Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mayan Fin del Mundo Fest, Friday, Dec 21, 2012

Ix-chel Mayan goddess of birth and medicine

As many of you probably know, the world, according to the Mayan calender anyway, will come to a grinding halt on Friday, Dec 21st, 2012. In order to celebrate the festivities, supposedly caused by the earthquake gods, some close friends and I are throwing a 1st Annual Mayan Fin del Mundo Fest, and I'm cooking a menu of Mayan dishes that day to honor our apocalyptic sages. Here's the full menu, and over the next week I will post all of the recipes, in three parts.The beauty is that you don't have to do any clean up afterwards, because THE WORLD IS ENDING!

The 1st Annual Mayan Fin del Mundo Fiesta!
                      Friday, Dec. 21st, 2012

Noche Buena

La Paloma or “The Dove” -- blanco tequila, grapefruit juice, grapefruit bitters, lime juice, grapefruit-infused simple syrup, seltzer, salted rim

Sikil P'aak -- dip of roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas) and charred tomatoes, tomatillos, chiles, garlic, and onion, with sour orange juice and chicken stock; to be eaten with tostados (totopos)

Sopa de Lima con Pavo y Chilmole -- Yucatecan lime soup with turkey and “burnt” chile paste: with carrot, onion, celery, garlic, turkey stock and meat, lime juice, cilantro, and avocado (recado negro/chilmole chile paste: charred arbol and ancho chiles, achiote paste, clove, allspice, pepper, oregano, cumin, lots of roasted garlic, vinegar)

Ensalada Zek -- Mandarin orange and jicama salad with cucumber, sour orange juice, olive oil, garlic, pequin chile powder

Zic de Carne – salpicón of shredded braised flank steak with scallion, garlic, chiles, green olives, radish, cilantro, and avocado, dressed with sour orange juice

Cebollas Encurtados -- Yucatecan pickled red onions with sour orange juice, charred garlic, güero chiles, allspice, clove, oregano, pepper


Cochinita Pibil -- pork shoulder marinated in achiote paste, sour orange juice, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, allspice, pepper, güero and habanero chiles; wrapped in banana leaves and slowly baked until falling-apart; eaten with tortillas


Lentejas Yucatecas -- brown lentils, onion, garlic, carrot, chayote squash, potato, tomato, chile, epazote, chicken stock

Arroz Verde -- rice sautéed with onion and garlic, cooked with roasted poblanos, lots of cilantro, parsley, lime zest, and chicken stock


Xnipec (aka “Dog's Nose” Salsa) -- fresh salsa of tomato, red onion, garlic, güero and habanero chile, sour orange juice, splash of vinegar, salt

K'uut Bi Ik -- pounded dried chile salsa of arbol and ancho chiles, charred onion and garlic, water, chicken stock, salt, pinch of sugar


Caballero Pobre – “Frenched” bread pudding with canela (Mexican cinnamon) syrup and pecans, drizzled with Mexican brandy butter sauce

Mexican brandy (Azteca de Oro or Don Pedro Reserva Especial) and strong coffee

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Mick Vann ©

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dangerous Grounds, Episode 2

Dangerous Grounds Episode 2, 11.13

I’ve gotta say; I’m hooked on Dangerous Grounds after only two episodes. I highly recommend the show. This past week’s episode finds Todd Carmichael (who travels the world for the best coffee beans) and his cameraman, “Hollywood”, in Bolivia, in search of high-altitude, organic, single-farm beans of the highest order. The only problem, coca brings in more money than coffee does, it depletes the soil, needs to grow in full sun (so the farmers whack down the jungle), it can be harvested three times a year (coffee = once yearly), and most of the coca folks carry guns and have short fuses and unpleasant attitudes. The other problem: the altitude.

We open in La Paz (elev 12,000 ft), where the boys chew on a little coca leaf to offset altitude sickness. We find that Bolivians don’t drink coffee, they chew coca leaves, but they do export coffee. Really good coffee, if you can find it. With maps in hand, the boys head for an area called El Alto, on the way to where the best coffee reportedly grows (along with its ever-increasing high crime rate). It’s also an area where the farmers hang effigies of bodies along the side of the road, to warn criminals. Best quote from the first section of the show: “This is looking dodgy.”

They head for the Caranavi region, east of Lake Titicaca, but to get there involves a three-day drive along “The Death Road”, the road to Youngas; a narrow, twisting, pavement, dirt, and cobblestone highway that sees 300 deaths a year, many from plunging over the precipitous edge, falling off thousands of feet. The road also carries dangerous coca buyers. Night falls and we see a densely foggy road; visibility is sketchily non-existent, but they make it to an animal reserve where they can rent a room. In the morning, a monkey steals his satellite map of Caranavi, hops out the window, and proceeds to eat it. Undaunted, they head for the village of Guyanabe, a village known for its high quality beans. Todd and Hollywood feast on fried boa constrictor and rice for lunch and plunge higher into coca territory. One third of the coffee bean production disappears annually to coca growing, and once coca has sucked the soil of all its nutrients, coffee can never be grown there again. They stop to examine some new coca plants in a remarkably fastidious row and get chased off by ominous voices heading their way. “Coca is kicking coffee’s ass. The quality of the coffee in Bolivia is getting better and better, while the quantity plummets.” says Carmichael.

Todd starts to see some bananas growing, which is the sign for coffee cultivation; the banana trees shade the coffee plants. He finds his first wild beans, but the crop is neglected, perhaps because an insect borer has ruined many of the beans. The boys take a crude 1,000-foot zipline across a 1,000-foot deep chasm, used by farmers to access their crops and carry product back to the highway for market. Todd doesn’t glide all the way across, and has to pull himself the last 150-feet. They first encounter sun-grown, sickly beans but as they head up the mountain, stumble across shade-grown trees, loaded with branches heavy with gorgeous beans.

He tracks down the farmer in a compound of huts, gets out his campstove coffee bean roaster and tests the taste. He grinds the beans, lets them steep for 4 minutes, and then uses a spoon to break the floating crust of ground beans on the surface of the cup. “When you punch through that crust, it reveals the aroma, which is the tell-tale indicator.” He describes the flavor as “…fruity, like peaches, pears, and apples.” Translating by using a paperback Spanish dictionary, Carmichael writes out a single-page contract on a sheet of notebook paper, gives the farmer $2,000 in good faith money, and inks a deal for 50 bags.

Back in Philly, Todd makes his first cup from the newly-arrived El Alto, Caranavi, Bolivian beans, saying he’s been brewing coffee since 1982,when he started working “…for a certain Seattle-based coffee company that’s now world-wide.” After the first sip, he waxes orgasmically: “One of the best coffees I’ve ever found.”

Mick Vann ©

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Turkey Chronicles: Leftover Turkey

Sometimes the shear mass of the meal exceeds the crowd's capacity to consume it all. If you're looking for some ideas for using up leftover turkey, enjoy.

* The frame/skeleton should be made into as much fresh, rich turkey stock as possible: freeze the stock if you won’t use it all within a couple of days (ice cube trays are a convenient way to freeze/use it in small quantities; bag I.Q.F. in Ziplock bags to store)

* Turkey tortilla soup: chipotles, lime, crispy tortilla strips, onion, carrot, Mexican white cheese, fried tortilla whiskers

* Turkey mole enchiladas or tacos…use bottled mole sauce diluted w/turkey stock (Doña Maria or Rogelio), leftover turkey meat, Mexican white cheese

* Yucatecan black mole turkey soup: charred garlic and chiles, turkey meat and stock, onion, carrot, celery, potato,black or "burnt" mole paste, shredded Mexican white cheese, pickled red onions

* Turkey Thai tom yum soup: mushroom, shallot, makroot leaves, lemongrass, lime juice, Thai chiles, cilantro

* Turkey sandwiches with gruyere, sautéed portobellos, sautéed onions & garlic, roasted red bells, done paninni-style

* Turkey hash with yams (microwave the yams before dicing & sauté in hot olive oil) instead of potatoes, with bacon lardons, mushrooms, onions, garlic, parsley, paprika…top with poached eggs

* Fijan turkey salad with coconut milk, lime, cilantro, roasted Thai chiles, scallion, garlic, soy…serve with fried shrimp chips

* Turkey Thai laab salad wraps: diced turkey with minced lemongrass, garlic, and makroot leaves, roasted Thai chiles and shallot, mint, cilantro, fish sauce, lime juice,jicama

* Turkey and Mexican white cheese gorditas with guajillo chile sauce

* Turkey shwarma wraps with tatziki sauce (yogurt, lemon, garlic, pureed cucumber), turkey meat, cucumber slivers, tomatoes, shredded Romaine; inside pita bread

* Turkey cakes (pan sauteed or broiled) with Swiss cheese, minced celery, leeks, garlic, egg, sage, panko crumbs; served with cranberry coulis

* Turkey tapas, pa amb tomaquet style (Spain): grilled peasant bread, smeared with garlic clove and ripe tomato, topped with warm turkey medallions, garnish with alioli or romesco sauce

* Turkey Lebanese fattoush salad: romaine, endive, parsley, mint, purple & green olives, broken pita bread, garlic, green onion, sumac, lemon-sour orange-olive oil dressing, feta cheese crumbles, shredded turkey

* Turkey tetrazini with penne: cream & turkey stock reduction with garlic, mushrooms, Parmesan, grilled asparagus, Italian parsley, lemon zest, crushed red pepper, topped with Parmesan

* Turkey pizza with black sauce (black olives, a little anchovy, capers, parsley, olive oil), bechamel, mozzarella, diced prosciutto, mushrooms, Asiago cheese

* Turkey sauté with onions, garlic, thin lemon slices or preserved lemons, turkey stock, ras el hanout spice blend, cinnamon, dried apricots; serve over couscous

* Turkey bisteeya (Moroccan pastry pie with Moroccan spices, turkey stock, onions, garlic, just-scrambled eggs, powdered sugar & cinnamon on exterior to serve;”shell” is made from overlapping sheets of puff pastry

* Turkey bisque with potatoes, celery, mushrooms, onion, garlic, turkey stock, cream; serve with “hushpuppies” on the side made from cornbread stuffing mix, scallion, egg, and grated Edam cheese

* Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwiches made with sliced turkey, cucumber slivers, green onions, jalapeño slices, lettuce, pickled carrot slivers, cilantro, mint; dressed with nuoc cham dressing (fish sauce + lime + water + sugar)

* Mexican turkey and chile cream bisque with turkey, onions, garlic, pureed grilled corn, poblano chile rajas, grated Monty jack, garnish with tortilla whiskers and chile powder (thicken with a  slurry of masa harina + turkey stock

* Turkey frittata: sliced Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, onions, garlic, porcini mushrooms, swiss chard, Parmesan, turkey, eggs; garnish with stripes of green sauce: basil, parsley, anchovy, capers, Parmesan, garlic, olive oil, bread, pureed (these are good made in large muffin tins)

* Piquillo peppers stuffed with a mix of diced turkey (moistened with warm stock), grated Manchego cheese, crème fraiche, jamon Serrano, roasted garlic

* Persian turkey pilau rice casserole with currants, apricots, onion, garlic, almonds, saffron

* Turkey pot pies: pre-bake bottom & side linings, filling of turkey, stock, carrot, onion, garlic, potato, parsley; great in big muffin tins

* Turkey and andouille sausage gumbo over Texmati rice: garlic, onion, celery, green bell, thyme, cayenne, bay, dark roux, scallion

* Turkey and green bean casserole with French fried onion topping, but make it with real ingredients: mushroom-garlic cream sauce, real fried onion slivers

* Louisville Hot Brown sandwich: open-faced turkey, bacon, white cheddar-mornay sauce (browned w/ a torch), chopped tomato, parmesan

* TAB (Turkey, Avocado, Bacon): toasted white peasant bread, garlicky aioli, crispy bacon, turkey meat, fontina, avocado slices, roasted cherry tomatoes, sliced red onion, shredded romaine, garlicky aioli

* Turkey salad wrap: flatbread, turkey salad (pulled turkey meat, celery, scallion, capers, red onion, diced jicama, aioli), shredded Swiss or emmental cheese, confit of roasted cheery tomato, shredded romaine

* Turkey Melt: grilled white bread, turkey salad (aioli, capers, red onion, celery, diced radish, chopped HB egg), gruyere, rosemary aioli

Mick Vann ©         

The Turkey Chronicles: Deep Fried

The practice of deep frying turkeys started in Louisiana near the turn of the century, an off shoot of a food culture used to cooking for large crowds in big pots outdoors. Justin Wilson, the great Cajun culinary philosopher, mentioned attending a turkey fry in a radio interview he did in the 1930’s. It spread all across the Deep South, particularly along the coast, where the practice of frying seafood in huge batches for parties, church get-togethers, political rallies, etc. was well-accepted and the equipment was on-hand. Oddly enough it was Martha Stewart who publicized the practice nationally in her magazine in 1996, and from there, the fried turkey exploded on the national scene.

Deep-frying does produce a moist turkey with lots of flavor, crispy skin, and isn’t the least bit greasy (unless you did something horribly wrong). It is also is the fastest way to cook a turkey. It is, however, quite dangerous if you don’t pay close attention to what you’re doing. Here are some basic safety requirements. Fry the bird outside, not indoors with an electric fryer. Make sure that your fryer is very sturdy and stable and sitting on flat ground, away from any flammable structure. Don’t fry on wood decks or concrete, which can be stained by the oil. Operate with a propane tank with adequate fuel and make sure the connections don’t leak. Have a full fire extinguisher that works within easy reach, and know how to use it; a lid is handy for cutting off air supply to a fire if necessary. Have a pair of long handled tongs and heatproof mitts, gloves or gauntlets handy. Wear long pants and leather shoes when frying. You need a thermometer to measure the temperature of the cooking oil that clips onto the inside of the pot (to constantly monitor the grease temperature), and an instant-read thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the bird. Keep any children, animals, pets, or drunks far away from the fryer set-up, and never leave the fry station unattended while cooking.

To determine the volume of oil required for a given turkey, place the turkey in your frying pot and add water until the water covers the turkey. Measure this amount of water used and that is the volume of oil required (normally between 3 and 4 gallons); it is helpful to also mark where the level of the water was in the pot so you know where the fill level is. The pot used needs to be tall, heavyweight with secure handles, around 30 quarts in volume (26 to 34 qt is standard). The size should match the size of turkey you generally cook, or you’re wasting oil. For safety, the pot should never be more than ¾ full with turkey and oil inside; 6 to 9 inches from the rim at the minimum. Some fryers are rigged with a basket insert that can be raised and lowered, while others use a shelf insert that holds the shoulders of the turkey, with a shaft that goes through the cavity before attaching to a handle. Other systems use a handle designed to hook onto a wire support or cage. Whatever system is utilized, make sure that it can easily support the weight of the turkey without failing, and make sure you know how it is safely operated.

cross section illustration from

Smaller turkeys in the 8 to 10-pound range (or separated turkey parts) are best for frying; 14-pounds is considered the upper limit. If you have to fry a bigger bird, separate the leg quarters and breast and fry them separately. Always make sure they turkey is dry and thawed. Always remove the giblets and neck from the cavity. Remove the wire or plastic truss that holds the legs in place, if it has one, and remove any pop-up timer. Cut off the wing tips up to the first joint, cut off the tail, and trim any loose fat around the neck, so the oil can flow freely through the bird while cooking. Always note the weight of the turkey purchased; it will be used to determine the approximate cooking time. For whole turkeys 12 pounds and under cook 2½ minutes per pound, and over 12 pounds cook 3 minutes per pound; for turkey parts, allow 4 minutes per pound. The turkey goes in breast-first, ankles-up.

Preheat the cooking oil to 360°F (this will take about 20 minutes); let it get too hot and it can burst into flames, or “flash”. Just before lowering the turkey into the oil, turn off the burner; as soon as the turkey is in the pot safely, immediately turn the burner back on. Always lower or raise the turkey very slowly to prevent splattering or splashing of oil. The cooking oil temperature may fluctuate based on the temperature outside and the wind conditions, but you need to maintain the oil’s temperature at 335°F. Always let the oil cool completely before disposal or storage. Never pour used oil down a drain; take it to a nearby restaurant and ask to dispose of it in their fryer grease barrel.

Only oils with high smoke points should be used: rice bran, refined canola, sunflower, corn, peanut (if there are no nut allergies). These oils may be re-used up to four times if properly filtered and stored. To filter, first strain using a fine sieve, and then pass through a triple layer of cheesecloth or through a paper cooking oil filter (obtained at restaurant supply outlets). Oil should be covered and refrigerated to prevent it from becoming rancid. Peanut oil is more perishable than other oils and must always be stored refrigerated or frozen. Always leave a note with the oil so you remember how many times it was used and the last use date.
Many cooks prefer to inject marinades into the turkey before frying. Homemade injector marinade ingredients should be pureed and sieved to prevent needle blockage. Most cooks separate the skin from the meat and inject under the skin, plunging the needle in several directions, and do not puncture the skin. There are commercial bottled marinades (spicy garlic and butter is traditional) available to inject directly, or you may make your own marinade, and the sky is the limit, with many recipes available online; you’ll need one to two cups total. After injection, the turkey is refrigerated anywhere between 4 hours and overnight. The turkey should be allowed to come to room temperature before frying. Most cooks will then rub the turkey liberally with a Cajun or Creole seasoning mix such as Zatarain’s, Paul Prudhomme's Poultry Magic, or Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning before frying.

When it looks cooked raise it out and check the breast temperature; it should read 155°F. Drain it well, and place it on a carving board to rest for 20 minutes, loosely covered with foil. Turn off the heat source under the oil. Residual carry-over cooking from the process will raise the internal temperature to about 165°F.  Enjoy, but be very careful!

Mick Vann ©