Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Brining - Trust me, you'll love it!

A few years ago, I learned of a basic cooking technique designed to help keep meat moist. Brining. Whether it's a simple solution of salt and water, or a more flavorful concoction with herbs and apple cider or beer, everybody's holiday turkey can benefit from a dip in the 'ol saltwater swimming pool. And no, don't go throwing your turkey in the ocean, though in a pinch I bet it would do!

How does it work? To brine a piece of meat, you basically soak your raw meat in a solution of salt and other liquids for a time before cooking. In the case of a turkey, you would want to allow 6-8 hours depending on the size of your bird. Something as small as a shrimp would only need to brine for about 30 minutes. This isn't an exact science here, so don't even worry about messing it up. Though I can tell you that while your bird is soaking, some pretty scientific principles are at work...and in your favor (flavor?). Basically, the salty solution is actually altering the structure of the cells in the meat, thus opening them up to the flavors of the brine and tenderizing each and every bite! Why oh why did I skip this step for so many years?!!

Here are some recipes that you just might want to give a try this Thanksgiving. If nothing else, fill a large pot or a cooler with water, and throw in a cup of kosher salt for each gallon of liquid. Stir things up a bit and drop in your turkey for awhile. You won't be disappointed.

Watch here as Chef Bobby Flay walks you through the brining process.

Click here for a brine with a bit of a citrus twist, or try this sweet and spicy brine from Alton Brown.

Happy Turkey Day!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Balsamic Peppers with Feta Cheese

This appetizer came to me when I challenged myself to have a small dinner party without going to the grocery store. With a bit of creativity, the night was perfect! This was a great anti-pasto style starter for the evening. Serve with your favorite glass of wine, and you are set!


1 jar of roasted red peppers (about one cup sliced)
1/2 cup feta cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

4 slices of white bread
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Serves 4

Simply drain the peppers, and them slice them into thick pieces. In a bowl, combine the peppers with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Arrange the peppers on a serving tray and surround with the feta cheese crumbles.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the crusts off of your white bread, and then cut each slice in half down the middle. Feel free to keep the crusts on if you like, I was simply trying to hide the fact that I had used regular ol' wonder bread. I think it worked! Now brush each piece with olive oil, and sprinkle with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Arrange the slices on a cookie sheet, and heat for 8-10 minutes or until slightly brown. Serve with the peppers and cheese for a wonderful and quick appetizer.

If you really wanted to make something special, garnish the dish with capers and fresh basil.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Shaved Zucchini Salad

I first got the idea for this salad at a friend's Tuscan themed dinner party. A beautiful evening of good food, good wine, and even better company is always so inspiring! If you are in need of a simple, yet beautiful salad, or if you are just plain tired of ice-burg lettuce, I invite you to step out for a real culinary treat.


2 large zucchinis
2 tablespoons of good olive oil
1/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts
1/4 cup of shaved Parmesan cheese

Start by shaving the zucchini into long strips using either a mandolin, or a vegetable peeler. You will only be able to use about half of the zucchini because once you get to the seeded interior of the vegetable, you will not want to use the strips. Save the leftover interior of the zucchini and use it in a stir-fry, or ratatouille later in the week. Set the strips aside.

In a small frying pan over medium heat, lightly toast the chopped mac nuts to enhance their flavor. This will take 4 to 5 minutes. Watch the nuts carefully, because they burn quit easily. Pine nuts are also a very delicious option if you don't like mac nuts.

To assemble the salad, simply toss the zucchini strips with the olive oil, and season to taste. I like to use my hands! Plate the salad into individual serving dishes, and top with the Parmesan cheese, and macadamia nuts.

Note: For best results, use the highest quality olive oil and Parmesan cheese that you can get your hands on. Since this ingredients are used sparingly, you want to make sure they stand out.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sticky Popcorn Treats

Do you still have a veritable stockpile of Halloween goodies lying around? Here is a recipe that I adapted from a Halloween treat created by Giada De Laurentiis, Food Network's Italian goddess. Though this recipe doesn't seem Italian at all, I did find it perfect for Halloween, and even better for after Halloween. So whether you just like the idea of candy and popcorn TOGETHER, or you way overbought for this year's Trick or Treaters, here is a fun way to use up all of your extra candy. My recipe calls for specific types of candy, but substitute anything that you have lying around. This will work just fine with just about any nut or chocolate based candy.


cooking spray
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 10oz bag mini marshmallows
1 king size snickers bar cut into tiny pieces
1/3 cup chopped salted almonds,
3/4 cup Reeses pieces

Spray the inside of a large mixing bowl with vegetable cooking spray, and lightly spray a baking sheet. Set aside.
In a 3 quart or larger, heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil and popcorn over medium-high heat. Cover the pan and shake gently. Cook until all the kernels have popped, about 3 minutes. Place the popcorn in the prepared bowl.
In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over low heat. Add the vanilla extract and marshmallows. Stir constantly until the marshmallows have melted and the mixture is smooth, about 5 minutes. Pour the melted marshmallow mixture over the popcorn. Using a spatula, sprayed with cooking spray, stir until the popcorn is coated. Spread the mixture over the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with the chopped nuts and assorted candy. Using a spatula, gently press the toppings into the popcorn. Allow the mixture to dry for 1 hour.
Divide into 2-inch pieces and store airtight in a plastic container.