Archive for November, 2009

Turkey Day

November 28, 2009

I’ve finally recovered from my turkey day extravaganza. As I sift through my foggy memory banks drunk from a tryptophan induced coma, I can begin to recall the wonderful days events. To begin with, let’s meet our dinner companions. There were 6 of us. My mother, the sushi hurling wonder, hosted the event. Along with her was my lovely fiance, her biological mother or as I like to refer to her as Bio mom, and 2 of our dear friends. It was a fun mix of personalities and everyone seemed to mingle splendidly. Everyone contributed by bringing their favorite Thanksgiving day dish and I prepared the bird.

Upon my insistence, my mother purchased a fresh bird this year. A Ho-Ka turkey. This independent family turkey farm has been providing Illinois families with fresh turkeys for over 70 years. They do not come frozen so they’re ready to roast. We got  a 19 pound bird. More than enough for the 6 of us which guarantees lot’s of leftovers. I’ll be making soup from the carcass and leftover meat too. To roast this beauty, I stuffed the inside with a mix of onions, orange and lemon wedges along with a bouquet garni of fresh sage, thyme and tarragon.  I seasoned the exterior with a light brushing of olive oil and a spice mix of salt, black pepper, garlic powder and basil. I put a few whole garlic cloves and another chopped onion on the bottom of the roasting pan.

I preheated the oven to 375° and roasted the fowl for a half an hour to produce a nice thick skin then I dropped the temp down to 325° for the remainder of the time until a thermometer inserted into the thigh read 185° and the juices run clear.  Throughout the roasting time I basted the bird with a mix of unsalted chicken stock and white wine. When I finally pulled the bird out the bottom was soaked with a delicious blend of turkey juices and the basting liquid. This will serve as a fantastic base for my homemade gravy.

I was taught the skill of gravy making by my father. The late fisherman was a known foodie. His vast knowledge of kitchen basics came from years sampling his grandmother and aunt’s amazing homestyle  dinners. His mother was fine cook in her own right or so I’ve been told. I only had the pleasure of his Aunt Violets cuisine as a child. Aunt violet was a master. I fondly remember massive feasts as a young boy in her country home of upstate NY. She was like what I imagined Aunt Bea’s food tasted like on the Andy Griffith show. My fathers knowledge of gravy, no doubt had been influenced by this woman. Suffice it to say, my dad made a mean gravy and he taught me well.  This year I had the help of the unknown sous chef to assist in the gravy making process. He was a blessing to me as he stood there whisking away as the sauce thickened leaving me to stress about the carving of the bird.

Our final menu for the meal: Roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, my mothers grandmothers stuffing, sweet potatoes, steamed green beans, cheesy corn pudding, butterflake rolls, and razzbery-banana jello mold. For dessert the standard pumpkin pie and a razzberry pie.  My amazing fiance makes incredible pies and this years pumpkin was no exception. She tried a new recipe and the results were spectacular. I personally have never had pumpkin pie that tasted this good. I’m not normally a big fan of pumpkin pies but this one changed that attitude for me. Good luck getting her recipe from her.

The unknown sous chef with mashed potatoes and gravy

My buddy a fellow foodie with mad kitchen skills.

Turkey Platter

Notice the dark skin from roasting at a higher temperature the first 30-45 minutes.

Grandmas apple sausage stuffing

This is the stuffing I grew up with. It’s a family recipe passed down from my grandma to my mother. I have the recipe so future generations can enjoy this.

 

Kathy's kickass creamy corn pudding

 

I named this family recipe that my fiances Bio mom made. She was a bit reluctant to reveal the recipe so to describe it, It’s simply kicks ass.

 

TJ's pumpkin Pie

 

New recipe on a traditional favorite.

 

Razzberry pie

My fiance mastered this pie a few years ago as she knew it was my fathers favorite.  after the first bite he leaned over to me and informed me that “she’s a keeper”

 

Breakfast for dinner

November 19, 2009

I cannot stand the thought of throwing food away.  Not because I grew up hearing the old “There’s starving children in Africa” routine. Though that is a serious issue and I encourage everyone to give back once in while. Nor is it due to my Scotch Heritage as my father used to say whenever he needed to justify his frugality. I think most of it stems from my brief period working in the restaurant industry.  There’s a reason a lot of places have fish specials on Monday to unload the remaining weekend supply before it spoils and the restaurant has to throw it out.  That’s literally like throwing money down the drain.

Enter Leftovers. Many  creative chefs thrive on having to use what’s leftover and invent a new dish. The results can be tasty and conceptually brilliant. Often very simple with only a few ingredients. Tonight at home for me and my fiance was one such night. We had made Tilapia Taco’s on Sunday night and had leftover salsa and Mexican Melting cheese in the fridge. I also found some bacon leftover from an appetizer she had made earlier that week. Through some creative magic, they were transformed into what my lovely quickly named; Fiesta Eggs. Basically an egg scramble mixed with cream cheese and salsa. For a side I threw together a few diced potatoes for hash browns with the Mexican Melting cheese and bacon.   A fresh English Muffin and big glass of ice tea to wash it all down. Breakfast for dinner. Now if I can only figure out what to do with the leftover shredded cabbage….

Fiesta eggs with cheesy bacon hash browns

My baloney has a first name, it’s Mortadella.

November 18, 2009

My life is complicated. My body doesn’t seem to react to salt too well so I have been forced to limit my sodium intake to just below the RDA amount of 2400mg per day. If I consume too much sodium, I tend to swell up like a balloon. Now that may sound like not a big deal but believe me, as a foodie, it is. Ya see, salt is in everything we eat. Especially the things I crave the most. Our commercially processed foods alone far exceed the RDA amount for our normal serving sizes. Something really everyone should consider when making their meal selections either at the grocer or eating out. For me, this means always reading the nutritional facts label and maintaining an updated understanding of just how much salt is in what I like to consume.

As a result of this limitation in my diet, certain cravings that once were staples in my diet are now reserved for special occasions or a special treat. Tonight I decided to reward myself with a special treat; an Italian sub sandwich loaded with Italian cured meats. Cured meats are very high in sodium. I was able to treat myself to this because my total sodium intake for the day so far had only been about 100mg. The Italian sub is a delicious blend of 3 meats. Genoa Salami, Capicola,  Mortadella and Provolone cheese.  Shredded iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced onions and tomatoes slathered in an Italian vinaigrette dressing. Served on a 6 inch French baguette. Augustino’s Deli makes a particularly tasty version. The combination of these ingredients create a symphony of what I feel a complete sandwich should be. The salty meats blend with the creamy provolone cheese and provide the perfect complement to the simple crunchy salad texture of the vegetables. Each bite is filled with a burst of flavor.  Nibble on some potato chips if you must and wash it all down with a refreshing sweet soda.

Now, let’s examine the cured meats in more detail:

Mortadella

Originating in Bologna, Mortadella is made of finely ground pork mixed together with cubes of high quality pork fat and sometimes pistachios or pine nuts. It gets its name from the Roman word for “mortar”; in ancient times, a mortar and pestle were often used to grind meats, fruits, and grains.  These ingredients are combined in casing and hung to slowly cook in brick ovens for up to 24 hours.  The American version of this meat is bologna.

 

Mortadella

 

Hot Capicola

 

Capicola is a traditional sausage produced in a number of regions of Italy. It’s made exclusively from the pork butt, which is aged for a minimum of thirty days in brine before being packed into a casing, where it is cooked and further aged to allow the flavor to develop. Hot Capicola is typically seasoned with crushed red-hot peppers, salt and garlic to complement the rich flavor of the pork with a spicy hot accent.

 

Hot Capicola

 

 

Genoa Salami-Artificial Casing and Natural Casing

Named after Genoa, the city in which it was born. A fine textured pork sausage full of garlic and spices that is arguably the most popular variety of Italian dried sausage in the US.  It is typically aged for over 3 months, during which time a cord is wrapped lengthwise around the sausage at regular intervals to form its shape.

 

Genoa Salami

Everyone needs to watch what they eat and make responsible choices but life is too short to not treat yourself to things every now and again. Anything in moderation is good for the soul and brings spice and zest to life. To those who disagree, I say you’re full of baloney.

 

 

Lobster: The big bug that lives under the sea.

November 15, 2009

I love seafood.  There is a corny old joke about dieting. “I’m on a seafood diet, I seafood and I eat it”. I guess that would apply to me. Only in that when I see seafood, I eat it. I’ve written about this topic before. I will Probably will have numerous columns in the future dedicated to it as well. So far, I’ve expounded on shrimp, crabs and oysters. I’ve elaborated on the raw stuff too, Sushi. But tonight we dined on lobster.

lobster1

Lobster is essentially a giant bug that lives at the bottom of the Ocean. Now granted that’s a pretty freaky concept to wrap your head around. On land, the version of this creature crawls around foraging on the underbelly and living in the dark moist places like under a decaying log or rock. That’s normally something I’d  freak out over and want to step on. Sure, I’m gonna eat this? Absolutely! It’s a delicacy and simply good eats. In North America, the American or Maine lobster  did not achieve popularity until the mid-19th century, when New Yorker’s and Bostonians developed a taste for the crustacean.  Prior to this time, lobster was considered a mark of poverty or as food for indentured servants or lower members of society in Maine, Massachusetts and the Canadian Atlantic coast. Into the 1950s, people in these regions buried their lobster shells to escape the negative stigma. Today these bugs fetch a high price and a lobster dinner out can run $30 or more for a 1 pounder.

But Tonight was my fiance’s birthday. Being the noble romantic I am, I told her I would take her to wherever she wanted to go for dinner. I was fully prepared for a steak dinner being that she fancies  the filet mignon. We both seemed to agree however that Oysters on the half shell would be a great appetizer. And as our list of options emerged and her palate evolved with the day, so did her taste buds for seafood.  She suggested Bob Chinns. A quick search on the internet informed us of the November Lobster Mania they were having. Great deals on Lobster dinners. We began to get ready to dine.

Bob Chinns is a marina of fresh seafood. It’s like stepping into a harbor town along the coast of the Atlantic. Fresh seafood flown in daily with a menu so vast and diverse that one could eat here every night for months before duplicating a meal. It’s probably a good thing it’s a 45 minute drive from us or we’d certainly become regulars. First we dove into the raw oysters. 1 dozen to be exact. I couldn’t slurp them down quick enough. Blue Points I believe were the variety. Blue points have a nice balance of sweet and salty ocean flavor and are a pretty decent sized mollusc.

We each had a cup of soup. She had the New England style clam chowder and I opted for the seafood gumbo. Then came the madness. 2 huge lobsters arrived. Her steamed 1 pounder with  strip steak and my broiled 2 pounder. When it comes to surf & turf, I’ll take more of the surf any day.  The broiled version is first steamed then finished in the broiler. The broiling dries out the meat slightly after the initial boil or steam and allows for some mild browning.  Any way you cook them though, they ‘re gonna taste great. Serve with plenty of lemon wedges and drawn butter. Put on your bib and go to town.

It’s OK to feel like a slob when eating these things. They’re quite messy and trying to be neat and polite will only frustrate you. So not only is a bib acceptable, it’s just smart sense. Start cracking and don’t be timid. Remember, they’re just big bugs anyway.

You have chosen unwisely.

November 11, 2009

One thing I fear when eating out is ordering wrong or poorly. I hate it when I get an unsatisfying meal. Tonight I went to one of my usual diners and decided to try something new. I’m not going to mention the name of the place as normally they are one of my favorites and I’m not mad at them per se but rather my poor selection. I tried one of their new wraps which according to the menu sounded like something right up my alley. I was sadly disappointed. What arrived simply did not live up to the detailed and intriguing description. Needless to say, I will not be ordering that dish again.

This fear haunts me though. It can sometimes literally debilitate me and drive any server nuts. I’ve been known to sit and vacillate over menu options and deliberate for 20 minutes or more. This also drives my dinner companions nuts too. The reason or silly logic as my mind has justified it is, that I do not want to happen to me what happened tonight. A meal that I don’t like. Some would call this obsessive behavior of mine manic and neurotic. But try as I might, I cannot help myself.  I try to remind my brain that it really doesn’t matter and that there is always another meal in my future so why fuss and stress over this one. So tonight, I fought that urge and ordered quickly only to find my worst fears regarding food became my reality.

Assuming I live to see tomorrow nights dinner, 24 hours can’t come soon enough. Hopefully this time I will choose wisely.

Sushi: The raw deal

November 8, 2009

Of the many types of cuisine out there, sushi gets a pretty raw deal in terms of being misunderstood by many ignorant Americans.  Simply put, it’s not all raw. However it does center around fish and the best being the raw options. Tonight I treated my lovely fiance to a dinner out at one of our more favorite sushi houses. Kyoto Sushi in Downers Grove, IL.  They have no website so finding this place was a rare coincidence. No one had recommended it so what finally got us to try it out was a coupon I stumbled upon in my regular junk mail. 40% off the entire bill was too good of a deal to pass on. We’ve been regulars since even without the coupon.

I favor the flavor of the raw fish in negri or sashimi form where as my soon to be wife generally sticks with the maki rolls. The taste of raw fish is unique. It is cool and creamy with a slightly sweet flavor. My favorites include the Maguro (Tuna), Sake (Salmon), Tai (Red Snapper), and Unagi (Freshwater Eel) but I’ll try anything once. Her favorite is The New York or Philadelphia roll. This is a maki roll filled with smoked Salmon, cream cheese and cucumber. It’s like haing bagels and lox.

The fun thing about eating sushi is that the diner is transported into another culinary world. The food speaks its own language in both literal terms and the overall dining experience. I particularly love taking a virgin sushi eater on their first adventure. To see the look on their faces when the beautiful plate presentations arrive and to witness the metamorphosis of utter fear on their face to a joyful smile as one hesitantly reaches for their first piece and place it in their mouth. Only one person has been a disappointment. My mother, while celebrating my sister’s birthday was so freaked out by her fear of this strange food in her mouth that she actually flung the mouthful back onto the plate.  I’m still amazed I didn’t reach across the table and punch her in the face for that one. Not because she didn’t like it mind you but out of the lack of respect she so rudely displayed by throwing her food from her denture filled mouth onto the plate and contaminating the rest of the uneaten pieces with. She still doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of how that is unacceptable table etiquette anywhere. Then again neither is punching someone in the face let alone ones mother  but I digress. Needless to say, I doubt she’ll be joining me on future adventures in sushi even though she did love her terryaki steak dish she gobbled up.

Our total food order tonight consisted of an appetizer of crab rangoon and a house salad with a fresh ginger dressing,  a few different maki rolls and my 4 pieces of negri sushi. A Maki roll is vinegared rice with fish and vegetable insertions and rolled up in Japanese seaweed (nori). Most maki places the nori on the inside, but some, like the California roll, place the rice on the outside. Negri sushi is pieces of fish, shellfish, or fish roe over vinegared rice balls. Accompanying each dish is a little green mound of Wasabi and Pickled ginger. Wasabi looks like guacamole but is actually a Japanese horseradish paste. This stuff is hot. True wasabi has anti-microbial properties that can help reduce any risk of food poisoning. The Gari or pickled ginger is a palate cleanser munched on in between different pieces or at the end of the meal.

A sample of various types of sushi

A sample of various types of sushi

Sushi like many Asian places usually have great lunch specials which is a great way to try it without spending a lot.  If you’ve never been, find a friend and ask them if they eat sushi and if they do, will they take you sometime.  This may help alleviate some of the initial fears most sushi eaters have on their maiden meal. It’s worth the adventure. The food is so fresh and tasty. It has to be in order to live up to the very strict standards that sushi chefs must achieve and maintain in order to serve raw fish. These chefs undergo a long apprenticeship to learn how to master the fine slicing and delicately prepared presentations. Dine at the sushi bar and literally watch them prepare everyone’s food right before your eyes. It’s like dinner and a show.

There are plenty of non raw or cooked food at sushi joints too. Many of the maki rolls have cooked fish in them and Chicken and steak options in terryaki sauces or fried tempura served with rice and noodle dishes also offer those who prefer meat to fish or are still skittish on being adventurous when it comes to raw fish. Obviously all of these dishes are cooked.  One thing that is consistent is the cleanliness and simplicity in ingredients. Dishes generally have only a few components where the flavors of the ingredients are highlighted and become the centerpiece of the dish. Feng Shui, the Chinese art or practice of creating harmonious surroundings that enhance the balance of yin and yang is central in a lot of Asian culture and art. Sushi although Japanese,  is another example of this.

Give the raw fish a try sometime. You just may find that the raw deal is not all it’s wrapped up to be. If nothing else, you can at least say you’ve tried it. Which, sadly, is more than the average American can say.

New Candy Bar worth Snickering

November 4, 2009

If I could only choose one candy bar to call my favorite, it would have to be the Snickers. This creamy mixture of peanut butter nougat topped with roasted peanuts and caramel, covered with milk chocolate is the perfect combination of candy ingredients that culminates into one satisfyingly sweet treat. Over the years the folks at the Mars candy factory have varied on this recipe with some success. The Almond version; essentially the old Mars bar, The Snickers Dark; a dark chocolate version of the standard Snickers and now, the Snickers Fudge.

Snickers fudge

Being the Snickers fan I am, and upon seeing this new variation at the checkout counter at a local drugstore, I decided to give it a whirl. Much like the ingredients, my thoughts are mixed and confused. Initially I thought what’s the real difference? Is this just a marketing scheme? A new wrapper for an old product? I hate that. I can’t stand it when a brand decides to redesign their packaging just to stimulate sales.  The beverage industry is notorious for this. Pepsi is constantly redesigning their cans which is great if you’re a packaging designer as you have steady work but lousy for traditionalists like me.  But no, this is not just a new wrapper for the old Snickers, it’s just a less satisfying Snickers.

Let’s examine the inside:

Snickers fudge inside

It’s certainly more fudge like in appearance but what this bar lacks is a distinct fudge like flavor. The peanut butter flavor is lost and the overall taste is less sweeter than the original Snickers. The distribution of ingredients isn’t as balanced either. This, compounded with the fact that the bar is slightly smaller than the Snickers, (much like the Snickers Almond) makes me think I’ll resist the urge to impulse purchase it at the point of sale location in the future.

 

Surf & Turf

November 3, 2009

When you can’t go to the coast for fresh seafood, bring the coast to you. Fortunately with the rise of Snow crab populations and the convenience of flash freezing right after harvest, there is an abundance of this tasty crustacean available throughout America. Today they were on sale at my local Jewel Grocer so I decided to take full advantage. Feeling extra fancy I picked up a nice Filet Mignon for the little lady in my life. She likes the turf with her surf.  It’s the least I can do considering she usually does my shell cracking. She’s quite efficient having gained valuable speed  from her days working at Joe’s Crabshack. Needless to say she also serves as the primary Oyster shucker around here too.

 

CrabLegs

Snow Crab clusters with claw

 

 

Cooking these red shelled beauties is a breeze. Simply prepare a large pot with a steamer basket and add equal amounts of water and vinegar to just below the steam rack. Toss in a couple heaping tablespoons of Old Bay seasoning and add the crabs. I usually throw in a few red potatoes and an ear or 2 of corn and bring to a boil. Cover and let steam for a good 20 minutes or more until the crab is bright red and hot and the potatoes are fork tender. Serve with fresh unsalted drawn butter and lots of lemon wedges.

Old Bay seasoning

As for the Filet, I bring the meat to room temperature and season with a little sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Grill until desired  done-ness. I like my filet medium rare where as she tends to like it a little more red. I made a simple Iceburg lettuce salad with a blue cheese dressing. Leftover bread from the previous nights dinner made wonderful garlic bread in the toaster oven. Wash it all down with a nice white wine or your favorite brew. For those who don’t drink, Iced Tea compliments this meal perfectly as well.

 

FILET MIGNON

Grilled Filet Mignon

They call it seafood for a reason.  If I see it, I eat it.