Archives for November, 2010

Passion, Commitment, Support – How to Debone a Turkey

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Passion, Commitment and Support

 It was a typical Wednesday night.  The kids were in bed.  Marko was out for his weekly meet-up with his friends and I had the whole house to myself.   AHHH….the remote is MINE! ALL MINE!!   A nice hot mug of tea in one hand and the remote in the other, I snuggle up on the sofa in front of our large flat screen, relishing the fact that I’m completely free to choose my visual entertainment for the night.  YESSSSS.  No cartoons. No actions films.  No CSI Alien Spy Shape-shifting Profilers…just my choice.  What I want is a good old-fashioned chick-flick!  You know the kind where we women sit teary-eyed on the edge of our seats while our male counterparts roll their eyes and hand us tissues.   Yes.  That’s what I want.  As I scroll through our vast collection of feature films, I come across the 2009 movie ‘Julie & Julia’.   No, I still hadn’t seen it yet!  How could I have missed it?  It’s a food film!  It has Meryl Streep, the queen of chick flicks!  A double-click and the screen comes alive.  I am totally looking forward to the next two hours of mindless entertainment.  

Quickly, the main characters are summed up; Julia Child began as a bored yet inspired housewife living in Paris in the 1940’s and, current day Julie Powell, a talented but struggling writer with a passion for food and hopelessly stuck in a soul-sucking job.  Both women are looking for a way to turn their passion into something fulfilling.    Yeah, I relate totally to the Julie Powell character. A quick tally of similarities; Crazy Passion for Food:  Check.   Soul-Sucking Job:  Check.  Desperate Need for Change: Check.  Ever Patient Spouse tired of hearing me complain:  Check.    Then it hit me.  The catalyst to make change …PASSION! 

The movie then continues, demonstrating what both women do to reach their goals; Julia with her undying commitment to create a French cookbook in English for Americans and, Julie with her sometimes insane commitment to get through every single recipe in Mrs. Child’s now iconic cookbook in one year.  There it is, another magic word:  COMMITMENT.  

The movie then concludes with both women celebrating their respective victories and proclaiming their unending gratitude for the support given by their spouses.  Another key word revealed:  SUPPORT. 

Passion enough to make change.
Undying Commitment to make it happen.
Loving Support from those around us.  

Is this the recipe of success?   Maybe, but it’s definitely not fool-proof.  I think about my last attempt at pumpkin gnocchi.  I followed that recipe to a T.  I used all the best ingredients and still they came out too soft.   However, as any good cook knows, if you start with good ingredients, you’re chances of success improve.   We all know that life holds no guarantees.    

 “Passion, Commitment, Support.”  It’s become my mantra.

 Today’s recipe is more of a process than a recipe.  In the movie, Julie’s last recipe was to debone a duck.  It was the recipe she most feared.  This past Sunday, we celebrated Thanksgiving. (We don’t have the Thursday off here in the Netherlands so we make due with Sunday)  To face my fears, I was instructed by my Slow Food colleague, Melle, on how to debone a 15 pound turkey.  Let me tell you, if you want to have the feeling of achievement in less than an hour, then do this.  You’ll feel like you’ve just climbed Mount Everest or cured a disease.  Sorry for the lack of pictures.  My camera didn’t take too well to being covered with turkey slime.  Next time I do this, I’ll document this better and post pictures. 

"No bones about it" Turkey

How To Debone A Turkey

Step 1:   Preparation:  Cover your kitchen table with plastic.  I used an old plastic picnic tablecloth (yes, a red and white checked one).
              –  Sharpen 2 knives:  an 8 inch carving knife and a 5 inch paring knife.
              –  Have a pair of kitchen scissors on hand.
              –  Kitchen string and a needle big enough to thread it. (an upholstery needle works great)
               – Your favourite stuffing recipe.

Step 2:   Prepare bird.  Thaw if necessary. Remove from packaging and remove giblets.  Wash with warm water. 

Step 3:   Place bird on its belly, tail side toward you.

Step 4:   Being careful not to puncture or cut the skin, start the operation.
            –  With the paring knife, make a long incision from the top of the neck, all the way down the spine, to the beginning of the tail. Cut through the skin to the bone. (Do not cut the tail in half)
            –  Starting from one side, using the tip of the knife, gently cut under the skin and the small bits of meat close to the backbone. Getting as close to the bone as possible. Patience is the key here.
           –  Making very small slices, cut very close to the bone, follow the ribcage.�
–  There are 2 areas of concern:  The shoulder blade and the hip bone.

                To get around the shoulder blade:  gently scrape the meat off the bone until the joint at the top of the wing is revealed.  Scrape a bit more and using the scissors cut the ligaments until the bone comes free.  Gentle prodding may be necessary.

                To free the hip bone:  Scrape the bone until the joint is clearly visible.  Cut the ligaments with a scissors or knife.  The ligaments on the side farthest from you will be the most difficult.  Resist the urge to just crack it off.  This risks ripping the skin.  Cutting and gentle prying works the best. 

            –  Continue cutting around the ribcage until the sternum is reached.  This is very close to the skin so be careful.
            –   Remove thigh bones:  Starting from the hip, gently scrape the meat from the bone until the knee joint is revealed.  Cut the ligaments and remove the bone.
            –   Remove the first wing joint.  Scrape the bone and cut the ligaments.  CAREFUL:  the skin is very thin here.  This is as far as you can go with this side.
            –  Do the same to the other side of the bird.
            –  Removing the sternum:  At the center of the breast, the skin is very close to the bone and attached by a membrane.  Using the scissors gently cut the membrane close to the pointed bone of the sternum, freeing the bone. 

DONE!   Breath Deep.  Dance the Rocky dance to ‘Eye of the Tiger’

Step 5:  Lay the bird out flat (spread eagle) and season with salt and pepper. 

Step 6:   Fill with your favourite stuffing.  I used the ‘New England Sausage, Apple, and cranberry’ stuffing recipe from Epicurious.  It was delicious. 

Step 7:  Pile the stuffing on top of the turkey.  Call your spouse, friend, or partner to hold the bird together wile you sew the back with the cooking string and needle.
            –  Turn the bird over and sew the neck area and the crotch area closed. 

Step 8:  Arrange on a very large baking pan.  Arrange the wings and legs in a natural position. 

Step 9:  Generously grease with softened butter.  Salt and pepper generously.
            –  Add about 2 cups of water to the pan.
            –  Cover tightly with aluminium foil.
            – Bake at 325F (150C) until the internal stuffing temp is 170F) For a 15lb bird, it took 3 hours.
            –  cool for about an hour.
            –  Get your camera ready. Accept rave reviews

Sinter Klaas Kapootje

Friday, November 19th, 2010

SINTER KLAAS KAPOONTE

It’s holiday time in Holland and as an introduction to this post, I kindly present a segment from one of my favorite holiday movies:  Miracle on 34th Street:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOJXyqdF3uY

One of the things that always interested me is how other parts of the world celebrate holidays.  Living in Europe has given me an up-close-and-personal view of traditions that some people only read about.  With my birthday in December, I particularly find traditions that revolve around Christmas most intriguing. What I find fascinating, aside from the obvious food festivities, are the main characters of the celebration. To much confusion, many countries celebrate the birth of Christ and the feast of Saint Nicholas on the same day. This often results in heated secular debates, hilarious comedy (South Park’s ‘Spirit of Christmas’ pilot comes to mind) and hypothetical inquiries about the mish-mash of traditions as to which tradition goes with which celebration.  Hmm, what does a Christmas tree have to do with the birth of Christ anyway or Saint Nicholas for that matter?   To prevent confusion, some European countries hold separate and distinct celebrations. While traditions in countries vary greatly, the feast of Saint Nicholas or Sint Nicolaas as he is known here is mostly held on December 5th.  This is the alleged birthday of the 14th century Turkish cardinal (hence the red suit and mitre) known for giving all his worldly wealth to the poor before becoming a priest. Sinter Klaas, as he is more commonly known, is not the jolly fat man that Santa is (Santa’s modern-day image had been well defined by a Coca Cola ad campaign in the 1940’s) but a thin, old, stoic priest, dressed in a pointed hat, long white beard and red cardinal’s cape. December 5th is known as Pakjes-Avond or ‘package night’ and is the traditional day of gift giving. Unlike Christmas, this day is unfortunately not an official day off.  This often causes Pakjes Avond to be celebrated on the nearest weekend.


As the Dutch tradition goes, sometime in mid- November, Sint arrives in Holland by steamboat from Spain where he ‘summers’ in Madrid.  This is a nationally televised event that has every believing child glued to their TV or if they have access, standing outside waiting impatiently at designated docks for the steamboat to gloriously arrive.  With much pomp and circumstance, Sint disembarks his steamboat and is escorted to his gilded chair to give his welcoming speech.  Then with the same miracle that Santa is simultaneously at every department store in the US, everyone welcomes Sint as he mounts his faithful horse, Amerigo, and rides through every town.

He is accompanied by his entourage of black Moorish sidekicks, all named ‘Zwarte Piet’ or Black Pete.  Since actual Moors are difficult to come by in the predominately white Netherlands, the roles of the Zwarte Piets are played out by normally white Dutch people dancing around in black-face, wigs, and gaudy court jester costumes. At first glance, it doesn’t seem very P.C., in the same way that seeing an old film of the white Al Jolson in black-face singing ‘Mammie’ is.  In the ‘80s there was a movement of sorts to be non-discriminating, so instead of Black Pete, there was Pink Pete, Green Pete, Blue Pete, etc… It just got out of hand, so now the Dutch have their beloved Zwarte Piet back.  Now back to Sint’s journey. 

Along the route, the streets are filled with yet more children, each hoping to get a handful of sweets and tiny gingerbread cookies named pepernoten from the ‘Piets’ as they dance by.  Sint en Piet(s) will remain in cold, rainy Holland until after his birthday on December 5th. After that he will again board his steamboat, turn it around and return, exhausted, to sunny Spain. 

During the time that Sint and Piet(s) are in town, children may set out their shoe.  The concept is very similar to setting out your stocking except that kids can do this at any time.  Children set their shoes out with cookies for Sint and Piet and water, straw, carrots, and/or apples for Amerigo before getting off to bed.  They also add their wish-list.   While they set out their shoes, children are encouraged by their parents to sing loudly, loud enough for Sint to hear.  The next morning they will wake to find their shoes filled with small presents, pepernoten, and marzipan figures, and/or a letter made out of chocolate. 

The way Sinter Klaas gives gifts is not as gentle as with Santa. With Santa, if you are good -you get presents. If you are bad – you get coal.  If little Dutch kids are bad, Sint puts them in a sack and takes them to Spain. This rarely does any good as a threat, since most Dutch families spend 3 weeks vacation in Spain during the summer. But anyway, December 5 is the day to exchange gifts. However these aren’t ‘real’ gifts, per se, but are gentle criticisms from the past year. This often home-made gift is mostly accompanied by a poem that subtly points out those nasty character flaws of the recipient. An example is by getting grandma a bell since whenever grandma needs anything done, like hanging pictures or fixing the door lock. She will never call anyone to do it but gives gentle hints whenever someone visits. So, when she wants something done…ring the bell!

The poem would go like this:
Dear Grandma,
Sint knows that sometimes we can all use a hand.
Using tools and ladders are things for a man.         (Sint is a chauvinist too).
If you tried this yourself, I’d hate it if you fell.
The next time you want something done, please ring this bell.�
Sincerely,
Sint and Piet

For a simply hilarious take on this Dutch tradition, and if you have 20 minutes to spare, then give a listen to David Sedaris 3 part commentary named ‘6 to 8 Black Men’.  Enjoy.  

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbJpRLhaSqs&feature=related

Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vU1D1HKTDCY&feature=related

Part 3:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g17Pl7MFMco&feature=related

The following is a recipe for Dutch Pepernoten.  Tiny Dutch gingerbread cookies.  Great for baking with the kids. 

Pepernoten

  • 100 GRAM SELF RAISING FLOUR
  • 50 GRAM BUTTER
  • 50 GRAM BROWN SUGAR
  • 2 TBSP MILK
  • 1 TBSP PUMPKIN PIE SPICE

Mix all the ingredients well to a dough and form about 100 balls. Put these on a greased baking tray and bake 12 minutes at 350 degrees.

The Cosmic Checklist

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

The Cosmic Checklist

A few months ago I started yet another new job and as many employers do, I was asked to write about myself for the company newsletter.   As I stare at the blank word document page before me, I found myself at a total loss to answer the simple question:  “Who am I? “

Who am I?  That is a very good question nowadays.   Sure, I could write about my personal metadata: woman, middle-aged, American, married, kids, yadda, yadda.  But that all just seems doesn’t seem to answer the question. It’s just the information that seems to dance around me but not who I am.  The same thing with my work.  I could spend several paragraphs quoting my resume.  Any of this stuff can be read off of any number of social networks.  Besides, my work does not define me.  It simply keeps the roof over our heads.   To tell you the truth, I have no passion for my profession in IT, so I can’t possibly bore people with that information. 

 Who am I?  The question frightened me.  You’d think at 45 years old, I’d at least be able to answer THAT question.  As I think more closely about it, I’m just not the same person I was 20, 10, 5 years ago.  But who am I now?   

You see, I’m sitting at a cross point in my life.   I’ve already accomplished everything that society asked me to.  My ‘Cosmic Checklist’ is nearly complete. 

“What is this Cosmic Checklist?” you ask.  Well,   as a member of this society, we are expected to get educated, get a career, get married and have our 2.5  kids.    We do it because society says it’s what we should do to be ‘successful’.  Yes, sir, society has it all figured out for us.  However, at a certain point, usually around the age of 40, our cosmic checklist is nearly complete.  The only things  remaining won’t happen until much later in life:  grandchildren, retirement and we all know how it’s going to end.  At this point in our lives,  we stare into the gaping abyss of the next 20-30 years of our working life and ask universally:  “Now What?”

I’m sure there are many out there that can sympathize with me but I just don’t understand why is it that I find myself even more confused about life than I was 25 years ago?  I’m 45 years old!  I have kids!  I did everything  asked of me!  I should be on top of the world right now.  Why do I feel like I am constantly  fighting between the ideals I had when I was younger and apathy from the fact that I’ve strayed so far from them. Why do I feel that like I ‘lost’ myself along the way? 

“You’re in Mid-Life Crisis, my dear”,  said one good friend to me.  “What?  Me??!!  Mid Life-Crisis??!!”,  I shrilled at her with an embarrassed chuckle.  Suddenly, I visualized myself on a Harley riding through the Swiss Alps. (Ahhh, lets pause here for a minute and savor this thought)  Then I realized she was absolutely right.  Hmmm, I have been doing things to try to find myself again.  I spend crazy amounts of time in my kitchen.  I blog.  I’m desperately trying to change my career.  I even take electric guitar lessons.  Still something just doesn’t sit right.  There!  I have my diagnosis:  A raging state of Mid-Life Crisis.

 Hmmm, I find this phenomenon quite perplexing.  Why is it that  the mere mention of the term  ‘Mid-Life Crisis’ conjures up clichéd images of middle-aged husbands running off with their children’s babysitters, buying a Harley Davidson and getting hair plugs? Why does it have to be looked  at something weak, clichéd or scandalous?   Why can’t it be something that we embrace and celebrate? 

Think about it. When we are young, we go through all kinds of ‘Rights of Passage’.  We go to school. We survive puberty. We learn to drive.  We can drink alcohol legally. We choose a career.  We get married, have kids.  All of this happens at a relatively young age and at every one of these points we are rewarded by accolades from our family and friends .  How can we possibly expect that the choices we made when we were  mere  teenagers to be valid for the rest of our lives?   After all, people are living well into their 80’s these days. 

 For me, the biggest source of my discontent comes from a career choice that I have absolutely no passion for.  Twenty-five years in information technology has left me feeling like my soul was ripped out and given to charity.  After changing jobs 6 times in the last 5 years, I realize that I have taken this as far as I can go.  Apathy is no option. I simply must change.   But how?  

So now…the plan.  I have a feeling that the next year is going to be a wild ride for me and my family.  It’ll be painful, wonderful, frightening and I hope so worth it.  Mid-life crisis or not; I am going to enjoy this time.  It’s the chance that I get to re-define myself on my own terms with the people that I love!   What’s not to celebrate??!!

Today’s recipe is one that is a big hit with my wine certification class. Try it on a warm or room temperature brie and a slice of the baguette from my previous post. Add a good glass of wine and it’ll be pure mid-life heaven. 

Fig Jam with cognac and pine nuts

1 pound of fresh figs  (or dried figs steeped in hot water)

1 Cup sugar

½ Cup cognac

3 tablespoons pine nuts.

3 hot sterilized canning jars and lids

Put fresh figs  and sugar in a food processor and pulverize until a puree.  Place the puree in medium saucepan and bring to a boil, adding a bit of water if needed.  When boiling, add cognac and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for about 30 minutes,  stirring often.  Test jam by stirring the jam with a metal spoon.  Run your finger across the hot jam (careful not to burn yourself).  If the mark you left with your fingers stays, then it’s done.  Give a taste.  It should be balanced sweet and acidic.  If it tastes overly sweet, add more cognac.  If not sweet enough, add more sugar.  Cook for another 5 minutes to incorporate.  Add pine nuts  and pour into prepared jars, leaving a small bit of headroom.  Wipe rims clean and lid.  Boil 10 minutes in a water bath.  Store in a cool dark place.

The Perfect Baguette

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

The Perfect Baguette

 It’s weekend!! Finally!!!  And as usual, I gleefully head to my kitchen sanctuary to work on this weekend’s projects. Since it was so busy last weekend with Rebecca’s birthday party, I decided  to take it easy.   I start off with my obligatory Saturday standard, homemade baguettes.  Yes, home made baguettes, I said. Before you “Ooh” and “Ahh” like I’ve just proposed to walk a high wire over a pit of flaming lava, I have to let you in on something.  About a year ago, I got into a sort of obsession to make the perfect French baguette.  I mean, I’ve spent tons of time creating poolishs (pre-fermented dough), and triple kneading methods.  I’ve translated recipes from French, Italian, and even Russian.  I’ve used regular flour, bread flour, wheat flour.  Used milk, starter, special pink Himalayan salt, fresh yeast, dried yeast… Yes, I’ve paid my dues for this cause and usually ended up in varying states of failure.  That is until I came across a recommendation on a book from my favorite resource, The Mother Earth News. (Ok, I admit, I’m a closet tree-hugger).  The book is called “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day” by Zoe Francois and Jeff Herzberg.  What they propose in this book is a manner to make bread dough without kneading and by using the simplest of ingredients: regular flour, dry yeast, salt and water.  “No kneading needed?” you ask.  We’ll it seems that in order to make fluffy and high bread, you need to convince the dough to get the gluten strands in the flour to lengthen. Apparently this happens in 2 ways; either by vigorous kneading, or over time. Now, I love kneading.  It’s rhythmic and lets you take out a week’s worth frustration on a little soft piece of dough, which in turn thanks you for your effort by producing fluffy white (or wheat) loaves. It just takes soooo long to get a result.  If I want fresh warm bread for breakfast, I’m going to have to get up at 4am.  Ahem…I love my family, but the only thing I plan on doing at 4am on a Sunday morning is sleeping.  For this, a mix-and-wait method is a real boon.  Not to knock Jeff and Zoe’s efforts, but this mix-and-wait method is also not new. From what I read it has also been around for a while.  I remember an aunt that did the same thing and her dinner rolls were just delicious.  They did, however, make a lovely book. 

Nowadays, if someone would ask me to name 3 things that are always in my refrigerator I’d say:  white wine (from the Alsace, of course), zucchini pickles, and bread dough.  I love this recipe.  I can make the perfect baguette in the same time it takes me to go to the store and buy one.   I finally found a recipe that is so laughingly easy that we can have great bread every weekend or even every day for that matter. (In a pinch, it can also make pretty good pizza dough and bagels too.  But those are other stories) To bake off your baguette; simply sprinkle the surface of the cold dough with flour. Grab a fistful about the size of a grapefruit. (*-see bottom footnote)  Take the blob of dough and plunk it down on a lightly floured surface, floured side down.  Push it into a rectangle form.  Roll into a log a bit shorter than the baguette form pan. Roll the log to smoothen and lengthen it. Pick up the dough at the ends and put it in the form.  

 Even though I have a pizza stone, I bake my baguettes in a baguette pan so the baguettes come out straight and round.  This is a pan with slots for 3 baguettes made by Chicago Metallic. I think I bought it from someone at Amazon.com.  I love this pan. It can bake 3 loaves but I always bake one at a time.  This way it gets evenly brown all the way around and I don’t have 3 loves ‘calling’ to me.   After it’s in the form, wait 20 minutes and then slash the loaf on a steep angle (about 30 degrees) and about ¼ inch deep.  There are fancy knives and razors that do this, but I find that any small sharp serrated knife works great.  I use a tomato knife by Henkel’s. Then again, I love this knife and I use it for everything.   Just be decisive and slash away, just like Dexter would.  It should look like this:  

Slash at 30 degrees

 

 

Add a cup or so of hot water to the drip pan and let ér bake for about 30 mins.  The crust should be darker than golden brown and have even darker spots on it.  It’s ready!  Try or should I say I DARE you to wait until it’s totally cool before tearing into it.  If you wait,  you will be rewarded with it singing to you.  That’s the sound the crust makes when it starts to cool. The delicious crackles of fresh baked bread.  Mmmm. 

This dough is said to be able to stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  But I find that it gets runny after about a week and a half and makes not very good bread after that. My suggestion is that if you want bread for the weekend; start your fresh your dough Wednesday evening. A batch makes about 3 good sized loaves.  If you like that sour-dough taste, then don’t wash out the dough container.  Just scrape out any hard, crusty bits and make the next batch right in. The result will be a greyer dough, a nice custard crumb with that characteristic tang of sour dough and NO CLEAN UP   🙂  

Storing bread tip:  Never ever, ever store baguettes or boules in paper or plastic bags.  This causes the crispy crust to be soft and gummy.  If on the off chance that you have leftovers, simply leave it on a cutting board and cover with a cotton towel, just like they do in France.  Good bread will stay crispy for a day or two. 

Since I am such a fan of this book and bread, I will leave it to you, kind Readers, to support Zoe and Jeff by purchasing your own copy. However, I just feel inclined to share my metric equivalents for the recipe with you. 

No-Knead Baguette or Boule  dough for the metrically inclined

Adapted from ‘Artisan bread in Five minutes a day’ by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzburg

700 ml warm (not hot) water

2 packages of dried yeast  (about 4 teaspoons)

1 tablespoon salt

1 kilo white unbleached flour

Equipment:

1  plastic storage box with lid about 5 to 8 liters (closed but not airtight).  About the size of a large shoe box.

1 wooden spoon

Baguette pan, baking sheet or pizza stone

Mix water, yeast and salt in the box.  Add flour and mix until all the flour is incorporated. No kneading…just mix.  Cover and set at room temperature about 2 hours until double in size.  Put it in the refrigerator at least overnight and up to a week and a half.

* By the way,  this is also nice for boule dough.  A boule is a round bread.  Simply shape the floured dough into a ball by stretching the floured surface and gathering the loose ends on the underside.  Let sit on a floured (or cornmeal) board for about 40 mins.  Slash decoratively and bake for about 40-45 mins directly on the pizza stone or a sturdy baking sheet.