Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Squashed for Time

A last minute thought for those who’ve been tasked with bringing a dish to the Thanksgiving feast, you can bring the third iteration of green bean casserole, always a party favorite, or be daring and bring something original – squash. Very likely served in some form or other at the original Thanksgiving bash, squash has been a staple in the Americas since first domesticated around 5000BCE. There are many varieties to choose from, all delicious and yet good for the body as well.

This simple stir fry calls for 2 zucchini, 2 yellow squash, 1 chayote (ties to the valley as the newsies like to say), 1 cup crimini mushrooms, 1 coarsely chopped red bell pepper, 1 small quartered red onion, 1 Tbs chiffonade of fresh basil, ¼ cup unsalted cashew, and 1 TBS olive oil – salt and pepper to taste. If you want to add a twist to this you can add some cubed smoked sausage to the mix as well. Quarter and cube the squash so the pieces are relatively uniform. Heat wok (medium heat) or steep sided pan, add oil, toss in all ingredients and lightly stir fry. I prefer to have the squash crunchy, so there’s no need to fry the life out of it, just heat it through. Squash comes from an Indian word meaning “Green thing eaten raw", so you don’t have to beat it to death. Serve hot out of the wok, or re-warm prior to serving at the party.

This side is quick, easy, serves up to eight and won’t be lost among the humdrum green bean/fried onion crowd on the vegetable table…

Monday, November 19, 2007

Giving them the Bird: Techniques for dealing with small kitchen fires

One can tell by watching the number of nervous breakdowns in turkey flocks that Thanksgiving is almost upon us. There are many ways to prepare the fowl and I have tried a few myself, but settled on the grill as my favorite way to cook the turkey’s goose, so to speak. While this does deprive the house guests of the delicious aroma of cooking turkey, it does impart a smoky tang to the air in the backyard that is tough to resist. I have also found that the turkey seems to cook faster on the grill and if done properly turns out a lot juicier.

If this is your first shot at giving your family the bird, I might suggest Butterball’s site – they cover the basics very well and have been at this a lot longer than I have. The most important thing you will need, aside for the turkey, is a good meat thermometer, unless you really have it in for the in-laws! You don’t want to kill any of your holiday guests and it is important that the bird is served at the correct temperature (165F). Make sure the bird is well rinsed and kept segregated from all other food and food prep surfaces, and hands are washed after turkey contact. These simple steps will allow your guests to sit on the sofa and fall asleep watching football rather than fighting over who gets the bathroom next.

The actual prep for me starts the night before. I prefer using young boneless turkeys, some times labeled “turkey roasts.” The meat packer has done the carving and put the light and dark meat all in one convenient package. After washing the roast, I apply alight coat of mustard. The mustard will impart flavor and help the rub to adhere to the meat. The rub is a combination of onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, hot paprika, celery salt and brown sugar. I use a tablespoon of each except the celery salt (it tends to have a strong flavor and I don’t want a lot of salt so I only use 1tsp) to 1 cup of brown sugar. This is enough to coat three of the roasts. Mix the ingredients, sprinkle a liberal amount of the rub on all meat surfaces, and pat on to each roast you are doing. Wrap the roast in tinfoil and store in the fridge overnight, or at least four hours prior to cooking.

When ready to grill, set the grill up for the indirect method, that is coals on either side of the roast, with a disposable tin pan in the center. After the coals are going, fill the pan with white wine, beer, apple cider, water, or the beverage of your choice, this will help keep things moist and drop hickory or other type of hardwood chunks on the coals. Place your roast on the grids over the pan and close the lid. The roast will take up to two hours – remember to check with a meat thermometer. During the cooking period mop the roast with a mop sauce. I use ¼ cup of brown sugar dissolve din two cups of cider vinegar laced with crushed red peppers.

I’ve been using this method for several years now and have yet to have any complaints. However your bird meets its fate, may the fire extinguisher remain unused, and you and yours all have a happy Thanksgiving!!

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Random Shots

Here I sit typing away having begged some time on my wife’s computer. The whole world comes to a grinding halt when one’s computer dies. I do mourn the passing of the old one, long enough to hit “” and order a fully tricked out new mobo, quad processor, and some ramped up memory to replace the dearly deceased. Newegg is a great source for computer parts, but they let me down this time. After spending hours with the ASUS mobo they sent me, tinkering, making inventive use of words mom told you never to say and a lengthy consultation with an ASUS tech it was determined the board was a bad egg.

I wrapped it all up and sent in back figuring the new one was on its way – as much as I spent I figured Newegg would be happy to get me up and running, but apparently I am the only one feeling the sense of urgency – me and Mrs. Phos who is champing at the bit to play the new game she just downloaded. Aside from the technical frustration, the lack of a magic machine has precluded me blogging to the extent I would like. On the bright side I am getting things done around the house. Trying on old clothes, and cleaning stuff up. As if the loss of my electronic friend wasn’t enough of a blow, fate decided it would be funny if my suit jacket was now more like a vest on me, and the winter coat I had worn for years can’t be zipped – as long as I am in it anyway. I was to depressed to try the pants on.

The one thing keeping me young is my grandson. I found myself once again struggling with polyglot instructions, juggling metal and – plastic parts, the old Tab A slot B routine, assembling a high chair. I really missed that kind of stuff. Add to that the last thing I figured I would be doing at this stage of life is buying a high chair, much less putting one together.

I am currently reading Anthony Bourdain’s book “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly .” I always wanted to be a chef, but as my suit jacket pointed out, my present physical condition and age has put an end to that dream. I could no longer stand on a line doing prep all night long and live to tell the story. That and I have become fairly single minded and any head chef barking orders at me would soon find himself scrambling around the floor searching for his teeth. I will remain a cook and am happy to be one, I can cook for my pleasure to my liking. I know I am a successful cook when the pots and plates are all empty after a meal.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veteran's Day

I remember back to my stint in the first grade, an announcement came over the PA instructing us to stand, face the East, and observe a moment of silence at 1100AM. It was 11 November and though we had no idea what it was about, we were observing Armistice Day. Already a faint echo, the “War to End All Wars” merely set the stage for much larger conflicts. The scars from WWII and the Korean wars were much fresher in the memories of our parents, though along with Armistice Day meant little to a first grader. Indeed though many of our parents had served in WWII and the Korean Conflict, the whole concept was lost on most first graders, as with the pledge of allegiance it was just something we were expected to do and we performed by rote.

Years later and having served myself, the day that eventually become Veteran’s Day took on a special meaning. Perhaps the old adage “Walk a mile in their shoes” fits the situation best, though I didn’t live in the open deprived of basic necessities while fending off enemy attacks. I have seen old newsreels of soldiers fighting in the ETO and Pacific and I don’t know how they did it, can barely fathom the devotion to duty behind their efforts and their personal struggle to just survive. I admire these men and women and hold them as my personal heroes.

We’ve had more conflicts since, Vietnam most notable, and are in two horrible conflicts now. Soldiers, sailors, marines, coast guard, and airmen, active and reserve, give up their families, their civilian careers, and sometimes their lives to protect our country or to enforce our National policies. It is therefore fitting that Armistice Day was changed to recognize all those who serve, selflessly giving of themselves so we may rest easy. My thanks to all those who are serving, have served, and special thanks to the families of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Home Before the Holidays

Been kind of scarce lately, I am not avoiding you nor do I have writer's Block. Probably shouldn't have said that - now I will bring down the curse... At any rate, the main reason for my absence has been a full house. Children, spouses, their dogs and our grandchild are making the place really rock. I can't tell you how nice it is having everyone here and having the house abuzz once again. Even better, now with our son and his family moving to Arizona our family will be contained within the borders of one state - it has been a long time since I could say that.

It has been so very nice having everyone together again. I wish they could all just stay on, but realize they have to get on with their lives, but at least we are close enough that visiting doesn't involve an extended flight or playing the airport game.

Hope you all are having a great week!!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Where’d You Get That Bird?

Where’d You Get That Bird?

Thanksgiving is upon us and except for the Quartermaine’s and their traditional T-Day pizza, most of us lust after Meleagridinae of one variety or another. Most purchase their turkeys from the local market and if one doubts the popularity of the market birds just trying buying a turkey a couple days before the holiday. Most likely you will be joining the Quatermaines for pizza. The young boneless turkeys are a good choice if not wanting to deal with the carcass after, and they grill up very nicely.

Another method of procuring a turkey is to go into the wilds as did our forefathers and seek one out. The first thing to understand about widl turkeys is that they are as different from their barnyard cousins as the hardwoods of central Wisconsin are from the pine stands to the Black Hills. The wild turkey is cunning, stealthy, and has exceptional eye sight. The bird is a master of blending in and has leaned Nature’s unwritten rule, “If you taste good life is short” very well. Many hunters are lucky to just see any sign.

Many years ago I found myself bumping along a frozen logging road with my partner in search of these elusive birds. We found a good spot looking down on an area with scrapes on the ground. The male turkey has only one thing on his mind at this time of year, aside from winding up on someone’s plate - he is keenly interested in making more turkeys. He will mark his territory with scrapes, patches of bare ground made by scratching. Sometimes you can see the trail of his beard, a bunch of bristles growing from the Tom’s chest in the soft dirt. Apparently female turkeys go for men with hairy chests because the size of the beard suggests some primacy amongst the males.

Camouflage is imperative. Fortunately the Air Force had provided me with everything I needed, including the green wool blanket I wrapped myself in. The wind was coming towards us, making the pines dance slowly back and forth and my camouflage efforts were proven when a couple of chickadees landed on the bill of my hat. Turkey hunting would be high on list of hunting styles because a short nap after entering the area isn’t a bad idea. I am always down with a good nap on a cold Fall day. The only sounds around me were the breeze playing in the branches and the nuthatch on the tree next to me scuttling upside down on the trunk looking for food. We had tried a turkey call, but the “sounds like a turkey to me” method of calling leaves something to be desired. Whether we had gotten the call right or the particular group of turkeys crossing below us was having an unlucky day, we caught them in a horrendous crossfire. Gripped by turkey fever it was providence that we downed a Tom. Shooting female is verboten and carries a stiff fine.

I enjoyed the hunt, but that was the first and last time. I now brave the wilds of the market wading through hordes of hungry snowbirds circling the turkey bin at the market. That wild bird was delicious, but if prepared properly the barnyard bumpkin can be just as tasty…