How to Quickly Carve a Turkey

When the Pie and I would fly home from St. John’s to Ottawa at Christmas, we would generally fly Westjet, because they were very nice to Gren and had the longest window where you could fly a pet at this time of the year. They also offer, as in-flight entertainment, Canadian basic cable. Which includes the Food Network and HGTV. So the Pie and I, since we haven’t had cable in our home for years, would often binge-watch food and home shows the whole flight. And this is how we learned, from Alton Brown, Jamie Oliver, and Gordon Ramsay, how to carve a turkey – quickly and efficiently.

Nobody wants to sit waiting for a special meal and have some dude at the head of the table flash around some knives before doing a hackjob on the bird you just spent the past afternoon slaving over, am I right? Best to carve it yourself when you’re ready, lay it out on whatever pretty dish you like and present it along with the rest of your dishes, which are still hot. Now if you’ll remember our tip from the last time we cooked a turkey at Ali Does It, we time it so the bird is ready an hour or two ahead of time, and spends those remaining hours wrapped snuggly under layers of aluminum foil and towels, staying warm and getting juicy.

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Here it is, unwrapped and ready to carve (this one’s a wee one that we cooked up for our potluck). Make sure your carving knife is lovely and sharp for this. I tend to forego the carving set altogether and use one of my stupid sharp knives and my bare hands.

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Start right away by making a cut right along the breastbone of the turkey and following it down the curve of the bone to sever both breasts. It seems very dramatic but it’s effective and easy.

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You may need to undercut the breasts to get them cleanly off.

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Then you can slice them crosswise for thick, juicy pieces that nobody has to fight over. And your whole turkey is now lighter and easier to move around as you get the rest of it.

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Next, go for the legs, and pop those suckers off. If they’re sizeable, slice off that gorgeous dark meat and set the bones aside.

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Do the same for the wings. Use your knife to sever the tendons at the joints.

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Then flip it over and get all that lovely juicy under-meat on the back. There’s more there than you think, and if you’re a fan of dark meat then this is where to find it.

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Now you have this carcass, already stripped and ready for the stock pot (if you’re going to make soup afterwards, which you really should).

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And then you can arrange your meat however you like in your serving dish  (this is an electric skillet to keep them warm in transit – your arrangement will be prettier).

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Wasn’t that easy?

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Wingin’ it Wednesday: Standard Stirfry

Me: What do you want for dinner?

Pie: I dunno. What do YOU want for dinner?

Me: I dunno. Stir fry?

And that, ladies and gents, is how 85% of our weekday meal conversations go. Usually we end up making a stir fry – it’s an easy, relatively easy, and healthier alternative to a whole bunch of the pre-made meals you get at the grocery store.

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First, cube up some chicken. Or beef. Or tofu. Whatever floats your boat.

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Then brown it in a pan with a dash of olive oil, some minced ginger, and minced garlic.

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While that’s going on, chop up some vegetables – any kind you like. Slice them thin so they will cook quickly. We used carrots, sugar snap peas, red peppers, onions, and broccoli here. If you want, you can also cook some rice or noodles to serve as a base for the stir fry.

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When the chicken is cooked, haul it out of the pan and put it aside in a bowl.

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Tip your onions into the pan to soften first.

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Then add in the rest of the veggies.

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Whip up a quick sauce of about 2 tablespoons plum sauce, 1 tablespoon teriyaki sauce, 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce, and 1 teaspoon peanut oil. Feel free to experiment with proportions and different sauces – we’ve experimented for a few years and this is the combo we like the best.

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Pour the sauce over the vegetables, stir it in, and pop a lid on the pan so the vegetables have a chance to steam a bit. How long this takes obviously depends on the amount of vegetables you have. You want them tender but not soggy.

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Toss your chicken back in to re-heat, then serve immediately over your rice or noodles.

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Yum!

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Roast Pork with Apple Cider Gravy

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This was the main attraction for Mrs. Nice’s birthday lunch and it was super good. I used a pork shoulder instead of a pork belly (because I couldn’t find one at the time) and made some drastic adjustments in cooking time, but the recipe is more or less the same as the one from Good Housekeeping.

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Start by preheating your oven to 450°F and grab a large shallow roasting pan. Plop a 3lb pork shoulder right in the middle, so there’s lots of space on all sides. Rub it all over with olive oil and salt and pop it in the oven for 30 minutes.

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After 30 minutes, turn the heat down to 350°F and let it keep cooking, sizzling away, for another half hour. Then grab 6 small eating apples (these are giant Cortlands, which are neither small nor eating apples, but that’s neither here nor there), and coat them with oil and salt and pop them in the pan as well.

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Cook for another 45-60 minutes, until the apples have burst and are tender and the pork is registering at about 145°-160°F, depending on how well done you like your pork.

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Plop the roast on a cutting board and wrap it up in foil and a towel to rest and keep warm.

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Scoop out your apples and set them aside for a minute. Drain the contents of the pan into a small saucepan and let that come to a simmer. Whisk in 2 tablespoons flour and, when it starts to thicken, add in 2 cups apple cider, whisking until smooth.

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Reduce the heat and leave that for a bit to thicken. Stir it occasionally.

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Slice up your apples and lay them over a big serving plate.

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Carve the pork roast and arrange the slices on top of the apples, and dribble with gravy.

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Serve the extra gravy on the side for your Deadly Mashed Potatoes!

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Fast-Tip Friday: Drying Herbs

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If you’re lucky, you still have time to run out and grab the rest of your late-summer herbs from the garden and do something with them before it’s too late. If you’re me, then while you were out of the country for work the temperatures dropped below zero and now all your basil is a disgusting black mess.

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HOWEVER, there’s still hope for a good number of your other hardier herbs.

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Since the summer, I’ve been hauling baskets of herbs inside to process. Some end up in butter (because mmmm, butter), and some, like the lemongrass stalks you see in this basket, go in the freezer. But most of them, I dry. It takes almost zero effort on my part and then the herbs are there for me to mix and package as gifts: spice rubs and herbal teas are quick and easy to make.

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What makes it easiest is this handy-dandy herb dryer that I picked up from Lee Valley. Hang it somewhere out of the way with good air circulation (for us, that’s over the side of our main staircase), and then just shove it full of fresh herbs.

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The mesh will allow air to circulate on all sides, meaning nothing gets mouldy or soggy, and some of your herbs, like lemon balm, will dry in a matter of days. And you didn’t have to do ANYTHING!

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Added bonus: for the few days it takes these herbs to start to dry up, the hallway smells like pizza or lemons or whatever we’ve got in the shelves.

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Five-Minute Frittata, for Two

This is my favourite quick dinner when you want something a little bit better than a cold bowl of cereal but you want to apply pretty much the same level of effort. This dish serves two but I was so hungry after all my efforts in the garden that I ate the whole thing myself.

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First I grabbed some fresh herbs out of said garden. Then I preheated my oven to broil and grabbed an oven-safe nonstick skillet. Nonstick works best for this particular eggy dish, but you have to make sure that it has been approved for use in the oven so you don’t end up killing yourself with chemicals or burning the handle off.

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I chopped up the herbs.

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Then I grabbed a tomato and chopped and de-seeded it as well.

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Now you can start heating up your skillet, with a nice big pat of butter in it to melt.

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Then I cracked 4 eggs into a bowl. I proceeded to beat the crap out of them.

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Add in a big dollop of sour cream. You can use milk or cream but I have recently discovered that sour cream in eggs makes them light and fluffy and flavourful so I like using it.

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Then I poured the mixed eggs into the hot skillet.

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Let that sit for a moment.

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Then start pulling the egg away from the bottom of the skillet. You’re not really stirring the egg, so much as exposing more of the raw stuff to a hot cooking surface.

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Stop scraping before all the wet stuff is scrambled.

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Now you can top it with all the goodness you’ve prepared. This is salt, pepper, chopped herbs, tomatoes, and parmesan cheese.

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And then go ahead and shove it under the broiler for about two minutes, until all the wet egg is now solid. Please don’t judge me for my dirty oven.

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You can see I actually overdid this one a little bit.

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Then you hold the pan over a plate and start to slowly tip it so the whole thing starts to slide out.

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Keeeeeep sliding.

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When you’re about halfway out, lift the pan so that the second half of the egg flips over and covers the first half.

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Top with more pepper and garnish if you like.

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As I said, you can cut this in two and share it. Or if you’re really hungry it makes a great meal for one!

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Spag Bol Redux

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I have so many fun and exciting things to show you guys in the near future, but I thought I’d do a little bit of a retrospective today. My very first entry on this here blog, five-plus years and 900-odd posts ago, was a recipe for spaghetti bolognese. I make this spaghetti sauce all the freaking time, so I thought I’d do another post just to show you how things have changed over the years, but they still remain in essence the same. For one, the Pie and I went vegetarian for a month when I made that post so there’s no meat in that sauce. For another, I was way lazier when it came to chopping things up, so my sauces were much chunkier. I like them a bit more uniform these days.

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Some things stay the same, though: I always load it down with diced onions to start. I made a crapton (a metric measurement of course) of this so that I could freeze it so I can’t give you exact measurements. Just lots.

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I always add diced red pepper (I’m allergic to green) and diced mushrooms. You can add whatever you wish, though. Sometimes I chuck in whatever’s in my fridge that needs to be used: avocadoes (they add a nice thickness the sauce), tomatoes, sometimes even carrots.

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And then of course a variety of tomato-based canned items. I used to use jarred spaghetti sauce as my base but I found they were sneaking green peppers into the mix and it wasn’t doing my digestive system any good so I switched to canned crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and canned diced tomatoes.

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First I start by sautéeing up the onions with olive oil and a little butter. I let them go until they’re smelly and soft. Then I pull apart a large hunk of lean or extra lean ground beef. I like to break it up with my fingers to ensure that there are no big chunks in the pot. You can also use ground turkey or pork or whatever works for you. If you’re going the veggie route and using TVP, add that last.

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After the meat is browned to my satisfaction I tip in my vegetables, as well as some minced garlic, salt, pepper, and various spices.

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I like a mix of italian spice plus extra basil.

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I add in all my tomato things as well and give that a grand old stirring.

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Let that simmer for at least half an hour so the flavours can mingle, and feel free to adjust the spices as you see fit. I like to let it simmer as long as I can, but it’s good either way.

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Cool and freeze or serve hot on top of your favourite fresh pasta, baked into a pasta casserole, or glopped on top of bread as a sloppy joe!

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Taco Cups

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To celebrate the success of our Bench Cover Thingy, Cait and I held a wee taco party afterwards. These are inspired by Kevin & Amanda, and I think I’ll be cooking these up pretty often. They’re easy and provide a tidier option to those of us who like hard-shelled tacos. Plus kids will love being able to make up their own custom tacos in advance. Also tacos always remind me of my favourite joke, but I don’t wanna taco ’bout it. You’ll have to watch it to see what I mean. This recipe makes enough for 24 taco cups, which feeds four hungry adults quite nicely.

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Start with half a large sweet onion and dice that up.

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Grab 2 tomatoes and dice them too.

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Why yes, that IS dog hair on my tomatoes. Thank you for asking.
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I swear that I removed the dog hair before dicing. I promise. Maybe.

Scoop up some spices: 2 tablespoons chilli powder, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon chipotle, and some ground black pepper.

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You’ll also need some meat. I used about 3/4 kilogram extra lean ground beef.

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Sauté your onions in about 1 tablespoon olive oil until translucent and amazing-smelling. Tip in the meat and stir, breaking it up into little pieces, until it’s browned all over. Drain it if necessary (the bonus of extra-lean is you don’t need to drain).

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Remove the meat and onions from the heat and tip them into a large bowl. Dump in your spices and mix them around.

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Tip in the diced tomato as well and give that a good stir. Set that bowl aside for a spell.

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Now preheat your oven to 375°F or thereabouts. Grate up about 2 cups cheddar cheese (you can use more or less if you like).

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Grab a muffin tin and generously brush the whole thing with olive or vegetable oil (or use cooking spray). I did the 24 taco cups in two separate batches so they were fresh and hot, so I only needed the one tin, but if you’re doing them all at once you will obviously need two tins.

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Now you need some wonton wrappers. Square ones are probably best.

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Press a wonton wrapper into the bottom of each hole in the muffin tin.

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Spoon a small amount of meat, onions, and tomatoes into the spaces as well.

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Top with a wee bit of grated cheddar.

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Then jam on ANOTHER WONTON WRAPPER. Press everything down underneath it so you still have space to put stuff.

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Spoon in some more meat/onions/tomatoes and top with additional cheese.

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Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the wonton bits that you can see are brown and the cheese is melty and bubbly.

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Cait and I found that about five minutes on a cooling rack after baking made them a bit more solid and easier to handle. Just be careful when you’re scooping them out and run around the edges with a spoon to make sure nothing is still attached to the tin.

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Top with a dollop of sour cream and some fresh chives and you are golden.

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