Thursday, December 29, 2011

Smoked Turkey

This post was heavily edited by the husband.

We were in beautiful San Diego over winter break visiting family. It was in the 70s during the day and we got our feet sandy on multiple occasions. Happiness. Prior to our arrival, my husband's step-mom had suggested we try smoking a turkey for Christmas dinner. It was something we hadn't done before and I love trying new things so we readily agreed.

This was the view from the patio that led us to outdoor cooking. How could we not?

Instead of a recipe, it started with a page of notes that my husband's step-mom had jotted down while talking to one of her brothers. She has four brothers and they all seem talented at smoking turkeys and more generally, any meat-meets-fire cooking venture.

Then a second brother was located and another long conversation took place. I'm not sure if it was the passed-down knowledge but that turkey was amazing, and my husband made it look so easy. He did admit it was a little stressful cooking something for the first time for such an important meal, but it was worth it; smoked turkey is fantastic!

The turkey was done on a regular Weber 22-inch kettle grill using indirect heat. It took three hours and my husband fed the fire 10 new coals (5 on each side) and handful of wet hickory chips every thirty minutes. The the skin was a beautiful dark golden color when it was done and the breast meat was still juicy and so flavorful, infused with hickory smoke.

It is definitely a different kind of turkey and I need to think more about the perfectly matched meal. We did a fairly traditional Thanksgiving-themed meal: apricot and sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, shallot gravy, green beans and chocolate pudding. My husband's step-mom added a delicious pumpkin pie. It came together well, but I am thinking you could really mix it up by pairing the smoked turkey with a spicy gravy and tangy cranberries as a starting point. If you love turkey, or even if you feel ambivalent about traditional turkey, you might give this a try.

Smoked Turkey

1 ~16 lb turkey
oil (canola or vegetable)

charcoal chimney
charcoal rails
charcoal briquettes
hickory chips
charcoal grill
drip pan
an oven safe thermometer (preferable) or an instant read thermometer
aluminum foil

Put the hickory chips in a bowl and let soak with water at least 30 minutes prior to use. You should have enough so that you can throw on a handful every 30 minutes while the turkey is cooking.

Put 2 sheets of newspaper loosely crumpled newspaper in the bottom of your charcoal chimney starter and fill the top with briquettes (my husband found inspiration from this video, if you've never done this before). Light the paper and let sit until the coals turn grey (this takes about 30 minutes). Make sure it starts to smoke, otherwise it means that it didn't take and you will need to add more paper to get it going. My husband had to add one more crumpled up piece of newspaper about 15 minutes into the process.

Rub oil all over the turkey and sprinkle (very) generously with salt and pepper. If you have leave-in thermometers, place them in the thickest section of the thigh. This explains the process very clearly. We had two thermometers so we did one on each side. It's helpful to have two so that you can be sure that both sides are cooking evenly.

When the coals are ready, make two even piles on either side of the charcoal grate (the lower one) with a large drip pan separating the piles (see the "indirect method" on Weber's page). It is helpful to have charcoal rails (make sure they're as close to the sides as will fit). Immediately add about 4 more coals to each side, as the chimney won't have had enough coals in it. Spread out the coals evenly with tongs. The pan will catch the fat drippings, hence the name. Feed a handful of hickory chips across both side. Now put in the cooking grate (the top grate). Place the turkey in the center and place the lid over the grill. Make sure the bottom and top vents are all open.

Every thirty minutes or so, add 10 coals the burning piles (5 to each side), and throw on a handful of hickory chips. Every hour, jiggle the bottom vent cover to get excess ash out.

Watch the thigh and legs, if they start to darken too much, cover them with aluminum foil.

Cook for approximately three hours or 10 minutes per pound. When the thigh temperature reads 180, remove from the grill. Let sit for 15 minutes and carve.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lentil Fritters with Chilli, Ginger and Cilantro and Mango Chutney

I own a lot of cookbooks but I am always interested in acquiring and reading new ones. I recently checked out Great Indian Feasts from the library and found a recipe I knew I would love, Lentil fritters with chilli, ginger and curry leaves.

My pantry already contained all of the ingredients except for the curry leaves, which I assumed would be available at one of our many local stores. I started by calling our local coop, the central coop. After being transfered, I was told by a nice woman in produce that they are unable to source it organically so they don't carry it. I hung up and called our neighborhood QFC who didn't have it. Then I called Whole Foods who I knew would stock it. They didn't.

Finally, I called the place that absolutely would have it, Uwajimaya, the enormous Asian grocery store down in the International District. They probably stock 25 different kinds of miso and at least twenty vegetables and fruits that you might have never heard of. They didn't have it. I asked the nice man on the phone where he thought I could get it. He said that there were two other Asian grocery stores in the area, "but honestly, if Uwajimaya doesn't have it, neither do they". He said they tried to stock it but the quality was so bad they halted shipments and were waiting for their distributor to tell them when the quality was up to par again.

At this point I whipped out the internet to find out what I could substitute, but apparently, there isn't anything that you can substitute curry leaves for. Even dried curry leaves, while being the closest substitute, are nothing like the real thing (baby).  So I decided that instead of trying to fake it out in an unsatisfying way, that I would use fresh cilantro instead. I loved this recipe, the crispy, slightly spicy, green flecked fritters were delicious with the tangy spicy mango chutney.

Lentil Fritters with Chilli, Ginger and Cilantro
Adapted from Great Indian Feasts
Makes about 20 fritters

10 oz mixed lentils (a mix is great, I used a mix of yellow dal and french lentils)
2 inch piece root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
5 dried red chillies, stems removed and roughly chopped (keep the seeds in the chopped mix)
1 large red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro leaves, washed and chopped
Canola Oil

Wash the lentils and soak them overnight or for at least a couple of hours.  Rinse and drain well.

Add the lentils, chillies, ginger, onion and cilantro to a food processor. Sprinkle in a generous portion of salt, around 2 tsp. Run the processor, stopping to scrape down the sides, until everything is blended together and minced, but the texture still remains coarse.

Make small patties out of the mixture, around 1/2 inch thick and 2 inches wide. The size that you choose to make them is flexible depending on how you are going to serve them, so do what works best for your use.

Add enough oil to a pan placed over medium heat so that the fritters will either be completely submerged when you put them in or the oil will come up half way. When the oil is hot, place in as many fritters as will comfortably fit without crowding them, leaving enough room for you to flip them over. Cook for 2 - 3 minutes and turn over. Cook for 2 - 3 more minutes more until they are golden brown and remove from the oil placing on paper towels. Continue cooking the remaining fritters in batches until they are all cooked. Serve with mango chutney (recipe below).

Mango Chutney
Adapted from the classic 1000 indian recipes

2 mangos, peeled, seeded and chopped into small chunks (1/2 inch in diameter)
1 cup white wine vinegar
1.5 cup sugar
4 green cardamom pods
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and loosely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and loosely chopped
2 tsp salt

In a food processor puree the ginger and garlic with 3 T of the vinegar.

Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, ground the cardamom pods, cloves and peppercorns to a paste.

In a large heavy stockpot, mix the sugar and water and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the rest of the ingredients and lower the heat. Simmer until the sauce has thickened and the mango is soft. Cool and transfer to a container.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hoiday Gift Guide

The holidays are upon us and I have started accumulating gifts for my friends and family. Some years buying gifts is easy and other years I struggle with it. My own list of wants usually contains 90% cooking items and then a few other random things. I have received a lot of wonderful gifts over the years from friends and family and wanted to share some items that might make great gifts for the foodies in your life.

One year I received this book which is a fabulous, unique, interesting book for anyone who likes to learn about food and who likes to read. It discusses all the different regions of France and what food and wine originates from each one. There are wonderful pictures and it is one of those coffee table books that will actually get read. It comes in hardback or paperback.

If your friend drinks, a high quality muddler may inspire drink creativity. The obvious upside being that when you visit them, there is a higher likelihood that you will have a mojito served to you.

A salt pig. A friend sent me a salt pig as a house warming present. I must admit I wasn't sure I would use it but it sits next to my stove full of kosher salt and I love it and use it several times a day.

Specialty salt. I know some chefs believe you should choose one type of salt, get used to it and use it religiously in the kitchen. I just can't adhere to that. I love the huge, pink flakes of my murray river salt. It looks like pink snow and a light sprinkle gives amazing flavor bursts.

Individual serving pans, especially this time of year, would make any chef happy. My collection of different sized dishes have been expanding. I use them all without fail for chicken pot pies, creme brulee, french onion soup and other things. 
And last but not least, anything you made yourself. I have received jars of pickles and jam, cookies and crackers, bread and chocolates. If your friend loves food, they will revel in a homemade gift! 

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Randy's Restaurant and Ice Cream

I love exploring restaurants and specialty food shops in and around the cities we visit. Most places have at least one strength, something to get excited about, but Phoenix is a big city and they have a lot going on so you can find almost anything you are looking for. Specialty cheese shops, small butchers that I would buy my meat from if I lived there and gluten free bakeries. They have a lot more big eating experiences than what you see in Seattle, big, fancy restaurants run by celebrity chefs. We were looking for something a little different, a classic diner, as they aren't very prevalent in Seattle. Not that I'm complaining, there is great breakfast to be found in Seattle but there is something so comforting about a good old fashioned diner and Randy's Restaurant and Ice Cream beckoned us.

We stopped in for breakfast on a busy Sunday morning and I had to stifle a laugh as we walked in. In our hometown of Seattle we live in a neighborhood where a lot of restaurants are beyond hip. Wood and exposed beams everywhere, urging us to order the local, organic, sustainable food off the menu. Randy's was the polar opposite. A busy, crowded diner without an indication anywhere that the food is organic and every surface that wasn't a table was covered with Santa Claus dolls. I felt like I had been transported to a Goodwill holiday gift shop.

Our waitress took our drink order as soon as we sat down and was back a couple of minutes later to find out what we wanted to eat. I wasn't ready as the menu is amazingly long. They have every combination you could ever want for breakfast, short stack with an egg, short stack with sausage and eggs, waffle with eggs, the list went on. And on. I told her I wasn't ready and it was no problem, 'it's a lot to look through, I'll be back in a few', and she was. I bravely ordered a veggie eggs benedict (didn't I learn anything from Kitchen Confidential?), my husband ordered a chorizo and egg breakfast, eggs, bacon and toast for my son and cereal with bananas for my daughter. The food was out in less than five minutes. I don't think it was waiting around, it really just seems like they are good at fast turnover. The eggs benedict took about two minutes longer than everything else and the delayed dish was brought over by Randy (I believe) with an apology for its tardiness.

The chorizo and eggs looked like a mistake to me but my husband assured me it was good. I'm not sure this is the place to venture out. If I lived nearby, I think I would come by for a straightforward breakfast but leave it at that. The veggie eggs benedict was served with freshly sliced tomatoes and avocado on an english muffin. The tomato and avocado were nice and cold and must have been pulled from a cooler. They sat underneath a hot egg and creamy hollandaise sauce and were served with a side of homefries.

Our coffee cups were refilled multiple times while we sat there and we were in and out of there in less than thirty minutes which is nice with kids. It is just what it claims to be, a straightforward diner, cheap prices and fast service.

Randy's Restaurant & Ice Cream on Urbanspoon