Friday, November 28, 2008

Deep-fried turkey, southwest-style

We just had a wonderful southwestern-style Thanksgiving dinner yesterday. The dishes were tradition-based: dressing, potato gratin, slow-braised green beans, giblet gravy, and 3 kinds of pies (pumpkin, apple, and apple/cranberry). The unusual parts were a mole Peter made (with rich homemade chicken stock) and the turkey.

The interesting part for me was to adjust our usual Cajun brine (used to inject the turkey before deep frying) to reflect the tone of a meal inspired by a different region.

It’s best to inject the turkey and let it sit in the fridge, uncovered, overnight. Then take it out 2 hours before cooking.

I realize this is kind of an after-the-fact posting, but it might give you an idea for what to do the next time you want a turkey dinner. At our house we are determined this year to have turkey again sometime over the winter.

I see no reason why you couldn’t use this recipe for a roasted bird. Just follow the directions below and roast in your usual fashion.

The injection liquid will seem somewhat spicy, but it won't be that way after the turkey is cooked.

Southwestern-style deep-fried turkey

1 14 pound kosher turkey
¾ cup chopped onion
handful of cilantro
3 cloves garlic, rough chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, ½ seeded, ½ not seeded, chopped
1 guajillo pepper, seeded
1 tbsp cumin plus 1 tsp
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
1 tbsp hot sauce (or to taste)
1 tbsp ancho chile powder
1 ½ cup chicken broth
salt and pepper

Preheat oil to 375°.

Saute onion.

Add garlic

Add broth, Serrano, guajillo, 1 tsp cumin, oregano, cilantro and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, remove from heat and, when cooled, strain out the solids and discard them.

Inject turkey all over with the liquid.

Mix 1 tbsp cumin and 1 tbsp ancho chile powder and rub under skin of breast, legs, and thighs.

Making sure the turkey is as dry as possible, carefully lower it into the fryer and set a timer for 45 minutes. Check internal temperature. When it’s 160°, let it rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Let rest for 20 minutes, carve and serve.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Monday, November 17, 2008


Sometime last week, while googling for something, I hit on a recipe for laksa, a spicy noodle soup. It has many variants all around Asia with roots in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Burma.

I watched 3 videos of home cooks preparing laksa and downloaded a basic recipe. Once I had it in hand I immediately saw the possibilities for making my own version of it.

I won’t bore you with the details of how I made it my own, except to point out that we are fortunate in Denver to be able to get pretty much any Asia ingredient. So a trip to my favorite store garnered me everything I wanted.

Shrimp laksa
12 oz. fresh Chinese egg noodles
1 14 oz. can low sodium chicken broth
1 13.5 oz. can coconut milk
12 oz. shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 ½ tbsp red curry paste
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ cup sliced pickled mustard leaves
¼ cup Chinese cilantro, chopped
juice of ½ a lime
salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, sliced
vegetable oil

For garnish:
10 red pickled chilis, finely chopped
2 scallions, chopped (both green and white parts)

Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook the noodles according to package directions, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Try to time the soup preparation below so that your noodles are ready at just the right time and, using a spider, transfer them.

Heat your wok over medium high heat. Add 2 tsp oil. When it is very hot, drop in the garlic and stir fry for 30 seconds. Add 1/3 of the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Add the curry and turmeric and stir until fragrant.

Add the remainder of the coconut milk, chicken stock, fish sauce and soy sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the shrimp and watch carefully to see when they are almost opaque. Now add the noodles and cilantro and toss everything. Turn off the heat and add the lime juice.

Serve in heated bowls topped with red chilis and scallions to taste.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Refritos (re-fried beans)

Buy a can of refried beans if you must, but there will be no comparison with the taste of homemade. My method is entirely made up by yours truly and must be considered “Nuevo Norte Americano.”

As so often happens with me, the inspiration for something comes from ingredients that are hanging around in the pantry, the fridge, or the freezer. In this case it was half a bag (about 1 ½ cups) of frozen black-eyed peas (which are actually beans), and some thin-cut top sirloin steaks which cried out for a good flattening and preparation as milanesa, breaded and fried thin beef as found in practically any Mexican restaurant. Oh, and a third thing: requeson, a Mexican ricotta-like cheese. We had this because Peter had made a Latino-inspired stuffed winter squash a few days ago.

You certainly can make this ahead by a day or two and reheat them while you prepare the milanesa. I’ll include directions for this just in case you want to try both of these together.

Refritos (refried beans)
1 ½ cups (more or less) frozen black-eyed peas
1 14.5 oz can pinto beans, well-rinsed
2 medium size tomatoes, peeled and chopped (canned are ok)
½ red onion, rough chopped
2 or 3 Hatch chiles, skinned and seeded (or substitute jalapenos to taste)
1 or 2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
3/4 cup chicken or beef stock
1/8 cup epazote leaves or cilantro, roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil

In a large sauté pan, cook black-eyed peas according to package directions. Set aside and wipe the pan clean.

Heat the olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic over medium heat until softened but not browned, about 6-8 minutes. Place all ingredients in the food processor and whir them up to a rough texture (according to your preference).

Return the mixture to the sauté pan and heat to a low simmer, adding more stock if it seems to thick. Cook, covered, over low heat for 30 minutes after checking and adjusting seasonings. Remove the cover for part of the cooking time if the beans seems to wet.

Thin-cut steak
Egg, 1 per pound of steak
Breadcrumbs, unseasoned are best, but suit yourself
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil

Pound the steaks to no more than ¼” thickness.

In a wide bowl, lightly beat the egg with a tbsp water. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Dip each piece of steak in the egg to coat completely. Dredge in the bread crumbs, pressing them into the steak so that they adhere. Carefully lay the meat on a wire rack over a plate and refrigerate until ready to cook. Season the tops of the steaks with salt and pepper. (You’ll do the other side while cooking them.) If you have an hour it will help the bread crumbs to set up and stick better when you fry the meat.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan until a tiny pinch of bread crumbs immediately sizzles when dropped in.

Cook the steaks in a single layer (in batches as necessary) for exactly 2 minutes per side, starting with the seasoned side up. When you turn them season the cooked side with salt and pepper. Remove to the wire rack which you have now covered with some paper towels. Cover with a sheet of foil and keep warm in the oven if you have to do more than 1 batch.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Oil-poached shrimp, potato, green bean salad

For many years we’ve had a recipe for tuna poached in olive oil (tonno ventresca). Peter prepared it once, so long ago we have no idea when it was. You can buy ventresca tuna in cans at specialty shops. It’s an excellent product. I thought it might be interesting to do it from scratch.

Marcella Hazan, perhaps the doyen of Italian cooking, is so fussy about everything being from scratch that I used to say her ventresca tuna recipe should begin, “First, rent a fishing boat.” I took the easier path of getting ¾ lb. of nice fresh tuna from my local monger. It had some of what I think is called the bloodline, that dark stuff, on the side of it. Monger Bruce told me it was edible although somewhat strong tasting. I chose to cut it off.

Our recipe gave very explicit instructions for how to do this: put the tuna in a pan, cover it with oil, add a garlic clove or two, and bring the oil up to a temperature where it bubbles ever so slightly. After ten minutes remove the pan from the heat and add a couple more things. Then marinate the tuna overnight before constructing the tuna salad.

I didn’t want to have leftovers, and made basically a half recipe. It was the perfect amount for our lunch on Sunday. In order to reuse the oil, I prepared enough potatoes and green beans to make up another lunch, this time using shrimp.

I couldn’t find very good directions for poaching shrimp in oil, so I had to kind of make this up. To be honest, I liked the shrimp salad result better than the tuna. For the tuna, a red wine and oil dressing was called for. It tasted very good, but I replaced the vinegar with lemon juice for the shrimp.

The basics of the recipe are from that one we found in one of our recipe binders (we have more than 650 pages of them). I did some tweaking and consider this to fit in with the intention of my postings: invention. This is well worth trying.

This picture "resembles" my shrimp salad, but I confess to having borrowed it from FoodNetwork. It's fun to have a picture.

Oil-poached shrimp salad
12 oz. shrimp, peeled and deveined
8 oz. green beans
8 small potatoes (1-2” diameter)
olive oil
dried thyme
2 garlic cloves, cut in half
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 bay leaf
zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup chopped parsley
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper

Put the shrimp in a saucepan and just barely cover with oil. Add the garlic. Bring the oil’s temperature up over medium-low heat. If it starts to bubble, turn the heat down. Carefully watch the progress of the shrimp turning pink, tossing them frequently with a fork. At the first sign they are close to being cooked through (about 5-6 minutes), remove the pan from the heat.

Add the lemon zest, thyme and bay leaf to the oil. After 5 minutes remove the shrimp, let cool completely, and refrigerate overnight.

Allow the oil to cool completely, then refrigerate it overnight also.

Place the potatoes in another pot and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil, add a generous amount of salt, and simmer them until fork tender, 20 minutes or so. It will help to cut in half any disproportionately large ones.

While the potatoes cook, trim and wash the green beans. When the potatoes are cooked, remove them to a colander and bring the water back to a full boil. Add a bit more salt and blanch the beans to your preferred crunchiness. For me it was about 9 minutes as the beans were fairly mature.

Drain the beans and rinse them for a minute with cold water, using your sink sprayer attachment. When the beans and potatoes are cool, refrigerate them along with the shrimp and the oil.

Now you could construct and eat this salad the same day you poach the shrimp. It probably would be pretty much as good. But I had the time and did it a day ahead.

To construct the salad:*
Cut the potatoes into ½” pieces. Cut the green beans into ½” pieces. Put them both in a large bowl. Cut the shrimp into similar sized pieces and add to the bowl. Add the parsley and toss to mix.

For the dressing:
Put the lemon juice into a bowl in which you can whisk the ingredients. Add salt and pepper and more dried thyme. If the poaching oil has solidified (as it almost certainly will have), warm it over low heat. Add some of the oil to the dressing bowl. How much? No more than an amount equel in volume to the lemon juice. Whisk the mix together until the oil emulifies, ½ - 1 minute. Taste. If it is too lemony, add a bit more oil. At this point your taste buds must be your guide. Add salt and pepper as necessary.

Pour the dressing over the shrimp, potato, green bean mix and toss to coat. Sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper. Serve and enjoy.

*We were eating our salad on a very chilly day and wanted it to be at least warm. That was accomplished easily by combining the beans and potatoes and microwaving them for 90 seconds. Then, when tossed with the shrimp and dressed the salad was nice and warm.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Reuben sandwich

I managed to resist eating my homemade corned beef before Peter got back from his trip. Yesterday we made Reuben sandwiches. I realized on Tuesday that I needed to get Swiss cheese and sauerkraut, two of the 4 ingredients in a traditional Reuben along with Russian dressing.

Remembering the partial head of napa cabbage in the fridge, I consulted the book “Charcuterie,” a compendium of all things cured. I was dismayed to find that the recipe for sauerkraut called for a 3-week cure. I had 24 hours! So I improvised.

Following the basic plan the book gave me I shredded the cabbage, ending up with only about 2 cups, enough surely for 2 days of Reubens. The cabbage was tossed in a glass bowl with a generous amount of salt and about ½ tsp of caraway seeds. That was it – covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. I stirred it up a couple of times over the next day. When I tasted it it was pleasantly sour and salty. I rinsed it off and dried it as well as possible. It worked very well in the sandwich.

I am not anal retentive enough to want to extend my homemade repertoire into the fields of bread and cheese making. Those items came from the supermarket.

Peter whipped up a very plausible Russian dressing using just mayo and ketchup. The bread was a new Safeway product, packaged panini bread. It wasn’t as good as what the deli counter has sold me a couple of times, but it was fine when grilled.

Reuben sandwiches
2 slices panini bread
4 slices Swiss cheese
generous helping of corned beef
Russian dressing
Homemade sauerkraut
1 tbsp butter

Layer the sandwich thusly so that it will hold together when you flip it. Of course I’m assuming that most folks, like us, don’t have a dedicated panini press – that’s why you gotta turn it.
Russian dressing, half the cheese, corned beef, sauerkraut, the remaining cheese.

Heat a sauté pan over medium heat and rub a stick of butter onto it where the sandwich will go. Place the sandwich in the pan. Cover with a piece of foil and weight it with a teakettle. Cook for 4 minutes. Set the sandwich aside while you rub the pan with more butter. Return it to the pan, turned over, for 3 more minutes weighted. Cut across the sandwich to make 2 portions.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Broiled chicken legs and thighs

I have mentioned at least a couple of times how I pressure cook a chicken to make dog food (with brown rice and frozen vegetables). Each time I do it I save either the breast portion or the legs and thighs for human consumption.
I "borrowed" the above picture from another website. My thanks and apologies. You certainly can leave the legs and thighs attached, but I am in the habit of separating them. I don't think it particularly matters, so suit yourself.

America’s Test Kitchen did a number on what they call “picnic chicken” a few months ago. We tried it 2 or 3 times and, while it was good, it wasn’t great. The following recipe comes under the category “great” in my book. Using all the various techniques I’ve come to espouse in recent years, I made this up yesterday. It may be the best version of chicken I have ever made.

Chicken is hard to screw up. After all, you can grill, poach, roast, or fry it. The only trick is to get it cooked through but not over-cooked. If you use an instant read thermometer you should be golden.

Broiled chicken legs and thighs
2 chicken legs and 2 chicken thighs
Dry rub (recipe below)
2 tbsp salt
2 cups water

Dissolve the salt in the water and put it and the chicken in a freezer bag. Squeeze out as much air as you can, seal, and place the bag in a large bowl and then into the refrigerator for at least an hour, preferably 3 hours.

Remove and rinse the chicken with cold water. Dry the pieces well with paper towels. Place a clean paper towel on a plate and put the chicken on it. Coat the chicken with the dry rub. Put the plate of chicken into the refrigerator uncovered for an hour or two. Remove 45 minutes before cooking and allow to come to room temperature.

Preheat the broiler and place the oven rack on the second location below the heating element. This is important: if you use the top location the chicken will burn. Here’s a hint about broiling in the oven: if you close the oven door the heating element in an electric oven will cycle on and off and you will be baking more than broiling. Every oven I’ve ever had has a position for the door which leaves it open a few inches. The purpose for this door setting is clearly for broiling. With the oven door ajar the heating element will remain on throughout the cooking time. It has been years since I've had a gas oven (although I would prefer to have one), so I'm not sure if the gas broiler element will cycle off if the door is closed. If you don't know about your gas oven, do a test run.

Put the chicken on a wire rack on a raised-sided baking sheet. Place under the broiler. Broil for 5 minutes and then rotate the pan 180°. Broil 5 more minutes and then turn the chicken pieces over. Broil for 5 minutes and turn your oven to “bake” and set the temperature to 350°. Close the oven door and allow to continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Check the internal temperature. If it has reached 160° remove it from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. If it’s not quite there, just leave it in the oven for a few more minutes with the oven turned off.

Dry rub
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp dried parsley flakes
1 ½ tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp ground white or black pepper
PLEASE NOTE: do not add salt to the chicken after brining.

Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Monday, November 3, 2008

Classic cassoulet

“Cassoulet is a rich, slow-cooked bean stew or casserole originating in the southwest of France, containing meat (typically pork sausages, pork, goose, duck and sometimes mutton, and pork skin. The dish is named after the cassole, the distinctive deep round earthenware pot with slanting sides in which cassoulet is ideally cooked.”

The above is courtesy of wikipedia, as is the picture.

Peter went out of town yesterday and I made myself a double helping of cassoulet, according to my own plan, though influenced by a published recipe. Good golly was it satisfying!

I may have mentioned the other day that I had some pork cuttings I cured in the same solution one uses to make corned beef. It essentially turned out to be like ham. Instead of using fatback or some other pork cut for my cassoulet I used my homemade product. If I hadn’t had it, I would have simply used bacon.

For the purposes of the recipe below I have doubled what I made yesterday. It would be enough to serve 4, or 2 meals for 2 people. There seemed to be little purpose to going to all this trouble (mostly just time cooking) for a single serving.

I will make this for Peter just as soon as the weather chills down again. As for me, I couldn’t have enjoyed it more than I did even in spite of the outside evening temp being about 60°.

For the beans I used the remains of a package of frozen black-eyed peas. Use fresh dried beans if you wish, but it just makes the prep more laborious. The sausages I chose were a brat-like Italian-style link sausage.

4 strips thick-cut bacon
4 sausages, your favorite kind
1 medium onion, quartered
2 medium carrots, cut into 1” pieces
3 cloves garlic, sliced thick
2 red-skin potatoes, quartered, skins left on
1 qt. chicken stock
1 lb. frozen black-eyed peas
1 14 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
salt and pepper
bouquet garni (1 sprig parsley, 1 stalk celery, 1 sprig thyme, bay leaf, tied together in a bundle)
½ cup fresh bread crumbs

In a cast iron pot, render bacon. Remove and set aside.

Brown the sausages in the bacon faat. Remove and set aside.

When you quarter the onion, just trim the visible roots, trim the top, but leave the thick root-end part on so that it will hold the quarters together. This is largely a presentation thing, so if you want slice the onions in thick pieces.

Add the carrots and onion and cook over moderate heat, turning the onion pieces occasionally, until they begin to caramelize, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add, potatoes, the bouquet garni, and bacon. Add just enough stock to come up to the level of the vegetables and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the casserole and gently simmer over low heat for 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally. Add the frozen black-eyed peas and sausage after 45 minutes, increasing the heat briefly to get back to a simmer.

Bring the tomatoes to a simmer in a saucepan and preheat the oven to 325°.

Stir the tomatoes into the casserole and sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Add more broth if necessary. It probably won’t be if you use the tomatoes with their juice. Bake the cassoulet for 1 hour longer, removing the lid for the final 30 minutes. It is done when the bread crumb topping is well-browned. Remove from the oven, discard the bouquet garni, check the seasonings, and allow to rest, covered, for 20 minutes before serving.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The laws of slaw

I love wikipedia, don’t you? The citation below will give you more information than you ever thought available about coleslaw.

"Coleslaw (or cole slaw) is a salad consisting primarily of shredded raw cabbage. It can also include shredded carrots.

There are many variations of the recipe which include the addition of other ingredients, such as red cabbage, grated cheese, pineapple, or apple. It is usually mixed with a dressing which traditionally consists of vegetable oil and vinegar or a vinaigrette. In the U.S. coleslaw often contains mayonnaise (or its substitutes); although many regional variations exist, and recipes incorporating prepared mustard are also common.
A variety of seasonings may be added. The dressing is usually allowed to settle on the blended ingredients for several hours before being served. The cabbage may come in finely minced pieces, shredded strips, or small squares.

Coleslaw is generally eaten as a side dish with foods such as barbecue, French fries, and other fried foods; notably, fried catfish in the southern U.S. Also, in this region, it is common as a sandwich ingredient, often placed on barbecue sandwiches, and on hamburgers and hot dogs along with chili and hot mustard. It is sometimes used as an ingredient in the Reuben sandwich. A variant with vinegar and oil is often served with pizza in Sweden. It is common for West Virginians to place it on hot dogs with chili, yellow mustard, and chopped onion.[1]

"Asian" coleslaws are also popular in the U.S. and usually contain all the typical ingredients plus dry noodles or almonds and no mayonnaise.

Coleslaw was probably consumed, in its earliest form, in the times of the ancient Romans.[2] Since then, it has been adopted in many countries, including (but not limited to) the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Belgium, and Spain. However, the mayonnaise variety of coleslaw could not have arisen until the 18th century as mayonnaise was not yet invented. The term, "cole slaw", arose in the 18th century as a partial translation from the Dutch term "koolsla", a shortening of "koolsalade", which means "cabbage salad". It was commonly called cold slaw in Britain until the 1860s when "cole" (meaning cabbage) was revived. "Cole" originates from the Latin, colis, meaning "cabbage", and is the origin of the Dutch word as well. In addition to calling it "coleslaw," U.S. Southerners also refer to it as "slaw." In Arabic it is called 'Salatit Al Malfooof' سلطة الملفوف meaning the cabbage salad. Today, coleslaw generally refers to the variation of the recipe with a mayonnaise-based dressing on the shredded cabbage and other vegetables."

If you use wikipedia you''ll understand the meaning of the blue highlights. Ignore them, I don't know how to get rid of them!

The reason for my diversion into wikipedia slaw: it’s the consequence of an improvisation I executed when making sandwiches for lunch today, and is a further demonstration of what to do when you meal is figuratively at the goal line and your best running back and pass receiver both had to hit the john at the same time.

I had no mayonnaise!

Later today I found that I had bought a jar the other day and it had slipped out of the grocery bag in my trunk.

Here’s what I did have: apple cider vinegar, napa cabbage, horseradish, mustard, yogurt, salt and pepper – everything I needed to get into the end zone.

Do yourself a favor and a mental exercise as to what you could have done with on-hand ingredients. Let’s say you have lettuce but no horseradish. Not a problem. Let’s say you have vinegar but it’s not cider. Use another kind but remember that cider vinegar is a little sweeter than white, red wine vinegar will give an entirely different taste, and Japanese vinegar will do pretty much the same thing as the cider.

Sorry if this seems didactic, but the central purpose of this blog for me is to share imaginings, communicate inspirations, and leave a tad more information in the world than when I found it.

Coleslaw without mayo
thinly slice napa cabbage, about 1 cup tightly packed
1 tbsp prepared horseradish
½ tbsp mustard
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper
1/8 cup yogurt (an herbed sauce left from several days ago, but plain would be fine)

Toss all this stuff together and taste for seasoning. Ideally this would sit and allow the cabbage to wilt a bit for, say, an hour. I didn’t have any time for that.

It went very nicely with a kielbasa sandwich and a chicken cutlet sandwich (to which we added some sliced avocado). We assembled the sandwiches, cut them in half, and each got some of each.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

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