If there’s one thing that cooking your first turkey will do for you, it’s give you plenty of time to reflect. I mean, when you’ve got one hand shoved up inside a turkey’s butt groping for a plastic bag full of neck and assorted viscera, you kind of have to get introspective. Or get majorly grossed out.
In any case, this is the first Christmas I’ve spent without my family, and it’s the first time J and I have ever attempted to roast a whole bird. So it’s only natural that my thoughts wandered to growing up while I manually hunted for giblets in a body cavity.
Jason got this turkey as a Thanksgiving gift from work. We did go to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, so the turkey languished in our freezer for a month before we sprung it from its frozen prison on Sunday to thaw.
Upon unwrapping it this afternoon, we discovered that a) the turkey was still mostly frozen, and b) we probably should have done a little more turkey research before brazenly sallying forth into this uncharted territory.
Both of us stared uncomprehendingly at this thing that should have been defrosted and ready to go.
Seriously, roasting anything whole should probably be one of those things they teach in high school soc classes, like how to file your taxes or write a check. I thought I was so smart because I knew there’d be a baggie of guts to remove pre-oven, but when we denuded the thing, I had the self-assured home-cooking soup-queen smirk wiped right off my face.
How are you supposed to get the bag out if it’s frozen solid inside? Am I supposed to cut off that flap of what I’m pretty sure is solid fat? Am I supposed to truss it, and if so, will minted dental floss work? And what the crap is this little red thing in the side that looks like a thumb tack?
I look at this simultaneously pitiful and threatening lump of flesh and bone and have to physically restrain myself from running to my cell phone to get my parents’ advice.
After all, this is 2011. I’m 25 years old. If I haven’t learned these life lessons by now, well, by gum, I should hide the fact that I’m woefully unprepared for adulthood and Google it. (Never mind that I’d trust my dad to know what to do with a turkey far more than any food blogger. He is, after all, the man who removed the bones from our Thanksgiving turkey in order to roll the dark meat inside the white. And it wasdelicious.)
After an hour of running the frozen carcass under cold water, Jason and I alternated reaching our hands inside the turkey to try to work out the neck and giblet bag.
The things were stuck inside like Excalibur in the stone.
“You can pick out chunks of ice,” I said, finally able to jiggle the neck to and fro a bit. I could wrap my fingers around the long, curved neck, but it refused to relinquish its place inside the bird. Plus, feeling around a block of ice while cold water runs on your hand kind of doesn’t help your dexterity.
“We are totally screwed,” Jason remarked conversationally. He took over trying to worry the neck free from the cavity, and seemed to be losing the battle.
But then, with an anticlimactic sucking sound, the neck finally popped free from the cavity.
I plunged back inside the frozen hand-torture chamber. “Where’s the rest of it?” I wondered, feeling about for the telltale crinkle of a plastic baggie.
“From what I read online, there should be a neck and a bag,” J said.
Peering anxiously into that pink cavern, I couldn’t see much of anything. All my fingertips met seemed to be frozen meat and bone. No bag to be seen or felt. “I guess… there’s no bag,” I said, entertaining visions of finding one amongst the onions and carrots after the turkey would be fully roasted.
Our eyes met over the puckered flesh. Jason shrugged.
We decided to proceed. A spice rub, a chopped onion, and a few fingers of whiskey later, I poured melted butter all over the thing.
Jason shoved the pan in the oven.
And then, we waited.
But I guess somewhere between peeling the plastic off of that hunk of flesh and ice and smelling the tantalizing onion aroma that’s wafting from the kitchen, I realized we grew up a little, with one hand rubbing paprika and salt onto a tender bird.
And even if we didn’t know exactly what we were getting ourselves into, with perseverance, cold tolerance, and the miracle of search engines, we got that turkey in the oven. If the holidays are about family, but Mom, Dad, and my brother aren’t here… our little family is.
So maybe our Christmas tradition will be getting way over our heads in the kitchen.
Oh, and we found the giblet bag when we were carving up the leftovers. It was in the neck cavity. Figures.
Congress says pizza counts as a vegetable. -
Next up: Gushers will count as fruit. And we’ll all eat laying down.
that a shoe perfectly cute in the display size 7 must be perfectly hideous in size 10.
I submitted to Awkward Stock Photos! Probably the best use of my time to date.
… Make soup!
Okay, life didn’t give me tomatoes. Community-supported agriculture did, for three weeks running. So when my friends had grilled cheese night (that may have been life giving me tomatoes, since I had to abstain from the actual dairy), I found a handy way to dispatch those tomatoes and still participate: by bringing grilled cheese’s soul mate.
Admittedly, I usually turn my nose up at tomato soup. This is one of those foods that, like mustard, salt and vinegar potato chips, or chicken salad (or egg salad, or ham salad, or anything calling itself a salad that is really just chopped stuff in mayo), I hate based on sight and smell alone but can’t recall ever actually having put it in my mouth. I’m sure I’ve eaten tomato soup… I think? But I’ve always paired my grilled cheese with a different soup. However, this time I went with tomatoes to try to fit in even though I had to bring my own faux cheese.
Here’s a secret: if you dress up tomato soup with enough other flavors, or make your own, it’s a far cry from that stuff in the can.
So without further ado, here is a recipe for vegan tomato soup that even carnivores can appreciate.
Pesto Tomato Soup with Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic
To begin, you need to roast your pepper and garlic, and you can do them at the same time! Preheat oven to 425 degrees F and line a baking sheet with foil.
Seed the pepper and cut into about 4 equal segments. Coat on both sides with olive oil and place skin-up on the baking sheet.
To prepare the head of garlic for roasting whole, cut about ¼ inch off the top of the head, making sure each clove is open. You might need to go back and cut into the shorter cloves on the sides separately. Remove excess skin layers, but leave the stuff closest to the garlic that doesn’t pull off easily. Drizzle with olive oil so that oil coats the exposed top of each clove and seeps in between the segments a bit. Wrap the head in foil and pop it on your baking sheet.
Roast vegetables at 425 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes, but check the garlic at 15 to be sure it’s not done early. When they’re ready to come out of the oven, the pepper’s skin will have turned brown and crinkly-papery looking in spots, and the garlic cloves will be a nice golden tan. When you take them out of the oven, wrap the foil loosely around the pepper so it steams a bit; this will make it easier to rip the skin off. When it’s cooled enough to touch, peel the skin from the pepper with your fingers. You shouldn’t need to use a knife, and don’t worry if you can’t get all the bits of skin off, since you’ll be pureeing the soup later anyway. Chop the pepper.
You can easily remove roasted garlic from the head by gently squeezing each clove at the base.
The next step is to peel, seed, and chop the tomatoes, which is easier than it sounds, and will make you feel like a pro chef with your can-do attitude. Especially if you force your friends into acting as sous-chefs. We followed About.com’s instructions on how to do the tomatoes here: http://southernfood.about.com/od/tomatoes/ss/peeltomatoes.htm
Amanda did ‘em one better by holding the peeled tomato halves under running water, letting the seeds get carried down the garbage disposal as she peeled them. The tomatoes were still plenty juicy, but if you’re worried about it, you might want to try to retain the juices and add them when you add the tomatoes.
Now the cooking starts!
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large soup pot (mine is 5 quarts) over medium-high heat. Add the diced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens. Add the chopped roasted pepper and garlic cloves and stir a minute.
Dump in your chopped tomatoes and stir to combine everything.
Then add pesto and stir again. If you’re not using pesto, dried basil and oregano will give you a similar effect; about a teaspoon of each should do it. Fresh basil, if you have it, would be outstanding. Or get nuts and try your own combinations. Paprika (especially smoked paprika), cumin, and chili powder would make a great tomato soup with a Southwestern flair, or for a traditional soup, herbes de provence, or thyme and a bay leaf could be delicious. (But if you do use a bay leaf, obviously remove it before you puree.)
Cover and bring to a simmer. Since tomatoes are so juicy, this soup doesn’t require any added broth—the tomatoes make it themselves! Just let everything simmer, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes or until they’ve rendered a lot of juice and everything’s heated through.
Taste, adjust seasonings, and add salt and pepper as you like. Then take a hand blender and puree the living daylights out of it. If you don’t have a hand blender, transfer in batches to a stand blender or food processor to puree, and think about buying a hand blender. (Seriously. They’re less than $30 on Amazon and so worth it.)
Taste and adjust seasonings as desired, and serve. This soup loves grilled cheese, dairy or not.
Big thank-you to guest photographer Cassie, whose skills and sweet camera make even food photographed without natural light look good.
On Friday, Irene texted me. “Grilled cheese night! Let me know if you’re coming.” She followed up saying they’d provide vegan stuff for me. But oh, how I’ve missed melty gooey grilled cheese for the past month, leaving me to conclude that by inviting a temporary vegan to grilled cheese night, she and Cass are either the kindest or most sadistic friends ever.
I volunteered to provide my own vegan cheese and make tomato soup. I’m not sure if canned condensed tomato soup would be vegan if you prepared it with any non-cow milk, but I’ve never been a fan. Always thought it smelled vaguely like farts.
I dismissed Isa Chandra’s recipe, since it calls for waxy potatoes to replicate the creaminess of milky tomato soup, and consulted my bible: Joy of Cooking. Irma Rombauer rarely steers me wrong. Except for a bad experience with Joy’s falafel instructions. And the singularly horrifying recipe for Blender Borscht. Still, any cookbook that’ll tell you how to prepare any critter from squirrel to bear, clean a squid, or make your own peanut butter in the same pages that uphold the sacred convenience of canned foods is all right by me. And it’s a great starting point for improvising your own recipes if you just need to know what to do for a baseline, which is what I did here. (I’ll post my recipe as soon as my guest photographer emails me the photos from the night!)
The soup was pretty darn good, for tomato soup. I’m still not a very big fan of savory foods high in acid, but it was way beyond Campbell’s, and I was gratified by my friends’ enthusiastic enjoyment of my vegan contribution to the evening. My grilled ‘cheese’ was just okay, but it’s not the bread’s fault. Vegan cheese just does not behave like the real thing, much as the packaging tries to sell you on its melting properties. Perhaps soy cheese is more successful than my rice-based one, but I kinda doubt it. The ‘cheese’ remained stubbornly stratified, virtually unaffected by heat, apart from taking on a kind of plasticky sheen around the edges. And it doesn’t taste like much of anything. Most people politely (or not so politely) declined my offer to try a bite of the vegan cheese. Not sure why, it’s really not unpalatable, just a poor shadow of what it replaces. Still, if you’re allergic to dairy or a committed vegan, it’s not bad stuff at all.
I’ve had mixed food experiences in this great vegan experiment, and most of the baddish stuff comes from poor substitutes for meat and cheese. Like this one was, and like the seitan in my jambalaya, which would have been great with just beans for protein. For the most part, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how un-restrictive a vegan diet actually is, if you learn to not look back on animal products in sadness. That way lies doom and crippling cheeseburger cravings. If you embrace the virtually endless potential of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains, it can be a really exciting way to introduce new flavors and textures into your diet. For me, it’s been an awesome way to shake up my cooking routine, which tends to revolve around certain staples: my trove of treasured soup recipes, chili, baked chicken breasts, burgers, and mac and cheese. I know Jason will be over the moon when I start cooking with butter again. He’s already chosen my chicken mulligatawny for our upcoming first meat meal.
But as my 40-day experiment is drawing to a close, I find myself feeling wistful about the foods I might have made if only I’d had more time to cook—vegan desserts especially. I bought phyllo dough, which is naturally vegan, and haven’t yet experimented with “not-klava” (I envisioned using jam instead of honey). I wanted to try my hand at a pesto potato galette, but don’t have a cast-iron skillet, so that’s on hold. Last night I turned my thoughts to a Black Forest cake, wherein the substitute for whipped cream would be the most challenging. Coconut cream? Too tropical, or delicious addition? And the cake itself—I can’t use a soy shortening, and I don’t like to use hydrogenated oils anyway… This evening as I ate my pindi chole (Indian chickpea dish that tastes a lot like barbecue sauce, in an awesome way), I found myself wondering if I could somehow adapt a falafel recipe with Italian seasonings to make spaghetti and un-meatballs. And I very much doubt that this stuff is going to happen in the next five days, since I go back to class on Tuesday.
Please no one scare poor Jason, but I don’t think my vegan dabbling is going to end just because my 40 days are up. Please assure him I’ll feed him meat, and I’ll enjoy being able to eat what I like and make my favorite old standbys, too. But going vegan has piqued my curiosity, and the challenge of adapting recipes is too exciting to give up.
Trashy Vegan: So-Easy Jambalaya -
If only I’d read this BEFORE my two-hour adventure in seitanic jambalaya. Le sigh. Since I am soy intolerant (or as some might say, my innards are soy-bigoted), I did use seitan, but like she says, sauté it first. When I made my jamby, I sautéed the seitan for about 6 minutes until all golden brown.
PREP/ACTIVE TIME: 5 minutes
TOTAL TIME: ~25 minutes
WHAT YOU’LL NEED:
- 1 box of jambalaya mix (I used Zatarain’s because I’m a sucker for commercials with saxophones, but you could use any equivalent)
- Veggie broth or bouillon
- 1 package of tempeh (~10-14 oz)
- 1 can of diced tomatoes (~15 oz)
Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to speak and/or correspond with some amazing people in the publishing industry. I meant to post them online, but summer arrived, and with it came a new internship (and a great vegan experiment), and my good intentions to post these interviews were swept right out the door. Here’s the first of a few I’ll be posting: my interview with Alexa Fornoff, a young editor at ReadyMade. I hope you enjoy!
The Assistant Editor at ReadyMade, Alexa Fornoff began her magazine career in June 2009, just a year after graduating from the University of Missouri School of Journalism with an emphasis in magazine design—not editing. “I guess you could call this my first big kid gig,” she says. “I always thought of myself as a designer, but my professors and family pushed me more towards writing.” Nearly two years later, Alexa is a flourishing young editor whose first feature article and project and ran in ReadyMade’s February/March 2011 issue. In an email, she responded to questions about herself, her job, and ReadyMade.
What skills does the job demand?
Journalists today are expected to be multi-faceted and knowledgeable across platforms. I write, edit, assign, blog, create projects, schedule aspects of each issue, put our printed content online, prepare images, source products, man our Facebook page, take video, help plan events, answer our email inboxes… it’s never dull! Understanding the mechanics of writing has really helped. Having a strong voice has also been supremely helpful (and luckily, it fits with what RM wants!). Other than that, I read magazines, blogs, books, and newspapers almost religiously, and I am a firm believer that by reading you become a better writer.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Every day starts out by checking on our social media. We maintain fairly active Twitter and Facebook pages, so this requires almost constant contact throughout the day. We answer questions via our page, share magazine content, sweepstakes, and also promote our rad team of bloggers. And I check our inboxes and answer questions.
From there, we have a weekly lineup meeting and chat about the current issue. We discuss articles, art, ads, web exclusives, and schedule photo shoots. After that, it’s kind of all over the place! We generally have two weeks to write stories after they are assigned, and then three weeks to get everything photographed or illustrated. We work on a six-week cycle, so by the time we are closing on an issue (proofing, designing, color correcting, etc.), we have already assigned the next issue’s stories (ideally!). Andrew [Wagner, Editor-in-Chief], Amy [Palanjian, Deputy Editor], and I read every page of the magazine at least four times after each story had been designed. So during those 10 days of closing, I definitely wear my glasses instead of contacts!
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
We work with a lot of contributors and readers to garner projects, and project writing in general is pretty difficult! Working with our readers instead of professional writers, it’s up to us to interpret their instructions and make them replicable. In my first issue, I made the mistake of writing a user project but not following the RM format for time, cost, and procedure, and no one caught that my cost and time estimates were grossly underestimated. The article was from a reader (who bought a ton of issues to share with his friends and family), and I felt terrible that I had messed up his big magazine premiere. I’ve to learned to really focus in on the details: names, websites, times, cost, etc.
How is each issue conceptualized and put together?
We, as an edit staff, come up with ideas and also go through all of the various press releases, book releases, and pitches that we receive via email. From these, we try to firm up a lineup (maybe 60% of the stories fleshed out) before we reach out to our list of about 20 regular contributors. They have our editorial calendar (which we plan about a year and half in advance), and we accept pitches at any time.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for ReadyMade in today’s marketplace, and how is ReadyMade evolving?
I’d be lying if I said that RM wasn’t feeling the hit of the current market, but we have a great publishing company behind us. We’re also unique in the fact that we’re a largely user-generated magazine, and can play around with different avenues of distribution and revenue. For our latest issue, the April/May ReadyMade 100, we decided to do a print-on-demand special edition filled with 100 projects. It was a beast, but we’re all super proud of it! And, it’s the first time a magazine been printed on the Espresso Book Machine.
Our website has picked up a lot of steam, and we’ve even included a project uploader tool so that our users can show us immediately what they’re making (we’ve also been nominated for a Webby!). We’re looking into apps—those are expensive little things to create—and getting our mag on e-readers. This stuff takes a lot of money, so we’re weighing all of the options and deciding what would fit with our readers the best.
We work with a lot of bloggers, both online and in print. Our voice fits well within the more casual vibe of blogs. In our stories, we want to chat, not lecture! It’s always been about a conversation with RM, and we hope that it stays that way.
What is your advice to students who want to become editors?
Be ready to learn. I left college thinking that I was going to be a designer, NOT an editor. I didn’t want to spend my days pecking away at keys! When I got this job, I knew that the only way I could do it was to be willing to admit I didn’t know everything. I am constantly learning; the things that I worried so much about on my first day (and hundredth day) now seem so normal and easy. I never dreamed of doing some of the things that I am today. Oh, and being nice and thoughtful and considerate really does go a long way. It will take you a long way, too.
This interview was edited and condensed.
That herbs must be purchased in huge quantities. I’m sick of watching basil/cilantro/mint/etc. turn brown in my fridge. I just want to buy a tiny little bunch for my pasta/burritos/mojitos/etc. Is that too much to ask?
Definitely. I can’t decide whether the answer is growing my own herbs, trying to buy herbs with friends, or starting our own tiny-quantity-of-herbs company.
Just in case you weren't feeling nauseous today