Countdown 365: #312 – Thanksgiving Day

TDay14Thanksgiving Day is THE day for gratitude and thanks.  However, I have been “counting my blessings” daily and so I want to use Thanksgiving Day 2015 as a day of gratitude for THAT specific day as it turned out to be a wonderful day from stat to finish.

The day would prove to be a very busy one, but one filled with joy points, family gatherings, and lots of food and fun.

Early Morning full moon on Thanksgiving Morning

Early Morning full moon on Thanksgiving Morning

The full moon glowed opposite the sunrise

The full moon glowed opposite the sunrise

I actually started the day off early to make an early morning visit to my favorite sunrise viewing spot at Jacobson Lake, only a few miles from my house. The skies were partly cloudy and still dark as I made my way to the lake. The moon was bright and full.  The air was crisp at about 46 degrees, but it was beautiful.

Behind me the moon was full and still glowing at 7 AM.  In front of me the sky was filled with dozens of shades of pink and orange at dawn.  The sun still had to make its way up above the

A jet streaks across the sky before the sun made its way above the horizon

A jet streaks across the sky before the sun made its way above the horizon

horizon, but, was already lighting the sky.  A jet streaked across the sky with its contrails glowing orange.  Canadian geese welcomed the morning…some took flight, others took a morning swim in the cool waters of the lake.

For me, this was a glorious and magnificent way to start off my Thanksgiving Day.  I stood by the side of the lake with a heart filled with gratitude for the beauty of this earth and for the blessing of being able to experience it with all of my senses.  And photos honestly don’t do justice.  But, here are a few from this early morning experience.

A panorama shot of the lake and skies just before sunrise

A panorama shot of the lake and skies just before sunrise

Geese in flight overhead at dawn

Geese in flight overhead at dawn

Geese hit the water for an early morning swim. It is wonderful to see them glide into the lake in tandem

Geese hit the water for an early morning swim. It is wonderful to see them glide into the lake in tandem

The early morning sky was filled with color

The early morning sky was filled with color

Geese swim by as they await the grand entrance of the sun

Geese swim by as they await the grand entrance of the sun

The sun finally makes an appearance as it peeks through the clouds on the horizon

The sun finally makes an appearance as it peeks through the clouds and trees on the horizon

Here comes the sun (I can hear George Harrison's sweet voice)

Here comes the sun (I can hear George Harrison’s sweet voice)

Glorious Thanksgiving Sunrise

Glorious Thanksgiving Sunrise

I sat in awe, as I often do, watching the glorious sunrise, listening to the cackle of the geese, watching the blue herons snuggle with the bushes to stay warm in the early morning cool.

I was physically and emotionally revitalized and ready to pursue the exciting family events of the day.  This solitary time with camera, wildlife, clouds and sun is something I crave.  Yes, I love music in my ears and I work in front of a computer all day.  But THIS is escape for me.  I love the open roads for the same reason. The world is glorious and God’s creations are magnificent.  And, on Thanksgiving morning, it was almost like a private worship service for me.

Sunrise on Thanksgiving

Sunrise on Thanksgiving

Turkey in brine getting readied for the Big Green Egg experience

Turkey in brine getting readied for the Big Green Egg experience

I left with a full heart and headed back home.  I had already put wood chips out to soak in preparation for grilling and smoking a turkey on my Big Green Egg. Originally, Julianne and I had planned to just go to a catered buffet for Thanksgiving this year.  No fussing, no dirty dishes, etc.  Julianne’s cousin Tregoney Shepherd, who happened to be in Louisville as one of the performers in the traveling Broadway production of “Wicked,” would be joining us for this brunch.  But our daughter Chelsea made it known that she was having a big get together and wanted me to smoke a turkey on the BGE.  Soon, Julianne had volunteered to bring a “few” things as well. So much for the “non-cooking” day.

Got the Big Green Egg smoking

Got the Big Green Egg smoking

We prepped the turkey the night before by brining it with numerous herbs, etc.  This has traditionally been our way of doing a turkey for a few years.  When I got home I warmed up the BGE and got it smoking good.  I actually heated up the grill to about 700 degrees to clean off all of the stuff that had built up and then cooled it back down to about 250 as we prepped for the turkey.

These grills are fabulous because they have what they call the convEGGtor™  which provides for indirect Convection Cooking on the Big Green Egg.  These allow heat to efficiently radiate within the dome while preventing the flames and heat from over-cooking the food.  I put this in the grill and added the soaked Pecan wood chips and the grill was ready for the turkey!

FireintheHoleThese get nice and hot and provide a great balanced method of cooking almost anything.  We have cooked pizzas, veggies, pork loins, steaks, Portabello mushrooms and even cantaloupe on them.

You can see by the photo on the left that they are flaming and warm.

It was ready for the turkey!!

 

 

Turkey on the BGE

Turkey on the BGE

I opened the grill for a great shot of the BGE doing its job smoking.

I opened the grill for a great shot of the BGE doing its job smoking.

At Copper Roux with Tregoney

At Copper Roux with Tregoney

Once we had the grill going, it was time to get ready to head out with Tregoney for the Thanksgiving brunch.  We made arrangements with Bayou Bluegrass Catering, which offered a Thanksgiving Buffet that started at 11 AM at their Copper Roux facility. It was a nice experience and NO DISHES AND CLEANUP!

The Thanksgiving Buffet had many traditional offerings, but there were also some southern accented dishes such as their green beans with bacon, collard greens, Cajun spiced turkey and gravy, corn pudding and shrimp with grits. There were also many amazing desserts.

Salads aplenty at Copper Roux buffet

Salads aplenty at Copper Roux buffet

Enjoying buffet at Copper Roux

Enjoying buffet at Copper Roux

Some of the amazing desserts at the Copper Roux buffet

Some of the amazing desserts at the Copper Roux buffet

We left the Copper Roux fairly full.  I tried not to overdo it and I avoided the things I knew I would get at Chelsea’s later in the day.  We hurried home where I checked on the turkey, which was basically done.  Julianne prepped a couple more things for Chelsea’s shindig and then we all took some brief naps before heading to Chelsea’s at 5 PM for their festive Thanksgiving affair.

Ugh...an undesired Thanksgiving tradition continues with a trip to Kroger

Ugh…an undesired Thanksgiving tradition continues with a trip to Kroger

Over the past three to four years it has become an unfortunate Thanksgiving tradition that I end up making two to three trips to Kroger for forgotten or needed items.  Due to our advanced preparations and our going to the buffet, I figured for sure that I would not have to make a trip.  But alas, I ended up keeping this unwanted tradition….

Seems like there is always something that gets forgotten or is needed at the last minute.  This time it was creamed corn, pumpkin pie spice and aluminum foil.  Thank goodness it was a nice day!!

Joined my granddaughter Autumn in the tradition of a Thanksgiving "Turkey Hat"

Joined my granddaughter Autumn in the tradition of a Thanksgiving “Turkey Hat”

After the naps we were off to Chelsea’s.  Ultimately, there were going to be 30-40 people show up for this one.  Her husband Jorge and his brother Luis have an extended group of Mexican friends that are almost like family.  We have gotten to know many of them.  This was a mixture of American tradition with Mexican flair.  We brought our smoked turkey and there was a Mexican spiced turkey there as well.  Along with the pumpkin, pecan and apple pies, there was also a tres leches cake.  Chelsea also made this tasty warm fruity Mexican punch called “ponche” which was wonderful.

Mexican Ponche was delightful.

Mexican Ponche was delightful.

Our smoked turkey from the Big Green Egg

Our smoked turkey from the Big Green Egg

Mexican spiced turkey

Mexican spiced turkey

Some of the spread, including spicy deviled eggs with jalapenos

Some of the spread, including spicy deviled eggs with jalapenos

Chelsea's famed Googleberry Pie (actually using an old family recipe from my wife's family)

Chelsea’s famed Googleberry Pie (actually using an old family recipe from my wife’s family)

Thanksgiving Hat Fun with Tregoney, me, Julianne and Chelsea

Thanksgiving Hat Fun with Tregoney, me, Julianne and Chelsea

Pot of Ponche with pineapple, apples, raw sugar cane, and more.

Pot of Ponche with pineapple, apples, raw sugar cane, and more.

There was fun and music (Jorge set up his DJ equipment and we listened to Christmas music on the back deck drinking the ponche and enjoying the festivities in English and Spanish).

It is always fun to join Chelsea and her family friends.  Though there is a great deal of Spanish being spoken, we are still able to communicate.  We have been to so many of these that many of the friends are almost like family, giving us hugs when they visit.

Julianne and I typically leave before the REAL fun begins. Many of them have a few beers or some wine and the dance music begins.  They party and dance late into the night with traditional Bachata dancing and perhaps some other kinds.  They all know how to party hearty and it is all in good fun.

As for Julianne and I, we returned home, put the food away and crashed.  It was a long, yet wonderful Thanksgiving day.  Friday would bring family to the house for more family feasting and fun as our three children and their kids would spend the afternoon with us.

Truly grateful for Thanksgiving and the opportunity to celebrate with family and friends.

 

 

Cooking Game Shows – A Layman’s Glossary and more

Sumoflam Eating

Sumoflam Eating

I am not a good cook. I never have claimed to be one. Perhaps I am most well known to my children for my “amazing” tuna fish casserole (which I have not made in probably 5 years, but was a staple when the kids were growing up.)

Tuna Fish Casserole - not mine, but similar looking to what I made

Tuna Fish Casserole – not mine, but similar looking to what I made

It was typically comprised of egg noodles, a can of cream of mushroom soup, some onions, peas, a couple of cans of tuna fish in water and some black pepper. The extras typically included the cheese powder from a box of Mac and Cheese as well as some real shredded cheese. My only other famous dish was Japanese style rice curry.

Japanese rice Curry - similar to what we make at home

Japanese rice Curry – similar to what we make at home

Both were not necessarily very appealing to look at (though both make my mouth water), but both tasted good and filled the belly. I can admit that cooking is not my forte…not even my pianissimo. And I had failures: like the time we were out of cream of mushroom soup so I replaced it with canned tomato soup (yes indeed, YUCK is right). I have still not lived that one down. And then there were the chocolate pancakes I tried to make while serving as a missionary in Japan. I used baking powder….big mistake. They were so bad and rubbery that one of the other missionaries poked a hole in one and hung it on a wall in the apartment.  It apparently stayed for over a year in that place in moist Japan and never got moldy or hard…just stayed rubbery.  Even some 40 years later I occasionally get razzed about that one!

So, jump to 2014/15 and its a wonder that I have become fascinated by cooking game shows. There are a plethora of them out there and I enjoy most of them.  To name a few of my favorites:Cutthroat Kitchen

    • Cutthroat Kitchen – A Food Network classic hosted by chef turned TV Star Alton Brown, the object of the game is to defeat the other cooks in cooking the assigned dish despite a mad array of unusual and sinister sabotages that can be bought by the cooks. They each start with $25,000 and the winner takes home whatever cash they have remaining. The show has also made stars out of well known chefs Jet Tila, Simon Majumdar and Antonia Lofaso. The judges make their decisions on the appearance, the taste and if the dish reminds them of what the assigned dish should be like.

Chopped

    • Chopped – Another famous Food Network competition hosted by cookbook author Ted Allen, who first appeared on the Bravo Network’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, has been around since 2009. Four chefs compete for $10,000 in three rounds having to concoct dishes from a mystery basket that typically has four very diverse ingredients. The judges base their decision on creativity, presentation and taste. The show has made stars out of judges Aaron Sanchez, Geoffrey Zakarian, Amanda Freitag, Marc Murphy, Chris Santos and Scott Conant, among a group of other occasional guest judges.

MasterChef

    • MasterChef – This Fox Network cooking competition show features Hell’s Kitchen’s Gordon Ramsay as the main star, along with chefs Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliott. Recently the show has had a series called MasterChef Junior, which is a favorite of ours. It features children between age 8 and 13. Ultimately, 12 contestants are selected and then eliminated one by one with the ultimate MasterChef winning a trophy and $100,000.

GreatFoodTruckRace

    • The Great Food Truck Race – Kind of like an amazing race coupled with cooking competition for Food Truck wannabes. Hosted by Tyler Florence, the show starts off with a number of specialty food trucks and their teams of three who travel across the country facing numerous cooking challenges and assignments. The team with the least amount of money earned at the end of each leg is sent home. The final winner gets to keep their food truck and a $50,000 prize.

WorstCooks

    • Worst Cooks in America – This show, which has featured Anne Burrell, an Iron Chef winner and restaurant owner, along with new co-host Tyler Florence, takes 12 “recruits” who supposedly are terrible cooks and runs them through a culinary boot camp, eliminating contestants each week until there is an ultimate winner, who takes home $25,000.

guys-grocery-games

  • Guy’s Grocery Games – This stars chef Guy Fieri, who gained fame for his Diners, Dives and Drive-ins show. Like many others, the show features four chefs competing in a grocery store with special twists and challenges. After the first three are eliminated, the final winner then gets a list of 10 items that must find in 2 minutes to win up to $20,000. There was a diner owner in Lexington who competed in November 2014 and I have visited her and her diner.
Ranada West-Riley with Guy Fieri and other contestants from Guy's Grocery Games Nov. 2014

Ranada West-Riley (second from left) with Guy Fieri and other contestants from Guy’s Grocery Games Nov. 2014

Sumoflam visits Lexington Diner owner Ranada West-Riley

Sumoflam visits The Lexington Diner owner Ranada West-Riley

There are a number of others out there, but they all basically have two things in common – contestants and judges. As well, throughout all of the competitions there are a number of terms thrown out by the judges, which have always struck me as funny, because the usual normal person out there going to a restaurant to eat typically would never use any of the terminology.

Over the past few weeks I have been keeping track of terms that are usually mentioned by judges in most of these competitions. I will detail them below, but here are a few: Acidity, flavor development, appearance, depth of character, pairing of ingredients. I have also learned restaurantese with terms such as sous chef, chef de cuisine, chef de partie and others.  Then there are the interesting ingredients that isles common in the shows, but I had never heard of such as marscapone, pancetta, crėme fraiche and roulade. Then there is the appearance part…many of the dishes seem to demand an artistry of presentation. I mean, what is with the swoosh of cream or sauce on the plate? And then the exact placement of a spring of basil on top? Does the artistry on the plate create a further appeal to the palate?

So, for the guy like me who loves to eat and loves to watch these game shows about food, I am going to try to decipher some of the terms:

All About the Food

    • Acidity: Commonly heard on the shows…not enough acidity…too much acidity.  We all know what acid is, but what does it mean in cooking? If a dish has enough salt and still tastes flat, it’s often because it needs a mouthwatering burst of acidity—think of a squeeze of lemon on a piece of fish, or vinegary pickles on a sandwich. If a dish is too acidic, the way to achieve balance is to add fat or sugar to mute the sourness.
Nigiri sishi has a number of developed flavors

Nigiri sishi has a number of developed flavors

    • Flavor Development: Well, you hear this a lot as well…. This is just fancy lingo for the myriad of techniques in good cooking that create good flavor in dishes. It doesn’t refer to any one specific thing. As I read somewhere on the web – it sounds far more professional to say “the flavor in this dish is not well developed” than to say “this dish is bad.”
Colorful Fruits can be very appealing

Colorful Fruits can be very appealing

    • Appearance: Flavor development may be important, but the first step is the appearance of the food. The appearance of food and beverages seem to influence craveability and a desire to partake of these items. Ultimately, the appearance of food influences food choice. All of these shows have a heavy focus on the appearance.
Food Presentation is so important in these games

Food Presentation is so important in these games

    • Presentation: Presentation goes along with Appearance. A definition in Wikipedia states that “food presentation is the art of modifying, processing, arranging, or decorating food to enhance its aesthetic appeal.”  Presentation and Appearance are both a part of the Plating process, which makes or breaks most contestants, before the food is ever tasted.
Plating with "swooshy" sauces...art on a plate

Plating with “swooshy” sauces…art on a plate

    • Plating: I get a kick out of watching the plating process on these shows. The methods of adding food on the plate, the swooshing of sauces (actually called “pulling”), the mixing of colors, etc.
Plating with sauce...art on a plate

Plating with sauce…art on a plate

Ingredient Pairing example

Ingredient Pairing example

    • Pairing of Ingredients: I often hear the judges say “great pairing” or “poor pairing” of ingredients. I have heard often of pairing of wines to cheeses or meals, but never really thought about pairing of ingredients. Of course, my example above of using canned tomato soup to make tuna casserole is most likely a poor example of pairing!!

In researching for this post I came across a really interesting post about plating.  You can read it here. Called the “Art of Cuisine: Plating Sauces,” it was a real learning experience for me.  For instance, the author notes “the ratio of the food on the plate to negative space should be 40% food and 60% “negative” space, i.e. space that isn’t taken up by food.” As if I really care, but, apparently there is a rule and I am sure that the “esteemed judges” on these shows know these rules.

ChefStuff

Chefs of All Kinds

Everyone knows what a chef is.  I grew up seeing Chef Boyardee in his chef hat, which I have learned is called a “toque blanche.” According to Wikipedia, The modern toque is popularly believed to have originated with the French chefs Marie-Antoine Carême (1784–1833) and Auguste Escoffier (1846–1935).  So, we know what they wear, but I was never aware there were so many kinds of chefs.  Following are three that crop up often on these game shows.

A typical sous chef

A typical sous chef

  • Sous Chef: A Sous-Chef de Cuisine also known Under-chef of the kitchen is a chef who is the “the second in command in a kitchen; the person ranking next after the head chef. Sous-chefs must plan and direct how the food is presented on the plate, keep their kitchen staff in order, train new chefs, create the work schedule, and make sure all the food that goes to customers is of the best quality to make customers happy
Typical Chef de Partie

Typical Chef de Partie

  • Chef de Partie: When I first heard this name I chuckled in the thought that they actually have chefs whose focus is on parties.  Well, not really the case. A chef de partie, station chef, or line cook, is a chef in charge of a particular area of production in a restaurant. In large kitchens, each chef de partie might have several cooks or assistants. In most kitchens, however, the chef de partie is the only worker in that department. Line cooks are often divided into a hierarchy of their own, starting with “first cook,” then “second cook,” and so on as needed by the establishment.  Wikipedia has a breakdown of the different line chef titles.
Chef de Cuisine example

Chef de Cuisine example

  • Chef de Cuisine:  The Chef de Cuisine or executive chef is the main chef in a restaurant. He/she is in-charge of every other functional chef in the kitchen.This position is also known as chef manager, Head chef and Master chef.
Cooking Ingredients

Cooking Ingredients

Typical Basket from "Chopped"

Typical Basket from “Chopped”

Commonly Uncommon Ingredients

These cooking shows offer a literal cornucopia of ingredients, many which I have never heard of.  There are always the usual ones – onions, vegetables, sugar, flour, etc.  But what about marscapone, pancetta, crėme fraiche and roulade?  I don’t think I have ever used any of these.

Marscapone

Marscapone

  • Marscapone: Seems like this ingredient appears in almost all of the shows. I have learned that it is a type of cheese.  But, why is it always used? Mascarpone is an Italian cheese made from cream, coagulated by the addition of citric acid or acetic acid. According to Cheese.com, mascarpone is used in both sweet and savory dishes. It is added to enhance the flavor of the dish without overwhelming the original taste. The cheese tastes best with anchovies, mustard and spices, or mixed with cocoa or coffee. Tiramisu, a layered dish with espresso, brandy, chocolate and Mascarpone has brought the cheese to the forefront of Italian cooking. Another possible use of Mascarpone is to thicken puddings and dessert creams. It is also popular as a standalone dessert served with fruit or syrup.
Pancetta

Pancetta

  • Pancetta:  Pancetta is another ingredient I hear often. Seems to me like it is a type of bacon, but probably much much better. According to Wikipedia, pancetta is is Italian bacon made of pork belly meat that is salt cured and spiced with black pepper and sometimes other spices.
Creme fraiche

Creme fraiche

  • Crème fraîche: When I hear this one (which is also often), I end up thinking Cream Fresh and wonder why they call it that. But, actually, Crème fraîche is a soured cream containing 30–45% butterfat and having a pH of around 4.5. It is soured with bacterial culture, but is less sour than U.S.-style sour cream, and has a lower viscosity and a higher fat content. European labeling regulation disallows any ingredients other than cream and bacterial culture. It is often used to finish hot savory sauces and is also the basis of many desserts and dessert sauces.

Roulade

Roulade

  • Roulade: A roulade is a dish of filled rolled meat or pastry. Traditionally found in various European cuisines, the term roulade originates from the French word “rouler”, meaning “to roll”.

A FEW OTHER TERMS COMMONLY HEARD ON THE GAME SHOWS

  • Al Dente: In cooking, al dente describes pasta and vegetables, rice or beans that are cooked to be firm to the bite. The etymology is Italian “to the tooth.” If pasta is too soft or mushy it is not al dente.
  • Render Out: Often when the cooks explain their recipes on these shows, they talk about “rendering out” the bacon or pancetta.  HERE is a good post about rendering bacon. Ultimately, render means “cook the fat out of.” The bacon and/or pancetta is almost always cubed when rendering happens on these shows. Mmmm….bacon….
  • Wine Reduction: So, how does one “reduce” a wine?  Obviously, you can reduce the amount of wine by drinking some of it.  But, I don’t think that is what they mean. Actually, in cooking, reduction is the process of thickening and intensifying the flavor of a liquid mixture such as a soup, sauce, wine, or juice by simmering or boiling. Reduction is performed by simmering or boiling a liquid such as stock, fruit or vegetable juices, wine, vinegar, or a sauce until the desired volume is reached by evaporation. This is done without a lid, thus enabling the vapor to escape from the mixture.
  • Caramelize: I love caramels…those rich creamy candies.  But, when a cook talks about caramelizing onions, I most certainly don’t think of caramels! Caramelization  is the browning of sugar, a process used extensively in cooking for the resulting nutty flavor and brown color. As the process occurs, volatile chemicals are released, producing the characteristic caramel flavor.  Guess what? Onions have sugars and that is why they are caramelized?
  • Emulsify: Another word I have heard many times, but never really understood. When you whisk together two liquids—like oil and vinegar—that normally won’t bond together, you can cause them to form a single liquid that may stay stable for at least a short period of time. Think about what oil and vinegar look like when well-whisked – the result is thicker and almost creamy looking: that is an emulsification.  A vinaigrette is an emulsified liquid.
  • Socarrat: I like rice a lot.  Especially a good savory rice that has been fried. Japanese/Korean Fried rice is wonderful, especially when some of it has browned and caramelized (there’s that word again!!) Turns out that the burnt and crunchy portion of a good al dente (Ha! used it too) rice grilled in a pan, like fried rice, is called socarrat.
A rice with caramelized socarrat

A rice with caramelized socarrat

It is obvious that these game shows are meant for entertainment as chefs, cooks, culinary experts and the likes go at each other to show off their crafts and cuisine arts.  But, they can be learning experiences at so many levels.  Now I’m hungry!!

IMG_1635

Biting into the “small” burger at Big Jud’s in Rexburg, ID in 2013. They are home to the 1 LB and 2 LB Challenges…