Saturday, November 26, 2011


Projects 11 & 12 and Thanksgiving Wrap-up

Project 11 was a dry cure and I went with a Tuscan Salami recipe. After the salami had lost just over 30% of its starting weight, I put them into vacuum bag, sealed them and put them in the fridge. Then I traveled for work. About a week before Thanksgiving, I opened some of the vacuum bags and tasted. It was good, but a little more drying would help. So I wrapped the salami in parchment paper and put them back in the fridge. A week in the fridge improved them significantly. I sliced a few of them up for a Thanksgiving appetizer. I plan to bring a bunch to the curling club on Monday night.

The final Charcutpalooza project was to celebrate the skills learned at a meal. I thought Thanksgiving would be the perfect opportunity to share some of the Charcutepalooza experience. The goal was to have at least 3 Charcutepalooza inspired items at a meal. The first at Thanksgiving was the salami. The second was the grilled vegetable and goat cheese terrine. I did my best to slice it so it looked pretty. It tasted better than it looked. I will chalk this up to being one of those "now that you have done it once, the next time will be better" experiences. Now I know what to expect.

Next up was the turkey. After the dry rub and rinsing, I smoked the turkey. This is that offset smoker that recently made the trip from my sister-in-laws house to mine. Behind it are the trusty Webers. That 18" one on the left has been with me since 1997. The 22" on the right was a father's day gift 6 years ago.

If I had to guess, the turkey wasn't fully thawed. I thought it was but I don't think so. The bird went into the smoker before 11 AM. By 3:30 (the time I was hoping to take it off to rest), the temperature of the thigh was 120 degrees. I took it from the smoker and went to the oven and named the process smo-roasting. While it came out late, the turkey looked pretty and tasted pretty good too. And through the power of beer, wine and some North Carolina moonshine my brother brought, I was the only one that cared about the delay with dinner.

The fourth and final Charcutepalooza inspired dish was the string beans. I cooked up some homemade pancetta. I added some garlic and a dash of vinegar to the pan and the reheated the blanched beans. It came out pretty good. Not too many beans were left and that pancetta is delicious.

All in all, it was a good Thanksgiving.

And last night there were leftovers. This is one of my favorite sandwiches. You've got good bread, turkey, stuffing and gravy in there. Something about bread in bread is delicious. While I was taking this picture I was asked, "Daddy, why are you taking pictures of your dinner?" Probably because I'm a little crazy.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving prep continues

Had a busy, but reasonably paced day. I'm typing at 9:50 and haven't really done any work for a few hours. That is light years ahead of last year. All that is left on today's list is to make a schedule for tomorrow. I started making up an ideal timeline. You have to be flexible with it, but it gives you a good idea of when the gravy needs to get made in relation to when the potatoes needs to get boiled. This year, there is no fried turkey. Not because William Shatner made it seem like I was risking my life, but because what you get in relation to the cost doesn't seem worth it. I mean frying makes a good turkey, but is it worth $30 or more of oil? This year I answered I went with "No." There will be one, larger smoked turkey this year. Thanksgiving gets easier if the turkey is cooked outside. It frees up the whole kitchen. I think I might have said this already...anyhow, here's how the day went.

Got the kids off to school, came home and got going with the final shopping. Got home a little after 9 and put the sweet potatoes into the oven, started making applesauce from frozen apples we picked in September, made a roux for the gravy, and blanched some string beans for the vegetable.

Sweet potatoes ready for baking.

The frozen apples go into a pot and thaw/cook slowly for the next 90 minutes or so.

I trimmed all the end off about a pound and a half of beans. Small batches of greens were blanched in heavily salted water. The idea is not to lose the boil when adding beans. Why? Because Thomas Keller said so and while I have never eaten his food, you just got to give him the benefit of the doubt.

From the boiling water, the beans get dropped into an ice bath. The next fridge is totally going to have an ice maker.

When the apples looked done, I mashed them with a potato masher and then added some cinnamon. 

It was still a little too chunky, so I hit it with the stick blender.

While all that was going on, I was also tending to a roux for the gravy. I cook the roux until it looks like peanut butter.

The sweet potatoes got peeled and put into the stand mixer. They get mashed up with butter, salt, cream, little bit of brown sugar and some maple syrup. When they taste good, I add an egg. Then I just put the mixture in a buttered Pyrex dish to get heated tomorrow.

Once all that got cleaned up, I went over to the elementary school and ran a center in my daughter's kindergarten class. The class gets divided into four groups. The head teacher works with one group, a speech specialists works with a seconds group, a third group eats a snack and the fourth group was with me. Each station is 15 minutes long. The hour goes by pretty quick. At my station we colored pictures and made pilgrim hats. When I got back to the house, my parents had arrived. I quickly put them to work making toast for stuffing. They prepped two loaves of Mastrianni bread. That saves me a ton of time. While they did that, I sauteed some pancetta to go with the string beans and prepped all of the onions and celery to get cooked for the stuffing.

That's my new allegedly "green" non stick pan. It worked very well today. Time will tell how it holds up. I can say that new out of the box, this non stick coating is much better than a non stick Calphalon pan and another no-name brand pan were out of their boxes. Once the pancetta was crispy (it was very hard to not eat it all) and the celery and onions were cut up, it was time to go to the bus stop. My parents were done with the toasting mission and played with the kids and I cooked up the stuffing mix.

This gets mixed with sage and thyme. Tomorrow it gets combined with the bread and chicken stock. There is also a smaller vegetarian bowl of stuffing to be made. Once it was all cleaned up, my wife got home and we set out all the platters. Then we went out to dinner. A full day, but paced and never really stressful. I'm off to go make my timeline for game day tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

T-Day Prep continues

Last night I made a Charcutepalooz-ish appetizer. It is a bunch of grilled vegetables wrapped around some goat cheese. I think it will taste good. Might not end up looking pretty or slicing well, but it should taste good. First up, prep the vegetables. Sliced some eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash. The red pepper gets roasted whole. Then I made a vinaigrette with the stick blender. Stick blenders are fantastic and everyone should have one.

Lit up a chimney of coals and roasted the pepper first. Then I grilled the rest of the sliced vegetables. It was kind of chilly out last night, but surprisingly comfortable next to the grill.

I bloomed some gelatin and added that to the vinaigrette. I put it in a warm water bath so it would set up too fast.

I lined a little loaf pan with plastic wrap and started layering. Each layer got brushed with the vinaigrette.

On top of the squash, I put in the red pepper and then goat cheese. I ended up with goat cheese all over my hands so the next picture is what it looked like when I put it in the fridge.

We'll see what it looks like on Thursday. Tonight is make the gluten free cheesecake night. Seven (yes 7, VII, siete, sept) blocks of Philly cream cheese go in this bad boy. I start by preparing the crust. The gluten free crust is just pulverized gluten free cookies. Depending on the cookie, the crumbs may need a little sugar or butter. This time I went with Liz Lovely snickerdoodles I found in the health food store. They pressed together pretty well. Hopefully the cinnamon isn't overpowering. Plus, the name made me think of Liz Lemon and that show is great. Le crust:

The obscene amount of cream cheese is whipped with sugar and vanilla.

Then 4 eggs go in one at a time. After each addition, the bowl gets scrapped down to make sure everything is combined.

This is egg 3 going in...

Once the eggs are combined, some sour cream gets gently stirred in.

Here it is just before going into the oven . The foil is my work around for not having a lover walled roasting pan. If the cheesecake pan walls are lower than the roasting pan walls, stem will screw up the top of the cheesecake. I make a foil sling that keeps the steam from hitting the top of the cheesecake.

After about 1:45 in the oven, I put the broiler on for about a minute, and voila:

Only 1 small crack that no one will see. The other news from tonight, I gave the kids some of the Tuscan Salami and they inhaled it. So much for making the same thing twice. It is pretty good, but nothing like the last batch. Maybe next time...

Still in "piece of cake" mode. I'm even taking some time out to go into my daughter's kindergarten class tomorrow. I guess we'll see how confident I am at this time tomorrow.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Have you not heard?

Well uh bird bird bird. Bird is the the word.

I changed plans today and picked up the turkey. I thought I'd give a Fresh Market turkey a try this year. While the turkey looks great, smells great and will hopefully taste great, I am glad I got it today for two reasons. The first is a change in my pre-cooking method. I have brined birds and also skipped brining in favor of a kosher turkey (both fresh and frozen). Earlier today I remembered that last year I read about a dry rub combination of salt and sugar. You can also read about the method at the LA Times and probably a few other places as well. Takes a few days though and I would needed to start tonight to be ready for Thursday.

The second reason I'm glad I got the turkey today is that the giblets and neck were frozen solid. It took a little bit of work to get them out as well as some ice stuck to the ribs. So much for fresh. According to a Good Eats episode I saw awhile ago, fresh turkeys can be stored at temperatures below freezing. For the center of the turkey to be this solid, this turkey had to be frozen solid. I dodged a bullet here. I doubt the center would have completely thawed in the cold storage at the store by Wednesday and if I had first seen this ice at 9 AM Thursday morning, I would have freaked. Shame on you, Fresh Market. I think I'm going to call and complain tomorrow.

Back to more fun Thanksgiving stuff. Based on some of the discussion over at the Hunger Artist, I stuck to the ratios per 1000 grams of turkey - 14 grams of salt and 7 grams of sugar. The sticker on the turkey said 19.25 pounds. I weighed what I took out of the turkey: giblets, neck, some fat, plastic pop up timer, plastic thing holding the legs and some ice. This brought my weight down to 18 pounds or about 8200 grams. So I weighed out 115 grams (8.2x14) of salt. There was some discussion on fine salt versus kosher salt. I split the difference and used half kosher and half fine sea salt. Then I added 57 grams of sugar (8.2*7). Here's the bird washed and dried.

I covered it inside and out with the salt/sugar mixture.

This turkey wasn't going to fit in any bag I had, so I covered my new super awesome huge stainless steel bowl with plastic wrap. Put the turkey in the bowl and finish the see through mummification with a little more wrap. That should do it. 

If I have some time tomorrow, I might make something charcutepalooza-ish. Most of the Thanksgiving shopping is done. House is mostly clean. Very much on pace. Still in "piece of cake" mode.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I love a parade

After a day of cleaning the house so it is nice and neat before we trash it later this week, we took in the Schenectady parade. I had never been before. Smurf-ette coming at you....

We got there just after the parade started and State Street was packed. I was pretty surprised how many people showed up. This was the original view from a kids perspective:

Pretty crappy. After a little roaming we found a decent spot near the Subway next door to Proctor's. I got the girls up onto a traffic signal cabinet. The girls were much happier.

We only got a few dirty looks from "The Man" for being up there but no one said anything. Seriously, the place was packed.

All in all, a very nice night. We had a good time. Well done, Schenectady.

And now a PSA for Albany Jane: Target has Hello Kitty gloves. The kind of gloves that have a little flap (in this case a Hello Kitty) that can expose your finger tips. Casey loves hers and was very excited to pose for you. Hope they have your size.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

And so it begins

If I am counting correctly, this is the 10th year we are hosting some Thanksgiving festivities. Last year, I fell behind in the prep work and never really caught up. This year is going to be different. I've already looked and updated the all powerful Thanksgiving spreadsheet. Still have a few tweaks, but the preparations have already begun. First thing on the prep list was making more stock. I hit the Asian Market on Central up for two packages of chicken feet. Let them simmer in some water for 3 hours or so then I added onion and a lot of carrots.

I skipped the celery this time around. I was recently flipping through the French Laundry cookbook (which by the way is full of things I would love to eat but will never cook for myself), and Thomas Keller thinks the celery adds bitterness to the stock. It could be the lack of celery or it could be the overload of carrots and I suppose it could be both, but this stock was very sweet. Although it is probably closer to an aspic than a stock. Once it chilled it was chicken flavored jello.

I could have held this bowl upside down and nothing would have happened. The chicken jello was scooped into 2 bags and frozen. The larger bag is for gravy and the smaller bag will get a little water added to it before going in the dressing. Tomorrow, I have to try the Tuscan Salami and Saturday I'll hit the Troy Farmer's Market. I think I might want to try and smoke a chicken in the smoker before I do the turkey. Or at least fire it up and try to manage the heat. This year's cooker is different than in years past. I bought this one with the winning from a good day at the track.The last time I used this was before I hosted a Thanksgiving. It has been resting in a garage in Rotterdam for over a decade. Through the magic of my brother-in-laws pickup truck, it made the trip to our house.

I also have to come up with one more dish featuring Chacutepalooza techniques. The final challenge is to host a meal featuring at least 3 of the techniques practiced during Charcutepalooza. I've got the smoked turkey and Tuscan Salami lined up. I've got to come up with one more. Right now, I'm leaning towards a grilled kielbasa appetizer. I'm going to think that one over. A week is still plenty of time. Plenty.

For now, I am enjoying the euphoric, totally ready for preparing Thanksgiving buzz. I am seriously so far ahead of last year it is sick. I'll let you know how I feel Wednesday night. But for right now, piece of cake.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pierogi Making

The fall pierogi making seems to happen on Veteran's Day each year. At about 10, we show up at Aunt Carol & Uncle Lou's house. Then we eat a little something. Around 10:30 the filling gets made - Farmer's cheese, eggs, cottage cheese, scallions(green part only), salt, pepper and garlic powder. Then the first batch of dough gets made - flour, salt, oil, water and garlic powder.

The batches of dough get rolled out and circles get cut with and old can that has been cutting circles for pierogi for decades. The rolling and cutting is my job. The circles get filled with the cheese mixture and pinched shut. This goes on until there is no more filling. The pierogi get boiled in batches until they float. When they float, they are put on racks to dry. Later in the day, Carol wraps packages of 6 pierogi in wax paper and then re-wraps the bundle with aluminum foil. From here, the bundles are frozen until Christmas Eve when they are fried to a golden brown and inhaled by the family.

I didn't get any pictures of the process this year, but I snapped a few of the end result.

But wait, there are more....

I counted 125 pierogi made today. Not too shabby. When we were done, there was pizza for lunch. This is turning into a very nice Veteran's Day tradition. And if you have enough hands, these are pretty easy to make. We should probably do it more often.