Cooking, Food, and Eating

I don’t get to cook enough (or, really, do enough that involves actually doing and making things as opposed to talking about doing and making things), and so Thanksgiving is always a treat for me since it’s so food-centered.

I like making new stuff, but am kind of pinned in that a) it’s always about turkey; b) my family will kill me, cook me and eat me if I don’t make my usual stuffing; and c) they will also serve me on a platter, John-the-Baptist style if I don’t make my apricot/sweet potato casserole.

They’re a tough, but devoted audience.

So I thought I’d share the recipes here, after some brief comments on cooking.I’m a beginner machinist, a pretty good carpenter, a fair mechanic on everything non-electrical, and very few things give me the satisfaction that cooking does. Baking, but it’s really a subclass of cooking.

My first college roommate and I lived in a small apartment and realized that neither of us could do more than make soup, so we set out to learn to cook, as all good science students do, by buying Mastering The Art of French Cooking, The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook, and Joy of Cooking, and working our way through them, hitting the high points.

We were in front of the butcher’s counter at Shopper’s Corner, a market in Santa Cruz, arguing over which cut of meat to buy when a kindly elderly lady interrupted us to tell us how refreshing it was to see two young people who liked to cook. He turned to her and genteelly replied: “Ma’am, we like to eat.” And we did.

The satisfaction of creating a meal from a mess of stuff has never left me, and the challenge of tasting food in your imagination and then getting it onto a plate is always rewarding.

Now I subscribe to “Cook’s Illustrated” magazine, which I find to be hands-down, no-holds-barred the best resource for people who like to really cook – as opposed to own expensive kitchenware.

The turkey recipe – which was new this year – follows and was liberally modified from a base recipe I found in the November 03 issue.

Spice-Rubbed Turkey

This recipe is based on a 18 – 20 pound turkey, which will serve 12 and leave enough to make excellent turkey chili.

The basic point is to a) brine the turkey; b) rub the outside and inside with spices and put them under the skin of the breast and drumsticks; and c) cook it without stuffing.

Brining the turkey.

Brining involved soaking the turkey in salted, spiced water. In this case, we also used this to defrost the bird, which we expected to be fresh but was slightly frozen.

Our turkey came from Bristol Farms in a big cardboard box, so we just lined the box with trashbags. We mixed eight cups of water with 1.5 cups of salt and about 5 tablespoons of garlic powder (mix it well, it’s hard to get dissolved).

Put the turkey in, and put the cool water over it until the while bird is covered. In this case, we had to pull it out regularly to see if it was thawed enough to get the heart/liver out of the neck cavity and the neck out of the main cavity. Overall, we left it in for the length of Dark City plus about an hour of reading time.

Spicing the turkey.

Take it out of the brine and rinse it off in the sink. Pat the inside and outside with paper towels, and put it – loosely covered – in the fridge for about half an hour while you prepare the spices.

Spice Rub, part I

3 Tbsp coriander seeds
2 Tbsp cumin seeds
2.5 Tbsp ground allspice
4 Tbsp ground mustard
4 Tbsp rosemary

In a small skillet, over medium heat, toast the spices until they just start to smoke – pay attention, because the line between smoking and burning is really, really small (as I have discovered). Burnt spices taste awful. Dump them into a bowl – the pan will be hot enough to keep cooking them.

Add in the bowl:

6 Tbsp paprika
4 Tbsp ground ginger
3 Tbsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp thyme
1 Tbsp cayenne
1 Tbsp white pepper
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon

Grind it in a pestle (or just crush in a bowl it with a metal spoon).

Pull the turkey out of the fridge, and get a paring knife and a long-handled spoon.

Make sure the knife is sharp (I use a Spyderco sharpening kit). At the bottom of the ribcage (where the sternum is) and cut the skin loose from the flesh. Take the long-handled spoon, bowl facing down, and break the skin loose. Then repeat this from the neck side at the thick part of the breasts. And from the back of the thighs.

Take a spoonful of the spice mixture, and put it under the skin at each of these places – smear it around with the spoon quite a bit.

Then rub a tablespoonful inside each of the neck and main cavities.

Then run the spices all over the outside of the bird – don’t do the back yet.

Put another tablespoon inside the main cavity, then put the bird on a rack in a broiling dish in the fridge. Cover it loosely with foil, and go to bed.

Cooking the Turkey

Now it’s time to cook it; it will take about 4 hours plus or minus.

You’ll need to have or make a V-rack. I made one by bending a flat rack over the edge of the counter and putting aluminum foil rolls under each side.

Close the cavities with pins and cotton twine; then tie the drumsticks together, and pull the wings behind the back and tie them together as well.

Preheat the over to 400 degrees.

Put the bird on the V-rack breast side down.

I sprinkle it with rosemary and roast garlic powder at this point.

Cook for 45 minutes.

Pull it out, put it on the counter, and get two hot mitts and two bigs wads of paper towels. It helps to have a spotter for this one…

Pick the bird up and spin it 90 degrees so it is laying on one side.

Once again, sprinkle with rosemary and roast garlic powder.

Back into the oven for 15 minutes.

Pull it out, put it on the counter, and here we go again…

Pick the bird up and spin it 180 degrees so it is laying on the other side.

Once again, sprinkle with rosemary and roast garlic powder.

Back into the oven for 15 minutes.

Pull it out, spin it so that the breast side is up.

I tend to baste a little here…I take about 1/4 cup of rum and add it to the pot liquor, and then baste it.

Sprinkle the breast and drumsticks with rosemary and roast garlic.

Lower the temperature to 350.

Cook it here the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh is 170 – 175 then give it another 20 – 40 minutes. Rule of thumb – it will take about 3 hours from this point.

Remove it from the oven, and let it rest for about 30 minutes before carving it.

It was yummy…

Italian Sausage Stuffing

Because the turkey was supposed to be cooked without stuffing, and because the turkey took up the whole damn oven, I had to cook the stuffing on the range.

This was risky, as my family is attached to the stuffing…

24 oz of cornbread stuffing (I just use Mrs. Cubbisons).
2.5 lb Italian sausage (I use turkey sausage, half hot and half sweet)
2 cups of coarsely chopped onions
8 oz pitted dates
1.5 cups pecans
1 apple
8 cloves of garlic, sliced and sauteed in 3 Tbsp olive oil
1 stick of salted butter
1 tsp salt
2.5 cups of chicken stock
5. – 1.5 cups of water

Slice the sausage casings lengthwise and remove the sausage from the casings.

Saute the sausage until well-done, and reserve in the pan – you want to keep the drippings.

Heat about 1/4 cup of olive oil and add the chopped onion. Cook until almost translucent, scrape them into a big bowl.

In a dry pan, toast the pecans until they start to brown, then add them to the bowl.

Heat the leftover olive oil, and saute the sliced garlic until slightly browned, add the garlic and oil to the pan with the sausage in it.

Slice the apple into chunks about 1/2″ on a side, and VERY lightly saute them in butter; add them to the onions in the bowl.

Add the stuffing mix to the bowl, and mix thoroughly.

Slice the dates into thirds, and add to the bowl.

Put the chicken stock into a large stockpot and bring to a simmer.

Add the butter and when it’s melted, add the sausage, garlic, and drippings. When this is mixed, add the stuffing mix.

Add water while stirring/tossing the mixture until the texture is right – it should be slightly crumbly and not sticky.

Take it off the heat and let it rest for fifteen minutes.

Apricot/Sweet Potato casserole

4.5 lbs sweet potatoes
24oz of apricot preserves
2 cups of Grand Marnier
1 cup of rum

Boil 4.5 lbs of sweet potatoes for about 30 – 40 minutes, until a fork will penetrate about an inch or so into them. Then pour the water out and let them cool. You can actually do this the night before.

Take the cooled sweet potatoes and peel them.

The potatoes should be almost done – with light areas inside them.

Melt a stick of butter in a saucepan.

Add about 1/3 of the apricot preserves.

Add the Grand Marnier and rum, bring to a boil. If you cook with good enough rum, you can sip it here…

Gradually add the balance of the preserves, stirring like a madman. Once everything is dissolved, turn the heat off, and move the pan to a cool burner.

Take the peeled sweet potatoes, and then slice them into 1/4″ slices, and lay them into an 8″ x 14″ baking dish, sprayed with nonstick. Place a layer, drizzle apricot glaze on it, add a layer, drizzle, add a layer, etc. until you run out of sweet potatoes or room in the pan.

Put it in the oven at 350 for about 15 – 20 minutes.

4 thoughts on “Cooking, Food, and Eating”

  1. Thanksgiving doesn’t _have_ to be turkey-centric. Both this year and last, I stuffed and roasted a goose instead. For those of us who get ill at the thought of having to eat 10 pounds of leftover turkey after the big day, it’s a good alternative.

  2. Difference in up-bringing I guess… growing up as one of four children in a single-income family meant that we ate leftovers 3 or 4 nights out of the week. I developed a real fondness for food that _hadn’t_ been reheated, or started out as a different meal entirely, as a result.

    I want to say I think it’s mighty cool that you taught yourself how to cook, though. Perhaps it’s my own limited experience, but the number of men I know who can assemble a meal without a microwave is even smaller than the number of men I know who can swing-dance. I always speculated that it was some weird anti-feminist conspiracy on the part of mothers – don’t teach your sons to cook, or they won’t need to get married!

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