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The Crazy Ones

I knew Steve would be passing soon, but I didn't ever know how I'd take it.

I still don't, really.


Patterns

It is exceedingly easy for me to fall into simple patterns. Something about the way my brain has been programmed makes it susceptible to routine and sameness. Like a mill ox, if I do something enough times I start digging myself into a rut and remain content to loop around in it endlessly.

I can illustrate this with eleventh grade of high school. I transferred from private to public school when I entered high school, so I didn't really know anyone or have any war-buddies from the recess playground. The people I did know in school were the people I happened to know from outside activities, and they all happened to be at least two years older than me. Come junior year, all my friends had already graduated and I had nobody to sit with at lunch.

Rather than remedy this problem in a socially progressive manner, I solved it in an intellectually conservative one: I didn't go to lunch, I went to the library. During my lunch hour, when most kids were packed into the cafeteria and standing in line for chicken nuggets swimming in an oddly yellow gravy, I'd head straight to the library. I usually either read whatever novel I was halfway into or do some homework that was due later that day (honestly, outside if class it was the only time I got any homework done) or, if I was absolutely without a thing to do, I'd just wander the aisles and flip through whatever book looked interesting.

The teacher of the class I had right after lunch didn't mind us eating in class so long as we were done by the time he started talking, so I ate my lunch then. I had the timing worked out to Swiss precision. Seven minutes before lunch was over, I'd leave the library and head to the cafeteria (the lines were gone by now) and get the same thing: a turkey wrap and a mixed frozen Coke and cherry. I'd bring these things to my next class and be at my seat with a few minutes before class begun. I'd quickly scarf down the sandwich, and take my time with the frozen drink and watch CNN on the classroom TV until the teacher turned it off and began lecturing.

This pattern repeated continuously for months. Every day, the same thing. Read in silence, turkey and high fructose corn syrup in silence.

Occasionally I would feel some kind of repetitive stress bubbling up at the base of my psyche and like some kind of free-spirited Haight-Ashburian I would smash conformity and add a Rice Crispies Treat to my order at the cafeteria.

I don't really know the significance of that, other than it is representative of how comfortable I can get with patterns.

For the last six months I've found myself in a hell of a pattern where I haven't "blogged" a thing here.

I know exactly why that is. Since I moved to Chicago and away from my family I noticed that they started using this place as a way of keeping up with my life, which kind of eeked me out. Also, since this website was on my resume most of the people at my job were aware of it and referenced it occasionally, which also eeked me out. Then I'd get the occasional reader comment from some person I don't know at all but has been reading this space for years for reasons I can only estimate at being its own little rut for them. That, too, eeked me out.

In short, I have a hard time finding the tone for what I put here. If I was ever on stage in front of an audience comprised of my family, my real-life (TM) friends, my internet friends, and my coworkers, I wouldn't really have much to talk about. I think most people have their "friend self" and their "work self" and their "family self," and like most people I generally have the luxury of keeping those selves on distant islands separated by oceans of distance and interest and the cost of airline travel. When it comes to putting words on this page, however, I can't pick a self.

In the end, I usually round up and write something that I'd be comfortable with my mom reading while I sit across a dinner table with my hands folded, trying to guess how far she is by the pattern of smiles and eyebrow-furrows.

It's a crippling thing, really, and in a lot of ways it's why I haven't officially said a thing here since March. I implemented the Twitter system because with 140 characters I can keep things light on context and emotion.

Thing is, though, I think I'm usually a lot happier when I'm blogging, or at least writing regularly. When I don't write, I kind of sink down into my head and set up camp and build an infrastructure and establish a small economy and chamber of commerce in there. My head's an interesting place to be, and I wouldn't mind terribly if an intergalactic villain sentenced me to a lifetime there, but the outside world passes by pretty fast when I'm in there.

But now that I've established this pattern of inaction, it's hard to break out of it. I've wanted to write something here countless times, but my screwed-up brain gets more satisfaction out of maintaining a pattern, for better or worse.

So this post is, in some way, a step toward the compromise I eventually need to make with myself. Eventually, I'm going to have to say the type of things I wouldn't want to say in proximity to my mother and I'm going to have to go to work some morning not knowing whether everybody around me read whatever self-aggrandizing nonsense I'd furiously typed into this box the night before.

This post is a Rice Crispies Treat. I hope it works. I think you and I could have some fun together here.

Watch this space.


The Green Stuff

Whatever they use to dye the river green every year for St. Patrick's Day is still a guarded secret.


DIY Graham Elliot Turkey Confit Sandwich... err... "Grahamwich"

The final product - Splash image

I love sandwiches. I love Thanksgiving. Put those together in the form of a Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich, and you've won my heart over completely. So when famous Chicago chef Graham Elliot opened a new restaurant near my workplace featuring gourmet sandwiches and including a sandwich inspired by turkey leftovers sandwiches, I had to give it a try.

This Friday I had a chance, and I can say without exaggeration that it was the best sandwich I've ever had. Problem is, the sandwiches at this place (Grahamwich) are ten bucks apiece, plus 11% downtown sales tax, and they don't take debit cards, so it wasn't something I could really make a part of my daily lunch routine.

As a way of conquering this bit of injustice, I spent the weekend trying to recreate the sandwich at home on my own. Sure, I probably spent more on groceries than I would have at the restaurant, but being able to make the thing on my own gives me at least some power over the situation. Once I had a completed sandwich, I took a picture and tweeted my results to mild fanfare.

Even Graham Elliot is impressed!

Even Graham Elliot himself was impressed! (I guess he keeps an eye on Twitter mentions of his name, to see if anybody is badmouthing his soup).

In the spirit of a tradition I started six years ago and immediately abandoned, I photographed every step of the process so I could produce a bit of a walk through for you all to enjoy on your own, or at least so you can appreciate what nice pots and pans I have (Circulon Infinite; they were a birthday gift, I recommend them highly).

Graham Elliot doesn't publish many recipes, so I had to use at least 70% of my cunning to try to recreate the experience from taste memory and the sandwich description.

It's a pretty basic sandwich, though made of pretty atypical ingredients. The description on the menu just lists:

  1. turkey confit
  2. candied yams
  3. stewed cranberries
  4. field greens
  5. sage mayo
  6. Hawaiian bread

So I'll go through the ingredients piece by piece. Click any of the pictures to see full-size on Flickr.

Turkey Confit

Confit (cohn-fee) is an old French culinary term that, over the centuries, has almost entirely been separated from its definition. It officially means "various kinds of food that have been immersed in a substance for both flavor and preservation", but what the heck type of cooking does that not describe? Confit is mostly associated with duck confit, a staple in classic French cuisine wherein a bit of duck is cured in salt then poached, roasted, or boiled in its own fat. Duck confit is actually more popular than the term confit itself, so "confit" has been sort of come to be associated with that dish than the actual meaning of the word. So.. to confit something else (like a turkey) usually (but not definitively!) means to cook it in duck fat (even if the thing you're cooking isn't duck).

Yeah, French cooking is confusing. For the purposes of the recipe, I would say that the turkey confit is basically just stewed (or slow-cooked) shredded dark meat turkey. Throwing the term confit in there needlessly complicates things for the purposes of cooking this sandwich at home. Of all the ingredients to this sandwich, this is the hardest to come by. You can buy chicken, pork, and beef pre-cooked in any configuration you can imagine, but except around certain Thursdays in November, turkey meat products are limited to basic deli meats, whole frozen turkeys, and simple butcher's cuts of either breasts, drumsticks, or thighs.

2 turkey drumsticks I'm generally a fan of white meat, but in the interest of pointless originalism I decided to go with dark meat. Drumsticks and thighs are the dark cuts, and my grocer (Peapod) only had drumsticks available, so drumsticks I got.

Sadly, to produce some cooked turkey meat I would have to actually roast these drumsticks like a turkey, which would be plenty tempting to eat on their own.

Salted and ready Since it's against the law to cook a turkey without brining it, and the classic confit paradigm calls for salt-cured meat, I decided to let the drumsticks sit in the refrigerator for a while covered in what would seem to be an excessive amount of salt. The salt is just to tenderize the meat (horray for chemistry!), and it'll be wiped off prior to cooking, so don't feel bad about completely smothering the meat in it.
Store in fridge for 2-24 hours Once salted, I put the drumsticks in the fridge for about 2 hours, but you could go as long as 24. I was in a hurry.
Season, oil, and prepare to roastAfter chilling out in the fridge, I wiped off the salt with a paper towel and prepared the drumsticks for roasting. I added a more reasonable amount of salt, plus some pepper, thyme, and some poultry seasoning. I also made sure my oven was pre-heated to 350 degrees, even though I hadn't mentioned that until now.
Roast in 350 degree ovenInto the oven they go. Notice the oven thermometer? You really can't trust the sensor on the oven.
Nicely roasted drumsticksI can tell doneness with my nose and my eyes, so I didn't really time the cooking. It was probably between 1.5 and 2 hours.
Reserved drippingsI held onto the drippings from the pan, as they will come to use later.
Drumstick glamor shotOooh, baby. Must. Not. Eat.
Separating meat from bonesOnce they had cooled down, I stripped the meat from the drumsticks. There are a lot of thin bones and tendons in drumsticks, so I had to be careful to make sure all of the non-meat was removed from the is-meat.
Pulling the turkey (so to speak...)At Grahamwich, the turkey is probably shredded naturally via some excruciating slow-simmering method. I haven't the patience for that, so I took the shortcut of shredding the meat by hand. Two forks in a bowl is how some people shred meat.
Nicely shredded turkeyYou could also use a food processer with a dull blade, or the sharp blade turned upside down so the dull side is out. I'm a masochist, so I did it by hand. Shred shred shred!
Cover the shredded turkey in the broth (and the drippings)I then poured the pan drippings over the shredded turkey, then topped it off with turkey broth. I forgot to buy turkey broth, so I had to make some the old fashioned way with the bones and scraps from the drumsticks. You can see how that works in three steps here.

I put the broth-covered meat in the fridge overnight. Hey, it's not leftovers until the next day.

The Next Day


The next dayThe natural collagens and gelatins in the drippings/juices/broth most likely solidified in the fridge. This process does amazing things to the molecular structure of meat, and explains why sometimes reheated stew tastes better the next day than fresh from the pot.
...the next day (continued)Yeah, that looks pretty solidified.
Into a saucepan!I dumped the whole turkeybrick into a saucepot on medium-low heat and forgot about it for a while. Do not think about cat food during this step.
Turkey simmering in saucepotAfter a few minutes, the brick fell apart and began simmering and smelling amazing again. I let this simmer for about half an hour so it could absorb more of its juicy goodness.

Sage Thyme Mayo

Preparing the thyme mayoThe Grahamwich sandwich lists sage mayo, but I made an executive decision to go with thyme instead. Sage and thyme are both classic turkey seasonings to the point of interchangeability, there was a lot of sage in the poultry seasoning I used on the turkey, and thyme comes in a much finer powder compared to sage (which has a consistency like lint) so it would integrate into the mayo easier.

I just took some mayo, scooped it into a bowl, sprinkled on some thyme and pepper, and mixed it up. Not complicated stuff here, people.

Hey, that spice container looks familiar...

Stewed Cranberries


Cranberry sauceA fancy way of saying "cranberry sauce." (How do you make cranberry sauce? You stew cranberries). Unlike most of my family, cranberry sauce is a favorite and integral part of the whole thanksgiving turkey oeuvre to me, and it's one of the best parts of the leftovers sandwich.

Most grocery store deli areas have a pretty good pre-made (in the store) cranberry sauce/relish/compote/chutney, so there's no reason to make one from scratch for the purposes of a sandwich. I happen to know that Peapod has a quite amazing cranberry sauce (with bits of citrus peel in there), so I just went with that.

Candied Yams


CAN-died yamsEmphasis on the "can."

I do feel kind of sleazy using canned sweet potatoes, but like the cranberries, it didn't feel worth it to make some from scratch just for a sandwich. The only reason I went through all the trouble for the turkey was because it's impossible to buy shredded roast turkey, let alone in dark meat.

Sweet potatoes slicedI drained the yams from the syrup (no high fructose!) and sliced them into thin planks that would make sense on a sandwich. Done!

Hawaiian Bread


Hawaiian breadPerhaps a rarity to some, King's Hawaiian Sweet Bread has been a favorite of mine since I was young. You can find it at most grocery stores, and it's great for everything from sandwiches to french toast. I was pretty excited to see it in this sandwich.
Very lightly toasting the breadIt comes in wide, round loaves so I cut off two of the heels so I could have a crusty top and bottom slice. I toasted it very lightly, on the very lowest setting my hey-look-how-fancy-my-toaster-is toaster allowed. You don't want a crunchy toast texture, just enough of a browning to let Maillard do his work.
Lightly toastedJust look at that! Awesome-looking grill marks totally unintentional.

(Also note: I'm skipping the "field greens" ie lettuce ingredient because that's pretty obvious. Get some nice, green leaf lettuce. Romaine or bibb. Just not iceberg)

Sandwich Assembly!!!


Condiments appliedCranberries on one slice, herb'd mayo on the other.
Sweet potatoes appliedI microwaved the sweet potatoes for about 30 seconds, just to get them lukewarm so they wouldn't be cold and gross, then shingled them on one of the slices (the one that would become the top slice)
Lettuce and turkey on topThen I added some lettuce (in that picture, probably too much) and scooped some of the turkey from the pot. I had to squeeze it to get rid of most of the juice, as I didn't want it to be a drippy sandwich.
Join the halves into a sandwich, cut it diagonally, and stack it like a true sandwich artist and take your vanity picture before scarfing down.
Convenient clamshell designCut on a bias (diagonal)They teach photogenic sandwich stacking in culinary school...
Your final product:

The final product

Two drumsticks probably made about 3 or 4 sandwiches worth.

It wasn't as amazing as the Grahamwich original (there's some kind of sweetness to the turkey there that I can't put my finger on, I might have to eat two or twenty more to get a better idea), but for home cooking it was pretty great. My leftover turkey sandwiches are usually made of large and unwieldy chunks of turkey that always fall out the sides when I take a bite. Shredding the turkey and simmering it in its own juices made it much easier to eat and gave it an awesome extra-turkey boost.

I might try this again soon with white meat, just to see how it compares.


Snowy Day

It's been snowing since I woke up this morning.

It was snowing while I waited for the train.

And while I waited for another train.

And at work.

A lot of snow.


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