Operation Thanksgiving 4: Side Dish Follies

Welcome back to “Operation: Thanksgiving.” We’re in our fourth day (or blog post) on how to make Thanksgiving a little less hectic on the kitchen front (if you need help on the family and relatives front, I’m not qualified for that). I laid out my plan on day one. Day two outlined the history of Thanksgiving and why a turkey was chosen as the main course. Day three focused on the turkey and the easy ways to make it juicy and moist (along with debunking every moisture retaining technique you learned from family and the media). Today, we make like a bad Operation player and touch the sides.

Stuffing

What would Thanksgiving be without stuffing in or served alongside the turkey? For some people, better.

I used to be one of those people who thought stuffing was disgusting – without even tasting it, which is a cardinal sin in culinary. You have to taste everything at least once before you can pass judgment. You may be missing out on something great. That’s how I found out that gluten-free brownies are just as good as ordinary brownies. I didn’t discover how good stuffing could be until November 2011, when my culinary class was assigned to cook Thanksgiving lunch and dinner for everyone at Whitney M. Young Job Corps center (which averages in at about 400 students, not counting students who leave because they finished the program, got thrown out, or decided not to stay, plus the regular staff members) and the kitchen staff taught us how to make it by hand. It was just a typical bread and celery stuffing, meant to be served alongside the turkey during the lunch and dinner rushes.

Initially I refused, citing that I didn’t like it. My teacher insisted, and I figured, “I’m not going to stick to most of my ways. I came out here to Kentucky to try new things.” It…wasn’t too bad. It could have stood to be seasoned a little more, but it wasn’t as gross as I imagined it would be.

Now, why would I think stuffing is disgusting? I mean, look at it.

Great Grandma's Bread Stuffing Recipe

Its name is appropos to what it looks like: stuffing, from an old couch that a stoner must have thought would taste better in the oven. Also, it seems that the stuffing and the turkey are competing for being the dryest thing at the table since that time your theatrical son chose to read Oscar Wilde’s memoirs instead of saying grace at the dinner table (hey, it’s more educational and less embarrassing than the time Uncle Gerald gave that stirring reading from Penthouse Forum. Sitting at the adult table can be vastly overrated, sometimes)*.

“So, Canais [or “Philly Foodie,” if you can’t make heads or tails of the pronounciation of my name],” you ask, “How can I make my stuffing moist?”

Now, assuming that’s not more food-based sexual innuendo, I’d answer, “It’s very simple…”

Or maybe not.

Because while you might dream of having moist stuffing inside a roasted bird, reality in the form of borrowed time, better resources (more pans, more oven room), and/or guest request may call for the stuffing to be cooked separately. Frankly, it doesn’t matter which method you use (stuffed in the bird vs. cooked separately), as long as you follow these steps to better, more moist stuffing:

Use bread: You can use grains or eschew stuffing all together if you have guests who don’t like/can’t eat gluten, but the truth of the matter is: You need bread for your stuffing. Now what kind of bread depends on what kind of stuffing you’re aiming for – and it has to be fresh bread. Don’t try to cheat with prepackaged croutons. It’ll taste like crap and everyone will know it. If you want to stick to tradition, use Pullman bread (the typical, square loaf bread, often sold as “white bread”). Whole grain bread adds a sweeter, fuller taste. Italian loaves cut into cubes is what I used when my class made stuffing from scratch. They’re great for sopping up the juices and, if you happen to have an Italian loaf flavored with olive oil or an Italian herb (basil or oregano), all the better, as it imparts a very homey taste. Good, old San Francisco sourdough gets you chewy, tangy stuffing (which is equal parts good and bad). Whatever you use, estimate 3/4 to 1 cup stuffing per person when figuring out how much you will need, or, failing that, err on the side of too much rather than too little. This is good advice, because the next blog post will be about what to do with all those leftovers.

Dry your bread: Nobody likes mushy stuffing, except those so hungry and desperate that they will eat anything, and even then, it’s a crapshoot. As I mentioned before, you can’t use prepackaged croutons, but you can make your own with fresh bread. Cut whatever bread you’re using (if you’re using cornbread or buttermilk biscuits as your base, all you have to do is bake your cornbread or biscuits and crumble them when they cool off) into cubes and toast them in the oven for 15 minutes (or until golden brown) at 275°F.

Aromatic vegetables are your friends: As I mentioned in the turkey section, a mix of diced or roughly cut (but small enough to be inconspicuous) aromatic vegetables (mirepoix) is essential, whether you’re making sauce or roasting poultry, and here, it’s no exception. The only difference is, instead of carrots, use garlic, along with your celery and onions, as you sauté them in a pan slicked up with a full stick of butter (you can cut it in half if the mere mention of a stick of butter makes your heart seize up in a pre-emptive attack).

Fresh herbs are also your friends: I already touched on this in the turkey post, so I’m not going to belabor the point. In the case of stuffing, you can’t cheat and use powdered herbs. You can, if you don’t have any fresh herbs, but if you want the stuffing to taste like something, then I advise you to use fresh and dried herbs. Sage, thyme, and parsley are the herbs associated with stuffing, but you can improvise and either add on or substitute any of those three for ground cloves, allspice, mace, and/or nutmeg. Rosemary — an herb my mother hates with a passion (I myself love it) — can be used as well, but it will impart a pine tree-like flavor to your stuffing if you use too much — unless you want to combine Thanksgiving and Christmas in one meal, then by all means, go nuts. In seriousness, though, a pinch of the herbs and spices is all you need to give the stuffing a pop without making it overbearing.

Pack the stuffing loosely: The stuffing expands as it absorbs juices, and if it’s too tightly packed, it won’t cook through. On top of that, you run the risk of causing food-bourne illness if you do pack it tightly. If your hand can’t fit inside the cavity after you stuffed the bird, it’s too much. The excess stuffing can be cooked off in a casserole pan or put in a freezer bag for later use.

A little liquid goes a long way: This will make or break your stuffing, as the liquid is what keeps the stuffing together. However, too much can make it soggy. You’re going to need one to two cups of stock (not broth, stock) of any kind (chicken is the gold standard, but you can use vegetable or mushroom if you don’t want to make your vegetarian eaters mad), but if you want to mix it up, create a liquid mixture made of milk, white wine, and the stock of your choice. The key here is to have something that will not only hold the bread crumbs together, but also give it a great flavor.

Next up, Cranberry Sauce

Like stuffing, I was never a fan of this Thanksgiving staple. Not because no one knew how to make it right, but I was under the impression that no one made it at all, and that the only form it existed in was the can, jellied monstrosity by Ocean Spray. My “Damn you, Ocean Spray” from the previous post was half-funny and half-serious. I just really hate that Ocean Spray came up with the canned cranberry sauce (their cranberry juices are okay in my book). It wouldn’t be until college that I realize that cranberry sauce need not be this way. One of the student orientation heads brought some homemade cranberry and orange sauce. One taste and all my preconceptions about cranberry sauce vanished.

It wouldn’t be until I went to Job Corps for culinary arts that I went searching online for homemade cranberry sauce recipes I could put in my Thanksgiving repertoire. This one I picked (and just did) because it’s more of a relish than a sauce and it’s very versatile. It can be equally enjoyed at the Thanksgiving table or on a shrimp salad pita sandwich during your lunch break at work.

Pomegranate Apple Cranberry Relish (credit to A Spicy Perspective)

Ingredients:

2 cups pomegranate juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
1 medium crisp apple, peeled, cored, diced (I used a Granny Smith apple because I wanted it to taste tart, but you can use the mild apples, like Gala or Red Delicious)
1 cup pomegranate arils (seeds) [See my blog post about POM and pomegranates for how to break and de-seed one of these suckers. It’s not as messy as handling cranberries]
1 teaspoons orange zest
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint (or parsley)*

*I substituted for ground cinnamon for two reasons: 1) it gives it a bolder flavor that’s more suited for autumn, and 2) my mother couldn’t find any mint, and I didn’t go shopping with her to look for it myself. I also forgot to put salt in it, but I think I made up for it with the cinnamon.

Directions:

1) Simmer the pomegranate juice and sugar until it reduces to less than half, and a thin syrupy consistency is reached—about 15 minutes (longer if you feel it could be a little sweeter).

2) Meanwhile, using a blender or a food processor, coarsely chop the cranberries.

3) Pour them into a medium bowl and add the pomegranate syrup. If the syrup is still warm, don’t worry about it. You can make up for it by chilling it in the refrigerator.

4) Add the diced apple, pomegranate arils, orange zest salt and mint. Mix well.

5) Serve right away or chill for up to a week. Makes about 4 cups.

Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes seems like a no-brainer recipe. Boil some spuds until soft and yielding, mash as you pour in milk or cream, season to taste, the end. Which is why I don’t understand why people would resort to instant. Yes, if time really isn’t on your side, you can whip this up in 15 to 30 minutes flat, but I’m the kind of person who at least wants to put some effort into something, whether or not it’s stupid easy. If that means I’m an ovethinker, then, well, that’s what I am.

And just like anything that seems easy to make, it’s also easy to screw it up. Case in point: I had to make mashed potatoes for wonton filling in my garde manger (pantry) class. The potatoes were only half soft when I had to mash them. Also, it would have been best if I peeled them before cubing them. My point is, “Don’t do what I did.”

As long as you use Russets (Idaho) or Yukon Golds (they’re starchier and result in a creamier mash, mash it by hand instead of machine (immersion blender and food processors), don’t overdo it on the mashing, don’t add too much liquid (and if you do, then you can turn it into potato soup), respect the “2:1 potato-to-butter ratio” (for every pound of potatoes, use a half-pound of butter), and don’t make them too far in advance (to avoid drying them out), then you’re golden.

I will, however, add that I swear by stock and cream cheese for really good mashed potatoes that don’t also double as stucco.

Vegetable, Grain, and Legume Dishes

Normally, green bean casserole (the one with the fried onion sticks in them) is the go-to veggie dish for the Thanksgiving table, but let’s be honest. It’s time to retire it. It had a good run and it should have gone out on top before 1979 ended (kind of like how The Simpsons should have ended after the season nine episode where Homer becomes the sanitation commissioner for Springfield and then buried the entire town in trash, which would be around 1998-1999).

At my table, the vegetable dishes are usually collard greens (or some kind of braised greens dish. Mustard greens and kale have been served before), a rice and veggie dish (usually broccoli, and usually with that bright yellow cheese sauce), asparagus spears, or baked potatoes. Vegetables don’t really get much attention at my family’s table, which is a shame, because that’s an essential part of a balanced diet. If I had my way, I’d prepare ratatouille (not that Pixar movie; it’s an actual vegetable dish of North African and Mediterrenean roots), creamed spinach, and brussel sprouts (yeah, it’s not everyone’s favorite vegetable, but, if cooked right, it will be. Brussel sprouts really benefit from some time in a slow cooker).

My family doesn’t do beans at the table, since not everyone likes them (myself included). I have taken a liking to quinoa, thanks to my internship at Three Stone Hearth, a community kitchen/health food store in Berkeley, California. Quinoa is a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. You can use it as a substitute for rice if you’re making a pilaf recipe, but I enjoy quinoa more in a salad recipe (like this recipe below):

Greek Quinoa Salad

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 cups water or vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa, uncooked
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • juice from one lemon
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, sliced if desired
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preparation:

1)      In a medium-large saucepan, cook the quinoa in vegetable broth for 15-20 minutes, until tender, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool.

2)      In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil.

3)      Gently toss the quinoa together with the remaining ingredients, except the feta.

4)      Pour the olive oil mixture over the quinoa.

Add more salt and pepper to taste and gently stir in the feta cheese

Breads (Biscuits, Cornbread, and Croissants)

If you don’t know how to make bread by hand, you can take a shortcut and get your breads either from a bakery or just use Pillsbury or Jiffy brand. But, if you have the know-how and the time to make biscuits, cornbread, and/or croissants by hand, then read on:

I’m a fan of knock-off recipes. A knock-off recipe (also called a “copycat recipe”) is a recipe written to imitate a certain food or meal from a popular chain restaurant or fast food joint. You see them all the time online, from imitations of Outback Steakhouse’s Bloomin’ Onion to imitations of your favorite candies, like Almond Joy and Reese’s Cups. The knock-off recipe appeals to my “I can do better than these guys” sensibilities, because why go to Dairy Queen for a Blizzard when you can just throw some ice cream (either store-bought or homemade) in a blender and mix in some candy, fruit, nuts, or cookie dough pieces until it’s so thick that it can’t slide out of the cup? And why go to Red Lobster for the Chedday Bay biscuits when you can make them yourself at home? I think you see where this is going.

Cheddar Bay Biscuits

Ingredients

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup chilled butter, cut into pieces

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Method

-Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

-Mix the dry ingredients, then cut the butter pieces into it with a pastry cutter or two knives.

-Add the buttermilk, stirring just until a sticky dough forms.

-Turn it out onto floured surface, pat it into a square, and fold it in on itself a couple of times, like a letter.

-Pat it out again to about 1/2 to 1 inch thickness, depending on how you like them. Use a biscuit cutter to cut the biscuits out.

-Arrange them on a baking sheet, as close to each other as possible without touching. Make a small indentation in the center of each biscuit with your thumb (I’ve heard this helps them rise straight, but I’ve never not done it, so I have no idea.)

-Mix butter or margarine and garlic powder. Brush mixture over warm biscuits before removing from cookie sheet.

Cornbread

Good cornbread is hard to find. In my younger, more naive days, I thought Jiffy brand Cornbread Mix was the quickest way to good cornbread. Then, one day, I tried a piece of Jiffy cornbread after years of not having it and was shocked to find that it wasn’t the little slice of buttery heaven it was before. I learned a horrible truth about my beloved cornbread: real cornbread (as in, “From the Deep South of these United States. The kind of places where answering ‘No’ to the question, ‘You ain’t from around here, are ya?’ will get you strung up faster than a piñata at a little kid’s backyard birthday party”) is grittier than packaged or bakery versions. Why? Because wheat flour and sugar, among other ingredients, dominate commercial mixes. From then on, I’ve been on a journey to find a cornbread recipe (from scratch) that would make me love cornbread again.

And I made it when I was at Whitney M. Young Job Corps Center:

Juffy Cornbread Mix (Not very creative, but it’s still mine)

Dry Mix:

2/3 Cup Flour
1/2 Cup Yellow Cornmeal
3 Tablespoons Sugar
1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon Salt

Wet Ingredients:

1 Egg

1/3 Cup Milk

2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil

Method:

1)      Combine dry ingredients in a bowl, mix well.

2)      Whisk in vegetable oil and mix until dry mixture is smooth and lumps are gone.

3)      Combine mix with egg and milk, mixing well.

4)      Fill muffin pan 1/2 full,

5)      Bake for 15-20 minutes or until toothpick poked in center of one of the cornbread muffins comes out clean.

A note for cooks: Cornbread is a quick bread, meaning that its batter or dough should be made quickly. Working on it too long or mixing it too much can and will result in a less than savory crumb.

Croissants

As I said before, you’re better off just getting ready-made crescent rolls from either a very good bakery or the grocer’s freezer in one of those tubes that go “POP!” when you press on it with a back of a spoon, as croissant dough is very labor intensive to work with.

I’d like to thank Fine Cooking.com and my Baking Class instructor, Master Baker Chef Egon Grundmann from Treasure Island Job Corps Center for teaching me how to work with this dough and for the recipe:

Ingredients:

For the dough

  • 1 lb. 2 oz. (4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour (add more for rolling, so the dough doesn’t stick)
  • 5 oz. (1/2cup plus 2 Tbs.) cold water
  • 5 oz. (1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs.) cold whole milk
  • 2 oz. (1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs.) granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 oz. (3 Tbs.) soft unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbs. plus scant 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
  • 2-1/4 tsp. table salt

For the butter layer

  • 10 oz. (1-1/4 cups) cold unsalted butter

For the egg wash

1 large egg

Method:

Make the dough

Combine all of the dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed for 3 minutes, scraping the sides of the mixing bowl once if necessary. Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured 10-inch pie pan or a dinner plate. Lightly flour the top of the dough and wrap well with plastic so it doesn’t dry out. Refrigerate overnight.

Make the butter layer

The next day, cut the cold butter lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slabs. Arrange the pieces on a piece of parchment or waxed paper to form a 5- to 6-inch square, cutting the butter crosswise as necessary to fit. Top with another piece of parchment or waxed paper. With a rolling pin, pound the butter with light, even strokes. As the pieces begin to adhere, use more force. Pound the butter until it’s about 7-1/2 inches square and then trim the edges of the butter. Put the trimmings on top of the square and pound them in lightly with the rolling pin. Refrigerate while you roll out the dough.

Laminate the dough

Unwrap and lay the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Roll into a 10-1/2-inch square. Brush excess flour off the dough. Remove the butter from the refrigerator—it should be pliable but cold. If not, refrigerate a bit longer. Unwrap and place the butter on the dough so that the points of the butter square are centered along the sides of the dough. Fold one flap of dough over the butter toward you, stretching it slightly so that the point just reaches the center of the butter. Repeat with the other flaps, then press the edges together to completely seal the butter inside the dough. A complete seal ensures the butter center won’t come out over the edges.

Lightly flour the top and bottom of the dough. With the rolling pin, firmly press the dough to elongate it slightly and then begin rolling instead of pressing, focusing on lengthening rather than widening the dough and keeping the edges straight. Roll the dough until it’s 8 by 24 inches. If the ends lose their square shape, gently reshape the corners with your hands. Brush any flour off the dough. Pick up one short end of the dough and fold it back over the dough, leaving one-third of the other end of dough exposed. Brush the flour off and then fold the exposed dough over the folded side. Put the dough on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze for 20 minutes to relax and chill the dough.

Repeat the rolling and folding, this time rolling in the direction of the two open ends. Fold the dough in thirds again, brushing off excess flour and turning under any rounded edges or short ends with exposed or smeared layers. Cover and freeze for another 20 minutes.

Give the dough a third rolling and folding. Put the dough on the baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap, tucking the plastic under all four sides. Refrigerate overnight.

Divide the dough

The next day, unwrap and lightly flour the top and bottom of the dough. With the rolling pin, “wake the dough up” by pressing firmly along its length—you don’t want to widen the dough but simply begin to lengthen it with these first strokes. Roll the dough into a long and narrow strip. If the dough sticks as you roll, sprinkle with flour. Once the dough is about half to two-thirds of its final length, it may start to resist rolling and even shrink back. If this happens, fold the dough in thirds, cover, and refrigerate for about 10 minutes; then unfold the dough and finish rolling. Lift the dough an inch or so off the table and allow it to shrink from both sides—this helps prevent the dough from shrinking when it’s cut. Check that there’s enough excess dough on either end to allow you to trim the ends so they’re straight. Trim the dough.

With a knife and a ruler, mark the top of the dough at 5-inch intervals along the length. There should be 7 marks in all. Make a mark 2-1/2 inches in from the end of the dough. Make marks at 5-inch intervals from this point all along the bottom of the dough. You’ll have 8 marks that fall halfway between the marks at the top.

Make diagonal cuts by positioning the yardstick at the top corner and the first bottom mark. With a knife or pastry wheel (better known as a pizza cutter), cut the dough along the marked lines. Repeat until you have cut the dough diagonally at the same angle along its entire length. Change the angle of the yardstick to connect the other top corner and bottom mark and cut the dough along this line to make triangles. Repeat along the entire length of dough. You’ll end up with 15 triangles and a small scrap of dough at each end. Toss the scraps out if they aren’t triangular enough to be made into croissants.

Using a paring knife or a bench knife, make a 1/2- to 3/4-inch-long notch in the center of the short side of each triangle. The notch helps the rolled croissant curl into a crescent. Hold a dough triangle so that the short notched side is on top and gently elongate to about 10 inches without squeezing or compressing the dough. Lay the croissant on your work surface with the notched side closest to you. With one hand on each side of the notch, begin to roll the dough away from you, towards the pointed end.

Flare your hands outward as you roll so that the “legs” (the thin ends) become longer. Press down on the dough with enough force to make the layers stick together, but avoid excess compression, which could smear the layers. Roll the dough all the way down its length until the pointed end of the triangle is directly underneath the croissant. Now bend the two legs towards you to form a tight crescent shape and gently press the tips of the legs together. Don’t worry if they come off during the proofing phase. That’s normal.

Shape the remaining croissants in the same manner, arranging them on two large parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets (8 on one pan and 7 on the other). Keep as much space as possible between them, as they will rise during the final proofing and again when baked.

Proof the croissants

Make the egg wash by whisking the egg with 1 tsp. water in a small bowl until very smooth. Lightly brush it on each croissant.

Refrigerate the remaining egg wash and put the croissants in a draft-free spot at 75° to 80°F. Wherever you proof them, be sure the temperature is not so warm that the butter melts out of the dough. They will take 90 minutes to 2 hours to fully proof (perfect time to watch a movie). The croissants are ready if you can see the layers of dough when the croissants are viewed from the side, and if you shake the sheets, the croissants will wiggle. Finally, the croissants will be distinctly larger (though not doubled) than they were when first shaped.

Bake the croissants (Finally!)

Shortly before the croissants are fully proofed, position racks in the top and lower thirds of the oven and heat it to 400°F convection, or 425°F conventional. Brush the croissants with egg wash a second time. Put the sheets in the oven. After 10 minutes, rotate the sheets and swap their positions. Continue baking until the bottoms are an even brown, the tops richly browned, and the edges show signs of coloring, another 8 to 10 minutes. If they appear to be darkening too quickly during baking, lower the oven temperature by 10°F. Let cool on baking sheets on racks.

Well, we reached the end of this battle in “Operation: Thanksgiving,” but the war isn’t over yet. Once I’ve and you’ve recovered from our respective food comas, I’ll be blogging about what you can do with all those leftovers.

Goodbye, happy eating, and Happy Thanksgiving (or Happy Hanukkah, since that happens to fall around the same time as American Thanksgiving this year. I’ve never seen this happen and I’m glad to be alive to see it. Mazel tov!).

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*NOTE: Those two events never happened to me personally. I’m just painting a hypothetical picture of how dry the stuffing and turkey can get. All recipes and excerpts are property of their respective books and websites unless otherwise noted. All commentary is copyright of Canais “Philly Foodie” Young.

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Operation Thanksgiving 3: More Turkey Troubles (or Me Against The Kitchen)

Welcome to part three of “Operation: Thanksgiving,” your guide and my spin on that holiday that will pack your digestive tract tighter than the overhead luggage on an over-booked flight home. Last time around, I got into some cultural history about the holiday and how the goofy-looking turkey went from being domesticated by ancient peoples to carved by modern man (or woman) for an autumn holiday sandwiched between the garish, sugar rush of Halloween and the cold, yet heartwarming lull of Christmas (or Hanukkah, if you’re Jewish, Ramadan, if you’re Muslim, or no holiday if you’re Jehovah’s Witness, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, or you’ve long given up on holiday cheer and want everyone else to know it).

Today, we’re going after the popular dishes of Thanksgiving, specifically, some subsitutes, new spins, and the right way to cook dishes you can’t do without…which means, “Yes, we will discuss how to make that turkey come out a little less dry so your critical relatives can get off your damn back,” which is the subject of today’s post.

Now, cooking for large crowds (what’s known in the foodservice biz as “high-volume service,” whether you’re serving the cream of the social crop at a fine-dining restaurant or serving the unfortunate souls who have to make due with soup from a homeless shelter. I’ve done both) isn’t for the weak or slow. You have to be on your game and make sure everything is prepared in time. You have to know how to do your stuff and do it well under pressure (again, a lesson learned from my Job Corps days). It also helps that you have others around you who can work as a team and also know what they’re doing. If you feel you can’t handle this, then don’t read and wait until the next entry. If, however, you are a seasoned Thanksgiving kitchen veteran or feel that you can handle it, then read on.

I’d like to thank the good people at Cook’s Illustrated, the writers of all those recipe books I poured through, and my Basic and Advanced Culinary Arts instructors who taught me well, as all my tips will be from these sources and it’s only fair to give them credit.

First up, the turkey:

This isn’t like the roast chicken you can make for Sunday dinner and use the leftovers for chicken salad sandwiches and feeding the outside cats (and the indoor ones) who won’t leave you alone, despite that you’re out of dry and wet cat food. A lot of care goes into making a turkey the best anyone’s ever tasted, regardless of whether you’re serving to a large family or just you (or you and someone you love).

If you know me at all, then you’ll know that one of my major pet peeves is a dry turkey. Everything else on the Thanksgiving menu can be five-star, but if the turkey is dry, then that’s a major flaw to me. Part of the reason is because I have that need for everything to be right. Then there’s the fact that I want to show others that the two years of learning culinary arts at Job Corps weren’t a waste, even if I never get a job in that field (I can show my support for farmers’ markets, sustainable agriculture, local growers, fair trade, and talented people who want to go to school to be five-star chefs, but don’t have the money or don’t know what to do to reach that goal, though), and the fact that I always get the hiccups whenever I eat dry turkey.

So, if this is your first time roasting turkey and you’ve been racking your brain on how to make that turkey moist, stop racking and start taking notes.

Let’s start off with why your turkey would end up dry. The most common reasons are either: (a) you overcooked the bird, or (b) you made a mistake in how it was prepared or while it was roasting in the oven.

You may have heard from cooking shows or dear old ma (or grandma) that a pat of butter under the skin or rinsing it is the key to juicy turkey. Well, you can tell dear old ma (or grandma) not to bother with her technique (no matter how many generations it’s been passed down), because you have some new tricks up your sleeve:

First, you need the right equipment:

a roasting pan three inches deep or less and a rack for even roasting.

This one has been with my family for years. We don’t have an inside-the-pan rack for it, but the turkey still comes out okay. The ones with the rack inside like this one…
…are good if you’re planning on turning the pan drippings into homemade gravy (which is simply your pan drippings, plus a flour/oil mix called a roux and some whipping cream if you want it smoother or have to stretch it).
Which leads me to my next secret to juicy turkey: your mirepoix (pronounced “mere-pwah,” named for a French field marshal and Louis XV’s ambassador, Charles-Pierre-Gaston François de Lévis, duc de Lévis-Mirepoix). “Mirepoix” is just a fancy name for the aromatic vegetables cooks chop up to flavor soups, stews, sauces, and roasted meats. It goes by various names, such as “sofrito” in Spanish, “refogado” in Portuguese, “Suppengrün” in German, “the holy trinity” in Creole and Cajun cooking, or “włoszczyzna” in Polish. A common mirepoix is made up of 2 parts onions for every one part of celery and one part of carrots (though you can also add or substitute for other aromatic vegetables, like leeks, parsnips, celeriac, bell peppers, garlic, or tomatoes). What you want to do is chop your aromatic veggies into medium to large chunks (depending on how big the turkey is) and spread the chunks out on the bottom of the pan, creating a flat surface.
But the mirepoix can’t make the turkey juicy alone. You need to season the bird all over — including the inside cavity. Salt and pepper are your go-to guys, but you can use any seasoning you want. Most of the time, I’m a kitchen-sink seasoner when it comes to roasting poultry  (meaning, “I use everything but the kitchen sink”), but you (and I) have a special blend when it comes to turkey. A nice dry rub I like to use for poultry is salt, pepper, a whisper of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg, some garlic (whether fresh and crushed or dry and powdered), some white pepper, and either basil or Italian seasoning.The spice rack (or spice section of your pantry) is your oyster; use it to your advantage. Do taste tests if you must to come up with a winning combination
It also helps if you stick an apple (Granny Smith, Fuji, and Gala are good. Save your Red Delicious for apple juice, apple sauce, or good, old-fashioned, out of hand eating) in the neck cavity. It keeps it juicy and imparts a fresh, fall flavor to it when combined with the cinnamon inside the bird. Or, you could do what I did four years ago and fill the cavity with dried cherries and fresh orange slices. It surprisingly came out good, but it imparted a very sweet taste to it that even I couldn’t handle.

Stuffing the bird also keeps it moist, but only if it’s a moist stuffing (read: it has broth/stock in it).
And last, but not least, some “dos” and “don’ts” for roasting your turkey:
  • Don’t truss the turkey. Trussing is when you tie the legs and wings of poultry together to keep its shape and cook evenly without drying out any of the extremities. You might be asking, “But Philly Foodie, how can you tell me not to do this if the goal is to have a turkey that’s not dry?” Well, in this case, trussing is a bad thing. The legs and wings are dark meat (which is from the active muscles of a bird) and dark meat doesn’t dry out quickly like white meat does. The dark meat will cook faster unfettered and thus reduce the chance of the breast overcooking by the time the dark meat is done. And if any of this sounds like sexual innuendo, I do NOT apologize, because it’s your mind that’s face-down in the gutter.
  • As much as TV, magazines, and your fellow home cooks make it seem glamorous and will pressure you into doing it, just say “No” to basting as your turkey roasts in the oven. The meat is covered by the skin and won’t absorb the juices, so why bother? Also, you will lose valuable heat by opening and closing the oven door a lot. Here’s how you combat this: For the first 20 minutes, roast the bird at a really high heat (450 degrees).  This will allow the skin to brown on the outside and lock in the juices. After 20 minutes, reset the oven temperature to 325 degrees, and turn the turkey upside down so the breast is on the bottom. Add ¼ cup of low sodium chicken stock seasoned with black pepper. This will act as a basting mechanism for the turkey. Since the breast cooks faster than the dark meat and needs less cooking, situating it breast side down exposes it to less direct heat.
  • The phrase “Stick a fork [or knife] in it. It’s done” actually does more harm than good for Tom Turkey, so don’t do it. Why? You lose valuable turkey juice that way.  Some folks like to use the pop up meat thermometers which are fine when they work while others use the leg check technique (read: if the leg when you wiggle it is very easy to move and the skin breaks the bird is done).  You can also use the “20 minutes per pound” rule for a no stuffing bird or the “25 minutes per pound” rule for a stuffed one, but if you’re not good with math, then stick with the other two methods.
  • Do remember is that once the turkey has reached the proper temperature (165 degrees Fahrenheit whether or not it’s stuffed), remove the turkey from the oven and allow it to sit 20 minutes to keep the meat moist. If you carve the meat immediately, all the juices will run out and your goal to make a moist turkey will have been a fool’s errand.

In the next post, we’ll go through the side dishes, sauces, and biscuits. See you then, and happy eating!

All About Pom (or Pomegranates 101)

This is Pom.

Pom is a Northern European free spirit — a little wacky, with outré ways that won’t win over everyone, but she does have a lot of friends who want to abandon their toxin-laden, supermarket-shopping, fat American ways and try something…different. Her hourglass figure brings to mind Mae West in her prime or Betty Boop before the Hays Code cracked down on her jazz-era sense of sexual freedom. She comes with a charming tag with diagrams on how many antioxidant properties she has than her Far East sister, Green Tea, which I love both as a drink and as an ice cream flavor.

With the exceptions of grape juice (which, to me, tastes too much like cough syrup with sugar in it), I love fruit juices of all kinds. I am very partial to cranberry juice (which, as a girl, is essential for cleaning out any and all infections in my urinary tract), lime juice (put some sea salt in it and you have a non-alcoholic margarita. Of course, you can add tequila and triple sec along with the salt if you want the real deal, but I’m not much of a drinker), tomato/vegetable blend juice like V8 (which I can always count in if I feel I’m not getting enough fruits and vegetables in my diet and is one of the reasons why I feel a blender is essential in the home kitchen), and any kind of exotic fruit juice (mostly from fruits associated with tropic climates, like passion fruit and mango). That’s where Pom comes in.

The concept of pomagranate juice will make those who aren’t used to it a little suspicious. For one thing, the inside of a pomegranate looks like this:

Your pomegranate insides may vary, but that’s typically what it looks like when you break it open, which may seem hard to cut with a kitchen knife because of the thick skin, but if you have a professional-grade kitchen knife, you can slice through it like it’s nothing. As for me, I’d rather summon the ghosts of my primitive, cave-dwelling ancestors and just slam it against something hard until it splits. Unlike my ancestors, however, I’ll be careful not to get any juice or seeds on the floor.

And that’s another thing about the pomegranate and Pom in general. Pomegranates are not like any fruit you’re used to. They don’t  have juicy flesh that can be fit through a juicer. You can’t twist one on a citrus reamer like you do with a lemon, a lime, a grapefruit, a pomelo, a tangelo, or an orange. Its interior looks  like a uterus with a serious ovarian cyst problem (one that needs surgery, not birth control pills, to fix), and, if you do manage to figure out that the seeds are the juicy part of the fruit, then you’ll discover that it’s very bitter and it’s bitterness doesn’t let up. Where’s the sharp, yet safe and refreshing taste of citrus or the mild, familiar autumn taste of apple juice (and its country cousin, apple cider)? You won’t find it here.

The pomegranate was originally from Iran and has been cultivated there and other parts of Europe and Asia, such as the Mediterrenean, the Caucasus region [that’s the area that includes countries like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, the southwestern tip of Russia, and Georgia — not the Southern U.S. state between Florida and South Carolina. This Georgia also goes by the name “Sakartvelo,” has Tbilisi as its capital city instead of Atlanta, and was part of the Soviet Union until the early 1990s], the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and parts of Southeast Asia, it has religious symbolism (not like the apple as a forbidden fruit, which is actually a myth, as the Garden of Eden story in Genesis doesn’t mention that the forbidden fruit that was on the Tree of Knowledge was an apple. But that’s a blog post for another day) in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and in the religious beliefs of ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, Persia, and China. Pomegranates were brought to California with the early Spanish settlers, the southwest coast and inland valley being ideal for cultivation. It’s juice improves well-being and mood in healthy adults (according to a study from endocrine-abstracts.org). The juice is also extremely high in antioxidants, which is said to be good for you. Since the science behind antioxidants is largely unproven, I’ll let you research and come to your own conclusions.

History and health benefits aside, attaining the tart juice of a pomegranate (not the seeds; the seeds are easy to get) does not come easy — and I’m speaking from experience as a former student cook/chef. It can and will leave a mess. Not in the “Oh, no! I gotta wash this shirt!” mess; more like “I swear, Officer!  I was juicing pomegranates three days ago and just now found this stabbed coed’s corpse!”

Most ways I’ve heard about juicing a pomegranate include breaking the fruit with a kitchen knife and careful hands, then reaming the sections like a lemon, putting the seeds in a plastic Ziploc bag and gently crushing them with a rolling pin (which makes the juice bitter, but this can be prevented if you’re gentle with it), and, of course, letting the juicer/food mill handle the dirty work. The last way is the easiest way if you want to reduce mess in your workspace (whether you cook in a professional kitchen or a home one that looks professional), and yes, if I had a juicer, a food mill, or one of those souped-up blenders they have nowadays that can do anything a professional cook can do, only better, then you’d see me use that to juice pomegranates. So, what’s the best way to juice a pomegranate? Why, the Ziploc bag/rolling pin method, of course (though, if you don’t have a rolling pin, anything heavy will do, like a big soup can, your fist if it’s big enough, the bottom of a tumbler or a measuring cup), as seen in this video:

Pom’s juice are great straight up or diluted with water. For those who don’t like her plain (her tartness won’t win over most) or want something a little more, there’s Pom with tangerine or mango juice. As mentioned before, Pom wants to be friendly and helpful to your body underneath its free, often unconventional ways, and will clash with those who are set in their ways. For those who want to party, Pom tastes better with Crown Russe (or any kind of) vodka than it does with anything else at the bar.

I’d like to close out with some pomegranate (both the juice and the fruit) recipes I have on my culinary bucket list):

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Appetizer:

Pomegranate Bruschetta — a fall/winter season take on a popular Italian appetizer. If you want it simple, just spread some regular cream cheese (or cream cheese made from goat’s milk) on a toasted baguette slice or a slice of Pullman bread (the type of bread people use for toast, grilled cheese sandwiches, club sandwiches, any kind of cold-cut sandwiches, the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich [that perennial favorite of most children who haven’t been cursed with a peanut allergy], and paninis) with the crust cut off and sprinkle pomegranate seeds on top. The pomegranate seeds are edible, but if you don’t like seeds, then you can do what I do when I chew gum: spit it out when the flavor’s gone (though that is definitely frowned upon in more polite settings. I suggest either swallowing the seeds, discretely spitting them out in a napkin, or tucking them in between your cheek and gums and excusing yourself to the restroom when you can’t hold any more).

If a bruschetta isn’t your thing, you can do a Turkish dip called muhammara that combines pomegranate molasses, walnuts, and roasted red bell peppers into a delicious, Mediterrenean/Central Eurasian spread that you can put on pita sandwiches or use as a substitute for ranch or blue cheese dressing with your vegetable platter.

Muhammara (Pomegranate, Red Pepper, and Walnut Dip) [Recipe credit goes to localfoods.about.com. The commentary is, however, copyright of me]

3 to 4 red bell peppers
1 pomegranate, split open
1 to 1 1/2 cups walnuts
1 clove garlic
1 to 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 to 1 tsp. sea salt

1) Roast the red peppers until the skin is blackened and about to fall off. If you have a gas stovetop or a culinary torch, you can roast them that way (I love this way of roasting red peppers). If you have neither, then lay your red peppers on a parchment-covered baking sheet and set the oven to “broil”. Let the peppers sit, covered in plastic wrap or in a plastic Ziploc bag, for about 15 minutes.

2) Preheat your oven to 350°F for the walnuts.

3) While the oven heats, seed the pomegranate by using a sharp knife to cut through the peel from stem to end (that’s called “scoring”). A medium pomegranate can be scored into six sections, and, depending on the size, you may have more or less. That’s normal. After scoring from stem to end, cut off the top of the pomegranate, being sure to cut off enough of the top to reveal the bright red seeds underneath, then use your bare (or gloved) hands to pull the pomegranate apart. If you want to reduce messiness, do this over a mixing bowl or a small to medium pot or pan. Seeding a pomegranate is very labor-intensive, as there are a lot of seeds to pick off the pith, but if you have fast hands and a lot of patience, it shouldn’t be a problem.

4) Lay the walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and put them in the oven. Cook until lightly toasted. While ten minutes is ideal time for your walnuts to toast, it’s not always the best time to go with, as oven cooking time varies from brand to brand and walnuts go from raw to burnt very quickly. My advice: invest in a cooking timer (or use a timer app on your cell phone if your cell phone has one) or check your walnuts frequently so they don’t burn.

5) While the walnuts cool, remove the skin from the peppers (which, as I mentioned before, will easily slip off). You can rinse them under cool running water, but this step is optional. Why? If I had to hazard a guess, it’d be because you might want to keep in some of the roasted flavor or maybe the charred pepper skin didn’t leave any black burn flakes behind.

6) Gently rub the walnuts with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels and lift the walnuts off the towels. You won’t remove all the walnut skin, nor do you need to, but it should remove a fair amount of it. You can be how I used to be and be totally anal about making sure every piece of walnut skin is removed, but it’ll take too long, so if you don’t get them all, it’s not the end of the world.

7) Put the peppers, walnuts, pomegranate seeds (if you want, you can save a few for garnish), garlic clove, olive oil, and salt in a blender or food processor and whirl until the mixture is creamy and smooth.

8) Add lemon juice to taste and adjust salt to taste. Serve immediately or cover and chill to serve later. The dip will keep for several days.

9) Garnish with reserved pomegranate seeds (optional)

Best ways to eat it: on crackers or toasted baguette slices/mini toast squares with the crust cut off; with raw or lightly steamed vegetables; as a sandwich spread (toasted chicken or vegetarian flatbread or anything on a pita); with pita chips or homemade or storebought Doritos or potato chips.

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Soup:

Ash-e Anar, a Persian (Iranian) dish made from pomegranate juice and seeds, lentils, mint leaves, spices, ground beef meatballs (sometimes, but most recipes I’ve seen don’t call for meat of any kind. The Iraqi take on this dish, called shorbat rumman, is one such version), and rice. It’s more of a stew than a soup, as the broth is thicker and it’s very filling. It’s a very sweet and sour soup, and the pomegranate seeds are not only beautiful, but also acts as the wuji between the yin of sweet and the yang of sour.

3/4 cup lentils
2 tablespoons butter, margarine, or ghee [a type of clarified butter commonly used in South Asian (Indian, Bangladeshi, Nepali, Sri Lankan, and Pakistani) cuisine and religious rituals in Hinduism]
1 medium onion, chopped
8 cups water (2 quarts)
1 cup long-grain rice
1 teaspoon turmeric
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 cup pomegranate juice (either storebought or homemade)
1 tablespoon butter, margarine, or ghee
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint or 2 teaspoons crushed dried leaf mint
1 tablespoon raisins
1 lb ground beef, seasoned and shaped into meatballs (optional)

1) Pour the lentils in a colander. Set it in the kitchen sink and run cold water over them to clean them. Rinse them until you are sure that they are clean. Set it aside to drain.
2) Melt two tablespoons butter, margarine, or ghee in a large saucepan. Add onion and saute until tender.
3) Add water, drained lentils, rice, turmeric, salt and pepper and meatballs (if using them). Bring to a boil.
4) Reduce heat and cover. Simmer over low heat 40 minutes or until lentils and rice are tender.
5) (if making pomegranate juice by hand): Open the pomegranate and extract the juice using a lemon squeezer, or separate the seeds and use juicing method mentioned in this post. Skip this step if you are using storebought pomegranate juice.
6) Add the pomegranate juice along with parsley and green onions and simmer about 15 minutes longer.
7) Melt 1 tablespoon butter or margarine in a small skillet.
8) Add mint and raisins. Saute until butter or margarine is golden brown. Pour over soup.
9) Garnish with pomegranate seeds and fresh mint leaves and serve.

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Poultry Dish: Roasted Pomegranate Chicken (with credit to Everyday Cooking for the Jewish Home by Ethel G. Hofman)

I never cooked this one before, but I hope to do so soon. If you’re Moroccan Jewish, this is a favorite at a Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year or the Feast of Trumpets; celebrating the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, and their first actions toward the realization of mankind’s role in God’s world) table.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 (3 1/2 to 4-pound) chicken, quartered
1 pomegranate, halved
1/4 cup dry white wine
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon cinnamon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2) In a cup, mix oil and garlic. Brush garlic oil over chicken.

3) Place chicken in a shallow baking dish. Drizzle any remaining oil over chicken. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, basting several times with pan juices, until skin is browned and juices run clear when a thigh is pierced at thickest part with a fork.

4) Remove 1 tablespoon seeds from pomegranates. Set aside for garnish. Squeeze juice form remaining pomegranate through a sieve into a small bowl.

5) In a small, nonreactive saucepan, mix pomegranate juice, wine, lemon juice, and cinnamon sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and cook 5 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

6) Transfer roasted chicken to a serving platter and pierce each piece several times. Pour sauce over chicken. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and serve at room temperature.

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Beef Dish: Beef Filets with Pomegranate-Pinot (or Pomegranate-Burgundy) Sauce [with credit to CookingLight.com]

Pomegranate seeds make a pretty garnish for this dish. Some recommended side dishes: grilled vegetables, potatoes dauphinoise, or a really nice mushroom risotto

4 (4-ounce) beef tenderloin steaks, trimmed
3/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
Cooking spray
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1/3 cup pinot noir or burgundy wine (use a burgundy cooking wine if you don’t have or don’t want to use real wine)
1/3 cup pomegranate juice (either store-bought or homemade)
1/3 cup fat-free, lower-sodium beef broth (either store-bought or homemade)
1 thyme sprig
1 1/2 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces

1) Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat.
2) Sprinkle steaks evenly with salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
3) Coat pan with cooking spray.
4) Add steaks to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness.
5) Remove steaks from pan; keep warm in an oven at 200-250 degrees Fahrenheit
6) Add shallots to pan and sauté 30 seconds.
7) Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, wine, juice, broth, and thyme sprig; bring to a boil.
8) Cook 7 minutes or until reduced to about 3 tablespoons.
9) Remove from heat; discard thyme sprig.
10) Add butter to sauce, stirring until butter melts. Serve sauce with steaks.
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Side Dish: Pomegranate and Quinoa Pilaf

When you hear “pilaf,” it’s always associated with rice — thanks, in no small part to brands like Rice-A-Roni (I never did find out if Rice-A-Roni really is the San Francisco treat. I know San Francisco has cable cars, so those commercials aren’t that far off) and tradition. I’m here to tell you that a pilaf dish doesn’t always have to be rice-based. Orzo (a rice-like pasta) works, as does bulgur (a cereal food made from the hulled kernels of several different wheat species, most often from durum wheat), but the best rice substitute for pilaf is quinoa (a chenopod that biologically has more in common with tumbleweeds, spinach, and beetroots rather than the Poaceae family [the family that includes corn, wheat, rice, barley, and millet]).

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken broth or stock
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup diagonally sliced scallions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted

1) Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute the onion until translucent and fragrant.
2) Add the quinoa and stir to coat. Add the chicken broth or stock and bring to a boil.
3) Lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is tender.
4) In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 tablespoon olive oil, pomegranate seeds, scallions, parsley, lemon juice, zest, and sugar.
5) Add the quinoa and season with salt, and pepper to taste.
6) Garnish with toasted, slivered almonds.

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Dessert:
Pomegranate lends itself better as a sorbet or a water ice than as an ice cream (though it is possible to make a pomegranate ice cream or a gelato), but most dessert cooks will usually play it safe and use pomegranates for either a dessert sauce or use the seeds as a garnish to something like spiced pears, chocolate cookies, or as the base for a syrup or frosting that just lazily gets draped on a cheesecake or a sponge cake like an oversized T-shirt on the shoulders of an ’80s flashdancer.

However, if frozen treats and easy-make sauces on more established desserts aren’t for you, then try a pomegranate meringue, either by itself, on top of a tart or pie, or as part of a Baked Alaska (since the color of a pomegranate meringue is red, this would be ideal for Valentine’s Day or the dessert to any romantic dinner).

For your meringue, you start by whisking egg whites and salt (either by hand or with an electric mixer. An electric mixer is more ideal if you don’t have time or energy to burn) until frothy, keeping the whisk position as horizontal as possible. As you’re mixing, add a mix of cornstarch and sugar in small quantities until the end of the process. In about ten to fiften minutes of mixing, you’ll notice the egg whites are forming stiff peaks. That’s your cue to gently fold in some red food coloring and pomegranate juice for color and mix on low, creating beautiful swirls. With the help of two large slotted spoons, spoon the egg whites onto the parchment-lined baking tray. Twirl each of the meringue mounds so they finish off with a pointed peak. Bake your mounds for about an hour. After an hour, leave them to cool inside the oven with the door slightly open for 15 minutes. Serve your meringues with whipped cream or a handful of pomegranate seeds on top.

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Drinks: This is where the pomegranate’s juice really shines. From raw cleanses to cocktails (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic), you can find pomegranate juice as the star. Here are three favorites:

Homemade Pomegranate Ginger Ale

Back when I was living in San Francisco as part of my Advanced Culinary training, I would (if I had the money) go into the city on the Muni on Saturdays to go to the farmers’ market. The people at Job Corps encouraged the culinary students to go out and see the many restaurants the city had. Since I was broke and did not the city well, it took me a while to get out there and do so. When I did, I began frequenting the farmers’ market. It had a lot of fruits, herbs, and vegetables that weren’t seen much back in my home state of Pennsylvania (blood oranges, pomelos, pluots, especially). It was there I tried out quark cheese, persimmons, bizarre-flavored ice cream from Humphrey Slocombe (you haven’t lived ’til you had Secret Breakfast ice cream [that’s cornflakes and bourbon]) and homemade ginger ale.

Prior to that, I didn’t know soda could be handmade. To me, it was either bought at the store or made with that SodaStream machine. Once that sweet, yet spicy taste of homemade ginger ale (and real ginger ale has that satisfying throat burn of real ginger. You don’t get that with Canada Dry or Schweppes, much as I love those two brands), it just blew my mind and showed that you can make soda from scratch, even cola and root beer, which have a lot of complex flavors that you don’t really taste in brand name soda. I came up with the pomegranate recipe for ginger ale like most foodies do it: by accident. I bought Pom and some Canada Dry and mixed them together. I looked online for a homemade variant, but could only find the recipe for regular ginger ale.

The Recipe:

2 cups (about 10 ounces) coarsely chopped, peeled fresh ginger
3 strips lemon peel (about 4 inches each), yellow part only
1/2 cup pomegranate juice (fresh)
1-1/2 cups (about) sugar
3 quarts chilled club soda

1) Place ginger, lemon peel, and 4 cups of water in a 4-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer at a low boil, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. Add sugar, stirring constantly, and continue to boil until reduced to about 3 cups, another 15 minutes.

2) Place a fine wire strainer over a large bowl. Pour in ginger mixture to separate solids from liquid. Discard the lemon peel.

3) Cool the syrup, pour into a glass container, seal tightly, and chill at least 1 hour until cold.

4) For each 16-ounce serving, mix 1/4 cup ginger syrup with 1 cup cold pomegranate juice and club soda. Pour over ice. Additional ginger syrup and/or sugar may be added to taste.

Pomegranate Star Fruit Greek Yogurt Smoothie

Smoothies were part of my daily breakfast when I was in college (when I was living in the dorms with my sister, and when I commuted). That was the only reason my sister and I bought a blender (that and my sister wanted blended coffee drinks and I wanted to make smoothies and mousse from scratch). Back then, my smoothies had no exotic fruits in it (unless you consider cranberries exotic), but when I became an intern for Three Stone Hearth and frequented the Farmers’ Market on the Bay (and became temporarily obsessed with Jamba Juice), I tried out some different smoothie flavor combinations. Jamba Juice had a pomegranate blueberry smoothie that I thought was good, but was nothing compared to its strawberry lime peach smoothie, which tastes like summer if summer had an official flavor.

Don’t get me wrong; pomegranate and blueberry is a good smoothie combo, but it’s a little overexposed (as far as Internet searches are concerned). To counter the tartness of the pomegranate, I used the understated, not-quite-citrus taste of star fruit (carambala) and the smoothness of Greek yogurt.

The Recipe:

2 cup(s) plain Greek yogurt, well chilled
2 cup(s) pure pomegranate juice (fresh squeezed or bottled fresh), well chilled
2 star fruits, cut into pieces

1) In a blender, combine the chilled Greek yogurt with the pomegranate juice.
2) Add the sliced bananas and puree.
3) Pour the smoothie into tall, chilled glasses and serve at once.

Pomegranate Sparkling Sangria

A normal sangria is made of brandy, a sweetener (usually honey, orange juice, flavored drink syrups, and agave nector), red wine (sangria is from the Spanish word for “blood” — perfect for those over-21 Halloween parties), and some kind of chopped fruit (oranges, lemons, limes, apples, peaches, any kind of melon, any kind of berry, pineapples, grapes, kiwis, and mangoes are the most popular). If you don’t drink, are underage, or are a recovering alcoholic, you can switch out the brandy and wine with fruit punch, seltzer, or any of your clear lemon-lime sodas (Sprite and 7 Up).

This sangria is red because of the pomegranate liqueur and the Cabernet Sauvignon (a very popular red wine. It’s like Merlot, only more robust and doesn’t hit you as hard — at least that’s what I’ve been told the two times I volunteered for “A Taste of Mendocino”). Like a Long Island Iced Tea, it’s very heavy on the alcohol, so it’s not for lightweights who think they can handle anything stronger than American beer.

The Recipe (credit goes to www.stirrings.com)

1 oz. BV® Coastal Cabernet Sauvignon
1 oz. Stirrings® Pomegranate Liqueur
0.5 oz. Captain Morgan® Original Spiced Rum
2.5 oz. apple cider
Garnish: citrus or apple wedges

1) Combine the first 3 ingredients in an ice filled rocks glass and top with sparkling cider.

2) Stir well.

3) Garnish with citrus wedges and or apple slices.

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Thank you, and Happy Eating!

Friday Video: Cooking With The Fraternity Chef

This week on Take Back the Kitchen’s Friday Video (don’t worry; tomorrow I’ll have an article ready), Daniel “Dano” Pettinato shows you (and other starving college students) how to make macaroni and cheese. Personally, I don’t care much for it, but, to my sister, it means everything. I’m trying to wean her off the boxed and pre-made stuff in favor of “homemade”-style. I don’t think she can tell the difference. Food is food to her.

“Dano” Pettinato is originally from East Hartford, Conneticut. He is currently the chef for Psi Upsilon (Psi U) at Trinity College (also in Hartford, Connecticut). He has an online video series he created with ChefsInTheKitchen.tv (which is the same place I’m applying for to pitch a cooking show series — or do some kind of production work for them).