I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

unintentionally outside the box

Every now and then I realize that, well, we're weird.

We left suburbia for the country, choosing a small, drafty farmhouse over a large, modern, all-the-amenities home. We started making our own food, including the animal variety, thanks to chickens, ducks, and deer.

The kids were, until this year, all homeschooled. R entered grade 10 this year and while she enjoys it, she has said several times that she's glad of the timing of it, and is glad that this was the year she went to public school and not sooner. She's adjusted well to a more regulated schedule, but it hasn't changed her easygoing nature and positive outlook.

Church to them includes setting up chairs and sound equipment in a gym each week, knowing an XLR mic cable from a patch cable. It means applying their faith through the week, trying to see the world as Jesus sees it, and making choices based on that.

We aren't heavily scheduled. The kids take music lessons, go to youth group, and hang out with their friends. But if we're stuck at home, they don't drive me nuts. Sometimes they will disappear, singly or together, and have virtual, imaginary, or real adventures. Other times we're all together, experimenting in the kitchen on some new food we've decided to try simply because we've never tried it.

They love music and experiment on their own time. They've started a band with a friend, practicing together, using the sound equipment here. M writes songs. A and R write stories. I realized a while ago that growing up in a house where a band meets weekly, and where I write music, this is normal life to them.

And I like our weird normal.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

daring cooks, january

A new year, and a new challenge...

Maranda of Jolts & Jollies was our January 2012 Daring Cooks hostess with the mostess! Maranda challenged us to make traditional Mexican Tamales as our first challenge of the year!

I have never made tamales. My knowledge of Mexican food is, well, pretty much nil. I can make nachos and fajitas. And I'm pretty sure the Old El Paso taco-in-a-box mix doesn't count. So it was with a mix of 'ooh, nice!' and trepidation that I started reading up on this month's challenge.

Thanks to the local Latin American food store (thank you, Google and Ottawa Foodies!) and the very helpful man there, I was able to find fresh tomatillos in Ottawa in January, as well as the masa harina (corn tortilla mix) and corn husks.

The tomatillos were charred under the broiler, pureed with garlic and jalapeno peppers, then boiled to reduce the mixture. Turkey stock was added (see last post - I had lots of turkey stock!) and it was again reduced before added shredded turkey and chopped cilantro. That was the filling, and it tasted great!
Salsa verde. Not the prettiest green color, but yummy.

It was about this time that the sous-chefs (the girls) were enlisted.

Aren't they cute? Ready for steaming.
The dough was made from masa harina mixed with shortening, and more turkey stock. It looked like cookie dough and tasted bland, but good. This was pressed out onto the corn husks (these had been soaked for hours to be pliable) by myself and R, while M put the filling onto each and A rolled up the tamale in the husk and tied it with a thin strip of corn husk. They make such cute little packages! This stage was much less time-consuming than I thought it would be, thanks to the help, and I could see why tamales would be made in large batches and as a bit of a social event. We chatted and laughed as we stuffed them.

Meanwhile, my brain was running furiously... "put the tamales in a steamer" the recipe said. Okay. Steamer. Hm... a steamer. Right. I don't have one. In fact, I didn't have anything really resembling a steamer. Time to get innovative. The end result consisted of my stock pot, the outside ring of my springform pan, and a sort of hammock made of aluminum foil that we poked with a skewer to let the steam through. Foil wrapped around springform ring seemed to fit snugly in the top of the stock pot. Until I got half the tamales in and it slipped down into the water, giving the tamales a bath. Oops. I fished out the tamales and thought some more.

Frankensteamer! Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Take 2. an inverted loaf pan kept the springform ring from dropping too far, kept the foil hammock out of the water, and kept the tamales high and (somewhat) dry. D looked askance at the 'steamer' when he got home, and I'm not sure whether his engineering mind was impressed, or shocked by my Frankensteamer. But it worked!

Forty minutes later we sat around the table and tried the tamales with a side of Spanish rice. They were a bit dry, but tasted delicious. The salsa verde complemented the turkey, and the dough had a nice consistency - I think we just wanted more of the salsa verde. Perhaps I reduced it too far. But, the meal was deemed a success, and one that would be fun to try again and try some variations on. After all, I've still got more of the masa harina. I'll have to use it up somehow.

Maybe with a real steamer next time.

stuffing, or how to satisfy everyone. i hope.

So Christmas dinner involved 15 people, and two turkeys - one cooked overnight with one stuffing, the second popped in on Christmas morning with the second. 

Sound like a lot of work? Logistics aside, it was perfect and I'd do it again.

The logistics involved:
- two smaller birds (16lb each) versus one huge one (25+ lb)
- an oven capable of only one of those at a time
- one roaster pan
- one pot for brining the turkeys for 8 hours each
- a fridge that rapidly took on a Tetris-like appearance, thanks to two big bowls of stuffing, a dish of make-ahead mashed potatoes and one of sweet potatoes.

Once this was all figured out, it was a breeze.

On the 23rd the fresh turkeys were picked up from the local butcher (and here I add that I am so glad for the opportunity to buy from local farmers!), brought home and left outside in a cooler. Two turkeys in my fridge at a time? That's a good one. The stuffings were made: 
- the family favourite with mashed potatoes, bread, savoury and onion
- the newcomer with toasted bread, pork sausage, cranberries, apple, duck liver, and the Scarborough Fair of herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme)

The brine was put together (water, lots of salt, brown sugar, onion, and herbs) and turkey #1 soaked for 8 hours just outside the back door. Then space strangely was found in the fridge for that turkey to dry - so that the skin will crisp up nicely in the oven - and turkey #2 went in a fresh batch of brine. Christmas Eve after the stockings were hung, turkey 1 was stuffed and put in the oven to roast slowly overnight, and turkey 2 took its place in the fridge to dry. See? A breeze.
Butterfingers - literally! (and yes, that is pretty much my whole kitchen)

Oh! The smell of waking to roasting turkey. It reminds me of childhood. So homey. It was done cooking by the time we woke up, so it left the oven to make room for the homemade cinnamon buns that had been rising overnight in the fridge. Oh right, I forgot to mention those. 

After gifts were opened, turkey 1 had all the meat removed and put into a pan, the roaster was cleaned, and turkey 2, stuffed and rubbed with butter, started roasting.

The end result was worth all the turkey juggling. Two delicious stuffings, different enough for each to have a place at the table. Gravy that was ready ahead of time, thanks to the drippings from turkey 1 already being done. A splash of vermouth, by the way, makes gravy insanely awesome. The meat from turkey 2 fed us all, with turkey 1 providing lots of leftovers. 

Yeah, I 'll do that again.