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So here’s the deal: in part being the obsessive planner I am, with a splash of those holiday feelings of love and goodwill towards others, I decided to host 20 people at my house for a “Friendsgiving.”   For those who do not know, a “Friendsgiving” is that special time of year where everything that is done on real Thanksgiving, mainly the excessive consumption of brown/orange colored food, occurs minus the family drama and the something-always-goes-wrong traveling.  But  for what “Friendsgiving” lacks it certainly makes up for in lots, and I mean lots, of drinking.  That, and perhaps a beautiful neighbor boy scrubbing up some dishes in nothing but his skivvies…though that story is for another time.

fast-motion turkey

As the host I decided that it was my duty to make the turkey.  That’s right, a young 20-something professional with a terrible stove and pretty janky kitchen in general decided that she would join the ranks of her foremothers and fathers (yes I can be PG) and make herself a mother f-ing turkey.  The challenge is on!

This entire process was purely experimental in that I took my mother’s turkey recipe and added a few ingredients to make it my own.  As you will notice in the pictures, which were taken by my lovely friend and neighbor Ani who’s delicious brunch I wrote about back in August, I did it all.  I pulled out the gizzard, cute off the excessive skin around the turkey’s bottom, washed the cavity, slit the skin so that the seasoning can go in, and all the other carnage aspects of cooking a turkey all by my gosh darn self.

pulling out that ole gizzard

And now for the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1 turkey (Mine was 14.5 pounds and NOT frozen.  If you use a frozen turkey be sure to account for de-thawing time that can take up to a week).
  • One roaster pan (I used a disposable one)
  • One V-Rack.
  • Meat thermometer.
  • Turkey baster.
  • 2 chopped apples (I chose to use honey crisp)
  • 2 chopped peeled oranges
  • 2 chopped pears
  • 2 cups paprika
  • 2 cups dried minced onion
  • 2 cups minced garlic
  • 1 cup Old Bay seasoning
  • 2 chopped celery stalks
  • 2 cups fresh sage (not chopped)
  • 2 cups fresh rosemary (not chopped)
  • 2 cups fresh thyme (not chopped)
  • 2 cups fresh oregano (not chopped)
  • 1 cup fresh basil (not chopped)

fruitful bounty

Procedure – Prepping the Turkey:

  1. Turn your oven on to 450 degrees to really heat it up.
  2. Throw on a pair of clean rubber gloves that you will never use ever again.
  3. Remove the turkey from its bag in your sink.  Trust me with this, there will be a good amount of blood and/or other enjoyable liquids along side your turkey.
  4. While the turkey is in the sink, stick you hand in the hole between its legs (yes, the turkey’s anus) and pull out the gizzard.  GROW A PAIR AND DO IT!
    1. You can save the gizzard to cook other things like soups and gravy, but I threw it out.  It was just that gross.
  5. Rinse off the turkey skin (but do NOT remove it) and empty cavity with water.
  6. Cut off the excessive skin around the turkey’s neck and butt hole.
  7. Put your turkey right side up (meaning the breast is facing up, on a clean/covered surface.  I used aluminum foil on my kitchen counter.

just cut it right on off

Procedure – Seasoning the Turkey:

  1. Take a deep breath because the gross part is over.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the paprika, dried minced onion, minced garlic, and old bay.
  3. Slowly add water to the mixture so that it becomes “muddy” and easy to slather.  I had to mix in water a few times throughout the slathering process.
  4. Cut some slits between the turkey skin and the turkey meat.  I did this anroung the wings, legs, and on the breast
  5. Slather, and I really mean slather, on some of the muddy seasoning mixture under the skin.  The amount used is based of your taste and preference.  Personally, I used about half of the mixture.
  6. Take the rest of the mixture and slather it onto of the turkey’s skin.  Really get it on there.
  7. If you have any of the mixture left, slather the rest inside the turkey’s cavity.
  8. Time to stuff!  Stuff as much of the fruit, celery and fresh herbs inside the cavity of the turkey.  Make sure that you get at least some of every type of fruit and herb in there.

good and slathered

Procedure – The Tale of the Turkey and the Oven

  1. Put the rest of the fruit in the roaster pan.
  2. Place the v-rack inside the roaster pan on top of the fruit.
  3. Carefully pick up your turkey and place it upside down (breast side down) on the v rack.
  4. Put the rest of the fresh herbs around the turkey and in any nooks and crannies you can find.
  5. Put the meat thermometer deep into the thigh of the turkey facing towards the breast.  Make sure that it does not touch any bone.
  6. Cover the turkey with tin foil.
  7. Set the oven down to 350 degrees.
  8. Place the turkey in the oven and set your timer for 3 hours.
  9. After three hours, carefully lift up the cover and use the turkey baster to take the juices developing on the bottom of the roaster pan and squeeze them on top of the turkey.  Do this hourly after those first three hours.
  10. In order to cook a turkey, the temperature of the meat thermometer needs to reach 180 degrees.  Depending on your stove, size of bird, etc. this cooking can take 5 hours or, like mine, take 8 hours.  Cooking a turkey is a project so just make sure you leave enough time for the bird to cook!

this is why we throw out the rubber gloves

Overall, the “Friendsgiving” was a phenomenal success and all guests left intoxicated and with full bellies!

– Lauren

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Delicious as a roasted sauce is, sometimes it’s just not feasible to spend 3 to 4 hours preparing and cooking a gang of tomatoes. I’ll just have to wait to be somebody’s grandfather to spend all day in the kitchen / on the couch napping. However, pulling together a quick and flavorful sauce is easy and, let’s be honest, sometimes quick and easy is all we really want.  The following is my standard procedure and parts lists for when I use crushed or diced canned tomatoes, but this still being the season for fresh, I substituted the standard 28-ounce can of the red stuff for roughly a pound and a half of fat, ripe orange tomatoes.

The only slightly technical part of making this sauce involved blanching. This process is used to remove the skin from any soft-fleshed fruit or vegetable (tomatoes, peaches, etc.) and is much less daunting to execute than it seems. For ease of use, I’ll explain everything simply and also use pictures to demonstrate. I know you really just want to look at the pictures anyway.

Blanching Your Tomatoes

  1. Put a pot of water on to boil. There must be enough water to submerge the tomatoes, but since we’ll be boiling pasta later (using the same water), use whatever pot you would use for boiling pasta.
  2. Fill a large bowl with cold water and a few cups of ice (also called an “ice bath”).
  3. Cut a shallow “X” in the bottom of each tomato. This will allow the water get underneath the tomato skins.

    Don't cut deep. Be all gentle-like.

    Tomatoes before blanching. Yellow = mo betta.

  4. Place tomatoes in boiling water (this is the actual blanch) and allow to cook for no more than 90 seconds (we’re not cooking the tomatoes yet!). Remove the tomatoes when you see the skin splitting from the “X” up the sides.
  5. Place tomatoes in ice bath for about a minute. Notice how the skins will shrivel and shrink around the meat of the tomatoes.

    Wrinkled like your grandfather's...face.

    The shrinking is kind of like Botox. Except in reverse. Or something.

  6. Remove peel with you hands, being careful not to smush the softer inner meat of the tomatoes.  

    STOP STARING. THEY'RE NAKED.

    Post-blanch, revealing the soft inner flesh.

That’s honestly the hardest part of the whole process. Blanching, as mentioned before, is also good for things like peaches, various nuts with skins like peanuts, almonds, and pistachios, and also small onions. It’s one of those small steps that is worth the little amount of effort required, as it makes a big difference in a finished dish. To finish, carefully slice and dice the newly-naked tomatoes and set aside.

The red Ikea cutting board makes the color even more INTENSE.

Blanched, sliced, and diced.

Now on to the sauce! In a wide pot or sauté pan (flat bottom, straight sides), add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and some sliced, not minced, garlic. The larger pieces will have less bite and fire than minced garlic, and will get sweeter as a sauce cooks. Set the pot / pan over medium low heat and allow the garlic to take on just a bit of color over the next 5-7 minutes.

Olive oil and garic = Everything important in life.

Toasted, golden, and just barely brown around the edges.

After the garlic is golden (but not dark!), add onion and pepper. I happened to have what is called a “long hot,” or essentially the red version of the green poblano pepper, which gave the sauce a gentle heat and removed my usual addition of crushed red pepper flakes. Allow this to cook for at least 5 minutes as well, and enjoy as your kitchen is perfumed with the wonderful aromatics.

Aromatics getting sexy.

Breathe deep, and smell the old country.

Once the aromatics are soft and fragrant, you can go ahead and add the tomato (fresh or, if not summer, canned). However, if you have another 10 minutes to spare, you can allow the aromatics to keep cooking, developing deeper flavors and bringing out their natural sugars. Either way, once the tomatoes go in, allow everything to cook for about 10 minutes, during which time the tomatoes will break down, some of the water will cook out, and the flavors will get to know each other a little bit.

Yeah, definitely would be red.

Note: canned tomatoes will probably be red.

To finish, give the sauce a taste. Add some kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and some crushed red pepper flakes if you want some heat.  If you’re using canned tomatoes, I recommend at least a teaspoon of sugar to cut the acidity. For herbs, I just tore some fresh leaves of basil and stirred them in after I turned the heat off of the sauce, but oregano and parsley would be great too.

Shakespeare was a big fan of tomatoes. I think.

5 minutes later, and thou havest sauce.

Ingredients 

  • One standard 28-ounce can of diced (or crushed) low-sodium tomatoes OR about 1.5 pounds of fresh tomatoes, blanched and diced (see directions above)
  • 4 – 6 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 medium bell pepper, diced
  • Fresh basil, parsley, and/or oregano (but definitely fresh basil. dried oregano is okay, too.)
  • Crushed red pepper flake (optional)
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil

Procedure

  1. Slice the garlic into thin rounds and add to a cold pan with 1 – 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Gently cook the garlic over medium-low heat until just barely toasted / golden, about 4 – 5 minutes.
  2. Add the onion and pepper, boost the heat to medium, and season with a big pinch of kosher salt. Cook for at least 5 minutes stirring often. If a sweeter and deeper flavor is desired, continue cooking for up to 12 – 15 minutes. JUST DON’T BURN YOUR SHIT.
  3.  Stir in the tomatoes and allow to cook, still over medium heat, for another 5 minutes, or until tomatoes soften and a sauce begins to form.
  4. Finish sauce with fresh herbs and . Add seasoning to taste. Add sugar, in small increments, to cut the acidity. Add crushed red pepper flake if desired.

    That Ikea table is getting a lot of camera time.

    Paired with tortellini LIKE A BOSS.

– Max.

A few weeks ago, I waxed romantic about my love for fresh summer tomatoes. Now that August is in full swing, however, those juicy fruits are everywhere. This post is the first in an ongoing series in which I will do my very best to take advantage of the 2011 tomato crop through my favorite application: sauce. Now, I’m not here to offend anyone of Mediterranean descent or take on your grandmother in a cook-off showdown, but I love me some sauce and after cooking pot after pot after pot, I’m not afraid to put my best efforts out there.

For my first attempt, I used my favorite cooking method: roasting. A slow roast both deepens / concentrates the flavor and enhances the natural sweetness of the tomatoes and the accompanying aromatics (onion, bell pepper, and garlic). Admittedly, human error (i.e. going out to shop instead of staying at home to watch the tomatoes) allowed the roasting to continue for a bit longer than I would have normally liked, but the end result gave a sauce that had an extra-deep caramelized flavor and just a touch of dark smokiness (and indeed, a dark color) thanks to a few pieces of charred onion.

I like pictures with lots of tomatoes. It's a thing.

All of the candidates for roasting, looking pretty on my kitchen table.

At home in Connecticut, I still spent my Saturday morning at the farmer’s market. Lucky for me, there was a man selling second-quality (i.e. cracked / ugly or slightly under-ripe) tomatoes at the rock-bottom price of $10 for a 25 pound box. And not only was he thrilled to sell me those fruits at 40 cents per pound, he even threw in a few purple and one green bell pepper, which also went into the sauce. Supporting local business + fresh local produce + cheap as fuck = all I do is win.

For the actual roasting, prep is easy. Halve the tomatoes, remove the stem (and any undesired parts, such as mold or under-ripe spots) and scoop out the seedy innards with your hand. Do not use a spoon. Spoons are for the weak and the unattractive. Dice the bell peppers and the onion, also removing the seeds from the peppers, and smash / mince some garlic. Load everything into a baking pan, layering the tomatoes on the bottom and the aromatics on top, and slide it all into a 275 degree oven. After a short time, enjoy the wonderful smells permeating your home.

They didn't believe me when I said "I'LL CUT YOU."

A kaleidoscope of ripeness.

The actual time for the roast depends on how much time you have and what you want out of the sauce. At the very least, let the tomatoes cook for 1.5 hours, which will allow the moisture to cook away and the all of the lovely flavors to concentrate. After that point, though, it’s up to you. I recommend letting everything darken, shrivel slightly, and caramelize / brown around the edges, which should be done within the next hour. Or, if you’re like me, and you get out of the house and leave your mother in charge, things will turn out a bit more well-done than you thought. However, a delicious sauce was still had with little effort.

I could've eaten it all right then. With just my face.

Post-roast, pre-blend. Look at all of that lovely color.

After everything is out of the oven, put the whole mess into a big pot and over low heat. Again, now you have choices. After already cooking for a few hours, all of the produce should give under the pressure of a wooden spoon and some stiff stirring and will yield a rustic and chunky sauce. This time, however, I wanted something smoother, so i added about a half-cup of water and mixed everything with my stick blender until it was more homogenous, but still had much texture. 

Your sauce is now a canvas for finishing. If you let everything roast for a long while, you’ll notice how the natural sugars were brought out and round out the acidity of the tomatoes without any need for added sweeteners. Wanting to bring out some of the alocohol-soluble flavors, I added about a quarter cup of vodka (eyeballed the pour, as I always do with hard liquor, nothing precise) and let the sauce stew for a few minutes. Then, in a stroke of inspiration, I threw in a bit of half and half, wanting to mimic the creaminess and rich flavor of traditional vodka sauces. This also served to brighten the rather dark sauce as well — remember, we eat with our eyes first. Some crushed red pepper and a fresh basil, oregano, and flat-leaf parsley (torn instead of chopped to prevent over-processing the herbs), and I am in a wonderful place. Wait, WHERE IS THE BREAD? Someone get me a loaf of crusty bread!

Your grandmother would be proud.

Blended and soused with booze and milk. Actually more delicious than it sounds.

Ingredients

  • 5 – 6 pounds of fresh tomatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 1-2 bell peppers
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic (or more, if you like)
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) fresh basil, torn into small pieces
  • 2 teaspoons each fresh oregano and flat-leaf parsley, also torn into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flake (at least)
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1/2 cup half and half (substituting light or heavy cream is fine)
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • fresh black pepper
  • water as needed to thin sauce if using stick blender to achieve smooth texture

Procedure

  1. Wash and dry tomatoes and peppers.
  2. Halve tomatoes vertically (through the stem). Remove any blemishes, mold, etc.
  3. Cut out the stem and scoop out the seeds / tomato goo. Don’t worry if the inner membrane comes out too, it’s not as flavorful as the rest of the tomato. Plus, we’ve got a lot of them to get through.
  4. Dice onion and peppers and mince garlic cloves.
  5. Arrange tomatoes in baking pan, cut side up, and layer the aromatics on top.
  6. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and kosher salt.
  7. Roast in a 250 degree oven for at least 1.5 hours and up to 3 hours, making sure to keep an eye on the progress every 30 minutes or so (15 – 20 minutes closer to the end).
  8. Place tomatoes and aromatics in a large pot over low heat after the roast. Either stir vigorously to achieve a rustic and chunky texture or use a stick blender for a smoother texture. You can also do this in batches in a standard blender or food processor, but it’s a bit of a hassle working in batches.
  9. Add vodka and allow to cook for 5 minutes.
  10. Stir in dairy, season with salt and black pepper if desired.
  11. Finish with herbs and crushed red pepper.

    Yes, even at work, there is shaved pecorino.

    Toss with rigatoni and pecorino romano to make your co-workers jealous.

There will be more sauce to come. Summer is fleeting and the tomatoes, ephemeral jewels that they are, will be ere be gone before I have had my fill.

– Max.

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