Thursday, December 13, 2012

One Man's Junk Is Another Man's Treasure

I grew up in an era when almost nothing was wasted when it came to food. When it came to Thanksgiving I always preferred  to stay at home for dinner. One of the main reasons was that my mom made a great turkey dinner. The other reason was strictly selfish. If we went somewhere else for dinner there were no “left-overs” to have when we went home. 
Laura's Turkey ready to carve
One man's junk is another man's treasure! As soon as all of the meat was carved from the turkey mom would put the carcass in a brown paper bag. The bag was not going into the trash however, it was going to collect any excess fat from the turkey. Later, or the next day she would put the carcass into a stock pot and cover it 3/4 of the way with water. She would then add rough cut carrots, onions, and celery and bring the water to a boil to make soup. Mom would use the left-over turkey meat to make open-face turkey Sandwiches with gravy  Chicken a la King, or turkey tetrazzini.
Now where's that knife?
This year we were invited to our nieces for Thanksgiving dinner. Since I knew we wouldn't be home for Thanksgiving we made a turkey dinner last week. My mother-in-law went up early to help and everyone brought some side dishes. When we arrived I learned that she made two fresh turkey's weighing about 38 pounds total. One of them was already carved and one to go. This one had the stuffing in the turkey. After getting all of the dressing out, I carved half of the turkey and my niece carved the other half. 
This is making me hungry again
After carving the bulk of the meat off of the turkey in beautiful slices, my daughter harvested the remaining meat off of the carcass to make a stock for reheating turkey, or to make soup. I only found some celery to use and started a pot of water with some celery in it and added the turkey carcass to the pot.  About 1-1/2 hours later I removed the carcass and bones and let the stock cool
Doesn't this look good?
Our niece was really prepared to send her guests home with left-overs. She had even purchased plastic to go containers and zip lock bags just for that purpose.
Making turkey soup is a lot like making broccoli. At the beginning, the smell of boiling turkey is not very appetizing. After simmering for hours it starts to take on a smell of really good soup. It is amazing how mush meat comes off of the bones after boiling.
As the stock cooled, some of the fat would rise to the top. Mom skimmed this fat off using a piece of cheese cloth on a slotted spoon. Skimming the stock would make it clearer. If she didn’t make the soup right away, she would refrigerate the clarified stock once it had cooled. In the refrigerator more fat would rise to the top of the stock and turn solid. Mom would scrape this excess fat off before she finished making the soup. So it really was low fat soup at this time.  
When mom was ready to finish making the soup, she would reheat the stock. The longer that you cook the stock, the more concentrated and intense the flavor becomes. While the stock was on the stove, mom began chopping onions, celery, and carrots. She would add these to the stock and simmer until they were soft and tender. Mom would then add the meat that she removed from the bones to the stock. Depending on her mood, or availability, she would add some cooked broad noodles, rice, barley, or her homemade soup dumplings to the stock. At this time she would add some chopped parsley as well. Finally she would adjust the salt and pepper as she went along. If the noodles, rice, or barley soaked up to much of the stock she could always add bullion cubes and water, or a can of chicken stock. At this stage of the soup process, the aroma made the whole house smell incredible. So next time someone asks “who wants the turkey or chicken carcass, grab it and make some homemade soup. Enjoy!   
1         whole                           Turkey carcass
            as needed                    Water (to cover turkey in pot)
1          cans (10.5 oz.)           Chicken Broth (optional)
1          cup                              Onion (chopped)
1          cup                              Celery (chopped)
1          cup                              Carrots (dices, sliced, or baby)
3          cups                             Noodles, barley, rice or dumplings**
2-3       tbsp.                            Parsley (fresh chopped)
            to taste                        Salt
            to taste                        Pepper
NOTE: ** The noodles, barley, rice were precooked and added at the end so that they didn’t soak up the stock while cooking.
Place the carcass into a large stock pot and put in enough water to cover it. Add about 1-2 teaspoons of salt to the water. Bring the water to come to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 hours.  Remove the carcass and all of the bones with a slotted spoon and allow to drain. Pick off any remaining meat on the bones and set to the side. Allow the stock to cool. Pour the cooled stock through a fine strainer or cheese cloth to remove any remaining particles in the stock. If you refrigerate the cooled and strained stock for a couple of hours, any excess fat will rise to the top. Scrape off the excess fat and you will have the beginning of a low fat soup stock. 
Chop the onions, celery, and carrots while reheating the soup stock. Once the stock is hot, add these and simmer until the vegetables are soft and tender. To the stock add the reserved meat. If you are using noodles, rice, or barley, cook them first according to the package directions. If you are making mom’s homemade soup dumplings, add them directly to the stock.
Finally add the chopped parsley and adjust the salt and pepper. Cook for one hour. If the noodles, rice, or barley soak up to much of the turkey stock, add bullion cubes and water, or a can of chicken or turkey stock. Enjoy!   
Mom’s Dumplings
6 whole Eggs (beaten)
1-1/2 Cups Flour
1/2 Tsp. Salt
In a separate bowl mix well beaten eggs, flour and salt. Beat these ingredients together until glossy and thick. Five minutes before serving the soup, drop spoonfuls of dumpling mix into the soup.
Cook until the dumplings rise. Serve immediately

© TMelle 2012

Friday, November 16, 2012

Turkey Stuffing or Dressing?

Do you call it stuffing, or dressing? It really doesn't matter as long as you have plenty of it and lots of gravy. Since Thanksgiving is one of my all-time favorite meals. I always looked forward to my mom’s traditional stuffing with meat in it as a side dish. 
Stuffed Turkey
My wife made her stuffing without meat and a distinct flavor of sage in it. I now prefer it over mom’s stuffing with round steak in it. Sorry mom! There is still a great debate over the stuffing should be cooked inside of the turkey or outside. I prefer some of the stuffing cooked in the turkey and extra on the outside. It’s really up to you. If you do cook the stuffing inside of the turkey, you must make sure that stuffing reaches an internal temperature of 160°F in the center of the stuffing.
Turkey is done baking
Turkey carved and ready to eat
INGREDIENTS (enough for a 12 lb. Turkey)
9 cups white bread*, stale, cubed
1 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup onion, diced
1-1/2 cup celery, diced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sage
1 tsp. celery salt
2 tsp. poultry seasoning
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
3/4 cup turkey or chicken stock
1 whole egg, slightly beaten
NOTE: *I prefer a solid white bread like Breadsmith's Honey White, or Rustic Italian. 
Extra stuffing
Cut the bread into 1/2" x 1/2" cubes and set to the side. Chop the celery and onions and set them to the side as well. In a large skillet melt the 2 sticks of butter, and sauté the onions and celery until soft and tender, but not browned. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the seasonings and the parsley. Add the chicken or turkey stock and heat. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Slowly add a couple of spoonful’s of the hot liquid into the beaten eggs, whipping constantly so that the eggs do not cook. Pour this mixture over the bread cubes until well mixed. Do not add the stuffing to the turkey until you are ready to bake. If you are adding the stuffing to the turkey, fill the cavity loosely and tie the legs together. Fill the neck end as well. Thirty minutes before the turkey is finished cooking, place the remaining stuffing in a casserole dish and bake until the turkey is finished cooking. Allow the turkey to rest before removing the stuffing. The internal temperature of the turkey should be at least 165°F in the center of the stuffing. Enjoy! 
Dinner is served no room for vegetables is there?

© TMelle 2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Traditional Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner

I just can’t believe that fall is here again. It wasn’t too long ago that we were suffering through a heat wave. I really love this time of the year, especially Thanksgiving. It is also the official start of Kartoffelklösse season.
I’m talking about turkey and everything that goes with it. These are just a few of my favorite things; stuffing, or a.k.a. dressing, lots and lots of home-made turkey gravy, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cauliflower casserole, corn bread casserole, black olives from a can,  and let’s not forget sour cream cucumbers. You’ve just got to have apple or pumpkin pie and some coffee to wash it all down.
I'll come back for the vegetables
For a holiday appetizer, my family really enjoys celery, stuffed with Philadelphia cream cheese and Kraft Foods® Roka Blue cheese spread, and sprinkled with paprika. Mom always made this appetizer and we all loved it. When planning a Thanksgiving menu we never gave it a second thought. It was always there. Tradition!
Peel celery strings
Then it happened. Several years ago, about 2009 I think, I went to the grocery store to get a couple jars of Roka Blue. I couldn’t find any. I asked the store manager if it was moved to a Thanksgiving display area in the store. He said that they didn’t get any this year. I called many stores and asked why they didn’t have it. They always had it over the holidays. I was told by one store manager that Kraft stopped making it. How could this be? I wondered. Everybody buys it for the holidays. There was suddenly a crack in my culinary universe. Somebody was messing with tradition!
My next stop was to the Internet. Apparently I was not the only one deeply upset with being unable to find my “Roka Blue.” One site had a comment thread titled “Kraft Discontinues Roka Blue Cheese Spread. Consumers Just Now Find Out Their Thanksgiving Cheese Ball Traditions Are Ruined. Masses Go Ape-shit on Kraft's Message Board.”
A couple of years passed and I just never thought to call Kraft. When I finally did, I was told that they received so many complaints about discontinuing Roka Blue, that Kraft posted a “KRAFT ROKA Blue Spread Substitute” recipe. You can find that recipe at
There were many comments attached to this substitute recipe. Many of them told stories about what people did with the 5 ounce glass jars once they were empty. I used them to cut perfect circles in bread to make “eggs-in-the-nest.” Some people recycled the jars and used them as juice glasses. Many people were angry, and some threatened to stop buying any of their products. 
Does this make me a hoarder?
Then it happened, Kraft brought back “Roka-Blue.” They are going to produce it for the holidays again. I called my local grocer and sure enough he was getting it this year (2010). I went to the store just before Thanksgiving and there it was, nestled between the 5 oz. jars of Kraft Old English and Pimento Cheese Spread. I bought a case and gave them out as gifts for Thanksgiving.
So you see, just like our political elections people can make a difference. For the Presidential election this year we just had the largest voter turnout ever. So you see, your vote does count.
Making Mom’s stuffed celery:
1-8 oz. pkg. Philadelphia cream cheese
1-5 oz. jar Kraft Roka Blue cheese spread
8 stalks celery, cut into 2”–3” pieces
as needed Paprika, for garnish
Allow the cream cheese to come to room temperature to soften.
Wash celery thoroughly. Using a potato peeler remove the strings from the outside of the celery stalks. Cut  the celery  into 2-3” serving pieces and chill.
Mix the softened cream cheese and the Roka-Blue together well. Spread the mixture on celery and then sprinkle with paprika to garnish. Serve very  cold.
NOTE: This recipe doubles easily. You can also spread this mixture on 1/4"slices of fresh cucumbers if you like. 

© TMelle 2012

Monday, October 22, 2012

Support Your Local Merchants and Farmer’s Markets

When I was younger my job involved a lot of traveling and staying in chain hotels. Often I would wake up in the morning having no idea where I was. The ride to and from the airport also made it difficult to realize exactly where I was. That's because within several miles of the airport the streets are lined with the same fast food restaurants, motels, hotels, mega-stores of anywhere USA.
I distinctly remember staying in a luxury chain hotel in New Orleans and opening the room service menu, only to find the exact menu that was in every one of their other hotels across the country. I was in New Orleans for God’s sake! No gumbo, jambalaya, étouffée, po boy, muffuletta, not even beignets. How could this be?
Confused, I asked the room service manager this very question. “Because we’re right down the street from Bourbon Street and that’s where everyone staying in the hotel goes for authentic Cajun, or Creole cuisine.” He replied. “For beignets, you’ll want to go to Café Dumonde, stop by the concierge for directions.” He added. 
Chicken Fried Steak (CFS)
When I was a younger man, I remember traveling throughout America, driving through small towns along the way and stopping to eat at local mom and pop diners. The food was generally specific to the area. In the south it was biscuits and gravy, or grits. In Texas it was the best Chicken Fried Steak you ever tasted. Up and down the coast of California it was seafood. I had my first taste of a fish & chips at a stand in San Francisco, so many years ago. Today many of the small independents have been replaced by many of the fast food corporate giants and their very own formula food. 
The same is true for the vanishing independently owned specialty food stores. When I was young, my mother shopped at a grocery store that was no more than 1000 sq. ft. in size. At the back of the store there was a meat counter and a real live butcher, who actually cut fresh meat on a daily basis. He knew his customers, their families, what they liked, and more importantly didn’t like. 
Mock Chicken Legs
I distinctly remember the butcher making mock chicken legs, a combination of beef and veal wrapped around a stick to resemble a chicken leg. They were delicious. As I get older, I realize that I miss that kind of familiarity with the local merchants. 
Egg & Spinach Fettucini
The small town of Highwood, Illinois located about 25 miles north of Chicago is the home to some of those independently-owned stores today. Pastificio is one of them. Pastificio is a small store specializing in “Gourmet Northern Italian Take-Home Cuisine.” Homemade pasta is why I came here today. If you’re looking for tortellacci, tortelloni, tortellini, fresh lasagna, cappellacci, ravioli, manicotti, potato gnocchi, the list is almost endless.
Dinner is Served
They also have catering, a small deli, a frozen food case and sell some Italian specialty items like Italian olive oils and vinegars. Generally, if you visit them on a Saturday, they have a small buffet, so that you can sample some of their salads, frozen food, or catering specialties. The last time I visited I tried the veal meatballs. They were delicious. The day I visited Patricia, the owner, was preparing some spectacular Antipasto Trays. They were beautiful, and as she said, made to order. 
Antipasto Trays
I hate to say it but these small, rapidly vanishing and often hidden independent specialty stores give us a snapshot into the past of how things used to be. Times not too long ago, when people, not big corporations crafted food items by hand and were proud of it. I can’t stress enough that we should all support our local merchants and farmer’s markets. For more information about Pastificio visit their website at
While you're visiting Highwood, why not pick up some fresh homemade Italian sausage, scamorza cheese, and fresh baked Italian bread at Poeta's Food Mart.  or
If it's independent restaurants or other shops you're looking for, then Highwood is a place to consider. For more information check out this link
PS. If you know of a great independent store or restaurant, please leave a comment or send me an email.

© TMelle 2012