Saturday, January 22, 2005

Time to start sweet onion seed soon...

Our favorite for several years has been Ailsa Craig Exhibition sweet onions. Can be ordered from Pinetree Seeds among other sources. Impatiens are a good annual to fill in the semi-shady spots on the front (north) side of the house, and they need to be started in January to get flowers starting in June. Other seeds that I will start in late January or early February: cilantro, spicy globe basil, lobelia, pansy, and coleus..

Friday, January 21, 2005

Roast turkey

Although the days are getting longer, January seems the darkest month. The warmth of the Christmas lights has dwindled away. Still need those brisk walks outside--no matter what the weather, but it's really a time to turn inward, or at least inside and do some baking. Baking bread is indispensable. Roasting meat for a long time is a good one too.
A turkey roasting provides warmth during the day, good smells, a wonderful stock for various uses, a special treat for the cat, and lots of leftovers. Taking full advantage of the carcass turns the turkey feast into a very economical, and ultimately labor-saving process. There's a fair amount of work at the beginning, but the delicious stocks and packages in the freezer provide a basis for many meals into the future. What seems like a big project becomes more leisurely when done bit by bit over days, rather than all in one long day.
Preparation begins long before for the stuffing. Ends of bread are saved in the freezer. A day or two before turkey day, the bread is thawed and cubed and left on cookie sheets to dry up. Attention turns to the preparation of the giblet stock. The innards and and neckbone are removed from the turkey cavity. Reserving the liver temporarily, the rest is put in a pot covering it with fresh water, along with a few pieces of onion, carrot and celery, some herbs. Gently simmer for a few hours and there is the beginning of the gravy and some of it can be used to moisten the stuffing. Add the liver the last hour, so it doesn't get too tough. Strain the giblet stock, and chop the liver and heart into little pieces. Give a bit to the cat, along with pieces from the neckbone. The bread is now dry. Add a beaten egg, chopped onion, celery, pecans, apples and raisins, a bit of sage perhaps, and mix it up with the dried bread, along with some stock. Add some of the giblets and save the rest for the gravy. Sometimes I use some turkey stock that was saved from a previous occasion, so as not to have to wait for the giblet stock to be ready. I've been known to throw in chicken stock sometimes too, but don't tell anyone.
On turkey day, rinse and dry the turkey. Paint it with a paste of stock, oil, crushed garlic, and paprika. Fill it with stuffing and put it breast-side up on the roasting pan. A cup of water and a chopped onion goes on the bottom, and the whole thing is covered with a tent of aluminum foil. This keeps it from drying out. The foil can be removed the last hour or so of cooking to darken the skin. Bake at 325° for as long as it takes to get to an internal temperature of 180-185° in the thigh (about 20 minutes per pound of turkey) . Thanks to Jane Brody's Good Food Book, whose Roasted Stuffed Turkey provides the basic recipe that has been my starting point.
If there's no gravy leftover from previous occasions, the turkey should come out of the oven well in advance of eating. Once the turkey is out of the oven and with care is transferred out of the pan to a platter, the drippings are poured into a can, which disappears into the freezer for hardening. After an hour or so, the fat is scraped off the top. About 1/4 cup is heated in a pan and an equivalent amount of flour is added and stirred in gently and continually to avoid lumpiness and scorching. After the flour has cooked for a few minutes, pour in the giblet stock gradully while stirring, and then the drippings that were in the freezer. You don't want to introduce much more fat at this point, so be careful to have removed all the fat from the can first.
I take some other short-cuts sometimes. If I can't wait so long for the drippings to separate, I might use bacon drippings or oil for the fat and turkey stock from a previous occasion.
There was a mystique to carving the beast when I grew up. It was a man's job--one of the few times you saw a man working in the kitchen. It does take some skill and patience to carve out multitudes of thin slices onto a platter. My slices tend to be of variable sizes. After the bulk of the slicing is done, I resort to the oldest best tool--my hands--to tear remaining pieces of meat from the bones. Invariably much meat is leftover and is roughly sorted by grade and bundled into plastic bags. The carcass is returned to the roasting pan, covered, and stored safely out in the cold, like in a shed where no animalsm can get to it.
The next day the carcass is covered with cold water and brought to a simmer. Throw in chunks of onions (pierced with a few whole cloves), carrots, celery, and bay leaf. Over the course of the afternoon, between doing other things, I throw in other things: a bunch of parsley, peppercorns, halved garlic, tarragon and thyme. Simmer for hours. The smell will warm the house. Strain and cool into a big pot. Even then I still save some of the bits of turkey left for the cat and to be thrown into soup or stews. The pot of broth is covered and again goes out into a cold safe place so that the fat can separate. The next day, the fat is scraped off and discarded; the broth is gently heated to the point where it can be poured out into smaller containers, so some can be frozen for other occasions.