Friday, December 18, 2009


For another look with many more exclamation points, see here

Monday, November 30, 2009

Nearly Perfect Turkey

We visited my wife's family in Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving. Soon after we arrived, it became clear that her grandmother was feeling stressed out about having to roast a turkey for the whole family. It turns out that despite being in her late 70s, she has admirably escaped roasting a turkey for her entire life. Since she seemed stressed, and also because I wanted to help her keep up her streak, I volunteered to roast the turkey for the 30 people that would be eating with us Thursday afternoon.

The turkey was delivered fresh the day before, which made these easier for me. But it was just a few ounces shy of thirty pounds. That afternoon I went shopping to pick up a few ingredients. Once we made sure that it would fit in the roasting pan, and that once in the roasting pan, they would both fit in the oven, we put it back in the fridge and I set my alarm for 5:00am, certain that roasting a beast this size would take many hours.

We were staying with a cousin down the street, so after a shower and a nice early morning walk, I started prepping the turkey just before 6:00am. I made sure everything was patted nice and dry, inside and out, and made up a rub of salt, black pepper, and sage. I wished I had my kosher salt, but regular iodized salt would have to do. I used plenty of this rub inside the cavity and then used the rest to give the breast a nice massage with some vegetable oil. I then put the turkey in the roaster and let it sit and rest while I did the rest of the prepping.

First, I quartered an apple and an onion and put them in some apple cider (about a cup or so) on the stove with a dash of apple cider vinegar and plenty of salt and pepper. Once this started to boil, I killed the heat and let it steep for a few minutes. This went into the cavity with about 10 sage leaves and a few sprigs of thyme and the whole thing went in the oven at 500.

I don't think my wife's grandma's oven had been at 500 for quote a while because it smoked a bit and kept on setting off the fire alarm. Not wanting to wake the rest of the family, I just took out the battery. Once that had been in for about 20 minutes or so, I knocked the heat down to 300. After about two hours, the breast was starting to look nice and browned, but I didn't want it to get much more browned, so I covered the roaster in foil and let it finish.

After another two hours, the breast was registering around 170, so I turned the heat off. I would have liked to finish it then, but we had some family activities to participate in and we were still a few hours away from eating, so I left it in the oven. When we got back about an hour and a half later, I took it out and made a glaze. The glaze was a stick of butter melted over low heat and whisked together with a few tablespoons of maple syrup, the leaves from a few sprigs of rosemary, and plenty of salt and pepper. This glaze went all over the outside and I sprinkled a few more rosemary leaves into the glaze, just for aesthetic effects. Then I covered it back up with foil to keep things moist while I let it rest.

I realize that a glaze isn't traditionally used for a turkey, that it is usually reserved for hams, but I thought it might be a good way to avoid a dried-out breast. But accordingly, I went for a more butter-based than a sugar-based glaze like you might see on a ham.

After an hour of resting I took off the foil, lifted it onto a cutting board, and let it continue to cool for another half hour while I got going on the gravy. The gravy base was a nice mixture of the salty drippings and the mellow sweetness of the apple and maple flavors. I scraped up all the browned bits, strained out most of the solids, and put this over high heat to reduce it down a bit. I then added some milk (maybe 2 cups or so, about the same amount as the base) and knocked the heat back down to low. I then added salt and a bit of pepper, and just a splash of the apple cider vinegar to wake up the flavors. Then I thickened it by taking some out, whisking it with some corn starch in a cup, and adding it back in. I kept it over medium heat until it thickened, and then kept it hot over low heat while I carved the turkey.

Most of the dark meat was so falling-off-the bone tender that there really wasn't much carving to do other than to slice through the skin and take off the drumsticks. The thighs basically just shredded themselves as I lifted them onto the platter. As for the breast, I took it off whole and then carved across the grain, laying the slices tanding up next to each other on the platter with the skin side up. Most people don't like to eat the skin, but I like to give them the option. Turkey and chicken breast are usually eaten skin off, but when you use a barbeque sauce or a glaze, like I did, then it seems a waste to just strip the skin off and throw it away. Instead, I like to serve it as duck is traditionally served with the skin. The skin also has the added bonus of keeping things moist while you wait to being the meal.

The breast was a little more done than I would have liked, but overall, the bird was juicy and not dried out and the diners universally acclaimed it. I also had a thought---rather than (or maybe in addition to) putting the glaze on before carving, it might be nice to carve it all up and put the glaze on after its all on the platters and ready to serve. This would let it soak in and keep things moist, and it would also warm things up, which would allow you to let the turkey cool more before carving. This cooling time is beneficial because it makes the meat easier to carve without burning your fingers, but also because it allows the juices in the meat to cool and absorb back into the beat rather than simply steaming out as vapor when you cut into the meat.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Eats Sheet: Butternut Squash Pasta.

I never been a huge squash fan. I do like a butternut squash soup, and deep-fried zucchini is good, but I've just never really gotten into other squashes. Like acorn squash. I the last time I had some was when I gagged a few bites down at a federal courts dinner a few months ago. It reminded me why I don't buy acorn squash.

But lately I have been more into the idea of eating seasonally, so I have resolved to be more open to winter squashes this year. I made a little butternut squash pasta last night that definitely made me open to more winter squash possibilities. I got the idea for the recipe out of a Williams Sonoma cookbook, but I made my own variations that I think improved it.

1. You start with one butternut squash. You peel it, seed it, and chop it into small bite-sized cubes, and put these in a large bowl. Butternut is hard, so it helps to have a big cleaver or chef's knife. And it helps to to tap the cleaver with a mallet, using it like a wedge to split the squash rather than pushing with your hands.

2. Then peel an onion, half it, and slice it thinly. But not too thinly because you're going to be roasting this---you want it to char and carmelize, but you don't want it to turn into charcoal. Like maybe a quarter-inch slices. Put them in the bowl.

3. Take 4 or 5 slices of thick bacon---as thick as you can find it---and cut them into half-inch pieces. Add them to the bowl.

4. Sprinkle the whole things generously with kosher salt and let it sit for a minute or two, then drizzle it with olive oil and grind some pepper on it. Toss it until the pieces get coated.

5. Lay it all out on a baking dish and sprinkle with sage. Though the recipe didn't call for it, I also added some crushed thyme and rosemary. Then stick it in the oven. The recipe said 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes, but I like my squash a little softer and my bacon less crispy in this type of dish, so I went for 400 for 25-30 minutes. Stir it once or twice.

6. While that's cooking, get some water boiling and cook about a pound of your favorite kind of pasta. Rigatoni or Penne is a good choice for this. If you're going to use a linguini or spaghetti-type noodle, you'd probably want to chop the squash a little smaller and cook it less--otherwise it won't really toss as well. When its al dente, drain it and put in a large wok over high heat. Toss it to cook out the rest of the water.

7. Add the squash to the pasta. At this point, the recipe said to put a little of the pasta water back in to kind of loosen the mixture, but I used some heavy cream instead. Maybe not as healthy, but way tastier. You don't need much though, just enough to moisten it so it's not dry. Only a few drizzles. Like maybe 2-3 tablespoons.

8. Toss it in the wok and turn off the heat. Or turn the heat off just before adding the cream. Either way, you still want it warm when you serve, it but you don't want the cream to sit on the heat and curdle. You might have to keep tossing it to keep that from happening. Add a few handfulls of a good shredded Italian cheese and toss it again. I used a standard parmasean-pecorino romano blend, but I think an asiago would be really good because it is more buttery and little less salty than the parmasean.

This was excellent. And for a person who doesn't really like squash all that much, it was a complete success. I also have a few variations in mind that I'm going to incorporate the next time I make it: I'm going to add a bit of maple syrup and apple cider vinegar with the cream to really give it a seasonal flavor. And maybe even add a finely chopped sauteed apple. I think these will highlight the natural sweetness of the squash and create a good complement of autumnal flavors.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Eggplant deliciousness. No, really.

So my mom and dad joined this co-op where they paid a certain amount and they get a cornucopia of locally grown veggies delivered to my dad's office every Friday. Well, we all thought it was pretty much a waste of cash at the beginning of the summer because there was a lot of clouds and a lot of rain and not much sun, which led to a pretty meagre harvest. Now, however, my parents are getting more than they can handle and have been dumping the extra food on us. Which is awesome.

So when we had a bunch of eggplant and yellow squash, C decided that it might be a good idea to roast them in the oven and put them in panini (or as I call them, being American, and not Italian, grilled sandwiches). I was skeptical at first, not sure whether a sandwich with nothing but veggies would be good. I've also never liked eggplant (except for when it is breaded and fired and covered in spaghetti sauce and cheese and therefore no longer tastes anything like eggplant). But I went along, figuring it couldn't hurt me to eat more veggies anyway, and eating local is never really a bad thing. Plus, I hate wasting food more than I hate eggplant.

So here's how it went down. In the morning, I cut the eggplant and squash into thick strips, sliced some red onion, and threw them all in a bowl with some olive oil. I seasoned it with some basil, oregano, time, garlic, and salt, and ground on some fresh pepper. Then I arranged them on a cookie sheet and stuck it under the broiler for about 10 minutes, flipping them after 5 or so. We stuck these in the fridge.

At dinnertime, we made our sandwiches. (C had made some gluten free bread for me, so I could be a part of this.) I alternated two layers of the roasted veggies with two layers of thickly sliced mozzarella, and then topped it with some thick slices of fresh roma tomatos. I seasoned the tomatoes with salt and pepper and drizzled them with a little red wine vinegar. Then it went into the panini press. I was honestly blown away by how good the sandwich was. Way better than I expected, and I actually enjoyed eating the eggplant rather than just tolerate it because it was surrounded by good flavors.

The real key, though, was the red win vinegar. It added just a little bit of kick, but it was sweet enough to match the tomato really nicely, and it just really woke up all the flavors. Awesome. I made another one to have for lunch. I did all the same thing, but I also put some sprigs of fresh parsley on top of the tomato. It was a good addition. And these sandwiches were surprisingly filling, for being only veggies. At first, I wondered if some turkey breast might be a good addition (Thanksgiving leftovers, maybe?), but I don't know if it even needs it. Eggplant really is more substantial than a garnish or a condiment.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Demetri Martin Revue

I recently saw Demetri Martin, a comedian who has a show on Comedy Central. He plays the piano and guitar during the show, and has a gigantic note pad with graphs and pictures as well. And yes, he uses a pointer on it. Not a laser pointer, but a real one. Here are some bits that I remember from the show; nothing is verbatim but it's all close to what he said.

My friend has coconut soap in his bathroom which is nice, unless your hands are dirty from coconuts. Then you don't know if the soap is working or not. "Do you have some soap that smells like hands?"

When I see a sign for a Talent Show I feel there should be a question mark at the end.

A tree house is so insensitive. That would be like if I killed your friend and made you hold him.

I wish I had cold cereal that was shaped like little boats. That way I could feel like a monster every morning.

If I had a baby I would start putting anti-aging cream on him right away. People would look at my baby and ask "How old is he? Is that a fetus?"

I heard a guy say the other day that he could go for some brownies. This got me thinking. If he is a chef, that's OK. If he's a scout leader, that's not OK. If he's a chef at a girl scout camp, I'm not sure.

I would like to fill a pinata with real animal guts.

I saw a guy eat his own burger the other day. It's not my thing, but I guess it works for him. It has its benefits - an endless supply of snacks. Before you go on a road trip you hope to get a cold so you can have snacks galore.

I like the sign for wet floor, because it has a picture. That clarifies the sign. It's not telling you what to do, it's showing you what will happen.

I always feel like my trip overseas was wasted when I go through customs. "Did you go on a farm?" "No." "Did you touch any livestock?" "No." "Do you have any firearms?" "No." Next time I go overseas I'm going to pet a cow than shot it.

I'm allergic to cats. This means I'm allergic to lions. That's a double whammy. Not only will I get mauled if I run into a lion, but I'll get a stuffy nose.

Without a doubt the best thing ever in existence is definitely exaggeration. No wait, it's qualifying statements. [There were a couple more things after that but I can't remember them.]

I don't watch sports as much as I used to. I think that's because I'd rather watch the mascots fight than the teams.

His show was well worth the price of admission, although not as good as Seinfeld, but who is? He spiced up the show well with the use of instruments so it felt longer than it actually was, a little shorter than ninety minutes. I definitely recommend seeing him if possible.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tandoor-Barbeque Redux

It turns out that tandoori-barbeque chicken makes a fantastic panini with a little cheese and a few asparagus spears.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tandoori + Barbeque = Wonderful

We recently bought a bunch of plain yogurt to make mulligatawny with leftover turkey. It never materialized, so we had a bunch of plain yogurt in the fridge. Chicken breasts were on sale so I figure I'd try a tandoori inspired BBQ concoction called "Chicken Exotica."

You start by marinating chicken breasts in yogurt mixed with lime juice, minced garlic, honey, and a mixture of a bunch of spices (paprika, coriander, cumin, ginger, allspice, salt, and pepper). You marinate the chicken for at least 12 hours and up to 48.

Then you slice up a red bell pepper and an onion into quarter-inch strips and toss them in a skillet with olive oil over medium-high heat until the onions carmelize. Then throw in about a half cup of mutha sauce (from the Dinosaur BBQ Cookbook) and cook a few more minutes until the sauce thickens.

Then you grill the chicken about 5-6 minutes per side. When they're done, you brush them with mutha sauce and bring them in. You put a scoop of the onion-pepper-sauce combo on each breast. I served them over a bed of long-grain basmati rice with asparagus steamed and sauteed in garlic butter on the side.

It was different grilling last night. At one point yesterday, the temperature was around 40 degrees. This morning it was lower than -10 degrees, with 50 mph winds (that translates to -30 degree windchills). So last night around 5:30 when I started the grill it was somewhere between: probably around 15 or 20 degrees with 40 mph winds. I have grilled before in cool weather, but never freezing weather. I was worried that the cold would put out the fire, but the wind acted as a bellows and really got the coals going hot. In just the few short minutes that I steood on the porch brushing the chicken with sauce my ears went numb and I could barely feel my fingers as I pulled the chicken off the grill.

But it was worth it. The yogurt tenderizes the chicken to the point that you can really almost overcook it without losing succulence. That allows you to get a nice carmelized (not quite charred) oustide that really soaks up the natural wood and smoke flavor, but without drying out the inside of the breast. The lime flavor really comes through, and is a fantastic complement to the Indian-inspired spice mixture. The mutha sauce adds some compexity and tang to the whole thing, but without being overpowering. And the carmelized onion really sits well with the honey-lime sweetness. The recipe actually calls for fresh cilantro snipped over the dish at the end, but I forgot.

It was still good.