Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Turkey Delight

I first started cooking frequently when I had my first apartment in college. I had a limited meal plan at the cafeteria--a conscious choice as the food selection was either bland or extra salty--and a fairly well stocked kitchen, courtesy of Mama Rose who sent me off to college packed with every pot, pan and kitchen appliance I could imagine having at the time (today I know that there is an endless supply of kitchen stuff and in my kitchen fantasies I want them all--I savor the day I have my own set of LeCreuset pots or a Cuisnart ice cream maker).

At the time, my friend and new roommate, Mel had just come back from a year of studying abroad in Bologna. She returned to the US with some Italian dishes she had often cooked during the past year. From her I learned how to make basic sauces like tomato with tuna and zucchini (not necessarily together) and simple chicken dishes.

Looking back, it seems silly that I was so intimidated and anxious at the prospect of cooking by myself. I suppose it's because I did not have Mama Rose looking over my shoulder and directing me how to cook what, etc. She is a terrific cook and several of her dishes are famous amongst my family and friends. In future posts I will attempt to create them myself--we'll see if I'm successful.

I think Mel's casualness toward cooking calmed my own internal fears of it. After a few months I was compelled to cook more than just pasta sauces and chicken, but the fear of royally screwing up the food I cooked stuck in the back of my mind. After consulting a few friends about acquiring good basic cookbooks, I settled on two: The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (13th edition) and The All New Good Housekeeping Cookbook. The recipes in both books seemed free of complexity and easy enough to build upon.

Through the rest of my years in college up to the present, I used these cookbooks whenever I cooked...usually creating the dishes exactly as written. Again, that little fear of ruining the food I cook stopped me from applying any creativity in the kitchen. Maybe it's because Mama Rose is practically a genius at invention en la cocina--it seems like she just pulls out a bunch of ingredients from the fridge at random and voila, an instantly delicious dish!

Recently, I've been trying to find inspiration in both selecting the ingredients I buy and what I end up creating with them. I'm trying to wean myself from relying so heavily on cookbooks and allow myself to be a bit more inventive.

Well, I'm trying.

A trip to the Union Square Greenmarket last week was rather fruitful (note: no actual fruit was bought) and I found a few items I normally don't buy. I've passed DiPaolo's turkey stand many times (they setup in several open air markets around NYC). I always tried their free tastings of grilled ground turkey breast and found it very fresh, but for whatever the reason I never bought any.

Well, I decided, "today I will buy a pound and find something to create." As I turned the corner of the market and walked along the north side of Union Square Park I saw bags of fresh spinach looking green and perky--with a quick change of a few dollars I had my veggies. Across the way I saw the mushroom man (sorry, don't know which farm he represents) and he had some pretty looking portabellas. I took a moment to pick the one I liked most (actually they all seemed fine, but I always hesitate)--my spinach now had a companion.

Of course, when I returned home I took a second look at the container of ground turkey breast and just sighed because I knew, Fannie was going to have help me with this one...again. But at least I knew that the veggie dish would be my own.

Baby steps, Rose, baby steps.

Ground Turkey Patties and Spinach with Portabellas

Ground Turkey Patties:
--from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (13th edition)

1 lb. ground turkey breast
1 cup grated zucchini
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tbsp vegetable oil

In a large bowl put the turkey, zucchini, onion, bread crumbs, salt, poultry seasoning, and pepper, and lightly toss with a fork until well mixed. Form the turkey mixture into 4 or 6 patties. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and cook the patties about 3-4 minutes on each side, or until done and the meat in the center has turned opaque and is no longer pink. Do not overcook or they will be dry.

A few things I learned or changed after cooking this dish:
- I substituted shallots for the onions because I find the latter overpowering
- limit the bread crumbs to less than a cup as the patty can dry out quickly while grilling
- the first patty was too thick and I quickly realized this when it became easily burnt on the exterior but obviously not cooked through

Spinach with Portabellas
--a simple Rose creation (very simple!)

1 bag fresh spinach (washed and cut to 2 inch pieces, including stems)
2 small minced cloves garlic
2 large portabella mushrooms (1/2 inch slices)
1/2 tsp salt
1-2 tbsp olive oil

Heat olive oil in a 10 inch skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and salt and let cook for 20-30 seconds. Add mushrooms, and let cook for another 30+ seconds. Finally, add spinach and stir the greens with the garlic and mushrooms. Cook for about 1-3 minutes. Remove from heat.

So, basically I'm still relying on the recipe books and not being as inventive as I'd hoped...but this is a start.


Blogger Lone Ranger said...

When I was no higher than my grandma's oak kitchen table, I started following her around and watching her cook. She's gone now, but her delicious food isn't. I've also done a lot of traveling around the world and when I find a dish I like, I take notes about what I think is in it. Then I find several recipes on the Internet and try to find a compromise that is most like what I had. Alcatra from the Azores kicked my butt at least half a dozen times before I nailed it. I'm not afraid of getting it wrong. The dish is at least palatable and when it isn't -- that's what a garbage disposal is for. Most of my cooking is Asian, since I spent most of my adult life bouncing around the Pacific. Just get down the basics like the sauces and what combines best with what and putting togeter a dish is like assembling a child's jigsaw puzzle. Just put the different parts together.

10:11 PM  
Blogger Rose said...

To some degree, cooking is like a jigsaw puzzle, but I think there is something even more deep-rooted (psychologically speaking) about my own fears in learning to cook.

My mother is Asian. I adore and love her dearly but she is also quite strong willed and opinionated about running the family kitchen and just about everything else in our home.

My anxiety about cooking and learning to be more inventive in the kitchen comes from a childhood desire to please my mom--even when she's not around me.

The idea of throwing away edible food (down a garbage disposal), btw, is so un-Asian and I just could never bring myself to do it. I goes against the values I waas brought up with.

I suppose one of the reasons for this blog is to try and help myself get over my own fears by documenting my food experiences. I hope I'm right.

9:29 PM  

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