Cooking My First Thanksgiving Turkey

Sorry about the lack of posts here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen lately, I tried getting a few posts in the works before taking off for Ohio for Thanksgiving, but the end of the week was pretty empty. But, never fear, I’ve got plenty of posts in the works including this one which I didn’t even have planned!

I went into this Thanksgiving thinking I wasn’t going to be cooking anything, which was kind of a bummer because I like cooking and I like contributing. Traveling 10 hours, though, doesn’t leave you a ton of time to make something. But then, on Thanksgiving morning, while we watched the Macy’s parade, my mom asked if I’d be interested in handling the turkey. I read through the Martha Stewart recipe and it seemed simple enough, so I gladly volunteered. I don’t have a lot of the specifics about the ingredients and what not because I didn’t mark the page in the cookbook and I didn’t take a ton of pictures, but the process was pretty simple.

First and most importantly, I made a timeline at mom’s suggestion. I counted out how many hours the whole thing was supposed to take and then counted back from a possible eating time of 5:30PM and plotted it out. I kept my watch on my arm most of the day and the timeline near the oven, so I wound up not having any trouble. I even got to run out and play football with my dad, uncles and cousins which was a lot of fun.

So, here’s the basics. First I washed the bird with cold water and let him sit for about an hour and forty five minutes. In that time, I mixed together a big chunk of butter and a bottle of wine. This was for basting throughout the day. It also served as a soaking dish for a four layer, 17-inch square of cheese cloth that would eventually go on the bird. At the designated time, I got the oven temperature up to 450, rubbed the bird down with butter, added salt and pepper and draped the cheese cloth over the body before popping him into the oven for 30 minutes.

A half hour later I dropped the temperature down to 350, basted and was on a baste-every-30-minutes routine for the next two and a half hours. At that point, I removed the cheese cloth, turned the turkey around in the oven for another hour and it was good to be taken out by the designated time. I’m actually not that big of a turkey fan, but everyone said it was a great turkey which either meant I did a good job or my relatives are really nice.

I’ve got to say, I’ve heard some horror stories about cooking turkeys, but this method turned out to be fairly simple and produced great results. However, I completely understand how hectic it would have been had I been in charge of everything. The only other thing I was in charge of was making the gravy which I will write more about tomorrow (it involves giblets!). If I ever do a whole Thanksgiving on my own, I think I’ll have to bust out the big three-foot wipe board to keep track of everything. Thanks again to Mom for giving me the opportunity to try something new and my family for not being too scared to eat the bird!

Cooking Beef Stroganoff

Oh man, you guys, I LOVE Beef Stroganoff. My mom used to make it–this exact recipe if I’m not mistaken–and I always looked forward to it. Anything that combines beef, sour cream, mushrooms and gravy is aces in my book. For the most part, I followed Betty Crocker’s recipe, though I went with Round Eye steak for the beef and a medley of baby bella, shitake and oyster mushrooms to kick things up a bit. I also had to use some of the broth from the Tomato & Beef Soup I made yesterday because I originally intended to cook something else on Tuesday night, but I hadn’t realized that took several hours to marinate. I had planned on making beef broth, but that would have taken several hours and I had just gotten back from the grocery store and it was five. So, I scooped out and strained the broth from that soup and put it to good use in my Beef Stroganoff.

Aside from that, this recipe is cake, though it does take a bit of time between cutting up all those mushrooms (I will not dice them up so much next time, I like bigger pieces), onions and beef. Anyway, I got a pot of water boiling for the egg noodles (that’s how Mom made them and my wife and I both prefer) while I got to chopping. After starting with the beef, I got two tablespoons of butter into a pan and got cooking. I then put the ketchup, salt and garlic together in a dish and dumped that in when appropriate along with most of the beef broth.

That simmered for ten minutes before adding the mushrooms and onions. While those cooked, I did as the recipe said and combined a small amount of the broth with four in a container with a lid and shook. I was surprised to see how quickly it turned into a paste (only took a shake or two, really). That got stirred in followed by the sour cream and then everything was served over the noodles.

I loved how this dish turned out and it proved something my mom always said, that the basic Betty Crocker Cookbook is a must have. I like it because it gives you so many recipe building blocks that you can experiment with as you grow as a cook. I honestly don’t know if Eye Round steak was a good choice for my beef selection or not (still need to do more meat research), but trying it out was fun and tasted great. Again, you can not go wrong with beef, gravy, sour cream and mushrooms. I could eat this every week, but I think I’d gain 300 pounds.

Food TV: The Layover Series Premiere

I don’t believe my appreciation of Anthony Bourdain is any surprise to regular readers of his blog. I love his show No Reservations, I love his autobiography Kitchen Confidential, I liked the Fox comedy based on said memoirs and I’ve enjoyed reading through his Les Halles Cookbook. So, of course, I was excited to realize today that his new Travel Channel show The Layover premiered tonight at 9:00PM. Unlike No Reservations, which is more like a travel show with food as the basis, The Layover is a food show based in places to travel to. But, to differentiate things even more, Bourdain only has a short amount of time to get around, which actually counts down as the episode carries on.

The first episode was based in Singapore, an interesting choice that showed off the new format well. Not only are there a variety of different kinds of cuisine in the country, it’s also relatively small, which lent itself well to the concept. The purpose of The Layover is to really show you where to go when you’re in a place and don’t have a ton of time. It has a much more travel guide feel to it than No Reservations as Bourdain not only lists additional places and dishes to check out, but also shares screen time with locals and ex-pats discussing their favorite places to eat and visit.

There are plenty of other little differences between The Layover and No Reservations–including showing multiple scenes at once on screen in various panels to show even more of the place, making it feel like you’re trying to cram in as much as possible–but at the end of the day, if you like Bourdain’s main show, you’ll like this one. I did. And, if you’re left not wanting to book tickets for Singapore immediately, you probably shouldn’t bother watching future episodes.

Cooking Tomato & Beef Soup

With the weather turning colder, I find it comforting to have at least one soup recipe on the menu per week. Last week I decided on Tomato & Beef Soup from The Ultimate Soup Bible (page 343) because it was simple and didn’t require a lot of extra ingredients. Plus, it included at least one cooking method I had never used before. After cutting up the beef in strips, I put them in a pan and added a cup or two of boiled water straight out of the hot pot. As the recipe called for, I let the water cook the meat for two minutes, then drained and set aside. Pretty cool.

From there, everything else was pretty simple. I put two boxes of beef stock (it wouldn’t be until later that I actually made my own, but that post is coming, I promise) in a pot and started warming. I went with more of just about everything than the recipe called for because I didn’t want to have a lot of leftover ingredients. As such, I also used a full tiny can of tomato paste and seven tomatoes. The rest I eyed, but usually went with more than written.

You add the chopped tomatoes and some sugar, boil, then simmer for two minutes. After that mix cornstarch and cold water, add that and stir. Then you beat an egg white (or two in my case) and pour that in while stirring (not easy to do while trying to photograph the steps). I’ve done this with a few other recipes, but I always like how quickly the eggs cook when added to the hot soup. Reminds me of a much more appetizing version of the Cement Mixer shot I was given on my 21st birthday (for the uninitiated, you take a shot of Khalua or Bailey’s, don’t swallow and then add a shot of lime juice, it curdles in your mouth, a trick played on young whippersnappers who will take any shot without a thought).

I made a few other alterations to the recipe, but nothing huge. It called for sesame oil to be poured over each bowl, but it turned out that we didn’t have any, so I added some low sodium soy sauce along with some rice vinegar. I know they’re not the same, but they added some interesting flavors. The recipe also called for scallions to be added on top, but I chopped a bunch up and just put them right in the soup. If it tastes good on top, it must taste good in, right?

The overall flavor of this dish was interesting and a little difficult to get used to. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad by any means, but my wife and I both agreed that an Asian soup with tomatoes was not something we were used to. Of course, neither of us are experts in that field, but I also think that my additions to the recipe might have made the overall flavor fit more firmly into that section of our mental flavor libraries. Like I said, I liked it and enjoyed having it for lunch the next few days, especially with that loaf of garlic bread I picked up at the grocery store.

Turning Anne Burrell’s Braised Chicken with Tomatillos and Jalapenos Into Soup

As I said the other day, I made Anne Burrell’s Braised Chicken with Tomatillos and Jalapeno, but my wife wasn’t super into it and I wasn’t hungry, so I decided to just turn it into soup. It was actually super easy. I pulled the braised chicken out of the broth, added the rest of the chicken stock I had and added some celery (just because I had it). As the broth cooked, I pulled the meat off of the chicken, ripping it up into smaller pieces. Once that I was done, I popped the chicken in, tasted for salt and pepper and cooked down. It wound up being super, super tasty. I even added in some of the lime sour cream that’s also part of the original recipe to give it even more of a citrusy kick. I highly recommend this change to the recipe.

Cooking Anne Burrell’s Braised Chicken with Tomatillos and Jalapenos

I don’t watch a lot of actual cooking shows on Food Network, but I do like checking out Anne Burrell’s show when I stumble upon it. I like her because I know she’s legit, not only being a bad ass chef in her own right, but also because she was Mario Batali’s sous chef on Iron Chef America. I’ve cooked a few things I’ve either seen on or on her show Secrets Of A Restaurant Chef. I stumbled upon her recipe for Braised Chicken with Tomatillos and Jalapenos the other day before heading to the grocery store for the first time after being sick. I liked the recipe because it was kind of involved and really wanted to jump in. I’m also a fan of the lime and tomatillo flavors involved.

I still haven’t made my own stock yet (this week hopefully!), so I went with store bought. That was really the only change I made to the recipe. Actually, now that I think about it, I couldn’t find a Spanish onion either, so I went with a yellow one. There might have been a lot of chopping and several different steps, but overall the recipe was really easy to follow. I also liked that you could do one part of the recipe and then move over and do something else, like putting the super simple and really tasty lime sour cream together.

This is usually the part of the post when I would talk about how the food tasted, but I didn’t actually eat any of it. I hadn’t eaten lunch that day, was feeling light headed and picked up a Whopper from Burger King on my way home. Those guys are bigger than I expected, so I was full by the time I finished cooking. My wife tried it and wasn’t a huge fan because of the chicken being on the bone and the fact that the sauce was really watery (probably should have boiled it down more). With so much extra liquid and chicken, I figured I’d turn the whole thing into a soup, but that’s a post for another day!

Trying The McRib

I know I spend a lot of time posting on this blog about trying out new recipes and eating at local restaurants, but don’t be mistaken, I love me some fast food. I try not to eat too much of it because it’d make me even fatter, but I don’t consider myself above fast food by any means.

Last week, I was knocked out of the kitchen thanks to a wicked head cold, so I didn’t do much cooking. One night my wife called and asked if I wanted her to just pick food up, through sniffles and sneezes I said sure. She suggested McDonalds and I agreed, adding that she should pick up a McRib so we could try it.

Turns out, neither of us had ever had one. I don’t really know why I never made my way to a McDonalds during the McRib’s reign, but I just didn’t. Maybe it’s because it always sounded a little funky: a ribless rib sandwich. There was also a time when I wasn’t very high on ribs after a few bad run ins.

Anyway, last week I finally tried one and you know what? I don’t see what all the fuss is about. My wife took the first bite and then handed it back to me immediately. She didn’t like the texture of the meat. It didn’t bother me so much, but I wasn’t a huge fan. It’s got a kind of meatloaf texture, but unlike good meatloaf, it’s all uniform. What got to me, though, was the general lack of flavor. I didn’t taste much in the way of that shaped, uniform meat. I also didn’t get much flavor from the barbecue sauce they used. The stand-out flavors were really the pickle and the onion.

What do you guys think? Any McRib fans out there? Am I missing something? Did I get a bad one? It’s not like I’d never try a McRib again, but if I’m going to eat fast food, I want to eat something I really like, like a Big Mac or pretty much anything at Arby’s, I don’t want “enh.”

Bonus Food Pics: Stacon Stein Burrito

20111112-133939.jpgMy wife and I had the pleasure of hitting up Fiddlestix in Cornwall yesterday. As usual, we went with specials. She got fish tacos which I tasted and were awesome. I got the Stacon Stein, a burrito (really more of a wrap) packed with steak, bacon, carmelized onions, mushrooms and bleu cheese. Unfortunately, they were out of bacon, which I think threw the flavors off balance. The bleu cheese was really strong and kind of took over. Mind you, this wasn’t bad by any means, just a little overpowering. I think the saltiness of the bacon might have helped balance things out. Still, even a slightly off dish at Fiddlestix is better than a good one at most places.

Me & My Bagel Guy

Things have gotten a little awkward at my local–and preferred–bagel shop. It all goes back to almost a year ago (maybe longer at this point, actually, now that I think about it). Anyway, it was around the time I had been laid off from my magazine editor job. I wasn’t sure what the heck I was going to do. I had worked out a few freelance gigs, but didn’t feel secure. Heck, I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel secure as a freelancer, but that’s another story.

One day, I went in to the bagel shop to get lunch. I ordered hard salami, cream cheese and mustard on a bagel. The guy working on my sandwich said something about it being an unusual choice. I smiled and said that I had worked in a bagel place back home for years, trying all kinds of different combinations. The truth is that I liked salami and mustard sandwiches and like cream cheese, so they made a great combination.

Anyway, the guy asks me about where I used to work and I tell him I used to work behind the counter, slicing and making sandwiches, that kind of thing. He mentioned that he was looking for someone to come in and help out when things got hectic or someone called off. I said it was something I’d be interested in and left without leaving any contact information. The truth is that I think there’s a weird kind of zen-ness working behind the counter of a bagel shop/deli and would have probably enjoyed trying my hand at it again, but I also wasn’t sure if I wanted to take that step in my career. The next time I went in, he was there, we talked again and I left my number.

I never heard from the guy. It really didn’t bother me. By then I’d probably gotten and lost a number of writing gigs and my wife and I were talking about having a baby. I’ve had legit job interviews that raised my hopes before being crushed. This was nothing. A simple conversation spawned by a sandwich. No big deal.

Or at least it wasn’t until I went back into the bagel shop one day and the guy was there. I didn’t mention anything, perfectly fine leaving it in the past. Then he brought it up, saying something about calling or whatever. I said it was okay, but just wanted my food and to head home. It became awkward after that. Like what I imagine it’s like seeing a person you broke up with in college or being stuck in a class with them. You just want to put it behind you and move on but every now and then you catch a stray glance (or think you do) and wonder what the other person’s thinking.

Of course, it seems like he’s there every single time I go in. In fact, just this weekend, I went to grab some breakfast for the wife and me and out of a line of people and a half dozen employees, I wound up with this guy. We exchanged looks, trying to measure one another up. Was he going to mention the job? Was he wondering if I was pissed? Was I going to ask about the job? It can be emotionally taxing and who needs that? I just want some damn bagels with green olive cream cheese.

I wrote the above back in August and haven’t really been back in a while, but I did go in today. Thankfully I got a different guy, but the one I had talked to was there. I think we might be past our awkward phase, or at the very least things have gotten less so. I wonder how much of this weirdness just lives in my head and if that guy even remembers talking. Does my face just seem oddly familiar or does my number hang in his office haunting him with what could have been? Oddly this is not the most wrapped up I’ve been in a bagel place or it’s employees, but more on that to come.

Cooking Lima Bean, Sun-Dried Tomato & Pesto Soup

Do you ever make a recipe that’s so simple and yet so good you wonder why everyone doesn’t make it all the time? That’s how I felt after making the Lima Bean, Sun-Dried Tomato & Pesto Soup recipe from The Ultimate Soup Bible (page 210). By the way, if you follow that link you’ll see that the book is selling for $250, which is bonkers because we got ours at Barnes & Noble for a couple bucks. Not sure why it’s so pricey.

Anyway, the recipe is crazy simple. You basically boil 56 ounces of strained lima beans, which are apparently also known as butter beans (had to look that one up on my phone because I was having zero luck finding lima beans at the grocery store). Once those are boiled you add in sun-dried tomato paste and pesto, boil, blend some up and then combine. There you go.

I also couldn’t find 28oz cans, so I went with four 15.5 ouncers. I also couldn’t find actual sun-dried tomato paste, so I got a small jar of them in oil and blended them up in the Magic Bullet. I guess that’s the same as tomato paste, right? We also didn’t have any pesto lying around from back when we had basil, so I bought a jar.

Man, oh man, this was great stuff. All those flavors combined so well and tasted so good together. It wasn’t like tasting something brand new, but more like tasting a brand new combo that makes all kinds of sense and is therefore awesome. My wife was actually pretty bummed out when I told her we were having a lima bean-based soup because she hates them. But, I convinced her to give it a shot and she really, really liked the soup. I will definitely be adding this one to regular rotation and perusing this book for more recipes to see if it’s worth that crazy-high price tag some people are selling it for!