Fresh-Picked Herb Compound Butter

I’ve been growing herbs for almost 30 years. For a self-taught “gourmet”, it’s thrilling for me to go into my backyard and pick lush flat leaf parsley, flavorful chives, fragrant rosemary and thyme.  With our recent freezing temps and heavy snowfall, I was certain that I wouldn’t be harvesting herbs for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. Then we had a thaw and under the weather damaged herbs, I was able to find an ample supply – hooray!

Fresh-Picked Herb Compound Butter

Fresh picked herbs & butter (not pictured crack black pepper)
Fresh picked herbs & butter (not pictured crack black pepper)
Start with 2 sticks of very soft butter (I use salted butter), add  1 generous tablespoon each of chopped flat-leaf parsley, thyme & rosemary, 1 teaspoon of chopped garlic chives and 1-2 teaspoons of cracked black pepper.  Stir together with a dinner fork.  Cover and store in a cool (not cold place) until ready for use.

As we speak, it’s the Monday before Thanksgiving and I just prepared mine. Making ahead allows the herbs to really flavor the butter. While there are many uses for compound butters, I’ll use this one after gently loosening the skin of the turkey breast then taking gobs of it, massaging and slathering it between the skin and the turkey.  As it roasts in the oven, the herb butter self-bastes the turkey.  Enjoy!

My Famous Roasted Chestnut, Sausage & Apple Stuffing (or Dressing)

Here's the ingredients, prepped and ready to go, plus a glass of wine for the cook!
Here’s the ingredients, prepped and ready to go, plus a glass of wine for the cook!

I know, I know. It’s stuffing if it goes inside the turkey and dressing if not. Whatever you call it, mine is seriously without equal.  Here you see the ingredients of what goes into it.  It’s just Spence and I on Thanksgiving and what looks like overkill on the quantity that I make, I call smart.  At least half of what I make I freeze – unbaked in air-tight freezer bags and some in large size muffin tins (once frozen popping them into freezer bags as well).  I make rotisserie and baked chicken throughout the year and this makes the best side dish, lovely to have on hand – simply thaw and bake!

This recipe is flexible. I’m going to list the ingredients and you can make as much or as little as you need:

Cubed leftover bread (I always have a lot in the freezer) I use a mixture some artisan, bakery & grocery store “regular” bread – even cubing up leftover cornbread if I have it on hand.  Place all cubed bread on a sheet pan in the oven overnight with the oven light on to let it dry out. (turn oven on lowest setting for 30-60 minutes the day of assembly if it’s still too soft)

Additionally I use both the Pepperidge Farm seasoned Classic Stuffing & Country Style cubed stuffing

1 lb cooked sage breakfast sausage, use your spatula to crumble it while it’s browning, drain off any grease and blot with a paper towel

Apples – I generally use two kinds and don’t peel them, just chop into bite size chunks

Lightly saute chopped onion and celery (about 6-8 minutes), in several tablespoons of butter, add some poultry seasoning during the saute.  I use equal quantities of onion and celery.

Chestnuts – I roast my own (check my blog for how-to roast chestnuts, link is below) if you want substitute toasted pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts.  (But the chestnuts are what make this special in my humble opinion)

Fresh herbs – flat leaf parsley, thyme, rosemary – adds both a pop of color but also lots of flavor, chop them. I use a mezzaluna (pictured above).

Poultry seasoning

Lots of chicken stock – have more on hand than you think you’ll need, trust me on this.

I assemble this using two very large mixing bowls and put half of the ingredients (except chicken stock) into each, little by little – and adding chicken stock and poultry seasoning along the way, stirring and then building more ingredients, seasoning and stock (you get it) until the prep station is cleared.

I fill a large oval baker and refrigerate this overnight – really packing it in (and fill a second one to refrigerate and bake later with leftovers. Freeze the rest). I take the oval baker (or casserole dish) out of the fridge on Thanksgiving morning to take the chill off. It will have absorbed a lot of stock overnight so drizzle an ample amount over the top. Bake this at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes, uncovered, until it’s browning a bit and there’s some crunch happening on top. If you’re making this and have your oven set at another temp when this goes in it’s not a problem – just watch the top and feel for the crunch.

Bon appetit!

Assembled and ready to be baked tomorrow!
Assembled and ready to be baked tomorrow!

As promised, here’s the link on how-to roast chestnuts:

Roasting Chestnuts

Roasting Chestnuts, a labor of love

The ritual of roasting chestnuts for my annual Thanksgiving Day stuffing is a labor of love.  And as with any labor, there is pain.  But the payoff in flavor and texture make it all worthwhile. So for those who might want to try this, I’ve created a pictorial “recipe” for roasting chestnuts – no roaring fire required.

1. Purchase chestnuts.  I always get two bags since one of the first years Spence and I did this we lost half of one bag that were bad nuts – moldy, dried up, unusable.  Once roasted and chopped, any surplus can be frozen for months in a ziploc bag.

2. Score each nut using a small, very sharp knife in the pattern of a large X.

3. Set your oven at 450 degrees. Lay the chestnuts in a single layer on a pan. Set your timer for 15-20 minutes. Remove them from the oven and wrap them in a towel lined pan or bowl (I use two dishtowels) and cover for one hour to steam them.

Steam baby, steam
Steam baby, steam

4. Get two bowls, one for shells and one for the peeled nuts.  And start peeling – yes with your fingers (and that small knife – in case you need help).  Make sure and check the nuts over to remove any hard membranes. Your thumbs will be sore at the end of this, no sense in sugar coating it.  But these little beauties are so worth it!  When you’re ready to build your stuffing, just give  these a coarse chop!

Want to know how to make my famous Chestnut Stuffing?

https://spencesgirl.com/2014/11/26/my-famous-roasted-chestnut-sausage-apple-stuffing-or-dressing/

Spinach & Ricotta Gnocchi

I love Gnocchi and when I saw this recipe being prepared on Cooking Channel’s Extra Virgin, by actress Debi Mazar and her husband, talented Italian chef Gabriele Corcos, I went out immediately bought the ingredients and made it for Mom and Spence.  It was a huge hit – the fried fresh sage leaves from my garden made it extra delicious.

Fast forward to last night.  My lifelong BFF were attending a Harvest Meal, all plant based, locally sourced and delicious.  She has been a longtime advocate of meat free Mondays (and primarily eats vegetarian/vegan meals). It so happens that we are spending the next three days at her beautiful second home in the gorgeous Traverse City Michigan. Over dinner we discussed what we’d like to do while there and I suggested that I prepare dinner for Monday night.  I’d told her about this meal and she readily agreed.

I’ve kept the recipe very close to the original with only a few modifications.

Spinach & Ricotta Gnocchi – serves 2 as an entree, 4 as a sidedish

  • 1 lb fresh spinach
  • 8 oz ricotta cheese (not low fat)
  • fresh grated Parmesan
  • 2 egg yolks – beaten
  • 4 T butter
  • sea salt & fresh ground black pepper
  • fresh grated nutmeg
  • fresh lemon zest
  • fresh sage leaves

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil (I use a huge pasta pot with a strainer.

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Add the spinach to the boiling water, pushing it down over the next minute to wilt it.

Pull the basket and drain the spinach immediately, plunging it into an ice water bath to halt the cooking.  Drain the spinach and squeeze out the water completely.  (I wrap it in several paper towels, then place that bundle inside a clean kitchen towel and squeeze it)

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Squeezed out, it looks much smaller

Chop the spinach very fine.

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Chopped

Place the spinach in a large bowl, add the ricotta, 4 T of parmesan, eggs yolks, salt, pepper, nutmeg and lemon zest.

Stir to combine.  Shape the mixture into balls about the size of large walnuts.

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Butter a casserole dish and lay the gnocchi in it, dressing it with a few thin slices of buttter and more parmesan (I use a generous amount of parmesan).

Bake the gnocchi for 20 minutes then set under broiler for 5 minutes to brown the top.

In a medium skillet, melt 1 1/2 T of butter and saute the sage until it starts to brown.  Serve the gnocchi, dressed with the sage and butter sauce, sprinkle on more of the parmesan.

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Prepare to fall in love….so yummy.

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Chef’s note: You could use frozen chopped spinach in this recipe.  If I weren’t retired, I think I might do that as the blanching step is time consuming (but worth it).  I added the nutmeg and lemon zest which really puts this into the “over the top” amazing category, in my humble opinion. 

Festive Napa Cabbage Salad

Festive Napa Cabbage Salad                        Serves 4-8

For the Crunchy Ramen topping:

  • 1 package ramen noodles – broken up, (discard the flavoring package – not needed)
  • 1/2 c slivered almonds
  • 1/4 c sesame seeds
  • 1 stick butter

Melt butter in a large frying pan.  Add noodles, almonds and sesame seeds, lightly brown them.  Set aside to cool.

The topping is pure crunchy and buttery goodness.
The topping is pure crunchy, buttery goodness!

For the dressing:

  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/3 c champagne vinegar
  • 1/2 c canola oil
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 1/2 t sea salt
  • 1/2 t red pepper flakes

Mix together well and set aside. (I put it in a jar and shake it to dissolve the sugar and emulsify) You’ll dress the salad just prior to serving.

The dressing in a jar!
The dressing in a jar!

For the salad:

  • 1 head Napa Cabbage – shredded (I don’t use the last two inches of the base and eliminate some of the stalk like center of the larger leaves)
  • 1 bunch green onions – chopped
  • 1/2 c finely chopped sweet red pepper
  • 1/4 c finely chopped carrot
  • 1/4 c finely minced parsley

Toss all salad ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to serve.

The salad, assembled but not yet dressed.
The salad, assembled but not yet dressed.

When ready to serve, pour dressing over the salad mix and toss together.  Top generously with the crunchy ramen topping and serve.  Enjoy!

THE WORLD’S BEST CHICKEN

Tonight I’m having a couple of dear friends (former co-workers) over for dinner and a long overdue girl’s night. I’ve had my eye on a recipe for sometime whose title The World’s Best Chicken was a claim that I decided is worth testing.  I love a recipe that doesn’t require me to miss out on cocktail hour with my guests by simply baking in the oven – easy right?

The simplicity of this recipe with a few select but flavorful ingredients including fresh herbs from my garden made this the right choice for tonight.  Here’s how easy it is:

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INGREDIENTS
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts – cut into 2 tenders each
½ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt & pepper
Fresh rosemary

Fresh chopped flat leaf parsley and rosemary to garnish before serving.
INSTRUCTIONS
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
In a small bowl, whisk together mustard, syrup, and vinegar plus some chopped fresh rosemary and pepper.

OMG! This is so tasty...
OMG! This is so tasty…

Place chicken breasts into 9×13 lined baking dish (I doubled lined it with foil for easy clean up).

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Season with salt & lots of pepper. Pour mustard mixture over chicken. Make sure each breast is coated.

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Bake for 30 minutes, or until meat thermometer reads 165 degrees.

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Season with fresh rosemary and chopped flat leaf parsley just before serving.

Adapted from rachelschultz.com

Mole Sauce/Wet Beef Burritos with Mole

I have loved Mole Sauce since I was first introduced to it at age eighteen.  My co-worker Loretta,  was of Mexican descent and one evening after work made us homemade cheese enchiladas with Mole sauce from scratch.  I was hooked.  Over the years, I’ve experienced everything from average mole sauce to spectacular mole sauce when dining at Mexican restaurants around the world. What I’ve never done is attempt to make this complex and richly nuanced sauce myself. That is until yesterday….

Cobbling together multiple recipes and then pulling ingredients from my pantry, fridge and freezer, I went to work.  It turned out incredibly well (Spence rated it A+ and 5 star). Of course, I neglected to write it down precisely while making it. That said, I’m going to share the steps I followed and what I used.  I’d encourage you to try it and play with these flavors until it tastes perfect to you. Was it alot of work? Yes.  Was the effort worthy of the outcome?  Oh yeah.

Mole Sauce

  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • olive oil
  • 2 T chili powder
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 t cumin
  • salt & coarse ground pepper

Place the garlic, olive oil and dry ingredients (above) in a sauce pan set at a medium-low heat, warming and softening the garlic – not browning it – for 7-10 minutes. Into the same sauce pan, add the following:

  • 1/2 c chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 1 – 2 T Chipolte in Adobo
  • 1 16 oz can of chicken broth
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 T grated or finely chopped sweet onion

After adding these items, bring to boil then reduce to simmer for 8-10 minutes. Pour through a strainer, place liquids back into sauce pan, discard solids.  Increase heat (not to boiling), adding these next ingredients:

  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 2 T smooth peanut butter
  • semisweet chocolate chips – between 1/4 to 1/2 cup (start with less, add more to taste)
  • 1-2 T sesame seeds – lightly toasted in a dry skillet

Stir together until smooth and allow to simmer at a low temp for at least 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  The sauce will reduce and if it becomes too thick, add a bit more chicken stock.

Wet Beef Burritos with Mole

  • 1 recipe Mole Sauce – heated
  • Taco Meat – Ground Beef seasoned with garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, cumin, salt, pepper & Mexican seasoning blend
  • Finely Shredded Mexican Four Cheese Blend
  • Flour Tortilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Heat each tortilla, one at a time, on the burner of your stove until soft and pliable (20-30 seconds).  Assemble by spooning in meat, then cheese – rolling up like a burrito. Place in baking dish. Continue assembling the remaining burritos. Spoon a generous amount of mole sauce over each burrito covering top and sides, top with more cheese.

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Bake for 20 minutes or until cheese is nicely melted on top.  IMG_7576

My Mission – Find these Products

For those who’ve visited my blog, it’s obvious that I’m food obsessed.  I admit it freely. I love to cook and (pat on the back) am really skilled at it. Since retiring, Spence has benefited more than ever from my endeavors. I frequently cook from scratch, often make up recipes and even before I started the blog, photograph my culinary creations. My Pinterest page is a testament to my obsession as are the countless cookbooks and voluminous recipes I’ve clipped or have on cards in my old-school recipe box.

It is rare that I need to buy food staples at the grocery store as my pantry and freezer hold a myriad of items.  Recently I started a list of things that I needed to replace. To my shock, several mainstays and comfort foods were missing when I visited my local Kroger store.

  • Campbell’s Cream of Shrimp Soup 
  • Stouffer’s Spinach Souffle
  • Stouffer’s Welsh Rarebit

Out of a shopping list of ten items, this seemed a dismal failure but I chalked it up to the condition of the store which has been undergoing an endless “renovation” and is in a state of turmoil.

Perhaps they are so disorganized that they don’t even know what they need to order” I surmised.  I went online and let them know of my concern.

A few days later, we traveled north to Traverse City for a few days with family. Since Spence had to make a beer run I asked him to look for these items at their local IGA store. Struck out – not one of the missing items to be found.  My concern was escalating. Gloria, their next door neighbor, stopped by and heard my tale of woe.  She’d be at the Traverse City Meijer store that day and offered to do reconnaissance for me. If she was successful, she’d buy every can of the elusive shrimp soup and report back on the frozen items. It’s a huge store but that evening we learned the sad truth.  NO LUCK – not one of the items to be found. I felt a rising sense of panic but not to be deterred, committed to searching all grocery stores in our county upon returning home.

Last Saturday, I was on a mission. I drove to the nice, newer Meijer store in the neighboring community of Davison.  STRUCK OUT.  Next, I went to the Davison VG’s and while the soup and Welsh Rarebit eluded me, I hit gold with the Spinach Souffle, snagging six of them!

I was encouraged.

Recalling that there is a Kroger in Davison, I trudged on.  And to my delight, snagged the last six Cream of Shrimp soups and five Welsh Rarebits.  As I drove home victorious, I declared “I must blog about my quest“.  Spence was impressed with my coup but said “don’t put this in your blog“. What does he know about blogging?

Please watch in the future for a post of the recipe – my Famous Shrimp Bisque – using the elusive but not discontinued Cream of Shrimp soup as the base!