Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Gravy Makes the Turkey -- Start Tonight

In my family there is a tradition through the generations that gravy is the measure of a meal and therefore the cook. The roast can be tough and the turkey dry, but good gravy can save the meal and all will be forgiven. Your turkey, whether it’s rolled, roasted whole or chopped up in pot pie, is going to need gravy, and good gravy is no more work than bad gravy. 

Good gravy starts with good stock, and good stock means that you either buy chicken or turkey stock at the grocery store or you make your own. Stock is the liquid extract of meat and vegetables that you can produce in your own kitchen with basic ingredients.
Basic stock ingredients:  onion, celery, and carrots. I add any clean vegetable trimmings such as onionskin, lettuce scraps, and broccoli trimmings. These are simmered in water with the bones of whatever type of stock you are making fish, beef, chicken, and in our case turkey.  

The process:  brown the bones in the oven for 30-60 minutes, then cover with water and add vegetables. Important! Save the fat that renders off the bones during browning. Portions are highly flexible, but for a our turkey, a couple of carrots, an onion, and three stocks of celery with a bit of parsley should be enough vegetables and three quarts of water. Bring the pot to a boil and then let it simmer slowly for 4-6 hours. I have good luck making stock with a pressure cooker in about thirty-five minutes. Add the vegetables, water and browned bones to the cooker.  Cover and cook 30 minutes after it comes to pressure. 
How ever you make stock, strain it and let it cool.  Then skim as much of the fat as you can.  If you are making your stock from the bones of your rolled turkey, all this is being done a day or two before the big day. Now you have some turkey fat and a couple quarts of stock.
Before you get started building the gravy, get it in your head that this is an art not a science.  Or as mother used to say,  “there is more than one way to skin a cat.” Gravy is meat stock or milk thickened with some form of starch, usually flour. We are going to make flour gravy with chicken stock. The flour is where most people get in trouble. The flour in gravy has to be cooked or the gravy will taste like uncooked flour, the proverbial wallpaper paste. That’s the source of most bad gravy; the other danger is lumps.  

Basic turkey Gravy

Remove the turkey from the roasting pan and pour off any liquid into a Pyrex pitcher or stock separator. Add about a cup of stock to the pan and put it on the range top to heat so you can loosen all those tasty morsels stuck to the bottom of the pan. Once this is bubbling and things are loose set this aside or pour it in a bowl or pitcher. Using the fat you saved from roasting bones or butter and put it in a saucepan to heat about one half cup. Measure about the same amount of flour into this fat and simmer for about five minutes to make a roux. You need to be whisking or stirring almost
The Fat off just the roasted bones about 1.5 cups
constantly.  Now, add the pan cleanings and about a quart of stock stirring and heating as you go. As this heats it will thicken. Add stock to thin it or cook it down if it’s too runny. I like to simmer my turkey gravy a while and work it hard with the whip.  If I run out of stock and my gravy is still too thick, add the water from steamed veggies, wine, or beer. I remember the first time I saw mom thin her gravy with the water off of the green beans, I was disgusted.  Then she explained that I had been gobbling gravy made that way all my life. The gravy will need some salt and pepper, and I strain mine because lumps can occur and because I lined my roasting pan with vegetables so at this stage the gravy has chunks of onion celery and carrot knocking around in the pan. 

Now, the other way to skin a cat.You can make good gravy without adding all the fat that is in the roux. You do this by making a slurry of flour and water and adding it to the turkey stock. Put a couple quarters of stock in a pot and start it heating. In a bowl mix a half cup of flour and a half cup of cold water and make some wallpaper paste. Mix it well and then stir it into the stock and keep that whisk moving.  You really want those pan drippings and vegetable piece from the roasting pan for this gravy since you aren’t using all that flavorful fat you skimmed off.  Once this comes to a boil turn it to simmer and stir it often while it cooks for 10-15 minutes. If it is too runny, let it cook longer, too thicken add stock, water, or wine. 

If you made enough gravy you'll have some to pour over leftovers or to use in turkey pot pie.  
 If you made good gravy, you may have none left. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Bone that Turkey, Roll that Tom, The Thanksgiving alternative

This a post I originally presented last Thanksgiving.  I've added some detail and photos.  

If you are cooking a turkey Thursday, you are starting to get turkey worried.  It's part of Thanksgiving. Turkey is a problem.  Turkeys are large, cumbersome, and challenging to cook.  Add this to the fact that we serve them on the most celebrated meal of the year, and we have a serious problem.  And if that is not enough of an issue, all iconic images of roast turkey show a crisp, brown twenty-pounder brought to the table on a giant platter to be carved and served medieval style.  IF you want avoid all of these issues read on! 

The turkey problem starts with fitting it in the oven and then getting it cooked without drying out.  One way to solve this problem is to get a bigger oven, but it may be more practical to make the turkey smaller.  At our house, we have a very small oven and have to make it fit the turkey. (OR!!!! Down below I'll tell you about turkey ala GRILL!)
The way I make the turkey fit is to take the bones out so the meat is more compact -- it will cook more evenly and in a shorter time.  Boning the turkey can eliminate both the problem of fitting in the oven and cooking evenly.  And oh yes, a boned turkey is so easy to carve! You can impress your guests with your carving skill and cooking!
It goes something like this:  First remove the first two sections of each wing – save them for stock making.  

Turn the bird breast down and with a sharp boning knife cut along the spine and start filleting the meat away from the rib cage.  The intent is to remove the bone from inside the meat leaving the meat attached to the skin.  When you reach the thigh joint, separate the hip joint and work the knife along the thighbone to remove the meat.
Here you have to make a decision whether to remove the leg bone (the drumstick) or leave it in (attached to the meat).  Recently, I did a turkey like this and left the leg bone in and it went very well.  Read the rest of this to decide which you will try.
Boned with drumsticks
If you are removing the leg bones, continue as you did the with the thigh but you will encounter some bone-like tendons that must be cut away or pulled out with pliers.  Working from the inside, remove the remaining wing bone.  You will now have a sloppy slab of meat with skin on one side.   Rub the meat with seasoning; salt, pepper, sage and rosemary are a good choice.  Some people like to add olive oil or butter to the surface the meat, but I don't. There are three ways to proceed now: rolled and tied; stuffed, rolled, and tied; or flattened.  
A rolled and tied turkey is rolled, skin side out and tied with butcher’s twine into something that looks like a loaf of bread. This will firm up while roasting and slice like a beef or pork roast. A rolled, stuffed, and tied turkey is done the same way except that bread stuffing is prepared and wrapped in the center of your turkey, rolled, and then tied. Try to completely cover the meat with skin when rolling and tying to keep moisture in. Some wooden skewers might be handy for bringing the roll together.  The easiest way to handle the turkey is the third way, which I call flattened.  Boned and seasoned, the turkey is placed meat-side down in a roasting pan and sides pushed in so the meat is slightly mounded.  This works well if you want to leave the legs on.  When I use this technique I like to put a good layer of stuffing in the bottom of the pan and then
the turkey on top, or chunk up carrot, celery, and onion to lie under the bird for a richer gravy.
All three techniques are cooked the same way.  Rub the seasons on the skin (with a little butter or oil if you want).  Cover with foil and cook at 300-325 until done 1.5 to 2 hours.  Remove the foil about 1/2 through for browning. 

Plan B — there is always a plan B: 
If this seems like entirely too much work.  Cut the turkey into quarters.  To do this, split the bird down the back, lay it skin side down and split the breast so you have two identical halves.  Then cut each thigh and leg away from the breast.   Season each section and roast in a pan skin-side up.  You may want to cut the breast meat away from the bone but that's a personal choice.  If you cover the bottom of your pan with chunks of carrot, celery, and onion and lay the meat on those to roast, you will have a good base for gravy or stock.
Note!  The breast will probably be cooked before the legs so pull them out early.  

Stock for gravy:  
If you bone your turkey, you can use the bones for a nice stock.  To make stock, season and roast the bones thirty to forty minutes then simmer them in water and vegetable trimmings for 4-6 hours.  Strain stock and skim the fat to get a rich stock for gravy.  Save that fat and the fat from the roasting pan too.  
We'll do gravy next —stay tuned!  Here;s the gravy link: Turkey Gravy better than Mom's

Speed up the stock process with a pressure cooker and make the stock in 30 minutes.    

 AS Promised.  Turkey on the grill
So, you want to try cooking your turkey on the grill. If you have the common grill with a hood, whether charcoal or propane.  It can work great and free up the oven for other things.  Use indirect heat and a mild wood for flavor.  I recommend roasting in a foil pan or get an old roaster that you dedicate to the grill. Have plenty of foil to cover the turkey after it browns. Monitor it with a thermometer and really, just think of the BBQ as an outdoor oven.  Low and slow! 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Sound of a Tree Falling in the Forest

Hiker meets tree. Photo by Terry Rude
Last weekend, my neighbor sent me picture and a note about some trees down along Iditarod Trail section that borders the eastern shore of Bear Lake. I do a lot of walking on this trail since the trailhead is a quarter mile from my house, but I was out of town so it wasn’t until Tuesday that I could walk down there and inspect.
Some might be wondering how I could be on the Iditarod Trail when I’m five miles north of Seward. Doesn’t the Iditarod Trail start in Anchorage or Wasilla or Willow? Nope, sorry Sally. The Iditarod Trail originates in Seward where the Steamships brought miners, mail, and supplies during the gold rush and this is where the gold, and the winners and losers in the gold rush boarded the ship for Seattle.  That trail is now an National Historic Trail and, lucky for me, runs right along the shore of Bear Lake.

Back to our story.  My dog snape and I decided to check out the fallen tree situation, and Tuesday morning we walked the broad trail that follows the south shore of Bear Lake, listening to the swans talking and enjoying the blue sky day. At the southeast corner of the lake, the trail meets the main Iditarod coming in from Nash Road at the head of Resurrection Bay.

The trail is a bit of a mess here because a couple of years ago during one of our fall floods, the creek left its bed and decided to follow the Iditarod Trail to Bear Lake. Now that part of the trail has been replaced by a rocky streambed.

From this point north the trail follows the eastern shore of the lake and is more narrow and closed to ATV traffic. Snape and I were wading mud holes and stepping over roots as we followed the meandering trail and catching fine views of snow-capped peaks, spruce grouse, and the waterfowl coming and going on the lake. About a mile and a quarter from the trailhead, we came to the tree blocking the trail.

Well, this is not just some little tree blown down across the trail.  This is a major slide involving maybe a dozen trees that have uprooted, broken off and or slide down the hillside. Even up hill from the trail, massive trees have been toppled. The reason is obvious. These magnificent spruces and hemlocks are anchored by roots that are set in less than a foot of soil on sloping bedrock.  Soak that soil with days of heavy rain and add winds of more than thirty-five miles and hour and it’s amazing there are any trees left on that hillside at all.

Anyone using the trail for the next few months will be forced up a steep slope on a nasty bushwhack for a couple hundred yards, or they will be climbing over under around and through several massive root wads.  

Probably fifty yards of trail is covered by this slide involving probably a dozen trees.  Some of the trail is gone as well, pushed down hill to join some of the trees laying in the lake.  Another reminder that everything is temporary in a glacial valley subject to torrential rain, heavy snow, and storm force winds.