Archive | February, 2014

Thai Coconut Curry Turkey Soup

23 Feb

I overcooked the shit out of a turkey a couple of months ago.

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My apologizes for the flagrant profanity in the very first sentence of this post, but I feel that it is absolutely  necessary based on how dried out that damn turkey was. It was inedible in its current form. Really, really terrible. The worst I’ve ever had.

Have I mentioned that I worked at the Butterball Turkey Talk Line this year, and that I helped  hundreds  and hundreds of people  successfully cook their birds? The irony is not lost on me. This overcooked-is-an-understatement turkey happened well after the Turkey Talk Line closed for the season.

Now, I’ve cooked plenty of crispy-skinned, juicy turkeys in my past. In my own defense, I was using a meat thermometer that had somehow gotten waaaaaaay out of calibration. But I didn’t know that until it was way too late. And once a turkey is overdone, it’s overdone. And it’s all downhill from there. The USDA, Butterball, and anyone who understands food science agree that white meat is done at 165°F.

By the time I realized what was happening and checked the turkey with an alternate thermometer, the breast meat was registering north of 190°F. Nasty.

We choked down a couple of dry slices (aided by a lot of wine to help it go down), turned the carcass into turkey stock, and shoved the rest of the jerky meat into the back of the freezer. I couldn’t bear to throw it all away. What a waste that would be.

It’s been taking up space for a while, now, so today I decided to do something about it. I figured the only palatable way to use up this meat would be in soup form, since the broth would cover up the dryness. I love the flavors of a coconut curry soup, which is awesome with chicken or shrimp. As it turns out, it’s also excellent with turkey, even if it’s dryer than melba toast. Of course, it would be even more slurp-able with perfectly cooked turkey. 165°F in the breast and 180°F in the thigh – temperatures to live by!

And for the love of good-eating, check your meat thermometer before you start cooking to make sure that it’s accurate. It’s easy to do. Place the probe in boiling water. It should read 212°F, but if it is higher or lower, you can adjust your readings accordingly.

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Thai Coconut Curry Turkey Soup

This soup is delicious with turkey stock and turkey meat, but if you have chicken meat and chicken stock on hand, that will also work well. Substitute vegetable stock and shrimp for a vegetarian version.

1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon canola  oil
3 tablespoons red curry paste
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
4 cups turkey stock
1 can (14 oz.) light coconut milk
2-3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2-3 teaspoons Sriracha sauce (or more if you’re a thrill-seeker)
2 cups finely shredded cooked turkey (leftovers work great)
7 oz. rice noodles
juice of a lime
For color and crunch: thinly sliced sugar snap peas, green onions and radishes, fresh cilantro, and lime wedges

In a large pot, saute the red pepper, carrot, and onion with canola oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. Add the curry paste, sliced garlic, and ginger and continue stirring until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.

Add the turkey stock, coconut milk, fish sauce, brown sugar, and Sriracha and stir until well combined. Adjust flavor by adding additional fish sauce for saltiness and Sriracha for heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, add the cooked turkey and lime juice, and simmer.

While the soup is simmering, cook and drain the rice noodles according to the package directions.*

Pile about 1/2 cup of cooked noodles into the bottom of a bowl. Ladle soup over the top of the noodles. Sprinkle with sliced sugar snap peas, green onions, radishes, and fresh cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.

Makes about 6 servings.

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*If you plan to serve all of the soup at once, feel free to throw the rice noodles directly into the soup pot to cook. If you will be saving some of the soup for later, make the noodles as instructed above, and refrigerate them separately from the soup so that they don’t get mushy.

 

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Cacao Husk Tea

17 Feb

A couple of weeks ago at this time, I was roasting, shelling, and grinding cacao beans to make my own chocolate bar. In Nicaragua. In 90°F, sunshine-filled bliss.

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Xalli Beach Hotel, Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Today, I’m staring out the window at horizontally flying snow in Chicago. Another 6 inches, and still going strong. The only source of sunshine is straight out of my Nicaraguan memories, so I’m going to live inside of them for a minute.

During our stay in Granada, we spent a couple of hours at ChocoMuseo, a small business dedicated to making chocolate where cacao beans actually grow. In addition to Nicaragua, they have shops in Dominican Republic, Peru, and Guatemala. They sell various kinds of chocolates and things, but they also offer a hands-on workshop that starts with fermented, unroasted cacao beans and finishes with full-blown chocolate bars. There are a few steps – roasting, cracking, grinding, conching, tempering, and molding.

Large chocolate manufacturers usually spend several days conching the chocolate, a process that mixes and refines the flavor of the chocolate, making it less bitter and smoother in the mouth. Tempering comes next, the tricky process of bringing chocolate to certain temperatures, up and down, so that when it is molded the fat molecules are perfectly in place, giving the hardened chocolate a pretty sheen and a nice snap.

At ChocoMuseo, the conching process is cut down to 15 hours, and they forgo tempering all together, recognizing that it is futile to try to control chocolate in an non-air conditioned room at 90°F. The end result is a chocolate that is grittier and drier than what I’m used to, with a marbleized, matte finish. The workshop itself was very fun, informational, and well worth the price of admission, even if the finished product wasn’t ethereal.

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Frothing freshly ground cacao beans into hot milk with a molinillo. There was also some Spanish chanting and countertop banging going on at this point, led by our teacher. We sounded crazy, but it was fun. You should try it next time you make hot chocolate – spice it up a little!

I brought home a bag of Cacao Husk Tea after sampling it in the store. As the name says, it’s a bag of cocoa bean husks, packaged and re-purposed, instead of discarded after the cracking step of the chocolate-making process. Pretty brilliant, and pretty delicious, too. The husks get steeped in very hot water, just like tea. It delivers big cocoa flavor, and since it is made with water and not milk like most hot chocolates, the pure chocolate flavor isn’t masked by dairy notes.

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Cacao husk tea. Note the pieces of untempered chocolate with almonds.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve done a bit of reading about cacao husk tea. Turns out it’s full of antioxidants, flavanoids, and vitamin D, as well as theobromine  which is a mild,ting mood booster. So let the snow fall just a little longer. A mug of steamy Cacao Husk Tea and the memory of sunny Nicaragua take the sting out of winter.

 

Perks of Working in a Test Kitchen – Part 1

14 Feb

Sometimes the homemade pates de fruits you make for your boyfriend turn out more like dark, amorphous sugar-coated blobs than the gem-toned, sparkling squares of gummy perfection they were meant to be. Shit. Valentine’s Day is ruined!

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Slouchy. Super slouchy.

It’s times like these (and lots of other times, really) that I am thankful for my job. In the Wilton Test Kitchen, there’s always extra cake batter or cookie dough. In just a few minutes, I can go from candy failure to cookie savior and still bring something sweet to my sweetie on Valentine’s Day.

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Never too old for sprinkles. Ever.

I love, love, love Wilton’s Roll Out Cookie recipe, and I’m not just saying that because I work there. It doesn’t have to be chilled before rolling, which is a huge time saver, but if they are rolled, cut, and chilled for just a few minutes, the cookies hold on to their shape really well. It’s flavored with vanilla and almond extracts and a healthy pinch of salt. The cookies are crisp at the edges, and as a crunchy cookie person, I can appreciate that.

Thank you Test Kitchen job, for saving Valentine’s Day!

I’ll be back for those pathetic pates de fruits soon.

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