Tag Archives: entree

Game Day Chili

Fall brings football season, and this year all of our son’s games have fallen on Mondays, making it difficult to cook a hearty dinner and catch the game. We’ve resorted to preparing Monday’s dinner the day before, something that can be heated up quickly but will satisfy the hunger that comes from playing hard for two hours. You can add some cayenne if you all like it spicy, but we have a broad spectrum at our house so I put the hot sauce on the table and let everyone dictate their own level of heat. We usually serve it with some fresh biscuits, buns, or cornbread.

2 lb ground beef
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
2 yellow peppers, diced
4 ribs celery, diced
4 carrots, diced
1 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
2 28 oz (792 mL) tins diced tomatoes
2 10 oz (540 mL) tins kidney beans

In a heavy sauté pan brown beef well, remove and place in a strainer to allow fat to drain.
In a large saucepan, heat olive oil, and sauté vegetables until lightly coloured.
Add chili powder and cumin and stir until spices have coated vegetables
Add tomatoes, beans and drained beef and bring to a simmer
Reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 hours, covered.

Let Us Give Thanks….

Growing up Catholic always meant a fair amount of pageantry over a holiday or season with any kind of a message or virtuous overtone. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and as Thanksgiving passes (even though my days of acceptance of organized religion in any form are long behind me) I always look at it as a time to reflect on the good fortune that we have here, and share that celebration with those close to us. Seeing as we had just celebrated birthdays a few weeks ago with the family, we decided that this year (still reeling from the reality of actual weekends off, and a long weekend to boot) we would have some good friends over for dinner Thanksgiving weekend.

The menu ingredients were quite predictable: turkey, cranberry, pumpkin, etc.
Some things are meant to be honoured with tradition, and the palette from which to cook Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner are among the most sacred. I have a long standing agreement with my wife: Christmas dinner will involve a strict menu of: A whole roasted stuffed turkey, mashed potatoes, mashed carrots and parsnips, brussel sprouts, cranberry sauce and gravy. Nothing More. Nothing Less. Thanksgiving on the other hand, there is some latitude allowed in the preparation of said sacred foodstuffs. A few years back, I had brought home some turkey confit and a brined turkey breast from the restaurant for a quick dinner for just the four of us. My son, the younger, declared turkey confit to be the finest food on the planet and henceforth a necessity whenever possible.

So, that brings us to the menu for the Thanksgiving dinner, Chez Green:

Turkey confit: of course

Brined roasted turkey breast: ditto

Mashed potatoes, parsnips and carrots, brussel sprouts: easy accompaniments

Stuffing (made in a casserole dish, but traditional ingredients) and gravy: must haves

Dessert: pumpkin pie (alright, this is sounding like a traditional dinner, but at least we’re having the confit!!!)

For something to start, I figured I would make something to nibble on, and settled on making a wheel of brie baked in pastry with cranberry chutney. Great sliced and smeared on fresh baguette.

The turkey was in the fridge the day before, as the process of confit and brining is a 2 day affair, so I set out to transform the humble bird into a duo of exquisite proportions. Legs off and deboned, I ran out to the garden for a sachet of herbs, and along with some coarse salt and pepper set the legs on their way marinating overnight in a colander. This allows the leg to cure slightly, draw out some moisture, and seasons it well. (The colander is placed inside a second bowl which catches any liquid that comes out.) That accomplished, I prepared the brine, and once cooled thoroughly, place the turkey breast in a large bag and poured the brine over, sealed it well, and placed it in the refrigerator. The bones were roasted and a stock prepared for the following day’s stuffing and gravy.

Morning of the dinner, a trip to market for the vegetables, and stage two of confit. Now the process of confit involves large amounts of fat, animal or otherwise as a cooking medium, so it’s important to understand the reasoning behind the process. In years gone by, before refrigeration, preservation of meat for the winter was a real necessity. When a pig was killed, a multistage process was a group undertaking to maximize the investment for the family’s food source. Fresh pork was made in to sausage, some meant for immediate consumption, some to be hung, smoked, and dried for later. Legs were salted and dried for hams, belly cured for bacon, and fat rendered for lard. The lard was then used for both cooking and storing of cooked meats for the winter (hence the term larder to mean a pantry) Confit was one of these processes that used it for both. Meat salted ovenight, then gently poached in its own fat is exceptionally tender and flavourful, and once the cooking process complete, could be packed away in an earthenware crock, the cooking fat poured over to create a sealed environment free of oxygen for preservation, and set in a cold place for several months for storage. in the winter, the confit would be reheated, removed from the fat, and eaten. History lesson aside, confit has become one of those traditional dishes that defies description. The simplicity of the process is easily understood, but easily done incorrectly, as it requires a low flame and a watchful cook to maintain the temperature at a gentle simmer, and a steady hand to remove it from the pan when cooked, as it’s quite tender. Done well, it’s a thing of beauty.

I placed my 2 litres of lard into a largish pot, and brought it up to just over the boiling point. (225 F) The legs were submerged gently, flame adjusted to medium low for now, and once the temperature had re-established its boiling point, dropped down to quite low. The whole idea is to maintain the cooking temperature at boiling (212 F / 100 C) for 2 hours, allowing the meat to slowly poach. Project well under way, I prepared the cranberry chutney, and easy one pot affair, and set it aside to cool. I made pastry, enough for both my pie and the brie, and set both batches aside to rest. I took a few minutes to peel vegetables and prepared a bit of trim fro the gravy, and set out to figure out how to authentically recreate stuffing outside of the bird.

I prepared my mix as I usually would and figured I had to account for two things in the cooking process: indirect heat, the effect of being insulated inside the bird and not get too crispy around the edges; and the moisture added to the cooking process from the turkey cooking around it. The first part was easily solved: a double layer of parchment inside a large ceramic casserole dish to protect it, and the second by a regular basting with a ladle of turkey stock as it cooked, every 15 minutes for an hour.

Stuffing and vegetables well in hand, I rolled out the pastry, lined the pie plate for the pumpkin and blind baked it, and prepared the brie. Very simple, just a large round of pastry, a wheel of brie or camembert inside, a thick layer of chutney, and then the pastry folded over to encase it all. I set it in the fridge for half an hour to chill, quickly made the pie filling (yes you can use good quality canned pumpkin), and brought the breast out of the brine.

The pie shell came out of the oven, in went the brie for 45 minutes, allowing the shell to cool somewhat, at which point I filled it and placed the pumpkin pie into the oven alongside the brie. The brie came out 15 minutes later or so, and figuring I had half an hour before the pumpkin pie would be ready and the oven free, I checked the confit. Nice and tender, I gently lifted it out and placed it on a rack to drain of excess fat and cool enough to handle. I set is aside, rubbed the breast down with olive oil and salt and pepper, and placed it on a rack in the roasting pan, ready to replace the pie in the oven. The last of my major chores finished, I removed skin, bone, and tendon from the confit and shredded it, placing the tender meat into a casserole dish. I strained the leftover fat for another future batch (to be stored in the fridge), taking care to set the last little bit aside, which is a small amount of very intensely reduced turkey juice, (it looks like caramel), and put that separately into the fridge in a small bowl. It sets very quickly, allowing you to skim the fat off the top and put the turkey essence into the confit for when it is reheated. (trust me on this, it’s magic)

Confident all I had to do was cook a few veggies, the rest of the evening turned to the real essence of the day: How fortunate for us that we have a beautiful environment, clean air and water, a standard of living and quality of life second to none, and people to share it with. No matter how many things go on in the course of one year, how many changes one goes through in a lifetime, when you stop and take a moment to look at the big picture, life in Canada’s pretty darn good.

Turkey Confit

When I worked in the restaurant, we always were looking for inventive ways to do a traditional turkey dinner for Thanksgiving. A few years ago, we decided to confit the turkey legs, brine and roast the breast, and serve both parts on the same plate. I brought some of each home and my family was sold.

2 turkey legs, thigh bone removed
2 tbsp salt
cracked pepper
1 bay leaf
2 stalks each rosemary and thyme

Season turkey with salt, pepper, and herbs, and place in a colander in a second bowl. Refrigerate overnight.
The next day, remove colander, discard any liquid that has drained into the second bowl, and remove herbs

In a large thick bottomed pot, heat to 225 F:

2 L rendered duck fat, olive oil, or lard

Add turkey legs carefully, and simmer gently in the fat for 2 hours, until tender, making sure the temperature remains constant between 210 and 225 F
Lift turkey from fat and place on a rack to drain and cool
Once cool enough to handle, remove skin, bone, tendons, and cartilage and place turkey meat in a medium bowl.
Using a fork (or your freshly washed fingers), gently pull meat apart into fine shreds.
Place into an ovenproof dish with a cover and gently reheat to serve.

Brined Turkey Breast

Brining does two things to poultry. it seasons the meat nicely all the way through, and it keeps it moist as it cooks. You can make a double recipe of the brine and do a whole turkey, and just roast it as you usually would. You will be amazed at the results.

Brine

2 L water
125 ml salt
125 ml sugar
1/2 tsp pepper

Place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
Remove from heat and allow to cool completely

1 boneless half turkey breast, 3-4 lb
olive oil
coarse salt
freshly ground pepper

Place turkey breast in brine and refrigerate overnight.
Remove from brine, pat dry, rub with olive oil, and season well with coarse salt and pepper
Place on a rack in a roasting pan and cook for 1 1/2 hours, or until a meat thermometer registers 165 F
Remove from heat and allow to rest a half hour before carving.

Hiding from the storm

Living in the Pacific Northwest means mild winters, not too hot and humid summers, pleasant springs that mean short sleeves in February sometimes, and ALWAYS rain once October hits. Last Sunday was no exception. The last day of September, perhaps the last weekend to hold onto any hope of an extended Indian Summer, and the first heavy rainstorm of the year. The morning started out mild enough, cloudy but not too bad, and I decided it was time to bring out the ladder and harvest the apples from our two trees. With the rainy spring we had, germination had been poor, so there was nowhere near the volume of last year’s bumper crop (200 lb), but I still managed to take about 25 lb of decent apples off of the trees, with a comparable amount of cracked and scruffy ones left for the birds, the squirrels and the compost.

One look at the pool proved the day had come that I dread all year: For some reason, (in all likelihood the same fleeting hope) I always insist on waiting until it’s been three weeks since the last swim, and the temperature has plummeted to single digit temperatures (Celsius) before deciding it’s time to winterize the pool. This means, among other things, a trip inside the frigid water to remove the stairs and a thorough scrub of the walls. Sensing the impending black clouds rolling in and knowing that the task wouldn’t be any more pleasant with rain pelting down as I struggled to pass the awkward stairs up to the rest of my clan, I dove in, and tried to make as hasty a retreat as possible.

Thoroughly chilled to a temperature fit for a white wine, I hopped into the hot shower and began to think about dinner. First something warm for a snack with a coffee, and since I’d been promising that with my newfound schedule of being home more would translate into more baking, decided on some pecan sticky buns. As I do with most things, I consulted a few well respected texts, examined the common traits to the recipes and then made a recipe using the recurring themes and ratios.

Out came the Kitchen Aid, a nice soft egg and butter dough was prepared and set to rest, covered gently. The glaze was quickly boiled together using half honey and half maple syrup, as I didn’t have a great deal of either, and poured into a large pyrex pan. I had just over a cup of pecans in stock, so they were lightly toasted, chopped, and 2/3 used for a scatter on top of the glaze, the remainder set aside for the filling, creamed quickly with butter, sugar, and cinnamon. I rolled the dough out into a large rectangle, spread the filling, and sliced into thick slices which were then arranged nicely onto the glaze. I wrapped the project up and left it to rise, and headed out into the rain to scour for the rest of the dinner.

Being a week before Thanksgiving, I came across a nice half ham and decided that would be fitting for such a miserable day, and provide for ham and eggs on Monday, sandwiches for the rest of the week, and maybe a soup the following. What else, but candied yams to accompany, and I figured I’d make baked potatoes as well. A few beans that were looking decent at the market were procured, and since the morning’s harvest had yielded a bushel of fruit, a deep dish apple pie for dessert.

Back at home, fresh coffee in hand, the buns were ready for the oven, so in they went, giving me a bit over a half hour to make the pie. My favourite traditional pie crust (made with lard) was assembled, a few pounds of the apples selected, peeled, and sliced, and a double crust pie came together rather quickly. By this time, the aroma of yeast, nuts, butter, and several different sweeteners was filling the kitchen, and the pie graciously traded places with the sticky buns in the oven. One always has to remember that no matter how much the temptation, the glaze on the bottom of the bun pan is an extremely hot and volatile mix of sugar and other deliciousness, and must be allowed to settle for a few minutes before inverting them onto a tray to be torn apart and devoured quickly.

The coffee and buns having done the trick and restored regular body temperature, I prepared the sweet potatoes, pricking them with a paring knife and settling the tray in the oven to bake. About an hour, until they are soft and little bubbles of caramel are oozing from the knife wounds should suffice, to be scooped out (it’s actually more like squeezed out) and mashed with brown butter and nutmeg. The ham was lightly scored on top, and a quick glaze prepared, basically something slightly acidic (I had white wine sitting there), something sweet (honey in my case) and a bit of mustard. It makes a rather thin glaze, which is nice, as it then coats the ham as it bakes with a thin veneer of sweet and spice.

Once the pie was out, the ham again filled the void in the oven and set out on its journey from the ordinary to the sublime. I usually will give it an hour before the glaze starts to go on, to prevent it getting too dark, and then apply it in thin coats every 15 minutes, until it’s gone. The whole process usually takes a couple of hours, and then once it’s had a good half hour rest, thin slices across the grain are enough to satisfy completely.

Duly satisfied, at least an hour was required before tucking into the pie, and more than worth the wait. The sound of the rain pounding on the back porch, warm cinnamon and soft fruit in the mouth, it doesn’t seem to matter that it’s half a year before the start of another spring and summer.