Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Excuse Me While I Chill Some Wine and Take a Few Moments to Tebow.

If you've followed NFL football at all this season, you've probably come across a phenomenon that sports pundits and fans alike have labeled "Tebowing."

For those of you who've had better things to do than watch a multi-billion dollar industry amass another multi-billion dollars this fall, let me explain:

Tim Tebow is a fairly new Denver Bronco quarterback who once led the Florida Gators to glory and, at times, choses to thank God for his success on the field by falling to one knee in prayer. Folks call this "Tebowing."

Then someone, somewhere, thought it would make a good joke. Players on opposing teams mocked him by falling to one knee. TV talk show guests guffawed. Folks on YouTube re-enacted it. It went viral.

But hey, God and sports are not a new phenomenon.

I've been a football fan since I was old enough to change channels on the TV. I can remember more than a few players expressing their thanks to the "Man Upstairs" on the field.  I saw and heard many in the 60's "testify." I remember several players who flashed "Jesus One Way" signs in the 70's.

And Tebow wasn't the first player to drop to a knee to give honor to God after a good play. Heck, when I was in college in south Florida there were a number of the invincible and undefeated Miami Dolphins who attended bible studies at my alma mater and were not ashamed about doing so (can you say Captain Crunch Mike Kolen?)

Or how 'bout all those place kickers through the years whose names end in vowels crossing themselves before a field goal attempt?

And what's up with that wild-haired Polamalu fellah from the Steelers whose spirituality would give some desert monks a run for their money?

Okay. Let me get to my point.

I would never think about asking any of them to stop doing these things even if I may not completely understand it all. Because I know that their faith drives them and it makes them who they are. To take that away or seek to diminish it would be robbing them of their inspiration. (Order up the flick Chariots of Fire on Netflix if I've lost you. No, wait. Order it up anyway. It's that good.)

So I say let Tebow or any other faith-filled sportsperson take a knee, whether Christian, Muslim or Jew. It's who they are. At least they realize that their talent, somehow, is a gift that's been entrusted to them.

And now let us move on to culinary excellence.

I've met more than a few great chefs over the past 30 years and not many would take a knee for anything, not even to wipe up a spill. They were so full of themselves that one has to wonder how there'd be enough room in the kitchen for a decent skillet, let alone a sous chef.

It's funny, but for some reason, those of us who are great in the kitchen feel we're great because we...well, dammit...are just great, thank you very much.

And as the wonderful aromas fill the kitchen space around us "talented" chefs, egos rise like a fine souffle.

I'm not having any of it.

For me, culinary expertise is a gift just like any talent. The ability to taste, to tweak, to cook is all on loan. Those of us so blessed are responsible to hone it. But I haven't met many chefs who feel that way. To them it's self-induced and self-constructed and, therefore, allows for a good bit of ego-inflation.

But not all.

I've met some who understand that their talent with a skillet, olive oil, onions and garlic is a gift. And they're humbled by that fact.

I long to count myself among their number.

So if my next meal pleases the palates of my guests? Perhaps you just might catch a glimpse of me "Tebowing" in the darkness of my pantry. Because being thankful for whatever talent I might have is something I will strive for.

A few days ago we celebrated Thanksgiving. Who did you give thanks to? I know I'm trying to gain some perspective on this whole talent thing. And I think I'm starting to get it.

But...If the mere mention of "God-thanks" ticks you off, then take a knee and Tebow for me.  :-)

For the rest of us? I have some wine chilled. Now...which one of us will plate and who will say grace?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tofurkey: Who Invented This and Why Do They Hate Us So?

According to a leading online encyclopedia, "tofurkey" is a portmanteau word of tofu and turkey. (For those of you who don't know, "portmanteau" is the French word for the blending of two silly sounding words into one sillier sounding word.)

In essence tofurkey is faux turkey (for those of you who don't know, "faux" is the French word for ridiculous) – a loaf made of tofu, filled with a stuffing made from grains flavored with a broth, and seasoned with herbs and spices.

As someone who is always trying to eat healthier, I picked one up for the holidays and eagerly placed it into the oven just as my guests began to arrive. We poured some cocktails and engaged in conversation as an unusual aroma wafted from through our home. At the appointed time, we all moved to the kitchen and I removed the tofurkey from the oven. It glistened as I lifted it from the roasting pan and onto my carving board. One guest looked over my shoulder and in a voice that could only be described as awe whispered,  "Il a l'air d'un fichu d├ęsastre" (which I'm sure is French for "It looks delectably delicious").

We filled up our plates and took our seats around the table. After a toast and a blessing we dug in.

Then we looked at each other.

Then we spat it out and reached for our glasses of wine.

It wasn't delectably delicious.

At least not as a stand-in for Tom Turkey.

Perhaps if they called it "Glory Morning's Big Hunk O' Tofu" or even "Serenity Farm's Self-Basting Thanksgiving Wad" it might've tasted better because we wouldn't have been expecting the taste of roast turkey on our palates.

Because here's the deal for me: I love vegetarian food and I make it often, but I love it on its own terms. The minute someone tries to create something that it clearly is not (i.e. imitation turkey, hot dogs, bacon, etc) I'm immediately put off because I know that a tofu dog will resemble a real Coney Island hot dog as much as that new Fiat they've been peddling on TV will resemble a real car.

So yes, if you invite me over for Thanksgiving this year I'll be sure to bring along some garlic smashed potatoes and my famous mashed rutabagas with apple sauce. But please promise me that you'll leave the tofurkey in the grocer's cooler and pick up a frozen a real Tom Turkey. You might not hear someone whispering "Il a l'air d'un fichu d├ęsastre" over your shoulder, but I guarantee your guests will love you for it.

Now here are three questions that I often get asked whenever we start preparing for the holidays.

Bon Appetit!


How long can I keep a frozen turkey in my freezer?

During the holidays we may often have more than one frozen turkey lying around. Perhaps you wanted to take advantage of a good sale or you received a company turkey as a gift after you already purchased one. At the risk of having turkey every night from Thanksgiving to President's Day, you must store the extras. If you have room, and your freezer is cold (as in 0 degrees) you can safely store a frozen turkey almost indefinitely. However, just because it is safe to store a frozen turkey until the cows come home, it doesn't mean that it's a good idea to do so. Quality is another matter. If the texture and taste of turkey are important to you then it would be best to cook the turkey within a year. If taste and texture are not important to you then I would forgo the cost of buying a turkey and would instead freeze a chunk of foam rubber, it's cheaper and can be readily found at your local upholstery shop. Just be sure to make lots of really good gravy.

Can I make gravy without pan drippings?

I love to make gravy from pan drippings. Cookbooks are loaded with recipes for great pan gravies. But what if you have more leftover turkey (or beef or chicken) than you have gravy? Can you make gravy without the drippings? Absolutely. And although it is not as good as if you made it from the drippings, this recipe is down right good and will certainly do in a pinch.

Gravy Without Pan Drippings

Prep Time: 5 minutes                        Cook Time: 15 - 20 minutes

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4-cup all-purpose flour
2 cups soup base or canned broth of choice (beef, chicken, turkey)
1/4  teaspoon salt
1/4-teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon Kitchen Bouquet (for color and flavor)

Directions:

1. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk together, making sure to get all visible lumps. This is will produce a roux which is the foundation for gravy and many other sauces. Add salt and pepper and continue to cook, stirring constantly for 2 - 3 minutes so that the roux looses its raw, flour smell. This will produce a light roux. The longer you cook the roux, the darker it will become. Therefore, your roux for chicken gravy will be light, turkey will be darker, and beef will be even darker still.

2. Turn heat to low and slowly add broth, stirring constantly.

3. Add Kitchen Bouquet and turn heat back up to medium. Continue stirring until gravy boils and thickens.

Makes 2 cups.

I have a small kitchen, should I make my turkey or roast a day ahead of time?

If you're like many of us, your kitchen may not be conducive to creating a large feast, especially if you only have one oven. So it might sound like a good idea to cook your turkey or roast a day ahead of time and then reheat it after you've created the side dishes. While this may make sense in concept, it's really not the best option.

I would reverse things and cook your side dishes a day ahead, wrap them tight and refrigerate them. The next day I would cook the turkey or roast and after it's done and allowed to stand for 15 - 30 minutes, I would put my sides in the oven to reheat. The texture of the turkey or roast will be far better than if you prepared it a day ahead of time. Besides, if you made enough, you'll have plenty of opportunity to delve into the leftovers, so why start your signature meal off with leftovers?