HCAYMAN

Seriously Irreverent Musings

Category: Cooking

Cooking

It’s Still Guacamole To Me

Sometimes it’s the little things …… there are so many ways to finish that thought.  One of my favorites is a line from the Robert Earl Keen song It’s the Little Things, and it goes like this, “….. that piss me off.”  In this instance, though it was a little thing, it didn’t piss me off.  Instead, it made me smile.

A couple of weekends ago Pam said, “I bought too many avocados, and they are about to go bad.  Why don’t you eat some?”  I am a Southern California boy, and avocados are in my DNA. I just don’t eat too many of them too often.  It’s not that I do not like them.  I do.  I just don’t put them in things I usually eat.  For some reason, her comment resonated with my stomach, and I decided to eat an avocado or two.  The only issue I had was deciding how to consume them.  I mean, it’s not like I wanted to just bite into a peeled avocado.

Six months ago it would have been pretty simple.  All I would have had to do was make some guacamole, open the cupboard and grab some tortilla chips.  After my last not so glowing visit to the internist, I have stopped buying tortilla chips.  I used to buy a bag a week.  Now it’s been six months since I bought a bag.  No chips meant no guacamole, which left me in a quandary, not knowing with what to eat Pam’s avocados.

I gave it some more thought, and as I did, inspiration struck:  Avocado Toast!  I had been hearing about this foodie way to consume avocados for some time.  Yes, I like to cook, but I am by no means a foodie.  In fact, I am about as far from being a foodie as a vegan is from endorsing The Atkins Diet.  I have never ordered avocado toast.  I am not sure I am cool enough or millennial enough to frequent a restaurant that serves it.  I know that it is an overpriced hors d’oeuvre, causing millennials to delay their retirement.  I have never put avocado on toast without bacon, lettuce, tomato and turkey or chicken to accompany it.  Heck, I had no idea how avocado toast was made nor did I know if I needed special bread to toast.  However, it was a Sunday, and I had gone to Whole Foods on my way home from the gym that morning.  I had a fresh ciabatta roll sitting in the kitchen just waiting to be consumed.  I assumed that it would be perfect for my avocado toast.

At that point, I googled avocado toast and read the recipe.  I was not overwhelmed.  There was not much to it.  It was almost like making guacamole sans the tomatoes, onions, cumin and cilantro.  So I made avocado toast.  It took about five minutes, including the time it took to toast the ciabatta.  I have to admit I liked it, and it opened up a whole new vista for avocado consumption for me.  So much so that when Pam said she bought more avocados last weekend, I was a little disappointed that I did not have any ciabatta rolls upon which I could spread some avocado, but I did have a couple of frozen bagels in the freezer…..

I made avocado toast for the second weekend in a row.  As I did, I asked Kim, my younger daughter who had recently returned from vacationing in Australia and was staying over for the weekend,  if she wanted some.  She had not heard about my first attempt, but she was impressed with this one.  She asked, “Dad, are you taking your first step on the path to becoming a millennial?”

Coming from Kim, that was a compliment because usually she just comments on my advancing age in a less than flattering manner.  She asked me what I was going to put it on.  I shattered our millennial  moment a microsecond later when I replied, “A bagel.”

It’s not worth discussing the avocado toast any further.  Obviously, it was good, even on a bagel, though the bagel did bring the whole effect down a little.  It really does not take much skill to make, and it would be hard to mess up.  What was worth noting and thinking about was how a simple little thing like smashing an avocado and spreading it on toast instead of dipping a chip into it can change how I was perceived.  One act was unexpected and cool.  The other would have been expected and commonplace.  Yet there would have been no fundamental difference between the acts.  I am not a deep enough thinker to delve into the ramifications of that.  I will leave that to those that are.  I was just happy that for a brief instant my younger millennial thought I might still be relevant in her world.

Slow Roast Religion

Go big or go home.  Generally, an accurate idiom.  Sometimes, though,  you can go big and stay home, as was the case for me this Thanksgiving.  A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving I tested a super slow roast method of cooking a turkey.  The method I used was 45 minutes at 450 degrees and about 16 or so hours at 170 degrees.  While my test turkey was not a disaster, it was by no means a complete success.  Nor was it good enough to clearly warrant using the approach on Thanksgiving Day.  The problem was it was almost good enough, which left me conflicted and wondering how much risk I wanted to take on Turkey Day.

There was no doubt that I had cut some corners and made some mistakes with my test turkey.  Due to time constraints, I shortened my normal brining period.  I do not know if that impacted the moistness of the cooked turkey, but I know it impacted the flavor.  I put liquid in the pan at the outset instead of when I turned the oven temperature down to 170 degrees, leaving me with a burnt pan with too little liquid in it.  Though I added more liquid before I went to sleep, I do not think I added enough.  When I woke up the next morning and checked the turkey, the pan was too dry.  I think cooking the turkey at 450 for the first 45 minutes was too much.  My understanding is that the value of starting out at a high temperature is to seal the bird and to get it up to a temperature that will kill the bad stuff lurking on and in it in a hurry.  Given the smoky kitchen, burnt skin and hard spots in the breast meat just under the skin, I was not convinced it was a good idea.

I spent the week or so after my test mulling over my strategy for Thanksgiving Day.  I was on the horns of a first world dilemma.  I had to choose between the super slow roast process with some adjustments and my tried and true cooking method, the one I have used successfully for the past ten plus years, the one which uses a more traditional 350 degree oven.  As I really did not want to take the risk, I decided to  chuck the super slow roast and use the tried and true method.

I guess subconsciously I was not convinced I made the right decision, as I awoke early Thanksgiving Day with turkey on my mind.  Cooking turkey to be precise.  I was second guessing my decision, something I do too often and something that drives Pam nuts.  But, hey, I’m a Pisces so it comes with the territory.  And more often than not, my subconscious is right.  So I spent some quality time with Google, reviewing all the posts I could find about slow roasting turkeys.  Not super slow roasting, because I had run out of time for that, but regular slow roasting at, say, 250 degrees, a process for which I still had just enough time.  I was about ready to give up when I stumbled onto a post written by a guy who shared some of my beliefs.  A guy who found religion in the culinary sense by slow roasting chickens and then extended the process to turkeys.  I have been slow roasting my chickens for the past year or so, and I was already a convert.  This was a guy who went through the same pilgrimage upon which I wanted to embark.  He had instant credibility with me.  If he said slow roasting worked, I believed him.  I just had to commit to doing it.

I checked the time.  It was about 6:30 AM.  I needed about half an hour of prep time, seven hours and 45 minutes of cooking time and about an hour of cooling time.  I did the math.  I had about two hours before my decision would be made for me.  So I did what I always do when I need to make an important decision.  I went to the gym.  While there, I decided to go big, or in this case, slow.

I came home and pulled the turkey out of the brining solution and prepped it for the oven.  Even though I like giblet gravy, I do not like to use the neck and the other stuff to make it.  But I do like to use the wings for it.  So I spent some time hacking the wings off and put them aside.  The brining solution I use, which I found years ago on Epicurious.com, consists of salt, pepper, honey, garlic and thyme.  It provides more than enough seasoning, though I did grind some more pepper into the cavity and onto the skin.  Then I squeezed lemon juice into the cavity, which I then stuffed with fresh sage and thyme, half an onion, four or five peeled garlic cloves, the rind of the lemon and half an orange.  I tied the legs together and, voila, the bird was ready for the oven.

At this point, I need to remind the few of you that are reading this that I am by no means telling you how to cook your turkey.  I am simply relaying a story about how I cooked mine.   I opted to start the oven at 425 degrees to avoid all the smoke I generated with the test bird.  I put the turkey in and, guess what, it started smoking again.  I lowered the oven to 400 and then to 390 and the smoking stopped.  So I kept it there for about 35 more minutes.  After that I basted the bird with some chicken broth and added about a quart of broth to the pan and roasted the 21 LB bird for seven hours at 250 degrees, basting it and adding liquid as needed to keep the humidity in the oven up.

I took the turkey out and let it sit for about 50 minutes.  By now my family and my guests were milling about and checking out the turkey, and I was equal parts curious and nervous.  Well, maybe much more curious than nervous.  I knew just how good it was going to be about two minutes later when I took the drumsticks off and sampled some of the meat around the edges.  The turkey was amazing.  It had the fall off the bone quality I consistently achieved with my roast chickens, and the white meat was moist, moist enough that I could eat leftover white meat two days later without gravy or water to wash it down.

So slow roasting was a success.  It was the way to go this year.  I, as well as everyone else, was really pleased with the result.  Having said that, I know my slow roasting pilgrimage is not complete.  I will have to slay my lingering super slow roast demons before I can decide how to cook next year’s bird…..

Turkey Talk

Tom Petty was right.  The waiting is the hardest part.  It’s Sunday, 11 days before Thanksgiving.  It’s not hard for me to wait for Thanksgiving.  Even though it is my own fault, the 24 hours ending with Thanksgiving dinner are just about the toughest 24 hours of the year for me.  I never intended for them to be.  Yet here I am 11 days before Thanksgiving, suffering while I wait for a turkey to finish slow roasting.

It started innocently enough.  About 10 or so years ago I was pleasantly sitting at the dinner table feeling the effects of the tryptophan in the turkey course through my veins.  Even though the science does not validate it, I am sure I was  in a turkey induced haze.  In any event, I announced to the family that I would make Thanksgiving dinner the following year.  Appropriately, this came as a shock to all at the table.  I had never cooked any type of whole bird before.  I had never made a side dish for Thanksgiving before.  If pressed, I would admit that I hadn’t really cooked a whole lot before.  For some reason, it just felt like something I wanted to do.

Kim, my younger daughter, loves Thanksgiving.  As I made my announcement, she almost fell out of her chair.  She said something like, “Dad, you have no idea what you’re doing.  You know I love Thanksgiving.  Are you sure you want to do this?”  I have to admit it.  I was not sure at all.  But as I sat there, I was committed.  Sort of like the pig in the bacon and egg breakfast.  I had told everyone my goal.  Like Tom Petty, I could not back down.  So I said something like, “Relax Kim, it will be fine.”

Kim does not like to change the things she likes so she said something like, “Okay, but make it the exact way Uncle Dale made it this year.”  Dale had made a great meal, and we all had enjoyed it.  For those who know me, my response was predictable.  I said, “Dale did a great job, but I want to do it my way.”

Kim groaned.  Then she got indignant and said something like, “Fine.  Just don’t screw it up.”  I lamely said, “Don’t worry.  It will be fine.”

51 weeks went by.  I finally got around to thinking about Thanksgiving.  I went online and found a recipe I liked.  It was nothing like Dale’s.  Thanksgiving day came.  I read the recipe, freaked out because while I could read the words, but I had no idea what they meant.  With Pam’s help and despite lots of my dysfunction, Thanksgiving dinner was superb.  So superb that Kim said, “That was great.  You can make the exact meal next year.”  As I said, it started innocently enough.

Except for the year I did the bourbon brine, I have always used the same turkey recipe I found that first year.  I have shared it with many people.  They have all loved it.  The truth of the matter is that, like Kim, I am afraid to change.  I have changed some of the sides.  I have changed the dressing.  I have added apple pie to my list of todos for Thanksgiving.  My workload has increased.  But I leave the turkey alone.  Until this year.  Which brings me to why I am cooking a turkey 11 days before Thanksgiving.

For the past coupe of years I have been roasting whole chickens.  I have tried lots of recipes and techniques, but I have settled on one that works for me.  I slow roast the chicken at 250 degrees for four hours.  My family likes the way it just falls off the bone when we eat it.  For the past few months I have been thinking about slow roasting a turkey.  Too bad I did not act sooner.

The other day I found a slow roasting recipe.  It called for cooking the turkey 15 to 20 hours at a low temperature, something I could not fathom, after searing it at 450 degrees for about an hour.  The theory was that because the oven temperature is low, 170 degrees, which is just about the internal temperature the turkey should be when it is done, you can roast it without fear for hours and hours.  I was skeptical.  This was a significant departure from my norm.  I just could not bring myself to try it for the first time on Thanksgiving day.  I knew I had to test it first.

I bought a turkey yesterday.  I was surprised at how few thawed turkeys are in the market this time of year.  I think there were three in the whole place.  Lots of frozen ones, but few thawed ones.  I went out and bought an oven thermometer, something I had never used before, so I could get a sense of just how well calibrated  the oven was.  Turns out it is pretty close, though I have no idea if it is the oven or the thermometer that is right.

I have a bad habit of screwing up the implementation of pretty much everything I cook the first time.  I am not sure why, but even though I read the directions, I somehow do things out of order.  Last night was no exception.  The goal was for the turkey to cook overnight.  That meant starting it at about 10 pm, just about the time I go to sleep.  Right after I put the turkey in the oven, I realized that I should not have put the liquid in the pan until I was ready to lower the temperature from 450 degrees to 170 degrees.  I figured it would be okay.  Not smart.  After dozing for brief periods while watching TV, I went back to the kitchen.  On the way I noticed the smell.  As I got closer, I noticed the smoke, which was sort of billowing out of the oven.  I guess the liquid did not like 450 degrees.  I rationalized it and said to myself, “I guess we will have a smoked, slow roasted turkey.”

I opened the windows, lowered the temperature and then added some liquid.  I prayed it would come out okay and went to sleep.  Before I did, I told Pam I sort of screwed it up.  She laughed in her sleep.

I have to admit that I did not have a great night.  I kept waking thinking I would smell smoke.  I was convinced the house would burn down, something I would never have thought of if my 1974 Porsche had not caught fire in the garage a year and a half ago.  But that is another story.  In any event, I checked on the turkey early this morning.  Most of the liquid was gone, but it didn’t look too bad.  The skin was a little charred, but the smoke was long gone.  I had some hope that all would be okay.

As I write this, I have no idea how it will turn out.  It is now about 3 pm.  The turkey has been in the oven for 17 hours.  There is no smoke.  The house is still intact.  The turkey looks cooked.  Literally.  Kim is over and Shelby and Bryan are coming over.  Dinner will be at 6 pm.  I think I will take it out in about an hour.  Pam and Kim keep asking me about the turkey.  I say to them, “Don’t worry.  It will be fine.”  I hope I am right.  Meanwhile the waiting is still the hardest part.

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