With Thanksgiving over, it’s time to start looking toward our December holiday parties and the meals that come with them. Author Julia Turshen joins the show to talk about her tips and tricks to make those Christmas and Hanukah dinner a little less daunting. With advice on dressings, sides, desserts and more, Turshen breaks down some basic techniques to make great food with little experience.
- Julia Turshen, author of Small Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home Cooking Triumphs
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Holiday Cooking Without the Stress
Marty Peterson: Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is over, it’s time to gear up for family parties and get-togethers in December. The stress of coming up with the perfect Christmas or Hanukah dinner, New Year’s gatherings and just meals for guests and family can stress out a home cook. Our guest is an accomplished cook, journalist and cookbook author who has pared down the task – and along with it the stress – of preparing food for large and small groups. Julia Turshen believes in doing a few things very well in the kitchen, and she’s written down just how to do that in her new book, Small Victories: Recipes, advice + hundreds of ideas for home cooking triumphs. Small Victories? How did that name come about?
Julia Turshen: I’ve always approached life, which is sort of always looking for the small victories. Which you know could be as simple as a getting a really great parking spot and when it came to choosing a title for my recipes and stories, Small Victories seemed this great way to not only approach life but also the kitchen and it also gave me this wonderful organizing principle for the book because every recipe is introduce by what I call a “small victory,” which to me is like a tip or technique or an idea that just makes cooking a little bit more approachable.
Peterson: With these days of food television, competitive cooking and new techniques at every turn, Turshen says that home cooks sometimes become overwhelmed at the idea of cooking a meal for family and friends. That’s why she’s a big fan of learning the basics and practicing until you do them very well.
Turshen: I just think that all the options can be really overwhelming and what my goal was with Small Victories was to show that all those options that we see; the millions of recipes, the millions of techniques, they can all sort of be boiled down to just, I mean no pun intended, to a few. And that’s why every single recipe has all these variations, what I called “spinoffs” in the books that you can see once you know the small victory – the tip or technique you can make the one main thing, but you can also make so many other things, and to me that’s just a much easier way to think about cooking is seeing how one thing can stem from something else, as opposed to them all being separate things.
Peterson: Take simple biscuits, for example. Turshen says that once you master the ingredients and the technique, any cook can dress a biscuit up or down to satisfy their own tastes and those of their guests, the way she did with her “Everything Biscuit.”
Turshen: They’re called “Everything Biscuits” because I put all the spices you would normally find on an “Everything bagel.” I put some inside the biscuit dough itself and them some on top. Then I gave a bunch of ideas about other things you can do and different ways you can flavor them and top them, for example: brushing them with maple syrup, and putting black pepper, putting cheese in the biscuits, and pickled jalapenos for almost like a jalapeno popper biscuit. But then there’s other ways you can use the dough itself, and you know you can make a sort of really simple chicken stew and then dot the top of pot with the biscuit dough and cover it and you have, essentially amazing chicken and dumplings. So that dough is really versatile.
Peterson: Another technique that Turshen says should be in any cooks repertoire is how to make stock from chicken and other meat bones and scraps. Soup is a simple dish that can be created to satisfy anyone’s palate – from those who like simple chicken and vegetables to the more exotic tastes. And it’s a quick and easy way to use up leftovers from the holiday table.
Turshen: It’s kind of the framework of a recipe, it’s not very specific and the whole “small victory” with that recipe is the idea of making homemade stock and then freezing it in single sized portions. What I do to do that is put in a resealable plastic bag and then put the bag flat in the freezer. Then once it’s frozen you can line of the bags and you almost get this sort of frozen filing cabinet. Then basically I use the bags of stock to make soup with whatever I have on hand. So it could be, you know, let’s say I’ve got a little bit of leftover cooked chicken and maybe a leek kicking around in the fridge, and maybe some cooked rice and I can sauté the leek and add the stock, add the chicken, add the rice and I’ve delicious chicken and rice soup that didn’t take very much time because have the stock in the freezer is sort of money in the bank – you know you’re going to have something good and you can add anything to it.
Peterson: Soup can be the introduction to a holiday meal, and so can salad. Turshen says that a thoughtful cook will take into account what kind of main course is being served and then tailor the salad to complement it.
Turshen: Salad, to me, is like the best accessory for whatever you’re cooking. So I think the most important thing is to think about how it’s going to complement whatever else you’re serving with it. So sometimes, for example, if I’m going to serve something really rich like a braised meat, like a brisket or something, I really like a crunchy acidic salad on a side of that. So something that’s sort of the opposite and it’s going to be a great complement for it. So maybe, you know, thinly sliced celery and lots of lemon juice. But on the other hand, if you’re going to have maybe just some simple roast chicken or something like that, I think the salad that isn’t quite as assertive could be a really nice complement. So I think approaching salad is thinking about what it’s going to go with is a really good thing but dressing is great.
Peterson: Salad dressing it one of Turshen’s favorite things, and she as a good recipe that can be used for more than just dressing greens.
Turshen: I love salad dressing and my favorite one is Caesar salad and I couldn’t help but call it “Julia’s Caesar.” That salad dressing is great and it’s also great as a dip for vegetable or honestly even potato chips are delicious. I’ve used Caesar dressing as a marinade for grilled chicken, it’s really versatile so I think dressings are a great thing to make in big batches and keep in your fridge.
Peterson: Side dishes are often the foods that carry a lot of tradition with them at the holidays. Cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and green bean salad are a few that show up at more than a few dinners, and Turshen is a big fan of pleasing everyone with their favorites. However, she says that sometimes it’s interesting to create a side that’s unexpected…like roasted radishes.
Turshen: If you’re someone like me who’s always trying to incorporate lots of vegetables into your diet, but you don’t want them to be boring, I think coming around to ideas like maybe roasting radishes, which are normally something you’d eat raw, and just always thinking of that twist on the familiar is always a really fun way to be in the kitchen. So, I love radishes and I decided to try cooking them instead of serving them raw and I found that they got really sweet, like any roasted vegetable, so it becomes really concentrated and caramelized and they became this whole other thing. And I thought it was so cool to get something new out of something that didn’t seem very new to me. So I think when you’re thinking about cooking stuff like that, starting from a place that feels familiar and then adding a little twist to it is always a really good way to go, as opposed to trying to think of something completely brand new.
Peterson: Trying something new can also work well with a main course. Instead of turkey or ham for the holiday meal, why not a stuffed pork roast? Turshen says it looks difficult but really couldn’t be easier.
Turshen: If you’re looking to not have to do a ton of work, but make it look like you did, it’s a great recipe. Like if you’re looking to impress someone, but you don’t want to spend all day in the kitchen, it’s a pork loin that you sort of flatten out and then you make this delicious mixture of cream cheese and herbs. You spread that mixture on the pork and then you roll it up and tie it with a few pieces of string. I think sometimes some things are filled and stuffed and tied, like it seems really fancy, but I honestly feel like if you can tie your shoe you can tie a roast. And you just put in in the oven and that it. What you get in return is meat that has this sort of spiral, of like this really rich delicious herby flavor throughout the whole thing.
Peterson: Many people think that to become an accomplished cook you need to have a lot of equipment and gadgets at your disposal. Turshen says that this idea is great for companies that want to sell their wares, but in truth you only need a few, basic utensils.
Turshen: There are really only three knives you’ll ever need. One is just a chef’s knife, you know a big a knife to chop things and I use it for just about everything. And then I have a small pairing knife, a really inexpensive one that I use when I peel garlic, and I slice an apple, and cutting up some cheese, or any kind of small task. And then the last one I have on hand is a serrated knife, which just makes slicing bread really easy. Stainless steel tongs are really useful, to me, they’re kind of an extension of your hand and you can do so much with them. You can flip things on the grill and you can get something out of a skillet really easily. So I think it’s just a few good sturdy tools, and a couple of mixing bowls, a nice big pot, a good skillet, and stainless steel sheet pans for roasting things, are really useful.
Peterson: Finally, Turshen has some advice for cooks who are preparing a meal for a group: don’t stress out over having every dish come off the stove at the same time. She likes to serve some dishes at room temperature, so if the beans are done before the bird, that’s fine. Also, making dishes a day ahead and rewarming them can take a lot of pressure off the cook. Just remember how good those leftovers taste when you reheat them the next day! You can find recipes, tips and tricks for destressing your meal preparation in Julia Turshen’s new book Small Victories available now. She also invites you to visit her website at Julia turshen.com. For more information about all of our guests, log onto our site at Viewpoints online.net. Our show is written and produced by Pat Reuter. Our production directors are Sean Waldron and Reed Pence. I’m Marty Peterson.