Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Turkey Leftovers: The Soup

For anyone who has hosted a Thanksgiving dinner, knows about the leftover situation. I think the turkey leftover crowd consists of three main schools of thought:
  • Leftovers rock, I will do so many things with them!
  • Eh, turkey sandwiches are okay...
  • F the leftovers, blah!
Personally, I fit into the first group. I love the leftovers more than the main Thanksgiving dinner! Since I host it every year, I find myself stressed out and tired of the sight of food by the time the dinner is on the table. I pick at it a bit, drink too much wine and then pretend to be interested in attempting to sort of help with dishes...then drink more wine.

My favorite leftover is the turkey soup. Every year my parents come over the day after Thanksgiving, and we enjoy the turkey soup and some leftover bread together. It's relaxing, warm, and delicious.

  • Turkey Carcass
  • Giblets and Neck
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Parsley
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • 8 oz Tomato Juice
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Small Pasta (optional)
  • Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese (optional)
As soon as dinner is over, my husband starts dismantling the turkey carcass.  Dark meat goes in one container, and white meat in another. Once it's thoroughly cleaned off, we plop the bones and carcass bits into the stockpot*. I fill the stockpot with water, cover it, and start the boil. You can season the water if you like. I didn't season the water this year as I did the bacon turkey, and it was plenty salty and good as-is. Once it is boiling, turn it down to a simmer. This will go for as long as you want. I did mine for about 4 hours. Once you're tired and thinking of going to bed, take the stockpot off the stove, let it rest a bit, dump the carcass in the trash, and put the pot into the fridge.

The next day (early afternoon), take out the huge stockpot and see if any oil has hardened on the top. If so, just scrape it off with a spoon.

Put that bad-boy back on the stove, and turn up the heat. Add your giblets and neck if you didn't use them for gravy the day before. Roughly cut up carrots, celery, onion, parsley, and some garlic cloves. Add those to the soup. Pour in an 8 oz can of tomato juice, and season the soup with some salt and pepper. Once it comes to a boil, lower the temp to a simmer, cover it, and let it go. I let mine go for about 2 1/2 hours.

After about an hour or so of simmering, taste the broth and make sure it's seasoned to your liking. Add more seasoning now if necessary.

When you're soup is done, take it off the heat. Now is also the time that you'll want to boil up some small pasta** if you like that in your soup. I always put pasta in my soup, and I highly recommend it.

Remove the vegetables from your soup. I put these in a bowl and cover with some foil to keep them warm. It is now that you're probably going to benefit from some help - you need to strain the soup through a fine strainer. This gets you a really nice broth. Once your pasta is done, strain it and run some cold water through it to keep it from sticking together. Put some pasta in your bowls and top it with a couple ladles of soup.

Personally - it is at this point where I just top my soup with some pecorino-romano, and call it a day. My parents on the other hand, enjoy adding the cooked vegetables to their broth as well as chunks of leftover turkey. To each his own, and that's why this meal rocks. I made enough broth this year for at least 5 dinners!

* My stockpot has a removable strainer inside it - this makes all the difference when you're making soup. You can easily dump out the turkey carcass and strain out your vegetables after your second boil.

** I used tiny star pasta this year, and it was so good!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

No Fail Turkey

My husband and I have been hosting Thanksgiving for seven years now! We've been doing this since long before we were married, so each year we seem to have figured a little more out about this whole hosting a giant meal thing. Sometimes we change up appetizers, sides, and desserts; but we NEVER mess with the turkey. I have found a no-fail turkey, and I think we'd be stupid not to do it every year.

The idea isn't my own, in fact, it was something my dad talked about when I was little. Every year my mom made an incredible turkey, and I recall once my dad mentioning this method. My mom had her own way of roasting the turkey, so she never took the suggestion. I can't blame her, because once you find "your way," there's really no going back. I mean, who wants to try something totally new and have it fail on them with a table full of hungry people?

For those of you who would like to try something new or have never cooked a turkey before, you're going to want to give this a go.

No Fail Turkey

  • Turkey (any size)
  • Thick-cut bacon
  • Veg/Herbs or Stuffing

Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees. First, rinse out your turkey - make sure to take the neck and bag of guts out before cooking. Pat the turkey down with a paper towel, and place it in your roasting pan. If you are doing stuffing, go ahead and stuff him now. If you're not, roughly chop up some veg or herbs, and put that in the cavity. An onion, some carrots, and celery work well. This keeps the turkey moist from the inside out.

Now the fun part. Lay your bacon on top of your turkey. As you can see, I don't use any particular type of pattern, I just lay it on there. I also don't season the skin of the turkey. I've found that the bacon provides enough saltiness that seasoning is not necessary.

Make a little tent-like structure out of foil and place that on top of your pan. You don't want the foil touching the turkey - it's just a loose tent, not a lock-down on the poor little guy.

Put that bad boy in the oven, the time will vary depending on the size of your bird. So Google that ahead of time so you give yourself adequate time to get everything done. About 20 minutes before the turkey is done, take off the foil. This will brown everything up really nice like.

When it's all done, take it out, and let it rest a bit because that mo-fo is going to be HOT! When the turkey has cooled down a little bit, start pulling off the bacon. I tend to put the bacon on a plate to the side. What doesn't get eaten by the vultures standing around the turkey gets crumbled and put on top of my mashed potatoes.

Carve up your bird, and enjoy!

This recipe has NEVER failed me. The turkey comes out oh-so-moist and good - even the breast meat! Did you notice that part in the recipe about basting? Well, you shouldn't have because it's not in there. The bacon fat starts to render and bastes the turkey through the whole process, so you don't ever need to open the oven. The smell is incredible, and the bacon fat that mixes in with the turkey juices creates a great flavor in the stuffing and some amazing gravy. Yeah, you're going to want to make pan gravy from these drippings.

Yes, this isn't a very timely post since Thanksgiving is over, but you can always bookmark it for next year. Better yet, buy a turkey for cheap since the grocery stores are getting rid of them, throw it in your freezer, and give it a go when you're craving turkey again. Oh, and there's always Christmas...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Too Old For Sparkle Jeans...

In preparation for Thanksgiving, my husband and I went on a cleaning spree. I'm not talking the usual "cleaning," but more of a "purge." We started with the pantry, it led to the spice cabinet, which went on and on, finally ending up at our closets.

You know when you clean out your closet, there are things you save -  things you'll probably never wear again? They usually fall into one of these categories:
  • Too small, but they will fit once I lose this weight!
  • Goofy style, but I paid a lot for it...
  • Sentimental: wedding dress, prom dress, favorite band t-shirt from high school, etc.
My sparkle jeans fell into the "Goofy style, but I paid a lot for it" category. I still remember the day I bought those jeans. It was when I was living in Los Angeles during a month-long film production class. I was so frugal, but some of the girls in my class convinced me to go shopping with them. We went to some schmancy boutiques in Santa Monica. Just for shits, I tried on these jeans. They were super cool, made my but look awesome, and cost $200! I'm more of an Old Navy/on-sale Levis kind of girl - spending more than $30 on jeans is dumb. So of course I bought them.

As I pulled those jeans out of my closet, loads of memories rushed forth. I wore them to clubs, dancing, house parties - hell I even rocked them during a Tango lesson in Argentina! Mind you, I was in my early 20s when these jeans saw those rad events.

Looking at them now, I just see a silly pair of jeans. If I wore them out, I would look goofy. People would think, "What is she doing in those?" "The year 2000 called, it wants it jeans back." Even if I did decide to go dancing with my friends, I would probably dress in something that flattered my body and that I felt comfortable in. Back in the day, comfort was the last thing I cared about when going out.

Alas, I'm too old for sparkle jeans, so I'm going to donate them with the rest of the treasures I found in my closet this weekend. I hope some silly college girl or teenager finds them and loves them as much as I did!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Knockin' Down Fears, One at a Time...

For those of you that don't know me, and maybe for those of you that do, I'm one of the biggest fraidy-cats out there. As a child I didn't like to be left alone, I would have panic attacks before family functions (obviously didn't want to be with people either), and the slight thought of doing something new would send me into a tizzy.

As I grew up, this didn't change a whole lot, but I just got better at hiding it. My mom would usually take me shopping with her on Saturdays - we would go to the mall, and it was just a terrible thing. It's not just that I didn't like shopping - which I'm still not too fond of - but it was all those damn people. What if one of them had a gun? What if one tries to kidnap me? What if we get in a car accident on our way home from that god-awful place? Once we got home, I was so overwhelmed with the worries of the day that I usually had to take a nap. I would feel physically exhausted from the experience. As I got older and began to drive, I found that the mall was a much better place to be than say...school, for instance. I found myself going to said "god awful place" as an alternative to the hell of high school.

Another example of this anxious madness was move theatres. The thought of a dark theatre full of strangers almost made me sick. When I'd find out that I'd be going to the movies, I would worry about it and have bad dreams up until the day when I finally had to go. It usually wasn't so bad, but it didn't stop me from freaking out the next time I had to go. Then in high school, I started going out with boys, and had to pretend that it was fun. It was in high school that I met my now husband, and he worked in a move theatre of all places! I soon found myself looking forward to going to that once frightening place and actually having a good time.

Probably the thing in this world that I was most frightened to do, and never thought I would ever do it is air travel. From a very young age, the idea of airplanes scared the shit out of me. In high school I had a chance to go to London with my cousin's class on a really rad field trip, and I had to turn it down. I wanted to go to London, but I would cry and cry at the thought of riding on an airplane. When I was 18, my folks took the family to D.C. for one of the biggest vacations of our lives...guess who didn't go? Yep, they went without me. I just couldn't get myself to do it. It was even a joint-trip with my best friend's family, and I still couldn't go! This fear was finally conquered in 2004 when my boyfriend - now husband - went to the Oakland A's Spring Training in Tempe, Arizona. The flight was only an hour long, and I had enough Xanax and cocktails to dope a horse. It was scary, sure, but my husband held my hand and distracted me with silly videos and games on his computer. The coolest part was when we discovered that Alyssa Milano was sitting in front of us. I shit you not, she was going to Spring Training just like us! We talked to her for a while and she was the coolest chick. On that trip, I also got to see Barry Zito - not bad for a fear-conquering journy, eh?

I bonus-conquered that fear when in 2006 I went to Argentina and Chile with my immediate and extended family. Xanax helped, as did being surrounded by my understanding loved ones. Since then, I started working for a new company that required business travel 5-10 times per year. I didn't want to come off as a total pussy so I told them I was cool with that. Turns out I had to be, and now I travel by air quite a bit. I don't even need meds now! How about that? I still don't love airplanes, but it's much easier to deal with.

The most recent fear I conquered was public speaking. My aunt's long-time partner passed away, and her funeral was on Friday. The minister called someone up who had told her that they wanted to speak, and after he spoke, she asked if anyone else had anything to say. I thought about talking, but then decided against it as I could barely hear myself think through my heart beating in my eardrums. Then a lady got up and spoke some lovely words, and I thought, "Okay, once she's done, I'm going up..." Then the lady's husband immediately got up and started speaking, I thought, "Oh damn...I'm losing my nerve!" As soon as he sat down, I found myself walking up to the podium. It was like an out of body experience, and before I new it, I was talking. I can't remember exactly what I said, where I was looking, or what I was doing with my hands, but then I was back in my seat. I'm still in shock over the whole thing, but I'm pretty damn proud of myself.

I find that I may be a fraidy-cat, but I don't let it stop me from enjoying life and living without regrets. I just put on my game-face, and pretend that what I'm doing is normal and fine with me, then before I know it, I've conquered a fear. I used to be too scared to talk to people in stores, and just last year I haggled like $4,000 off of our new car like a freakin' pro. Everytime I do something like this, I can only explain it as an "out of body experience." It's like my loser-self gives up to a strong persona, and I just go along for the ride.

Do you have any fears that you've conquered recently or in the past? How did you feel when you made the leap to face the fear? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Spaghetti and Meatballs Done Not My Way

For the first time EVER, I tried a sauce recipe that wasn't my own.

It's not like I was born knowing how to make sauce, well...I kinda was. My mom isn't Italian, she's Canadian (we'll save that for another blog post), but she married into a pretty hard-core Italian family. This meant that she had to master a sauce. From what I understand, my dad taught her his sauce, and she made adjustments over the years perfecting it in her own way. In Italian families like mine, your sauce is very important. You eat it at least once a week, so it better be pretty damn good.

Okay, now back to me - my mom didn't really teach me how to make my sauce, but I watched her do it almost every week when I was growing up, so when I moved out on my own, I just figured it out. Of course, I've made my adjustments too. None of our sauces are exactly alike, but I'm going to go ahead and say that they are all excellent.

My sauce is very near and dear to me. I did describe how I make it in a previous blog post, but that was actually the first time I've ever written it down. Sometimes it comes out a little different depending on what I consider "a dash" or "some" to be on that particular day, but it's always good. Now this brings me to trying a sauce that's not mine...

It's one thing when someone goes, "Have you ever put ______ in your sauce? It's really good," compared to, "Try this sauce recipe." It's a big commitment to try a new sauce. What if it sucks? What if it doesn't cling right to the pasta? OH GAWD, what if it's BETTER than mine? These are all things that went through my head when my husband mentioned his interest in trying the "Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs*" recipe from Cooks Illustrated.

I probably would have just pooh-poohed the idea, if not for my husband's crazed love for meatballs. I know I'm not the Meatball Queen that my grandmother was, so I thought, "What the hell, he's a pretty good husband, I'll give it a try."

There were some strange differences in this recipe compared to the techniques my family uses:
  • Use of tomato juice instead of puree
  • Adding buttermilk to the breadcrumbs
  • Including diced prosciutto to the meat mixture
  • White wine instead of red wine
 The tomato juice thing really through me off, but it made the sauce thinner, so when I simmered the meatballs in it, it naturally thickened up - not a bad idea. The buttermilk in the breadcrumbs things was super weird, but it worked - those were some rich and moist balls. Adding prosciutto to anything is a great idea, so of course it worked out. Finally, the white wine thing - not sure if I noticed the difference there.

Overall, I have to say that the sauce wasn't my favorite, but it was very good. If I did it again I would also do the meatballs exactly the same with the exception of adding the extra salt as the meatballs and sauce get pretty salty from the prosciutto and cheese. I would also only do the process of keeping a thinner sauce while seasoning it my own way. I'm glad I tried this, it's a sure-way to get some great pasta on the table. Give it a whirl, you won't be disappointed.
*The sauce serves like 12 people, so I cut it by 2/3 and it fed my husband and I with enough for a big dinner, two lunches, and a tad more for snacking. The meatballs make AMAZING meatball sandwiches - I love meals that have leftovers!