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Thanksgiving Essentials: Roast Turkey Perfection and Gimme-More Gravy

Thanksgiving Essentials: Roast Turkey Perfection and Gimme-More Gravy

Roast Turkey Perfection on an oval platter with herbs, nuts, kumquats and cranberries

Nary has a Thanksgiving rolled by that I am not peppered with queries from dawn to dusk. I heed the call, alternating with “Gobble Gobble” and “Butterball Hotline.”  This year, I say bring it on.  I’ve got nothing but time. Yup! I have already cooked my Thanksgiving feast – the roast turkey and the gravy – and served it up with a “Family Favorites Pot-lucky.” Food served. Wine drunk. Dishes done. Trash at the curb. Sorry. Not sorry.

Roasted Beets with Nutty Goat Cheese on skewers

We gathered earlier this month and the pot-lucky theme was Family Treasures – the iconic culinary treats that are essential for fall family feasts. I brought Gaga’s Delmonico apples and a cranberry kumquat chutney, that’s a newer tradition. One couple brought a wonderful red and yellow beet with nutty goat cheese appetizer. The other dishes were both familiar and uniquely twisted – a modern green bean casserole & sweet potatoes with pecans, scalloped corn & sprouts with bacon, and mash taters & an amazing sausage stuffing. It was a tasty trip seeing how others celebrate the season.

The Feast

And because it has been so warm, I was able to get most of the décor from the herb bed, grasses and colorful leaves. After one too many table settings that hogged the site line and got moved off the table about 5 minutes after we were seated, I decided to keep it low and used a collection of mismatched short silver cups, more commonly used at Derby time – julep cups! That plus a few candles and some nuts and gourds was all I needed.

Setting The Table with fall foliage and candles on an orange cloth

I was also in charge of the turkey and over the years I’ve had my share of turkey prep. Some years I have gone from perfect turkey on the Today Show Thursday to turkey leftovers on Good Morning America Friday. By noon on Thursday when others were thinking about the big dance, I had moved on to leftovers prep. One year my balcony was lined by so many wall to wall coolers filled with turkey parts that you’d have thought I was running a soup kitchen. Suffice it to say I have done every show with every possible technique and turkey part. Whole turkeys, turduckens, spatchcocked and deconstructed. Done. It. All.

The real secret to Turkey Perfection comes from good preparation, organization, great ingredients and having the right equipment. My turkey this year came from Wise Family Farm and was about 16 pounds. I hope you are so lucky as to have a fresh, locally pastured bird, but if you are only able to source a frozen turkey, you need to get busy now.  The safest way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator over several days. And don’t forget that it takes 24 hours to thaw every 4 pounds of frozen bird.

If you head to my shop, you will find the tools I find most invaluable – a good Roasting Pan, about 2-3” deep (I prefer “stick” over non-stick – that results in a nice dark brown gravy), a Roasting Rack that raises the turkey for essential airflow, an Instant Read Thermometer to validate estimated cooking time, a Fat Separator to skim off fat and pour the rich stock from the bottom of the vessel, and anything written by Rick Rodgers, including The Turkey Cookbook, Thanksgiving 101, and The Big Book of Sides. I can safely say everything I know about turkey and gravy I learned from Rick. He IS Mr. Turkey.

I find the recipe below to be quite foolproof. It is a classic technique for an average-sized 18-pound turkey, but the instructions can be adjusted depending on the size of your bird. There are many tweaks and twists that can bedazzle the bird, but it always helps to know the basics before you start embellishing. Learned that one from Julia herself! And one of the things I learned from Rick is to have a stock pot going all day so that you can baste before your bird gets juicy and you have everything needed to make gravy, regardless of the amount of juices your bird yields. I have included details on how to do that so you can relax and know you will be gravy-prepared.

Roast Turkey Perfection with Gimme-More Gravy

Fall Foliage for the centerpiece - herbs and berries and grasses

Turkey Perfection

  • One (18-pound) fresh turkey
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 quarts turkey or chicken stock (I prefer low sodium since this will reduce for hours – you can always add seasoning later)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 sprigs Italian parsley
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup* plus 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

*You may not need this if the turkey releases enough fat to yield a half-cup. Commercially produced birds tend to be fattier, but the pasture-raised bird I cooked was very lean and I needed to supplement with the butter when making the roux for the gravy.

Position oven rack in the lower part of oven and preheat to 325° F.

Remove any pieces/parts inside the turkey – the neck and giblets (which includes the gizzard, heart, and liver) – and set aside.

Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water. Pat dry with paper towels and wipe out the cavity. Rub cavity with salt and pepper and stuff loosely with 1/3 of the carrots,  celery, and onions.

Prepping the turkey, roasting pan, butter, and a pink bowl of carrots, onions, celery and parsley

Pin the turkey’s neck skin to the back with a bamboo skewer or trussing pin. Tuck the wings akimbo (“hands” behind the back, elbows turned outward) to keep the tips from burning.

Place the drumsticks in the hock lock. Some birds will be butchered with a skin flap as shown above. Others may have a plastic loop to lock the legs.  If all else fails, tie them together with kitchen string.

Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a roasting pan. Rub all over with 2 Tablespoons softened butter. Season with salt and pepper.

Tightly cover the breast area with aluminum foil. (Not tented, just pressed tightly onto the breast. You will remove this during the last hour of roasting).

Pour 2 cups of turkey or chicken stock into the bottom of the pan and place in the pre-heated oven.

Stock Pot

As soon as the bird is in the oven, start the stock pot. This will give you juices for basting during the early hours when the bird hasn’t given off much liquid. It will also provide backup turkey stock for a bird that is a low juice producer.

Hack the turkey neck into 4 or 5 pieces. Trim away the gizzard’s silver skin and membrane and coarsely chop. Some like to also chop up the liver and heart and add it here, but I think they are a bit bitter when boiled. I’m more likely to save them  and sauté later with onions and then add them to stews, fried rice, or place atop avo toast.

In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil, add the turkey neck, any giblets, and sauté until brown, about 5-7 minutes. Add the remaining carrots, celery, and onions and sauté for 5 minutes. Add 1 quart of turkey stock, along with the parsley, thyme, peppercorns and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Continue to simmer, using this to baste the turkey as needed. Periodically skim any floaters. (I’m trying really hard not to say scum, but you know what I’m talking about.) Add additional turkey stock to the pot to maintain a 1-1 ½ quart level.


Roast the turkey, basting all over every hour with the juices in the bottom of the pan or from the stock pot. Lift up the foil to baste the breast area. I usually rotate the pan periodically to make sure there are no oven hot spots and the bird roasts evenly. Roast until an Instant Read Thermometer inserted in the meaty part of the thigh (but not touching the bone) reads 180° F and the breast is 165° F, about 4 hours. Whenever the drippings evaporate, baste from the stock pot and add a bit more stock to the roasting pan. Remove the foil from the breast during the last hour to let the skin brown.

Roast Turkey Perfection in the roasting pan

It’s better to pad your estimated cooking time by 30 minutes, so nobody is standing around drinking too much while waiting for the bird. I say that like it’s a bad thing. I always defer to the thermometer, but use the times below as a guideline. Stuffing your turkey will add about 5 minutes per pound, so I cook the stuffing on the side (doesn’t that make it dressing??). Since you need to let the bird rest 30 minutes and carving takes time, you have most of an hour to finish or warm the rest of the sides when the oven is no longer needed for the turkey.

Estimated Roasting Times – Unstuffed Turkey  – about 15 – 20 min a pound

(Oven Temperature 325° F)

12 to 14 pounds                               3 to 3 3/4 hours

14 to 18 pounds                               3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours

18 to 20 pounds                               4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours

20 to 24 pounds                               4 1/2 to 5 hours

Per FoodSafety.gov

Transfer the turkey to a large serving platter and let it stand for at least 30 minutes before carving. Pour any juices that have run off back into the roasting pan.

Gimme-More Gravy

Making the gimme more gravy using a fat separator measuring cup and pouring into pan with a whisk

Once the turkey is out of the oven and resting, pour the drippings from the roasting pan into a Fat Separator or heatproof glass measuring cup. Let stand 5 minutes, then skim off and reserve the clear yellow fat that rises to the top. Measure 1/2 cup fat, adding butter, if needed, to make 1/2 cup.

Check the measurement on the broth remaining in the fat separator, once you have skimmed the fat. If you have less than one quart of liquid, add enough strained liquid from the stock pot to the skimmed drippings to make 4 cups.

Place the roasting pan on low across two stove burners (or scrape all the brown bits from the roasting pan into a saucepan) and add the turkey fat or fat/butter combo (1/2 cup total).

Whisk in the flour to make a roux, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, and cook until the paste is lightly browned, about two minutes. Whisk in the turkey broth. Cook, whisking often, until the gravy has thickened and no trace of raw flour flavor remains, about ten minutes.

If desired, finely chop whatever giblets you have prepared and add to the gravy. Check the seasonings and add salt and pepper, as needed. Transfer the gravy to a warmed gravy boat.

Roast Turkey Perfection on an oval platter with herbs, nuts, kumquats and cranberries


Remove the wing and leg on one side and slice the breast, carving parallel to the center/breast bone. Repeat on the other side. It’s become very popular to remove the breast and slice cross-wise like a loaf of bread. It’s not the way I was trained.  But my Dad’s process which took an hour to carve…one slice for the platter, one for the man with the knife….and never ended up with enough food on the platter (What? You want more than one paper-thin slice???) has left some family members in therapy.  I can’t be sure but I think some people that I may or may not be related to shred their turkey by hand just to avoid any brush with our torturous past. You are on your own – #NoJudgment – but know that there are plenty of videos on carving techniques!

However you carve it, enjoy and be sure to smother with amazing gravy and serve with gratitude! And be sure to share your family favorite sides in the comments below.

Serves 18 with about 4 cups of gravy

Blue plate with turkey, gravy, mash potatoes, stuffing, brussels sprouts, chuntey and salad

Take a page from this book and consider liquid dessert! Kind of a perfect way to end a meal – no further chewing needed.

Liquid Dessert - glass with mudslide topped with chocolate shavings

Gobble! Gobble!

This post contains affiliate links.  For more of my must-have faves, check out my shop

© Copyright: KatyKeck.com 2016. All rights reserved.

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Setting Sail with Pickled Shrimp: Getting Pot-Lucky, Nautical Edition

Setting Sail with Pickled Shrimp: Getting Pot-Lucky, Nautical Edition

Mason Jars Filled with Pickled Shrimp

All ashore that’s going ashore.  Or so it should have been. But Mother Nature was a fickle mistress (or was she?) and the pot-lucky aboard our intrepid pontoon Scout was not to be.  It’s quite possible that Mother Nature did us a solid – the feast that arrived needed to be a moveable feast, else we would have had to have a side car on the boat just to carry the food.  The call went out to bring an appetizer that fit a verrrrry loose nautical theme – #puremichigan, #redwhiteandblue, #beach, #getfishy.  I really didn’t have much in mind, unlike previous pot-luckys (my curated and themed spin on a typical pot luck), other than my own plan to roll out the pickled shrimp, so asked friends to get creative and creative they got!  The food just kept arriving and it took multiple rooms to spread the feast.

Setting Sail - Nautical potlucky with oars, flags, lots of food and a pitcher of sunflowers on the porch

Katy with a Bateau Mouche hat and american flags, the party porch with nautical flags and olives with nasturtium.

Scout goes out on Wednesdays all summer to watch races from the Grand River Sailing Club on the “big lake” (as any respectable west Michigander refers to Lake Michigan).  The best racing weather is not the best Scout weather.  Glassy nights don’t make for a great race.  But fun, food, beverages, music and very deep conversations abound no matter the weather.

Smooth as Glass - sail boat with spinaker

Scouters - Captain Janet on the pontoon; feeling nauti cocktail napkins and red white and blue legs on the aft deck

Sadly,3 foot waves and high winds precluded our “Scout”ing on the designated pot-lucky, so we headed inside and pulled out all the stops, tricking out the Captain’s Quarters to make it even more boat-like. Guests arrived with the most amusing and creative sacrifices to the pot-lucky gods. I loved that the theme came through in presentation, as well as ingredient selection.  A self-proclaimed non-crafty guest fired up the printer and created picks for the best ever meatballs, adorning them with home-made burgees (flags) representing another local yacht club.  And the most wonderful sausage/butter bean/poblano chili was served as if already the winning trophy.  Or how about the goldfish, tossed in herbs and put in a fish bowl and served with a net?  #Hilarious

Tomato Tart, Race Worthy Meatballs with yacht club burgee, and Pickled Shrimp with a life jacket on a wine bottle and a wicker basket

Award winning: tuscan verde in a trophy bowl with various sailing awards and shells

Gone Fishin - seasoned gold fish crackers in a fish bowl with net, seashells and sunflowers

Not just looking good, the ingredients were carefully selected around the theme, as well. Tomatoes are at their peak and they appeared on Caprese skewers, panzanella bread salad, baked with Parm and herbs in a savory crust, and atop lavosh for a yummy mozzarella bruschetta topping.  Spicy pickled eggs, already red and white, picked up their blue from a wandering model boat captain.  And dessert goes all red, white, and blueberry – with cherries & almonds, white peaches, blueberries & basil. Yum.

Tomatoes Three Ways: in a bowl with panzenlla, skewered caprese salad and as bruschetta topping with a pitcher of sunflowers

Pickled Eggs in a mason jar and Captain Blue sitting atop. Plus a model boat

Red White & Blueberry cobblers in mason jars with a model boat behind

In the end, it turned out to be an app exchange of epic proportions, as there were far more treats than even the most intrepid sailor could consume.  Everyone went home with sacks to nosh on throughout the week.  Note to self: pot-luckys require to-go containers!

I represented with a pickled shrimp recipe that I first found from a neighbor who was a regular reader of Tasting Table.  The recipe was adapted from Butcher & Bee in Charleston and Nashville.  Here, it is adapted again.  It’s a wonderful dish and a consummate hit and keeps for a week, if in fact you can manage to have leftovers.  The original recipe didn’t work for scaling up to bigger quantities, but if you follow my seemingly fussy technique, you will get perfect results and can make as many pounds of shrimp as you want.  The recipe below is for two pounds of shrimp. If you only make one pound, scale the remaining ingredients down by one third; for every pound you add over the two called for, scale the remaining ingredients up by 25% over those listed.  ish.  There is a lot of liquid and you definitely do not need to be linear in your math.  Can you do that for me?  If your poaching liquid does get too low, just add a little more water so that the shrimp are covered during their one-minute dip in the simmering brine.

Pickled Shrimp in a blue boat shaped bowl on a tea towel with oars

Pickled Shrimp a la Butcher & Bee by way of me

  • 4 cups water
  • 2 ½ cups white vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups cider vinegar
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced (I like Vidalia or other sweet onion)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 4 jalapenos, stemmed and cut into ½” thick rings
  • 20 baby carrots, sliced in ¼” thick slices
  • 4 lemons, thinly sliced
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 2 Tablespoons sea or kosher salt
  • 2 pounds raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tail on (I like 16-20 or 21-26)

Fill the sink with cold water and ice.

In a large pot, combine all the ingredients, except for shrimp, and bring to a boil.

Making the Brine for pickled shrimp: vinegar, carrot slices, onions, jalapenos, lemon slices, mustard seed and celery seed

Using a slotted spoon, remove the chunkies (i.e. everything that is not liquid) to a large bowl, along with 2/3 of the liquid.  Be sure to get most of the celery and mustard seeds.  (The remaining liquid will eventually be discarded.)  Place the bowl in the ice bath and stir periodically to cool.  When the brine is cool, refrigerate.

Making the Brine for pickled shrimp: vinegar, carrot slices, onions, jalapenos, lemon slices, mustard seed and celery seed

Place the pot back on the stove with what remains of the pickling liquid (about 1/3 of original), and bring back to a low boil  Add the first pound of shrimp and when pink, about 30 seconds to a minute, remove with tongs or slotted spoon to a tray and allow to cool. Repeat with remaining shrimp, one pound per batch.  The shrimp color should be set and they should be mostly cooked, but they will continue to “cook”, or more accurately cure, as they sit in the brine.  When the shrimp are cool, add to the refrigerated brine & vegetables.   Cover and refrigerate at least four hours, or preferably overnight.  Discard the brine that was used for poaching the shrimp.

To serve, strain off the liquid and serve in mason jars with the pickled vegetables.

Serves 8-10.

Pickled Shrimp in a mason jar, overhead shot

Need another shrimp idea?

Island Ceviche with Tropical Fruit!

Island Ceviche

Missed previous pot-luckys, or don’t even know what a pot-lucky is?

BYOB: Build Your Own Burger

Feast for the Eyes: overhead shot of a spread of toppings for six kinds of sliders

Bring Your Own Pizza Topping

Building a Pizza and ready to go in the oven

Hosting a Soup Swap

Three soups being shared: chicken corn chowder, lemon chicken and vichysoisse

© Copyright: KatyKeck.com 2016. All rights reserved.

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Feeling Pot Lucky: Build Your Own Burger

Feeling Pot Lucky: Build Your Own Burger

I have seriously gone down the Pot Lucky rabbit hole, or as I have recently taken to calling it – the Curated Pot Luck.  It was only a matter of time after sausage making, soup swapping, and pizza topping, that I would dive head first into a burger blast.  No doubt I have mentioned that I rarely get dinner invites,  despite my dear friend Cindy running ahead and telling people they’ll have me at hambur…. (hint, hint, hint – I’m a gracious guest, really I am).  If this party didn’t crystallize that concept, I’m destined to dine at home.  Burgers, burgers, burgers and more burgers.

Lamb burger sliders on a platter

The gang has started to embrace (or run for the hills) the idea of bringing together a culinary creation around a theme.  This time I first lined up six people as the Patty People.   The call went out for each to bring a different flavor, 3 pounds divvied up into 2-dozen sliders.  Yup! That’s 12 dozen sliders.  Plenty to share for any one that wandered our way.  We ended up with turkey burgers – one of my go-to recipes – a three-cut beef blend, lamb, bison, shrimp and a beef raised locally by the pattier himself.  (Note to Dan: standing invite).

Feast for the Eyes: overhead shot of a spread of toppings for six kinds of sliders

I provided the Designated Toppers with a range of ideas, but the contributions far exceeded that list.  Cheeses, veggies, special sauce and more. In case it’s not yet clear – “more” means bacon.  Or it means more bacon.  The contributions ran from an irreverently-titled hot sauce to smoked onions stuffed with garlic, and on to smoked tomato mint jam (Noyce!!! A fabulous complement to the lamb burger).  I felt a bit like the butterball hotline, holding court and making pairing recommendations.  A cup or two of each topping is plenty if you shoot for the wide range that we recruited – no need to prepare vats-full.

Woman holding a jar of Jimbo\'s hot sauce

Here are a few of the amazing items that painted the burger canvas:


  • Goat
  • Bleu Cheese Crumbles
  • Pepper Jack
  • Jalapeno Pimento Cheese

Smoky onions stuffed with garlic

Veg & more:

  • Mushrooms Bourguignon
  • Smoked Onions
  • Mango Salsa
  • Arugula
  • Pickled Peppers
  • Lemon Feta Pepperoncini
  • Julienne purple radish
  • Bacon

Special Sauce:

  • Salsa Verde
  • Chimichurri
  • Cumin Yogurt
  • Mint Pesto
  • Chipotle Aioli
  • Roasted Pineapple Habanero Sauce
  • Guacamole
  • Tzatziki
  • Smoked Tomato Mint Jam

Smoked Tomato Mint Jam

Amazingly there were only about 3 of the 144 sliders left.  Clearly no one went home hungry and everyone was very (wink, wink) “happy”.  Sharing a grill and creating your own masterpiece is a great way to get the group mingling – everyone has something to say about their personal favorite combo.

Talking Turkey

If you have ever visited me in Michigan, you have probably had a turkey burger.   Because I add drained salsa to the very lean (read: potentially dry) meat, I tend to do a jar or two’s draining at once.  Then I patty the burgers out and wrap individually in saran and freeze on a sheet pan to keep their shape, zipping them up when frozen.  It’s great to have as a staple when company comes unannounced (unless they come three times in one day – you know who you are!)  This is the kind of dish I always make well ahead of guests and if I’m not freezing the patties, each wrapped in saran, I put them on a tray with wax paper below and on top of the burgers, and refrigerate for up to two days. If I’m holding for more than a few hours, I’m sure to wrap the whole tray in saran.  This resting time really helps firm up a somewhat wet patty.

At the very beginning of my career, I assisted my cooking school teacher Rick Rodgers in classes and at book signings.  He wrote both the Turkey Cookbook and Thanksgiving 101.  He has written well over 30 books now and there is not a dud among them. Every recipe is always impeccably tested.  I have links to a couple of the books in my shop but truthfully they are all fantastic.  I have a vague memory that we made turkey burger sliders for some book signings and served them on little potato rolls.  I think that is where the idea of drained salsa first came to my attention. Since then turkey burgers were a staple on the menu at my restaurant New World Grill, where we made Pico de Gallo in-house and added cumin, shallots, and a splash of white wine.  However you do it, these stir-ins add a lot of flavor and keep the lean meat from being dry.  I really love these with pepper jack and grilled onions on an onion roll. Go big or go home.

Turkey Burger

For the burger pot lucky, I used one of my very favorite salsas: Frontera Chipotle Salsa.  Because ground turkey is a blank canvas, you almost can’t over-season it. In other words, more heat, more spice. Please.


  • 16 ounce jar of favorite salsa, drained and liquid discarded (or save and use to season a sauce, etc.)
  • 3 pounds ground turkey
  • 3 shallots, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Pour the salsa into a fine mesh strainer, set over a bowl. Set aside for 20 minutes or more until the liquid has been released. Discard the liquid or save/freeze for something else.

Making turkey burgers: ground turkey, cumin, pepper, salt, chopped shallots and drained salsa


Mix the turkey, drained salsa, shallots, cumin, salt and pepper by hand until incorporated and shape into patties. See note above about stocking your freezer or letting them rest for an hour (up to two days) in your fridge before grilling.

Turkey burger sliders pattied out and waiting for the grill!

Grill over a medium-hot fire until cooked through (timing depends on burger size).  Poultry should always be thoroughly cooked.  If you find it hard to flip, show a little patience. A hot grill will always release the stuck food when it’s ready.

Serve with firecracker cole slaw – recipe is coming soon!!

Makes 24 sliders or 8 full size burgers.

Turkey Burger with Pimento Cheese & Bacon

This post contains affiliate links.  For more of my must-have faves, check out my shop.

© Copyright: KatyKeck.com 2016. All rights reserved.

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Pizza Party – Getting Pot Luck-y Part III

Pizza Party – Getting Pot Luck-y Part III


Bring your own pizza toppings.   Pizza Party extraordinaire.

BYOPT - Bring Your Own Pizza Toppings

In case you haven’t guessed, these newfangled pot lucks (emphasis on the LUCKY, not the pot) are a big hit.  Perhaps the reason typical pot lucks scare me just a wee bit is their origin.  Historically, pot lucks date back to the European middle ages when nothing, but nothing, was thrown away.  (Maybe we could take a tiny page from that lifestyle – I’m looking at you 40% food waste). Rather, leftovers were thrown into a pot and kept warm kind of indefinitely, available to any unplanned arrivals on short notice. This practice was especially prevalent in taverns and inns in medieval times, so no matter when you arrived, you could be treated to the “luck of the pot.”  It’s entirely possible, to me at least, that modern day pot lucks could be of equally suspect food safety, never mind random items.   But the Pot Lucky aims to change all that!

While on the subject of random items, who can forget the famous shrimp dip?   My hosts, the charming Bob and Sally Oyler, were no doubt surprised when not only did a guest plop down a somewhat lame-ass (editorial comment mine, certainly not that of the gracious hosts) hors d’oeuvre smack dab in the middle of their fabulous holiday buffet, but said hors d’ was accompanied by kitschy  recipe cards to take away.  By the end of the party, pretty much every card remained – apparently not a dish that you really need (nor want, for that matter) a recipe for.  And now, for more than 35 years, they have appeared in my mail, tucked inside Christmas cards from Sally, their daughter Barb, and most recently hand-delivered by a grandson, something of a recipe card mule, given he had no idea what was in the envelope he bore.  I have gotten the last card from Sally, but trust, hope they will keep coming. Anybody want that recipe?   I might have a few to share.

Shrimp Dip. Shrimp Dip. Shrimp Dip. Lots of recipes

Like everything, pot lucks have a silver lining. The beauty of the pot luck is that it spreads both the effort and the expense and makes entertaining a you-don’t-have-to-be-Martha-Stewart snap.  After the sausage making party and the soup swap, both definite fan faves, I landed on BYOPT – bring your own pizza toppings.  A Pizza Party. “Best Party Ever”, according to one guest.  I think part of the fun was that everyone got a quick turn at playing chef – drawing from the 40 some toppings, sauces, and cheeses that found their way to the kitchen island.  And by playing chef, I mean this in the truest sense of the word – all the items were prepped (mise en place) and assembly is both the easy and the creative part.  I committed to providing the dough (Trader’s Joe has fresh flour, whole wheat and herbed dough, as well as a frozen organic dough).  Then I threw out some ideas for both pizza combos and individual toppings, organized by sauce/base, oils, toppings (veg and meat), and cheeses.    You can plan it two ways – have people chose from a list of toppings and mix and match at the party, or have them bring enough for their own concoction and they are responsible for everything but the dough on that pie. We got a bit of both.  Just a little coordination will keep you from having a lot of dupes.

I of course had to make a run to the Cheese Lady, not just for the fabulous ooey-gooey meltable cheeses, but also for her fine collection of oils and vinegars.   I settled on a lemon oil (fabulous to drizzle with my lemon pistachio pesto) and a white truffle oil. Super aromatic oils like truffle need to be drizzled after the bake.  They are too good to go on before the oven.  Good news guys – a phone call to the Cheese Lady and these puppies can be on their way to you.   They don’t ship cheeses, but do take phone orders on the wonderful assortment of oils and vinegars.  There is a divine maple balsamic that makes a killer vinaigrette with the lemon oil, and the raspberry balsamic is wonderful drizzled into a seltzer.  Super refreshing!

Oils and Vinegars Chez Cheese Lady

I had to get a couple cheeses that weren’t on my radar – one was meadowkaas which I did know about but didn’t expect to see til June. This is a special (aren’t they all?) style cheese that is made from the first milk from the cows that wander into North Holland’s (the Netherlands, not Michigan!!!) first grasses each spring.   An importer found some 65 wheels from 2015 and upon Cheese Lady deeming it delish, they found their way to her.  Yahoo!   However, the other cheese I bought I had never heard – Kurpianka smoked cheese from Poland.  Its touch of garlic and springy texture make it a perfect melting pizza cheese. Yum.     Oh and it looks like a cheese grenade. I love that!

Cheese Grenade - smoked mozzarella, along with other sauces and oils for pizza

The most important detail you can tell your guests is to make sure the ingredients are “pizza-ready.” That means olives are pitted, zucchini and shiitake-types are quickly sautéed, and bacon is at least par-cooked.  Otherwise you will get both a free for all with your limited space and a real mess. I considered a change of address halfway through the party.   But a little organization goes a long way. I had a building station with sauces and oils, a topping station, a cutting station, a bar area, and a plates & salad serving area.  My kitchen isn’t nearly as big as it sounds.  But it worked – just barely.  We had about 18 people and made about 13 pies.  I find that so hard to believe because I swear I made 15 myself and ate at least 20.  #CarbFreeMay

It helps to have some basic equipment – a Pizza Peel to transfer the prepped pizzas, a Pizza Stone or two (or three) always hot in the oven, pizza pans, and plenty of cutting boards and pizza wheels.   Everyone brought what they had. I think there may have been six pies in the oven and two on the grill at one point.  For the grilled pizza, we used the frozen dough.  If you make your own or use fresh dough, it is best to roll it as thinly as you can and then freeze it to make a smooth transfer to the grill. Oil the grill and cook the dough on both sides to color and get grill marks.   Then transfer to the building area where you can add toppings.  Slide back on the grill and close the lid to melt the toppings. This will only take a few minutes.   The oven (400-425oF) pizzas work well if you dust the peel with corn meal or make sure the dough is well floured and not sticky.  Build the pie and slide onto the hot stones.   All in all, it’s pretty neck-down in the execution, once you do a couple test pies to get down the technique.

Prepping Ingredients for pizza topping party

We had some pretty fantastic Pizza Party toppings – here is a select list (email if you want my master list):

  • Sauces: red sauce, lemon ricotta, lemon pistachio pesto, fruit chutney, kale pesto, green olive tapenade, horseradish dill drizzle
  • Oils: EVOO, lemon oil, white truffle oil, Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil (divine on the butternut squash ribbon pie), chipotle oil, fig balsamic
  • Arugula, charred scallions, roasted garlic, sautéed shiitakes, grilled zucchini and yellow squash, you’ll thank me in the winter oven dried tomatoes, sautéed broccoli rabe, fresh basil, Kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, spinach, roasted beets, dried figs, butternut squash ribbons (the Paderno Spiral Vegetable Slicer worked perfectly), Brussels sprouts, smoked salmon, capers, roasted plums, radishes  – wait…..seriously??? A partial list????
  • Pepperoni, prosciutto, shredded chicken, ham, bacon, sausage
  • Grated mozzarella, fresh mozzarella – sliced, burrata, grated parm/asiago/Romano, fresh goat, feta, glacier wildfire blue, smoked kurpianka, meadowkaas

Building a Pizza and ready to go in the oven

And here are a few of the winning Pizza Party combos:

  • Pesto, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, you’ll thank me in the winter oven-dried tomatoes, and dressed with arugula tossed in a lemon vinaigrette
  • Red sauce, figs, bacon, chicken, roasted garlic, wildfire glacier blue, smoked kurpianka
  • Lemon pistachio pesto, fresh mozzarella, asiago/Romano/parm, smoked kurpianka, basil and shiitakes
  • Red sauce, sausage, mozzarella, basil, artichokes
  • Kale pesto, broccoli rabe, chicken, Kalamata olives, basil, mozzarella, burrata
  • Lemon Ricotta, spinach, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash ribbons, figs,  feta, toasted pumpkin seed oil
  • Arugula Pepita Pesto, goat cheese, butternut squash ribbons, pepitas

Oven Ready - three pizzas ready to go in the oven and just out

I’m sure you wish there were more and better photos (I do), but seriously, I need my fingers.

Good Enough to Eat - Pizza with broccolini and grated cheese

Next up in the Pot Lucky series: Build Your Own Burger!

Pizza Party - The End - dishwasher is full

The End of (this) Pizza Party! (and thanks to the phenom clean up crew!!!)

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How to Get Pot Luck-y: Hosting a Soup Swap

How to Get Pot Luck-y: Hosting a Soup Swap

I have been hankerin’ for a soup swap for years now. But only since I started this blog did it actually happen. Consider this my second post – after the sausage-making party – in my series on How to Get Pot Luck-y. Like the sausage event, as the kids are calling it, the soup swap is a party that sort of plans itself. Sure, there is a bit of organization involved, but in the end, set up and prep (and even investment, for that matter) is minimal, and every one leaves fat and happy. It’s a great way to entertain without having to do all the heavy lifting tout seul, solo, by your lonesome.

Three soups being shared: chicken corn chowder, lemon chicken and vichysoisse

DC’s Chicken Corn Chowda; Elle Capitan’s Hearty Organic Veggie & Chicken; Em’s Creamy Lemon Chicken.

I used to hear “pot luck” and think it was a bad thing. Cringe a little. I certainly wasn’t going to host one. Maybe too much ego. Surely too much ego – “I can do it all!!!” I just didn’t get it. A random mishmash of food that doesn’t go together and is of questionable food safety. I was in Michigan for years before I understood the concept of “a dish to pass” – I still can’t quite explain it. There IS no passing. But Pot Lucky – that’s quite different. Host a party with a theme and offer suggestions for contributions and watch the magic happen.  And the bonus of a soup swap is you get all of the above, PLUS a freezer full of soups …….THAT YOU DIDN’T EVEN HAVE TO MAKE!

Disclaimer (lest you think I am a food snob): I am fully aware that there is often anxiety with inviting me to dinner – for no damn good reason, I’d like to say. Despite the fact that my friend Cindy runs ahead swearing that burgers are my favorite food group, I rarely get invited out. Big mistake, people. I am a grateful guest – perhaps more so because I know what entertaining entails. I’m not judgmental; I’m uber thankful. I save all the judgement for restaurants lacking (or completely missing) hospitality. We all have PhDs in whether or not we are being treated well and bad service is inexcusable, especially when  you are paying for it. Even if the food is off – it happens – well-trained staff will have you feeling like a million bucks by the time you leave. But complain about a home-cooked meal??? Not on your life.

So how to Soup Swap?

There are many ways it can happen – like a cookie swap – everyone brings two quarts, leaves with two quarts; brings 4….leaves with 4. Or bring X leave with X and no minimum required. I, probably because I am a bit co-dependent, chose to have everyone bring one quart for every soup swapper – N minus one to dole out; the last one to share. (I hope Mrs. Holler is happy I am using my algebra). This way nobody is staring at their creation being the last one picked.  No 5th grade volleyball anxiety! Probably the hardest part of this method is to get an advance commitment so everyone knows what N is. For my Pot Lucky, N equaled 6. Some of the swappers were teams – so they had to thumb-war over how to divide 5 quarts! One couple each brought a soup so they took home two quarts of every flavor. Toward the end, I included a few people that didn’t want to cook and were happy to just come and have a taste.

Where\'s the Shrimp? Someone forgot to bring the shrimp for this luscious creamy bean sou0

Justin’s Fabulous Shrimp-Free Cannellini Bisque

For this, my maiden voyage, I called in a ringer – a fellow foodie who was as excited as I about the party theme and, on top of it, a recent graduate of a Culinary School. He was there to add some cred to the gathering. He was also there to NOT FORGET the shrimp that was his killer soup garnish. Sigh. His soup was phenomenal regardless – if it weren’t for my labels, nobody would have known. In fact all the soups were phenomenal.  The Chicken Corn Chowder incorporated bacon, chicken and corn raised and grown by the soup-maker.  That IS Pot Lucky!! My only instructions were “no can + can + can” soups and “NO VELVEETA.”  It definitely helps to invite friends who like to cook.

Getting Ready for a soup exchage: setting the table, making labels and tulips and candles

There was minimal planning – I coordinated soup choices to eliminate dupes and make labels (which included “made-on” dates) – and minimal set up: everyone got one mug, one spoon and one napkin. Y’all are on your own from here. And everyone took charge of heating and serving their own soups. I made a big salad and had some crusty breads and cheeses on hand. Oh, and plenty of wine. And in the spirit of Pot Lucky, there were a couple guests that stayed a bit later and loaded the dishwasher. Bless you.

Making Soup to Swap -  prepping, cooking and dividing into containers - CaribBEAN one pot stew

All I really had to do in advance was make my own six quarts to share and swap. Being a bit of stickler for that food safety thing, I chilled my two pots of soup in large bowls with ice water, changing the water and adding ice til the pots were down to 45 degrees. Even when cooking single batches, I will fill the sink with ice water and make sure to drop the temp so that the soup/sauce/etc. is cold before transferring to freezer containers. Muy importante! Most guests froze their 5 give-away quarts and brought them in coolers that we left outside til the end when the swapping happened. Remember that above all this is a party (one that fills your freezer, thank you very much!), not a military drill, so be flexible. Have fun!  Let your guests get involved! Relax and let the night roll out as it will.  For a first attempt, I will deem this a success.  “Green mints were served and a good time was had by all.”*

Vichysoisse & CaribBean Wonder from the soup potluck

Brett & Christy’s Vichyssoise; My CaribBean One Pot Wonder with pineapple salsa

Here’s my recipe for the CaribBEAN (bah dum bum – I’ll be here all week) One Pot Wonder. Everyone loves this soup – it’s so hearty and satisfying, but doesn’t leave you overstuffed like chili tends to. It’s also got a great dose of flavor, chocked full of ginger and jalapeno. And it could not be easier or faster. Really.

Like all quick cook techniques, it’s key to use quality ingredients: pork loin or tenderloin and quality beans. I’ve been using Bush’s Best for more than a decade and it’s a bean that holds its shape and comes out of the can intact, not mushed at the bottom, without absorbing the brine it’s canned in and without the overly salty, muddy taste of a lesser bean. It is all I ever use. I wish you could see my pantry – it looks like Super Target.

I love the texture contrast of the pork with the sweet potatoes but this dish could stand alone if you are pork-adverse, or it would also work well with chicken or a sturdy fish. Adjust cooking times accordingly. The garnish is totally optional, but the fruity topper is a great balance to the gingery heat of the soup.

Katy’s Soup to Swap: CaribBean One Pot Wonder

  • 1 pound sweet potato, about 2 medium potatoes
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons minced ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 jalapeno, minced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 pound pork loin, trimmed and cut in 1/2” pieces
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 16-ounce cans Bush’s Best Dark Red Kidney Beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 14 ½-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 14 ½-ounce can chicken broth

Serving Suggestion: Garnish with a spoonful of salsa made from 1 cup chopped pineapple, 2 sliced scallions, and 2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro. Serve with hot sauce.

Prick the sweet potatoes with a fork and microwave on high for 6 – 8 minutes until tender, but not fully cooked. Set aside. When cool enough to handle, peel and cut into ½-inch dice.

Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot. Add the ginger, garlic and jalapeno and sauté until soft, about 2 minutes.

Add the celery, green pepper, and onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.

Season the pork with the cumin, salt, and black pepper. Push the vegetables to one side of the stockpot and add the pork, browning on all sides.

Add Bush’s Best Dark Red Kidney Beans, tomatoes, broth, and sweet potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 25 – 30 minutes, or until the pork is tender. Taste, and adjust seasonings.

Serve with pineapple cilantro salsa and hot sauce, if desired.

Makes 3 quarts and serves 8

Next Pot Lucky: BYOPT – bring your own pizza toppings. Stay tuned.

*Show of hands (read: click on the link below and comment): Back in the day, did your hometown paper  finish every wedding story with “green mints were served and a good time was had by all?”

Green bowl filled with CaribBean One Pot Wonder, with pork, sweet potatoes, kidney beans and topped with pineapple salsa

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I Never Saw Such Sausage: Sausage Making 101

I Never Saw Such Sausage: Sausage Making 101

Sawsuch sawsedge. That’s the way my Dad used to say it. Was he channeling his inner Brooklyn? Fuhgeddaboudit! He cracked himself up when he said it. But this tale isn’t really about sausage or sausage making, it’s about fun with friends.  I must however make one quick sausage stop, a reverent moment to pay homage to the mother of all sausage experiences – the sausage bomb.  I once had to work for the daughter of a famed crime boss.  I would tell you who she was, but I’d have to kill you (read: they may kill me).  You think I’m kidding, but when her brother died in a car/mini-bike accident, the car driver was “disappeared.” Have I said too much already?  Anyway Princessa Mafiosa wrote a cookbook and Extra was filming a piece at her Lon G-Island mansion. I prepped what I could and took a car service to arrive a bit ahead of the appointed hour.  They really hadn’t scheduled sufficient time for me to ready all the beauty food laid out in a magnificent “of course she did this herself” spread.  When I knocked on the door of the palace, the circle drive strewn with obligatory black Escalades parked haphazardly Tony Soprano-style, my knock was greeted with a door slam and strict instructions to come back later. I had been doing this long enough to know how much work lay ahead and forceful enough to finesse my way inside, but I always wondered –  at what cost?

The first recipe was a pasta dish that called for browning the sausage in 2 cups of olive oil, then adding 2 cups of cold water and a bouillon cube to the boiling oil.  It was genius – take out the target without spilling any blood – sausage bomb ??? style. BOOM!  I did have the good sense to retrieve my business card from the kitchen counter before leaving lest I find a horse head in my bed. Hopefully with a lovely Béarnaise sauce napping it just so.

But I digress – and still swear this really isn’t about sausage.  It’s about hospitality.  We’ve just survived the super bowl, the Oscars, and the New York marathon of all home entertaining events- Thanksgiving.  It was no doubt stressful. Was the turkey too salty, too dry, too frozen?  Did you really have to do it all by yourself? Time now to sit back and enlist the full team to make things happen, and have fun while doing it.  I’m not just talking about a potluck people, I mean a real cooking party.

people gathered at the sausage making partyI recently had the good fortune of spending the afternoon at a sausage party.  This crowd takes their game meat seriously so we had a variety of flavors, including a beef heart sausage. (Stop it – your face is gonna freeze like that). But the one here is rabbit with dried cherries and toasted hazelnuts. The great thing about making your own sausage is that you have ultimate control over the seasonings and fat/meat ratio, eliminating all preservatives, while having great fun. Win. Win. Win.

One of my all-time favorite meat books is a seriously old cookbook by Jack Ubaldi. Jack owned the legendary Florence Prime Meat Market in New York’s Greenwich Village. He was a butcher’s butcher. A master of meat. When I came on the food scene, he had just sold it and was teaching. I took both butchering and knife skills from him.  He changed my life when I learned that a bread knife is not to be used in a back and forth sawing motion, but rather cut on the forward movement, only dragging the knife back – without action – merely to re-position, so you can cut again on the next forward motion. Who knew? Jack.

Jack’s sausage technique became the base for our afternoon of sausage revelry.  I arrived just as the sausage mix was being processed in a meat grinder. My Mom and Grandmothers had manual grinders that C-clamped to their counters. Today you can buy attachments for a variety of machines; I have the grinder attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer. ground sausage recipe, grinding attachments and a bowl of mixHere’s what we missed –

Fresh Rabbit Sausage with Dried Cherries and Toasted Hazelnuts:

  • 2 pounds lamb, cut in chunks
  • 2 pounds rabbit, cut in chunks
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt (if not kosher, at least coarse grain)
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chopped marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon chopped sage
  • ¼ cup chopped dried cherries
  • ¼ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
  • Casings, soaked – available from your butcher

Makes about 4 pounds of sausage, or approximately 12 links.

The general rule of thumb is 30% fat to 70% lean meat. If it’s too lean, it will be very dry; too fatty, the fat will render leaving a shriveled up sausage that is way too rich. This sausage was pretty lean, but lots of flavor. The meat went through the grinder with 3/8” plate, and the rest is stirred in by hand, first the seasonings, then the cherries and nuts.   Knead by hand until the meat sticks together, about 5 minutes or so. The recipe and technique here are for a fresh sausage, meant to be cooked and enjoyed within a couple days. Drying sausage is a separate technique, which is no longer required for home cooks, now that we have fridges.

Vintage sausage grinder, sliding soaked casings on the tube, and close up of the tubeThe casings you will find are generally hog. They are often sold packed in salt. If your butcher doesn’t carry them there are several online sources. About an hour before you start, you should soak the casings in warm water for about 30 minutes. After, run water through the casings, but do not squeeze. Then return them to a container, covered in tepid water. One pound of casings is about 50-60 feet long, and will pack 25 pounds of sausage, though it may be closer to 50 pounds. There is a fairly wide range in capacity because the diameter will vary. If you don’t use them all, wring out the excess water and pack again in salt and refrigerate in airtight container.

The real fun begins when the stuffing happens.  My friends happen to own an antique stuffer, but in addition to the meat grinder attachment, my KitchenAid stand mixer has a Stuffing Attachment. You can always use a funnel for stuffing by hand. Thread the casings onto a wet funnel or stuffing tube until an inch of casing remains. Tie off the end.
making sausage and filling the casings in a spiral and tying them offAdd the meat to the hopper and push through. It helps here if you have octopus arms or a friend – one to man the sausage intake and one to manage the casing/stuffing output. Once you have filled a desired length, press gently to ease out any air, even the meat distribution, and make sure there is a little give – i.e. not too stuffed.   Tie off this end. Continue filling additional lengths, until you have used all your meat mixture.
spiral length of fresh made sausage and twisting into linksThe next step is to make links: Pinch off a 4-5 inch section at each end and twirl like a jump rope to create an individual link.  Generally all the links are kept attached to minimize the waste.  At this point you can freeze, simmer, broil, or grill, but if you are like us, you will want them right away with a frosty beer. We threw them on the grill and cooked about 8-10 minutes per side.

sausage on the grill and served on a board with mustard and breadThere are infinite ways you can customize this concept – fresh sausage, dry sausage, fruit, nuts, organs, animals, fish, veggie, etc. But this story is about camaraderie and spending the day with friends. We cracked a new jar of last season’s habanero mustard – sorry but this recipe is also a mob secret – and served it up with Amy and Todd’s butternut squash soup, topped with crispy bacon, shallots, and apples, then chased it with my gentleman jack pumpkin ginger cheesecake. Fat and happy!!!!

The next cooking party on the docket is a soup party. Stay tuned!

Where are they now? ChloElla J update

Okay you know where they are!!! It’s only been ten days. However, this update is worth reporting.

I do believe they have outdone themselves – December’s Cupcakes for a Cause were edible snow globes. Could they be a bit cuter????

cupcakes for a cause Christmas cupcakes made to resemble snow globes© Copyright: KatyKeck.com 2015. All rights reserved.

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