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Archive for November, 2011

Turkey Soup. Obviously.

Making turkey stock...

In the aftermath of Thanksgiving, I believe it is absolutely obligatory to create a thick, delicious broth with whatever leftover poultry and vegetables you have on hand, and to subsequently use that broth in the preparation of some tasty variety of turkey soup.  There is no choice in the matter.  It simply must be done.

I usually like to prepare the stock late on Thanksgiving evening, and to leave it simmering while I sleep, so that my broth will be ready the following morning, and I can consume a hot bowl of soup for lunch.  This year I opted for a classic combination of turkey, vegetables and barley (although I was very tempted by some of the zestier combinations Mark Bittman suggested in the NY Times).  My soup was fairly predictable, but still a deeply satisfying alternative to reheated mashed potatoes and cold gravy.  On that note, here is an approximation of the recipe I devised:

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped medium
salt & pepper to taste
4 large carrots, sliced thinly (sweet potatoes would also be a good choice)
4 stalks of celery, sliced somewhat less thinly
8ish cups of turkey broth
1 bay leaf
1 cup of barley
2 cups of shredded turkey meat
Parsley or cilatro, finely chopped for garnish (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium heat.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute.  Add onion and cook until soft, about 5-7 minutes.  Season the onions and garlic with salt and pepper, to your liking. Add celery and carrots and cook until they are just getting soft, maybe another 8-10 minutes.  Add the broth, the bay leaf and the barley, and bring the whole concoction to a boil.  After the soup reaches a boiling point, reduce heat to a simmer.  After 30 minutes, add the turkey meat, and leave the soup simmering until the meat has warmed through. If you are using parsley or cilatro, add it to the soup moments before serving.  To round out your meal, serve your soup with slices of French bread, a crisp green salad with garlicky vinaigrette, and a cold bottle of a hoppy beer, like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, or La Lagunitas IPA.  Enjoy!

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The dishes I cooked for Thanksgiving this year were, for the most part, not terribly ambitious.  I prepared a fairly simple spread of mashed potatoes with roasted garlic, stuffing with mixed mushrooms, sautéed brussels sprouts and orange scented cranberry sauce, none of which took more than about an hour of active prep time (my boyfriend was responsible for our sage roasted turkey and bourbon gravy).  Considering the relative simplicity of the meal, I decided to be a bit more ambitious with our choice of dessert, and to make a pie with a fresh pumpkin this year, rather than good old Libby’s canned pumpkin.

There’s one thing you should know about cooking with fresh pumpkin before you try this at home: it’s REALLY hard to cut into a raw pumpkin.  I referred to an Alton Brown recipe when it became clear none of the knives we had on hand would make a dent in our little sugar pumpkin, and he suggested cutting the pumpkin in half with either a meat cleaver or a mallet.  Unfortunately, we did not have either of those items on hand, so we resorted to using a hand saw. See below for a very technical illustration of how to hack a pumpkin in half with a rusty saw.
Once we had managed to cut through the pumpkin, the rest of the process was pretty straightforward.  I scooped out the seeds, cut the remaining fibers with kitchen shears and roasted the pumpkin halves in a 400 degree oven for about forty minutes.  After allowing the pumpkin to cool for another twenty minutes, I scooped out the flesh and puréed it in a food process for a few minutes.  Sawing aside, it really took minimal time and effort to produce my own pumpkin purée, which had a much more distinct taste, texture and color than Libby’s.

I prepared the purée and pie dough Wednesday night, but didn’t assemble my creations until Thursday to maximize their flavor and freshness.  I didn’t have a specific recipe in mind ahead of time, but I eventually consulted with both the Joy of Cooking and the original New York Times Cookbook because they seemed simple and called for only ingredients I had on hand.  My companions and I all had a slice of pie with vanilla ice cream late on Thursday night, after sufficient time had elapsed for us to digest the rest of our meal, and I was quite pleased with the result.  The pie tasted very fresh and flavorful, and the crust was deliciously buttery.  Would I have been able to distinguish it from a store bought pie in a blind taste test?  I can’t say for sure, but I think it’s safe to safe the process had made me a fresh pumpkin convert.

 

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Last week I promised to send my dad’s instructions for cooking a Thanksgiving turkey to perfection on the grill, so here they are, unedited:

First, steal a turkey.
Ha ha, but seriously…if you buy a frozen turkey, let it thaw in the refrigerator for two or three days.
Then on the day before your feast, I recommend that you brine the turkey. Get a big plastic bag that can be tightly closed. Then whip up a brine with enough water to submerge the turkey completely in the bag. Heat the brining water on the stove while adding a lot of salt, a bunch of brown sugar, and a bunch of spices like black pepper corns, coriander seeds, cloves, Chinese star anise, bay leaf, maybe some allspice (or find a prepared brine at a gourmet food store). Heat until salt and sugar dissolve and spices give off some aroma. Cool the brine.
Then put the turkey in the bag, pour in the cooled bring and close the bag getting out all the air and sealing it as tight as you can. Put it someplace where it will be cool or cold and leave overnight.
On turkey day, pull the bird out of the brine and dry it off an hour or more before roasting it. Stuff it as you desire. Rub the skin all over with some softened butter or olive oil.
Now for the fire. I use my Weber charcoal grill. For roasting things with indirect heat, I have two steel baskets that fit on the bottom grill. I fire up the charcoal in a chimney starter and pour the hot coals in the two basket and push the to the side leaving room to put a drippings pan between and have the middle of the top grill over the pan, not the coals. My grill has two flip up “doors” that let you add charcoal as roasting proceeds; cover these with foil to keep then direct heat from burning your bird. Place the turkey on the grill so the foil covered doors are on either side of it above the baskets of coals. Make sure the bottom vents are open and put on the lid with the top vents open.
You may want to tent some foil over the breast as the BBQ is hot and the turkey can brown too fast.  You’ll roast it for about as long as would be recommended for oven roasting of a bird of x-weight, but check it every half hour or so adding charcoal if needed. When it starts looking done check it with a meat thermometer  (check Joy of Cooking for temp.). Don’t over cook it or the breast meat will get dry. When it’s done take it off the fire and let it sit with foil tented over it for 20 min. or so before carving.
Oh yeah, I forgot. Get some hickory or mesquite or other wood chips to smoke the bird. Soak the chips in hot water then drain them and scatter over the hot coals. Add more chips throughout the roasting.
The web page at this link illustrates the process: http://www.smoker-cooking.com/grilling-turkey-weber-kettle.html
And here is a PDF of our family’s preferred brine recipe, in case you are interested!

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Banana Bread 2.0

I discovered a few bananas languishing in my fruit bowl this morning, and that seemed like a good excuse to prepare a loaf of banana bread for a late morning snack.  I typically use a recipe from my 1953 edition of the Joy of Cooking (I specify the edition, because I noticed in a brief Google search that the newer editions seems to have a somewhat different version), which I have basically committed to memory after many years of baking this particular treat.  Today, however, I was short on a number of key ingredients, so I had to improvise a bit.  For one, I only had whole wheat flour after my last baking experiment (see: Sweet Potato Cupcakes).  While I had certainly incorporated small quantities of whole wheat flour into the recipe before, I had never totally removed white flour from the equation, so I was unsure of what to expect.  I also discovered I only had two tablespoons of butter in my refrigerator, which meant the rest of the fat would have to come from either vegetable oil or olive oil.  I chose the latter because I happened to have a light, fruity olive oil on hand, but I am sure either would have been fine.  Lastly, I decided to substitute honey for a portion of the sugar because… why not?  With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I figured it might be wise to reduce my intake of processed sugar this weekend. Tragically, I had used up the last of my cousin’s delicious walnuts when I last baked granola, so I had to rely on store bought nuts, which proved to be far less flavorful.  Sigh.  Ultimately, the fruit of my labors turned out reasonably well, with a mellow, nutty flavor, and a pleasant, slightly crunchy texture.  It was definitely a far cry from the moist, cakey banana bread that Irma Rombauer originally dreamed up in the 1950s, but if she knew how obese our population has become, she might have cut back on the sugar and butter, too.  On that note, here is the recipe, with my alterations:

Anne’s Joyfully Wholesome Banana Bread

Blend until creamy:
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind

Beat in:
1 beaten egg

Sift together:
1 and 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt

Mash 2 – 3 very ripe bananas to make:
1 – 1 and 1/2 cup banana pulp

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in about three parts, alternating with the banana pulp.  Beat the batter gently after each addition until smooth.  Fold in 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, if desired, and pour batter into greased bread pan.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour.  Enjoy!

 

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Remembrance of Turkeys Past

My 2006 masterpiece

Thanksgiving is still a week away, but I already have turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie on the brain.  In truth, I pretty much always have food on the brain, but right now I am dreaming of all the delectable things I might consume next week on that day of indulgence.  I thought perhaps a good way to focus my foodie energy and create a manageable menu would be to devote a few blog posts to the dishes I anticipate with the most enthusiasm each Thanksgiving.

The obvious place to start is the turkey, since that element of Thanksgiving has really been non-negotiable for me since I became a born-again carnivore in 2005.  I love a good turkey, especially if it has been properly brined, seasoned and roasted, either in the oven or, even better, on the barbeque.  My dad is truly a master of cooking turkeys, and I have sought his advice each time I have prepared Thanksgiving dinner.  He first shared his magical recipe for brine (which is actually Alice Water’s magical recipe for brine) with me back in 2006, and that year my friends in Santa Fe were blown away by how flavorful, moist and delicious my oven-roasted turkey turned out to be.  We used the same brining and oven roasting technique in 2008, when my sister and I organized a Thanksgiving dinner for a group of girlfriends up in the Catskills, and once again the result was a beautiful, golden, delectable bird.  This year, though, I feel ready for a new challenge, and have been contemplating following in my dad’s footsteps, and cooking our turkey on the grill.

My boyfriend responded to this idea with great enthusiasm.  I cautioned him that my dad’s process seemed pretty involved and challenging, but he simply chuckled and informed me “this wasn’t his first time to the rodeo.”  Well, let me inform you, he was singing a somewhat different tune after reading the detailed instructions my dad sent us a few days ago.  So was I, for that matter.  My head was spinning after reading about my dad’s subtle manipulation of various chimneys, baskets, doors and vents.  Suddenly I recalled my only experience trying to BBQ a whole chicken (with a beer can inside, mind you) ended in near disaster, with the chicken still essentially raw after nearly an hour on the grill.  How would I fare with a turkey?  WHAT IF I RUINED THANKSGIVING???

I know this is not rocket science,  but I am wondering if I am up to the challenge.  I’ve had the pleasure of consuming so many delicious turkeys over the years, that I am not sure I could bear even a mediocre turkey this Thanksgiving.  Maybe I should just stick to what I know?  I’ll share my dad’s instructions for cooking a turkey on the grill in my next post, and you, the reader, can decide if I am up for the challenge.

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Brewing Beer: Part I

My boyfriend and I purchased a home brewing kit early in our relationship, and produced one fairly successful batch of porter in the summer of 2010.  Well, I suppose I should qualify the term “successful” and say the beer tasted good, but it did have a tendency to explode like a geyser each time we opened a bottle.  After that initial experiment, we fell off the beer making bandwagon for more than a year due to various trips outside the country and the lack of counter space in our old apartment, but I am pleased to say that as of Sunday, our brewing operation is back online.  If all goes according to plan, we should have a 64 oz. of crisp, hoppy IPA ready for consumption in approximately four weeks.

A few words about making beer in an NYC apartment.  First, it’s a labor of love.  Our apartment-sized beer brewing kit only produces a gallon for each batch, so when you factor in the price for the grain, hops, yeast and equipment, along with the labor involved in producing that quantity of beer, you would almost certainly be better off purchasing a six-pack at your local liquor store.  I have cried (a little) both times we have made beer, burned myself multiple times and cleaned up many horrible messes – in short, emotions have run high throughout my brief brewing career.  The second thing to know about brewing beer is you need a lot of counter and storage space.  At any given time, you will likely have several multi-gallon pots with boiling liquid on your stove, a vast array of brewing equipment spread out across your counter-top, and a sterilization station set up in your sink.  Once you complete the first stage of the process, you will need a fairly large, cool, dark space to store your beer as it ferments.  The amount of space required will likely increase once your beer is bottled, and if you are ambitious enough to have multiple batches brewing at once… well, then you may need a separate room in your home to devote to beer production.

Why, then, undertake such a risky and labor intensive process?  Mostly because it feels cool to say you brew beer, and it allows me to entertain fantasies about leaving New York and opening a brewery in Vermont.  Also, when I’m not crying or scalding myself with boiling beer (or both simultaneously) it’s a good bonding experience for me and the boyfriend.  I’ll report back in a couple of weeks when we get to the bottling stage of the process… be forewarned, siphoning beer into bottles is the most frustrating stage of the process, and may not bring out the best in my personality!

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Grocery Store Conundrum

My neighborhood is really so close to perfect that I hesitate to level even a minor complaint.  Fort Greene has beautiful parks, amazing architecture, great bars and restaurants, fabulous arts and culture, an excellent independent bookstore, a farmer’s market and a CSA, tennis courts and bike lanes in abundance, hip coffee shops galore… the list goes on. My problem with Fort Greene is, it lacks one really comprehensive place to shop for groceries, and I find myself making multiple stops almost every time I want to cook something even vaguely elaborate. While that would be romantic and lovely if I were a Parisian housewife, leisurely visiting my favorite boulangerie, boucherie and fromagerie, somehow it’s less romantic when I am scavenging for food after work, and when one of the stops is in my journey is Pathmark.

Let me describe the situation as I see it. There is a lovely little organic store, the Green Grape, which I visit at least twice a week to purchase their delicious olives, locally produced cheeses, an occasional lamp chop and various salad fixings. Shopping at the Greene Grape is such a pleasant experience, but there are some items I simply cannot bring myself to purchase there, including $5 pints of half and half and $7 boxes of cereal. I know these products are local, organic and of the highest quality, but personally I can’t justify the expense.  There’s a pleasant little grocery store run by a Korean family just down the block, which is marginally cheaper than the Greene Grape for some staple items, and has a nice selection of fruits and veggies, but it does not sell any kind of meat or fish.  There is, of course, an excellent farmer’s market that takes place every Saturday. If I were a better planner, I would always purchase my produce, yogurt, bread and meat at the farmer’s market, but truthfully I can rarely anticipate my food needs more than one day in advance. It’s pathetic, I know. Finally, there is the dreaded Pathmark. It’s a safe option for basics like cereal, baking supplies and canned goods, provided you can stomach the endless lines and overwhelming chaos you will inevitably confront if you shop there. Pathmark’s produce tends to be hit or miss, but their meat counter, on the other hand, is a dark, terrifying place I would prefer to never visit. If I ever encountered, say, in a dark alleyway, one of the chickens that supply the terrifyingly giant chicken breasts sold at Pathmark, I would run screaming in the other direction. Really, I would.

For a brief moment I thought Fresh Direct might be the solution to my grocery conundrum. Their prices are decent for New York and there is an undeniable appeal to paying someone $5 to schlep groceries in my stead. That said, the insane quantity of packaging that arrives with every Fresh Direct order and, once again, the problem of having to plan more than 24 hours in advance have cooled my feelings for online grocery shopping. Right now my hopes are pinned on the new Co-op that is opening in Clinton Hill in December.  Fingers crossed…

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