Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving - The Event

As I mentioned in the previous post, it has been a much more relaxed Thanksgiving thanks to the efforts of Agent W, Cabinet Lady and Dr. Debbie.  Also unlike the last two years when I was sick one year and dealing with the Father endgame another year, there hasn't been as much drama.  So I was in a position to really enjoy our friends, the food, and a relaxing day.

The Turkey:

I went back to a wet brine preparation this year after two years of using a dry salt rub brine method.  I got this recipe from Saveur Magazine a few years ago and it calls for tart apples, onions, garlic, ancho chile powder, apple cider and water in the marinade.  Although this sounds very strong, in fact the flavor comes out very subtle.  The wet brine technique to me gives much more moisture to the bird.

Trussed bird in the oven

Finished product 
This recipe calls for cooking at a very high heat.  But our oven is very squirrely and I had to lower the heat substantially so it wouldn't burn.  Fortunately the meat was just fine but I wasn't happy with skin crispness. 

The Gathering:

Dr. Debbie putting the finishing touches to a hot cider with Calvados (French apple brandy)

Wife showing off her pies

Agent W showing off Cabinet Ladies filled cherry tomato tapas.
I thinks he spent as much time doing that one appetizer as I did making the turkey!
They had three different fillings - crab, anchovy/caper, aioli - their saltiness when great with the sweetness of the cider

Agent W and Gaius Derf


I did a great job on the gravy this year.
I roasted turkey parts, onions, carrots, and celery then made the stock in the pressure cooker.  The pressure cooker is so great for stock making...just a fraction of the time and it really extracts the flavor.
On the right is the roux being made.  I did a real slow cooked Louisiana style roux that got a nice dark brown.  
The combination of the dark stock and dark roux was very effective.

The Meal:

Thought Bubble
"For crying out loud when are we going to eat!"

Everything on the table ready to go.
Some of the stars were Agent W's Italian meat dressing and Cabinet Lady's Salad with home grown beets and dried cranberries.  I know the sound of a salad on Thanksgiving seems odd but the cranberries in them were a wonderful counterpoint to all the richness.

A fully composed plate :)

We of course had tons of food but we divided among everyone so there weren't an overload of leftovers for anyone.  I did make sure that Dr. Debbie was searched before she left so she didn't run of with my mashed potatoes like she did last year.

The Pie:

You remember my raving about Wife's pie last time?
The reality was even better.  The apple pie was without doubt the best apple pie I've ever had. 
You may have remember my caption in the picture of her making it said she was sprinkling sugar on the top.  No, it was Salt! To go with the salted caramel theme.
There were some flaws in the Browned Butter Walnut pies but the flavor was stunning.

Want to know how good it was?
This is Cabinet Lady picking the bits on the counter as she's going out the door.

Thanks friends for a great time.  Hope everyone else had a great time to and remembered just how wonderful we have it here.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Prep - It's About The Pies

This year as we have for the last few years we are being joined Cabinet Lady and Dr. Debbie.  In addition for second year in a row we have Agent W and Gaius Derf with us.  Since our kids are all over the globe, it is very nice to have company of such good friends on the holiday.

It's been a little less hectic in the food preparation department because everyone is doing a substantial part of the cooking.  I've only got the mashed white and sweet potatoes, the turkey and the gravy.  Plus I decided to make a vegetable since I was inspired.


White's are flavored in the style of my Mother with butter, milk, and schmaltz
(the little one omits the schmaltz for Wife)
Sweets were baked first and flavored with butter infused with allspice, cinnamon, cardamon, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper


Onions, with green and red bell pepper cooked in bacon fat in a cast iron pan to ensure carmelization form the flavor base.  On the right is crisp bacon that will be added at the very end. 

However the real culinary star of our contribution will be the pies.  I saw an article in Saveur magazine about kicked up pies.  I was a bit devious in saying to Wife that I would like to try my hand at making these.  This threatening to go into Wife turf is like waving the red cloth in the face of a bull.  Wife informed me that she would be making these.  Thank goodness because it turned out to be a substantially bigger project than we thought.

Salted Caramel Apple Pie

This is the level of concentration that Wife had from about 1 in the afternoon to about 8 in the evening when the two pies were done.

She made the pastry from scratch using resting techniques that are supposed to ensure a flaky crust
This pie called for three types of apples (golden delicious, granny smith, honey crisp).  Plus some unusual flavorings like Angastora Bitters.

Home made caramel going on top followed by salt

 A lattice top with sugar sprinkled on the top

The finished product!

Browned Butter Walnut Pie

I was doing my own cooking so didn't have time to take step by step pictures of this one.  This is like a kicked up pecan pie.

I really wish we had made two of each so we could have tried them last night :(

Friday, November 22, 2013

Reflections on a Crapload of Travel

Recently blog buddy Terri wrote about a business trip she took from Minneapolis to Pittsburgh.  As a grizzled veteran of the air travel wars, I found myself vicariously saying, "No don't do that!  Leave yourself more time" and feeling the trauma of running down the jetway hoping to get on the plane before the door closes. 

There was also one quotation that got me to this reflection.  Terri doesn't fly much.  In fact she started her post by saying, "Before yesterday, I could count on one hand the number of times I've traveled by airplane."  I on the other hand wouldn't have to go more than a month or two to fill a hand up and have been at that pace for most of my adult working life.

I remember the late 70's when I would be running back and forth from Washington to New York on the Eastern Shuttle,  The 80's going back and forth from Chicago and also covered the whole country during my investment banking days.  The 90's were a bit slower when I first moved to New Mexico.  But in the 2000's it was going back and forth to Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles.  This last year it has been Denver, Phoenix and Chicago.

I missed the 'golden age' of flying.  By the time my career started, deregulation had begun and competition had eaten into profits.  Post 9/11 was a bummer with the extraordinary ramp up of security.  I remember each time I hit the frequent flyer hurdles to get those extra benefits (just got there on Southwest by the way).  I remember the first time someone let me try their noise reduction headphones and how wonderful it was to block out all that noise on flights.  It was a wonderful day when I hit a million miles on United and got lifetime status.  No more having to hit the travel targets each year to maintain status.

Over all these years, I've developed routines and patterns that help take the stress out of the travel routine.  Wife has long since succumbed to the weight of my idiosyncrasies (like we always move fast in the airport...even if we are way early, we always work to get on the plane as soon as possible - must make sure to have space for the carry on bag, we park in certain places in the airport, we fly certain preferred airlines, in the morning we get breakfast burritos at a certain place, we wait out plane changes at the United Club, etc, etc, etc).

In spite of everything, I still really like to travel.  I may not like flying per se.  I may not want to be away from home for quite so long on a trip.  But I have always loved being in other places.  Large, small, famous, innocuous, makes no difference.  I have no desire for it to change.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Pewter Chef Returns - Battle Cornicopia - A Cooking Extravaganza

Frequent Pewter Chef guest The Count brought his business partner Iron Man (and wife Iron Maiden) to experience the event that is the Pewter Chef.  For those who are not familiar with this event, unlike the traditional Iron Chef concept where there are competitors who cook dishes using a secret ingredient, at Pewter Chef my guests bring a variety of foods that I convert into a multi-course meal before their very eyes.

Of course the Count and Contessa have never been known for restraint so they come with these bags and bags of ingredients!

Step One - Catalog Ingredients

The Contessa has offered to be my assistant.
Wife has offered to look on and nod knowingly.

 Ground Bison?


Are you ready Contessa?
(this will be almost the last time we see her as she will be prepping and cleaning all night)

Let The Cooking Begin
 Blanching Kale

Peeling Acorn Squash

Collecting spices for a spice mixture

Toasting said spices

Sifting the ground spices onto oiled slices of squash

The Count, Iron Man, Wife, and Iron Maiden filled with anticipation

Spiced squash into the oven

A selection of mushrooms

Cutting bacon into chunks

"Holy crap, there's a lot going on in here!"

"Hmmm Wife" Iron Man says, "Do you think he can pull it off or do you think he's going to implode?"

Bacon browning

Making a Spanish inspired sauce

In go the mushrooms

Sauteing away

"Excuse me Mr. Pewter Chef, could we have some more wine?"

Add the blanched kale

Voila, Course One

"Scronch, scronch, scronch"

Meanwhile back at Kitchen Practice Field (sort of like Kitchen Stadium but smaller) the master pan is being prepared again

I was given dried apricots so I poached them with red wine and lobster stock base

In go fingerling potatoes

Out comes the roasted spiced squash

All kinds of stuff in action
Potatoes starting, tomatillos poaching, apricot wine sauce cooling

Course Two - Roasted Indian Spiced Squash

"What the &$!@# these trout fillets have pin bones in them!"

Turn the roasting potatoes

Blending the tomatillos

"Yes, yes, yes I know.  More wine"

 Turn the roasting potatoes

Flavor the trout

Make the tomatillo sauce

Cutting an avocado garnish

Chopping peanuts

Course Three - Deconstructed Fish Tacos

"Scronch, scronch, scronch"

"We're on the home stretch"
Wife in the background doing clean up

Beautiful rib lamb chops

Pan roasting

Roasted potatoes

Contessa delights in picking off the fish bones

Course Four - Lamb Chops with Apricot Wine Sauce and Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

The start of dessert.
Unfortunately the photographer bailed out on me at this point.
This is a combination of pineapple and plums cooked with some red miso glaze, honey and brandy.
It was blended into a sauce and served with coconut gelato for course five.