Yeah, Thanksgiving is tomorrow and I’m ready to quit.

Yesterday I spent some time with my nieces. About four hours. We talked about a lot of stuff that has happened and basically caught up on where we were in life. Carrie, my older niece is married to Raj, a  computer wiz and she’s still teaching Spanish in school. Michelle is living in her father’s house, he’s moved to South Carolina or North Carolina, and she stays there with her sons David and Will, more on them later. David has a fraternal twin, he’s hospitalized. The boys reinforced my desire never to have children. Yep, a lot of you parents can’t grasp that because after you laid eyes on your offspring you were in unconditional love. David is at that gawky age, he just got his learner’s permit and is dealing with teen-aged angst about women his age. Will is perpetual motion.  The thing was I expected the visit to last maybe an hour tops but it ran a tad long. What it did was cut into turkey prep time. That was today. The breast had thawed since Saturday and I got the veg and herbage for stuffing. Today I prepped everything using the food processor, completely ignoring all of those knife skills I learned in school. The real fun came in removing the bone from the breast. Back inn the day when it was part of  my job in a kitchen I could do a chicken breast in like. two minutes. I watched a chef I worked under do a turkey in about five minutes. It took me a half hour to debone the freaking breast. Of course I didn’t have a proper filet knife or a whole bunch of room on a stainless steel prep table. What I did have was a dangerous cutting board that I bought during my Chinese/Japanese cooking phase. Extensive sterilization with boiling water caused it to bow. It helped today because the bow in the board allowed me to spin the board around and work on opposite sides of the breast. I multitasked making stuffing while I was cleaning the meat off. The upside was while I did it I heard and felt satisfying touch of knife on bone. The carcass got browned and hot tubbed with herbs and veg in turkey stock. After a couple hours it was strained through multiple layers of cheese cloth. Right now as I’m posting, I’m thinking about how much cleaning the Big Motherhumping Meat Flattener that a buddy of mine turned in his woodshop. It looks like a cricket bat on steroids. I have to be careful because I really wiped out a piece of meat when I over-zealously whacked it. It’ll be a gentle tap. I’ll stuff it and truss it later tonight when my back feels better. Tomorrow in the oven on a platform of veggies with a remote thermometer and a timer as a back-up. Gravy will be easy.  One hint, allow the turkey air dry in the refrigerator with nothing nearby. You’ll get nice crispy skin without having to slather the bird with excessive oil or butter. Just saying.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving. My contrary nature really wants to aim you to Yahoo where a anti-Thanksgiving is given by the great British actor Gary Oldman.

For more go to www.tomwisk.wordpress.com on Sunday.

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Nostalgia long past

When I was a kid my family was divided. My mother didn’t exactly get along with my father’s relatives and vice versa. This was due to the fact they were brought up in closely knit families and you had to earn your way in. Thanksgiving was usually at my Aunt Sophie’s or at our apartment. If my father was uncomfortable or resentful that he couldn’t be with his family for the holiday, he never showed it.  After a  while my father and my Uncle Stanley built a two family and moved int together. It didn’t last, there was tension. Maybe my mother contributed or my father and uncle discovered closeness wasn’t all that good of an idea. We moved out. Now during this my mother was getting sick. Breast cancer, followed by a single mastectomy followed by radiation and chemo. On Father’s Day in 1960, my mother died. All of my adult female relatives,both sides, were with her, they tossed me out. I lost my faith that day. Thanksgiving was moved to my father’s relatives. Just my Uncle Stanley and Aunt Mary and their daughters, my Aunt Ann and Dad my sister and me. It was family. We lived near them so it made sense to go there. We eventually wound up having dinner there every night. The family kind  of fell  apart, I went into the service and whole bunch of other minor fiddley things happened. My aunt and uncle died, my father died and that pretty much was it. My sister married and tried at Thanksgiving but really wasn’t equipped to handle the task. Frequently her battleship plans overloaded her rowboat abilities. Her in-laws took over and I was happy to be alone. She and her husband divorced. She moved out and I cooked Thanksgiving for by brother-in-law’s relatives. He remarried and I moved out. By that time Thanksgiving was a work day. I did it for a long time. Cooking a crapload of turkeys and dressing for people who didn’t want to do it or spending the day and part of the night in bars that catered to hospitality workers who usually worked holidays. I moved back to my hometown and in the process of looking for an apartment my ex-brother-in-law steered me to my sister, She had an extra bedroom, I helped out on rent and I hit it off with her boyfriend. We split duties for Thanksgiving. They broke up. She found another boyfriend who had a house so I mooched along. We did Thanksgiving for four years including one when she’d won a 35 pound turkey in a raffle. It was a buffet attended by every relative that could be coerced into coming. Every one of them  left with a doggie bag the size of grocery bag. We had turkey soup for a month. She and the boyfriend broke up. Her ex had an apartment to rent. She hooked up with the prior boyfriend. They wrangled over marriage and split up after one Thanksgiving at his house. She met and married the Murph. We had a couple of Thanksgivings together, they were family, but not the same. Six years ago in January she died. Murph has been going to his sisters’ houses and I either worked or stayed home with a TV dinner. Big comedown for a cook, right? Nope. This year he’s going to his nieces for the big day. His sister is a real smart mom. Teach the kid and hand it off to them. Me, a turkey breast is lurking in the freezer. It’s coming out Saturday. After a thaw it’ll be skinned, boned, butterflied. I have a stuffing that has been working its way through my brain since I decided on the turkey breast. I’ve been systematically been picking up the items I need. Yesterday was a sourdough loaf. Saturday mushrooms and carrots and celery for use as a platform for the turkey. I’m waiting.

All of this week one of the questions that has been popping up is “Where were you on November 22, 1963?”. I was in Mr. Halpin’s Biology class at Pulaski Senior High School. It was around one in the afternoon when he was called to the door.  After a short conversation he went into the storage room behind the front of the class and took out a radio. He plugged it in, turned it on and tuned to a news station. The president had been shot in Dallas Texas. I remember a cute girl I had a crush on but went out with the drum major broke down sobbing. It was contagious. The boys kept a brave face but they were shell-shocked. It was that event they had heard about from their father and uncles about, December 7th . Nothing was going to be the same.  No matter what we thought about him before he got elected,  he was our president. Not some old man our parents looked up to, our fucking president and somebody shot him! Every boy had some kind of crush on his wife and wanted to be able to handle pressure with the grace he did. The girls had their crushes and wished their closets could be filled with high fashion clothes. We all looked at the potential, his dreams and wishes for this country. The politically astute among us saw them as lost during the term of his successor. The weekend tested our tolerance for what was determined as appropriate mourning. It was unseemly to play rock and roll  records during that weekend. Saturday and Sunday brought more shocks. The killer was a nobody with a mail-order rifle. He denied everything. Sunday he was shot and killed by a small-time club owner/ police groupie who later was revealed to have connections to organized crime. Kind of  lost in all of this was J.D. Tippet the police officer that Oswald shot. The three were all buried the same week, one with an eternal flame and love of his country, one with full police honors and one with news reporters as pall bearers. It’s been fifty years. JFK has drifted into legend and demystified, JFK/Oswald/Ruby have become a cottage industry for conspiracy freaks and writers. J.D. Tippet is still remembered by his wife. Since then we all watched hijackers fly  aircraft into the World Trade Center and the world become less safe and more uncomfortably secure at the same time. We press on.

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Another recipe that came up vis a vis Veteran’s Day

We need to remember. I should have posted this Monday

We need to remember. I should have posted this Monday

During WWI and WWII meat was scarce. A lot of Old Country recipes made their way into the meal rotation. With Advent coming up and more people leaning toward vegetarian diets I thought that it was time to dust off this chestnut from my grandmother’s and mother’s book, potato pancakes. We’re going for two different types. One tat’s good for using leftover mashed and making them from  potatoes. The first one uses leftover mashed and I semi-borrowed from Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade. Okay let’s go.

You’re going to need:

2 C mashed potatoes

I/4 C shredded cheese (mozzarella, cheddar)

1/2 C bread crumbs

salt

pepper

vegetable oil

Combine the potatoes and cheese. Season  bread crumbs with salt and pepper. Make 1/4 C portions of potato mixture.  Roll into balls, place in bread crumbs. Roll the balls in bread crumbs. When covered flatten to 1/2 inch thick  and lightly brown in oil.

The Old Fashioned Way

You’re going to need either a food processor with a shredder blade or a box grater.

A  large bowl

3 lbs. potatoes

1 extra large egg

1/2 C bread crumbs

2 or 3 T flour

vegetable oil

Food Processor

Put in the shredding blade and run the potatoes through. Take 3/4 out and add to large bowl. Put in mixing slashing blade. Add egg, bread crumbs. Pulse until thoroughly reduced. Add to shredded potatoes. If the mixture is too soupy add flour to tighten it up. Let it sit for five, ten minutes. If t needs more flour add it. Heat about a 1/2 inch oil in a heavy skillet. Drop in large spoonful’s. When the edges get crisp turn over.

Box Grater

Shred 2 lbs. on the coarse side of the grater. The rest on the fine side. Combine. Add egg, bread crumbs. Combine. Let sit.  If it begins to look too loose add flour in increments. Heat oil in heavy skillet. Fry in large spoonfuls until crispy on the edges turn.

I’ve added grated parm to the mix but mom a and gramma wouldn’t.

 

A red rose on Veteran's Day still hanging in.

A red rose on Veteran’s Day still hanging in.

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Winter goodies.

Okay, you know you have it stashed in the cabinet over the sink. Not the joint you’ve saved from the last party but a box of instant oatmeal. You bought it last winter when you swore you were going to eat healthy. It worked its way to the back of the cabinet and you’ve forgotten about it. I know the feeling. I got  a box of instant oatmeal and after the first bowl started having flashbacks to when my mother made oatmeal. A gray, kinda solid mass in a bowl. I smothered it in butter and salt and pepper. Along the way  I worked in a restaurant in Hartford that had Sunday brunch. I had to make oatmeal, with apples driving my loathing farther into my soul. Okay, today I’m on Nutrisystem. They sent me the first order without my input. I got a bunch of oatmeal, with pancake mix. They both used skim milk and I made pancakes. For all of you out there here’s a recipe that works and tastes good.

You’re going to need:

1/2 C AP flour

1/2 C instant or quick cook oatmeal (if you have a variety pack mix them up)

! T white sugar (I use Stevia)

1 t baking powder

1/2 t baking soda

1/2 t salt

2 T vegetable oil

3/4 C   buttermilk (See below)

1 t vanilla extract

1/2 t cinnamon

Okay, here’s the hard part, put everything into  the food processor and blend. If you don’t have a processor big enough to do the job you can do it in two bowls. In one bowl mix the dry ingredients and in the other the wet. Combine with a whisk. A good idea is to do this the night before to allow the oatmeal to hydrate. Pour 1/4 cup portions on lightly greased griddle or non=stick skillet.  When little holes appear in the cooking cakes flip them.

If you don’t have buttermilk, combine 1C milk with 1T lemon juice or white vinegar. The other option is to buy dry buttermilk. It has to be stored in the fridge and is useful for fried chicken.

Enjoy, now I go back to waiting on eggplant in the oven.

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I stole this from dead relatives who kept it secret from me, Why? Dunno.

I’m sorry I’m late. Stayed up late last night watching the first disk in the Emma Peel Avengers mega set. The landlord showed for the semi/tri monthly spray which consisted of hunting down my cat and getting her into her carrier. The car didn’t start. Got a jump. Went to  the dealer, bought a new one and went shopping. The market was filled with seniors and I went nuts. I knew I had to post this and load a new toy my Kindle. So llet’s  get to it. You’ll need:

Hardware

A paper bag

A Dutch oven  or a pan that is oven-proof

Software

1 Chicken cut into 8 parts or use 8 legs or thighs or 4 whole breasts cut in half

2 C AP flour

11/2 t salt

2 t black or white pepper

3 T paprika (Hungarian or sweet)

1 1/2 t garlic powder

1 small onion, halved and sliced north to south

4 C chicken stock or broth

4 T oil

Method

1) Combine flour, salt, pepper, paprika  and garlic powder in bag. Reserve 1 /4 C.

2) Put chicken in the bag and shake. Remove, let sit 10 min. while you heat oil in Dutch oven.

3) Add chicken back to bag and coat again.

4) Brown 4 pieces at a time on all sides.

5) Remove chicken and sauté onion until translucent.

6)  Add reserved flour mixture until you have a medium roux.

7) Whisk in stock, bring to boil,  reduce to simmer.

8) Add chicken, finish on stove top or 300 degree oven.

9) Serve over noodle or with dumplings.

Okay, this recipe is open to modification, You can  add mushrooms, green or red peppers. You can use pork or veal without too much hassle.  Beef you’ll have to change the stock. I intentionally left out wine which shows up in a lot of recipes because my aunt didn’t use any and I don’t have any. So that’s up to you.

Enjoy. See you next week.

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A Work In Progress, Literally.

Today I’m going semi-vegetarian. My godfather’s family came from Naples. His mother liked me and thought I had potential as an Italian cook. She taught me Sunday gravy or red sauce. It was complicated and took all day but it was worth it. The thing she made for me and taught me that I loved most was her take on eggplant parmigiana. It isn’t breaded , deep fried and smothered in sauce and goopy cheese. It’s simple and tastes good. You can rig the recipe to fit your needs. This is what I used and how I made it today:

You’ll need:

Eggplant, I used one that weighed in at two pounds. The smaller ones were near $4 a pound. The large ones wer$1.99. It’s a no brainer.

Roma tomatoes, I bought eight each about four inches tall and maybe three inches around the bottom.

Garlic, as much as you can stand. Eggplant is served in tomato and stew=like environs because it hasn’t got a lot of flavor of its  own,

Pine nuts, a small bottle.

Dried oregano, basil to taste

Olive oil

Salt, pepper

Anchovies, my call. I’ll explain at the end.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. If you want peel the tomatoes, I didn’t I’m lazy and have done too many times. Anyway I need the fiber and my godfather’s mother didn’t. Cut them in half length-wise. Roast them in the oven until almost burned, about twenty minutes. Take them out and let them cool. I roasted in my go-to pans, disposable aluminum cake pans with a light coat of olive oil. Now, the eggplant, there is a school of thought that says you have to salt the eggplant to leech out the bitterness. I don’t think so. As bland as it is you have to leave its own taste. Don’t peel it. It’ll lose structure. Slice it into about half inch slices. Coat a sheet pan with olive oil. Lay the slice out on the pan and turn it over so it’s got oil on both sides.  Chop the cooled tomatoes. Drain through a strainer to get rid of extra liquid. Mix in chopped garlic, olive oil, herbs and salt and pepper. Spread over the eggplant, add the pine nuts. Cook in the 400 degree oven checking every ten minutes or so. My oven isn’t all that trusty so baked items are checked often. You’ll know it’s done when it looks a bit dry. Sprinkle with grated cheese, not the sawdust you get in a bottle, spring for a small piece of parm or romano if you’re going to serve it out of the oven.

If  you let it cool, t’s good as a sandwich with mozzarella on a hoagie roll. Or on rye. The anchovies, I watched a NYT video by Melissa Clarke on Anchovies 101. I’m one of those people who use them in red sauce and on pizza. Actually, I like them so before I tossed the tomatoes on the eggplant I added about three anchovies to them. I say about because the bottle in the refrigerator is packed in olive oil and it was pretty much congealed.

Try it out. Enjoy.

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It’s Football Season, Might As Well Make Chili Satisfy the Troops and Have Something In the Freezer

First, a story. My father liked chili. Not flamethrower hot Texas chili but the mild generic diner kind. My mother as I might have mentioned before wasn’t a superstar cook. She had recipes but most of what we ate was ordinary. That was until one day she found a recipe for chili on the back of a Campbell’s soup can. It was simple, a pound of hamburger, a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, water, chili powder and kidney beans. It sucked. At ten I began to try to change it.  After my mother died, I took over chili making duties. I made two batches, one kind of mundane for dad who enjoyed it and heat seeking chili for myself. Well,  as time went on the recipe was modified and I  came up with a personal favorite. Also I became an aficionado of chili recipes. My father discovered toasting cumin seeds and crushing them. It came out of a book by H. Allen Smith a newsman and storyteller extraordinaire. He wrote of the Terlingua, Texas chili cook-off. The story inspired me. The recipe is basically simple. There is one semi-expensive part, but it lasts forever, That’s making a general use chili powder. You make it once and store it and you can use it  to make the chili of your choice.

Okay, let’s  make chili powder. This type has no paprika which is an ingredient in a lot f chili powders to make them red and add some minor heat. The major part of chili powder is the peppers. You might have to hunt them up in the market or on-line a little research on the hotness of the peppers will help. If your market carries them they’ll have a gradated scale on the label telling you how hot they are. Hint: Habanero and Ghost chilies should be avoided unless you like being investigated for war crimes. Cascabel are nice and so are Arbols they’re mid range and you can make it hotter. To make the powder:

2.25 oz garlic powder

2.25 oz onion powder

.25 oz oregano (Italian is okay and available, Mexican is probably more authentic but it’s an acquired taste)

1  T kitchen salt

1 T black pepper

Dried chili peppers, your choice, toasted in a dry skillet and finely ground.

Okay here’s the hard part,  combine all of the ingredients and store in an air-tight container.

The chili:

2 pounds coarsely chopped beef

1/2 Cup diced onion

1 T vegetable oil

1 C dried beans or 1 can kidney, black or pinto beans rinsed

Beef stock or broth

5 T chili powder

1 small bag Fritos

Heat the oil and add the onion. When it begins to get translucent  add beef and  brown. Cover with beef stock, add chili powder and beans. If you’re using dried beans, pick and rinse them. Let them sit in water overnight. Drain, cover with unsalted water and cook until al dente. If you need more heat get a couple jalapenos, remove the ribs and seeds and brown with the onion. The Fritos, cut a teeny slit in the top of the bag and beat the bejeezus out of it until the chips are crushed. This’ll thicken up the chili. If you can find masa harina, make a slurry with beef stock and let it thicken the chili. If you want you can add a bottle or two of beer to the mix but I’m sober and don’t trust myself.

If you don’t want beef, try chicken. Get 3 pounds of thighs bone-in. Add the oil to a pot, brown the thighs in batches. Let them cool,  pull off meat and skin. Drain off all but a tablespoon of the chicken fat and cook the onions add chicken stock and deglaze the pot. Add the chili powder and the meat, let them simmer. Do the beans the same way add them. Use some of the chicken fat to  make a roux and whisk it in a little bit at a time.

Any meat is possible as are vegetarian chilies but I stick with beef and chicken. When the chili is done let it cool and refrigerate it. Any fat will come to the surface and you can dispose of it. It freezes well and will keep in the freezer six months. Serve it with the condiments of your choice but mine are oyster crackers.

Enjoy and have a nice week.

 

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