Thanksgiving Leftovers: Turkey Chili

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While I lived in New York, I always volunteered to work for Thanksgiving. That way I would be guaranteed to be home for Christmas. A few years ago, I began having my own Thanksgiving party the Saturday after for all of my friends who were also away from their families for the holiday.

The first year I cooked a whole turkey and had lots of side dishes. A lot got eaten, but it seemed like I had enough leftover to feed half the homeless people in the borough of Queens. Each year I cooked less, but I always had a refrigerator full of leftovers after the party. That’s when I realized they are just part of the holiday tradition –  along with storming through the doors of a department store at 3 a.m. on  black Friday.

For this recipe, I make chili from leftover turkey, chicken can be used just as well. Instead of traditional tomatoes and kidney beans, I use tomatillos and great northern beans for flavor and appearance. It’s a great dish to warm the belly and use up some of those Thanksgiving leftovers.

My sister has been making a version of "white chili" that is absolutely delicious for some time now. She makes it with chicken and white beans. This recipe was inspired by her recipe, turkey, like chicken, is a delicate meat that will take-on what ever flavors it's surrounded by. It's like a culinary canvass for a cook to paint flavors on. Rather than making turkey sandwich after turkey sandwich, this dish will rid the fridge of that pile of turkey in one fell swoop – And you'll hardly notice your eating turkey because it will take on the bold flavors of the chili.

Now that all that turkey is gone, it's time to start thinking about what to make for Christmas!

Eat well, cook often ...

Thanksgiving: Turkey, Creamy Mashed Potatoes, and Green Beans with Caramelized Onions

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It’s commonly believed that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in Plymouth colony by the pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621, but similar celebrations occurred before in Jamestown and the feasts were not held on an annual basis.

Thanksgiving wasn’t an official holiday until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln designated the last Thursday of November as a “national day of thanksgiving.” He made the declaration after key victories of the Union army in the Civil War at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. Since then every president has declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.

For this recipe, I have prepared turkey, the traditional centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal. For flavor and moisture, I soak a turkey breast in a salt brine overnight. The brine will lock in moisture and infuse the meat with the flavorful spices included in the mix. The use of a meat thermometer is also essential, the turkey is cooked to perfection when the internal temperature of the thickest part reaches 165°.

Creamy Mashed Potatoes

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No Thanksgiving dinner can be complete without mashed potatoes. For this version, I went for creamy and smooth. What does that really mean? Lots of added fat! Heavy cream and butter make these potatoes rich and decadent. The chives add a hint of onion.

This is the way I expect mashed potatoes when I order them at a nice restaurant as a side to a cut of meat or some other star on the plate. Just a nice flavorful side of potatoes. Usually, I like to add cheese, bacon bits or a more fragrant herb like rosemary or thyme. But those flavors appear elsewhere in this Thanksgiving feast and that's what makes this version so good – it's just about the potato!

Perunamuusi (Mashed Potato)

Green Beans with Caramelized Onions

I bought these beans fresh the night before cooking this feast and when I cleaned them the next day I decided to leave them long and intact, rather than cut them into thirds. This choice made the final product a different experience when it came to consuming. Instead of stabbing at a pile of beans with my fork and getting 4 or 5 bean chunks on it before taking a bite, I was just fishing for one at a time, much like the way I eat asparagus. It was a different and welcomed change. I also left the beans slightly crunchy. It made for a nicer texture and gave this side a savory salad feel.

The other two elements in this dish put this one out of the park. Smoky bacon and sweet caramelized onions. Need I say more? Well yes, I need to say just a little more – the sweet onions and smoky bacon act as a smoky and sweet dressing to the beans. The bacon provides the salt in the dish, a little pepper can be thrown in if desired. The crunchy, al denté-cooked beans are the star here and the other two ingredients come along for the show, providing small hints of extra flavor.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Eat well, cook often ...

Meatballs: A Savory Little Bite

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I love meatballs. They are versatile and unique to the individual that makes them. The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson sums up meatballs the best, he says, There are “many manifestations around the world of this item, which is essentially minced meat (of any edible animal) formed into a ball and cooked in various ways.” I like the “any edible animal” phrase. Makes me wonder if an explorer in Antarctica has ever tried to make meatballs out of penguin.

For this recipe, I use lightly sautéd vegetables to add an extra layer of flavor to the meatball instead of herbs or spices. The light cooking will remove the raw flavor. When raw garlic is added to a meatball mixture it can take over and turn it into a garlic ball. (same is true with meatloaf) These meatballs are browned in a skillet before finishing in the oven so that they have a nice crust on the outside. I served these individually with a simple marinara sauce. They work as a snack for a party or as a center piece of a family meal.

I generally try to avoid doing a recipe for sandwiches in consecutive posts. I had originally planned to make a pasta and meatball dish as the second part but I could not resist. I have a special place in my heart for meatball subs. (here I call it a boat – more on that later)

I went to visit Ball State University in the Fall of 1992 for orientation. I had been accepted for the spring semester and was summoned to get all the paper work finalized and see the beautiful campus located in Muncie, Indiana. It was my first glimpse of the place where I would spend the next four and a half years, earning a bachelors degree with two majors, journalism and history.

On that rainy fall day, I ate lunch at Subway. I ordered a Meatball Marinara Sub and proceeded to slop it all over my sweatshirt. Unscathed by the mess I had made of myself, I got my paperwork finished, toured the campus and got completely fired up to get started and join the group of people that will always be able to say they "went away to school." Everytime I eat a meatball sub it reminds me of the adventurous kid who took a chance and left the security blanket of home. Funny how a certain food or meal can remind you of such specific things in the past.

One thing I don't like about meatball subs is the mess. That is why I hollowed out a hoagie and stuffed it rather than cut it in half. It made for a much easier sub to devour - which I did in about three bites!

Eat well, cook often ...

Steakhouse ThickBurger: A True Man Bite

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While watching football a couple weeks ago, I saw a commercial for Hardee’s and Carl Jr’s new Six Dollar Steakhouse Thickburger. According to the ad, the sandwich was created by Hamblor, god of hamburgers. He has the power to shoot french fried onions from his hand, rides a giant saint bernard that carries a keg of A1 steak sauce around its neck and he is flanked by beautiful goddesses that seem to love eating massive burgers. Laughing hysterically at this divine commercial, I made a pilgrimage to get one.

After devouring this glorious celebration of beef and bun, I knew it was my earthly duty to recreate it. What make this sandwich stand out is the french fried onion strings that give the burger a nice crunchy element. Also, blue cheese crumbles work surprisingly well with the tang of A1 sauce. I’m confident Hamblor and his goddesses would agree that this homemade version is far superior to the one prepared in a flurry at the chain store.

Had the Catholic church presented such holy visions as Hamblor and his busty goddesses as part of sunday school growing up, I would have been valedictorian of St. John Bosco's confirmation class in 1988. But that is exactly what the add is targeting – Guys. Guys 18 to 34 to be specific. That's the demographic Carl Jr's. and Hardee's market their food too.

In the past, they have used scantily clad celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton and Audrina Partridge to sell their food. In 2005, Carl Jr's created an uproar with an add that featured a provocatively dressed Paris Hilton washing a car and eating a Spicy BBQ Six Dollar Burger. It created such a frenzy when it was released that a company-made mini-website featuring a longer ad billed as to racy for television crashed for nearly 4 hours do to heavy traffic it was not equipped to handle.

I learned all of this after I ate and recreated the burger. I went and bought two of these sandwiches. One to eat, and another to take apart and study for the purpose of this post. The Steakhouse Thickburger was made for men – Complete with an ad campaign featuring a Hamburger god flanked by gorgeous women indulging on it.

This is a true Man Bite.

Eat well, cook often ...