Monday, November 24, 2008

Roasting Pans

This week, millions of Americans will be sitting down to stuff themselves with roast turkey. If you're going to roast a turkey, you're going to need a good roasting pan.

Roasting Pans

A heavy roasting pan with easy to grab handles is my choice. Some people swear by enameled pans. I like them, too, as long as they'll hold up to the stove burner. I like being able to make gravy in the same pan so I can use all the delicious fond (crunchy bits) that form on the bottom.

As long as the turkey's not too big, you can find some really good ones that are quite affordable. Some pans have lids, but I've not found that to be critical. Some roasting pans have pour spouts to help drain off the drippings. To my mind that's just needless fluff.

Again, buy the best you can afford, but don't think that price always means the best results. Then again, the cheap throw-away aluminum foil pans will fall apart when you try and get them out of the oven, possible causing an accident that will result in an injury, or at least ruined dinner. So, don't go cheap, either. Comparing how many times you'll use the pan during the year against the cost, helps keep me in check when I start lusting after kitchen equipment at my local kitchen specialty store.

I used to wonder if roasting racks were worth it, but I'm starting to fall in love with them. They get the bird, or other roast, out of the juices and let the hot air circulate around them for more even cooking. If you don't have a rack, or can't afford one, I've found that cutting 1/2 inch disks of onion or potato, to stand the roast on, works pretty well. I prefer the onion because it helps add flavor to the drippings, and thus the gravy I make from them.

Meat Thermometer

Another great roasting tool is a meat thermometer. An instant read thermometer is best. I wish I had one. My old-style dial version works pretty well, though. More and more I've started cooking roasts to temperature, rather than just for time. I've gotten much better results that way, too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Perfect Cup of Herbal Tea

It should come as no surprise to my gentle readers that Mormons don’t drink tea. Doctrine and Covenants, Section 89 contains a revelation known as the “Word of Wisdom.”

9 And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.

This passage was clarified by later prophets to mean tea and coffee, hot or otherwise. Interestingly, though, herbal infusions seem to be okay.

10 And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—
11 Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.

Others in my faith may disagree with me, but I think it’s pretty clear that what we think of today as “herbal teas” are okay for LDS folks to drink.

While chatting on Twitter, I met one of the very kind people over at the Mighty Leaf Tea Company. They noticed I was “tweeting” about rooibos, one of my favorite herbal teas. In the hope of gaining a new customer (and an eventual blog entry), they sent me three samples of their organic rooibos blends. The tea was so good, they’re getting both a new customer, and this review.

The Mighty Leaf Tea Company was started in 1996 by husband-and-wife team Gary Shinner and Jill Portman when they founded their teahouse on Fillmore St. in San Francisco. They create handcrafted tea blends, most of which Mormon’s can’t drink. They contain portions of the actual tea plant. Sorry. They also have some pretty amazing herbal blends using rooibos.

Roobios is a plant native to the Western Cape region of South Africa. It’s a very common drink there, and it’s popularity is growing, worldwide. It’s high in certain antioxidants, has no caffeine, and low tannin levels, when compared with most regular black or green teas. Rooibos tea is reported to help with allergies, nervous tension, and digestive problems. Traditional South African medicine uses it to relieve infantile colic, allergies, asthma and dermatological problems.

Mighty Leaf Organic Rooibos

Pure, organically grown, Rooibos. The flavor is hard to describe. It’s naturally sweet and slightly fruity, but has an underlying woodiness. This is the red, or oxidized, rooibos, not the less common green rooibos. I brewed the loose leaves by steeping them in boiling hot water using a tea ball for 6 minutes.

Oh … my … word. This was the best cup of herbal tea I’ve ever had in my life. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve never come as close to heaven in cup as I have with this tea. I’ve tried, and enjoyed, several different brands of rooibos, but they can’t hold a candle to the quality, and taste, of the Mighty Leaf tea. I was astounded by how delicious it was. While it’s common to have rooibos with milk and honey, it doesn’t need it. I much prefer it straight up. I highly recommend it for anyone searching for a great herbal tea.

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Organic Chocolate Truffle blend

The thought of a chocolate tea intrigued me. Mighty Leaf’s Chocolate Mint Truffle is a amazing blend of cacao, mint and rooibos leaves. It’s a perfect blend, as well. The chocolate and mint add wonderful richness and kick, without drowning out the mellow rooibos flavor, a common fault with other flavored rooibos teas I’ve tried.

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Organic African Nectar blend

I’m not a big fan of fruit flavored teas, especially rooibos. The fruit flavors tend to overpower the rooibos. But this blend caught me by surprise. The flavors are subtle and develop in an amazing way. The flowery fruity blend gives way to the rooibos as it makes its way across the palette, creating an experience that is both interesting, and calming.

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Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go place an order for more herbal tea.

Photo by Steve Woods

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Quest for the Perfect Meatloaf Recipe

It should be of no surprise to anyone that the term “gourmet meatloaf recipe” appears nowhere in any cookbook. And yet, that was exactly what I found myself trying to find just two weeks ago.

Through a series of unfortunate events, I ended up needing to cook up several pounds of ground meat. It started with my wife. She wanted to make meatloaf and so pulled a four pound package of ground beef out of the freezer to thaw.

That a lot of meat for one meatloaf. She assured me she wasn't going to use all of it for meatloaf, but that she would, indeed, be cooking.

After four days she still hadn't made any meatloaf and I had four pound of thawed ground beef sitting in my refrigerator.

This was no surprise to me, of course. My wife always has great ideas that involve cooking. The trouble begins after it leaves the freezer. Or the shelf. Or the refrigerator. Or the store. She may want to make something that requires more than a few minutes in the microwave, but when it comes to actually doing it, her follow through is a little poor.

This time, I was just as forgetful. I'd gotten some frozen ground turkey and ground elk meat from my brother during the same time. By the time I'd gotten home with the goods, I'd forgotten about them. They spent several hours thawing in the car trunk. Fortunately it was cold day so none of it had completely thawed, but most of it was softening enough I didn't want to try and refreeze it.

So, between my wife and I we had seven pounds of meat we needed to use. Fast.

Two pounds we browned and froze for use in sauces and soups, later. The other five we turned into meatloaf.

Over a period of five days I cooked, and ate, three different meatloaf recipes. I'm so sick of meatloaf I can barely blog about it.

The results were varied, ranging from surprisingly good, to just passable. I made most of them with a mixture of ground beef and chicken. I like how the chicken lightened the flavor of the beef. One was a mixture of elk and chicken. The rich flavor of the elk meat lent quite a nice touch to an otherwise bland recipe.

The recipes came from four different sources:

Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbooks
Mormon Cooking Authentic Recipes
Mormon Family Cookbook
Favorite Brand Name 4 Ingredient Cookbook

I found a fifth meatloaf recipe in the Lion House Classics cookbook, but the recipe seemed so bland I didn't try it.

None of them included ground chicken or elk, but that's what I had on hand so, I used it.

The family favorite turned out to be the cheese stuffed meatloaf recipe from the 4 Ingredient Cookbook. I thought it was good, but I've got some ideas on how to make it even better. As soon as I can get myself to cook meatloaf again, I'll share them with you. Assuming they turns into a truly gourmet meatloaf.

Photo by Peter Hellebrand

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Beans of Temptation

Dried or canned, beans are a staple food around the world. A legume by any other name, would be just as tasty. Combined with grains, such as rice, beans create a complete protein, making it possible to live without meat.

If you want to, that is.

Seeing as how the political season is over, I think it's a great time to talk about beans. Eating lots of beans is purported to turn you into a politician. Well, at least they fill you with hot air.

Beans are easy to prepare, but the dried variety can take some time. Most need to be soaked before cooking. I have a large supply of dried beans on hand, as part of my food storage, but I'm buying canned beans almost exclusively these days. When you consider how much energy and time goes into cooking them, you're really not saving any money with dried ones. The only advantage to dried is the absorption of flavors in slow-cooked dishes.

If you are using dried beans, make sure you rinse and sort through them thoroughly. A small rock, masquerading as a bean, isn't something you want to crack your teeth on.

Red Kidney beans are staple in Mexican cooking, their bright red skin adds great color to salads or soups. I love them in chili.

Canellini beans are good for most soups and stews, but can also be used in salads. When cooked, they have a fluffy texture. In Italian cooking they're generally referred to as fagioli, but are also known as white kidney beans.

Black beans are my favorite. They're found in all kinds of cuisine, from the Caribbean, to Mexico, to China, to Brazil. I love them slow cooked with rice and ham for added flavor.

Borlotti beans have a creamy texture, making them a favorite in Italian cooking. They're found in many soups and dips. The streaked skin adds a great look to mixed bean salads and bean casseroles.

Adzuki beans have a strong flavor and are great in salads, and mixed with other beans. They're also popular in certain Chinese and Japanese rice dishes and soups. They work well in sweet dishes and form the main ingredient in red bean paste.

Chickpeas are a main ingredient in hummus, falafel, and are commonly found in other Middle Eastern dishes. They're also used in Indian curries and slow-cooked Spanish casseroles. Of all the beans I've cooked, they have the longest soaking and cooking time.

I don't think that Split Peas are technically a bean, but most of the recipes I use them for remind me of bean recipes. Yellow or green split peas can be used in soups, purees, stews, and the like. Green split peas, cooked to a puree with ham, chicken stock, and onions, makes my wife's favorite soup.

I can't imagine that Lentils are actually beans, either, but I could be wrong. They remind me more of mutant split peas than beans. I like them in soups and curries. They're not too bad in salads, either, if you don't overcook them. Cooked too long and, like split peas, they lose there shape and become a puree once known as pottage.

Not everyone likes lentils. Even though I do, I can't imagine why anyone would sell their inheritance (birthright) for them, by Esau certainly did.

Genesis 25:29 - 34

29 And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint:
30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom.
31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.
32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?
33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.
34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.

Jacob must have made some pretty tasty beans.

Photo by Marina Nisi

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Attitude of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is coming. Be afraid.

Okay, don't be afraid. Instead, be grateful. Gratitude is an outward sign, and inward feeling, of humility. It's a recognition that we can't even “eat our daily bread” if it weren't for the blessings of God.

In Priesthood meeting last Sunday, the teacher mentioned that there are only two countries in the world that have a national holiday with the idea of giving thanks for what we've got – the US and Canada. (Our Canadian friends just got done celebrating Thanksgiving. Ours is coming up in a few weeks.) This is a profound fact given that Mormons have a definitive tie to the American continent. In the Pearl of Great Price, Articles of Faith 1:10 reads

We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory

Is it any coincidence that it is only on this continent, where Zion will be built, that as nations we follow the admonition found the Old Testament, 1 Chronicles 16:8

Give thanks unto the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people.

The scriptures are ripe with stories of the importance of giving thanks. One of my favorites is found in Luke 17:

11 And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.
12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:
13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.
14 And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,
16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.
17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?
18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.
19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.

More telling, and perhaps more pertinent to Mormons (and food) is this admonition from the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 59:

18 Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;
19 Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.
20 And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.
21 And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.

Now is I could just remember the practice that “not to excess” thing.