My Turkey Plans

Tue, Nov 25 • 1

image courtesy of Corbis.com

(Note : Updated 11/26)

I usually don’t have to give much thought to serving Thanksgiving, since we’ve gone to my in-laws for the last decade, without fail. Aside from one year, when I decided to try and mix things up and do a deep fried turkey, my wife’s grandmother usually takes care of all the details.

Well, this year, a surprise. Without really thinking through all of the ramifications, I dutifully entered the daily give-away for a D’Artagnan organic, free-range turkey over on Serious Eats blog. I didn’t really think about the possibility that I’d actually win. Well, win I did, and so just a day or two before we head out on the 8-hour car ride, this bird is going to show up on my doorstep. I’m assuming it will be arriving fresh, not frozen, and the contest claims it will be a 12 to 14 pound bird.

My plan is to put it into a brine almost as soon as I receive it (recipe below), tucked inside a large zip-lock, and surrounded by ice in a cooler, in which it will travel on the car trip. Then, based on the recommendations of Gourmet Magazine, I went out and purchased one of those cheap-looking enameled turkey roasters with a lid. If all goes well, I will roast it on Friday morning for our delayed holiday dinner. A 14 pound bird won’t be enough to feed the whole crew, but we’ll be serving a whole ham, plus the usual amount of sides, so I hope it’ll all be enough.

Update: 11/26 — The bird arrived. 16½ lbs. It’s brining now. I ended up making a double batch to make sure there was enough to cover the bird in the cooler.

Here’s the brine recipe :

2 quarts apple juice or cider
1 lb brown sugar (dark or light)
1 cup kosher salt
4 lbs ice (“a pint’s a pound the world around.”)
1 quart water
3 oranges, quartered
4 ounces fresh ginger, thinly sliced
15 whole cloves
6 bay leaves
6 garlic cloves, crushed

Bring apple juice, sugar and salt to a boil over high heat, and add the ice to cool the cider down to room temperature. Add remaining ingredients, squeezing the oranges. Brine turkey for at least 24 hours. Quantity is sufficient for a 14 pound turkey.

Regarding brining bags … don’t scrimp. I originally tried using the 3 gallon zip-lock bags for my turkey, but it was too tight a fit; I was afraid huge sections of the bird were just sealed off from the brine liquid. So I went to a cooking supply store and bought bags specifically made for brining turkeys. Sure, they cost twice as much as the giant zip locks, but the bag is made of a thicker mil of plastic, and I felt like the double zip tops were sturdier and less apt to fail — which the zip lock bags did, a couple of times (one turn of the bird, and I lost half of the brine to the cooler). If you are using a plastic bag, be sure to remove as much air from the top of the bag as you can before sealing it up.

What are your Thanksgiving plans?


Welsh Rabbit

Wed, Nov 19 • 0

This was one of my granddad’s favorites. It’s very economical. You can probably make it for less than $5 total provided you have all the seasonings on hand. (Especially if you grab your cheddar from the dairy aisle of the grocery store, instead of the specialty cheese or deli section.) Supposedly the name dates back to early eighteenth-century England, when meat was so expensive that the poor could only eat cheaper cuts, like rabbit, which was the cheapest meat of all. But, as the slur goes, even rabbit was too expensive for the Welsh, and so they were forced to substitute cheese for meat. I’ve always considered this meal to be luxurious.

2 cups (½ lb. or 250g) aged, sharp Cheddar, grated
1 tablespoon (15g) butter
½ cup (125ml) beer
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
pinch of cayenne pepper
sliced bread, toasted

Melt butter and cheese together over low heat; stir in the beer and continue to stir until the mixture is well blended. Remove from heat and beat in egg and seasonings. Arrange several slices of toast in a shallow pan and pour the rarebit over them. Brown briefly under a broiler and serve while still bubbling. Serves 2, or 4 as an appetizer.

(I really have no idea why Winsor McCay made such a big deal about the hallucinatory properties of this dish, but do let me know if you have any weird dreams after eating it!)

Dream of the Rarebit Fiend. by Winsor McCay, The New York Evening Telegram, May 30, 1908;
Waking Dream of the Rarebit Fiend
, Boston Globe, Oct. 31, 2007;
Dream of The Rarebit Fiend: The Saturdays
, by Winsor McCay.


Things to Add to Omelets

Wed, Nov 19 • 0

Brown eggs taste no different from white eggs. Rhode Island Red hens give you brown eggs … the older the hen, the darker the egg.

Creamed or plain chipped beef;
Crumbled, crisp bacon bits;
Strips of thinly sliced ham or bologna (fried);
Fried minced onions, scallions, green peppers, pimentos;
Creamed or sauteed mushrooms;
Minced leftover vegetables (especially spinach) or meat in a thick cream sauce;
Freshly grated Gruyere, Swiss, Parmesan, Romano, or cheddar cheese;
Chopped fresh herbs: chives, parsley, chervil, tarragon, or thyme;
Flaked cooked fish (minus skin and bones), leftover or canned;
Minced lobster, crab, or shrimp;
Chopped canned anchovies …

Really, though, the possibilities are endless, provided its cut up very fine and, aside from the fresh herbs, precooked.

What’s inside your favorite omelet?


What’s a “Heritage” Turkey?

Sun, Nov 16 • 0

You’ve probably seen this phrase tossed about a lot lately, what with the holidays approaching. Your choices of what kind of turkey to put on the table seems to be widening, and the confusion mounts. Heritage turkeys are heirloom varieties, the ancestor breeds of the much more common but freak-of-nature, broad-breasted white turkey.

Heritage does not denote any specific breed of bird. In fact, you could conceivably buy the same breed of bird, marketed as “heritage” that are raised locally on pasture that you’d buy deep-frozen with the Butterball label on it. Standard breeds of turkey include Black, Bronze, Narragansett, White Holland, Slate, Bourbon Red, Beltsville Small White, and Royal Palm. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy includes all of the standard breeds plus a few others under the definition of “heritage,” including Chocolate, Lavendar/Lilac, Jersey, Buff, and Midget White. The vast majority of birds available for the American consumer are the Hybrid Broad-breasted White, which are bred to meet the commercial turkey industry’s desire for birds with accelerated growth rates and unnatural proportions of white and dark meat.

In 1997, a census by the National Turkey Federation found that 301,000,000 turkeys were produced commercially but only 1,335 turkeys were heritage birds. Today, that number hovers around 10,000.

According to the Heritage Turkey Foundation, all turkeys that are sold as heritage birds must have bodies that allow them to mate naturally, are hardy enough to live their whole lives outdoors, and are allowed to grow at a natural rate. Strictly speaking, the birds marked as heritage are not necessarily free-range nor are they raised organically, but considering the small number of birds that can be classified as such, chances are good that these birds were raised in a healthier and more humane environment than your typical industrial turkey farm.

Be aware that because there are so few birds available on the market, it may already be too late to get one for your holiday table in 2008, and you need to get your orders in by early November. But the good news is, the more people who seek out and are willing to pay a little extra for these special birds, the more will come to market in the coming seasons.


Unstuffed Cabbage

Sun, Nov 16 • 0

Here’s an original recipe for Unstuffed Cabbage. I made it the other night with a few changes (listed below), and it turned out really well. I used a pound of ground lamb instead of the mix of ground pork and beef called for in the original recipe, mostly because it was what I had on hand, but I had to spoon off a great deal of the rendered fat. It tasted great, nevertheless. I also used only half a head of cabbage, cut into 4 quarters — I think a half-a-pound of cabbage is a little much for one person.

½ (1-lb) head green cabbage, quartered lengthwise and cored
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced, divided
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb ground lamb
1 (28-oz) can whole tomatoes in juice
1/3 cup dried cranberries
3 tablespoons vinegar (red wine or cider)
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar

Cut the cabbage into quarters, and simmer in the chicken stock, covered, in a deep pan, for 45 minutes, turning occasionally. Meanwhile, brown the onions and the garlic, then add the meat, and brown until no longer pink. Add the tomatoes, cranberries, vinegar and brown sugar, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the lid from the cabbage, and let most of the liquid evaporate. Pour the sauce over the cabbage and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Serves 4. Total cooking time: 1 hour.

If you’d like to see the creation and evolution of this recipe, Gourmet has a video.


Sixty Years of Christmas Cookies

Sat, Nov 15 • 0
image courtesy, Gourmet Magazine
(image courtesy Gourmet Magazine)

Gourmet Magazine offers up a great site detailing 60 years worth of recipes for cookies. The recipes are presented just as they appeared on the pages of the magazine, so the recipes for the cookies from the 40’s don’t presume you’ll be using modern conveniences like a food processor, so you may want to tinker a bit with them, unless you’re aiming for ultimate authenticity.

If you’re on my holiday list, you can look forward to getting to taste some of these this December.

Note: 1/18/2010, With the demise of Gourmet Magazine, or just the passage of time, it appears this link is now dead. Sorry about that.


Shells and Coins

Mon, Nov 10 • 0

6 italian sausage links (hot or sweet)
2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil)
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus a little more for garnish
2 fresh tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 pound small shell pasta (conchiglie, maruzze, or lumache)
grated Parmesan

Prick the sausage with a fork, and cover with cold water, and poach uncovered for 10 minutes. Drain and dry, and slice into quarter-inch rounds (or coins). Heat the butter in a skillet and add the sausage,  onion, garlic and parsley. Cook, stirring frequently, until everything is caramelized, then add the tomatoes, and simmer while the pasta cooks in boiling salted water, according to the instructions on the package. When pasta is al dente, drain and mix with the sausage and its sauce, garnish with a little more parsley and grated parmesan.


Fast Food, My Way

Mon, Nov 10 • 0

A friend of mine sent me an email specifically asking about what I make when I don’t have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen — when we’re hungry, and I need to make something quickly, and don’t have time to marinate, macerate, or equivocate.

Oddly enough, my mind usually turns to breakfast, regardless of the time of day.

Omelets. You can usually whip one of these up in no time flat, and it’s a great way to use up left overs and odds and ends in the fridge. I’ll usually start by frying up some diced bacon, or kielbasa, or pancetta, or country ham… small dice, a quarter of an inch… in some butter in a non-stick pan. Then I’ll throw in some diced onions and peppers. Short of that, I usually keep a frozen vegetable medley that contains potatoes in it. I’ll nuke it to take the freeze off, and then put a portion of that in with whatever I’ve started frying. You really don’t need much to get a good omelet going. In fact, if you’ve got too much, you’ll more than likely end up with a scramble instead (not that that’s so bad). Then I’ll take three eggs, and break them into a bowl, and add a good pinch of salt, and some grinds of pepper, and whisk that with a fork until well blended. I’ll pour the eggs into a pan, and shake the pan, until the bottom is well coated with egg. My wife doesn’t like runny eggs, so I probably cook the whole thing for more than I need to. And though some might find this last part cringe-worthy, I’ll add a slice of velveeta cheese. This recipe makes enough for 2 people, unless they’re really starving — and from beginning to end, no more than 15 minutes, not counting clean up.

Other things you could add — browned hamburger and jarred salsa; leftover steak with onions and horseradish and sour cream; beef stew…

Pancakes & Sausage. I usually fall back on the premixed, but you can find a detailed recipe for pancake batter anywhere on the net (like here). I’ll mix the batter up while I fry up the sausages — which I put in a skillet with a tablespoon of butter and a quarter cup of water. I bring the water to a boil, and clamp on the lid, and let the water heat the sausages through, then remove the lid to let it all evaporate, and then let the butter brown them. As for the pancakes, well, I probably don’t need to tell you how to make these, since it’s probably the first thing (after cereal) that most of us learned how to make as kids. I use a cast iron griddle pan over medium, with a spray of canola. I ladle the batter on, and wait for the bubbles to set. (I usually add a couple or six frozen blueberries into each pancake as they cook on the first side.) I flip em, and let the second side cook. Use whatever syrup you like — I like organic grade B, because it has a stronger taste. Again, this meal takes about 15 minutes, from start to finish.

So maybe you’re more into dinner-type meals? Well, I’ll point you to some of the recipes I’ve already posted … Slumgullion is a deep comfort food for me, and probably only takes about 20 minutes to make, and can feed a small army for about $5; Sausage and Peppers is another winner. I’ll post more recipes in the coming days with a special mind to quick, and easy prep.

Have you got any simple and quick, go-to recipes to share?


Recent Food Words

Mon, Nov 10 • 0

biscuit belt n. “Well the area of the country that I practice in Gastonia North Carolina is what some physicians refer to euphemistically is the biscuit belt. We have a problem with patients being overweight.”

strolling supper n. I “get” the fact that a “strolling supper” is another term for “buffet,” but I have a question: what happens if the “strolling” supper gets up and leaves?

battery cage n. …considered the worst animal-confinement systems in factory farms.…so-called battery cages, where four or more hens share a space about the size of a file drawer.

fluffy n. If you’re not familiar with the term, a fluffy—known in Australia as a baby cino—is basically a tiny cup filled with froth and sprinkled with chocolate for children, allowing them to think of themselves as coffee-swilling adults.

Courtesy of the Double-Tongued Dictionary, where you can find more neologisms about many diverse topics other than food.


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