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Turkey Day Trials 2013, Part 2

23 Nov

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Years ago, my mom had an especially funny Kindergarten class.  There was this one boy in particular who looked like he was 5 going on 55, and had the imaginary years of personality to match.  It was at this Thanksgiving time when I was home from college and would volunteer in her classroom, thus starting my love for teaching and education.  I remember sitting in one of the teeny, tiny chairs watching my mom line up her kids to go home for the day.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” as she started to speak, all those little eyeballs grew big and round and stared at her as if she was made of gold and about to pass out candy and puppies, “tomorrow is a special day.  Please turn to the person behind you and say, ‘Tomorrow is the Feast!’”

I watched as 17 little kids whipped their bodies around, almost smacking the next person in line with swinging backpack momentum.  “Tomorrow is the FEAST!”

They were so excited!  So excited in fact, that if everyone turned to the person behind him or her, they were talking to the back of a head, and they didn’t even notice!  The best part being our little boy, happy and jumpy as ever, being last in line, and turning to tell the air behind him that tomorrow is the feast.  He couldn’t have been happier to tell nobody!

I laughed out loud that day, and we still laugh about it every Thanksgiving.

Yesterday was the Kindergarten Thanksgiving Feast at my school.  It is a huge event, and something our school has been doing for years.  While quite a production, it provides food for all of the kids, and their families, in our 5 Kindergarten classes.  While already being stressed about fitting in everything I need to do before the Thanksgiving break, I also offered to roast a turkey.  Sigh!  So rather than freak out (which, Rob will tell you, I kind of did anyway), I decided to chalk it up to Turkey Day Trials.

Usually, for my Turkey Day Trials, I make a roasted turkey breast, mostly to test any glaze, rub, or compound butter I would like to try that year.  Anyone remember the infamous microwave turkey breast of last year?  Anywho, coming home after working all day and getting this turkey in the oven was honestly, something that I needed to not stress about.  I had floors to clean, no time to baste.  I needed laundry done, no time to brine.  This needed to be a no-mess, no-fuss, no-nonsense bird.

So that’s exactly what happened.  No funny mishaps here.  No microwave, no trips to the emergency room.  I stuffed a Meyer lemon in the cavity with rosemary and citrus mint.  I sprinkled the juice from another Meyer lemon on the outside, and roasted the lemon quarters in the pan.  I rubbed the bird with a stick of softened butter, gave it a very healthy dose of s&p, a small shower of ground cardamom, poured some water in the pan, spanked its hiney, and away it went.  Starting the oven at 425, I immediately turned it down to 350.  To remove the basting issue, the bird was covered for the first hour with foil.  After an hour, I removed the foil, turned up the oven again to 425 for about 15 minutes, and then lowered it to 325 for the last hour and a half of cooking.  Wham bam, thank you ma’am, at 155 degrees in the thigh, the bird was out of the oven, covered again with foil, and rested for a whole HOUR (this is because I honestly forgot about it.  My dad had just picked up my mom from the airport, and by this time we were all eating one of our favorite dinners– butternut squash risotto with seared scallops and sage brown butter – all of our chit-chatting left the bird resting comfortably, and forgotten about).

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When I finally cut into the bird and prepared it in small bites for small people, it was simply the best turkey I’ve ever made.  It was completely juicy all the way through, with brown skin and a lovely herby, lemony flavor.  We all tasted a bit and Thanksgiving came roaring through the door.

While cleaning up, I asked Rob why he thought this turkey ended up better than the rest.

“Because you didn’t think about it.”  Mr. Pilot Hands might be on to something.

My mom came to Kindergarten with me yesterday to help with the feast.  While I lined up the kids in our room, ready to go fill our bellies and give thanks, with all the parents watching I said,

“Ladies and Gentlemen, turn to the person behind you and say, ‘Today is The Feast!’”

The same excited, kiddo reaction ensued, and my mom just happened to be last in line.  With a huge smile and an audible giggle, she turned to nobody behind her, and excitedly said, “Today is The Feast!”

Enjoy!

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Love and Food Through Email

6 Nov

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For those of you who are married out there, or love the thrill of dating, remember that feeling you got when you’d get an email, text message, or a missed call from that special person with whom you were in smit?  It’s a fun feeling – butterflies, excitement, and an urgency to return the message, but of course not too urgent for fear of looking too eager? (Man, dating was exhausting).  Well, I hate to say it, that feeling does kind of dwindle when you get married.  That is, unless, your husband deploys with the military.

Silver lining, might you assume?  Absolutely.  I completely could drone on and on about how much I miss my husband, and how I got into a slump and didn’t feel like cooking, thus didn’t have much to blog about, and how he wasn’t here to help me assemble the desk, and then help me take the desk back when the drill-holes didn’t line up correctly.  Even when my wonderful dad was visiting for a few weeks, and we had a great time traveling to Atlanta, and he lovingly cut my grass for me (because I won’t touch that machine lest I care to lose a toe), there was still a pinge of longing for my out-at-sea husband.  Yes, I could complain, and maybe even you would understand.  Having a husband in the middle of who-knows-where trying to find who-knows-what can leave a lot to the imagination.  But, it can also bring about a spark.

Every little “bing” of my phone indicating a new email has started to bring about that dating feeling again.  Silly, right?  We’ve even been flirting – imagine!  Over government email, no less.  Hey, I figure, if we can make some government looky-loo smile from our deployment banter, then by all means, read away!  So, as a tip to all you military wives out there, imagine you and your deployed husband are dating again – it will make the time, the emails, and all the longing just go by a bit more smoothly.

There is one thing that came up in our emails this week, reminding me of why we put so much importance on our little home traditions.  Rob and I always have Sunday Night Dinner, and I made a point last Sunday (during a particularly slump-feeling weekend), to make something that I knew Rob would love.  I did, and for the first time in a long time, the cooking felt good, natural, and like there wasn’t something missing.  This is probably because at the exact same time, Rob was trying to recreate Sunday Night Dinner on his boat with his crew.  I read about it Monday morning in his email, and it just made me smile.  For that moment last Sunday night, we were sharing the same thought, feeling, and energy, thus making Sunday Night Dinner feel so less empty with only one at the table (well, two if you count Sig sniffing his way around the dining room).

The meal was simple yet unbelievably good. Making a creamy tomato soup with absolutely NO cream was divine, and made me feel less guilty about indulging. The simply s&p-baked halibut was a cold seawater treat. Atop the delightful combo sprinkled thinly sliced, quick-pickled celery providing a crunch and tang, balancing the subtle creaminess perfectly. Honestly, even as a left-over lunch, the meal was still delicious.

So unbeknownst to us, Rob and I had our Sunday Night Dinner together while being so far away. It clearly would have been better in person, but if anything, it shows us our strength in tradition, love, and the things (and food) we love.

Make this for someone you love – even if it’s just you! Enjoy!

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Creamy Tomato Puree
(makes about 1 quart)

  • 2 ripe beefsteak tomatoes, squeeze-seeded, and diced
  • 3 1-inch thick slices of left-over country bread (or French bread), crusts removed
  • 1 c non-fat milk
  • 2 c water
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 large sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • s&p

With the bread cubes in a mixing bowl, pour over the non-fat milk and add the rosemary sprig. Using your hands, massage, press, and work the bread pieces until saturated with the milk. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and garlic over medium heat. Once fragrant, add the tomatoes and the red pepper flakes, then season with s&p and sauté occasionally until soft.

Squeeze the milk mostly out of the bread, add the bread to the tomatoes, and stir well to combine.  Discard the milk. Add the water, and bring to a boil.

When boiling, turn off the heat. Then using an immersion blender (or spooning into a stand-up blender), puree the mixture until smooth and creamy. Taste for seasoning. Keep over low heat until ready to serve.

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Roasted Halibut
(serves 4)

  • 2 lb halibut filet
  • 2 pinches of salt per side
  • 1 pinch of cracked black pepper per side
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. In a baking dish, prepare the halibut by sprinkling over the salt, pepper, and olive oil. Make sure both sides are coated, and then lay the sprig of fresh rosemary on the top of the filet. The herb will roast and become crispy – a great garnish for the end of the meal.

Roast for 10-12 minutes, or until the fish just starts to flake when probed with a fork.

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Cardamom Pickled Celery
(makes about ¼ pt)

  • 2 stalks celery, cleaned , and finely sliced into ½ moons
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ tsp ground cardamom
  • pinch of s&p

Mix everything together, stirring occasionally, until ready to serve.

To assemble:
In a shallow bowl, spoon out the thick, creamy tomato puree. Then gently place a piece of halibut on top.  Sprinkle over some pickled celery, and a few pieces of the crispy rosemary. Enjoy!

Turkey Day Trials 2012

26 Nov

Some of you may remember the epic meltdown I experienced in the grocery store last year, catalyzed by my lack of prepping and preparedness for the most joyous, calorie-filled day of the year.  It was a mess.  I was a wreck.  Yet, the day turned out as beautifully as ever.  Nonetheless, in wanting to avoid the same feelings that made me retreat into a 5-yr old blubbering pile of mush, I made time to do Turkey Day Trials again this year.

As I had been looking through the many holiday cooking magazines and catalogs (like I tend to do during this time of year… ok, always), I’ve noticed a shift in style and food.  The glossy seductive pages show a comfortable shift from elegant sophistication to rustically casual.  This also happens to be the way I’ve been cooking and entertaining for years.  So as the gourds get funkier shaped, and the stuffing becomes more chunky, in preparing for Thanksgiving, I was basking in the abundant farm-fresh feast of a holiday that was upon us.

For my Turkey Day Trials this year, I made a vegetable pie, smashed Yukon Golds with cabbage and bacon, and a cardamom spiced turkey breast. The veg pie was a wonderful mixture of root veggies and crusty, custardy bread.  The potatoes, laced with rosemary and maple, and dotted with pine nuts, were addictive.  But as most toasting-turkey stories go, halfway through the cooking process, I fretted the worst.  “It’s going to be too dry,” “It’s been cooking too long,” and “Crap, I think it’s over-done,” were constant stress-inducing mantras interlaced with choice four-letter words.

When my friend and I took the dinner to Rob and her boyfriend on duty, I prepared them for the worst – a Christmas Vacation soot of a turkey.  I have the Carving duties to Rob.  Looking at my foul catastrophe would sink my heart.

“Jill?”

“Yeah?”

“Uh, you might want to look at this.”

“I know, I know, it’s bad,” My annoyance was evident.

“No, it’s –“ Rob trailed off.

My eyes popped as I looked down and as pink as a baboon’s butt, my turkey was raw.  Are you kidding me?!  All my over-cooked worry for a raw turkey?  Well, at least it was fixable.  The fatty, turkey skin had a silver lining.

With the hearty veggie pie and sweet and savory potatoes starting to loose their glamour, we did the unthinkable: we nuked the turkey.  Personally, I only use the microwave for late-night, stuff-the-face quick cheesy nachos, and would never dare think to put a beautiful, protein-rich bird in a radioactive hotbox.  But desperate times, a military ward room, and hungry boy stomachs called for desperate measures.

Five magical minutes later, the bird was perfectly cooked.  My cardamom and rosemary rub had infused and flavored the meat with a warming holiday taste, perfect with the simple and very rustic sides.  Considering all the main ingredients were locally produced, our casual pre-Turkey Day dinner was guiltless.

Needless to say, come last Thursday, I did not microwave our 16.8 pound turkey.  But the cardamom rosemary rub definitely made its Thanksgiving Day debut, and I felt completely prepared for a humble, local, rustically casual Thanksgiving Day celebration.  There were no grocery store meltdowns, and all the dishes came out perfectly.  Other standard traditions remained – The Macy’s Day Parade, The Dog Show, lots of libations, second and third helpings, and leftover turkey sandwiches.  Not to mention, lots of thanks for all of it.  Even for the microwave.

Happy Holidays!

(sorry for the lack of pictures – having technical difficulties with camera/computer connections)  :/

Cardamom Rosemary Rub
(can make as much as you wish) 

  • equal parts sugar and salt 
  • 1/4 of the salt/sugar ratio of equal parts ground cardamom and dried rosemary 
  • cracked black pepper, to taste 

Using a mortar and pestle, grind together the sugar, salt, dried rosemary, and cardamom until well combined and rosemary has been broken down considerably.  Add as much cracked pepper to taste (I like quite a bit; I feel it brings out the spice in the cardamom).  

This will be a very fragrant rub, that also goes well with lemon zest.  Rub on poultry, sprinkle on fatty fish (like salmon), or use as a flavoring for bread pudding.  

Enjoy! 

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