kruizing with kikukat

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey Day Shortcuts and Lessons

Happy Thanksgiving!!!  No big party for me this year.  Just enjoyed a quiet lunch at home with ma, pa, D1, D2 & The Help.  Tough crowd, easy food:  turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing (if you grew up in Hawaii, you know it as stuffing), cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.  Very traditional and very un-fussy, especially since I took some major shortcuts this year.

kamado-smoked turkey
cranberry sauce
wild rice dressing

Shortcut #1:  One picture that is missing from my Thanksgiving photo cache this year is a glistening, golden-brown turkey.  I just didn't feel up to brining and smoking a full bird, even an organic, free-range bird, so bought a Butterball turkey breast roast (all white meat . . . de rigueur for most of my family).  I did the usual thing of brining, a non-negotiable component when cooking turkey in a kamado.  I used the same brine recipe I've been using for years:  8 qts water, 2 c rock salt, 1 c honey, 8 garlic cloves, 1 bunch thyme, 1 tbsp cracked black pepper.  Had an easy time because the turkey and brine fit easily in my fridge.  I didn't really read the pkg directions so I'm not gonna blame the Butterball folks, but nobody told me the meat was encased in netting for GOOD REASON. 

This morning, I figured I'd cut the net off so the skin could brown, and this is about where things fell apart, literally.  So instead of a football-shaped turkey roast, I ended up with odd-sized pieces of turkey breast to roast.  Selecting the largest, fattest piece, I stuck the remote thermometer probe in the middle of it. 

It cooked in just over an hour in the kamado (tried to keep the heat around 325 degrees.

The finished product was actually very tasty.  Just the color sucked big time.  I've had no problems in the past when smoking a whole bird, so I'm attributing the lack of color to the lack of skin real estate on the meat pieces.

Lesson  #1:  try a different turkey breast roast.  KTA sold 3 different turkey breast roasts this year.  One was a roast which contained both light and dark meat (don't ask me how a breast roast can contain both light and dark meat . . . thats a question for Butterball).  Another roast contained rib bones.  And the third, which is the one I bought, was boneless.  Next year, I'm buying the one with the bones (no dark meat).  I think these pieces are probably what I was expecting this year, just the turkey breast, like a big chicken breast.

Shortcut #2:  Buy a pumpkin pie.  We are fortunate in Hilo to have Short n Sweet, a gourmet bakery that specializes in fancy wedding cakes (how many places in Hilo can actually boast being endorsed by Brides Magazine?).  The Help treated us to a Maple Pumpkin Pie.  At $17.99 per pie, its definitely not the cheapest pie in town, but for homemade crust, its definitely worth it.

Lesson #2:  Homemade is not the ONLY choice.  This pie totally restored my confidence in supporting local businesses.  I appreciate the time and effort that goes into making something from scratch, and I think its great that there are others who also don't think the gargantuan pumpkin pie at Costco is the cat's meow (sorry, Desi & Kenni).

Shortcut #3:  Make cranberry sauce ahead of time.  I made the cranberry sauce on Tuesday evening.  
cranberries, apples & ginger

I located this recipe on the internet.  I found it in 2 places, so theres no telling how many other sites have it.  I assumed that because it was published twice, it was a good recipe.  This year, I decided I wanted something with "bite", something more complex than the orange marmalade cranberry sauce I normally make.  

 The recipe seemed easy enough:  cook together a bag of fresh cranberries, sugar, cider vinegar, grated ginger and some apples.  Easy.  

The sauce stayed in the fridge until about an hour before we were ready to eat.
Lesson #3:  Fix this recipe!!!  The cranberry, apple & ginger flavors go well together, but I like my cranberry sauce to be sweet.  This was a little too puckery for me.  Will fix for the next round.

Lesson #4:  Don't take too many shortcuts.  And thats why I put my efforts into making Wild Rice Dressing.  This had several steps, as the croutons in the dressing had to be "made" ahead of time and the wild rice needed to be cooked before the entire dish got baked.

I had a bag of wild rice I bought from the liquor store in Waimea.  It came in a canvas bag and looked like authentic Minnesota wild rice.  But the recipe called for 2 cups so I had to supplement with wild rice from the natural food store.

The lighter colored rice is from the Waimea store.  The darker colored rice is from Island Naturals.  There is a big difference:  the lighter colored rice will cook in 25 minutes.  The darker colored rice takes longer to cook, maybe 35 minutes.

Once the wild rice is cooked, its tossed together with sauteed mushrooms, onions & celery.  I managed to find fresh shiitake mushrooms at Island Naturals, so I bought a handful of those.

fresh shiitake mushrooms
The addition of  minced fresh sage, pecans and dried cranberries round out the flavor profile. This dressing is definitely something I will make again.  The recipe can be found on the Simply  Recipes website.

With no plans for dinner, I think I can close the book on Thanksgiving 2010.  This was one of the least complicated Thanksgivings I've celebrated in my adult years.  Having a HUGE, killer work week next week, I just didn't have it in me to throw together a huge family get-together this year.  But the coziness of this year's meal allowed me to test out new dishes with captive, albeit, unappreciative, tablemates.  

Three of my tablemates this year really set the bar low . . . tablemate #1 was presented a bowl of from-the-freezer soybean rice and ate only that, in spite of the Thanksgiving fare that was set out before her.  Tablemate #2 chose to eat two servings of just mashed potatoes and gravy.  Both remarked that the only turkey they ever CHOOSE to consume is prepared in the school cafeteria by large people.  And Tablemate #3 said the food was ALRIGHT, although he did remark that the maple pumpkin pie must've been expensive since the pumpkin layer was so thin.  Sigh . . . that's why I said "tough crowd" at the beginning of this post.

Moral of this post:  be thankful for what you have . . . the means to put food on my table, darling daughters, doting parents and a goooood friend (those of you who know me and my family well are probably on the floor laughing hysterically now) who are able to share a meal with me.  May we have many more of these occasions to celebrate.

I am also thankful that I had the foresight to buy and prepare another all-white meat turkey roast which will allow me respite from cooking during the busy time between now and Christmas!!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

D1's Favorite Meal

Everyone has a memorable dish tucked away in a cozy corner of their heart.  My dish of honor is the humble Chicken Broccoli Casserole.  We have had a love-love relationship for over 25 years.  This blog, at one time in my life, could very well have been titled "Kikukat's Favorite Meal".

When I was in high school, my mom made something for dinner that was very well received by me.  A coworker had told her about a recipe in a Honpa Hongwanji cookbook called Chicken Divan.  It was basically a  casserole consisting of a layer of broccoli, covered by chicken shreds, some creamy sauce, shredded cheese, and topped with breadcrumbs.  I loved it from first bite.

When I went away to college, a friend (also from Hawaii) came over to my apartment to visit my roommate and immediately asked what I was preparing for dinner.  I told him I was making a casserole with chicken and broccoli.  "Oh, Chicken Divine.  I know that", was his response.  

Fast-forward to the middle-1990s.  I'm married now, in my own kitchen, and making what my then-hubby referred to as Chicken Broccoli Casserole.  And that is pretty much where this story begins.  Mr. Dependable (ex-hubby) loved Chicken Broccoli Casserole. . . of course, there were the usual complaints from him:  not enough broccoli, not enough sauce, too much chicken, curry taste is strong, etc.  Eventually I got tired of listening to him bitch, as he was never satisfied with what I'd make.  If I didn't make something, he'd say, "why don't you make___.".  If I made something he requested, he'd say, "You should ask __ for the recipe.  Hers is waaaaay better than yours."  I finally realized that my recipes weren't wrong.  He was.  Oops, I think I got carried away.

Anyway, after Mr. Dependable  moved out, I was free to cook what I wanted, as I wanted, and everything else that goes along with that privilege.  So I started to make Chicken Broccoli Casserole once again. . .on MY terms.  I use the amount of mayonnaise called for in the recipe, white meat chicken (Mr. Dependable would insist we buy ONLY dark), and 2 cans of cream of chicken soup.  In the process of making this fantastic dish more often, D1 has grown to love it.  She requests it whenever she is asked for a "chicken" suggestion.  She has even requested it as a meal to serve to her friends who spend the night.

Normally, I buy a tray of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, poach them, then shred the meat.  But this past time I had some leftover Costco roast chicken.  I shredded it up and used it.  It was delicious.

Out of fairness to those of you who choose to "do your own thing" rather than follow instructions, I feel it necessary to share a bad experience I've had with this dish.  While I was still living with my parents, my aunt, who was living with us at the time, volunteered to make this for me.  The 2 pictures below show what this looks like before and after baking.  Even in my younger years, I knew very well what this was supposed to look like before digging in.  Unfortunately, my aunt didn't pay much attention to the recipe.  Instead of sprinkling the cheese and then sprinkling bread crumbs over, she did the opposite.  The finished product looked like orange lakes spreading over golden brown sand.  It looked awful and not even remotely like the pictures below. 
before baking
after baking

It was also very difficult to eat, given the fact that one had to cut through the quick-hardening goo to get to the broccoli and chicken.  Please do not cook like my aunt!

So with Thanksgiving coming up, many people will have loads of leftover turkey.  Although my recipe is for chicken, I'm sure turkey could be substituted without any problem.  And because of the mayonnaise content, using fat-free soup is not a problem.

This year for Thanksgiving, I decided against roasting a whole turkey.  I'm roasting 2 boneless turkey breasts.  I'll let you know how it turns out.

click on recipe title for printable recipe

     1 pkg. frozen broccoli, thawed completely and drained
     shredded, cooked chicken
     2 cans cream of chicken soup
     1 c mayonnaise
     1/4 tsp curry powder
     1 tsp lemon juice
     1 c shredded cheddar cheese
     1 c bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a 9 x 13" pan, layer broccoli.  Sprinkle chicken evenly over broccoli.  Combine soup, mayonnaise, curry powder, and lemon juice.  Spread evenly over chicken layer.  Sprinkle cheese.  Sprinkle bread crumbs evenly over all.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lion Cut

Now that things have calmed down since D1 returned from Japan, I finally had time to take care of domestic things. Imagine my surprise when I picked up Desi and noticed that she was full of "lumps". Those lumps turned out to be mats, lots and lots of mats.

I managed to get her an appointment with the "in-house" groomer at the vet (the person who does the shaving before animals go into surgery).

By posting the picture on facebook, I got a whole lot of comments from "friends" that ranged from how adorable she looks to folks who were just appalled.  It was actually quite alarming as to how many people lack feline knowlege.  In case you are reading this, and you happen to be one of those who posted some vile comment, no worries . . . nothing personal . . . but I think its important that people are aware that long-haired cats require some assistance in grooming.

My cousin Lori lived on the mainland for years, rubbing elbows with yuppie-types in the metropolitan areas of Chicago and the Big Apple.  It  was certainly no surprise to her that Desi got a lion cut.  She said a few of her friends keep their cats in a lion cut year-round to keep them comfortable. . . mats pull cat fur in all directions, making small, simple movements very painful.  Aha!  Someone who understands.

Anyway, I'm hoping we do a better job of grooming Desi so she will not need a lion cut for a while (or ever).  But like my friend Andrea so kindly mentioned, she DOES look really cute.  I think so too.