It's a quest to find the best fried chicken in Austin, and it's well underway. We're having a lot of fun with it; you should check it out!
I've successfully made a sourdough starter this week but have been putting off actually making a loaf of sourdough because of the time involved. Baking sourdough bread requires a lot of kneading and resting and activity, and it's just too much for a weeknight or pretty much any time ever, really. I won't go into the whole thing, as the internet is full of sourdough explanations. But basically to make the starter and keep it going you have to keep feeding it flour and water, and eventually you have to pour off some of the old to make room for the new.
As a result, there are a ton of recipes out there meant to take advantage of the discarded mixture so you're not just dumping perfectly good batter in the sink every day. Yesterday I made sourdough blueberry pancakes and they were frigging fantastic, so I thought I could try making a vegan sourdough chocolate cake from a recipe in the Sandor Katz fermentation book. I would take it to work to share--who doesn't like chocolate cake? As a bonus, the vegan and lactose-intolerant folks could partake too.
The recipe came together quickly, and the batter was pleasingly bubbly, just how you'd imagine a sourdough batter should be. It tasted delicious when I licked the spoon: chocolatey, not too sweet, a little tangy. I put the cake in the oven and began to make the frosting, and there things began to go off the rails.
The chocolate chips we had turned out to have milk solids in them so I couldn't use them and had to sub cocoa and oil instead, which in turn meant that the frosting was terrible--oily, flat, and weirdly clumpy.
I let the cake cool before I frosted it. It turned right out of the pans, which I took as a good sign. It was clear the horrible frosting wasn't going to spread, so I sort of ground it into the top and sides as best I could--it was a layer cake and especially tricky to cover, even if I hadn't been using frosting that resembled tarry sand--and then I tried a piece. The slice sort of flopped over onto the plate and disintegrated, but the first bite was pretty good.
With the second bite I discovered the huge clumps of unincorporated sourdough starter. The recipe had stressed that the batter should be stirred as little as possible, so I had given it a few swirls with the whisk and figured the lumps would dissolve the way they do with pancakes. They did not. The cake was studded with them; they were gummy and globular.
It wasn't very good, but I wasn't ready to let go just yet. Maybe a second opinion would clarify things.
Eric came home from work a few minutes later. "Don't get too excited," I said, but his nose was twitching and his eyebrows were raised at the prospect of a delicious dessert. Then he tried the cake and his face fell.
"I was thinking I could still take it to work," I said. "I'd explain that it was a baking failure. I mean, it's not a great cake, but it's still cake."
"You could trick them," he said. "Tell them it's really good and act like you're so proud of it and then sneak away while everyone eats it and discovers the truth."
I barked with hurt laughter. "I can't take it to work, can I?"
"No," he said gently. "You can't."
"I have to throw it out, don't I?"
"I'm sorry," he said.
As I was writing this, he brought me a Thin Mint. It was very good.
That's really all I've done all weekend: cook and eat. This morning I transformed the stock into turkey noodle soup. We had that for breakfast. Later Eric and I went to the grocery store and I decided we needed to make a pan of turkey mole enchiladas. So we had that for an early dinner. We are set for meals for the next couple days.
We bought a jar of mole at the store to make the enchiladas, but now I'm wondering if it would be worth it to try to make mole at home. I've been wanting to do that for a while, but it's extremely time consuming. If it'd be miles better than the jarred kind, I think it would be fun. If it would only be a little better--or even worse--I think it would be a dispiriting waste of time. I will let you know my findings.
I love this story about Michael Dukakis soliciting turkey carcasses from his friends and neighbors. I am not quite as hardcore as he is, but I do think one of the nicest things about hosting Thanksgiving is being able to make stock out of the bones the next day.
I'll make a batch of turkey noodle soup tomorrow, and then I'll freeze the rest of the stock to use in soup, beans, roasted vegetables, rice, and whatever else needs to taste like rich smoked meat. This recipe more or less covers the method I use, although this time I'm doing it stovetop, and I like to add a few cloves and a glug of apple cider vinegar to mine.
10:24 p.m.: Aw, man, it's over. Now it's time to take off my bra and help with the dishes. We had a great time. Hope yours was good too.
Eric makes a roux for you.
And Lei-Leen reorganizes the fridge so we will have room for beer.
I need to take the laptop off the counter so we have room to serve food, so I guess that's it for the liveblog. I hope everyone is having a fun and delicious Thanksgiving!
3:59 p.m.: The bird is 20 degrees over the recommended temp for white meat and the legs are practically pulling themselves off the turkey and doing a little dance. It's tented. Eric's mom's dressing is in the oven. The potatoes are cooling. The thighs are done. I think we got this.
3:42 p.m.: A friend stopped by to drop off treats. We drank wine. Now I need to mash some potatoes. The bird should come off in a half hour or so. Everything is falling into place.
1:58 p.m.: Oooh, here come the potatoes! Smoked mashed potatoes are so good. I'm more excited about these than anything else today.
1:32 p.m.: The smoker door is propped open for now. Eric has the neckbone on the stove for stock to make gravy. The house is starting to smell good.
I pulled the turkey thighs off the smoke and am going to finish them in a very low braise and use the pan liquid for even more gravy. I also made a batch of vegetarian gravy last night. In conclusion, we will not lack for gravy.
1:06 p.m.: Crap. The temperature is too low so I opened up the door to let more oxygen in and the latch just...disintegrated. Half the parts fell into the fire, so there's no fixing it. The door is being held shut with a cheap metal patio table at the moment.
12:20 p.m.: The last hour was intense.
We put the hot (firey hot) coals in the smoker and put the rest of the fuel on top of those.
Today we're smoking with chunks of pecan wood, which has a light but distinctive flavor. And we are in Texas, after all.
Eric assembled the rest of the grill and left it to get up to temp.
And then came the spatchcocking, which is a hilarious way of saying "cut the backbone out, break the breastbone, and push the bird flat so it cooks more quickly."
Üter watches the proceedings with interest.
I slathered the beast with herbed garlic butter, Eric seasoned the extra thighs, we had a brief squabble about where to put the temperature probe (we opted for the breast but I'm always paranoid it's in there too far/not far enough), and then it was go time.
Bye, bird, see you in a few hours. Now we disinfect the kitchen again, eat some lunch, and wait.
Go go go!
11:06 a.m.: A lot has happened in the last half hour. Eric started the fire.
We use a chimney starter, so you don't have to use lighter fluid, which can lend a petroleum flavor to the food. This way you just stuff an Austin Chronicle in the bottom, put the coal in the top, light the paper, and let the fire do the rest.
Everything is taking a little longer today because it's so damp. (If you're coming for dinner, sorry, it might be later than we said.)
Smoking is fun but not very good for air quality.
We also foiled and filled the water bowl. This will help moderate the temperature of the smoker throughout the day.
10:35 a.m.: The turkey is rinsed, trimmed, and patted dry. The water made an interesting protracted farting sound as it left the body cavity. My fingers are pruney from handling wet poultry. Yuck. Now to bleach the sink and wake up Eric to start the fire.
10:01 a.m. I'm up! Happy Thanksgiving. It's pouring rain, which I hope does not play hell with cooking times.
We have a 15-pound turkey and a few turkey thighs that have been brining in a salty sage bath since yesterday afternoon. Dry brines are supposed to be better, but I've noticed the herb flavor gets into the meat pretty nicely with wet brines.
Raw poultry is pretty repulsive, but we are going to gloss right over that and get to it, just as soon as I drink a little coffee and get the kitchen ready to briefly become a biohazard.
I'm going to keep updating this post throughout the day so as to not spam everyone's Twitter feed, so check back soon.
I am ready for it to be tomorrow. We're smoking a bird and having a few people over to eat it, which is one of the best things in life. The weather is supposed to be shitty, which is too bad, because I love hanging out in the backyard while the smoker runs, working in the garden and playing with the dogs and maybe doing a little day drinking. But that's okay. We can move the smoker under the patio cover and watch the rain instead.
I think I'm going to liveblog the bird smoking tomorrow, too, just because that sounds kind of fun. So I'll stop writing now; I'd hate to wear my typing fingers out.
"NaBloPoMo" really does not roll off the tongue, does it? And it started two days ago, so I've blown it already. But it wasn't on my radar at all this year until I saw the esteemed Average Jane was participating this year and decided it looked like fun. I need a kick in the ass anyway, so I'm going to try to post every day for the rest of the month.
I just ten minutes ago decided I was going to do this, so my ideas are a little thin at the moment. I'll leave you with this picture of these ridiculously savory vegetable tarts my friend Jennifer and I made last night from the Ottolenghi book.
Less cream next time, we decided, and we were happy with our decision to go outside the bounds to add a little garlic and red pepper flakes for flavor and a touch of heat. I kind of couldn't believe there was no garlic in the recipe to begin with. That's just wacky.
I've been trying to cook more and different vegetables for all the reasons you're supposed to, but I'm also discovering that vegetables are annoying. You have to buy them, keep them fresh, use them up in time, and then chop, pit, peel, seed, roast, or grill them. I took a knife skills class last year to make things easier, but I still find it all a bit onerous.
Besides, after all that, you still only have one component of a meal; you can't just eat roasted carrots for dinner and call it good. (I mean, I could, but I don't want to.)
Eric and I both work and have a decent amount of stuff going on in our lives. Most days it's much easier to make a sandwich and a side salad, or grill a hunk of meat and wrap a tortilla around it.
I saw this book recently, and it seemed like something that would make vegetables exciting and therefore worth the trouble, so I bought it. It's beautiful; I spent the weekend salivating over the pictures and making shopping lists.
Finally, I settled on two recipes: a beet and preserved lemon salad and a cold soba noodle and eggplant dish. We already had preserved lemons (they are really easy; you should make some!), and it's damn hot outside, so cold anything sounded amazing.
I bought the ingredients, and in my excitement to start blowing through the book, made a rookie mistake: cooking two labor-intensive dishes for the first time at the same time.
Not pictured: three cutting boards full of various herbs, garlic, peppers, and onions; saucepan full of dressing; puddle of lime juice on the floor; two begging-ass dogs.
Eric and I used pretty much every pot we had and trashed the kitchen. It got a little stressful at times, and I kept having to remind myself that this was supposed to be fun. And it was, mostly.
The food turned out pretty well. Both dishes were bright and flavorful, well suited to a hot night.
No, really, preserved lemons are great.
Like most dishes with a lot of strong, disparate flavors, the food tasted even better the next day, too, but it still wasn't quite what I'd been hoping for, given the amount of effort involved in each dish. Maybe it would have helped if we'd adjusted a few things to taste--more heat would have been welcome, for example--but I usually try to follow a recipe closely the first time through.
Anyway, I'm nowhere near ready to give up on vegetables just yet. I'm pinning all my hopes and dreams on the tart that uses three whole heads of garlic, especially now that I know the nifty garlic peeling trick.