Monday, November 23, 2009


for the blog

Turkey-free Thanksgiving week whiteboard update.

The "Szechuan peppercorn black tea rum" is an infused rum, you dig.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

who is killing the great turkeys of europe

The turkey white chili I made isn't really white chili -- because it isn't white.  Typically, white chili is this weird interzone between chili and cream of chicken soup -- chicken, beans, and chiles in a sour-cream-thickened creamy sauce.  It usually lacks the conventional chile con carne seasonings like cumin, but might have some oregano, maybe a pinch of cinnamon.

But I included those, so it's really an orange chili, I guess.  Simplest thing in the world: I tossed some chopped turkey thigh with a little flour and a little red chile pepper and then quickly browned it in turkey fat; added onion, garlic, salt, and smoked turkey stock; simmered for a while until tender, and then removed it from the heat and stirred in sour cream mixed with The Spice House's chile con carne seasoning.  Good, rich, hearty turkey chili.

I didn't cook it with the beans because I'm using black beans, and I didn't like the mental image I was getting from black beans cooked with sour cream.

on the matter of turkey

I want you to notice I did not make any turkey burgers with all that turkey.

There are no acceptable turkey burgers.

wild bikini

How To Stuff A Turkey (or Chicken) Wing:

Proceeding without photographs, I'm afraid.  

The wing has three parts: the wingtip (the mostly meatless flappy bit the furthest distance from the chicken), the flat (the middle portion with two parallel bones), and the drum (the drumstick-shaped portion which attaches to the chicken).

My experience with turkey wing drums is not very positive.  They cook confit style okay, and are excellent for making stock, but the meat tends to be tough -- which is true of turkey wings in general, compared to chicken wings -- and is inclined to drying out.  Thankfully, they aren't needed for stuffed wings.  Do something else with them.  And use the wingtips for stock -- they're rich in collagen and extractable flavor.

So now we've got the flats.  And you gotta get the bones out of there, see.

Imagine the flat in front of you on the cutting board, horizontally.  Using a heavy cleaver if possible, you want to chop the ends off.  Doing this will remove the joints that connect the two parallel bones.  At that point, you can slowly run your fingers -- or the point of a paring knife -- along each bone, pushing the meat away from it so you can pull the bone out.

Now, while this can be a bit labor-intensive with turkey wings, it is a serious pain in the ass with chicken wings, and by the time you have enough de-boned wings for more than a couple people, your fingertips may be sore from pushing on sharp little bones.  It's a nuisance.  The nice thing about the turkey wings is that they're so much bigger that it takes fewer of them per portion.

Once you have the bones out, you want to wash the flat, because it's very possible that the cleaver left little bone fragments.

NOW, you can stuff the flat with something.  I used smoked grits mixed with pecorino romano.  It doesn't take much stuffing, and I don't think you want to use cheese by itself, since these need to cook for about half an hour.  Sausage would be another good option.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

how do you solve a problem like three turkeys

Turkey stock: carcasses and wing tips simmered for 24 hours in the lobster pot, at which point I strained it and brought it back to a simmer with turnips, carrots, celery, and onions.  This is nice, nice stock.

Turkey "gai kaprao": breast and thigh meat ground up and sauteed with prepackaged Thai holy basil sauce (chiles, Thai holy basil, soy sauce, garlic); because I had a pound of meat and the sauce was for half a pound, I stretched it with culantro and oyster sauce.  So not only is this not really gai -- chicken -- but it's not really kaprao either.  Same basic idea, though.

Hot wings: I had two turkey wing drumettes for dinner last night, cooked confit style and then tossed with Buffalo wing sauce and served with a little blue cheese on the side.

Turkey pot pie: chunks of white meat, roasted carrots and celery, reduced stock and a little cream, baked in a pie crust.

Smoked turkey stock: the other four turkey wing drumettes, along with the popes' noses, were smoked for hours and are simmering in the crockpot.

I also froze about 2 1/2 pounds of breast meat.  Tomorrow there's white chili and stuffed turkey wings.

Gonna have leftovers for quite a while.  I avoided turkey soup specifically because making the soup is always one of my Thanksgiving duties when I'm up here in NH, so there'll be plenty of that anyway.

No photos cause I'm out of batteries; maybe some of the stuffed wings, which are a little tricksome, if I can find some in a drawer somewhere.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I'm not gonna lie to you. This is gonna get kinda weird.

First: I'm watching Eric Ripert on Charlie Rose while eating lunch, and although it's not a very good interview, it reminded me to mention Ripert's PBS show, Avec Eric.  I don't like very much food television.  Most of it is either too recipe-oriented, too voyeuristic/foodpornish, or just straight-up reality show bullshit.  (I am addicted to Top Chef, but it took me four seasons to be talked into watching it.)  But Avec Eric is great stuff.  Worth finding.

Second: this post features more free stuff for me: dried wild mushrooms from Marx Foods.  Like I said, I'll always point out when I'm using free things.  I'll have a post specifically about the mushrooms later, though the short version is that after trying them in various ways, I think soup is far and away the best use for them.  But they did make a nice gravy here.

Third: I bought three turkeys.

"Bill," you're asking, "what the hell? How many Thanksgivings does one man need?"

None of these turkeys is my Thanksgiving turkey.  They're three turkeys ABOVE AND BEYOND Thanksgiving.

See, here's the deal.  I'm at the supermarket with a few bucks, I'm picking up some Pepsi Throwback and some pretzels, and I see the frozen turkeys.  Forty cents a pound.  Forty cents.  You know how much the cheapest chicken in the store is?  Three times that.  You know how much the ground beef is?  Twice as much as the chicken.  Forty cents a pound.  That's cheaper than soup bones.  You could drop the turkey in a lobster pot, simmer it all day, and throw it out -- keeping only the broth -- and you've still saved money.

Basically, I would be an irresponsible asshole if I didn't buy a bunch of turkeys.

So for twenty dollars, I got three turkeys, a blue bag of Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix, and a pound of Jimmy Dean sausage.  My family has always made Pepperidge Farm stuffing, with sausage.  Even when I shake it up and do my own Thanksgiving, in the ten years when I didn't live near my family, I still used Pepperidge Farm; that's just stuffing for me.  Traditionally, "my" stuffing has been Pepperidge Farm, shredded rabbit, lots of sage, and tart apples.  But the only place around here that I can buy rabbit is a store that I dislike enough that I don't want to give them my business.  So I compromised: Pepperidge Farm, sausage, tart apples (Roxbury Russet).

Why was I making stuffing if this isn't Thanksgiving?  Well, because turkey and stuffing is fucking awesome, and there's not going to be much leftover at Thanksgiving.  So I'll get my fix now, and let my brother have the leftovers next week.

But first I broke down all the turkeys -- cut off the leg quarters and the wings, sliced the meat off the breasts.  I have no need to roast a whole turkey -- I'm going to do all sorts of OTHER things with the turkey parts.  I used one of the carcasses as a stuffing roasting vessel -- packing the stuffing into it, roasting it until the stuffing was cooked, and then cleaning the carcass off and tossing it into the stockpot with the other two and the wingtips.

The thighs?  I used three of those to make turkey confit, cooking them at a low-temp covered in duck fat for hours.

After roasting the three turkey carcasses, I had plenty of fond in the pan, so that became my gravy.  I cooked a little flour in the drippings, deglazed the pan with one part apple cider to four parts turkey stock, and cooked it down until thick, with a healthy pinch of salt and a handful of Marx's dried mushrooms (chanterelles and oysters) ground up in the Cuisinart.

So that's our first (rather out of focus) meal from those turkeys: turkey confit, apple/sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, and wild mushroom cider gravy:

Turkey confit, stuffing, potatoes, wild mushroom gravy

The mushrooms add a nice, nice note to the traditional sage-and-apple flavors of the rest of the food.  Very satisfying.

Friday, November 13, 2009

back in the saddle again

These days, I guess people learn to cook from TV or blogs -- jumping in head first, scouring the internet for recipes, planning a complete meal. A generation before me, people -- okay, girls -- learned to cook from their mothers. But in between those two, my generation learned to cook through that great adolescent tradition of trial and error, the same basic "add this, tweak that" process which leads to Midwestern hot dish or Jello salad in one direction, and the Taco Bell chain in another, the modification of prepared food that is basically already a meal rather than the from-scratch manipulation of ingredients.  That is to say, "doctoring."

You know, you start with boxed macaroni and cheese, and add a can of deviled ham and some chopped olives, because fuck, you're fifteen and that sounds like a good plan. Or you grab the tuna fish, the raisins, the Miracle Whip, and come up with your "secret formula tuna salad sandwich" with a secret ingredient no one will ever guess (a Ramen seasoning packet). You take a frozen pizza and add canned mushrooms and extra pepperoni, and then invert ANOTHER frozen pizza on top of it to make a "calzone." It's not that this isn't cooking, exactly. It's just cooking with a lot of the ordinary kitchen activity disabled -- cooking in safe mode. This is to cooking what high school/college dating is to real relationships, or your Barnes & Noble cashier job is to the job you get later in life. Some of the risks and rewards are there, yes, but it's just a hint at the real thing, a sketch approaching its shape.

There is a whole cohort that never leaves that zone when it comes to cocktails, of course -- they never stop thinking of drinks as concoctions of corn syruped liqueurs diluted with vodka, hidden with mixers, and given names like Mind Eraser or Panty Dropper. But most people who are genuinely interested in cooking eventually leave the safety zone -- if nothing else, they figure out that it's cheaper to buy food and turn it into a meal than it is to buy prepared meals and alter them, a factor that doesn't have a whole lot of impact on us in our adolescence.

But the zone does teach you. And there are transitional dishes which basically employ the same mindset as doctoring, without relying on prepared foods. Chili is perhaps chief among them -- it certainly was for me. There is a clear core chili concept -- which, conceptually, acts as the frozen pizza you're altering, the fundament on which everything rests -- but despite its clarity, it will allow you to do all sorts of things to it without suddenly failing to be chili.

Nevermind regulation chili -- the barebones, stripped-down version of chili served in cookoffs, which for instance cannot have visible vegetables in it. Nevermind the Texan insistence that chili doesn't have beans, it is simply served with them, the way bolognese doesn't have pasta, it's served atop pasta. Those are sentiments which, though valid, are extremely boring and have no place at this table.

There are so many personal touches you can add to chili, and so many common variants. In New England, it seems to usually be soup-like, with chunks of tomato and kidney beans, and sometimes no perceptible spice at all. I never particularly liked this, and the chili I grew up with at home was considerably thicker, like an Italian sugo di carne (a thick ragu in which the tomato is reduced to the point that it is clinging to the meat, rather than the meat floating in a tomato sauce). Stew-like chili would be somewhere in between.

You can serve it as a bowl of soup with oyster crackers; with cornbread; with tortilla chips and salsa; over Fritos with cheese and onions; on spaghetti. Sometimes I have it with garlic bread.  

You can add chopped mango, cinnamon, pulled pork, venison, cigar ashes, coffee, red wine, beer, melted cheese, and it's still chili. An ingredient like roasted garlic, chicken, or cilantro can totally change the character of the dish, but it's still chili. You can use canned tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, tomato paste, no tomatoes. Kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, lima beans, no beans at all. Onion or no onion, pepper or no pepper, fresh chile or dried chile or powdered chile or Tabasco sauce. You can stew oxtail with sriracha and beans, and boom, you have three-ingredient chili.

I don't have a tried and true chili recipe, because chili isn't that kind of food for me. I do, on the other hand, after twentysome years of making chili various ways, rely on premixed chili seasoning instead of mixing my own. The main reason for this is simply that Penzey's and the Spice House -- whichever one I happen to be ordering from when I run out of chili seasoning -- make very very good seasoning blends, and if I have one in the house, I don't have to stop and ask myself "wait, do I have the ingredients I need for chili?", whereas I might if I were mixing it myself, since there are only a handful of spices that I will reliably repurchase as soon as I run out. I nearly always add additional Mexican oregano, but even then there's an exception -- this summer I grew Cuban oregano, and used that instead whenever I was making chili. Sadly, it neither dried nor froze well; I'll have to get more plants in the spring.

Mexican and Cuban oregano deserve a paragraph here. Neither is the same as Mediterranean oregano. I mean they're three completely different plants, and were simply called "oregano" by European settlers who found the New World herbs vaguely reminiscent of the one they were already familiar with. Mexican and Cuban oregano are both more pungent than real oregano, and they go very very nicely with spicy food, but if you were to substitute them in your grandmother's spaghetti sauce recipe, I think you would find the results a bit off. (I don't know how to compare Mexican oregano to Cuban oregano. They're noticeably different from one another, but have more in common than either has with Mediterranean oregano.)

Chili is basically comfort food for me. And you know, after two weeks of H1N1 -- about which, let me say only that I do not recommend it -- I had some comfort food coming to me. I went basic. I browned ground beef and coarsely chopped steak (really browned them, mind you, not greyed them) and held them aside. Shredded onion and red bell pepper in the Cuisinart and then cooked them down and added the beef back to the pan. Added pinto beans, the Spice House's chili con carne seasoning, additional Mexican oregano, New Mexico dried red chile, salt, a splash of Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron beer, and a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes that I pureed with a head of garlic and about a quarter cup of demiglace. Added some water and let it cook back out, and -- this is the most important thing with chili -- let it rest in the fridge overnight. Chili is always better the second day. I always make it a day in advance.

Now, I'll tell you a weird Taco Bell-ish guilty pleasure that I actually originally came up with for some fictional teenagers to eat in a story I was writing, and then tried for real out of curiosity: you wrap chili, cheese, and salsa or sriracha in a tortilla, along with ... onion dip. Or ranch, ranch would work fine. It's not that bizarre, because you're just seasoning the sour cream element of a conventional "soft taco supreme" -- it's not like you're adding any more fat than that, and you don't even necessarily have to add that much more salt -- but somehow it makes all your junk food sensors go into overload. If you wanted to really knock yourself out, you could use a burrito-sized tortilla and add fried potatoes or Tater Tots while you're at it, and a handful of green onions.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Blogging will resume when I am no longer H1N1-stricken.  When we return:

Persimmons (pictured)

The epic pizza post? (Matt and I have to go check out a couple places around town for research.)


Wild hare

The world's hottest chile pepper, and the world's hottest onion dip

Wild mushrooms