Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Turkey Triumphant!

Thar she blows! The most delicious, crispy-skinned golden-brown turkey, roasted in about 1 hour 45 minutes. Does it not look as if it is crossing its legs to avoid wetting its imaginary turkey-pants? And also gesticulating for you to admire its plump and juicy breast(s)? As you can see, the bird portion of Project Turkey was a smashing success. There are, however, some bugs to work out. Here's the rub: the stuffing, which I made the previous day out of challah and sausage and minced fresh herbs, was in the roasting pan underneath the turkey throughout the roasting process, soaking up tasty drippings. HOWEVER: my guests did not like the stuffing very well, I suspect for the same reason my in-laws would not like it. It just wasn't Stove Top. That is to say, its flavor and consistency were entirely foreign to the palate of a family that has come to think Stove Top = stuffing. It did not get eaten. I am OK with making some Stove Top to go along with this bird, but the stuffing also serves a function here: it keeps the turkey drippings from burning in the pan. Remember, this turkey is being roasted at a high temperature. 450, to be exact. When I roast chicken, I put some stock in the pan underneath to prevent the smoke alarm from going off and to keep my drippings from getting black and crispy, but I'm worried that if I do that here, the resulting steam will compromise the skin-crispiness that is the turkey's best feature. What's a girl to do? I've thought of just putting a bunch of crappy damp bread underneath the bird as an ersatz-stuffing, but there must be a better way. Thoughts?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Secret of the Turkey Hearts Revealed!

I don't have a photo of Phase 2 of the great turkey project, but that's probably for the best. The day before the meal, I made stuffing out of challah, sausage and fresh sage. My first attempt at purchasing challah resulted in the acquisition of two decent-looking loaves that revealed themselves to be disturbingly flecked with fake-looking orange zest and tinted apricot-colored throughout. Dessert challah! Who knew? A trip to Whole Foods yielded a challah that could swing both ways (sweet or savory). Disaster struck again while mincing three cups of onions for the stuffing. I also managed to mince off a big chunk of my index fingernail. I have very sharp knives. I was fortunate to locate the disembodied nail chunk before it could become lost forever in the stuffing. I now have a gnarly-looking pointer that I enjoy using to direct library patrons around my workplace.

The gravy was made, not with drippings from the turkey itself, but from the narsty bits: the back, the gizzard, the chest plates I trimmed from the bird during the spatchcocking process, the tail (which dear mama refers to as the Pope's Nose) and, of course, the heart. There was at least one other unidenifiable giblet in there as well, but the heart was gratifyingly heart-shaped and even had the little vessels attached as in the diagram above. I roasted all of this detritus along with a mess of coarsely-chopped veg, creating a nice little fond which was later deglazed, combined with some chicken stock and white wine and reduced for hours upon hours. During this period of time, with my hearts and giblets boiling merrily on my stove, I felt as much like a wicked witch as ever I have. This entire turkey project has been tinged with a delightfully macabre quality. Stay tuned: in tomorrow's post, the finished bird will be revealed!!!

Monday, February 23, 2009


Above is a picture of a ten-pound turkey which I spatchcocked - by which I mean, I removed the backbone of the bird with a VERY sharp knife and then pounded its sternum vigorously with a rubber mallet until it was a floppy poultry rag-doll. A meat puppet, if you will. The purpose of this spatchcocking (is that not the BEST verb?) is to substantially reduce the roasting time of a big-arse turkey. I will not ruin the suspenseful ending of this multi-part turkey dinner post by telling you whether or not it worked, but can divulge at this point that the spatchcocking itself was breathlessly easy and also made me feel like Sweeney Todd. The floppy turkey was brined in a pot on my back porch for eight hours, nestled in the snow. During that time, I made the gravy and the stuffing, about which more later. When the brining period was over, I disposed of the brine, thinking as I always do while pouring out the liquid in which raw meat has been marinated, "I wonder how much you would have to pay my husband to drink a cup of that?" Which may tell you all you need to know about my qualities as a wife.

Once the brining process was over according to Bridget Lancaster of America's Test Kitchen, for whom I would swim across a lake of fire and whose instructions I gleefully followed throughout this whole shebang, I arranged the turkey as you see above. The posture can be best characterized as legs-crossed-as-if-it-REALLY-has-to-pee. This photo gives a bit of an impression of the masterful feat of three-dimensional tesselation involved in rearranging the contents of our petite refrigerator (affectionately referred to as "the dorm fridge") to accommodate this affair. We had a babysitter that night and when I preemptively showed her the turkey in our fridge by way of warning, she visibly startled like a skittish Preakness contender. So our beleaguered poultry was tucked in for the night in its dark, refrigerated boudoir. To be continued.

Turkey Lurkey Time

You can't bollix up Thanksgiving dinner. The stakes are too high. Potential pitfalls include undercooked poultry, dried-out breast meat, the destruction of a sacred(ish) family holiday at which the sharing of food is more-than-usually a metaphor for harmony and understanding. So the fact that it's the only day of the year that turkey is roasted has always perplexed me, and my lack of experience at making a full-on turkey dinner has been a barrier to my throwing my hat in the ring for hostessing rights. I saw a cooking video produced by America's Test Kitchen recently that featured a roast-turkey, stuffing and gravy technique that seemed both ingenious and easy, and had the added benefit of front-loading almost all of the work into the previous day. I picked up a frozen turkey on the cheap last month and have been scheming a plan to host an ersatz-Thanksgiving at my place ever since. Tonight's the night. This post will be a multi-parter on the subject of the turkey, the early stages of which were not photographed for reasons too idiotic to explain. But in the meantime, enjoy the above demented video and stay tuned for more exciting Februarysgiving photos and news. I am SO rocking this turkey.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Cookie Puss

Again with the cookies. Today, BOTH of my sons had Valentine's Day parties at school. What's a compulsive mom with culinary-aspirational tendencies to do? Why, make treats for both parties, of course. Son the elder chose the classic chocolate chip cookies, pictured above left. Younger dude selected Snickerdoodles, a slightly more work-intensive cookie, involving the dreaded rolling-into-balls step. Dreaded because: I tend to shy away from recipes that involve the word "balls." Food that is naturally orb-shaped (like, say, fruit, or tapioca, or on the micro-level, couscous) is never described as "balls." The word "balls," besides being funny and coarse (a plus!), implies a level of handling WITH ACTUAL HANDS that seems a little unsanitary even to a non-germophobe like me. Whenever I have to roll dough into balls, between the palms of my hands, I am reminded of the way little rolls of dirt would magically appear when I rubbed my hands together as a child, generated - magically! - out of thin air. Or, alternatively, from my grubby little-girl hands. My hygiene has improved since then, and since the invention of hand sanitizer, but I still don't like to grope my cookie dough very much before baking it. I tend to give the pre-Snickerdoodle blobs a cursory pat and stick them in the oven looking more . . . rustic than spherical. Both batches of cookies were a success. Time to start planning Lincoln-shaped cookies for President's Day.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Laid Low by A Common Virus!

I have not been blogging lately because I've had the flu. It started on Wednesday and has presented me with a delightful cornucopia of symptoms, the most tenacious of which has been loss of appetite (along with its constant companion, Nausea, and that annoying party-crasher Puking). So not only have I not been cooking, my diet for the past several days has consisted of "white sodas" (7Up, Sprite and splendiferous ginger ale) and a packet of dry chicken noodle soup mix provided by my physician sister. Life has presented me with a customarily-appetizing parade of foods these past days in which I have no interest whatsoever. It's Bizarro-world. The only good thing about this bug is that it has occasioned a rapturous reunion between me and ginger ale, which was my favorite soda all through college. Canada Dry edges out Schweppes brand-wise because IT HAS A MAP ON IT. I spent the entirety of my cliched European semester abroad trying to locate a can of ginger ale, which is a drink impossible to describe in a foreign language. Unless, that is, you happen to know the word for "ginger" in, say, French (it's "gingembre") and you happen to be in Cannes. Once I return to full strength, there will be cooking and there will be blogging. In the meantime, knock back a Canada Dry for me and toast to my hopefully-returning health. *koff*

Monday, February 2, 2009

Kickin' it Old Skool

After a long respite, I baked some cookies today. The kids grabbed the recipe for these from a grocery store, I know not where, but whenever they take the initiative and seek a recipe out, I am duty-bound to cook it in order to encourage their interest in food, blah blah blah. These cookies required the purchase of a bag of Hershey's Kisses, TM. I tend to avoid recipes that list name-brand ingredients - there's clearly a conflict of interest involved. Selling product versus objective deliciousness is how I think of it. I also avoid recipes that strike me as too "down-home" or include the word "country." Why? Because I am a food snob who, living in Wisconsin, has no right to be one. And yet here are the Hershey's Kiss cookies. My yield was off by 8, which is going to keep me up tonight. That and the one flawed cookie that I bollixed up with my hand whilst removing them to the cooling rack. Thirty-nine flawless cookies, one demented one. WHY, GOD? WHY????

PS yes, I think Sandra Lee, of "Semi-Homemade" fame, is a delusional biotch and I would like to create a bonfire with all of her "cookbooks" and roast homemade rosewater-scented marshmallows over it.

Loving Bruce

My husband and I have an ongoing . . . argument? Game? Conversation. In which we try to determine which of us gets "custody" of which musical artists. For example: I get Elvis Costello on my imaginary team because Caleb had only been vaguely aware of the existence of Mr. Declan McManus before meeting me, whereas I had a substantial back-catalog of his albums - on vinyl, no less - and my budding love for Elvis C.'s acerbic music actually prompted me to dump my college boyfriend because it seemed to fit in with my life-soundtrack ("My Aim Is True"). Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Caleb tries to claim Bruce even though he is, to use an appropriate metaphor, the QB in my musical lineup. Before we dated, Caleb thought Bruce was cheesy and only knew the 80s-era synthy hits.

How does a Gen-Xer come to Bruce? For me, it was through my mom, whose musical tastes have drifted all over the place for as long as I've known her. She went through a brief Bruce phase during which she bought (1) Tunnel of Love, and (2) the 3-disc live set, both of which she gave me when she moved on to less-Boss pastures. I was sucked into T. of L. despite its hokey of-their-time production values. It's his "divorce album," full of deeply sad songs. This was back when MTV played actual videos, and his one-shot close-up video for "Brilliant Disguise" won me over. "Tunnel" was the gateway drug that led me to his earlier, grittier stuff. Last night, I was loving the fact that a man who recently put out an entire album of Pete Seeger covers can put on a goofy Superbowl halftime show full of acrobatics and silliness. Bruce seems capable of simultaneously inhabiting all points of the pop-cultural compass. Cool/dorky, high/low, mass-audience/NPR crowd, stadium-anthem/bleak ballad. And he can rock a pair of leather bracelets at age 59. And how DID he know I was eating guacamole while watching the game? Maybe Bruce is omniscient, too . . .

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Stink-Eye

Tonight's dinner was vegetarian chili. The dish was propelled by (1) my husband's desire to eat only healthy, cancer-fighting comestibles, and (2) my desire to slowly but surely consume the BUCKET of dried red beans that has been occupying valuable countertop real-estate for enough time to qualify for adverse possession. Mostly (2). I am on the lookout for Ways With Dried Beans in order to use up the offending legumes with good taste and variety. Sadly, not only did this recipe use a scant 3/4 cup of the beans, but as pictured above, it made my younger son distinctly unhappy. His review of the meal was this: "It made me yack a little bit into my mouth." He is now sequestered in another room until he sees fit to finish his dinner.

I'm of mixed feelings about this. Some of my least-happy childhood memories involve being forced to sit at the table in front of a plate of something I found unpalatable, the dish growing colder and less-appetizing by the minute. One of my father's favorite topics of dinner-table conversation was the poor quality of his own mother's cooking, the details of which any of my sisters can recall by heart, and how good we children had it, relatively speaking. It's hard to argue with his logic. My mom was and is a great cook, given the limitations and food-vogues of the day as well as her straitened budget and large-ish family. She used to "put up" heroic quantities of pickles and jams every year, made her own yogurt, etc. BUT she also liked to make fried rice, which I still won't eat unless somebody's willing to pay me cash money to do it.

Adults are entitled to their food dislikes, and usually deal with them by crafting balanced, healthy diets that omit their most-loathed ingredients. I avoid: mayonnaise. That's pretty much it. And I was brought up right insofar as I will eat ANYTHING that is placed in front of me at a restaurant or somebody else's house, bar NOTHING. So in theory, I object to forcing children to eat things they genuinely hate. But one presents a united front to the kids, parenting-wise, so I'm sitting this one out.