This will be picture heavy, as I just got a new camera and I wanted to play with it.
This is a fairly normal day at work – food for M, the brittle diabetic, and food for everyone else. On a sad note, that everyone else is reduce by one, who passed away a couple of weeks ago. I miss him very much.
Let’s start with the arsenal:
That’s the first layer of my knife roll – a vegetable peeler that I know won’t disappear and a Sharpie because I label everything.
My babies. The knife facing left is my meat knife, and I use it more than any other tool I own. The one facing right is my dairy knife and I haven’t used it in months. The steel is in the middle. They’re ten inch blades, which is about the biggest my hands can handle.
Today, I made several puree’d vegetables, mashed potatoes and chicken meatloaf. I also made some non-puree’d vegetables.
I started with the chicken meatloaf since that took the longest to cook. That’s a mixture of spices (parsley, garlic powder, pepper, seasoned salt), oil, minced onions and, of course, ground chicken.
These aren’t the most even cut, I’m sad to say.
The next thing was mashed potatoes. I peeled and cut up about 4lbs of redskin potatoes, and put them into COLD heavily salted water. This is the best way to cook mashed potatoes – it does good things to the starch content.
Then I made the food for my diabetic guy. All of it has to be pureed and measured, none of which looks particularly appetizing, and mostly like this:
This, along with peas and green beans, will be measured into one pound aluminum containers, labeled and frozen. This way the counselors only have to heat it up and serve it to my hug monster.
At this point, the meatloaves were done.
And so were the mashed potatoes.
These are simply potatoes, parsley and onion powder. I’d salted the water heavily enough that I didn’t need to add salt to the dish. That’s right – no fat or milk/milk substitute. They are actually tasty. I took out six half-cups for my guy, and packaged the remainder for everyone else.
The closed aluminum pans are headed for the freezer. The plastic tubs will be used tonight, except for one meatloaf, which was also labeled and frozen. The little container of mixed vegetables is for I, so his counselor can mash them up with a serving of meat loaf and mashed potatoes.
This was the result of three hours work.
While the rest of the US is celebrating Memorial Day, observant Jews will be, well, observing the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost), when the Torah was given to Israel. We’ve been counting the days. Seriously. Every night, we count. I am writing this on the 46th day since Passover.
The holiday starts Saturday night and ends Monday night, which is why Memorial Day isn’t happening for us. It’s also a three day holiday – but in the most inconvenient direction. It’s a lot easier when it’s two days of holiday followed by Shabbat.
So, I’m faced with several challenges. It starts with the fact that my oven’s Shabbat mode doesn’t function correctly. I can get it to stay on, but I can’t change the temperature. I don’t want a 35oF oven on for three hot days. So I want to avoid using the oven at all. In fact, I want to avoid using the stove if I can. This means I need food that can stay cold, or can be reheated easily on an electric warming tray or is best suited to be cooked on top of the stove.
I also need to be concerned with freshness, since everything needs to be cooked, if possible, on Thursday – Friday at the latest, and was purchased TODAY, Wednesday, to be possibly served Monday. And there’s a Shabbat to cook for as well. The other things to be aware of – can’t have dinner until full dark, the custom of eating dairy food, a guest who refuses to eat any animal flesh (including fish) on the first day) (for no reason we can see, actually) and my family coming on Monday. And that I want to have at least one meat meal during the holiday. Dairy meals tend to be calorically dense.
Shabbat will be chicken, store-bought kugel and veg. My standard Shabbat.
Saturday night – quiche and fruit salad. Easy to make, easily reheated, delicious. Simple.
Sunday lunch (guests) – lasagna and salad. They’re bringing ice cream cake for dessert.
Sunday dinner – chicken filet, potato salad (store bought), vegetable. Top of the stove, fast, easy.
Monday lunch – baked salmon, yogurt-dill sauce, green salad, angel hair pasta salad.
I just cooked the salmon, and I’m going to freeze it, to thaw out on Sunday night. The chicken filet will be frozen and thawed over Shabbat and Sunday to be cooked fresh. Everything else will be cooked Thursday night or Friday. Or purchased.
I have never made this particular dish before, but as it’s a variation on the tomato sauce/cheese/pasta theme, it didn’t strike me as anything particularly difficult. Plus I’d watched Cook’s Country (Cook’s Magazine) on Sunday making this dish, albeit using a recipe I wouldn’t touch (beef in the sauce! Beef in the cheese! Not in my house!) AND I’d just purchased a new toy AND I had some of the ingredients in my fridge already. And, you know. Meatless Monday. Although meat would probably have less fat and cholesterol.
The Cook’s Country people did something that looked like fun – instead of stuffing the filling into precooked manicotti cylinders, they soaked no-boil lasagna noodles in hot water and rolled them around it. So I bought some of them.
I made my basic pasta sauce – diced onion, red pepper, garlic, oregano, bay leaves, vinegar and tomato paste, plus water to make it work. I normally leave it chunky, which I think works well for both a spaghetti sauce (for which I usually add mushrooms and meat) and for a lasagna/baked ziti sauce (for which I will add spinach and maybe zucchini.) For that matter, it’s a decent base for East Coast style chili, with beans and spices.
I avoid canned and jarred sauces as much as I possibly can, although small cans of tomato sauce have their uses.
For this dish, I thought a smooth sauce would work better. AND I have a new toy. I just got a stick blender with a food chopper attachment. I have a regular blender. Somewhere. It was a wedding present. It’s still in the original box, with the original string around it. I got married over 21 years ago. Yeah.
But I wanted to play, and thought this would work well and be fun. And I was right on both counts. The sauce came out like velvet (I did remove the bay leaves) and the attachment was both fun and easy enough to clean.
I made the filling out of full-fat ricotta cheese leftover from a pasta dish I made last week, plus some new fatfree ricotta, plus an egg, fresh minced garlic, oregano, pepper and finely shredded cheddar and mozzarella mixture that my husband bought in case I wanted to make an omelet for lunch yesterday. (I made salami and eggs instead.)
Layer of my lovely sauce on the bottom of the pan, then I rolled the nicely flexible lasagna around the filling and made five (that’s when the filling ran out) manicotti. I poured the rest of the sauce over that, and covered the top with more cheese. It’s in the oven now, cooking slowly. I’m serving it with salad.
One of the lovely things about the place where I work is chatting with the counselors and managers as I cook – especially the ones who cook. Which, yes, tend to be the women. But they’re Indian and Russian and South American and Puerto Rican and they share their favorite foods and cooking techniques.
Example – if you’re making a curry, cook the curry powder in oil first, and then add water to open it up. It makes an enormous difference.
Last week, while I was making beef stew, L, whose family is from Puerto Rico, told me she loved making it herself. “But I make it Spanish style.”
I, of course, asked her how to make it Spanish style. And she told me. And the first thing she told me about was sofrito. Sofrito is the basis for much of Latin American cooking. It’s a mixture of aromatics, the equivalent of the carrots onions celery of French mirepoix or the Cajun trinity of onions celery green pepper, or the Chinese garlic scallion ginger. It varies very widely per country, though, and probably varies per family, too.
The recipe L gave me, after consulting with her mother, was WHITE onions, red and green bell peppers (she was very firm on that), garlic, cilantro and racao, which is also known as culantro. This is all blended together. She makes it in very, very large quantities and freezes it because she uses it all the time. It’s cooked and then the rest of the ingredients (including adobo spice and quite specifically white package Goya Sason) are added.
She uses it for chicken and rice and bean and – well, all wet dishes, really.
I decided to make black bean soup for dinner on Monday. Black bean soup is a staple in many parts of Latin America and it always sounded delicious to me. I wanted something spicy and smoky and new, you see.
And I knew this was my chance to approximate the sofrito.
I couldn’t find dried black beans in my relatively small supermarket, so I got my favorite brand of canned – organic, no salt added. I also bought a box of vegetable stock, and something my store calls “rauschfleish” – smoked beef. Most of the recipes for black bean soup I’ve seen called for ham or bacon, so I figured this would add the smoky taste plus some meatiness.
And I bought a large white onion, a red pepper, a bunch of cilantro and a couple of jalopenos. I was going to buy adobo spice, but the jar I looked listed “salt, sugar, curry powder.” So I didn’t bother.
I chopped the onion and the red pepper roughly and diced the jalopenos, being careful of the seeds and veins. These I added to hot oil, before adding a teaspoon of curry powder and finely chopped cilantro. I also added finely chopped garlic. When they smelled good, I put in two cans of beans and then about three cups of stock. I also diced the smoked beef and tossed that in.
I brought it to a simmer and then placed it in a 350F oven for a couple of hours, at which point it looked like this:
I served it with soy sour cream and slices of avocado.
I think the heat from the jalopenos and the cilantro made all the differences. Still not totally authenitic, but so, so yummy.
Nice and crisp, with a lovely little burn at the end, but too vinegary by far. Next batch will have sugar in it to balance the vinegar.
I’ve been watching a lot of cooking competitions, and a lot of the chefs are serving up pickled vegetables. Obviously, since they often have less than an hour to cook, there must be a way of pickling vegetables FAST, as opposed to the traditional way which can take months.
That’s what the internet is for. And google told me that quick pickling is, indeed, a thing. And it’s easy. Make a brine (use a recipe or improvise), bring it to a boil and pour it over raw vegetables cut into whatever size you want. You do have to use a heatproof glass container, and the results are good in the fridge for maybe two weeks, tops, and it takes an hour at least for any results, BUT it just sounded dead easy.
And I’m up for anything easy.
Clearly, this is not for preservation – this is not going to be making a brine so dense you can walk on it. It’s more of another way to prepare vegetables. But I love pickled veggies.
So. I purchased two one quart wide mouth canning jars, dunked them (along with a salad dressing carafe I bought on a whim) and then got a cauliflower, a quart of cider vinegar and a container of pickling spice. I got the canning jars because they HAVE to be heatproof glass. And people use them for pickling anyway. Google said one could use regular pickling spice. Of course, it also said to use a recipe but eh.
Got everything home. Put the entire container of vinegar into the saucepan, along with a little less than two cups of water, about two-three tablespoons of salt and of the pickling spice, plus two dried Mexican pepper pods for a little heat. Brought it to a boil while I washed out the jars and filled them with cauliflower florets. When the brine boiled, I poured into the jars over the cauliflower, making sure to get a pepper pod in each jar. Then I covered them and tightened the covers and let them cool.
After over an hour passed, I took off the covers (the lids of the ring and lid covers vacuum sealed, so I had to pry them off) and tasted a floret from each jar. They were still hot, but they were crisp and sour, and there was a lovely background of peppery heat in the after taste. I sealed them up again and put them in the fridge.
I’ll taste them again when they’re cold.
So, last Thursday was Thanksgiving. Which I’m sure most of you realized. Which means the main course has to feature a turkey. Well, doesn’t HAVE to. I know of people who eat chicken, or tofurkey, or salmon, or even (whisper) ham. Or you know, a turkey PLUS those options. In the years my husband’s brother avoided meat, I made him fish.
But by and large, we eat a very large bird composed of white meat, which cooks relatively quickly and dark meat, which does not. But it’s all one thing and has to be cooked at right temperature at the same time.
So how do you do this? Well, you can cheat. You can spatchcock it – cut out the backbone and spread the bird open, so it’s less rounded. You can cook it in parts – breast, wings, thighs, legs – until each is optimum temperature. I’ve done this, sort of – last Rosh Hashanah, with a small number of guests, I made a half bone-in turkey breast and two legs and it was perfect. I actually recommend that if you have a leg lover in your house but you don’t want to cook a whole bird.
But this is Thanksgiving and I had a reasonable number of guests, including a mother-in-law who adores turkey, so I had to make a whole, albeit small, one. In fact, it was exactly 11.5 lbs.
I wanted a perfect turkey because of both professional and personal pride. But I’m also dead lazy. I don’t do anything hard, or fussy. Seriously. I mean it.
And trussing and basting and brining and turning? Are FUSSY. Also, basting is silly. You’re pouring liquid over impermeable skin. It may make a nice skin, which is a good thing, but it doesn’t make the breast meat any moister. And stuffing herbed fat (butter, schmaltz, margarine) inder the breast skin will add a lot of flavor and be delicious but will also add, you know. Fat. And even for that, I have a suggestion.
Brining, of course, is silly with a kosher bird, which basically comes pre-brined.
Trussing only makes it look nicer, but you have to deal with the string. That does leave turning.
Turning I do, but not the “put the turkey on a rack and give it a one quarter turn every so often” way, because that’s also fussy.
Here’s the thing. You want the breast to be moist and you also want it to cook at a different rate than the dark meat. Which you want to cook thoroughly because, as I’ve learned from personal experience, undercooked dark meat is disgusting.
So what you do is cook the turkey breast side down for the first interval of cooking. You determine the interval by multiplying the weight of the bird by 14 and dividing by sixty. You want at least half the cooking time upside down – an hour or so on its back should be enough. And cook it low. Look, I like my ovens HOT. I like them over 400F. I like extremes. But for a turkey, I’m following the directions and cooking at 325F. Maybe I’ll crank the oven up high before putting it in, but as soon as it’s in, I’ll lower it down. This gives time for the heat to penetrate without overcooking.
Season the bird. However you like. Stuff garlic or parsley or rosemary sprigs into the cavity, slide lemons and herbs under the skin (or use the flavored fat – but freeze it after you flavor it. Put sliced FROZEN butter or schmaltz or margarine under the breast skin. You could probably cook it right side up then.) Dust it with pepper or paprika. Oil it. Don’t stuff it with stuffing, though. The cavity isn’t big enough and you can make it just fine outside the bird. Really. I promise.
Put the bird directly into the pan (add herbs, though. Onions and carrots if you want, too) breast down. Make sure it’s at 325. Then make your vegetables and your stuffing. How to make the stuffing? Saute onions and mushrooms (if you like them) and any other veggie you like in your stuffing. Add chestnuts or anything else you like. Saute’d sausage, even. Just get them cooked. Add a cup of stock – chicken stock, turkey stock or, as I’ve been doing, veggie stock. Make it yourself or use a good brand of store bought. Let them simmer together. Add herbs – rosemary, parsley, garlic, whatever works for you, fresh or dried. Pepper, too. Add croutons – homemade or a good brand of plain croutons – nothing herby or garlicky. You want to be in control of the flavors. SOAK them with stock. Make them totally soggy. Mix well, put in a baking dish, add more stock, and wait.
About an hour and a half before the end of cooking, turn the bird. I suggest putting plastic food bags over oven mitts and just flipping it, after removing it from the oven. Oil the breast skin and put it back in the oven. If you want to add more herbs or spices or a glaze, go for it. Take it out when it reaches a temperature of 160F. And then let it rest. Cover it in foil if you must. An hour is good. Resting is important. Lets the juices redistribute.
That’s when you put the stuffing in the oven. Add more stock if you need to or turn the oven down even lower.
You will get moist, tender breast meat that carves like a dream and perfectly cooked dark meat. You will also get a moist, flavorful stuffing that has the mouthfeel of stuffing cooked in the bird. With the plus that, if you made it with vegetable stock, your vegetarian guests can eat it, too.
Why? Because cooking it upside doesn’t just let the juices run into the breast, it also protects it from the dry heat of the oven. A rack defeats that. If you use frozen margarine, you keep the breast meat colder for a longish time, and that works as well. I just don’t want to add the extra fat and anyway, it’s fussy.
And I don’t do fussy. So I just turn it over easy.