December 29, 2009

Turbo-charged Turducken!

With the Open House behind us, Christmas Day - and 14 guests for dinner - loomed large.  And fresh turducken - that weirdly wonderful combination of turkey, duck and chicken - was finally in my sight lines for the main course.

Fiesta Farms was the go-to place, as weirdly wonderful as turducken.  A 9 lb. turducken seemed a reasonable amount for 14 people, even accounting for the three vegetarians.  And who better to assemble it for us than Danny, the charming and enthusiastic butcher at Fiesta?

Here it is, pre-cook, in all its fleshy glory:

Umm, maybe we should have gone with the 7 lb....

Into the extra pan to catch the drippings...

Let me digress a moment while the TurboChef does its magic. 

Our uber-cool, custom red TurboChef makes me happy. The snappy look is by frog design, and while I roll my eyes at their description of the design process - frog sought the honest voice of the consumer audience - it worked. I don't know that it's my "honest voice” that responded to the appeal of the TurboChef. I just know that cooking a perfectly juicy roast chicken in less than 30 minutes can’t be beat. Or having deeply rosy rack of lamb done and cut into chops in less than 10.

So there was no question in my mind that our first turducken would need to be made at warp speed in the TurboChef. 

Setting the oven for a turkey didn't seem quite right - the darn turducken looked more like a veal roast on steroids than a stuffed turkey.  Hmm...veal roast...that seemed like a good setting to try. The temperature was right - 350F.  The time sure sounded good - two hours.  And the results?


To table, everyone...

December 22, 2009

The Remains of the Day

Of the 80+ guests, all in festive spirits and hungry as bears.  Of the 21 delectable dishes artfully arranged on the dining room table, buffet style.  Of the oh-so-pretty house, done up with Christmas greenery, a big old fat real Christmas tree and lots of love.  Of the kitchen island, laden with sparkling glasses, lined up soldier-straight, next to choices of cheery punch, or more grown up prosecco, red or white wine. Of the kitchen, put to work under the watchful eye of Ian, juggling food prep along with the team of four servers.

Yes - sadly - the new kitchen's inaugural first ever Open House - and our 14th - will have to live on in memory only.  There's still time to share the delectable recipes though and of course I seemed to remember to take photos before - when all the cooking was underway - and after...

Baby potatoes for three cheese fondue:

Marinated and pre-seared lamb chops for pistachio-crusted lamb "lollipops":

Tunisian bean dip being swirled into submission:

And the very generous expression of our guests, who support our holiday tradition of bringing a donation for the Daily Bread Food Bank:

Well, Christmas dinner - and our first ever turducken - are just around the corner.  Watch this space for the results!

December 19, 2009

Only one more sleep!

Haven't posted for a while - we have been in a whirl of activity getting ready for tomorrow's Open House.  It promises to be record attendance, and we are ready! 

Cookie baking and decorating complete: check.

Agonising over, selecting and then cooking what will end up being way too much food: check.

Getting the house beautiful: a given!

Now it's time to sleep and pray for a green Christmas.

December 10, 2009

Start Me Up Redux

According to S. John Ross, a sourdough starter should take three to four days to form.

This is what I had after 48 hours...

Here's the thing.  When I broke the dough "seal" that had bubbled through the nailhead opening at the top of the jar, it had the right smell.  A pleasant sour or beery smell.  Plus it looked right:

I decided to take a chance, feed the starter again, and see what happened that evening.

Same thing.  Same crusty top. Same delicious bread-y smell.  Same great bubbly look.

Re-read S. John Ross.

Here's the gist: When your starter develops a bubbly froth, it is done. You have succeeded. If this sounds brain-dead simple, that's because it is. People who didn't believe the Earth was round did this for millenia.

Hmm.  Guess I'm brain-dead this week.  Seems the starter was done two days ago.  So my lovely starter is now in the fridge, collecting hootch.  God and time permitting, I'll tackle a sourdough loaf this weekend. 

December 07, 2009

Sunday Night Dinner with Rich...the Farmers' Market Edition

We haven't had much of a chance to do a leisurely Sunday night cookbook "date" dinner in quite a while.  The Open House is two weeks away (major cookie baking this weekend); charity ball on Saturday night (in honour of the Bollywood theme, I wore a beautiful borrowed sari and lots of safety pins!); and both of us trying to rid ourselves of the season's first - and hopefully only - cold.

But we did go to the Green Barn Farmers' Market, at the Artscape Wychwood Barns and even though December has put a definite crimp in the offerings, there was still plenty of good things to buy - and eat.

...including Nuala's delicious scones and Irish soda bread.  Yummy when toasted and slathered with butter!

First thing to buy was the "main" for dinner and we found halibut from Goldwater Seafoods, a Canadian company specialising in Nova Scotian seafood.

The greens came from Everdale's great selection of goodies.  A bag of assorted greens, perfect for sauting, for only $3.00.

Vicki's Veggies provided the delicious salad greens and parsnips. 

Dinner is a very simple affair.  Halibut slow poached in olive with lemon and dill; braising greens sauteed in garlic, shallots and chili pepper flakes, with some sauteed baby parsnips added in for crunch and nutty flavour; and Asian greens dressed simply with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  The perfect early winter dinner, filled with local goodness.

Sunday Night Farmers' Market Dinner for Two

Oven-poached Halibut in Olive Oil
adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook
serves two to three

1 lb. halibut fillet
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
2 tbsp capers, rinsed
1 1/2 large lemons, thinly sliced
3 tbsps. chopped fresh dill, with additional for garnish
1 1/2 - 2 c. olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 250F

2. Pat fish dry, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Let stand for 10 minutes. Chop 1 tbsp of the capers

3. Arrange half of lemon slices in one layer in an 8-inch round glass baking dish. Arrange fish in one layer over lemons. Top with chopped and remaining whole capers, remaining lemons slices, and the dill, and pour oil over the fish until barely covered.

4. Bake, covered, until fish just flakes and is cooked through, about 1 hour.

Serve fish with some of the lemon slices, capers and olive oil spooned on top. Garnish with dill if desired.

Sauteed Autumn Greens
serves two generously

4 cups assorted kales and autumn greens, washed (do not dry the leaves)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 medium shallot, minced
Pinch red chili pepper flakes, or to taste
Baby parsnips
Water as needed (approx. 1/4 cup)

1.  Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick skillet until hot. 

2.  Add the garlic and shallots and saute for a couple of minutes or until fragrant.  Add red chili pepper flakes and saute for one minute more.

3.  Add any tougher kale to the pan first and saute for until softened.  Add remaining greens; stir and cover for a couple of minutes until greens are softened but not wilted. Remove and set aside in serving bowl.

4. In the same pan, add the parsnips and stir until hot. Add water, cover pan, and saute on high heat, about five minutes or until parsnips are tender but still crunchy.  Add the greens, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Set the table and serve it forth!

December 06, 2009

Start Me Up...

Since last March, I've been trying, infrequently and without great success, to make sourdough bread starter.  My desire to get it right was recently reignited by The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I finally got around to reading.

In case you've always wondered what sourdough starter is, here's the definition from Wikipedia:

Sourdough is a dough containing a lactobacillus culture, usually in symbiotic combination with yeasts. It is one of two principal means of leavening in bread baking, along with the use of cultivated forms of yeast (Saccharomyces)...In comparison with yeast-based breads, it produces a distinctively tangy or sour taste, mainly because of the lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli; the actual medium, known as "starter" or levain, is essentially an ancestral form of pre-ferment.

Huh? If that leaves you as confused as me, I prefer this much simpler definition from S. John Ross:

Sourdough bread is bread made without added yeast. By making a "starter" in which wild yeast can grow, the sourdough baker can raise bread naturally, as mankind did for thousands and thousands of years before a packet of yeast was an available convenience at the local market...There are only a few simple steps to becoming a sourdough baker. First, you must create a starter: This is a bubbly batter that you keep in your fridge. The starter is mixed into a dough, and it causes the bread to rise. Bake and serve. Yum!

His recipe is one that was given to me by my friend Mike, a Syrian financial guru who loves to bake bread.  My kind of guy.

It seems so EASY - but I either forget about it in the first 24 to 48 hours (not a pretty sight), or it seems to develop way too quickly (lots of "hootch" on day one!) or it doesn't smell right.  I've tried organic unbleached bread flour; organic all purpose flour; 00 flour, all to no avail. So here is attempt number four or five. Using what my mother used all her life: good ole Five Roses flour.

Day One:

This morning...

Progress reports will follow throughout the week!