Sunday, December 23, 2012

Turkey Lurkey

If you’ve ever listened to the Vinyl Cafe on CBC Radio, you’ve no doubt heard the story of how Dave cooked the turkey. One Christmas, his wife Morley had put him in charge of cooking the turkey. Late on Christmas Eve, Dave realized - too late - that had also meant buying the turkey! He found an all night store and purchased the last turkey. He spent the rest of the night defrosting it with an electric blanket and a hair dryer. When he went to cook it, he was unable to get the stove to work as it had been most recently used on automatic timer. Time ticked on and Dave had to resort to drastic measures to get the turkey he named “Butch” ready in time for his families dinner. (You can here the story here or here.)

Well my turkey story isn’t as extreme as Dave’s but it did have its moments!

Believe it or not, at age 53, I'd never actually cooked a whole turkey by myself before. I used to help my mom get the turkey ready but she was always in charge of actually roasting it.

What had I gotten myself into!?!

Years ago, I occasionally cooked a small 2-3 lb chicken and made it into TV dinners to freeze. I quit doing that as I found it was a lot of work dealing with the bones and I really wasn’t that fond of dark meat. I generally bought boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Occasionally I’d bake a couple over a batch of my mom’s stuffing. Simple, ready in about 45 minutes or less and delicious! Once or twice a year I’d buy a turkey breast roast if I found one at a good price.

So, a few days before Thanksgiving 2011, I went looking for a turkey breast roast but couldn’t find any. A boneless, skinless turkey breast was over $7/lb and I refused to pay that much. I had lots of chicken in the freezer but I was hungry for turkey. Safeway had frozen turkey’s on for $.99/lb. The man in the meat department found one in the back for me that was only 3.9kg/8.6lb. I bought it and stuck it in the freezer.

On the Saturday afternoon before our Canadian Thanksgiving, I started posting turkey updates for my friends. One of them suggested using a technique from Martha. Another said they were going to write a sitcom about my adventure. I asked if they’d be consulting Stuart McLean for info on how not to prepare a turkey – at least not the way Dave had. My friend asked if I had a hair dryer...

I informed my friends that I don't own a hair dryer or an electric blanket. My stove does not have an automatic timer setting, I don't drink scotch and I haven't named the turkey "Butch"! Despite being an experienced cook, this was also a Martha free zone! I was aiming for somewhere in the middle.

Late Saturday afternoon, I took the bird out to thaw. I didn’t want to use the sink or even the bathtub to thaw it in as I knew I would need to use both before the bird was ready for the oven. I finally remembered that I had a decent sized canner that it would likely fit in. I had to put it in at an angle but it just fit! I weighted it down with a heavy cutting board so it would be totally submerged in cold water.

Now what was I going to cook it in? The roaster I had wouldn’t hold more than a 3lb. bird. I used to have a shallow rectangular roaster that it would’ve fit nicely except that I’d given it away less than a year ago since I hadn’t used it in over 10 years!  I could have used the base of my oven broiler pan except that I’d also given it away as I never used it either.

I guess I could have gone to a store and bought one of those disposable pans but by then, it was too late Saturday night and I wanted to get it in the oven by 12:30 or so on Sunday so there wouldn’t be time to go when the stores opened at noon. I may have been able to borrow something from a neighbour but the ones I knew who might have something that large would be cooking their own birds.

A friend suggested I take the turkey to a hotel room... I wasn’t that desperate!

What to do? I finally decided to improvise by putting a wide swath of foil in a rectangular pan I had. The foil would hang out about 3 inches on all sides. I’d set the pan on a cookie sheet to catch any drips.

As I crawled into bed Saturday night, I thought I had everything under control. Turkey Lurkey was thawing and I knew what I was roasting it in.

Then it hit me. Did I still have string to tie up the legs? What about metal skewers to pin the wings? Did I still own a baster? Did I even own a platter? Curiosity got the better of me so I got up to check. I had the string and I found a “Chinet” plastized platter in the cupboard. No idea how long that has been there but I could cover it with foil to serve TL on! Oh well - two out of four ain’t bad!
Sunday morning I made my mom’s stuffing recipe. Turkey Lurkey was thawed so I took it out of the bag, removed the innards, washed the bird and dried it out with paper towels. I laid TL in the improvised roasting pan and put as much of the stuffing in as would fit. (I’d bake the leftover in a casserole dish later.) The skin around the bottom cavity wasn’t complete, so I couldn’t pull it all the way over the stuffing. I used the string to tie the legs together but also used several lengths of string to pull the legs and the wings closely into the bird so they wouldn’t burn or dry out. I took another couple of lengths of foil and fashioned a lid over TL.
I had TL in a 325F oven by 12:20PM. Basting TL wasn’t easy. I tilted the pan to one end and used a tablespoon to pour the liquid over the bird. 

Oh, and one other thing – I didn’t have a thermometer either. By the way, you knew I am legally blind didn't you? I have a large number digital one thermometer but the battery was dead and the old style one I found in my utensil drawer was too small for me to see the numbers. I’d have to “wing” it!

TL was done before 4. I baked the rest of the stuffing and also stuck a potato in to bake. Steamed broccoli and a glass of sparkling apple juice rounded out a delicious meal!

I deboned TL and got about 3 1/2 lbs of meat – 2/3 of which was white. I kept some in the fridge for sandwiches and a couple of suppers and froze the rest in individual portions with a bit of gravy added to keep them from drying out.
It was a lot of work but I’d be enjoying TL for several weeks – probably till sometime after Christmas! 

Would I do it again? Maybe – but if I do, I’ll get a better pan, some skewers and a baster!

Funny thing is, I am normally very organized and over prepared for anything I attempt in the kitchen or almost anywhere else for that matter. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t really thought all of this through or missed that many things. I guess I could have gotten upset at all of the obstacles along the way, but I just kept thinking about Dave and his adventures with “Butch”. I decided to laugh at my adventure.

I laughed a lot that weekend. Besides I thought it would eventually make a good story for the blog!

Merry Humbug!


Sunday, December 9, 2012

dn's Chocolate Sin Cake

If you are looking for a decadent dessert to serve this holiday season - or any time of year for that matter - look no further!  Have I got a chocolate dessert for you!!

Just over a year ago, while having dinner out with some gal pals, I had THE most decadently chocolate dessert that I've ever had in my life! It was called Chocolate Sin - a dense, moist dark chocolate cake with a creamy chocolate filling and a bittersweet chocolate ganache! It truly was to die for!

I decided to attempt to create my own version of this amazing dessert. I looked for recipes online but what I found was far more complicated and fussy than I was willing to attempt - even for that intense chocolate fix! I wanted something that was fairly simple to do - that didn't require major baking skills.

Yup, I wanted a lazy version!

The cake itself was the easiest part. I used my tried and true Better Than Sex Cake recipe. If you have a good dense dark chocolate cake recipe, you could easily substitute it for the cake - assuming you want to make it from scratch! 

The filling and ganache would be trickier. Real ganache is made with high quality chocolate and whipping cream. I refuse to buy whipping cream as it is ridiculously expensive and way too rich for my taste.  I also hate trying to heat it then temper it with the chocolate to make a smooth ganache. It is finicky and prone to disaster if you aren't really careful!

There had to be a simpler way that I could imitate the original without all the fuss and bother!

With a bit of thought, I decided to try doing the filling with a combination of melted bittersweet chocolate and Nutella combined with softened light cream cheese. The first attempt at the filling was a bit on the dry, crumbly side but with a bit of tweaking, I came up with a smooth creamy filling. The ganache to spread over the entire cake would be made with additional melted bittersweet chocolate and Nutella.

I made the cake for a friend's birthday and they raved that it was the best cake ever! I also made the cake for the same gal pals I had dined with and they thought I had indeed captured the flavours and textures of what we had devoured at the restaurant!

This recipe can be made using two 8" or 9" round cake pans. I have also used smaller round pans to make mini cakes - see near the bottom of this post for smaller pan sizes, bake times and altered quantities for filling and ganache. There is also a version for a lemon cake with the chocolate filling and ganache!

A little goes a long way with this cake so the full size will easily serve 12-14.

dn's Chocolate Sin Cake

1 devil's food chocolate layer cake mix
1 instant chocolate pudding mix - 4 serving. Not the low cal variety!
3/4 cup chopped almonds - toasted
1 cup semi sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
4 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable/canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fat free sour cream

Pre grease two 8 or 9 inch round pans.* Preheat oven to 350F

Combine the cake mix and pudding mix. Remove about 1-2 Tablespoons and mix it with the chocolate chips and almonds. Set aside.

Add the eggs, oil, extract and sour cream to the remaining cake/pudding mixture. Mix on low to combine then increase to medium and beat till light and smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips and almonds.

Divide batter evenly among the pans and bake till toothpick test comes out clean - about 30 - 35 minutes depending on pans and your oven.

Remove to cooling racks and let cool for about 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen any edges from the side. Place a second cooling rack on top of the pan and carefully invert the cake to remove from the baking pan. Allow the cakes to cool completely then chill for a couple hours or overnight.

Filling and coating
2 Tablespoons liqueur such as Cherry Brandy, Kahlua, Frangelico, Amaretto or Grand Marnier 
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 cup Nutella (Hazelnut spread)
1 8 ounce light cream cheese, softened to room temperature
toasted almonds for garnish
With a pastry brush, gently brush the liqueur on the bottom of each layer.

Place strips of wax paper along the outer edges of a cake plate - overlapping so that it forms a full border around the edge of the plate. Lay one of the cakes - top side down in the center of the plate.

Place the chocolate and Nutella in a microwave safe bowl and melt on medium heat - stirring every minute till fully melted and smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a medium sized bowl, beat the softened cream cheese till light and fluffy. Add about 1/2 of the chocolate mixture and mix thoroughly. Carefully spread the chocolate cream cheese mixture evenly onto the bottom layer of the cake. Spread evenly to the edges but do not go over the edge. Align the top layer - top side up.

Carefully drizzle the remaining chocolate/Nutella mixture over the top of the cake - allowing it to drip down the sides. With a knife, carefully spread the melted chocolate to cover all sides. Sprinkle the top with toasted almonds. Chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes. With a sharp knife, carefully cut around the bottom of the cake to separate any dripped chocolate on the waxed paper from the cake itself. Gently slide the wax paper out from under the cake. Return cake to fridge to chill.

Remove cake from fridge about 15-20 minutes before serving to allow chocolate coating to soften slightly before slicing.


*If using smaller pans adjust baking times. I generally use 4 smaller pans and find it takes about the same amount of time as an 8" round does. Even though the pans are smaller around, the cake is deeper so the time really isn't that much different. Check them after about 30 minutes.
Make a separate mini cake from each pan. Once the cakes have cooled and chilled slightly, using a sharp knife, carefully slice the cakes horizontally so that you have two layers from each pan. You can also freeze any of the mini cakes BEFORE frosting them. Allow to thaw in the fridge before slicing and frosting.

For the smallest (5"-6") cakes, I use 1/2 the quantity of the filling and coating recipe.
1 Tablespoons liqueur such as Cherry Brandy, Kahlua, Frangelico or Grand Marnier 
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup Nutella (Hazelnut spread)
4 ounces light cream cheese, softened to room temperature
toasted almonds for garnish

For a 7" pan, I use a 3/4 recipe.
1 1/2 Tablespoons liqueur such as Cherry Brandy, Kahlua, Frangelico or Grand Marnier 
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
3/4 cup Nutella (Hazelnut spread)
6 ounces light cream cheese, softened to room temperature
toasted almonds for garnish

Flavour variation:
Substitute a Lemon layer cake mix and lemon pudding mix for the chocolate cake and pudding. Make the cake as above. For the liqueur, I use Bacardi Limon but you could use Frangelico or Amaretto. The rest of the recipe and procedures are as above.