Even though we love doing a whole roast turkey, that can be a bit impractical given that Thanksgiving dinner is often just the two of us. So we are always looking for alternatives. A few years ago we came up with the idea of stuffing a turkey leg instead of the whole bird. It is a great way to get all those Thanksgiving flavors in a manageable, easy to cook package.
It all starts with a whole turkey leg with thigh attached. You should be able to buy individual legs from your butcher if you ask, or you can do what we did and cut one off a whole bird and use the rest for another purpose.
Boning the leg is pretty straight forward as long as you take your time. The thighbone is easily removed by running your knife along its edges until you can slice underneath. Then, keep moving toward the leg, cutting around the large knee joint and splitting the skin and meat down toward and around the ankle. Be sure to pull out the hard tendon pieces along with the bone in the leg section.
Once the bones are out, make a few strategic cuts to even out the thickness, and place a few stray pieces of meat into the hole where that big knee joint was (you'll see).
Make up a small batch of your favorite stuffing recipe - every Thanksgiving cook has one, and yours is likely different than ours - and spread it over the flattened leg meat.
You can stop here, but we like to gild the lily a bit by adding a few sausage links in the middle (this time we used homemade Italian sausages).
Then it is time to roll it up and truss it. Cut several lengths of kitchen twine and slide them under the flattened meat. Starting at the wide end, carefully pull up the meat and fold it around the sausage and stuffing, then tie it closed with the twine. Keep moving toward the skinny end and repeat using 4 or 5 pieces of string. You may find that you can't fully enclose the stuffing at the ankle, but that's ok, it'll be fine when you flip it over.
The final product:
After a brief 50-55 minutes in a 425°F oven, it comes out as a golden package completely encased in crispy skin.
Slicing it into rounds makes serving it really simple and fun.
The thigh meat ends up nice and juicy, but that doesn't mean a bit of gravy isn't still absolutely called for. You can start with a simple chicken stock gravy, but be sure to use the crunchy bits and drippings from the cooking pan to enhance and deepen the flavor.
In addition to the required mashed potatoes, we also did a side dish of sautéed spinach with bits of bacon.
And what of the turkey breast, you might ask? As I am writing this, half of it is on the smoker (along with the wings), and the other half is curing for a batch of turkey pastrami.
But that's another post altogether...
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
Around this time a year ago, we were on a North African kick and were using ingredients characteristic of the region in all sorts of dishes, including our Thanksgiving meal. One dish that worked particularly well was roasted yams with a compound butter infused with Moroccan flavors.
Yams with butter melted over them are already pretty darned good, but spiking the butter with extra flavors really elevates them to a new level.
Compound butters are so simple to make, I don't know why we don't do it more often. You basically take room temperature butter and smush a selection of herbs and spices into it. Then chill, and you're done, ready to serve.
For this version I used freshly toasted cumin seeds, fresh garlic, turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, lemon zest, fresh cilantro and salt. The last time I added fresh ginger briefly sautéed in olive oil instead of the fresh garlic. I think I prefer it spiked with the ginger, but both are good. You can use either lemon zest or juice, but the zest is much easier to incorporate into the butter.
A critical element - important for both flavor and that crazy yellow color - is ground turmeric.
We like to form the compound butter into a log shape by wrapping it in plastic and then chilling it several hours in the refrigerator.
Later, sliced into disks it easily adds a burst of complex flavors and aroma to whatever you adorn with it - in this case, hot, tender, roasted jewel yams.
Moroccan-Spiced Compound Butter
2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon minced garlic (or 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger plus 1 teaspoon olive oil)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1 teaspoon fluffy lemon zest (or 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice)
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Toast the cumin seeds in a dry, hot pan until fragrant, about a minute (or if using ginger, toast the cumin seeds in hot olive oil 30 seconds, then add the ginger and saute until fragrant and softened, 1-2 minutes.) Pour into a small bowl and allow to cool. Once the seeds have cooled, mix everything thoroughly into the soft butter. Place onto a sheet of plastic wrap and shape into a log by encasing the butter in the plastic and twisting the ends. Refrigerate until firm. Remove plastic wrap and slice into disks for serving.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Pretty much anything good is even better smoked, and meatloaf is no exception.
Smoking is just the latest twist on our meatloaf recipe that has evolved over the years. An important breakthrough was watching Alton Brown's meatloaf episode on Good Eats. Instead of cooking the meatloaf in a loaf pan (which was the way we always did it when I was a kid), he molds it in a pan and then turns it out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. This results in a more nicely browned surface area and is much easier to clean up.
Rather than use a loaf pan for molding, we do a more free-form version (kind of like making a giant hamburger):
For the smoking, we used hickory and apple wood and smoked at around 280°F for an hour and 45 minutes, followed by another 15 minutes near 300°F to reach an internal temperature of 155°F.
I am a ketchup fiend, and used to love it slathered all over my meatloaf. I have come to believe, however, that a nicely seasoned meatloaf stands on its own - especially when smoked.
Here is the recipe for our standard, oven-cooked meatloaf. The smoked version only varies in the cooking technique.
14 ounces ground beef
4 ounces ground pork
3/4 cup fresh coarse bread crumbs, made from day-old rustic Italian bread
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 teaspoons dried sage, divided
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
sprinkle of paprika or cayenne (optional)
Put the beef, pork, bread and onion in a large bowl. Mix together the egg and milk, pour over the bread and meats. Sprinkle about 3/4 teaspoon of the salt, 1 teaspoon of the sage, the black pepper and parsley over the mixture. Using your hands with open fingers, gently combine the ingredients.
Transfer the meat mixture to a sheet pan and shape the meatloaf into a round disk about 2-inches high. Evenly sprinkle the top of the disk with the extra 1/4 teaspoons of salt and sage, plus the thyme, mustard powder and optional pinches of paprika or cayenne.
Bake for 5 minutes in a preheated 400 degree oven. Turn the heat down to 350 degrees and bake an additional 40-45 minutes or until the meatloaf has a nice crust and is not squishy when pressed lightly on top. Allow to rest at room temperature about 10 minutes before slicing into wedges for serving.
Monday, November 10, 2008
One huge advantage of purchasing meat from an independent, full-service butcher or local beef producer is the availability of less common cuts. We are lucky to have a couple of excellent sources in Siesel's Old Fashioned Meat & Deli and Brandt Beef.
Brandt sells their beef at our local farmers market, and lately our favorite offering of theirs is Bavette Steak. Also known as "flap", it is a small cut from the bottom part of the sirloin that has a character much like flank or skirt steak. Given a quick, hot sear and then sliced across the grain, it has an intense meaty flavor and a surprisingly delicate texture.
So, the next time you are in the mood for a steak, don't settle for that tired old chunk of filet from the supermarket - look around and I'm sure you'll be able to find more interesting options.
Monday, November 3, 2008
We love the luxury of car camping, and it is even better when you only have a half-hour drive up the coast to get there. Located right on the coast on cliffs overlooking the ocean, South Carlsbad State Beach made a perfect spot for a Halloween weekend camping trip.
We arrived early on Friday so that we could spend the afternoon relaxing while slow-smoking a bunch of pork ribs. Liberally rubbed with spices (the rub recipe is at the end of the post), here they are going on the smoker:
They came out great - maybe the best ribs we've done so far.
Dinner on Saturday was a pot of spicy chili cooked over the campfire.
And, of course, there was some pumpkin carving. Make sure you get out tomorrow and do what the middle one says.
Spicy Rub for Pork Ribs
Makes a little more than one cup of rub.
6 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 1/2 tablespoons ground ancho chile
2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1-2 teaspoons white peppercorns, coarsely ground
1 teaspoon green peppercorns, coarsely ground
3/4 teaspoons dried basil
1/8 teaspoons ground allspice
Measure all ingrediants into a pint-sized jar. Cap with a lid and shake to combine.
Use a quarter to a third cup of rub to generously coat each slab of pork spare ribs (whole 4 1/2 pounds ; trimmed and squared to ~3 pounds). Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 24-48 hours before cooking.