Tabouleh, Take Two

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Mid-September in Ottawa is when the garden tomato harvest is at its peak.  For as long as my parents have lived in this house, they’ve had more tomato plants and therefore more tomatoes than they really know what to do with.  This year, however, was a different story.  Having spent a large chunk of last winter and spring in Florida, my parents got their plants in too late to have a particularly good yield.  In previous years, my parents have given plants and tomatoes to everyone who will take them.  This year, those recipients are paying them back.  So the next two dishes this week will be tomato based while I try to get the tomatoes used before they go soft.  This is my second tabouleh recipe here on the blog (first one is here), and this one is more or less traditional, though I added a few extra spices just for fun.

Tabouleh Take Two 1

Start with 1 cup bulgur, and about 3 tablespoons olive oil.  Stir those together in a medium-sized bowl.

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Cover the oily bulgur with 2 cups boiling water; give it a stir and set it aside for at least 15 minutes.

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Now grab yourself an enormous hunk of fresh parsley (probably about 2 cups total). We have two kinds in our garden — this fluffy one:

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and this more flat-leaved variety.

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You also want a hunk of fresh mint (about half a cup).  This has seen better days (it was the only survivor of our weed-burning escapade at the back of the house), but it’s still good.

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I was feeling lazy so I chucked all those things in a food processor.

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So much easier than mincing!

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Now comes the annoying part: you have to dice AND SEED all your tomatoes.  If you don’t seed them then your tabouleh will be mushy and that’s just gross.  I used about 10 medium-sized tomatoes for this particular recipe.

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When you’ve got all the tomatoes done, season them with salt and pepper.  I also threw in a dash of ground coriander and another of cayenne.  I figured the coriander is also a parsley sort of thing so it could only boost the flavour.

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Chuck in your other herbs.

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Your bulgur has by now absorbed all the water that it’s going to, so you’re going to need to drain it.

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Use either cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer to get as much water out of it as you can.  I find the cheesecloth helps because I can just pick it up and squeeze it.

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Add the bulgur to your tomato mix and add a few dollops more olive oil.  Stir in lemon juice to taste.

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Serve garnished with a piece of parsley, or stuff a bunch into a pita for a quick snack!

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Kumquat Marmalade

This recipe was so STUPID.  SO STUPID, in fact, that it took me two tries to get it right, and I only got it right after ignoring all the previous instructions.  So in fact I will not even link you to this stupid recipe that I used for fear of it tainting me with its idiocy.  I take full credit for this, seeing as I had to fix it.  MANY TIMES.  What I present below is the CORRECT way to do it, and should produce about 4 pints of marmalade.

If you’ve never had a kumquat, you should try one.  Sweet and bitter at the same time, it’s definitely an experience.  I like to think of them as tasty breath-fresheners.  Your first bite will be sweet, then as you crunch through the skin, the citrus oils will clear out your palette.  Quite refreshing, actually.Make sure you pick kumquats that are firm and don’t have any squishy spots.  Use them soon after you buy them because they go quickly.

Wash and remove the stems from 24 fresh kumquats

Slice them thinly across the middle, and remove the seeds.

Make sure you keep the seeds.

This is where all the pectin-y goodness is. 

There’s pectin in the pith as well, but not as much.

Slice 2 oranges across the middle as well. 

I used Navel oranges.  This seedless fruit is neat because it reproduces by growing a new orange in its belly button (or navel), which is that thing you see at the opposite end to the stem.

This orange reproduced another whole orange inside.  How cool.  I bet it would have been confusing to eat had I peeled it normally.

I found it was easier to can the marmalade if you make cuts in the orange peel so it breaks apart and is therefore smaller.

Toss the orange slices and the kumquat slices together in a measuring cup and see how much you have.

Chuck them in a large bowl and add 3 cups of water for every cup of fruit you measured.  I had 5 cups of fruit so I added 15 cups of water.  Leave that to sit overnight.

The next day, pour your fruit and water into a large saucepan (this is why I love our maslin pan so much).  You may find some jelly-like stuff at the bottom of the bowl.  I’m not sure what it is but I think it’s important, so scrape that stuff off and put it in the pan as well.

Bring the stuff in the pan to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer it until the rinds are very tender and you can squish them with your spoon.

Juice 2 lemons.

Pour that lemon juice, together with 9 cups granulated sugar, into the maslin pan.

Tie up your seeds in a bit of cheesecloth and add that to the pot as well.

Bring the mixture to a boil again, then simmer on low for a couple of hours.

The mixture will cook down, reducing in size, getting thicker and darker.  Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn, and keep stirring it.  When it starts to foam, you are nearing your gel point.

You can tell if your mixture is ready to gel by putting a plate in the freezer for a few minutes.  Remove the plate and drip some of the liquid across the plate.  Once it has cooled, give it a push with your finger.  If it wrinkles up, your marmalade is ready to go into the jar.

When you have reached the stage where your foamy marmalade goo is wrinkling on your cold plate, you can can it according to your canner’s instructions.  Check out our tips here.

Christmas Fruit Cakes

My mother calls them fruit cakes.  My father calls them Christmas cakes.  Or it’s the other way around.  I can’t keep track of those two.

Nevertheless, before every holiday season, my dad makes between two and three dozen of them to give away to all their family and friends.  Being the stalwart Scots that we are, we fight over who deserves a whole cake and who gets only a slice.

You can’t be ambivalent about fruit cake.  You either love it or you hate it.  And I can promise you that this is not the leaden, dry, horribly frosted version that you hate.  This is the ooey-gooey sticky sweet and moist brick of goodness that you will LOVE.  Guaranteed.

Keep in mind that this recipe is easy to make.  Especially if you make several dozen.  However, you have to start your preparations the day before and baking time can take up to four hours for large cakes.  Not to mention that you can’t eat them right away — these cakes need a spell before they’re good to eat.  These ones here are from back in 2007.  They should be super excellent now.

Day the First:

In a large bowl, measure in 1 1/2 cups whole blanched almonds (blanched is key because the skin is bitter), 2 cups dark raisins, 2 cups light raisins, 1 cup currants, 2 1/2 cups chopped dates, and 2 1/2 cups candied citron peel.  My dad says that when making several batches it helps to bring a measuring cup to the health food or bulk store and measure what you need right into the bag so you don’t have to worry about having any leftover.

Drain a 12oz (340g) bottle of maraschino cherries, saving the juice.  The cherries should measure about 1 1/4 cups.  Add them to the mixture in the bowl.

Pour in 1/2 cup brandy (or fruit juice, if you prefer) and give it a stir.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature overnight.

In a heavy saucepan, simmer one 19oz (540mL) can crushed pineapple with 2 cups granulated sugar.  Cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 45 minutes.  Make sure to stir frequently. 

By the end, the sugary pineapple should measure 2 1/2 cups.

Let the pineapple cool, and then stir in 1/2 cup reserved cherry juice.  Stir in as well 1 cup strawberry jam (the more all-natural, the better).  This doesn’t necessarily need to be done the day before, but it has to be cool before you add it to the cake batter.

Day the Second:

Preheat your oven to 275°F.  Butter your pans (we use four regular-sized loaf pans) and line them with parchment paper.The knob on our oven is positioned badly so we take the knob off in order not to hit it accidentally.  And yes, we probably should clean our oven more often.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together 4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda.

Add about a cup of the flour mixture to the fruit and nuts and toss until the bits are all covered.  This will prevent them from sinking to the bottom when you mix them in the batter.  Set the rest of the flour aside for now. 

In another large mixing bowl, cream together  2 1/4 cups granulated sugar with 1 pound (2 cups) butter.

Beat in 12 eggs (yes, 12!), two at a time.  This is less of a pain in the butt if you have someone crack the eggs while someone else runs the mixer.

Take your flour mixture and your pineapple mixture and, alternating them, stir them into the butter and egg mix.  Make 3 dry and 2 liquid additions and stir it all in well. 

Your batter will be a lovely pink colour once you’re all ready.

Pour over your flour-coated fruit and nuts and mix well. 

Pour into your pans and chuck them in the oven.

Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven to keep the cakes moist.

Bake in your oven for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, for the larger cakes.  Smaller cakes might be done in about 3 hours. If you have a fast oven you might want to lay a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the top to prevent them from drying out in the last hour or so.

The cakes should be fairly firm to the touch in the centre and should test clean with a toothpick.  Once you’ve removed the cakes from the oven let them cool in the pans for about five minutes. 

Then remove the cakes from the pans and peel off the paper.  Let the cakes cool completely.

Now you do your wrapping.

Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on your work surface.  Overlay that with some plastic wrap.

And some cheesecloth.

Plop your cake in the centre.

Baste it generously, all over, with rum or brandy (if you don’t baste you will need to keep the cakes in the refrigerator).

Wrap the cheesecloth tightly around the cake.  Then the plastic wrap.  Then the aluminum foil.

As the cloth dries out, give your cakes a periodic dousing with rum or brandy.  Don’t freeze the cakes or the flavours won’t mellow properly.

The cakes will make good eating in about three weeks, just in time for the holidays.

Sausage Stuffed Turkey with Gravy

For years, my health-food nazi, roughage-eating parents bought only free-range organic turkeys.  And I hated them: so dry, tasteless, and without any juices with which to make gravy.  Turkey without gravy is a travesty in my family, so my parents gave up about three years ago and started buying the unstuffed Butterball turkeys.  Shocking, I know.  But the difference has been night and day.  I actually kind of like turkey now.  Which is good, seeing as I always seem to be the one who stuffs it, roasts it, and then makes the gravy.

So let’s do that today, shall we?

First we’re going to do some gravy pre-preparation.  Take the neck and giblets from your turkey and plop them in a pot with some garlic and enough chicken broth to mostly cover them.  Simmer that for an hour or so, then take out the giblets and neck (feed the giblets to your dog if you have one, or purée them and add them back to your broth), and set the broth aside.

Now for the stuffing.  Take three sausages of your choice (I prefer a spicy Italian), remove the casings, and squish the contents into a pan with some olive oil and garlic.

Add in a diced onion.

Pour in a generous amount of savoury.  I love my Newfoundland savoury.  The Pie brought this along specially for this stuffing when he came to Ottawa for his Thanksgiving visit.

Add in two chopped apples as well.

Sauté that stuff until the sausage is broken up and cooked through and all the other ingredients have had a chance to get to know each other.

Plop it in a bowl and allow it to cool a bit.  Add in some large dried bread crumbs.  

You can make these yourself by cubing bread slices and baking them at 200°F until stale, but we had enough to do so we bought them pre-made (I can’t do everything by myself, now, can I?).

Stir that mess up and shove as much of it as you can into the cavity of your turkey.  You can make removal easier later by lining the inside of the cavity with cheesecloth, but I didn’t have any on this day.

Close the opening with a slice of bread.  This will keep the stuffing near the opening from drying out and burning.  It’s a bread shield.

Put the remaining stuffing in a greased casserole dish and douse liberally with chicken stock.

Drape your turkey lovingly with a few strips of bacon.  This will keep the skin from drying out and it will save you from having to baste the darned thing while you’re entertaining, as the fat from the bacon will drip down gradually and keep everything moist.  You can truss your turkey if you wish, but with big poultry I prefer to leave it all hanging out there to ensure even cooking.  I don’t cover it with foil either.  Well, not until much later.  You’ll see.

Chuck your turkey into the oven at 325°F and roast the sucker.  Your cooking time will vary with the size of your bird, but for some reason I find no matter the size, mine always cooks in between three and four hours.  Keep a close eye on your thermometer.  The turkey is cooked when the thigh temperature is 180°F.  Check the stuffing inside the turkey, as well — it should be around 165°F for safety’s sake.

If you plan it right your turkey should probably be done about an hour or so before it’s ready to serve.  Clear a space on your counter and lay out two or three old towels.  In the centre overlap a couple of pieces of aluminum foil.  Once the turkey is done, remove it (with the aid of a poultry lifter) to your improvised platform.  Pull up the edges of aluminum foil and add more to cover it all around tightly.

Pull up the towels and add more on top, wrapping it with care and tucking under the edges.  Resting the turkey like this will keep it hot for a couple of hours, and will ensure that none of the juices get lost.

Now that you have your turkey pan free, carefully scrape all the juices and bits of stuff into a fat separator.  Let the liquid settle and drain off as much fat as you can.

Pour whatever juices and solid pieces you get into the pot with your reserved chicken broth from the giblet boiling.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.  Scoop out a little bit of broth and make a slurry with some flour, then whisk it back into the gravy and keep stirring until the mixture thickens.  You can remove it from the heat, cover it, and let it cool while you do other things.  You can always heat it up again later.

Your extra stuffing can be roasted, covered with aluminum foil, at 350°F (or higher, depending on whatever else you are cooking at the time) for about half an hour, until the bread crumbs are crusty and brown.  Everything in it is pre-cooked so you needn’t worry about temperature in your casserole dish.  Just cook it until it looks good.

You can unwrap and carve your turkey at any point that’s convenient to you.

Reheat your gravy, pour it into gravy boats and serve over your hot stuffing and turkey!

Garbage Stew with Roasted Vegetables, Pork AND Bacon

So I have me here some leftover roasted vegetables.

And I have me here a slab of bacon I deemed too fatty to continue to fry up and eat for breakfast.

And I also have me here half a pork tenderloin the Pie and ate for dinner with the aforementioned roasted vegetables.  It wasn’t the tastiest of beasts.

Sounds like we have a soup in the making, folks.

I wrapped the bacon in cheesecloth to prevent me from losing it in the soup, as I intended to remove it once I was done my simmering.

I also tossed in two beef bouillon cubes for extra flavour.

I chucked everything in the pot and filled it with water until things were just covered.

Brought it to a boil, then took the lid off and let it simmer down.  Then I chucked in some pearl barley for extra heartiness.

I scooped out a bit of the broth and added a tablespoon of flour to it for thickening.  

Stir that up real good, now, and squish out all the lumps before you add it to the soup.

Stir that floury goodness in and let it bubble a bit with the lid off for about an hour.

Take out the bacon before you serve.