Saturday, November 27, 2010

Belly Dancers With Dinner

All meals should include a belly dancer, a fire show and a shoeless seating arrangement on a plush couch. All while eating dinner with your fingers. Altogether this and more is delivered at my long-standing favorite restaurant in Atlanta, Imperial Fez. Medieval Times has jousters, Alluvia has strippers, and Imperial Fez has belly dancers. The common thread is entertainment during dinner. I’ve always wondered why more restaurants do not provide entertainment during dinner. A five course meal is so much more enjoyable when you have dancers. The thing about long dinners is they take a LONG time. You inevitably run out of things to talk about with your tablemates. Dancing and entertainment breaks up the table chatter and adds an authentic touch-of-something-fun.

A little background on the meal: last Monday I was invited to a Tinsley Tasting at Imperial Fez. Although she was unable to attend, Patricia Tinsely setup the most enjoyable meal I've ever had with a bunch of strangers. There was something special about this group . . . the conversation was easy, the guests were extremely comfortable to be around. Not to mention the collective shared excitement for the meal we were about to devour together. We also had the honor of spending time with Rafih, the chef at Imperial Fez. Rafih is a wealth of knowledge regarding Moroccan culture. His passion for food and all-things-Morocco is intoxicating; I could listen to him for hours. When you meet Rafih you get the feeling that he's put a lot of thought and effort into creating an environment that mimics a traditional Moroccan home. All guests in his "home" enjoy traditional Moroccan customs and food. In addition to Rafih, my tablemates for the evening included two wonderful food bloggers that I hadn't met before, Patti and Veronica, a comic named Tushar; Evelyn and Suchita both from the Good Day Atlanta morning show. Not to mention Jay of Goliath Consulting and the photographer Thomas James.

To start off the night we drank a special Imperial Fez “happy drink”. Tushar described it as "hunch punch" minus the grain alcohol. To me it tasted like Hawaiian Punch if it were spiked. But let’s be honest about the alcohol content. This drink has vodka, tequila, and rum among other things. The irony of the drink is that it's full of liquor but you don’t taste the alcohol. You only feel the alcohol after a few sips and that warm fuzzy feeling comes over you . . . almost too fast . . . which signals WARNING "high alcohol content". It’s a delicious, sneaky Moroccan version of the Long Island Ice Tea. When in Morocco, do as the Moroccan's!

After our drink we moved onward to the five course meal. First we began with a Herrira Moroccan Lentil Soup which we drank like a cup of tea (no soup spoon). The second course was a variety of Moroccan Salads with a special Red Harissa Hot Sauce on the side that is hand-made by Chef Rafih. The salad was so pretty and colorful - - -the hot sauce accompaniment extremely HOT and tasty. Our third course was the Appetizer B’stella which is a thin, crispy dough pocket filled with seasoned Cornish hen, topped with Cinnamon and Sugar. It’s a unique dish that is extremely tasty. The B’stella plays off the savory and sweet sensations; this dish has just the right amount of crispy and chewy crust. The filling alone will knock your socks off with flavor.

For the main course I ordered Cornish Hen Tajine baked with apricots, ginger, saffron, and honey (garnished with roasted almonds and sesame seeds). I was so enamored by this dish that I forgot to take a photo of it before I dove-in head first for consumption. The fruits, nuts and honey were a perfect arragement of flavors with the hen; a combination of sweet and toasty. Being completely entranced with my meal I forgot that I was attending a tasting and that I was supposed to share my meal . . . but I couldn’t resist; I was on Cornish Game Hen lock-down. Towards the end of my meal I opted for a small trade of short ribs and lamb shank from Evelyn and Tushar. Both the lamb and short ribs could be described as “falling off the bone” – obviously slow cooked with care for a long period of time before serving. What an amazing meal!

It was towards the end of the night when my new friend Evelyn and I were discussing what a pleasure it was to meet each other. I often talk with my hands and in doing so I knocked a “happy drink” directly into her lap, soaking her shoes. Ahhhrg! I felt terrible, but thankfully the drink was only half full and it was the end of the night. This type of "incident" is typical for me. Off the top of my head, and only a week ago, I knocked a full cup of hot coffee into my own lap. Luckily it wasn’t scalding McDonalds-hot coffee. The main result being a huge coffee mess (sans melted clothing and burnt skin- whew!). Another similar experience was on the night of my honeymoon: My husband said something funny and I knocked a glass of champagne into our rose petal filled bubble bath. The glass shattered in our Jacuzzi tub just before we could take one step into the tub. I’ve come to terms with the fact that breakable objects should not be within five feet of me when I’m eating, drinking, laughing, lounging, Jacuzzi-ing, sitting, swimming - - -literally breakable glass shouldn’t be near me. It can be hazardous to your health. Future dinner guests, beware.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Dinner Rolls To Die For

The most delicious bread from Thanksgiving was a dinner roll recipe from my friend Becky at What’s 4 Dinner Tonite. My assignments were sweet potatoes, Grandma Turchin’s Cranberry Sauce, and dinner rolls for Thanksgiving. I think my husband assumed that we would purchase the dinner rolls from the grocery store. Boy was he wrong! Instead I thought it would be great to make dinner rolls from scratch for the first time. After all, I’m learning to become a self taught chef – I must learn how to make dinner rolls!

Let me tell you about these dinner rolls . . . they are fluffy, but hearty. Sweet and buttery background flavors. We ate them for Thanksgiving dinner and used them as bread for our turkey sandwiches post dinner. I recommend these dinner rolls for Thanksgiving dinner or ANY special dinner party. The trick is to make the dough the night before. Then it’s easy to roll them out the next day for construction, rising and quick oven cooking.

The original recipe is here on Becky’s Website. Since there were only five of us at Thanksgiving dinner I halved the recipe and placed the rolls in a 11 X 15 inch pan. I also let the rolls rise next to the warm stove for 2-3 hours.

Mrs. Reynolds Homemade Potato Yeast Rolls

1 russet potato (enough to make 1/2 cup of mashed potatoes), peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 ¼ ounce package active dry yeast (USE RAPID rise yeast, it works better and makes fluffier and lighter rolls than the active dry yeast – I used about ¾ of the packet)
¾ cup warm water (110 degrees)
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup shortening
1 eggs
¾ teaspoons salt
3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, melted

Directions from Becky
1.Place potatoes in a saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. SAVE SOME OF THE COOKING LIQUID and drain the potatoes. Mash the potatoes using a hand mixer and add enough water to make a smooth consistency. DO NOT ADD BUTTER OR SALT! Let potatoes cool before adding them to the flour mixture. (too much heat will kill the yeast)

2. Dissolve 3/4 of the packet of yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

3. Using a mixer, VERY SLOWLY (or it flies out!) mix yeast, 1 cup mashed potatoes, sugar, shortening, eggs, salt, and 3 cups flour. SLOWLY stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until dough has become stiff but still pliable.
Using a stand mixer, KNEAD the dough (just keep it on the regular setting) for 8 minutes. You can knead this on the counter if you don’t have one. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl, and turn to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, and up to 5 days.

4. When ready to use, deflate the dough, and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out to a thickness of about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch. Use a biscuit cutter or glass and cut out rolls. Dip each side of the rolls into melted butter and fold them over and pinch the outside middle so they stay folded over. Put in 9×13 pan or whatever size pan depending on how many you are making. Cover, and let rise for 1 to 2 hours or until doubled in bulk. ** (I LET THEM RISE FOR 2 HOURS) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

On another note . . . I’m actively building a case to purchase a stand-alone mixer. Judging from this video below, the case is settled. Making dinner rolls with a hand-mixer can get a little tricky. The dinner rolls turned out great . . . but mixing them was a task. Good laughs for the husband. Enjoy the video!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Award Winning Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake Recipe

Tackling an award winning cupcake recipe isn’t as easy as it sounds. Especially for a novice self taught chef like myself. However, I was determined to conquer this recipe . . . or at least die trying. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake recipe was a gift from Chocolate Pink when the Atlanta Food Bloggers' Alliance voted this flavor "Best Overall Cupcake" in the 1st Annual Cupcake Contest last week.

A little known fact that I recently learned is a pastry chef typically measures solid ingredients by weight (on a scale) versus volume (cups or half cups). On Baking says that “cooks who assume that 8 ounces of flour is the same as 1 cup of flour commonly make errors in the bakeshop. In fact, 1 cup of flour may weigh from 3 to 5 ounces depending on the flour and how it was scooped into the measuring cup.” [1] Being the homecook that I am, I’ve always used Cups and Tablespoons - the concept of weighing ingredients is foreign to me (right now at least). Chef Christian converted the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake recipe for the home-cook, but there was a slight risk that it wouldn’t turn out quite as amazing as Chocolate Pink’s because I wasn’t weighing the ingredients on a scale.

Overall I really enjoyed making these cupcakes. I experienced new techniques like constructing a buttercream out of egg whites and preparing a ganache with semi-sweet chocolate and whipping cream. Seriously, the buttercream and ganache were my favorite aspects of this recipe - - I swear the flavor combination of the two are some of the most delightful I’ve ever tasted. And the buttercream was light and fluffy, like eating a peanut butter cloud.

The cake turned out slightly dense (not outrageously dense), but we can assume it's due to the fact that I didn’t weigh the ingredients, espeically the flour. The peanut butter cake from Chef Christian at Chocolate Pink was light and fluffy. Chocolate Pink’s rendition of this recipe also had a greater frosting-to-cake ratio. Next time I will double dip the chocolate ganache all the way to the edge of the cupcake paper liner and pile on the peanut butter buttercream frosting as high as possible (wow, did I mention this frosting is probably the best frosting I’ve ever eaten - peanut butter fluffy goodness mmmm).

From experimenting with Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes I quickly realized that I still have a lot to learn to become a self taught chef. Especially when it comes to baking it's fair to say I haven't mastered the basics yet. But not for long. On an extremely positive note, my curiousity about baking has increased 10 fold. Baking seems to be more math and science, which I definitely gravitate towards in real life anyway.

For you brave souls that would like to attempt to make the Chocolate Peanut Butter cupcakes, here is the Chocolate Pink Recipe converted for the home-cook. Or you can be easy on yourself and use the coupon below for a free cupcake without spending 3 hours in the kitchen. The choice is yours.

[1] On Baking, A Textbook of Baking & Pastry Fundamentals, Second Edition
by Sarah Labensky, Priscilla Martel, and Eddy Van Damme
Copyright 2009 by Pearson Education Inc

Thursday, November 18, 2010

1st Annual Cupcake Contest - - YES, Cupcake Contest

For a full 24 hours after the Cupcake Contest, I felt like I was ‘coming down’ off of the sugar and caffeine high that comes along with eating eight mini cupcakes and drinking three cups of coffee. Chocolate Pink here in Atlanta graciously hosted the Atlanta Food Bloggers’ 1st Annual Cupcake Contest where we ate and judged eight different flavors of Chocolate Pink cupcakes. I was envious of my tablemate Becky who practiced such self-restraint when tasting each cupcake. She ate only one bite of any flavor before drawing her conclusion about the cupcake. Becky chose not to completely finish her cupcakes for the betterment of her health. I’m still baffled by her self-control and moderation. My other tablemate Maggie slowly devoured each cupcake to completion. Savoring each bite . . . she took the longest to eat her cupcakes out of the entire group. I can appreciate her slow methodic evaluation of each cupcake; not taking lightly her final decision for the winner of each category. On the contrary, my method for judging the cupcakes was a little different from Becky and Maggie’s – the exact opposite in fact. ‘Fast and furious’ as I like to call it. I couldn’t help myself; these cupcakes were one-of-a-kind delicious and decadent. If cupcakes are in front of me, I have to eat them . . . in their entirety, and quickly. I'll admit the sugar and caffeine was a shock to my system, but in a non-regretful good way. After the event I was talking a little faster, I was a little gittery but giggly and extremely satiated. A large intake of sugar and caffeine never hurt anyone, right?!?

Since embarking on this journey to become a self taught chef, I quickly learned that I want to surround myself with other food bloggers and chefs that knew more about food than me. The Cupcake Contest was a bonding experience for the Atlanta Food Bloggers’ Alliance. I feel like we’re getting to know each other more with each event that we experience together. I appreciate the bloggers’ opinions and palates, and often trust their tastes more than my own. I really like this group of men and women. Every member of the group is truly excited to learn about food, to eat food and to experience food.

Photo By Maggie Cubbler

In addition to the positive energy of the food bloggers, listening to Chef Christian Balbierer speak was an absolute treat (he is the lead chef at Chocolate Pink). Chef Christian embodies a passion for his craft in creating desserts that you don’t see everyday. Every cupcake is made from scratch; even the delicate garnishes on each cupcake are hand-crafted. I admire Chef Christian’s enthusiasm for his art, and I want to be like him. I have a new appreciation for recipe creation and the art of dessert presentation. I thought it was hilarious when someone asked Chef Christian why he became a pastry chef, “To meet girls” was his response. Ha! He said he met his wife through is career, and seduced her with a dessert. Nice.

Let me disclose the winners of the Cupcake Challenge – and who the Atlanta Food Bloggers’ Alliance chose as the winners for each category:

Best Flavor, Best Presentation, Best Overall
Chocolate Peanut Butter

Photo by Kristina Akerman

Best Texture
Oreo Cookie

Most Unique (In a Good Way)
Pumpkin Maple with Bacon

Next week I will be posting the recipe for the winning cupcake . . . Chocolate Peanut Butter! Thank YOU so much Chocolate Pink - I can't wait to make this award winning cupcake.

Until then, a gift from Chocoalte Pink to my readers . . . a FREE Cupcake. No purchase necessary, just print the coupon and use it before December 31st 2010.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Grandma Turchin's Cranberry Sauce

“Thanksgiving is always overshadowed by Christmas," my friend Maggie lamented as we perused a home goods store on Sunday afternoon. Finding only Christmas ornaments, Christmas dishes, and Christmas decorations we found nothing related to Thanksgiving (and Thanksgiving isn’t here for another week). Thanksgiving doesn’t get enough credit for being one of the greatest holidays of the year. It’s not a religious holiday so all American’s can celebrate together. Most of us are blessed with a day or two off work to relax and spend time with our loved ones. Thanksgiving also marks the official “start” of the holiday season with all the food, family, fun, shopping and madness that goes along with the holidays.

What does Thanksgiving mean to me? It means family and giving thanks. Thanksgiving is eating together and all the social and human interaction that comes along with sitting around a table and enjoying a meal with those that matter most in life.

I remember growing up in Nebraska and attending the Minino family Thanksgiving at St. Adelbert’s Church; a family tradition that still goes on today. The Minino family is quite large and out of necessity rents the church basement for the holidays. When I think of Thanksgiving I hear children laughing, giggling and playing. Grandma Minino and the aunts cooking the turkey, mashing the potatoes while the men congregate watching football and playing cards in the back of the church. When it's time to eat, Grandma Minino, our matriarch says a prayer and thanks God for our family, our health and the food we are about to eat. Three or four large buffet tables are set for food, as the Thanksgiving meal is always pot-luck; a collaborative effort amongst the family members.

As I share my Minino family customs with my new husband, I now have the honor of learning new long-standing traditions from the Turchin family. A deep-rooted tradition that has been shared with me recently is Grandma Turchin’s Cranberry Sauce. My husband’s half-sister in New Jersey surprised me with this recipe for my bridal shower. I felt honored to have been given this recipe. Almost like a “Welcome to the Club” Turchin family badge of honor.

As I was cooking this cranberry sauce my mind quickly turned quiet as I pondered the meaning of this recipe and its significance to the Turchin family. I believe that a family member can live through a recipe even though their physical body is no longer with us. I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Grandma Turchin before she passed. However, despite never meeting Grandma Turchin I've always felt her presence within the Turchin family. She lives on through stories from my husband, photos from my mother-in-law and family recipes that have been passed for generations. Grandma Turchin lives through her cranberry sauce recipe. I had a vision of her standing next to me, helping me through the recipe. Here’s to you Grandma Turchin, and your wonderful cranberry sauce. I feel so blessed to be part of your family and it is an honor to carry on your tradition.

Grandma Turchin’s Cranberry Sauce
From Terry and Nicole Petrone

1 lb of Cranberries
2 Apples – Seeded and Diced. Do not peel.
1 Cup Sugar

Place cranberries and apples in pot. Add water to just cover the cranberries. Cook until soft. Strain. Put back into pot. Add sugar and cook for 15-20 minutes. Let cool and put into glass jars. **you may add chopped pecans for additional taste

Quote from Terry on the recipe card, “You’ll always have a little bit of Grandma with you.” Isn’t that the truth.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chestnut Stuffing and Chestnut Roasting

You know you’re married when you have an open debate with your husband in the middle of Whole Foods over whether or not to purchase a tiny little jar of roasted chestnuts for $11.99. Yes I’ll admit the chestnuts were a rip-off. But I could hardly contain my excitement for creating this new chestnut stuffing for our turkey dinner. Not to mention my city-wide search for fresh chestnuts yielding zero chestnuts. I was desperate. Not knowing where else to turn and frustrated as hell, I purchased the outrageously priced jar despite my frugal husband’s plea to swap chestnuts with hazelnuts (no sir).

Ironically of course not 24 hours later at my regular grocery store, I found fresh chestnuts for $2.91 in the produce section, not the nut section. You would have thought that one of the 10 store clerks I hassled in my city-wide fresh chestnut search would have led me in the right direction. Ehhhhh. To make this experience a great learning lesson I purchased the fresh chestnuts to make a comparison with the jarred. I also wanted to test roasting chestnuts in my oven (see below). The moral of the story is: you find fresh chestnuts in the produce section, not the nut section – and the jarred stuff is a rip-off, but WAY more convenient. And, yes . . . totally worth the expense. This dressing ROCKS - husband approved, his belly happy. Whew.

Chestnut Stuffing
Adapted from On Cooking and The New Professional Chef

½ Cup Onion Diced
½ Cup Celery Diced
½ Cup Unsalted Butter
1 loaf of Bread Cubes, Dried
½ Cup Chicken Stock, Warmed
2 Eggs Beaten
2 Tablespoons Fresh Parley, Chopped
½ teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Pepper
1 Cup Chestnuts, Roasted, Shelled and Chopped

Saute the onion, celery and butter until tender.
Combine the bread cubes, chicken stock and eggs in a large bowl. Add the onion/celery mixture.
Add the parsley, salt, pepper and chestnuts. Mix well.
Place the stuffing in a buttered pan and cover with foil.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes.

**Note on bread cubes: I purchased a loaf of bread the night before, cubed it and let it sit out to dry for the night. Worked great.

How to Roast Fresh Chestnuts:

1. Take a small sharp knife and slice an X into each Chestnut (so they don’t explode in the oven).
2. Arrange the chestnuts on a cookie sheet with the X facing up
3. Place the X’d chestnuts in a preheated oven at 425 degrees for 20-ish minutes
4. Let the Chestnuts cool slightly, then peel and de-shell.

They look like little brains . . . don’t they?!?! The fresh chestnuts are the yellow variety colored chestnuts. The jarred chestnuts are brown colored and had a preserved coffee taste to them. I prefer the flavor of the fresh chestnuts but they were extremely high maintenance. The expensive jarred chestnuts are WAY more convenient.

On Cooking, A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals, Fourth Edition. By Sarah Labensky and Alan Hause, Steven Labensky and Pricilla Martel, Prentice Hall, 2007

The New Professional Chef, Sixth Edition. By The Culinary Institute of America. John Wiley & Sons, 1996.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How to Cook a Turkey for Thanksgiving

Until this year I’ve always been a ‘side-dish’ girl for Thanksgiving. Count me in for dessert and green bean casserole, but leave the turkey roasting to the professionals. Roasting a turkey seems like a daunting task; thawing the turkey, flavoring the turkey, basting the turkey, making sure the turkey is not raw, but not overcooked. But, if I’m truly going to become a self taught chef, I better learn how to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving. It can’t be that difficult, right?? A turkey is like a big chicken, and I bake chicken all the time.

I decided to consult my culinary books for proper guidance on tackling this project. On Cooking and another book, The New Professional Chef both had similar versions of ‘Turkey with Chestnut Dressing’ (I’ll share the amazing Chestnut Dressing Recipe tomorrow).

Seasoning and Trussing your Turkey

Both culinary books advised seasoning turkey with salt and pepper only. Why is this? Poultry that is roasted at high temperatures should never be seasoned with herbs on its surface because the high temperatures will burn the herbs (and burnt herbs taste nasty on turkey). If herbs are used, they should be stuffed inside the cavity. [1]

Step 1: Season your Turkey with Salt and Pepper, inside and out
Step 2: Truss your Turkey

What the heck is trussing?

Truss – To tie poultry with butcher’s twine into a compact shape for cooking [1]

I purchased the butchers twine from Whole Foods (they have it out for the Thanksgiving season). It’s important to use linen string because it doesn’t char like cotton or synthetic plastics. Trussing allows the bird to cook more evenly and helps the bird retain moisture and improve the appearance of the turkey. [1]

How to Truss a Turkey:

A) Cut off the first knuckle of the wing and tuck the wing behind the back.

B) Cut a piece of butchers twine approximately three times the length of the bird. With the breast and neck toward you, pass the string under the legs, and criss-cross above the legs, then again below the legs.

C) Pull the twine tightly across the leg and thigh joints and just above the wings.

D) Pull the string tight and tie it securely above the neck.

Cooking the Turkey

Place the trussed and seasoned turkey in a roasting pan, on top of a rack in the pan. I purchased a disposable roasting pan from the grocery store that had a ‘built-in’ rack with little divets in the pan for collecting juices.

Step 3:

Roast the Turkey at 400 degrees for 30 minutes to brown the skin.
Reduce the heat to 325 degrees for the remainder of the cooking time.

Cook Turkey 12-15 minutes per pound.

Optional: Add diced Mirepoix mixture to the bottom of the roasting pan for the last hour of cooking. (One white onion diced, 3 carrots diced, 2 celery sticks diced)

Step 4: Baste the Turkey every 15-20 minutes.

What the heck is basting?

Baste – To moisten foods during cooking with melted fat, pan drippings to prevent drying and add flavor [1]

With the exception of fatty birds such as ducks or geese, all poultry items should be basted while they roast in order to retain moisture. You can use a basting squeezer or spoon/ladel the juices over the turkey every 15-20 minutes. I found a lot of juices collected in the cavity, rather than initially drip into the pan. I basted with those cavity juices in addition to the pan juices.

Determining when your Turkey is Done

The most challenging aspect of turkey roasting was determining when the bird was done. I made the mistake of measuring the temperature of the chicken breast, instead of inserting the thermometer into the bird’s thigh, which is the last part to become fully cooked. I started jumping and cheering because my turkey finished cooking EARLY, according to my temperture reading of the turkey breast. My hungry husband was thrilled! Yippee, victory!

And back to reality: That never happens . . . no really, I’ve never heard of a turkey that finished cooking early. And when I started carving the turkey, bloody juices ran down my hand which was a tell-tale sign that my turkey was in fact NOT done. Back into the oven Mr. Turkey. *I hate it when that happens, but it was a good lesson on always taking the temperature in the inner thigh versus the breast.

Four methods for determining turkey doneness:

1. Temperature - Insert meat thermometer into the inner thigh (not breast), not touching bone. The thermometer should read 165-170 degrees
2. Color of the Juices – The color of the juices should be clear, not red, pink, bloody or cloudy. Most of my juices collected in the cavity, and my juices were distinctly not pink once my turkey finished cooking.
3. Looseness of Joints - The leg and thigh will move freely in its socket when the turkey is done
4. Amount of Cooking Time - Timing alone is less reliable because there are so many variables, different types of ovens, actual temperature variations, weather, and climate. But the general rule is: Cook Turkey 12-15 minutes per pound, at 325 degrees.[1]

Once Turkey has finished cooking, allow the bird to rest for 20 minutes before carving.

In conclusion,

Procedure for Roasting a Turkey

1) Season and Truss the Turkey
2) Place Turkey in roasting pan. Place on a rack, or buy a disposable pan with built-in rack. Place turkey on a bed of Mirepiox for the last hour to prevent scorching and to promote even cooking, add flavor/aroma.
3) Roast uncovered, baste every 15 minutes.
4) Allow the bird to rest before carving to evenly distribute the juices. Prepare gravy as the bird is resting. [1]

[1] On Cooking, A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals, Fourth Edition. By Sarah Labensky and Alan Hause, Steven Labensky and Pricilla Martel, Prentice Hall, 2007.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fresh and Simple Tomato Salsa, Por Favor (as they say in Mexico)

I have to admit that since my wedding I’ve become a Mexican food-whore. Shouldn’t we all eat salsa and guacamole three times a day . . . breakfast, lunch and dinner? The hotel where we stayed had fresh salsa on hand at every restaurant – almost like a staple table condiment like salt or pepper or hot sauce. I’ve since decided that fresh salsa shall become a more common ritual and accompaniment in my kitchen too. I’ve never enjoyed the jarred Pace Picante or Tostitos ‘Restaurant Style’. By the way, when they say ‘Restaurant Style’ do they actually mean ‘Extremely Watered-Down Style’? Ehh. The only time I’ll use Pace Picante is in dips when the salsa is masked by 5 or 10 other ingredients.

It brings me great joy to know it only takes a few ingredients to make a delicious fresh salsa. The payback on taste totally outweighs the time it takes to chop up the ingredients. Because it’s so simple, I know I’ll have a hard time ever buying the processed jarred salsa again - - the fresh stuff tastes so much better.

Simple Tomato Salsa

2-3 Tomatoes, seeded and diced
2-3 Fresh Jalapenos, seeded and diced
½-1 White Onion, diced
Fresh Lime or Lemon Juice
Fresh Cilantro Leaves Chopped
Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients - - -add more or less of each ingredient to fit your tastes. Cool in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or longer to blend the flavors.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How to Make Corn Tortillas - Mexican Wedding Inspiration

My sister-in-law and I were lounging by the pool in Playa del Carmen when she suggested that I pay tribute to my Mexican wedding through a genuine Mexican dish. Genious idea! My mind instantly dazed back to an authentic Mayan meal we had the day before when we toured the Chichen Itza ruins. The restaurant was in a small Mexican village and had an adorable Mayan woman making fresh corn tortillas – I have since named her The Tortilla Goddess. The Tortilla Goddess sat next to a round flamed griddle, which I have since learned is called a Comal. A Comal has a real fire underneath heating the surface – the experience felt pre-historic, not like camping but like our tortilla chef was directly from an ancient Mayan civilization. The tourists and I watched as The Tortilla Goddess methodically shaped the corn dough into round tortilla shapes. She then placed the tortillas on the Comal, and with her bare fingers flipped the tortillas and distributed the corn tortillas to the salivating tourists. My brother and I wondered how the heck she didn’t burn her fingers?!? My husband suspected calluses.

Now back from Mexico I decided to research how to make authentic corn tortillas - The Tortilla Goddess truly inpired me. It also seemed like a reasonable skill to learn on my mission to become a self taught chef. What I found is that making a corn tortilla is surprisingly simple. The main ingredient is special corn masa flour. I thought it would be a nightmare trying to locate this specific flour, but in fact I found it at my local, regular grocery store. It’s always nice to not hunt the entire city to find ONE ingredient. Here is a photo of corn masa flour I used:

Corn Tortilla Recipe

For 8 Tortillas

1 Cup Corn Masa Flour
1/8 tsp Salt
2/3 Cup Warm Water

For 16 Tortillas
2 Cups Corn Masa Flour
¼ tsp Salt
1 ¼ Cups Warm Water

Directions adapted from the back of the Maseca Flour bag:

Mixing Instructions:
Combine Flours, Salt and Warm water. Mix with your hands for 2 minutes until a soft dough forms. If dough feels dry add more water 1 tablespoon at a time. Once dough is made, cover the bowl with a towel to make sure the dough doesn’t dry out.

Directions for Shaping Tortillas:
Warm a non-stick griddle/fry pan on Medium-High heat. Next place a piece of plastic wrap on a cutting board. Then scoop a small 1 inch dough ball from the dough bowl into your hands. Round the small piece of dough with the palm of your hands, and then flatten with your plams as much as possible. Then place the semi-flattened dough on the plastic wrap and proceeded to further flatten and shape the dough into a tortilla. Gently peel the plastic wrap from the dough, and then place it onto the warmed griddle for about 50 seconds on each side.

The great thing about these tortillas is you can make them in advance. To store them you can keep the tortillas in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. You can re-heat the tortillas in the microwave or a skillet on medium-high for 15 seconds on each side.

I’ve seen a number of corn tortilla directions saying that you need a tortilla press. Absolutely not! I see a tortilla press as just another tool that wouldn’t get used much, but take up a lot of space in my small kitchen. I say the hand-shaped tortillas have more character and food with a little character always tastes better, right?!!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Trash the Wedding Dress

The funniest part of my wedding reception was hearing my mother shriek, “Mandy Nooooooo” as I gleefully sprinted into the ocean with my bridesmaids, brother and groom for the finale of our wedding reception. Yes I had to sprint because any slower and my mother would have caught up and intercepted the “Trash the Dress” ceremony. I hadn’t considered trashing my dress until about 10pm the night of my wedding. In fact, I had seen a woman on the beach the day before trashing her dress and my mother and I rolled our eyes and agreed I would NEVER do such a thing to MY wedding dress. But the problem was that my reception was ON the beach . . . the ocean right next to us the whole night. The light up dance floor was literally 20 feet from the crashing waves taunting us, begging us to take a dip in our wedding attire. Mid-reception it dawned on me that I will never wear this wedding dress again and I must take advantage of the moment. After a few “Tequila Boom Boom’s” and overhearing my bridesmaids planning their ocean foray at 10pm, I instantly intercepted the conversation and requested the ocean plunge be pushed to 10:30pm, for the last song of the night.
Let’s face it; the reception must end once the bride trashes her dress. Go TIME.

As it was the culmination of the greatest day my life, I will never forget splashing around the ocean with my groom, bridesmaids and brother. There was something so fun and devious about swimming in the ocean in my wedding dress. I will cherish that moment till my dying day . . .and yes, thankfully my mother has forgiven me. Love you mom!!

Top 14 Reasons Our Destination Wedding Was the Greatest:

14. My husband spilling the sand ceremony sand all over the wedding alter
13. Table 3 hijacking my parents to the dance floor for an “Apple Bottom Jeans” dance-off - guys versus girls
12. My Maid of Honor’s speech, describing our chance meeting at space camp and our wedding guests yelling “Geeks RULE”
11. The best man dropping the N-word in his speech - - “Nebraska” and “New York”
10. The pyramid photo where Mindy impressively did the splits in the sand, in her dress!!!
9. My parents starting off the reception with an impromptu dance . . . and everyone looking in awe at their dancing abilities
8. Smashing wedding cake into my husbands face, teeehee. And him not grabbing enough cake for payback.
7. My mother distributing blinking neon rings, light-up necklaces, and flashing maracas for the night-time dance party reception
6. Watching our friends Kevin and TK do the ‘worm’ on the Light Up Dance Floor
5. The waiters operating the flashing light-up bubble dispensers and waving them across the dance floor for ‘effect’.
4. My parents welcoming wedding crashers to our reception, and those wedding crashers dancing on our light-up dance floor
3. Our friend Jeremy stripping down to his boxers for the wedding party swim in the ocean
2. Trashing the Dress
1. Marrying the love of my life