Monday, August 22, 2011

Turbaconducken and Me

It all started innocently enough. Someone--either out of their sincere desire to entertain my Facebook-only obsession with bacon, or out of some deep-seated malice for me--pointed me to a link on BaconToday.com.  At first glance, they had pointed me to what appeared to be a straightforward recipe-a turkey wrapped in bacon.

But then I dug a little deeper, and what unfolded before me was enough to stop even the largest man among us dead in his tracks. No, not in wonder and amazement. Not in awe and admiration. This thing could stop him, with one glance, by inducing large amounts of plaque to suddenly collect near the heart and cause his arteries to harden irreversibly.  They would be so hard, that a titanium chisel, driven by Thor's hammer itself, would not be able to make nary a dent.

What unfolded before me was (drum roll)... ... ... THE TURBACONDUCKEN (gasp!)


Yes, you read that correctly: Turkey, bacon, duck, and chicken.  Take your basic Turducken, wrap the various components in bacon, and you begin to get an idea of what was about to occur... sort of.

Now before you go any further, this is not a post about how to make a Turbaconducken.  This is a post about my experience making a lazy-man's version of what should be a meaty masterpiece comparable in austerity to the Pieta. If you want to know how to make a Turbacoducken, Google is your friend, you're an adult (right?), and you're no stranger to Internet searches.  Get thee to a search engine...

I apparently did not (thankfully) have a very good reference for making this, er, dish, and I took some inadvertent shortcuts.  Well, ok, I took one very big shortcut. I didn't debone the chicken, the duck, or the turkey.  The only thing that didn't have bones was the bacon.



I began to assemble the ingredients. We bought as big a turkey as we could find; more than 25 pounds. We found a decent size duck and a chicken. Then we bought a whole bunch of thick-cut, peppered bacon.

The first step was to cut up the chicken for "stuffing" into the duck.  I'm using proverbial air quotes when I type "stuffing".  With all the bones still in place, this is a very loose use of the term "stuffing". But the chicken has to be cut into its constituent parts so you can wrap each piece individually in bacon, and "stuffing" it into the duck is much easier if it's not whole.


Then I split the duck in half thinking that'd probably facilitate filling it with the chicken parts.  Once stuffed, I wrapped the whole assembly in more... bacon. (Random Jim Gaffigan thought: That made me thirsty for more bacon.)
 

But I digress... Where was I?
Ah, yes, the chicken is wrapped in bacon, stuffed in a duck wrapped in bacon, ready to be stuffed in a turkey. A turkey which will eventually also be wrapped in bacon.

At this point I began to wonder why I had started on this endeavor. Apparently I did not have enough to do, or I had so much to do, I was procrastinating something.  Whatever it was, I wasn't running thanks to a PITA injury from the summer, so I was in the kitchen exercising my culinary muscles in my spare time.


After much struggling and wrapping and stuffing and re-wrapping and re-stuffing, then wrapping the assembly... I ended up with this:



All the directions said to cook it slow and low, so it went in the oven at 250F, and we waited. Then we waited some more. Then... we waited still more. At eight hours of cooking time, internal temperatures were still not in the safe range for poultry, so I broke out the foil and cranked up the temperature.

I have to say, the duck and chicken were extremely moist and very bacony. The turkey was ok, but the breast had dried some, despite constant basting.  The boys loved it, but more than the flavor, I think they loved the novelty.  

Would I do this again? That's hard to say. It's a lot of meat, a lot of grease, and a lot of work.  If I were to do it again, I'd have to have at least the turkey and the duck de-boned.  I'd also have to find a better way to get the whole thing up to temp and finish sooner.  All in all, it wasn't a bad thing, but I think I'd rather exercise my culinary muscles pursuing other endeavors.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Quick Fall Dinner on a Cool Summer Night

This meal had no particular inspiration, except for the preparation of one component. I'm home alone this weekend with my 15 year-old son, and I had the opportunity to cook for once. An apparent lack of ingredients rose up like a spectre to challenge me from the kitchen's depths where I've spent far too little time lately.


The whole dinner was going to center around some fresh baby beets we received in our Boistfort Valley Farm CSA this week. I couldn't see wasting all those beautiful beet greens, so I knew I was at least going to have baby beets and fresh beet greens in the dinner, somewhere, somehow.


Sticking my head in the pantry turned up little to nothing, except for one lone sweet potato that almost literally cried, "Cook me!!".  Component number two so chosen.


Then, being guys, we had to have meat.  Mrs. Grampa Bill's Son (aka @kefishbu1 aka Beth) left me with strict, detailed-to-the-point-I-couldn't-remember-them instructions. One of the instructions had something to do with a turkey and the smoker. Ah, thankfully...another component for tonight's meal. Wait--that wasn't the meat, though; the turkey needed to be brined, and I wanted something quick.  Sigh.


A trip to the basement freezer turned up another package of last fall's deer.  Not just any cut of deer, though. There were backstrap steaks!! Oh thank you hunting gods, Great Spirit, Universe, or whomever/whatever put that doe in front of my arrow! Venison steaks it would be.


So there I had it: Fresh baby beets and greens, turkey parts from the now-brining turkey, a sweet potato, and venison backstrap.  I figured the turkey broth reduction I wanted would take the longest, so I started the pot boiling.  A little sea salt, some smoked garlic, the turkey tail and the giblets, and the meal was off to the races--er, at least as much as dead turkey parts can be.


Next, the beets.  No peeling or skinning here. Just chopped the greens off, and threw the bulbs in a pot of cold water to come to a boil while the turkey was giving me broth. I scrunched up the greens and cut them in 1/4" strips on a bias. The plan was to sauté them.


Once the beets were in the pot, I wrapped the sweet potato in plastic and tossed it in the microwave for a few minutes until it was soft.  This is the preparation inspiration I owe to @SaltySeattle (thank you, Linda!). I've never made gnocchi, but I've read about it plenty of times on Linda's website, SaltySeattle.com. With this attempt, something tells me Ms. Nicholson is leaving some details out of the preparation, but I still turned out something edible.  (Note to self for To Do list: Find out if Linda gives gnocchi lessons.)  I riced the potato through a colander, and added "just enough flour to make a dough", rolled it, one fourth at a time, into 8-10" ropes, and cut nuggets of stiff, sweet potato dough into a steamer--over the reducing turkey broth.


Next came the venison. Now, I don't like thawing meat in the microwave, but I especially dislike disrespecting game with a lack of forethought.  I hope my doe will forgive my poor planning. Despite my best efforts, the defrost cycle still managed to cook a couple of steaks around the edges; not ideal, but it had to do. Once thawed, they got a quasi-@SavorySweetLife treatment--a little fresh ground sea salt, a little fresh ground black pepper, and extra virgin olive oil in the pan. (Yes, you read that correctly.  I said, "oil in the pan." Tonight was to be a quick dinner, so no grill involved. I will eventually recover.)  Once the pan was at searing temp, the steaks got a minute on each side, leaving them a nice, juicy medium rare.


Setting them aside, I immediately threw the beet greens in the remaining oil and venison drippings, and I deglazed the pan by adding some balsamic vinegar.  I cooked the greens until they just started to wilt, and then I turned everything off.


I plated it all, poured the reduced turkey broth over the venison and the sweet potato gnocchi, and this is what I got.


I'm not one to blow my own horn, so I won't start a new practice with this meal.  Let's just say my 15-year-old, who is not a beet fan, nor a greens fan, thought this was, "Really good, Dad."  As for me, I liked the texture variety and the color combinations.


The beets were the sweetest, most flavorful I've had in a long time. So anxious for the plate were they, that they nearly jumped out of their skins and onto the plate. The greens remained just uncooked enough to have a little snap in the bite, and the balsamic vinegar gave them a nice tangy-ness.  The venison was perfectly done--browned on both sides and heated through, but nice and red inside. I was amazed at how well the greens/balsamic combination complemented the steak.  The gnocchi? Well, it wasn't as light as I'd hoped. In fact, it was very much on the pasty/gluey side.  Fortunately, the natural flavor of the sweet potato, combined with the strong turkey broth helped to overcome my dissatisfaction with the texture.


It took me more time to write this blog than it did to prep and cook the meal, and the obvious gusto with which Callaghan ate it made cooking it less than a chore.  It turned out to be a surprisingly quick meal, if a little hearty, for yet another cool summer evening in the Pacific Northwest.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dough Experiments on the Grill-Part III

Having been frustrated by my attempt to come up with a grillable, yeastless pizza crust from commercially purchased sourdough starters, I decided to make my own starter.


Starter from Scratch
 I did a lot of internet searches trying to find a yeast-free crust, and couldn’t come up with anything that didn’t involve starting with at least a small amount of yeast. Being obstinate and determined, I started looking for starter how-to articles. The first two I found were pretty complicated—use raisins and some obscure grain; use milk and whole wheat (tried that before-very sour!)—and didn’t sound like they’d hold much promise. After much searching, I found a simple one.

In a glass jar, mix:
-1/3 c whole wheat flour
-1/3 c water

Mix and let stand about three days until it starts to bubble. Then add
-1/3 c whole wheat flour
-1/3 c water
daily for the next three days. The writer advised pulling off ½-1 c of sponge if the jar became too full. After the third day, add
-1/3 c unbleached white flour
-1/3 c water
daily, until ready to start using. This gave me a very active starter with an odd sweet smell, and it looked promising.


Make the Crust
This is where things got a little out of whack from a timeline perspective. After about a week, I was able to start the dough on a Sunday, but I didn’t actually get it into the oven until the following Thursday night, four days later. For the dough ingredients:
-1 c starter
-1 c lukewarm water
-1 T sugar
-1 T coarse kosher sea salt
-1 T canola oil (I can’t remember why I avoided the EVOO, this time, but I’ll try that next)
-2 c unbleached flour

I let this stand for about two hours until bubbly, stirring every 30 minutes or so to try to develop the gluten. Then I added
-2 c unbleached flour, to bring the dough together

It was still a little wet/tacky at this point, but I floured the bowl well, covered it with a warm towel and let it rise for ~4 hours. Which got me to late enough in the evening on Sunday that I put it in the fridge to proof overnight. I forgot to ask my wife to pull it out that Monday in time for dinner, then I had other engagements on Tuesday and Wednesday. Finally, that Thursday, I took it out of the fridge before work, and put it in the oven with the door open and the light on to rise.

When I got home, it had doubled in bulk-at least. I punched it down, folded a few times, then let rise a second time. When not quite doubled, I divided the dough in half, and formed it into crusts on heavily floured tea cloths. It was still pretty wet compared to what I’m used to for regular breads, and even for my sourdoughs, but I didn’t add any more flour than necessary to keep it from sticking to everything. After the two crusts proofed for about two hours in final form, I fired up the oven, with my pizza stone inside, to 400F, and I baked them one-at-a-time for 15 min.





The plain crust came out looking like a big pita—a thin skin on the top making a pocket over a very focaccia-like, medium crumb, flat bread.






The pizza’s crumb was about the same, but because of ingredients, it didn’t get the pocket effect. It was a little more dense than the untopped crust.

The flavor was good, and I particularly liked the nutty flavor imparted by the whole wheat content of the starter. I might be onto something with this starter in terms of an acceptable crust. Next time 'round, I'll have to try different amounts of ingredients and start determining the effects of each on the crumb.

If you have a source for how the various ingredients affect the crust, I'd love to know about it. It's probably not going to curb my obsession with finding my own combo, but maybe it'll give me some ideas to try. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dough Experiments on the Grill-Part II

Welcome back. At this point you might be asking yourself why a guy who makes BBQ sauce (and beer, don't forget the beer) would be trying to figure out how to make pizza dough. First, I tend towards the obsessive-compulsive end of whatever that particular spectrum is. So, having decided I wanted (read, "developed a compulsive desire") to develop the perfect, yeastless, grillable pizza dough, there was really no choice about turning back.


Second, I completed my undergraduate at the University of Washington. Near The U was one of the best pizza making operations I've had the pleasure to patronize, Atlantic Street Pizza. While they still have a website, it says their U-district store is closed as of March, 2007, "for remodeling". They're supposed to have another store in downtown Seattle, but on my last trip near there during business hours, it was also in the middle of the 2008 snowstorm, and a lot of the smaller businesses in downtown were closed. The sign outside said nothing about Atlantic Street, however, so I have my doubts about whether they are still in business.


So flash forward to present. I had a hankering for Atlantic Street, sourdough proofing in the kitchen, and a Weber that hadn't been fired up in a couple months. What choice did I have?


I knew very little about Atlantic Street's recipe when this particular obsession hit. They're still-extant website confirms the one thing I was sure I could remember about their crust--that it is made from a no-yeast starter with no sugar. Let me just say for the record that I don't have anything against yeast or sugar. I love bread of all types, and I make beer, which, without yeast, would not be beer. (Yes, it's State the Obvious Week here at Casa Bill.) However, the intrigue of getting a just-right-thick, just-right-chewy crust really piqued my culinary curiosity.


Designing the Experiment

I turned on the old engineering skills, and dug into the recesses of my all-too cobwebby memory to find some long-ago-learned topic called, "Design of Experiments." You're probably not into DOE, so I won't bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, what ensued was a full-on four-variable DOE with two dimensions for each variable. Not really complex, but complex enough.


So what variables could I play with for my experiment? Well let's see:


  • I had two sourdough starters, so there's one variable: Starter
  • I had two cooking methods, so there was variable number two: Heat
  • I knew pizza doughs could be frozen or refrigerated, so there was number three
  • Number four was proofing/forming order--whether to proof then form or vice versa
I determined I could carry out my experiment with a total of eight dough balls. To try to control things as much as possible, I actually made only four dough balls, then split each one for the cooking method.  


The following weekend, I made dough from the two mother starters I have. One is the "Northwest Sourdough Starter" from Northwest Sourdough. The other is "Mister Baker's Authentic San Freancisco Style Sourdgough Bread Starter" given to us as a gift and available as a dry starter from Yankee Grocery. They both produce good breads, but their characteristics vary in terms of crumb, crust, and aroma. I thought one might be a better choice for grilling. Variable one completed.


To try to control the experiment, I used the same recipe for both doughs as follows:


Recipe
1c starter
1.5 c water
2T extra virgin olive oil
2T sugar (I know, I know, the original is not supposed to use sugar)
1T fine Kosher sea salt
4c enriched, unbleached white flour minus 5T
5T whole wheat flour


Combine the water, starter, oil, sugar, salt and 3c flour.  Allow to rest for 20 min, then stir to develop gluten.  Allow 20 minutes more rest before adding remaining flour and allowing to proof eight hours overnight.


I tried to keep the cooking methods the same as well:


  • Oven: Used a pizza stone and held the oven to 400F. I timed the bake to 15 min.
  • Grill: Tried to keep a constant temp in the grill at "medium" distance (a setting on my adjustable kettle) from ~30 starting briquettes. Used a pizza stone on the grill. Timing the bake was resulting in visibly under-done crusts, so I had to rely on my eye to determine when the crusts were done.
Tabular Results

Crust
Starter
Heat
Proofing
Forming
Process
Observations
1
Northwest
Oven
Fridge
Ball
Removed from fridge, rolled out to crust, and proofed one hour at room temp.
Flaky texture like pie dough. Ok flavor.
1
Northwest
Grilled
Fridge
Ball
Flaky texture like pie dough. Better overall flavor than oven.
2
Baker’s
Oven
Fridge
Ball
Also flaky in texture. Oven produced slightly better texture.
2
Baker’s
Grilled
Fridge
Ball
Flaky texture, but grilled wasn’t as tasty
3
Northwest
Oven
Frozen
Ball
Removed from freezer after 14 hours. Thawed nine hours. Patted into crusts and allowed to proof ~one hour at room temperature.
Slightly pasty texture, but with slightly more rise than the Baker’s.
3
Northwest
Grilled
Frozen
Ball
Pastier than oven-cooked. Smokiness only discernible flavor difference
4
Baker’s
Oven
Frozen
Ball
Slightly pasty texture, very thin.
4
Baker’s
Grilled
Frozen
Ball
Also pastier than oven cooked version. Flavor difference as noted.
5
Northwest
Oven
Fridge
Crust
Instead of bulk proofing in the refrigerator as a ball, these crusts were formed first, then bulk proofed ~eight hours. Once removed from fridge, were allowed to warm to room temperature over two hours.
Rolled extremely thin and did not rise much.  Baked up very crispy and cracker like.
5
Northwest
Grilled
Fridge
Crust
Instead of crispy, the grilled version came out pasty with a noticeable cracker-like flavor. No significant rise noted.
6
Baker’s
Oven
Fridge
Crust
Good texture, but a little flaky. No chewiness at all.
6
Baker’s
Grilled
Fridge
Crust
Did not make a notation of results.
7
Northwest
Oven
Freeze
Crust
These crusts were first formed, then frozen. Removed from the freezer after 14 hours, they were allowed to thaw and proof at room temperature overnight.
Pasty/doughy texture, though sourdough flavor was notable.
7
Northwest
Grilled
Freeze
Crust
Texture same as oven, however, sourdough flavor somewhat less noticeable due to smokiness.
8
Baker’s
Oven
Freeze
Crust
Sourdough flavor not as apparent. Also very pasty/doughy in texture.
8
Baker’s
Grilled
Freeze
Crust
Very pasty/doughy texture.

Conclusions

After nearly two full days of mixing, proofing, grilling and baking, I could draw only a few conclusions:


  • Neither starter seems better suited than the other to the task of being a grilled pizza crust.
  • The corollary to the above is that neither starter seems all that well-suited to this use at all.
  • Forming before freezing or refrigerating does not seem like a good idea. Leaving the dough to bulk proof (frozen or refrigerated) in unformed balls seems to give a better texture.
  • Time required to bulk proof and get some degree of thickness cannot be underestimated.
I have pictures of all the different crusts, but I'm going to post only this one. It is Dough #6, and on the left is the grilled version; on the right is the oven-baked version.  I brushed it with some olive oil and salted it lightly.  You can see the oven-baked version developed slightly more uniform bubbling, probably due to the consistency of the temperature within the oven.  It still wasn't enough to convince me that these starters were up to the task of much more than providing a sour sort of focaccia. 

Stay tuned for Part III where I develop my own starter from scratch.