Friday, November 20, 2009

The Last Holiday Standing

What's the toughest part of Thanksgiving dinner for a cook? Is it Gravy? Getting the breastmeat done without being dry? Or is it remembering to make three times more food than a Company of Marines can consume?
Most calls I get are about Gravy: real, homemade, memory creating, eye-closing grandma goodness.
"How do I make that, BQ?"
Well, before I dispense this treasured bit of knowledge, there's a story to read:

In a matter of days, we will have a house full of people; eating, talking and in Joe Quinn's case laughing so hard, he scares the baby. Lisa and I will work the kitchen and dining room with all the aplomb of a seasoned WWF tag-team duo. Complete sentences will be pared down to clipped phrases and questions will be answered with nods, 'Got its' and 'Yep's. It's like a 'Dream Team' or pairs figure skating couple. OK, maybe nix the last analogy, but, you get the whole hand-in-glove idea...

Did I mention that I love Thanksgiving?
It is the remaining Holiday that hasn't been co-opted, denegrated, secularized or otherwise misappropriated. Sure, it's taken some hits from the 'Blame America First' crowd, but, she remains firmly embedded and bundled in giving thanks to God.
God: G-O-D. It's OK to say it--I believe in God and I am thankful for His many blessings.
No apologies necessary.
Thanks are necessary.
Thanks to the Almighty and Thursday's the day.

Perhaps, it is it's lack of commercial profitability that has been Thanksgiving's saving Grace. I mean, how can you spin Pilgrims, Indians, corn and turkey into a mall blitz or it's own section in the music store? That's right, ya can't.
Can we make miniature turkeys out of chocolate and wrap them in decorative foil?
How about a line of seasonal clothing that incorporates large buckles on shoes, stovepipe hats and feather bonnets?
Nope, that won't bring home the retail bacon.
What is it about Thanksgiving that is so endearing and so enduring?

Christmas has been equated with binge shopping and emotional crashes while Easter reminds us that nursery room pastels, green plastic grass and chocolate bunnies are to be celebrated annually. Didn't God know this would happen with the birth and resurrection of His Son?

I think Thanksgiving has endured due to it's simplicity. It has remained true to it's purpose of giving thanks to God without the embellishments of gratuitous spending on meaningless things.
We gather together, we serve one another, we indulge in aromas and taste sensations, we think of others before ourselves and we are grateful for those most treasured of blessings--each other.

I leave with the words of our first President:
"...Whereas both houses of Congress have requested me to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God...that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection..."

G. Washington
City of New York, 1789

Turkey Gravy

Turkey pan drippings...........all of them

flour........................................1/2 Cup

turkey juices..........................all of them


salt 'n taste

Method: Have your turkey out of the oven at least one hour before dinner is to be ready, I'll explain. Remove turkey from the roasting pan and set aside on a sheet pan. The bird will throw juices as it rests--save these.

Pour off your pan drippings from the roasting pan and save in a food storage container. Pour 2 cups of hot water into your roasting pan and scrape with a spatula to remove all the little bits from the pan. Save this stuff. Now, skim the fat off of your pan juices and place it in a 2 qt sauce pot on medium heat with the flour. This will form a paste (roux) to which we will add our remnant pan juices and scrapings. Cook slowly and add 1 qt of milk. Stir continuously till it bubbles. If it's too thick, adjust with turkey stock. Salt and pepper to taste.

I hope everyone of you have a peaceful Thanksgiving. Take the time to talk to God, He'd love to hear from you!

Take care, God bless and remember:

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,

the Best Things in Life Aren't Things."

Chef bq.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cooking in Circles...

No sooner than the 4th of July is over, it seems, then the kids are back in school. What happened to the 'Discover Oregon' Summer? Digging for fossils in Eastern Oregon, hiking trails in the Cascades and floating a trout stream?

Ah well, we did get out to the coast, have a 'blast' of a 4th of July party and entertain more family than have visited in a long, long time. It was a wonderful summer spent close to home.

I call it 'Back Deck Time': those brilliantly simple, summer evenings spent anticipating a scorching sun setting behind the laurels, getting your seat stolen when you take a potty break and watching our two year old daughter charm an entire group of adults and adolescents in flickering candlelight.

Lisa and Brendan did a bang-up job on the garden, too, bringing daily harvests of green beans, radishes, lettuces, then, later we were treated to carrots, tomatoes and our first watermelon!

We found that the best way to enjoy our garden vegetables was to prepare them simply; either raw or lightly blanched and tossed with a balsamic-based vinaigrette. Pop it with some fresh, chopped herbs and voila!

Summer is a perfect time for casual get togethers with friends (and to sample each other's cooking). Guys, you know what I'm talkin' about. Sneeking a peak at how your buddy does it, how others manage kitchen duties and how to make it look effortless. My buddy, Pat, is a master at backyard cooking. His smoked chicken thighs were the best chicken I have ever tasted.




The skin was crisp and brickish in color. The flesh was the desireable hue of garnet and the subtle, intoxicating aroma of judiciously employed smoke lay on the palate like a down comforter.

They were so delicious, I needed napkins and tissues: the former for my fingers and the latter for my eyes. I believe I ate four in addition to a knock-out salad with garden tomatoes.

Have you ever eaten something so good, that you provide running compliments along with 'Umms' and 'Ohhs?' It was embarassing to sit there and point out to your wife how well the moisture of the meat was retained while achieving the crispy exterior. To explain to everyone and no one the risks involved between juicy meat and gelatinous skin; to be technically 'done' but, aesthetically incomplete. I heard myself talking too much about the same thing. Eventually, I had to just sit there quietly, eat my dinner and not say another thing about the chicken, not even an 'mmm-MMM!' to myself.

The convenient thing about firing up a smoker is that as long as you're there, ya might as well launch anything else you can find into it. Don't just smoke the ten chicken thighs you are serving, do ten extra for Smoked Chicken Quesadillas, Smoked Chicken Chile in the fall and winter or for an interesting pizza topping.
When we have a cool protein to work with, all we need to do is fill in the other two slots with starch and veg for our meal.
I like breaking down the meal preparation in this fashion, whether it's home cooking or for a catering in wine country: Starch, Veg and Protein with protein at the center of these concentric circles.

Beef, Chicken, Pork, Lamb or Game. Pick one. I choose Chicken.
Potato, Pasta, Rice or Beans. Pick one. I choose Rice.
Corn, Tomatoes, Green Beans or Cucumbers. I choose Cukes.

Now, how do these come together?
I BBQ the chicken.
So, I need the rice preparation to compliment this. How about a pilaf with Red and Green Peppers? Done.
Cucumbers...let's balance the richness of the BBQ chix with a zingy cucumber salad. Lisa does a salad with rice vinegar, fresh ginger, cilantro and sesame oil. I could eat this as a meal!

Great meals often are the simplest ones with fresh, pure ingredients allowed to shine through.
The wonderful company of friends is 50% of the menu, too!
Pat and Cindy O'Reilly shared one of those experiences with us this summer. We won't soon forget it.
Unlike Pat's Mullet wig at the school Halloween dance last night, his BBQ Chicken was a happy memory.

Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"

Chef BQ.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Berry, berry good

A chef friend in California swears (practically) that French fraise du bois, wild strawberries, are the epitome of the berry genus.

He obviously hasn't picked and eaten local strawberries from Oregon's Willamette valley. These strawberries are as fickle as our vaunted Pinor Noir wine grape; susceptible to bruising, mold from moisture, yet, yield an outer-body experience when the stars align themselves.

Had one of those special moments last Monday night...

We had gone out to a friends farm last Sunday to pick a few berries for jam. When we arrived at the field, it became abundantly clear that we were probably the first folks to harvest this field.

The bushes were bright green and lively; low berries touching the ground were molding and rotting, but, the other 90% were stellar, scarlet gems! (sound of a long held note by Cherubim, here).

"How much more we gotta doooo-uh?!" whined one of our boys. Lisa and I looked at each other to see which would field the questions.

"Guys," I said, "this is like saying the gold is too heavy to carry back to the car."

"Yeah," followed Lisa, "You NEVER see this kind of fruit set at a you-pick-it farm. This is like the Mother Lode! So, get busy, we need two buss tubs full!"

We got our jars, lids, sugar, lemon juice and cooking utensils lined up for a Monday jam session after work. Propane was full for the outdoor burner (crab boiler in the NW) and the assembly line mapped out. Brendan was my right hand man. As jars and water came to a boil, we began paring our fruit in the deep, porcelain kitchen sink. JoJo (my nickname for Brendan) is always good for running commentary and interesting facts about whatever it is that you're doing.

"Dad, these berries are like totally red all the way to the center! Do you want the ones that look like this?" he asks, holding a bruised strawberry.
"Nah, let's pass on those guys. If we are canning questionable fruit, we may get a bloom of bacteria later and some off flavors," I offered.
"Ah, SIIIICK!" he muttered, "We could make like a Jam-Bomb and tie it to balloons, then, have an air burst of contaminated jam over Portland!" JoJo chuckled.
"OK...THAT'S sick! Sounds like you're playing too much video game stuff," I said.

The water pot for jars was on a boil and the smaller water pot for lids and bands was gently simmering. All was as it should be.

"JoJo, let's get this fruit into the pot and get going."
"K, Dad. What's the lemon juice for? Isn't that going to make the berries sour?"
"The acidity of lemon juice keeps the color bright. We adjust sweetness with the sugar." I said.

As the berries, sugar and lemon juice began to cook, the aroma brought Patrick out to the back deck.
"Oh man! What smells so good?!"
Patrick put his head over the pot of strawberries and immersed his face in the delicious vapors.
"Oh My Gawd!"
"Oh My Goodness!" Pat exclaimed, "This is like so flippin' phenomenal!"
"Here," I said, "Have a taste."
Pat closed his eyes and just "Mmmm"-ed.

Our canning continued well into the night, making 110 1/2 pints of Strawberry jam.

At 10:30 p.m., Lisa pulled a freshly baked loaf off a cooling rack, sliced it and placed it on the table. Three boys, a mom, and a dad ate the entire loaf, one deliciously slathered slice at a time.
"Dad, this so ROCKS!" proclaimed Liam through a wad of bread and jam.
"Cool, but, hold your voice down, the baby's sleeping." I said.

"Oh, sorry. If she wakes up, then we'll have to share and there's none left!"

Oregon Strawberry Jam

strawberries, pared and rinsed

lemon juice, fresh sqeezed, about 1/4 cup per gallon.

sugar, about half what the standard recipe calls for (almost 1 cup/pint of jam! Yuck!)

pectin, use the SureJell, low-sugar type in the pink box. It sets well with half the sugar of the regular pectin

Place pared fruit, lemon juice and sugar in your big pot. Look to see what volume your pot is so you can gauge the amount of pectin to use. For example, if it's an 8 qt pot and it's 3/4 full, then you have to add enough pectin for 6 qts of jam. 1 Qt.=2 Pints=4 half-pints. Each box of SureJell will do 8 half-pint jars. Follow the directions on the box!!!

Seriously, that is the toughest part of this whole process, figuring out pectin measurements.
If you're pectin is too shy, then you have 'berry syrup' for all your baking needs.
That's just plain wrong.
When I add the pectin and bring things to a boil, I test the 'set' of the jam.
Take a serving spoon of hot jam and place it on a bread plate. Place the plate in the freezer for 5 minutes to cool. If the jam is set when cool, then, you be good to go! Commence the canning!
(Thumping of a drum on a Roman ship echoes, the Olympic theme song begins to blare...).

Make sure your jars are hot when filling with hot jam. This creates the vacuum seal when it cools. Only do about 6 jars at a time, till you get comfy. Be methodical, work clean, and use canning tools like a jam funnel and jar tongs. They make the process much easier.

Get creative with labeling. Home made products are such treasured gifts. All of us respond more enthusiastically to a food product than to a gift card.

Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"

Chef BQ.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Childhood Horrors

I remember being afraid of monsters under the bed, that if I let even a teeny part of my toe out from under the blankets, that gremlin would grab it with his claws.

Then there was the 'Big Lady and the Little Lady'; two spinsters down the street that took an evening walk each night. They seemed to appear out of nowhere and never spoke a word; dark clothing, heavy coats and hats obscuring their faces didn't help the situation either.

Alas, we come to Brussel Sprouts. Mention the word and watch children, pets and seniors run for the hills. They reflect the American experience with the likes of cod liver oil, collard greens and a chewable multi-vitamin; all disgustingly vile parts of a shared cultural fabric. That which didn't kill us made us stronger. The same could be said for cholera.

No, Brussel Sprouts have a bad rap from birth and some folks that grew up during the Depression
can tell stories of eating them, pinto beans or squash for months at a time,

"Cuz, we couldn't AFFORD meat! We had meat on Sundays and maybe a teaspoon of sugar in our coffee. But, by golly, we had a garden and grew everything that went on that table! Times were tough and Mama did the best she could with what we had. And if I EVER see another Brussel Sprout, it'll be too soon..."

Yikes! That is a tough nut to crack but, once I get a little bacon going in a pan, then add a few bits of chopped garlic, well, as you all know, just about anything can be saved.
I'm getting ahead of myself, backup...

So, I chef at a senior living community which has been a blessing in so many ways. One of the wonderful and often times surprising things is the candor with which old folks will respond. When something is amiss, guarantee that not less than a handful of self-appointed spokespersons will clue you in on a little secret.
Conversely, when things are going swimmingly, you just may get a slap on the back or a simple nod of approval followed by a wrinkled smile and a wobbly thumbs-up.

"Mr. Quinn!" I heard one of my diners in the lobby calling across the mailboxes, "those Brussel Sprouts were de-LISHOUS at lunch! Whatja put in 'em, they were s'good?"
"Well, thank you, Mrs. Kranklebaum, I'm glad you enjoyed them. I boil them in salted water then toss them in a reduction of Balsamic vinaiger. 'Course, bacon and garlic get saute'd first then the whole thing is finished with (whisper) 'butter.'

"You can sure do those again," a voice behind me agreed. I felt an aluminum walker nudge me, it was Mrs. Katz. "But, my grand dad always put ketchup on 'em, so, that's how I like 'em."

"I say just leave 'em like you made them today. If folks don't like it, don't eat it!"
It was Mrs. Franco, a retired Army nurse who saw action in WWII, Korea and early Vietnam.
"They were the best I've ever tasted," she continued, "and keep up the good work; this is the best food I've ever had here and I've lived here for 20 years!" With that, she gave me a wink, a whack on the back of my leg with her cane and off she went through the sliding doors.

Balsamic Brussel Sprouts
2 qts. boiling salted water
4 cups pared Brussel Sprouts, halved lengthwise

3 pcs bacon strips, cut to fork sized
2T. garlic, minced
1/4C. balsamic vinegar
1 stick butter, cubed and cold
to taste salt

Drop all B.S. into the boiling, salted water.
Saute' bacon pieces on medium heat and when almost done, add minced garlic. Warm the garlic until the tiniest pieces get a touch of brown. Immediately add your vinegar and reduce by 2/3. Reduce heat to low and whisk in your lumps of cold butter till each is incorporated into what is now a rich, emulsified sauce. Add salt to taste.
By now, the sprouts should be fork tender. If so, drain and toss with the sauce. Keep warm on the stove top till ready to serve.

These are really a treat; my kids love 'em, the seniors LOVE 'em and you will too!
What have you added bacon, garlic and balsamic to that HASN'T been fantastic?!

Take care, God bless and remember:

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life aren't Things"

Chef BQ.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Corned Beef, 101.

St. Paddy's is right around the corner; we know that, given several recent indicators:
Is it the furniture stores declaring 'a pot 'o gold' in savings?
Was it the midget dressed as a leprecaun separating two wrestling opponents on TV?
It might have been the shamrocks taped to windows throughout residential neighborhoods.
Could have been news coverage of the river in Chicago getting dyed green.

For me, I know St. Paddy's is near when dwarfs, little people, midgets, whatever you wanna call 'em, are front and center of any promotion involving shady, seasonal 'deals.' Furniture, autos, payday loans and car stereo businesses incorporate midgets dressed as leprecauns for the month of March, then, the same schlub gets dressed as the Easter Bunny in April!
Aren't there better outlets for 'wee people?' In my home, we could use someone to scrape gum from under tables. Or how about a service to change your oil in the driveway? And who couldn't use some assistance finding things under kids beds? This is good, practical, solid, helpful work ideally suited for the vertically challenged.
Come to think of it, kitchen work would be perfect! Cleaning the backs of cabinets, shelving and storage areas is an untapped industry. They could clean ovens by being IN there, scrubbing away and whistling, too. All cooks hate that job and would pay dearly to have the ability to get the corners clean.

That's it: I'm hiring 'wee people' for temporary, short stints to do the work that we can't or won't.
I wonder if they need a 'Green Card...?'

Easy Corned Beef

1 piece----Corned Beef Brisket, size dependent on your hunger
water-----to come up half-ways on the meat
spices-----the little packet that comes with purchase or 1T Pickling Spice

Place brisket in a covered roasting pan and fill with enough water to come up half-ways on the beef. Right after the 10 o'clock news, place your brisket in the 250 degree pre-heated oven.
Go to bed.
At 6 a.m., remove covered pan from oven and place meat on a cookie sheet using your biggest spatula. Let cool for about 20 minutes, then transfer to the fridge to cool. Once cool, slice brisket to desired thickness for plating up. When ready to reheat, arrange slices on a cookie sheet and pop into a 350 oven to warm up and hopefully get a little crispy on the edges.

Need to hold the dinner while guests are having beverages? Not a problem! Corned Beef has the half-life of Uranium-232 and gets better as it sits and gets all steamy...

Serve with boiled red potatoes, wedges of boiled green cabbage and a healthy whack of wholegrain mustard. I make a veloute' sauce using chicken stock and place the mustard in that, then, drag ladles of this sauce over the entire plate! Better give you a quickie on a veloute':

Veloute' (French for almost gravy)
1/2 C. -----Flour
1/2 stick --Butter
1 qt. ------chicken stock
to taste ---salt

Place butter in a sauce pot on medium heat and melt. Add enough flour to make a 'wet sand' paste. To this, add 1/2 your COLD chicken stock and whisk by hand. Once it starts to thicken, add the remainder of the stock. Pinch your salt to taste. EZ.

A boiled dinner isn't really that spectacular unless you spent 7 years in a Hanoi POW camp. So, elevate your game by making the mustard sauce using a veloute' base AND get your reheated corned beef CRISPY! Texture can either doom or rescue a dish.

Happy St. Paddy's to one and all,
Take care, God bless and remember,

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things."

Chef BQ.