The other day I happened to mention I’d used cornbread in my Thanksgiving dressing. I had used The Enabling Cook Cornbread Mix to make some cornbread to go with some homemade chili. The leftovers were frozen specifically with the idea of using them for dressing. Someone asked me about the mix, and it was then I remembered I hadn’t posted about it. Oops.
Yes, you can buy cornbread mix and even cornbread at most supermarkets. But you know me. Why do that, especially when I usually have the ingredients on hand? And yes, you can make it as you need it. But I like to have it readily available. I’m more inclined to make cornbread if the mix is already made. Why yes, I can be lazy.
Except maybe for buying it already made, mixing up cornbread mix couldn’t be easier. You probably have most of the ingredients on hand: all-purpose flour (unbleached preferable), yellow cornmeal, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt. Yes, that’s all you need to make your own cornbread mix. If you want, you can add crushed red pepper flakes. I wait to add those when I make the cornbread, because I’m not always sure what I’ll be serving it with. And it’s much easier to add later than try to pick out those little buggers.
You’ll need to add milk when you make the cornbread (along with vegetable oil and an egg). But there’s a do-ahead option for that as well. You can add dry milk powder to your mixture. When it’s time to make your cornbread, simply add water in the amount of milk required.
Make certain to store your mix in an airtight container. It will stay fresher in the freezer, because yellow cornmeal can get stale rather quickly.
I cook a lot of beans, especially during cold weather. And this cornbread is a great accompaniment. My recipe for Cornbread on Demand can be found here.
Well I’m not, but my cheese did! And that’s a good thing. A very good thing. On October 10, I mentioned a Cotswold with chives and onion that had taken residence in The Enabling Cook’s cheese cave.
I’d gotten the recipe and instructions from Gavin Webber’s Little Green Cheese site. I loved the idea of combining a cheddar-type cheese with dried chives and onions. After all, I do love my onions. I used Dutch Hill Creamery creamline milk, and Meso Aroma B. Gavin used M030, which I didn’t have at the time.
The instructions were easy to follow. There was more stirring than with most of the cheeses I make. But there are some that require more, so I won’t complain (much). I followed Gavin’s instructions verbatim . . . except I forgot to let the curds rest after the final stir and before draining.
After removing from the cheese press, I let it air dry for a couple of days. It developed the beginnings of a nice natural rind during that time. I vacuum sealed the cheese on October 9 and put it in the cheese cave. for 6 to 12 weeks.
I did manage to make it through the 6 weeks. But there was no way I could wait 12. Especially after my recent cheese fail. So on November 29, after about 7 1/2 weeks aging, I cracked it open. The smell of the chives and onions had mellowed somewhat, but it was still there. As I sliced into it, the cheese was semihard, as it’s supposed to be. It has a smooth mouth feel. The taste of the chives and onions was there, but it’s not slap-you-upside-the-head strong.
This Cotswold is a very good snacking cheese. But to be honest, when I made the cheese, I was thinking more along the lines of melting. I really wanted a good cheese to use for toasted cheese sandwiches. I was very happy when I made my first Cotswold grilled cheese (with tomato).
I’ll be making this cheese again. I now have M030, so I may try that culture. I’ve also been thinking about things I can add to it other than chives and onions. This cheese is definitely a win.
Italian Bag Cheese Update
I contacted Gavin about reducing the salt in the brine for the Italian Bag Cheese. He says you can, but it means the cheese won’t last as long. But what’s more important to me is that it won’t be as salty. Will I make it again? I’m not sure. But I am glad I can reduce the salt.
I planned to post yesterday, but it just didn’t happen. There are days like that. But here it is: Thanksgiving Eve. I picked up my locally raised, fresh turkey yesterday, and I think I’m ready to go. Well, I have the components; I still need to put things together. I’ll be starting by making cranberry sauce. When baking bread, I’ve been making an extra loaf. I’ll also be cubing that and toasting for dressing. I was going to make pumpkin bread, but I found some delicious Harvest Pumpkin Bread at my locavore store, Old Barn Hollow.
As for today’s post, let’s talk presentation. I mean carving the turkey, of course. The ceremonial “carving of the turkey” was never a big deal in my family. Neither my father nor my grandfather stood at the head of the table, wielding a big carving knife, and made a Norman Rockwell scene of carving the turkey. More often than not, Mom carved it in the kitchen. Some chefs say that’s the best way to do it. If you carve it in the kitchen, you’re not likely to be spooked by the idea of having to make it look classy and “formal.” Others say to make a presentation and a preliminary cut at the table, but take the turkey back to the kitchen to do the real slicing. And after watching several turkey-carving videos this morning, and seeing how they manhandled that poor turkey carcass, carving in the kitchen makes perfect sense to me.
Alton uses an electric knife, but his technique can certainly be used with a regular carving knife.
I understand wanting to make things memorable, but carving the turkey is such a small part. Don’t get so hung up on it that you forget the meaning of Thanksgiving and enjoy the day.
And speaking of the meaning of Thanksgiving, I hope you take some time to remember those in need. The smallest monetary contribution can make a huge difference in someone’s life—including your own.
I so wanted to make cheese this weekend, but work intervened. At least that’s what I thought. I’ve been wanting to make Italian Bag Cheese, which I found in Gavin Webber’s Keep Calm And Make Cheese. I’ve learned a lot from watching his YouTube videos. If you’re interested in making cheese, check out the Little Green Cheese videos on YouTube.
Back to the cheese. I decided Saturday would be a good day to make it. So many cheeses require lots of stirring, and I just didn’t have time for that. Though it takes quite a while to get your finished cheese, much of that time is spent waiting. And that it’s similar to mozzarella and melts were definite pluses. So much so I was willing to overlook the saltiest brine I’ve ever seen.
The cheese starts out basic enough. Bring milk to temp and add starter, etc. But when it comes to cutting the curds, you cut and then ladle into a cheesecloth-lined colander. Let it drain, make a bag, hang to drain. You have to remember to keep the whey for a later stage.
After the initial drain, you open the bag and flip the cheese. The idea is to keep the round (or in my case, roundish) shape of the cheese. After the second draining, you pour the whey into the cheese pot and bring it to temp. Then you hang the bag in the whey. And wait.
After the whey bath, it’s time to brine. The recipe calls for 500 grams of salt. I think that’s more than I’ve ever seen for a cheese brine. By the end of the day I had cheese.
I wish I could say I was happy with it. It looked nice. And was even kind of round. Other than that, it was a huge disappointment. Gavin said it reminded him of mozzarella. Well, maybe his is different than what I get. I could probably bounce this cheese off the floor it is so rubbery. Much more than any other cheese I’ve had. Rubbery cheese often means too much rennet. I used the amount listed in the recipe, so maybe this is just supposed to be a rubbery cheese. And by the way, it didn’t melt well at all. Let’s say it softened slightly.
And the salt thing. Well, I was warned, but I cannot believe how salty this cheese is. It’s bordering on inedible.
Since I followed the instructions, I’m not sure it’s accurate to say it was a cheese fail. Maybe I just don’t like this cheese. Hmm, never thought of that.
There’s just over a week until Thanksgiving. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting excited. I’m also checking to make sure I have the ingredients I’m going to need for dinner. The turkey I’ll pick up next week, but I want to make sure I have all the other things. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to have to fight my way through the grocery store next week for just one or two things I can easily get this week.
I hope you make a grocery list before going to the store. I do. And sometimes I even take it with me. Many times, though, it doesn’t leave the kitchen counter, at least not until I toss it out. Do yourself a favor as you compile your list. Check to see if you have poultry seasoning. It’s one of those things that many of us use only once or twice a year. This means it often gets pushed to the back of the spice cabinet. So as not to be caught short, we buy another jar. A year passes, and we do it again. And again. And again. Before long, there’s a shelf of poultry seasoning.
All right, maybe it’s not that bad, but it could be. And I used to be guilty of that, too. Note the use of the word “used.” Readers may remember I make my own paprika, apple pie spice, and pumpkin pie spice. So it only makes sense I’d make my own poultry seasoning.
- 1/4 cup ground sage
- 1/4 cup ground thyme
- 1/4 cup ground rosemary
That’s a great, all-purpose poultry seasoning. It’s the one I use often. But sometimes I decide to mix it up a bit. My most recent batch consists of rosemary, thyme, savory, marjoram, parsley, and sage. Because I’m making a batch to have on hand, I use dried herbs. If you’re making it with fresh herbs to use right away, you’ll need more of each herb. You can also use dried leaves of the herbs and grind them when it’s time to use them. It’s up to you.
Like some mixtures, blending your own does not necessarily mean you’re going to save money. But you’ll know what’s in there, especially if you’re using herbs you’ve grown yourself or bought at a farmers’ market. You also can adjust the ingredients to your taste. Some people like black pepper in their poultry seasoning. As much as I love pepper, I don’t use it in this blend. I happen to like sage, so I often bump up the amount of it in the blend. Remember, though, sage can quickly overpower the other flavors. I often have a blend with cumin and paprika added to the basic recipe. I like that version for rubs I use with smoked and roasted chickens.
If you decide to make your own poultry blend (and I hope you do), you may want to start with the tried and true basic combination, especially if it’s for Thanksgiving. But feel free to go with your taste buds and add the herbs and spices you like. Make it your own.
You know what it’s like. You start thinking about flavor combinations, and one suddenly hits you in the face. It’s so obvious, you can’t believe you didn’t think of it earlier. That’s exactly what happened with my latest cheese ball—the Swimmingly Tasty Cheese Ball.
So what are those flavors? Cheese, smoked salmon (lox), and red onion. For many, these flavors define Saturday morning lunch or brunch. Especially when served on a bagel. In this cheese ball, you have it all in one. Talk about convenient!
I made my previous cheese balls with homemade goat cheese. But for this one, I didn’t want the flavor of the goat cheese to compete with the other flavors. So I made fromage blanc. You can also use cream cheese. Whatever cheese you use, make sure it’s at room temperature before mixing the ingredients.
Smoked salmon is not inexpensive. Fortunately, you don’t need a lot to get a lot of flavor. For 8 ounces of cheese, I used 2 ounces. I could have gotten by with less, but this amount makes sure there’s a bit of salmon in every bite.
I love raw onion. We always had sliced red onion rings with our lox and cream cheese, and that was a flavor I definitely wanted to include. Make sure to chop very finely; most people (not me) would not like to find a large chunk of onion in their cheese. You can use more or less of the recommended amount. Keep in mind the onion should complement—not overpower or get lost in—the flavor of the salmon and cheese. If you don’t like red onion, shallots and even scallions can be used. Or if you don’t like the texture of onion, grate the onion and add the onion juice to the cheese.
I rolled my cheese ball in freeze-dried chives (I really want a contraption that freeze dries). You could use fresh, but they’re not always available in my market. It can also be rolled in parsley or finely chopped scallions. Or you could leave it naked.
Making the cheese ball couldn’t be easier. Put the cheese in a bowl, add the salmon and onion, and mix together. Form into a ball, and roll in your covering of choice. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least an hour. To aid spreading ability, let it warm slightly before serving. I intended to eat mine with bagel chips, and I actually bought some. But by the time I made the cheese, the chips were gone. So I ate it with pita chips. It can also be spread on pumpernickel or rye bread, or bagels of course.
A few days ago, I had a Good Eats marathon thanks to Amazon streaming. I’m a big fan of Alton Brown’s, and this is one of my favorite shows. It was fun rewatching shows I’d seen before and catching ones I had not. And I am such a big fan I’ll watch shows about foods I don’t like. Take okra, for example.
Oh, I’ll eat okra in gumbos and stews—where it’s well hidden. And deep-fried, well that can make almost anything taste good, including okra. But it’s not something I seek out. It’s that slime thing, you know. According to Alton, the poor okra simply needs an effective PR campaign. I’ll just take him at his word on that.
One thing in the episode did catch my eye. Alton was making an okra and tomato dish and pulled out Grains of Paradise—or GOP as the container was labeled. When he said it was pepper-like, I was hooked. I had to learn more about this spice I’d never heard of. You see, I love peppercorns. Especially fresh cracked or ground pepper. In fact, I would love to have a small pepper grinder to carry around with me like the one the character Henry Crabbe carried on Pie in the Sky, a British television series.
I went online and found Grains of Paradise—Amomum melegueta—is found in West Africa and Ethiopia. It’s also called Guinea pepper, Melegueta pepper, and even alligator pepper. When it was brought to Europe, Grains of Paradise was used as a relatively inexpensive substitute for black pepper, which was very expensive at the time. I then turned to Jill Norman’s Herbs & Spices: The Cook’s Reference. (Incidentally, if you are interested in learning about culinary herbs and spices, I recommend this book.) She writes that Grains of Paradise were often used to flavor beer and wine. But Norman says by the mid-1800s, it had become pretty much ignored as a spice option.
Today, Grains of Paradise is used in the Tunisian spice blend qalat daqqa. Norman also says it works well with eggplant, potatoes and other root vegetables, rice, squash, poultry, and especially lamb. Besides the okra episode, Alton also used it in an apple pie recipe. It pairs well with allspice, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, and nutmeg, according to Norman.
I knew I’d never seen it in the grocery store, so I ordered some. It comes in a ground form, but I’m a purist; I wanted it whole.
The berries look much like small peppercorns. OK, very small peppercorns. I put some in a spare grinder and ground them. According to what I’ve read, they are supposed to have some heat balanced with fruity flavors. Alton said there were hints of cardamom along with citrus notes. The heat would come on the back end. Alton did not lie. There is a subtle citrus taste at first. And then there’s the pepper bite—but not in a bad way. It’s not as intense or long-lasting as pepper. It’s very pleasant. I couldn’t wait to try it, so I added some to the beef barley soup I was making for dinner. I did not add black pepper, so any pepper-type flavoring came from the Grains of Paradise. It was there, but it was very subtle. But there was another flavor there, one usually absent from this soup. It didn’t hit me over the head but introduced itself to me politely. It added an additional layer of flavor and made a fairly basic soup more complex.
Grains of Paradise will become a staple in my spice repertoire. Experimentation will be needed to discover how to use it most effectively. This should be fun!
I’ve discussed my love of cranberries here before. More than once. I confess I may get carried away at times. After all, until yesterday, there were 12 bags of cranberries in my refrigerator. Now there are 6. So what happened to the others? Cranberry juice!
One of my biggest pet peeves over the past several years has been the inability to find real cranberry juice. Even bottles marked “Cranberry Juice” had apple juice as the main non-water ingredient. Cranberry juice was second or third on the ingredient list. Even when stores started carrying real 100 percent cranberry juice, choices were limited and expensive. And why should I buy it when I could make it myself? You all know that’s the way I flow.
After much research and contemplation, I bought a steam juicer a few weeks ago. There are several options, but I chose Victorio Kitchen Products VKP1140 Stainless Steel Multi-Use Steam Juicer, 8-Quart, Silver. There were several reasons. I wanted a stainless steel one, and the size and price of this one were perfect for me. But probably most important was the company. I have several of its products, and they have all been great. So I went with the company I knew.
This weekend, I finally had time to try it out with cranberries. I put water in the bottom and 6 bags of cranberries in the top. According to instructions, it can take an hour for the juice to start flowing. Not being incredibly patient, I was beginning to think it wasn’t going to work. But then, after about an hour, there it was—juice in the draining hose.
I must confess when I released the clamp so it could drain into the pot below, I felt a little bit like Tim and Tickle from Moonshiners. Or maybe Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies. Either way, at least I didn’t have to worry about revenuers showing up to confiscate my operation.
After a couple of hours, I’d gotten all the juice. Out of the 6 bags (72 ounces) of cranberries, I had a half gallon of juice.
And the juiced cranberries did not go to waste. I dehydrated them.
As for the juice, I enjoyed a nice glass of cranapple juice. Yesterday I made and canned five half pints and a 4-ounce jar of cranapple jelly.
Making your own cranberry juice will likely not save you money. But it’s not always about money. I know what’s in this juice. And that’s a good thing, but there’s something else. There’s the sense of accomplishment that comes with self-sufficiency. Sometimes that’s the greatest reward.
Cutting it close again this week, but editing assignments have to come first. But it’s finished (along with some cover copy and editorial reviews), so here’s this week’s Thanksgiving Tuesday.
What do you get when you cross a pig with a turkey?
Why yes, you would probably get a rather unusual animal. But you can also get some flavorsome sausage that fits adds something special to you Thanksgiving stuffing or dressing.
So is it stuffing or dressing? Well, we always called it dressing. Mom cooked it alongside the turkey. There was always an extra pan of dressing, complete with those tasty, crispy corners. It was always one of my favorite parts of the meal. But back to the question at hand. I heard someone say it’s dressing if outside the bird and stuffing if inside. That’s as good an explanation as any.
Though most of my Thanksgiving meal is pretty much the same from year to year, I do tend to experiment with my dressing. Some years I’ve put in dried cranberries (a good choice), and one year I added cornbread (not such a good choice). Occasionally I add oysters, which is something my mother always did. This year, I’m adding homemade sausage.
I’ve blogged about making sausage before, and there are some recipes in the recipe section. This stuffing sausage is based on elements of those recipes. The flavors are those usually associated with Thanksgiving. The key ingredient is sage. That’s the herb—and smell—I associate most with the holiday . . . and with turkey in general. I used ground pork, but you can use ground turkey, ground chicken, or a combination of meats. Keep in mind that if you use one of the poultry options, you’ll probably want to up the seasoning, as they tend to be on the blander side.
If I’m making this to eat on its own and not use in stuffing, I add some vegetables. I finely chop celery, onion, and carrot and sweat them until translucent. Let them cool, and then add to the meat. If you dehydrate vegetables and grind them into powder, this is a great place to use them! You’ll have the flavor and not have to worry about chunks of vegetables.
I keep the herb/spice blend simple. Of course there’s a bit of salt and some freshly cracked black pepper. If I have a dried bay leaf, I crumble and add. If not, it’s no big deal. When it comes to sage, I seldom have fresh sage, so I use dry. Feel free to add other herbs/spices that you like. But keep in mind you’ll also be seasoning the dressing, so you don’t want to overdo it.
Because I want to use the sausage broken up in the dressing, I don’t worry about it being too dry. When I want to use it as a link or patty, I add water, stock, or even wine or beer. How much you need varies; it’s something you’ll learn in experience.
As I’ve stated in other posts and recipes about homemade sausage, be sure to thoroughly cook a sample of the blend. You’ll still need to make sure the blend is right.
Stuffing sausage is good any time of year, and not just with turkey. Here’s my recipe.
In one of the opening scenes of Julie & Julia, Julie is cooking after a particularly rough day at work. To paraphrase, she remarks that it’s comforting to be able to count on chocolate and cream becoming a pie, especially after a long day. And while chocolate pie isn’t my thing, I do know understand what she means. Workwise, this was one of the most exasperating week I’ve had it a long time. Busy I can handle; it’s the frustrations that drive me batty. When these times happen, I let my mind briefly wander. And as you might expect, it usually trails off to cooking. And when I finally end work for the day, I can’t wait to get into the kitchen.
Thursday was one of those days. Oh how it was one of those days. But I knew how I wanted to remedy the situation. Yes, with a cheese ball. Mama J of Opie Hershberger had been talking about cheese balls on Facebook, so I had them in my mind. Well, the truth is they’ve not been far out of my mind since the last one I made. In fact, I often go to bed with visions of cheese balls dancing in my head. The flavor combinations are limitless.
For this cheese ball, I wanted flavors I’d not tried before. I had one last package of frozen chevre, so I took it out to thaw. For some reason, I fixated on dried dates and dried apricots. I had purchased dried apricots to make a jelly, but I’ve yet to get around to making it. I was willing to use them for the cheese ball. And once I thought of those, honey seemed the next obvious ingredient. And then nuts. I still have walnuts and pecans, but those didn’t seem quite right, so I bought some roasted, unsalted walnuts. I was set to create.
Since I had frozen the cheese, it needed to be salted after it thawed. I mixed it in thoroughly. Probably the most difficult thing about making this cheese ball is chopping the dates and apricots because of their texture; they’re quite sticky. I chopped them somewhat finely and mixed them into the salted cheese a bit at a time. Otherwise, they tended to clump together and not be distributed evenly. Then I stirred in honey and a few chopped almonds. Once the ball was formed (and I fixed the shape after I took the photo), I pressed the remaining chopped almonds around the cheese ball.
I used chevre, because it’s what I had and I love it. Of course you can use any soft cheese you like. If you don’t like goat cheese because of the tang, you won’t notice that characteristic as much in this ball. The sweetness of the honey, dates, and apricots offsets the tang found in many goat cheeses.
If you don’t make your own chevre, you can buy it at the store, of course. You won’t need to add salt. And if you are making your own, salting is part of the recipe, so you won’t need to add more.
Once the cheese ball is make, wrap in plastic and refrigerate to firm up a bit. But do allow it to come to room temperature for serving. I’m eating it with cocktail rye bread. That may not be the best choice for this cheese. If I want to eat it on bread, I think pita, naan, or perhaps even a lavash might be better choices. It could also be served with crackers, of course, and even vegetables. It’s also good on apple slices.
I’ve already started thinking about the next cheese ball. And I have plenty of ideas. Hopefully I’ll be able to make cheese tomorrow for the next version.
The recipe for this cheese ball can be found here.