Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Medieval Feast

The Turducken emerges, triumphant after 10 hours in the oven. Here it's getting its temperature checked one last time. (It registered 170, which is the recommended temp. for poultry, even though one of my recipes said taking it out at 140-150 was fine.) The meat was still moist, but the outer edges of the Turkey seemed just a tad dry to me. But, then again, the important thing was I didn't give anyone Salmonella.

Here's a close-up shot of the Turducken slice. It's a literal mosaic of moist meats.

Here's everything else we ate along with the Turducken:
Medieval Feast Menu

Bread (Otherwise known as Trenchers employed as plates.)
First Course

Tart de Bry (Brie Tart)
Brie, egg, ginger and saffron baked in a pastry shell.

Crayfish (Shrimp)
Boiled with wine and served with vinegar.

Noumbles (Kidney Stew)
Veal kidneys cooked in beef broth, onion, and seasoned with ginger, mace, and pepper.

Salat (Green Salad)
A mix of fresh greens, fresh parsley, sage, leek, and scallion dressed with olive oil and vinegar.

Jellied sherry with lemon and brandy.

Main Course

Turducken (Roast Turkey, Duck, and Chicken) with Black Sauce
A sauce made with poultry livers and seasoned with anise, ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon.

Maccrows (Noodles)
Lasagne noodles baked with cheeses and butter.

Grene Pesen (Green Peas)
cooked in beef broth and spiked with parsley, mint, and sage.

Funges (Mushrooms)
Button mushrooms simmered with leeks in chicken broth and seasoned with ginger, cardamom, allspice, white pepper, and saffron.

Desert Course

Chiresye (Cherry Bread Pudding)
Made with red wine and served chilled.

Strawberyes with Crème Bastard (Strawberries with White Custard Sauce)
Payn Ragon (Honey and Almond Candy)

Almond bars glazed with sugar, honey, and ginger.

Even though I took pictures like a mad banshee at the feast, sadly many of them didn't turn out. Candle light is great for ambiance, but a killer for photography!

Friday, April 25, 2008


Graduate school sometimes takes over your life. The course work is demanding enough that immersion is not unlikely or unrealistic. Educational synthesis abounds. Take "Medieval Romance: ENGL-530." An innocently, benign class about chivalry, knights, and Turducken?

Our class thought that an authentic medieval feast would be a delightful distraction and give us an opportunity for medieval cultural immersion. Thank god food isn't just about subsentence (or someone would have gotten rich with a food replacement pill). Food, the odd, the strange, and the bizarre particularly can be indulged in primarily for entertainment purposes. That's the way they would have done it in the Middle-Ages, I think. Our course theme is Otherness, so a few dishes may be ostracizing. Kidney Stew anyone?

So while I have a homemade Turducken basking away in my oven during its ninth hour of 225 degree bliss, I want to record how exactly it came be. Here are the life stages of a Turducken before it's baked. (Remember how Kent has a tendency to name everything? Well, here's how Terry the Turkey, Derek the Duck, and Cherrie the Chicken became Turducken:

1. The first step is boning the poultry. In a practice of destructive anatomy, the bird's appendages and chest cavity are literally ripped inside out as I dutifully coheresed, scrapped, and swore at the flesh to separate from the bone.
2. After boning, the birds are turned right-side out again. At this point, they look like sad, deflated doggie chew toys.

3. Once all the birds are boned. They get layered on on top of another, with thin slices of peeled oranges and slices of ham between each layer.

3. At this point I was I was a bit scared because the meat runneth over.
4. But with a bit of finagling, I was able to tie up the whole thing. Notice how the Turducken resembles the Michelin man, or a fat man in a parka.

5. Then, I sewed up the "seam" with a tapestry needle and cotton kitchen twine using a slip-stitch. Although Julie Child wielded a 6 inch long poultry trussing needles in a "French Chef" episode in the 60s, these devises are now obsolete. (at least in Boise) I just got the biggest, most bad-ass needle I could at a craft store. Although it was only about 3 inches long, it worked just fine.7. Here is the Turducken ready for the oven.
Stay tuned for photos of the slicing, and the entire medieval feast menu with pictures!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Last Supper...at Milky Way

Jesus knew that last meals were important, after all his bread and wine supper has been immortalized--and even survived through America's Prohibition. Today was a sad day. My favorite restaurant in Boise is closing. (Admittedly, I'm biased because my husband works there, and I used to work for Mitch and Andrea as well at their other restaurant.) So, today I went in for my last Milky Way meal.

Perhaps I am too nostalgic for my own good and imbued this meal with too much ceremony. I started with oysters on the half shell with a mignonette sauce simple because I don't remember a meal I've eaten at the Milky Way without oysters. I had the lamb sandwich drenched in the perfect amount of tomato and red onion chutney on a thick slab of fresh-baked rosemary foccacia. (Thank you for baking the delicious bread, Pat.) I also had my last taste of Milky's signature creamy, tomato basil soup. Tangy with Parmesan cheese, yet sweet with the essence of roasted tomatoes.

When Kent comes home tonight, he's promised to bring me a fat slice of chocolate chip bread pudding--which just makes my taste buds melt thinking about it.

As I dined today, I tried to soak it all in. (I did not unfortunately have the foresight to take my camera--so there is no photo documentation.) The only abnormal thing was the local news channel crews, accosting diners as they left. Asking the owners for yet another, teary explanation of why they restaurant is closing. I was annoyed that this loss was breaking news. Honestly, it felt to me like a wake where everyone is trying especially hard to just act normal. Yet, when I was asked for an interview, I didn't hesitate. It wasn't a fifteen minutes of fame thing. (That's what blogs are for, right? Shameless self promotion. Ha!) I wanted the world (Okay maybe just the Treasure Valley) to realize that this is a really crappy thing that's happening because several dozens of people are losing their livelihood. Thousands of Boiseans will never taste the Milky Way's conceptual fusion of Idaho comfort food cooked with French culinary execution. Many, many things will be sorely missed from their menu. This food will be EXTINCT. It will never exist again in quite the same way.

I've been thinking a lot about good-byes. Soon Kent and I will be saying good-bye to Boise entirely. He's going to pursue a PhD, and we'll be moving away from the land of potatoes and back to Midwestern cornfields.

When we left Omaha two years ago, we were ready for something new. But, now I can't say that. I don't feel like I've sopped up enough experience here, nor drank my Boise life to the dregs. These last few months in Idaho will be more reflective. I'll look harder to notice things, I taste everything a little deeper, and I'll strive to give it meaning. Significance. Living life well is paying attention to every sensory detail of being alive, from the first spear of spring asparagus to the way the afternoon sun dances across my kitchen table.

And, of course, now that Kent, Mattie, and Henry (our two cats) are all unemployed waifs, I'll be experimenting with ways to cook exceptionally on an exceptionally tight budget. Stay tuned for cheap and delicious recipes.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Proustian Moment with Pad Thai

Food is nostalgia. After all, a stale madeleine cookie transported Proust back to his childhood. I believe we all have certain foods that trigger emotions. I believe we all long for food that reminds us of a happy, exquisite, unique moment in our existence. I also know, that for me, trying to recreate that perfect cinnamon roll or meatball or piece of fried chicken is not a frantic grasping for the unattainable. While trying to recreate memories through edible expriences can be a case of the grass is always greener elsewhere, the very act of cooking itself puts one in the moment, through the sensory sensations that explode with it.

For me, Pad Thai is one of those dishes. I fell in love with my husband over a plate of Pad Thai. (Of course the endorphin rush from the large amount of caspaicin in the chili peppers didn't hurt either!) When our favorite Thai restaurant was forced out of business so a new strip mall could be built, I had to find a way to recreate this revered dish.

While I know this isn't a truly authentic version of Pad Thai, I'm okay with that. It reminds me of that date when I first had Pad Thai. I love this dish because it comes together so quickly. I also think it hits every taste button in my mouth.

It looks homey with strands of tangled rice noodles nest cubes of deep-fried tofu, bean sprouts, and a confetti sprinkle of chopped peanut and cilantro. When I take a bite, heat from the dish’s chili flakes spread across the tongue to the upper reaches of my sinus cavities. Then, the sour pungency of fish sauce and lime juice show themselves on my palate, followed by a tiny whisper of sweetness.

Pad Thai

½ lb. rice noodles

¼ cup fish sauce

¼ cup + 1 T. white vinegar

¼ cup + 2 T. sugar

2 T. catsup

1 T. peanut oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 heaping t. dried red chili flakes (This is the equivalent of 4 out of 10 stars. For the true capsaicin addict though, at least a tablespoon of chili flakes is recommended.)

½ lb. peeled, raw shrimp

2 eggs

1 cup fresh bean sprouts

4 green onions, white and green parts chopped

For Garnish:

lime wedges

½ cup peanuts, chopped

fresh cilantro, minced.

Soak noodles in very hot tap water for about 20 minutes. Whisk together fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, and ketchup in a small bowl. Check noodles, they should be pliable, but not mushy. Drain noodles. Heat peanut oil in wok on high heat. Add garlic and chili flakes, and cook carefully (they can easily burn!) for only a minute or so. Add shrimp and cook until it begins to curl and turn pink. Add noodles. Push noodles to one side of wok, clearing a surface for the eggs. Crack the eggs directly into the wok, allow eggs to set for a few seconds, then scramble with cooking utensil and stir into the noodles. Add sauce to wok. Reduce heat to medium. Cook until most of sauce is absorbed by the noodles, stirring constantly. Add bean sprouts and green onions. Stir fry for one minute more. Sprinkle peanuts and cilantro over Pad Thai before serving. Serve with lime wedges. Makes two, restaurant-sized servings.

The Runner Up....

So, I admit, I'm going to brag just a tiny little bit. I was a runner-up in the Idaho Statesman's Culinary Walk-About pie contest. The Culinary Walk-About is a charity event sponsored to raise money for Meals-on-Wheels, and it was sold out tonight! By the way, I can't wait to try the winning recipe: Pear, Gruyere Cheese and Toasted Walnut Pie, which was made for all those lucky philanthropists at the Culinary Walk-About. Congrats, Trisha!

This picture isn't the greatest I know. I served it at a dinner party, and I didn't have the time to play around with lighting. And, just in case you missed the recipe, here it is:

Dark Chocolate Custard Pie with Hazelnut Crust and Strawberry-Balsamic Sauce

For the Crust:

1 2/3 cup All Purpose Flour
2/3 cup cold butter
1 cup finely ground hazelnuts
4 to 6 T. ice water

Mix flour, butter, and hazelnuts until crumbly. Gradually mix in ice water, a tablespoon at a time until a soft dough forms. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

For the Filling:
2 ½ cups half and half
5 ½ ounces dark baking chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup cocoa
¾ cup sugar
2 egg yolks (whites reserved)
1 egg

Combine half and half, chocolate, and cocoa in a heavy bottomed saucepan and heat over medium heat until chocolate is melted. Do not allow to come to a boil.

Meanwhile, beat sugar, egg yolks, and egg together in a separate, heat proof bowl. Gradually, pour a small amount of the half and half/chocolate mixture into the egg/sugar mixture beating well. Continue until both half and half/chocolate mixture is completely incorporated. Set aside.

Pie Assembly:
Roll out about 2/3 of the pie dough and form into a 9 in pie pan. Reserve extra dough. Brush inside of crust with the reserved egg whites. (There will still be a lot of egg white leftover). Pour chocolate filling into shell and bake for 30 minutes or until a butter knife stuck in center of pie comes out clean. If the crust edges brown too quickly, cover with aluminum foil. Allow to cool completely and refrigerate before serving.

For Garnish:
reserved pie dough
2 T. brown sugar (approximately)
1 ½ t. cinnamon (approximately)

Pastry Rosette Garnish:
While pie is baking, roll out remaining pie dough, as if to make mini cinnamon rolls. Sprinkle rolled-out dough round liberally with brown sugar and cinnamon. Starting with the narrow end, roll up. Cut into slices about a ½ inch thick. Place on un-greased cookie sheet. Slightly pinch base of each pastry to form rose shape. Bake along with the pie for about 12-15 minutes or until slightly brown on bottom.

For Strawberry-Balsamic Sauce:
8 T. strawberry jelly (not preserves)
4 t. balsamic vinegar
2 cups finely-sliced, fresh strawberries

Combine jelly and vinegar in small saucepan. Heat over medium high heat, stirring often until slightly reduced. Add strawberries, and cook until thoroughly heated. Sauce may be served immediately or refrigerated and served chilled.

To serve, slice and plate pie. Place pastry rosette next to pie. Spoon sauce over slice. Garnish with more fresh strawberries if desired. 8 Servings.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Party Scones!

My thesis has been successfully defended. After being grilled by my thesis committee for an hour and a half, they asked me to step out of the room so they could make their decision. The moment I stepped out the door, I burst into tears of relief. I've never been so glad something so stressful was over. But, I've also never worked that long or hard on something so intellectually taxing. It was an overwhelmingly wonderful feeling.

Many of my friends and colleagues in the Boise State English Master's program all successfully defended their thesis's this week as well. Congrats, everyone! To celebrate, my friends A and J threw a great party. The party was pot luck, and I really had no clue what I was going to bring. (Don't you just hate the potluck planning pressure [PPP] sometimes?) A and J's parties are usually packed with people (mingling and moonwalking) and no one wants to balance a precarious plate on their laps, so I knew one thing: finger food was a must.

When I got home via bus on Friday afternoon, Kent had taken our car and left his cell phone at home, so my plan to take the car and grab some groceries for a pot luck dish was thwarted. PPP elevated considerably at this point. I brainstormed what I could make with ingredients I had on hand, and I created these savory scones.

I love scones for how quickly they come together, and how versatile they are. Scones are also ultimately comforting (especially after an emotionally stressful week) because they have a crumbly, yet melt in your mouth texture perfect for slathering on butter or veggie cream cheese. Flavorings are completely adaptable. But here was my inspiration on the fly:

Rosemary-Sage Cheddar Scones

4 cups all purpose flour
4 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1/2 t. garlic powder
2 t. fresh rosemary, minced
1 t. fresh sage, minced
dash cayenne powder
fresh ground pepper to taste (about 30 grinds)
2/3 cup butter-flavored Crisco
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (plus extra for topping)
1 1/3 cup milk (plus extra for topping)
1 T. Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a large baking sheet. In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients. With a pastry blender or your fingers, cut Crisco into dry mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in cheese. Add milk and mustard and mix lightly with a fork until a soft dough forms. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently just until a coherent ball forms. Divide dough in half, and gently pat each half into a 7-in round. Brush lightly with milk and sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Cut each round into 8 wedges. Place scones on greased baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm with vegetable cream cheese. Makes 16.

P.S. When I arrived at A and J's party, the scones were still warm from the oven. I was in such a rush to get my fresh baked scones there, I forgot to take a picture of the final product!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Avocado Pie, Thesis Defense, Oh, My!

Tomorrow I defend my Master's thesis before my graduate committee, before scholars in my field who will ask me difficult questions and point out all the theoretical concerns, flaws, and problems in my 96 page opus. This 2 hour period tomorrow afternoon will seal the fate of my academic success forever. Okay, so maybe it's not that grim, but it's really just one of the last hoops to jump through before this project is done. I have worked nearly two years on this project, which details the World War II literature of a collaborate duo of writers Clara Spiegel and Jane Mayer, who wrote under the pseudonym, Clare Jaynes. In those two years, I've come to know this material inside and out. There's blood, sweat, tears, and cookie dough in it.

Yes, cookie dough. In honor of my thesis defense, I am baking one of Spiegel's cookie recipes, which I will share with my committee members. Critical literary theory is always better on a stomach full of crisp, buttery Apricot Monte Carlos, right?

The Clara Spiegel Papers are archived at Boise State, which has made my research a joy. In fact, I never would have discovered these fascinating women who give us a very shocking glimpse of what it was like to be woman in World War II America had it not been for Clara's archive. Archival research means permission to rifle through someone's diaries, travel journals, scrapbooks, photo albums, and manuscripts, which means you never know what you are going to find. Last fall, I discovered among Clara's papers a cookbook manuscript she had written.

The recipes are cheater versions of gourmet fare, written when Spiegel was 86 years old. Because Spiegel had a private cook for half of her life, it's no surprise that some of these recipes are a bit strange and dubious. However, because I'm the brave gastronant that I am, I've fallen in love with Clara's The Indolent Gourmet.

Here's a recipe I recently adapted from The Indolent Gourmet:
(note: I have changed this recipe from its original state by 10% or more)

Avocado Pie

(I know this sounds strange, but if you enjoy key lime pie, you'll probably like this. The sweetened condensed milk gives the pie a rich mouth feel, contrasted by the punch of citrus. Then, as an afterthought the earthy, mellow vibe of avocado comes through on the finish. And, Clara was right even the absolutely Indolent can make it.)

1 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup melted butter
3 T. sugar
2 avocados, pitted, peeled, and quartered
1 - 14 0z. can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 T. lime juice
1 t. lemon zest
1 cup sour cream
2 T. milk
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees.

Combine graham cracker, melted butter, and sugar. Press firmly into 9 inch pie pan to form a pie shell. Bake 10 min.

Meanwhile, combine avocado, sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, lime juice, and lemon zest in food processor and blend until smooth.

Remove pie shell from oven. Allow to cool slightly, then pour the avocado mixture into shell.

Combine sour cream and milk and mix well. Carefully spread this over the avocado mixture. Sprinkle top with 1/2 cup chopped walnuts. Chill thoroughly before serving.

(You'll need 5 or 6 hours for it to chill enough to set. Notice in my pictures how I got a little antsy and cut into it too soon, but it did finally firm up to a nice, velvety inconsistency.)