Thanksgiving 2008

27 11 2008

I don’t know why I do the whole shebang for the two of us…guess it’s because I love to cook, and this is an excuse to spend a couple of days playing with our food.  I think I’ve cooked a turkey almost every way imaginable, with the exception of deep frying.  I’d love to taste one done that way.  I’ll bring anything you like if you invite me!  I’ve cooked it overnight in a paper bag, upside down, draped in cheesecloth soaked in butter…tented with foil, and so on and so on.  For the past 5 years I’ve been brining my birds.  In the past few years the salt water has been replaced with a brining solution.  The first time, it was a purchased mix. These days, it’s our own concoction, and the one this year…oh my!

This year we used 1 cup of salt to each gallon of water, with 1/2 cup of sugar added to smooth it out.  Heat that solution to dissolve the sugar and salt, and add in….2 Tbsp. pickling spice, 1 Tbsp. juniper berries, 1 Tbsp. peppercorns, 1/2 an onion – sliced, a whole head of garlic – cut in half, 2 bay leaves, 2 large springs of rosemary, 2 springs of thyme, a few sage leaves-sliced, 1 orange-thickly sliced, a bouquet garni, and a stalk of celery-sliced.  Sprinkle on a generous dose of poultry seasoning just in case we left anything out, and bring just to a boil.  Turn off the heat and allow to cool.  Soak turkey at least 24 hours.  Roast, breast side down for 30 minutes at 425º, reduce heat to 300º and flip bird over. Roast until done.  We lifted the skin and seasoned the meat with poultry seasoning and a few pats of butter.  There was a big piece of fat in the body cavity, and it went up under the skin too.

Errors…well…I tried to keep the bottom of the pan moist, as it was full of carrots, garlic, onion, and so on and so forth…that didn’t work out as well as I would have liked. The turkey cooked so long that the veggies went way beyond carmelized, to charcoalized.  The fat had incredible flavor, but we couldn’t use the pan drippings.  Next year…add veggies at 140º.  Also, don’t reheat the brussel sprouts for the same amount of time as the rolls.  Add them half way through.  Although they were really dark roasted, they were still good, because they weren’t burned, just super concentrated in flavor.

Good things…mashed sweet potatoes thrive and sparkle with flavor if you add just a wee bit of balsamic vinegar.  Go figure.  A tiny bit of chicken demi-glace can intensify the flavor of the gravy.  We really liked the flavor of the meat with this brine recipe.  Not only did it smell heavenly at all stages, it gave the turkey a lot of flavor. The breast meat was very moist when I cut into it.

Everything came out just fine.  As soon as Turkey-Lurkey cools down, I’ll strip the carcass and start our annual batch of turkey something soup.  I’m just too stuffed right now.  Cleaning the carcass means I’ll end up eating at least a few bites…I can’t eat a few bites of anything yet.  And oh, I want to!


Gratin Dauphinois

22 11 2008

I’m an elementary school secretary.  I started my school working career in the cafeteria though.  So, I often find myself in the middle of anything concerning food.  It works for me.  It helps me get to know all the moms and dads and which children belong with which adults.  And, it can be fun.  This week was no exception.  Our Leadership Society was planning their annual “feast” and first etiquette lesson: Dining out.

A little about the Leadership Society… Our district is low income, many with single parent families, or split families.  Our Leadership Society offers students an opportunity to raise the bar…to get to know a few more manners, ways of behaving that will help them get farther and be more successful in life in general.  The students are required to maintain certain grade and behavior standards.  They are required to perform certain elements of service both to the school and the community.  Daily duties include assisting younger students to and from lunch and the school bus.  They’re a great bunch of kids, but many have been troubled in the past.  They have a uniform that sets them apart, and there are special privileges as well. The “dinner” is the first step toward an end of year, culmination dinner…at a 3-4 star restaurant.  There will be several “lessons” along the way to prepare them for what to expect and how to behave.

This year the dinner menu was Caesar salad, roast chicken, potatoes, vegetables and cheesecake for dessert.  When I heard “potatoes” I immediately asked how they’d be done.  The plan was mashed, because how else would they be served other than baked…too much food going on there.  Ahhh…but Whisk Wednesday was serving potatoes au gratin this week!  So, I made the potatoes for their dinner.  They came out perfectly browned…

We had them with ham, the kids had their with the previously detailed menu.  The recipe went smoothly for me up to the point of layering them into the dish.  How do you know how they’ll taste if you season in the pan?  Mine needed more salt all the way around.  I wasn’t about to toss out all that milk, so I scooped my potatoes out with a straining spoon, and drained them before I layered them into the pan.

The next morning, I checked on the “banquet” room at school…
Each year a little more is added to the Society’s stash of materials.  Last year they purchased the dinnerware and utensils, this year, tablecloths were added, next year more linens, and perhaps covers for the chair backs.  There are 20 students in the group, we fed 19 of them on this occasion.

Step 1, get them in and seated…get them something to drink, and start taking their orders.  That’s our principal in the back, she’s acting as the manager.
These are 5th graders, and those are NOT clip on ties.   This time it’s easy…there aren’t really choices, but they get a look at what real dinner house menus look like.  The Leadership Society advisers are their servers.  It gives the kids an opportunity to learn as they go.  They’re comfortable with their advisers, so there’s no problem learning how to ask for something, the proper way.
Over in the prep area, a nearby classroom, 19 Caesar salads are prepped with salad and croutons; Parmesan and pepper were available from the servers at the table.  The salads were easy.  The entrees took a little more work!  We had chicken…next year it needs a sauce, gratin dauphinois,
And yes, I got 20 servings out of that pan!  We had a very colorful mixed vegetable…green beans, carrots, red bell peppers, and seasoned with rosemary.  Rolls and butter were on the tables for them.  Dessert was a purchased pumpkin cheesecake (a challenge to turn out 20 servings of) with orange glaze…it was so yummy!  The kids did great!  They at least tasted everything, and most cleaned their plates.

Then it was clean up, and on home to figure out what to have for dinner at our house.  Ah….Remember that leftover milk from the potatoes?  One of our recent soups was Julienne D’Arblay…playing off of that, we had soup…creamy potato and leek soup with julienned prosciutto as a garnish…
I reheated the milk, added a bit more so there would be enough, sliced potatoes as for the gratin and simmered them in the milk until they were tender (again, achieving a browned crust at the bottom of my saucepan, that lifted away in one piece (YAY!).  I sauteed thinly sliced leeks, added a bit of chicken stock and a bay leaf for additional flavor, then pureed the whole lot with an immersion blender.  I also added a bit of blond roux and cream to thicken it slightly more than it came out.  We’ve learned so much, it’s easy to fix little things now.

And now…off to eggs in spinach nests with mornay sauce…or Oeufs Mollets Florentine
Happy Whisking!

Workshop Food

16 11 2008

This was an interesting week for food in my world.  My principal is hosting a Language Arts workshop at our school.  There are 2 days in November and 5 days in December.  She agreed to provide food for the 7 days, and handed that little task off to me.  She emphasized, “This does NOT mean you HAVE to cook.”  Now…what self-respecting food loving cook (with all these fabulous -choke-cough- choices) would abandon people to that kind of food??  So, while I’m not expected to cook, I can at least put together components that add up to a decent spread for these poor folks.  It’s breakfast and lunch for 15 seven times.  That’s not insane.

I shopped hard Thursday night, and got all their tableware together, and goodies for the Friday and Saturday meals.  The breakfast spread was a fresh fruit bowl, with choices of yogurt and granola, orange juice, and coffee.  On Friday they had assorted bagels to toast with cream cheese, herbed cream cheese and orange butter as spreads.  On Saturday, they had assorted muffins as their bread item.  Lunch on Friday was lasagne or cheese manicotti…freshly baked from frozen.  I can’t be everywhere doing everything while I’m running the school from the office! LOL!  In December, they’ll have several casseroles as well, but many of those will be made by me in advance.  They’re having enchiladas one day, and I most certainly will make those.  The group is split fairly evenly, men to women…also meat eaters -v- vegans.  So…whatever they get, there needs to be a vegan alternative with it.  It all works.

No pictures this time.  The spread ended up looking very nice both days. I had to do both Friday and Saturday up on Friday, as I was asked not to work on Saturday.  I sent them to the best local sandwich shop for Saturday’s lunch.  I’ll take stock of what we have left and calculate the December week from that.  And now…back to our regularly scheduled lives… *Ü*

Oysterfest 2008

16 11 2008

My beloved husband loves good raw oysters.  If a menu shows oysters on the half shell as an appetizer, he almost always orders them.  It took the better part of our 26…ummm…27 years together for me to get brave enough to try one of the slimy things.  My first bite was a wee tiny “piggyback” oyster.  While I managed to get it down without gagging, I still wasn’t too sure what the fascination was all about.  And then I fell in love with sushi.  Getting from sushi to raw oysters isn’t too much of a leap, especially if they’re served as “Hot Shot” oyster shooters at the sushi bar.  Then, I booked us for a weekend on Tomales Bay for our anniversary one year, and the rest, as they say, is history.  The same sea-fresh essence I love in sushi exists in fresh oysters as well.  Nirvana!

Tomales Bay isn’t all that far away, but it’s not all that close either.  It’s about 4 hours in good traffic, more in slow Friday night traffic.  Lodging in West Marin county doesn’t come at bargain rates either.  When I started calculating out a weekend on Tomales Bay, and compared that to the price of having the same oysters shipped to me, having them shipped won out.  Another couple ordered with us to split the shipping – and get fresh oysters without the trip – so we ordered several dozen shipped in Overnight.  It was still $100, but no hassle of dragging all the accompaniments all the way to the coast.

I set us up with the usual goodies…shucking knives, lemon, tabasco, horseradish, and a peppermill.  Then, I got creative…  I made a red wine mignonette, a white mignonette, and an Asian mignonette, wasabi, Bloody Mary shooter mix and sushi bar shooter mix, with an Asian slaw on the side, and hot edamame as well.  I had so many little goodies and extra sauce dishes for each of us that I had to come up with a way to fit it all on the coffee table…we improvised.  Sorry…the #10 cans were clean as a whistle, but I didn’t take time to disguise them.  By the time I was to the point of setting the table up, I was READY to eat!!


Yes, that’s newspaper…we had about 5 dozen oysters to shuck, and that seemed like the best tablecloth for that activity!  There was also plastic beneath to protect the coffee table, just in case…  We ordered 2 dozen Kumamoto oysters (very tiny and ever so briny-sweet), 1 dozen Extra Smalls (a little larger, different shell and slightly different flavor), 1 dozen smalls, and 1 dozen Atlantic (think Blue Point).  That proved to be a bit much for one sitting, but it was sure fun!!

Bruce’s favorite way to eat oysters is on the half-shell, with horseradish, Tabasco, pepper and a squeeze of lemon.  Then, we discovered “Hot Shots” at The Rawbar in Chico, CA.  Ponzu, Sriracha and a splash of sake topped with a confetti of green onion tops bathe a small oyster in a deep shot glass.  Kanpai!  This became my favorite, and a close running second for Bruce.  And then, we experienced “Oysterfest 2008”, as we have dubbed it.  The Asian Mignonette sauce was fabulous…but add just a tot of wasabi and WOW…  All of the sauces were good.  Don’t get me wrong.  And it was absolutely joyous to get to try the different sauces side by side.  That was worth the price alone!  Everything meshed perfectly…


In our area, an order of oysters on the half-shell is usually six, and sells for $12-$15.  We had 5 dozen (60 oysters) for $100.  We didn’t save a lot of money, but we did get the chance to do this “our” way.  Heck. We didn’t even fire up the BBQ…and we could have!  I didn’t even touch the bloody mary.  I was way to happy with the other combinations.  I made ponzu for shooters, and mixed them tableside as we wanted them.  the rest was shuck & eat.  Bruce was a sweetie…he shucked some for me…I’m so slow at it.  That seemed fair…since I’d made all the sauces!  We put a bucket between us on the floor for the shells…edamame and oyster.  And we ate….and we ate….and we talked….and we ate….

leftoversAnd this is what was left at the end of the evening.  Poor little things…  There was just no more room, and neither of us wanted to be “sick” of oysters.

We think we’d like to do this again next year.  If we can find another couple that likes to eat oysters, it would be great.  Otherwise, we’ll do fine, just the two of us.  We may figure out how they did those BBQ’s oysters we had once.  Only once.  They were so good though…  Save that for another year.  In the meanwhile, if I’ve gotten you curious at all…here’s the Asian Mignonette recipe ~

Asian Mignonette  **Oh, yum!**

Provided by Eating Well

* Prep:
* Cook:
* Ready in: 5 mins


* 2/3 cup rice vinegar
* 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
* 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
* 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
* 2 scallions, minced

Cooking Instructions

Combine vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil and scallions in a small bowl.

Time flies…

10 11 2008

No, I didn’t drop off the face of the earth, and I sure haven’t stopped cooking, I just haven’t posted in an embarrassingly long period of time.  I haven’t been following Whisk Wednesday too closely either.  I purchased a 15# boneless pork butt and rendered that into chile verde, sausage and other assorted goodies.  I’ve canned tomatillos until my eyes were almost green…  It’s fall, so we’ve started soups again. I started the season with a 15 bean mixture…it was decidedly interesting, but I think I’d like to try some of the more interesting varieties by themselves. Cranberry beans…you don’t see those in CA very frequently…but we do find black turtle beans.

I’m going to try to get back on track…maybe being really busy has something to do with it too…  I know there’s been a LOT going on, and I’m pretty well spent by the time I get home.  We seem to be eating a lot of eggs at the moment as well.  I’m content with eggs benedict or something similar for dinner.  It’s quick, feels a little decadent, and it’s easy.  Having 15 dozen eggs in the fridge doesn’t hurt either.  We have an egg and spinach class coming up, and I’ve already tested it…oooh…yummers!

I’ve got 2 classes to catch up on…deep fried shrimp and (darn…) steak with green peppercorns.  I can do those in one day.  The shrimp looked to me like a fabulous pathway to a shrimp po’boy.  The method of cooking is the same…the bath and breading are just slightly different.  And that sounds like a great lunch.  I’ve got another 2 nights home, so we might have to try the peppercorn steak tonight and the shrimp for early lunch.  Well…early meaning we rarely eat on a normal schedule.

We do have 2 new restaurants in town.  I was excited to hear La Comida was going to be here, until I went there.  Taco Bell is in no danger. They have more menu choices.  This was pretty straight-forward, almost-a-chain “quick” food with a cafeteria atmosphere.  They can’t hold a candle to the various taquerias we already have in town.  We ate there…except for a possible taco-attack, I can’t see the point of eating there again.   The other new place is “The River Steakhouse.”  No comments on that yet…we haven’t been.  We know the owners, as does half the town.  We’ll get there…we usually like to let a new place work out a few bugs before dropping by.

So…that’s enough out of me until I get some kitchen time in.  Did I mention I also have a 61# pumpkin to mess with?  Oy vey!!