Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Season of Simple Delights, a Pecan Pie, and a Post Holiday Turkey Soup

For a variety of reasons, the number gathered at my Thanksgiving table this year was quite small.  This was a first for me.  My extended family isn’t huge….but the small gathering was still unprecedented.  Heading into the day, I was a bit bummed about this.  But in the end, it turned out to be a lovely, unusually peaceful day.  It was, in fact, a year of many delightful “firsts”. 

One of the gifts that came as a result of our small number was my first opportunity to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner on my grandmother’s “turkey” dinner plates.  I don’t know how many plates were in the original set, but only three have made it to my generation.   There were probably never very many…even as a child, we never ate off of them when we gathered for the large celebrations in her home.  But I heard her refer to them…and I know they were special to her.  Using them for our Thanksgiving meal this year was a pleasure. 

Another first of the day was pecan pie.  I know this is a staple on many family tables, but it never appeared on ours.  My family is quite attached to their tradition of pumpkin and mincemeat pies, so this is what we always have.  There is nothing wrong with either of these pies…mincemeat pie is in fact a personal holiday favorite….but there are other holiday pies in the universe and I have always wanted to branch out a bit.  This year was the perfect opportunity.

The pie that I made was a bit unusual, and because of that I thought it worth sharing here.  Heading into Thanksgiving morning, I fully intended to make my friend Nancy’s version of pecan pie (the one she teaches in our joint class).  But for some reason on Thanksgiving morning, I was flipping through Rose Beranbaum’s Pie and Pastry Bible and I noticed that she used Golden Syrup in her pecan pie instead of the more traditional Karo Syrup.

For those unfamiliar with Golden Syrup, it is a British staple.  It is a cane syrup rather than a corn syrup and it has a unique—I think it’s a bit caramel-y, but some say buttery—and delicious taste.  Karo’s corn syrup by comparison is relatively flavorless.  Since I always keep a jar of Lyle’s on hand in case I happen to be in the mood for gingerbread, I decided that while I was doing different, I should really be different and substitute Lyle’s Golden Syrup in the recipe.  It is an inspired substitution….  the pie was delicious.

On a technical note, because Lyle’s has a higher saturation of sugar than Karo syrup, I decided to use just a bit less.  The resulting pie was firmer than usual, but I liked it this way…it sliced beautifully.  If you prefer the softer set of a traditional pecan pie, just add a couple tablespoons of water (or Bourbon….or brandy…) to the egg-sugar-syrup mixture.  The easiest way to do this would be to place two tablespoons of water in a one cup glass measure and then add Lyle’s syrup to make 1 cup.

Finally, because our meal was smaller than usual, the mountain of dishes after the feast was also comparatively small.  So after the meal, I experienced another first.  I made turkey broth.  I know this is probably a shock to hear since I am a chef.  But I have just never bothered.  There is so much else to do during the clean up…and I have never been terribly motivated to do that one more thing.  But this year, as I looked around the kitchen, I noticed that the stove wasn’t covered in used pots and pans….and the stock pot had not been used for other things….  It was an easy thing to drop the turkey carcass into a pot and let it simmer away while I cleaned up the kitchen. 

And I was so glad I did.  On Saturday night we had a simple turkey soup with vegetables and rice.  I’m not sure I have ever used Thanksgiving leftovers for soup.  We always have sandwiches…tetrazzini and other casseroles…salads…etc. etc.   Thus, one more unexpected first.  And as we sat down last night to enjoy our turkey soup, I realized why it is such a traditional and fine use of leftover turkey (and broth).  After a couple of days of rich holiday foods, the comparatively austere soup was truly soothing.  I will definitely be adding soup to my rotation of uses for leftover turkey. 

You can probably put anything you like in a “leftover turkey soup”…but it will be better if you adopt a less-is-more mentality (your soup probably doesn't need stuffing...or a big mish-mosh of left over cooked vegetables).  I started with a basic onion, carrot, celery and thyme base and added cubed sweet potatoes, shredded Brussels sprouts (both left on hand from purchasing too much ahead of the big meal), Basmati rice and turkey.  The Basmati rice was a wonderful addition, subtly perfuming the soup with its unique aroma and flavor.  But if you don’t keep it on hand, regular long grain rice …or orzo pasta…or farro… would be fine.

As I mentioned at the first, I had a very nice Thanksgiving.  Delightful moments...big and small...added up to a pretty special day.  It is so unfortunate that at this holiday time of the year, it is so easy to be disappointed.   I confess I have been guilty of this.  But this year, since I had no expectations for this particular holiday, I found that there were so many things to enjoy.  I’m not a person who makes personal lists…resolutions at New Year’s…things I’m thankful for at Thanksgiving….but if I were, this year at the top of the list of things I’m thankful for would be that I had the rare opportunity to open my eyes and see the delights that are there….rather than being disappointed about the expected things that are not.  And from this vantage point, the list of things for which I am grateful becomes very long indeed. 

Pecan Pie

One 9-inch pie crust, chilled
175 grams roughly chopped pecans (1 1/2 c.)
3 eggs
200 grams brown sugar (1 cup)
300 grams Lyle’s Golden Syrup (7 fl. oz./1 cup minus 2 T.)
2 oz. (4 T.) melted unsalted butter
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Scatter the pecans over the bottom of the pie crust.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, brown sugar, golden syrup, butter, vanilla and salt. Pour into the pie shell.

Place pie in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes.  Carefully tent the pie with foil, to prevent over browning.  Continue to bake until the pie is set—another 30 minutes or so.  It will still be a bit jiggly, but a knife inserted in the center should come out moist but not liquid.  Cool 4 to 6 hours before slicing.  Use a sharp serrated knife to get the cleanest, most precise slices.

Makes one 9-inch pie.

Note: If you like, place two tablespoons of water in your measuring cup, then add Lyle's syrup to make 1 cup.  This will give you a cup of syrup that has roughly the same sugar saturation as Karo syrup.  The pie is delicious and slices beautifully as written, but if you are trying to mimic the texture of a corn syrup based pie, the added water will get you closer to it.  

Basic Pie Dough:

1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour (150g)
3/8 t. salt
5 1/2 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (77g)
3 T. chilled vegetable shortening (36g)
3 to 4 T. ice water

Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl.  Rub the butter into the flour until the butter is in small pea-sized pieces. Drizzle 3 T. ice water over the flour/butter mixture.  Using your hands, fluff the mixture until it begins to clump, adding more water if necessary.  If, when you squeeze some of the mixture it holds together, the dough is finished.  Turn the dough out onto a counter and form into a mound.  Using the heel of your hand, gradually push all of the dough away from you in short forward strokes, flattening out the lumps.  Continue until all of the dough is flat.  Using a bench scraper, scrape the dough off the counter, forming it into a single clump as you do.  Wrap in plastic wrap, pressing the dough into a thick disk.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.

To roll out a bottom crust, let the disk of dough warm up for a moment or two.  Butter a 9-inch pie plate and set it aside.  Flour the work surface and the rolling pin.  Begin rolling from the center of the dough outward.  After each stroke, rotate the dough a quarter turn—always making sure that there is sufficient flour to keep the dough from sticking.  Keep rolling and turning until you have a round of dough that is about 1/8 to 1/6 –inch in thickness.  Using a lid or an upside-down bowl, trim the dough to form a 13-inch circle.   Brush off the excess flour and fold the dough circle in half.  Slide the outspread fingers of both hands under the dough and gently lift it and transfer it to the prepared pie plate.  Unfold the dough and ease it into the pan being careful not to stretch it.  Fold the extra dough under along the rim of the pan so that it is double in thickness.  Crimp the edge. Chill the pie shell for at least 1/2 hour before filling.

Printable Recipe

“Leftover” Turkey & Rice Soup

2 1/2 to 3 T. unsalted butter
1 small onion (about 5 oz.), cut in 1/4-inch dice (1 cup)
1 carrot, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch dice (2/3 cup)
1 small celery stick, cut in 1/4-inch dice (1/3 cup)
1/2 T. minced fresh thyme
1 1/5 c. diced (1/3- to 1/2-inch) sweet potato
3 1/2 to 4 cups Turkey broth (or more if you prefer a soup with a greater proportion of broth)
3 T. Basmati rice
3 to 4 oz. Brussels sprouts, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced (1 cup sliced)
1 cup diced cooked turkey

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter.  Add the onion, carrot, celery and thyme along with a pinch of salt and sweat until very soft (about 15 minutes).  Add the sweet potato and cook until hot and beginning to sizzle in the butter.  

Add the stock and bring to a boil.   Taste and season with salt.  Add the rice, return to a simmer, cover and simmer gently for five minutes.  Add the sprouts, return to a simmer and cook until the sweet potatoes, rice and sprouts are tender—another 10 minutes or so.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Remove from the heat, stir in the turkey and cover and let sit for five minutes to warm the turkey through.

Makes a generous quart of soup.

  • Turkey broth can be made simply by placing the roast turkey carcass in a stock pot, covering by an inch with cold water and gently simmering until flavorful...two or three hours.  You may of course add onions, carrot, celery, etc. as for a traditional stock if you like.  
  • Don't boil the soup after you add the will make the turkey hard and chewy...particularly if you are using white meat. 
  • Recipe is easily multiplied.

Printable Recipe

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Rounding out the Thanksgiving Spread with Sweet Potato Biscuits and Roasted Cranberry Relish

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday.  How could it be otherwise?  It is all about food…and the table…and gratitude for both.   The sheer volume of Thanksgiving-appropriate recipes that I have posted to my blog is the proof of my love.  I have not yet posted a recipe for turkey, but if you are looking for ways to fill out your Thanksgiving menu, you will find many ideas right here….appetizers, desserts, vegetable side dishes…as well as pumpkin baked goods of all kinds. 

Sadly, right up until yesterday I thought I wasn’t going to find the time…or even the material…to post anything new for this year.  Returning from my idyllic vacation to the beginning of what is known as “the busy season” in the food service industry felt a bit like being plunged into a cold swimming pool without benefit of having tried the water with my toe beforehand.  I knew I was going to be busy…but I wasn’t quite ready for it.  From the moment I unpacked I have scarcely been able to catch my breath.  But just as suddenly as it started, I have hit a momentary lull…and even discovered that it is in my power to add a couple of more Thanksgiving recipes to those collected here.

During the past week I taught two Thanksgiving themed classes.  On Thursday I taught the third incarnation of a class all about ways to use winter squash and sweet potatoes.  Although not specifically about Thanksgiving recipes, these two ingredients are such traditional elements of the Thanksgiving spread that almost any of the things I teach in this class would be at home on a Thanksgiving table. 

In these classes I always talk about roasting and puréeing squash and sweet potatoes…and ways of using the results.  Happily for me, I roasted too much sweet potato and returned home with just enough to make a small batch of sweet potato biscuits to go with a salad for dinner the next evening.

Since I teach these biscuits in the first version of this class—and I am now on version three—it has been a while since I made them.  And they are so delicious.  As we enjoyed them, I realized they would make a good Thanksgiving recipe for my blog.  If you are a southerner, these biscuits are probably already in your repertoire….and probably make up part of your Thanksgiving menu.  But if you are not, or you have never made or tasted sweet potato biscuits, you should give them a try.  They are easy to make (can even be frozen in their raw form and baked from frozen) and are a great way to keep the traditional sweet potato element on the Thanksgiving table.

When you make the dough for these biscuits, you will be tempted to add too much liquid.  As I explain in my post for pumpkin scones, the flour doesn’t absorb the liquid from the vegetable purée as quickly and readily as it absorbs milk (or cream…or buttermilk).  Start with about a third cup of the milk and then if the dry looking crumbles of dough won’t adhere when pressed together, go ahead and add a bit more milk.  The final mixture will not look like a traditional, cohesive, soft biscuit dough…so don’t be alarmed.  As long as it can be pressed together, you are on the right track.  

The other class I taught this week was a Thanksgiving Favorites class with my friend (and chef) Nancy.  My contribution to the class included my grandmother’s dinner rolls as well as two recipes that have already made an appearance here (Sweet Potato & Mushroom Gratin and Pumpkin Pot de Crème).  One of the recipes that Nancy brings to the class is a wonderful—and different—recipe for roasted cranberry sauce.  I have never made it for my family because my family is pretty attached to their style of cranberry sauce, but every time we teach this class together, I love getting to sample it afterwards, and I am always struck by the brilliance of the method. 

Instead of simmering the cranberries in a sugar syrup, they are simply tossed with the sugar and a few aromatic seasonings, spread on a parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet and then roasted until they begin to burst and bubble.  The roasting process—as well as the fact that the recipe doesn’t have nearly as much added liquid as most recipes—results in a sauce with a rich and concentrated cranberry flavor. 

The original recipe was flavored with julienne strips of orange zest and jalapeño, whole cardamom pods and cloves, as well as a cinnamon stick.  After roasting, the sauce is finished with port and orange juice.  Nancy has substituted ground cloves and ground cardamom for the whole spices in her version of the sauce.  It is just too tedious to root around in the sauce to find the whole spices and remove them.  The cinnamon stick is of course quite easy to find…but I suppose you could replace it with ground cinnamon if you prefer.

After class this week, I decided I wanted to try this method with a different set of flavors…a more traditional, chutney-like mix of spices.  In addition to the clove, cinnamon and cardamom, I added some yellow mustard seeds.  I also added julienne fresh ginger and shallots and omitted the jalapeño.  I was very pleased with the result: complex and spicy…a perfect little exclamation point for the Thanksgiving menu.

I should emphasize that I didn’t change the cranberry sauce recipe because I didn’t like the original…I do like it…a lot.  Rather, I was so enamored with the method that I wanted to try it with other flavors.  Either version would make a delicious addition to your Thanksgiving festivities….  Or, you could come up with your own preferred mix of aromatic additions.   

I sampled my finished relish with cheese and digestives for an afternoon snack.  It was very good.  So good in fact, that if you prefer, instead of including it on the table to accompany your turkey, you could make it a part of a cheese and relish tray with which to greet your hungry guests. 

I do hope that I will have some time to squeeze in another post before the holiday.  But if I do not, I want to take the time now to wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving.  May you find yourself at a table laden with delicious food and surrounded by those you love (and who love you) best.

Spiced Roasted Cranberry Relish with Orange & Ginger

1 orange
12 oz. fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 t. kosher salt
1/8 t. ground cardamom
1/8 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. yellow mustard seed
1 or 2 sticks cinnamon
1 medium shallot (about 1 oz.), peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise (about 1/4 c.)
a 1 1/2-inch piece of ginger (about 1 oz.), peeled and cut in a fine julienne (about 1/4 c.)
1 to 1 1⁄2 T. port

Heat oven to 450°.  Using a peeler, remove peel from the orange, taking off as little of the white pith as possible. Cut peel into a very thin julienne about 1 1⁄2" long.  Squeeze juice from the orange; strain and reserve.

In a bowl, combine peel, cranberries, sugar, olive oil, salt, cardamom, cloves, mustard seed, cinnamon, shallot and ginger. 

Toss and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet that has been lined with parchment or foil.  

Spread the mixture out into an even layer and transfer the pan to the oven and roast until cranberries begin to burst and release their juices, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Scrape the cranberry mixture to a bowl; stir in the port and a quarter cup of the reserved orange juice.  Let sit for at least 1 hour so that the flavors meld. Remove and discard cinnamon stick before serving.  The relish may be served at room temperature or chilled.

Makes about 2 cups

(Recipe adapted from Saveur Magazine, October 2008)

 Sweet Potato Biscuits

1 c. roasted sweet potato purée (240 grams), chilled
2 2/3 c. all-purpose flour (300 grams)
4 t. baking powder
2 T. Sugar
1 t. kosher salt
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
8 T. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
6 to 8 T. milk

Preheat oven to 425°.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and cayenne.  Using your fingers, or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry mixture.  Combine until mixture resembles a coarse meal.

Whisk together 6 T of the milk and the sweet potato.  Using a fork or rubber spatula, combine the liquid with the dry ingredients until the mixture is homogenous.  It will look a bit dry, but if when you squeeze some of it together, it adheres, you have added enough liquid.  If necessary add the remaining 2 T. milk. 

Turn out the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface.  Press the dough together and give it a gentle knead or two to bring it together into a soft dough.  Press the dough out into a 3/4- to 1-inch thick disc.  

Using a 2- to 2 1/4-inch round cookie cutter, cut out rounds and transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Press the scraps of dough together to cut out more rounds.   Brush the tops with melted butter 

and bake in the top third of the oven until the biscuits are  golden brown and springy to the touch,  about 15 to 20 minutes.

Makes 12 to 20 biscuits, depending on the size cutter you choose to use.

(Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart's Hors d'oeuvres Handbook, by Martha Stewart)

Note:  You will need about a pound of sweet potatoes to produce 1 cup of purée.  Roast the sweet potatoes in a 400° oven.  Prick the sweet potatoes in several spots with a fork or paring knife and transfer to a baking sheet.  Bake until easily pierced with the tip of a knife, about 40 to 60 minutes.  When cool enough to handle, cut open the sweet potatoes and scoop out the flesh.  Purée in the food processor, or press the flesh through a sieve or mesh strainer.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Feasting at the Table of a Friend…plus Bonnie’s Recipe for Eggs Baked on a bed of Greens

Last week I had the pleasure of spending a few days away with a group of very dear friends.  I wrote of another week with this same group a few years ago, spent at a house on Lake Michigan.  This time we were at Bonnie’s home in Minnesota. Up until the very end, I didn’t think we were actually going to be able to get away to do it.  Life is so busy.  Coordinating the schedules of four sandwich-generation women seemed an almost impossible task.  When three of us finally climbed into the packed car and made it to the interstate headed north, I think we were all a bit stunned that it was really happening.

As always, we had a wonderful time together.  What I will remember most from this trip is the hours spent lingering at Bonnie’s inviting table….and around her kitchen island....sipping coffee (freshly roasted in Bonnie’s garage, of course!), nibbling on the remains of delicious meals (or the bits and pieces of meals in progress), sharing and talking on and on about the happenings in our lives, big and small.  What a privilege to get to take a break from the busyness and just be…  together. 

Since all four of us work—or have worked—as professional cooks, much of our time together is always spent talking about, preparing and eating(!) delicious food.  It is so much fun to see and taste some of the things each of us have been learning about food since we were all together last.  I learned a new technique for cooking baby potatoes (material for a short, future post) and got to have an impromptu “hand pie” lesson as Bonnie took a minute to nail down the final quantities for a recipe she is teaching in an upcoming class.  

For my part, during the past few months I have been intermittently experimenting with a new technique for fresh pasta, and having the opportunity to make pasta with my friends…sharing the things I’ve learned....was a treat. 

One of the things Bonnie made for us was a delicious breakfast she has gotten into the habit of making for herself…eggs baked on a bed of wilted greens.  She served it with toast, her homemade granola, some yogurt, and fresh berries.  It was loaded with flavor and very satisfying.  

I liked it so much, that when I got home I prepared it for a light dinner…with some roasted potatoes on the side.  I had it for lunch a few days later (with toast).  

When I shared a picture of this beautiful dish (Bonnie’s version) on my personal Facebook page, a friend requested the recipe, so I am including it in today’s post.

This easy little dish is amenable to all kinds of variations.  Instead of grape tomatoes, you could add a handful of sautéed mushrooms…or some diced roasted winter squash or sweet potatoes…anything you like in partnership with greens and eggs.  (Just make sure your addition is something that will cook through in a minute or two or that has already been cooked and only needs a brief reheat.)  I can see many a Sunday night meal coming from this simple and delicious idea.

I should tell you that we didn’t spend all of our time sitting and eating.  We also walked the trails into town…   to get wine…and bread….  and taste olive oil.  And we visited the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (revisiting paintings we remembered from previous visits…and making friends with ones we hadn’t noticed before).  Of course after an afternoon on our feet we had to stop at a coffee shop on the way home for some sustenance.

For the most part our meals were not grand affairs….a quick roast chicken with salad and potatoes….breakfasts of scones or toast, yogurt, fruit and granola…and on our final night, a simple spread of bread and fruit and cheese and wine (after overindulging a bit on the pastries at the aforementioned coffee shop….).  But whether simple or involved, I will cherish the memory of these meals for months to come.  It is not often that any of us have the time for such an extended feast.  But I like to believe that with a little bit of effort we can have small moments like this every day, in our own homes, sitting at our own tables…as long as we make the time—however brief—to pause and connect with those we love.  Because it doesn’t matter if the food is a multi-course extravaganza or a humble dish of eggs and toast, it is the company around the table that makes the feast. 

 Bonnie’s Eggs Baked on a Bed of Greens

Olive oil or 2 strips of bacon, cut in thin strips cross-wise
1 or 2 shallots, peeled and sliced
5 oz. baby spinach (see note)
3/4 cup grape tomatoes, halved
2 to 6 eggs (room temperature—see note)
Blue cheese crumbles (optional)
Minced parsley…or other soft herb (chives, dill, etc.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  

Warm the olive oil over moderate heat.  Or, wilt the bacon and cook until crisp.  Lift the bacon out of the pan and pour off all but a tablespoon or so of the fat.  Add the shallots to the pan and sweat until softened and sizzling in the fat.  Begin to add the greens to the pan, a handful at a time, waiting to add each handful until the previous one just begins to collapse.  When the greens are mostly collapsed (they shouldn’t be completely wilted), push them to the side and add the tomatoes to the pan.  

Cook briefly—covering the pan if necessary—until the tomatoes are just warmed through and have a bit of give when you press them with your finger…they shouldn’t be collapsing or disintegrating.  Season well with salt & pepper, add the bacon back to the pan (reserving some for garnish, if you like), and toss (or fold) to distribute the tomatoes among the greens.

At this point you may proceed in a couple of ways: 

For a dish that is more about the eggs than the greens and is intended to serve as the protein for a breakfast or brunch for 3 to 4 people, simply make 4 to 6 depressions in the mixture of greens and tomatoes and carefully crack an egg into each depression.  Cover the pan and transfer to the oven.

For a light lunch or dinner for two, when you begin to wilt the greens place two buttered/oiled individual casseroles in the oven to warm through.  When the greens are ready, divide them between the two casseroles, making one or two depressions for the eggs as you do.  Carefully crack the eggs into the depressions, cover tightly with foil and place in the oven.

After 7 minutes, uncover the eggs.  The whites should be mostly set and the yolk still liquid, covered by a thin film of cooked white (because of the nice steamy environment created by the covered pan).  At this point, you should remove the pan from the oven whenever the yolks are cooked to your liking…anywhere from another minute or two to seven minutes.  Season the eggs with salt and pepper and scatter with cheese if you like…or the reserved bacon…and some fresh herbs.   Serve immediately (placing the large pan directly on the table and the individual casseroles on heatproof plates) with some nice, crusty toast.  Serves 2 to 4.

·         Any young green that is tender when just wilted will work in this recipe—baby spinach, young chard, arugula (Organic Girl’s Super Greens is a good choice)
·         If your eggs are refrigerator cold, submerge them (in the shell) in a bowl of hot tap water for five minutes or so, to warm them up.
·         You could use both the bacon and blue cheese if you like, but I like this dish with one or the other.  

Printable Version

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Wild Rice Salad with Apples & Roast Chicken

October seems to have slipped by me.  It had been my intention all month long to share the recipe for this wild rice salad…and now the month is gone.   It is a salad that is appropriate for the warmer days of autumn, but I also think it would be a delicious addition to a holiday buffet….or potluck gathering…not to mention the fact that it would make a delicious boxed lunch just about any time during apple season.  So, before November gets away from me, I thought I would start the month off right by posting it now…on the first day of the month. 

I love grain salads (and pilafs) so when I started working on a new apple class for this year I wanted to include a grain salad.   A wild rice salad seemed like a good idea.  Wild rice and apples are linked in my mind because I associate them both with fall in Minnesota.  When I was a kid we moved to Minnesota for a couple of years.  We arrived in the fall and it would have been about that time that I first tasted wild rice, which is of course native to Minnesota. 

But apples grow just about everywhere, so you might wonder why I associate apples with Minnesota.  I would say it is most likely because it was there that I was first exposed to apples in all their regional diversity.  Even my kid’s limited and picky palate was able to delight in the unique flavors and textures of Cortland, Haralson and Prairie Spy apples.  Since none of these varieties are available in the lower Midwest where I have spent most of my life they were quite exotic to me and gave me a whole new appreciation for apples.  When I returned to Minnesota for college I was so pleased to discover that every fall a nearby orchard trucked in a load of these wonderful regional varieties on Friday afternoons to sell outside the campus center. 

Wild rice is the featured grain in this salad, but since munching through a salad of all wild rice would be a bit of an exercise, I have cut the wild rice with some brown Basmati.  (You can use any long grain brown rice you please, but I particularly like fragrant Basmati.)  The advantage of pairing the wild rice with a long grain brown rice is that the brown rice will cook in the same amount of time that it takes the wild rice to soften.  This makes it possible to cook them together in the same pot.  Since there are a lot of elements in this salad, this is a great advantage.  Cooking them together will also force you to remove the rice from the heat when the brown rice is done...thus preventing the wild rice from getting so soft that it splits open and curls.  Wild rice taken to this point has been cooked too long.  I recently read on the bulk bin at Whole Foods an excellent description of what wild rice should look like when it is perfectly done:  It should have begun to split down the length of the grain and will look something like a hot dog bun…it should not look blown open like a popcorn kernel.  At the correct doneness, it will still have texture, but it will also be tender.

When you choose an apple for this salad, make sure that you choose something crisp with a sweet—or possibly sweet-tart—flavor profile. Softer apples will fade in competition with the other lively textural elements (in addition to the crunchy-chewy wild rice, there are crunchy pieces of celery and pecans as well as chewy dried cranberries).  Apples that are too tart will fall flat…the salad needs sweetness to lift the flavors.  Hints of sweetness come from a bit of honey in the dressing and from the orange juice soaked dried cranberries, but these are not quite enough.  Something like a juicy Honey Crisp or Pink Lady…or a super-crisp Gala….will add a vibrant splash of flavor.  If you have a local apple that you love that is crisp and sweet, you should definitely give it a try in this salad.

 Wild Rice Salad with Apples & Roast Chicken

3/4 c. (125 grams) wild rice
1/2 c. (90 grams) brown Basmati rice

2 chicken leg quarters (about 1 lb. total weight)
olive oil
salt & pepper

1 small red onion (5 to 6 oz.), trimmed and thinly sliced
1 T. olive oil

1/2 c. dried cranberries
Juice and zest of 1/2 orange
1/4 c. cider vinegar
2 t. honey
1/4 c. olive oil
2 medium-sized (5 or 6 oz. each) crisp, sweet to sweet-tart apples (Gala, Honey Crisp, Pink Lady, etc.)
1/2 c. pecans, toasted and coarsely broken
1/2 c. thinly sliced celery (from one large or two small stalks—if the stalks are fat, halve lengthwise before slicing)
2 handfuls arugula (1 1/2 to 2 oz.), roughly chopped if leaves are large

Rinse both kinds of rice and drain well.  Place in a medium saucepan and cover with five cups of cold water.  Add 3 or 4 good pinches of kosher salt (about 3/4 t.) and bring to a simmer.  Simmer gently—uncovered—until the rice is tender, but still has texture...about 40 to 45 minutes.  Don't allow the wild rice to blow open like popcorn (when done, wild rice has a vertical split, giving it the look of a split hot dog bun).  Drain the rice and spread on a sheet pan to cool.

While the rice cooks, rub the chicken with olive oil and season well with salt & pepper.  Place in a casserole or roasting pan that is just large enough to hold the pieces without touching.  Roast in a 450° oven until the juices run clear and the skin is crispy—about 40 minutes.  Transfer to a plate to cool.  Pour the fat off from the pan and discard.  Deglaze the pan with a splash of water.  When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin.  Pull the meat from the bones, tearing it into large bite-sized pieces. Toss the shredded chicken with the pan deglazings and any resting juices.  Taste and season with salt & pepper.  Set aside.

While the chicken and rice cook, warm a sauté pan over medium to medium-high heat.  Add a tablespoon of oil to the pan, followed by the onions along with a pinch of salt.  Sauté the onions until tender & golden...about 10 to 15 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Place the dried cranberries in a small bowl and toss with the orange juice.  Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes.  While the cranberries soak, make the vinaigrette.  Place the zest, cider vinegar and honey in a small bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.  Whisk in a quarter cup of olive oil.

When ready to pull the salad together, quarter and core the apples (peel them only if the skin is tough).  Cut the quarters in half lengthwise.  Cut these eighths crosswise a scant quarter inch thick.  Place the apples, rice, chicken (with its juices), onions, craisins (with any unabsorbed orange juice), pecans and celery in a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper and pour the vinaigrette over.  Toss well.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt, vinegar and honey.  Add the arugula and toss in just before serving.  Serves four generously as a salad entrée.

  • After roasting and shredding the chicken legs, you will have 7 or 8 oz. (200 to 225 grams) cooked meat. If you have leftover (or rotisserie) chicken, you can use it in this salad. Simply weigh out this amount and add it to the salad instead of cooking fresh.
  • I only add arugula to what I will be serving immediately…and then add fresh arugula to leftovers as I eat them. It is fine to add it all at once, but the arugula in the leftovers will have softened and lost its crispness. 
  • If you don’t like arugula, baby spinach would be a good alternative.
  • If you don’t have an orange on hand, you may substitute apple cider (or juice) for the orange juice (use about 3 T.) and simply omit the zest from the vinaigrette.
  • This salad would be delicious with shredded duck confit or roast, shredded pheasant in place of the roast chicken.
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