides and a couple of dessert options. This is the time of year I love when it comes to cooking.

When it comes to Thanksgiving and Christmas, I like to prepare different meals - what is the fun of preparing two feasts only a month apart if they are going to be exactly the same? You with me on this one?

I found a pin on Pinterest with instructions for cooking the ham in a crock pot, rather than the oven. Thoughts? I do sort of love that crisped edge of the ham when it's been baking in the oven for several hours, but a crock pot would free up precious oven space for other baking needs.    

As the planning begins, here is what I am considering for my Christmas meal this year, which will again be shared with local friends as none of us are traveling:

How about you? What are you planning for the next big holiday meal? Here's to happy holidays and a snowy winter ahead!

Monday, December 3, 2012

I love a simple dinner

A small glass of white wine, a chicken Caesar salad and garlic butter crescent rolls. Just right.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Gobble 'til you Wobble

Happy post-Thanksgiving everyone! I hope the first big holiday meal of the season was a delicious success! Settle in guys, because this post is a long one.

I really love Thanksgiving. I've heard some grumbles that it's a lot of effort for what ends up being more or less just a big family dinner - that the holiday isn't as special as some others. No, there are not gifts like at Christmas or Hanukkah. No baskets overflowing with colorful confections like at Easter. It's just family and friends. But you know what? I think that's a gift in itself.

Winter is such a cozy time and there's something so comforting about it to me. Thanksgiving is a warm welcome to this rush of holidays and helps me get settled in for the season that lies ahead.

The unofficial launch of the season for me what when I worked with my my co-op to begin a donation drive for Hurricane Sandy victims. We spent a week accepting item donations, packed a truck, and headed to New Jersey the Saturday before Thanksgiving. At the distribution site, we were met by a few other volunteers who amazingly helped unload boxes that filled nearly half of a 20-foot delivery truck and carry the items to the second floor of the building. Everyone one was so incredibly generous and supportive of the cause, and I can't think of a better way to extend thanks and gratitude and friendship.

It seems that many of my friends and I have come to settle in Philadelphia - away from many of our families - for a number of education or employment related reasons. Despite far-away families, we don't let this stop our holiday fun. Enter Orphan Thanksgiving and Orphan Christmas. We throw together a potluck style holiday feast. Who cares if there are multiples of any one type of food - the idea is that everyone brings his or her favorite part of the holiday meal with family.

In the past, there haven't been enough of us for cooking and entire Turkey Day bird, but this year...this was the year. Not only was it our first ever Orphan Thanksgiving turkey, it was my first ever turkey. And I've got to tell you - if I'm going to cook an entire bird, well, I'm doing it the right way, damn it!

I belong to the Weaver's Way Co-op in my neighborhood. Every year before holiday season rolls in, an email for turkey orders is circulated. There are several options of free-range, organic, local and/or kosher turkeys. A friend of mine was telling me the story of how one year, a co-worker who also was the operator of a small turkey farm asked her if she'd like to order her Thanksgiving turkey from him. She decided to try it, and she's never purchased a traditional store-bought turkey since. She also gave me her secret - brine that bird.

My prized bird was a 10-12 pound turkey from Esbenshade Turkey Farm in Paradise, PA. It was local, farm-raised, reasonably priced and from the oldest turkey farm in our country! This farm has been a source for fresh turkeys since 1858, if you can believe that. I like a company with a good history! I picked it up from a refrigerated truck parked outside the co-op a couple of days before Thanksgiving. On Wednesday afternoon, Ash and I went to NYC to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons begin to take shape.      

When we finally made our way home from the train station, it was midnight. But, with a turkey needing to be brined, there was no rest for the weary. I picked up a brining instructional sheet from the co-op when I picked up my turkey, and loosely followed the instructions. I'm always a little conservative with salt measurements, so I used far less than was recommended.

Brine bag(s)
Bucket or large cooler
Sea Salt
Filtered water
Fresh herbs (thyme)

I prepared the brine by double layering two large oven bags inside a large cooler. The temperature was dipping into the low 30s overnight, so I planned to leave the cooler on the deck behind my apartment overnight. In the bag, I poured several pitchers of filtered water, and about 1/4-1/3 cup of sea salt. I stirred the room temperature water and the salt together until the salt began to dissolve. Then I added a handful of fresh thyme. Finally, I placed the turkey (with the guts removed from the cavity) into the bags. I tied up the inside layer of the bag, and then the outside, closed the lid and put the turkey to bed outside for the night. It was suggested to brine the turkey for about 12 hours, and by the time I took it out of the brine bath in the morning to prep it for roasting, it had been about 10-11 hours.

Thursday morning, I removed the turkey from the brine and placed it on the roasting rack breast-up while I began preparing it.

Turkey Prep:
Olive oil in a misting canister
Garlic (minced, from a jar)
White wine (Pinot Grigio)
Vegetable bouillon (Better Than Bouillon paste)
Fresh herbs (thyme)

The turkey prep was fairly quick and I had it in the oven beginning to roast in about 30 minutes. First, I misted the entire bird with extra virgin olive oil - a healthier option than butter and it would help the skin crisp to perfection. Then I spooned (just a regular cereal spoon) pre-minced garlic from a jar (time saver!) onto the turkey and spread it around. I also put a spoonful in the breast cavity. I love the flavor of fresh thyme with poultry, so even though there was thyme in the brine bath, I placed more fresh time all over the surface of the turkey and several sprigs in the cavity as well. The vegetable bouillon paste adds an excellent flavor to so many foods - I use it in cream of broccoli soup, chicken soup, rice, etc. I put a spoonful in the cavity and also mixed a couple of spoonfuls with 1-1.5 cups of filtered water and poured it in the bottom of the roasting pan. Finally, I poured the white wine into the cavity. As the bird cooked, I added a little more wine about twice. Together, the vegetable broth (made of the paste and water) and the wine created a really nice basting liquid. There was no special insight into the type of wine I used. Really, it was due to a mistake - I prefer to drink sauvignon blanc and picked up the pinot by mistake, so rather let it sit in the fridge forever, I've been using it for cooking.

I made a foil covering for the bird and kept it loosely covering the turkey on the roasting pan for about two-thirds of the roasting time. I removed it for the last 1-1.5 hours of roasting time. The oven temperature was set to 350º and the 10-12 pound bird took about 4 hours to roast, bringing the internal temperature of breast and legs to 175º.

The bird was a total hit - everyone loved the flavor of the meat and the brining absolutely was key - no dry meat!