Monday, December 28, 2009
The very idea of preparing dinner for a large group is so intimidating that most of us never try it, preferring to invite friends and family in smaller groups. But a big dinner party can be fun for everyone once the shopping and chopping are done—more conversation, more laughter, more tall tales, more compliments for the cook.
Corn salad (summer)
Roast potatoes (rest of the year)
For the sauces:
Small amount of fresh rosemary
Four large shallots
Red wine vinegar
Cube or two of chicken bouillon
Half pint heavy cream
Salt and pepper
It takes one person an hour and a half to two hours of pretty steady work to prepare the meal, so the advance work should come long before. The chicken can be trimmed and paillarded the night or afternoon before dinner, and the mushroom sauce can also be made whenever it's convenient, since it will be zapped in the microwave before it's served. Then on the evening of the dinner I start with the things that don't involve the stove. I make the chimichurri first so the flavors will blend, then the corn salad for the same reason before preparing the vegetable, which can then sit in its pot until the last minute when it gets steamed.
2. Sauté together in a smallish frying pan with two or three tablespoons of butter.
4. Simmer until most of the liquid has disappeared.
5. Put in a bowl and cover until dinner time, then microwave to reheat.
2. Mince parsley and add to bowl.
3. Add a tablespoon of red wine vinegar or juice from other half of lemon, and salt and pepper to taste.
4. Stir ingredients together. Sauce should be a sort of slurry—liquid but not too much so. Taste and add olive oil or vinegar as needed.
5. Cover and refrigerate, but bring sauce out several hours before dinner so it can return to room temperature.
You can also paillard the chicken in advance. Trim off any remaining fat or cartilage from the chicken breasts. Then holding each breast firmly against a cutting board, run your knife parallel to the board to cut the breast in half, yielding two thinner pieces of meat. The advantage of this is twofold: the meat cooks more quickly, and guests with smaller appetites can help themselves to a single piece while the trenchermen in the crowd can go for more. No one has to look around from someone to share a too-large piece with.
Corn Salad (summer)
Roast Potatoes (rest of year)
Scrub the potatoes and cut into bite-size pieces. Cover in water in a pot that will hold them, and bring to a boil. Cook until just tender, seven or eight minutes, then drain and set aside uncovered.
Sauté the chicken in batches in butter in a large frying pan over medium heat, adding butter as necessary. You can train yourself to tell doneness by touch: when the chicken is raw, it feels flabby. As it cooks, it firms up. The chicken is done when there is just a little bit of spring left to the touch. As each batch of chicken is done, remove to a warm platter and cover. Meanwhile, chop remaining three shallots.
When all the chicken is cooked, sautee the diced shallots in the frying pan until translucent, then add half a cup of water to the pan to deglaze. Throw in a bouillon cube or two, grind in some fresh pepper and add two or three tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and any juices that have accumulated on the platter of cooked chicken. Do not add salt. My box of bouillon cubes says that each serving provides 53 percent of your daily sodium requirement. Reduce until much but not
If you are serving green beans, quickly rinse out and dry the frying pan. Add three tablespoons butter, the beans, salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. Stir or shake to coat and reheat the beans.
Enlist a guest to make the green salad with whatever ingredients you have on hand. The dressing is up to you.
All this may sound complicated, but I usually do most of it by myself in two hours or less (someone always volunteers to make the green salad). If there is leftover cooked chicken, I've discovered that it freezes quite well for a week or so. If you wrap the individual pieces in tinfoil, they can be popped into a toaster oven and reheated in 15 or 20 minutes at 375 degrees. Then shred for chicken salad or chicken tacos or whatever you like. Or serve whole with or without one of the sauces.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Guest blogger Jim Randall offers this healthy snack recipe for the holidays:
2 cups raw sunflower seeds
8 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 t. unrefined salt (or more) to taste
1 T. low-sodium soy sauce
1. Heat the oil in a large heavy frying pan over medium-high heat. When the oil just starts to smoke, immediately add the sunflower seeds and garlic. Stir constantly until the oil and garlic are well mixed with the sunflower seeds.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
After gorging on Thai food for what seems like weeks, we wanted something different last night—something dark, earthy, and festive, in honor of the winter solstice.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
We suspect that "great" refers to the cholesterol level rather than to the taste, but, courtesy of the nice ladies who hosted Mount Vernon's Christmas tour (which really was great, complete with period costumes, a camel named Aladdin, and plenty of lusty "Hear ye, hear ye"s):
"Take 40 eggs divide the whites from the yolks & beat them to a froth then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream & put the whites of the eggs to it a Spoon full at a time till it is well work'd then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powdered to it in the same manners then put it in the Youlks of eggs & 5 pounds of flower & 5 pounds of fruit. 2 hours will bake it add to it half an ounce of mace & nutmeg half a pint of wine and some frensh brandy."
Monday, December 7, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Growing up in middle America—in Tim's case, literally the middle of America—we never questioned the goodness of certain things: Saturday morning cartoons, Mattel toys, Kool-Aid, Velveeta, and Green Bean Casserole, to name a few.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
First, an apology. We haven't posted for a week because after months of planning, hand-wringing, and packing, we are finally in the new house. The downside: this 25-year-old house was built when women were returning to the workforce and Mom was no longer around to spend the afternoon making dinner. Hence the small cupboards and minimal counter space. We'll be spending the next few weekends hanging pot racks and putting up shelves.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
A Spring Thanksgiving
I saw my first wild turkey about 15 years ago. It was a shock to see a bird that large take wing in our yard and then land on an ash-tree branch 80 feet overhead. My jaw just dropped.
Since that first sighting, the turkeys have made a big comeback around here. We live in a part of Connecticut where the rural zoning requires at least two acres per house (known locally as the ruburbs). This zoning leaves plenty of open land for wild things. We live in a hardwood forest and routinely see deer, raccoons, fox, skunks, and lots of turkeys. They walk by the house, as many as 20 strung out in a long line. Many times I’ve cast a culinary eyeball toward that flock, and pondered pulling a hunting license to learn firsthand the difference between the store-bought couch-potato turkeys and the sleek gobblers trekking out back. Pondering is as far as I’ve gotten.
And then one Saturday, returning from my weekend trip to the hardware store, I pulled in the driveway and spotted a pile of feathers. It looked like a pillow had exploded. I needed a closer look, and as I jumped out of the truck I saw her—a magnificent hen turkey—in a heap on the gravel driveway. Her neck was broken, and a big bite had been taken out of her back. She likely fell victim to the coyote that killed a yearling deer in the same place last winter. The coyote had probably retreated into the woods when I pulled into the driveway. I could practically feel its eyes on my back when I picked the bird up by her feet and carried her into our kitchen. She was still warm.
I’d never cleaned a turkey before, so I called my pal Kevin Ireton to get his counsel. He knows how to handle a shotgun, so I figured he’d know where to go in with the knife. He didn’t know either, but he did offer this piece of advice from a famous North Carolina naturalist, Eustace Conway, on eating animals that have been dead for an indeterminate period of time: “If it still has fleas, it’s probably okay.” That was a comfort.
Like any modern survivalist with a DSL line, I went to the google. In ten seconds I found www.wildturkeyzone.com. I downloaded their cleaning instructions, and started heating water. Turkeys have over 5,000 feathers, and cleaning them begins with a dunking in hot water (140 degrees) to loosen them up. But first, remove the wings.
I confess to some unexpected emotions at this point. When I buy the supermarket turkey, I’ve subbed out the up-close-and-personal part of being a carnivore. I’m not wondering what knife I’ve got in the drawer that will take wings that span five feet off a wild bird. But now I was, and I felt uncomfortably clumsy doing so.
Wings chopped off and feathers pulled, I made a slit across the bird’s backside, and reached into her belly to pull out organs, entrails, and what looked to be the early stages of a clutch of eggs. A humid, vaguely sweet aroma hung in the air, and the images before me toggled between birth and death. I was getting to know dinner in an entirely different way, and it made me wonder what other connections to the real world that I’ve missed, without even knowing it. It was a surprising, unintended consequence of picking up this dead turkey, and wanting to eat it.
Years ago, a turkey recipe in Fine Cooking caught my eye.. Here was a chance to try it out. I mixed up a gallon of the maple-flavored brine, and let the bird soak for two days.
I fired up our Big Green Egg, a ceramic cooker made for slow roasting, and put the bird on a rack over a drip pan. Three hours and a stack of waterlogged oak chips later, our backyard turkey was ready for the table.
The white meat was remarkably mild, with way more texture than a domestic turkey. No surprise there, I suppose. This turkey had used those muscles. The dark meat, however, seemed to be from an entirely different creature. It was astonishing—rich and smoky, swirling with juicy undercurrents like the andouille sausage at a Cajun restaurant. We ate the turkey in mid-May, the day after Mother’s Day, an early Thanksgiving gift from the forest.
Monday, November 23, 2009
We like the seasonal switchover into fall for a lot of reasons—the crunchy fallen leaves, the freshly picked apples and freshly pressed cider, the Halloween costumes and November sunsets and Thanksgiving's pumpkin pies—but there's one thing about fall that makes us sad: the fruit.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
We move in less than a week, and the refrigerator shelves are nearly bare. We'd planned to use up some of our last items by making bell peppers stuffed with orzo and soy chorizo, but it turned out that the peppers were in no condition to sit up straight and stuffed. After we cut away the bad spots, we only had a small handful of strips.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
With one week left in this kitchen, we probably won't be needing any cookbooks, given packing pressures and the Internet's vast recipe trove. We've packed up Julia Child, Marcella Hazan, Patricia Wells, and Jeremiah Tower, as well as a heap of ethnic and vegetarian cookbooks. Safe to say we won't be making Burmese or Mayan dishes in the next week.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
We have about a week and a half left in this kitchen, so the time has come to pack up the spices we're unlikely to use and ditch the ones we know we'll never use. It's safe to say we probably won't be needing the Old Bay spice or the celery salt (we have two containers of this ingredient and can't remember why we ever bought it—maybe for brunchtime Bloody Marys in our devil-may-care younger days?). Why do we have a big container of yellow mustard seeds? All our recipes call for the black variety.