Great Turkey Gravy in 45 minutes

Quick Turkey Gravy

This Thanksgiving, I was responsible for the turkey and gravy and my family recipe for stuffing. (Melanie makes her own stuffing too because she likes a different style.1) I had the turkey recipe and the stuffing recipe ready to go, but I had left the gravy recipe to the last minute. I needed a quick turkey gravy.

I was going to make the Cooks Illustrated Turkey Gravy, but then I looked at what was involved: roasting veggies for an hour, simmering for 90 minutes, cooling another hour, cooking again. We were eating in an hour and I needed to start this yesterday!2

So I adapted. I put the gizzards and veggies in a saucepan and sautéed them for 15-20 minutes. Then I added 4 cups of homemade chicken stock plus all the turkey drippings, and 2 cups wine and thyme. Let that simmer for another 15 minutes. Strained it into a bowl and put 1/2 cup of oil in the bottom of the saucepan plus 1/2 cup of flour and cooked that into a roux for about 5 minutes. Whisked the strained liquid back in, added a dash of Worcestershire and a pinch of Accent flavor enhancer for umami and served a silky smooth quick turkey gravy that was one of the best I’ve ever made. All in under an hour. Whew!

Ingredients

Reserved turkey giblets and neck, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 medium carrot (or a handful of baby carrots) cut into 1-inch pieces
1 stalk celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 small onions, quartered
4 cloves garlic, peeled
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups dry white wine
1 tsp thyme, dried
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup oil, canola or sunflower or other neutral flavor
1/2 tsp Accent flavor enhancer (optional)
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Salt and ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Place the roasting pan with turkey drippings on a stovetop burner (if you can), set it to high heat and add the chicken broth. Simmer while scraping the drippings for 10-15 minutes.
  2. If you have a burner available while the drippings and chicken stock deglaze, put a large saucepan on it and add the turkey parts and vegetables, plus 1 tsp salt. While the roasting pan is deglazing, sauté the veggies and giblets over medium heat for 15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft, but not browned and the giblets and neck have started to leave a fond on the bottom of the pan.
  3. Add the drippings and stock to the saucepan along with the wine and thyme. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Strain through a mesh sieve into a bowl and discard the solids. If you have time to let it cool and sit, you can skim off the fat that rises, but my turkey did not have so much fat in the pan and the gravy did not come out greasy. You could replace some of the oil in the next step with turkey fat.
  5. Put the oil in the saucepan over medium heat and the sprinkle the flour over the top. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon for 4 minutes until it starts to turn brown.
  6. Whisk the broth back in slowly, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Bring to a boil and then reduce to medium low. Add the Worcestershire and Accent, if using, and simmer for 10 minutes or until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. (Dip your spoon, turn it over, run your finger down the middle. If the part you didn’t touch remains coated in gravy while the part in the middle stays clear, it’s thick enough.)
  7. The gravy should be slightly saltier than you expect because it will then be perfect on your turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. Add salt, if necessary.
  1. The problem is that my family recipe include sausage meat and green bell peppers, which are anathema to her in stuffing.
  2. I looked at their Easier Roast Turkey and Gravy, but that would have meant preparing and cooking the turkey differently and my turkey was already done.

The Reason Your Coffee Tastes Weak May Not Be What You Think

One of the most common myths and misconceptions about coffee has to do with what makes it stronger or weaker. I often hear people say something like, “This coffee tastes weak, so I’ll reduce the amount of water,” or “I don’t like my coffee too strong so I use fewer grounds.” Unfortunately, these adjustments will produce exactly the opposite of what the speakers intend. This is because they misunderstand the chemistry involved in brewing coffee.

Most people think of coffee like it’s a solution, i.e. one item dissolved in another. And if you want the solution to be strong, you add more of the solute to the solvent. For example, you dissolve a tablespoon of sugar in a cup of water. If you want it to be more sugary, you add more sugar or reduce the amount of water. You concentrate it.

But coffee is not a solution. It is an extraction1. The coffee doesn’t dissolve into the water; the water extracts the flavor compounds out of the grounds by passing through them. The difference is seen most clearly in that with the sugar-water, once dissolving is completed, you don’t see sugar; but after brewing coffee, you still have the exact same amount of coffee grounds.

So if you pass too little water through the grounds, you will have weak tasting coffee. Pass too much water through the same grounds and you extract too much from the coffee. That’s because once you’ve extracted the good-tasting compounds, what’s left are bitter compounds.

In the end, while some coffee aficionados come up with special recipes of their own, for most people, the best ratio of water to coffee doesn’t change from one cup of coffee to another. Basically, you want 6 ounces of water for 2 tablespoons of coffee grounds.

What if you want to make your coffee stronger or weaker? Well, there are other factors that influence the strength of your coffee, including the amount of time the water is in contact with the grounds, the temperature of the water, how coarse or fine the coffee is ground, how fresh the coffee is, the kind of roast of the coffee, and the type of coffee, including where it is grown and under what conditions and how is processed.

For most people, you’ll primarily want to look at the roast. In general, a darker roast will give you a stronger-tasting cup of coffee, although the caffeine will be lower because the longer cooking time that makes it darker also breaks down the caffeine molecules. Conversely, a lighter roast makes a milder cup of coffee with a bigger caffeine kick.

In the end, it’s all about the chemistry and now we’re seeing the answer to that question we all asked in sophomore year in high school: When am I ever going to use chemistry in my life? Now you know.

N.B. Thanks to GeekLady for double-checking my chemistry on this post.

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1 It’s also a suspension, but that’s not really relevant to my point.

Remembering Father Timothy Murphy

The summer of 1996 I was planning to move from Ohio back to Massachusetts. I had finished up at Franciscan University of Steubenville and had a job that allowed me to work remotely from anywhere I had an internet connection. My friend, Randy, who was from Phoenix, had got a job as a youth minister in Salem, Mass., and so we agreed to get an apartment together. However, he then was offered by his new boss, the pastor, Fr. Timothy Murphy, to come live in the spacious, mostly empty rectory to save money. Randy was concerned about our agreement, but the pastor extended the invitation to me as well, letting me rent a room and receive board for monthly rent.

That was how I met Fr. Murphy, who would become a friend, a mentor, and a father-figure to me over the next two decades. Fr. Murphy retired from active ministry a few years ago and has now died after a short illness.

In 1996, Fr. Murphy was the newly arrived pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Salem, the second oldest parish in Massachusetts after the cathedral-parish in Boston and the oldest church dedicated to Mary in New England. Fr. Murphy was always proud of the history of the parish, including the fact that he was the second pastor named Timothy Murphy, his eponymous predecessor having lived in the 19th century.

Father Murphy had previously been pastor of St. Angela’s Parish in Mattapan since 1979, an inner-city parish with a very large Haitian immigrant population that had grown there as the neighborhood transitioned from mainly Jewish and Irish families who were moving out to the suburbs. Notably, Fr. Murphy was the first of his seminary class to be named a pastor (back in the days when not every parish priest became a pastor and if so after decades of ministry) and he learned of his assignment on the day Pope St. John Paul II celebrated Mass on Boston Common, October 1, 1979. He served St. Angela’s until 1995 when he took a sabbatical year in Rome before going to Salem.

That year in Rome was special to Fr. Murphy and he talked about it often in the following years and he stayed in touch with the other priests from around the United States who were in the same program year. It also prompted him to do more pilgrimages and international travel.

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A Night Out with Alton Brown’s Eat Your Science Tour

I’ve watched every episode of Good Eats, both seasons of Feasting on Asphalt, and the one season of Feasting on Waves. I’ve got the cookbooks. I listen to the Alton Browncast. I even pepper my everyday conversation with references to unitaskers and refer to stuff that isn’t fit for eating with “That is not good eats.”

I am an Alton Brown fan.

So when I heard six months ago that the current leg of his touring show “Eat Your Science” would be coming through Boston this weekend, I knew what I wanted for my birthday. So I picked up a couple of tickets, put the date on my calendar and waited.

It was a rough week this past week. On Tuesday, I got to sit with a dying friend for what is probably the last time. On Thursday, I had a very long day working a banquet for my day job, spent all day Friday editing audio, video, and photos from the event, and then had a board meeting on Saturday morning. I was wiped. But by Saturday afternoon I was energized and excited for the show.

Leaving the kids with grandma, Melanie and I headed into the city for dinner and the show. We were going to get sushi at this trendy new place, but it was packed so we headed across the street to one of the best known Vietnamese places in Boston, Pho Pasteur. That was indeed good eats.

For the show itself, the entry lines were long and nearly every one of the 3,000 seats was filled. We had a small glitch going through security as I had forgotten to leave my Leatherman multitool at home1. I thought I was going to have to choose to lose the tool to get into the show or potentially miss the beginning to run back to the car. Luckily, the head of security had pity on me. After all, it’s an Alton Brown show and I was carrying a multitasker.

The show itself was a lot of great laughs. It’s not a cooking demonstration show. Alton is the first to admit he’s not a chef. Think of it more like a cross between a stand-up routine, a magic show, and an episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway?

The first part of the show featured a bit exploring what Brown would do if he were the god of food, including ending the reign of Sriracha as a trendy food with a song called “Sriracha” sung to the tune of “Maria” from West Side Story. He also started an interactive bit in which he would make all the rats in the world taste like bacon that was supposed to include participation from an audience member, but the woman acted all weird and he ended up having to abort. There was also a very funny story involving breaking tortilla chips, a late-night visit to the refrigerator and an old blind dog.

Next was another audience interaction in which a woman was brought up from the seats to pick a terrible cocktail recipe at random, which would then be improved by the application of science and liquid nitrogen. This one worked out much better.

After intermission, most of the time was talking about popcorn, including one of Alton’s signature mega-cooking constructions, in this case a massive rocket-shaped hot air popper. This also included an audience member and was very funny. Finally, there was a Q-and-A featuring questions gleaned from audience members over Twitter.

All in all, it was a great show with lots of fun and lots of laugh, showcasing Alton’s showmanship, his rapport with his audience, and his great improv skills.

It was also a great night out for me and Melanie, with just a few downsides. The Wang Center’s seats have about 16 inches for your knees, which was torture on Melanie, plus the seats were about 16 inches wide, which was torture on me. And up where we were sitting it was crazy hot and humid, especially since we dressed for late October, not midsummer. Getting home also took forever, probably because of everybody going out for Halloween weekend, but that wasn’t terrible since we got to have good uninterrupted conversation in the car.

On the whole, however, it was all worth it to see Alton Brown, who I’ve watched and followed for years and admire for his approach to food, but also to how to live like a gentleman. The next time he’s on tour, I hope we can see him again. Next time we’ll spring for better seats though.

  1. It is, after all, part of my daily carry.

More Tales of Social Media Marketing Mistakes

Earlier this year I wrote a blog post1 about college students moving to low-tax states. I wanted to illustrate it with an image of a young person house-moving and found one on Flickr on the account of a small moving company that looks to appeal to young people. The photo was available under a Creative Commons license with an attribution requirement. So I used the photo under the terms they had provided.

Fast forward to earlier this month. I get an email from a marketing company. Thank you, they said, for featuring our client on your web site, but we need you to hyperlink the image so that it directs readers to our web site. They didn’t tell me which photo or where it was on my site. My blog has been around for nearly two decades and has thousands of entries. I didn’t know what they were talking about.

Eventually through some sleuthing, I figured out which blog post and photo. First, I wasn’t featuring their client on my site. I was using their photo—in accordance with the usage restrictions they had listed—to illustrate an unrelated story. Second, I had followed the attribution requirements that they selected when making the photo available. Third, that’s not how my site software works. I can’t hyperlink the “hero” image at the top of my blog posts.

I didn’t want the hassle so I just found another image on a different site that was about “moving” and replaced theirs. Then I sent the PR person an email in reply telling her, “Never mind, I’ve replaced the image with one unrelated to your client that doesn’t have special requirements.”

So instead of free advertising for her client (the logo was prominent in the image), they get nothing. Rather than increase her client’s virality and Google-rank, she decreased it by making a silly and annoying request. If they want people to handle their images differently, then they should say so up front in their rights disclosure.

  1. I’m not linking the post or mentioning the mover because it’s not relevant.

Recipe: Grilled Eggplant with Cilantro-Chile-Mint Sauce

This recipe combines two different recipes from Milk Street Kitchen that have Israeli and Iranian origins. The first is Grilled Eggplant with Sesame and Herbs and the second is Broiled Eggplant with Chilies and Cilantro. The latter includes as one of the ingredients a sweet-and-sour mint dressing called Sekanjabin.

What I have done is taken the cooking technique of the grilled eggplant and combined it with the flavors of the broiled. What results is a wonderfully creamy, spicy and sweet vegetable that’s good on its own, but is also very good spread on some crusty bread. We’ve now made it three times in the past month and we can’t get enough of it.

So here’s what you do.

Ingredients

2 medium eggplants (1 to 1½ pounds each), halved lengthwise
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
6 garlic cloves, finely grated
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chili-garlic sauce
2 tablespoons sweet-and-sour mint dressing (see below)

Directions

Start a charcoal fire in your grill and bank the coals on one side to create a two-zone cooking space, or turn on half the burners on your propane grill or set your oven rack so that eggplants on a baking sheet are six inches from the broiler element and pre-heat the broiler.

Halve the eggplants lengthwise from stem to bottom and score the surface in a diagonal crosshatch pattern, being careful not to cut through the skin.

Take 1/4 cup of olive oil and brush the four surfaces generously until all the oil is absorbed. Eggplant is very absorbent and it should take it all up. Season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, put the grated garlic in the remaining 1/4 cup of oil and set aside.

Place the eggplant halves cut side down over the fire on the grill for 5 to 10 minutes until they are deeply browned, then flip over onto the cooler side of the grill. Brush in the garlic-oil mixture, being sure to get the garlic deep into the scored crevices. Cover the grill and cook for 30-40 minutes more or until a skewer pushes through the eggplant horizontally without resistance. Remove from the fire.

(If broiling, after the tops are golden brown, then reduce the oven to 475° to finish cooking.)

In a spacious bowl, combine the cilantro, chili-garlic sauce, and sweet-and-sour dressing. Using a fork and a spoon, gently scrape and mash the eggplant flesh, either leaving it in the skin or scooping into the bowl. If leaving in the skin, divide the cilantro mix among the eggplant halves and mix together. Otherwise, mix the mashed eggplant with the cilantro-chile mixture and serve in a bowl.

Sekanjabin (Sweet-and-Sour Mint Dressing)

Ingredients

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cider vinegar, divided
1/2 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 ounce fresh mint, leaves and stems

Directions

Combine honey, salt, and 1/2 cup cider vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Reduce for about 7 minutes, until it’s about 1/2 cup.

Remove from the heat and add the mint, mixing to combine well. After it has cooled, strain into a bowl. add the remaining cider vinegar and stir. Refrigerate for up to 1 month.

Who Are These People In These Stories?

Beth Teitell is a “life in these modern times” reporter for The Boston Globe, who writes stories about the foibles and challenges of the fast-paced technological era we live in and how “ordinary” people cope1, often with a dollop of humor or irony. Some of her recent articles have focused on millennials ordering fast-food takeout instead of cooking their own meals; families texting each other within the same house or even the same room; teen boys who regularly take Ubers, usually prompted by parents too busy to drive them around; the fact that $1 million in Boston buys you a fixer-upper; the phenomenon of the “she shed” as a reaction to man caves; and so on.

The ever-present common elements in almost every story include:

  1. The busy, harried working mom who sounds annoyed by the demands her family places on her.
  2. The guilty parent who knows their kids are way more pampered, sheltered and coddled than they ever were as a kid, but does it anyway, while simultaneously piling a work/play schedule on the children that would kill a 50-year-old with stress in the name of “getting into a good college.”
  3. The desire to be like all the other professional working women whose opinions they value above all others.
  4. Almost exclusively upper-middle class to upper incomes and hometowns in the toniest suburbs or neighborhoods of Boston
  5. The phrase “Don’t judge me, but…” followed by an excuse for a display of conspicuous excess.

The story that prompted this post was her article on parents relying on Uber to shuttle their kids to and fro instead of doing it themselves. What’s ironic is that I just remembered that three years ago today, I wrote a similar post about an article Teitell wrote about the ways that pre-Uber carpooling had taken over the lives of these well-heeled families and I see how both articles unspool in the same ways.

As I read these articles, I’m left scratching my head. Who are these people? Is this supposed to be what passes for middle class family life in the Boston area? Because none of these stories ever look like me and my family or any family I know.

If these do reflect a widespread reality, they make me tremble for what we’re doing to ourselves. The disconnection among family members, the barely concealed annoyance with family, the me-first individualism, the entitlement attitudes, the life-altering stressfulness: Is it any wonder people are feeling fractured and unrooted and dissatisfied more than ever before?

I wonder if this is a coastal or big city or Northeast phenomenon or if it’s fairly universal. But while it makes me worry about our country, at least I feel pretty good about how we’re doing as a family.

  1. And by “ordinary”, they usually mean “families who make seriously north of six figures in well-to-do suburbs and Boston neighborhoods.”

Rolling Back the Mandate

The Trump administration will be keeping a campaign promise very soon when it restores the rights of employers and removes the Affordable Care Act requirement that they buy birth control for their employees or their dependents.

This was one of the most contentious provision of Obamacare when it passed half-a-decade ago and has been the subject of lawsuits ever since from religious employers, primarily Catholic institutions, but also private businesses who have moral objections.

Of course, the news coverage makes it sound like employers will now be issuing chastity belts in place of the Pill. They’re using terms like “roll back” and “losing benefits”, as if there were no other way for women to obtain the Pill.

Incidentally, it’s difficult to track down the true no-insurance cost of a month of birth control. Those opposed to the mandate have often cited $9 per month, but much of the media who demand the coverage cite $15 to $50 per month. However, in every story I consulted, that number came from Planned Parenthood, which has a vested interest in making it seem too expensive for poor women to buy it for themselves.

Of course, the reality is that fertility is not a disease and there are lots of pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter remedies and other health and wellness products that aren’t covered by insurance. The simplest remedy to pregnancy is to avoid sex. If you want to get technical about it, you can avoid sex during the fertile times of the month. All it takes is a thermometer and a chart.

The fact is that this is a symptom of a much larger problem, which is the infantilization of America. Whether it’s birth control or some other basic “necessity”, we keep turning to our employers and the government to provide us with all we need, rather than taking care of ourselves. Frankly, the surest way to make something expensive anyway is to make the government buy it or mandate it.

Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too): A Book Review

There are lots of books that outline all the reasons one should give up atheism or other religions and become Catholic and with good reason: Because the path to the Catholic faith has its origins in many places and wends its way through a myriad of obstacles, challenges, and objections.

Brandon Vogt—one of the smartest, engaging, and energetic young Catholics out there—has written a new book, “Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too),” that offers his own take on why one should consider the Catholic faith, a take that is aimed directly at the “nones”, the large and growing percentage of mostly young Americans today who tell pollsters that they have no religious preference, and does so in a way that should appeal to a younger audience, characterizing becoming Catholic as a way of “joining the Rebellion”, rather than giving into a massive institution.

I’ll admit it’s a weird decision. It goes against the grain. It’s radical. It is, in a word, rebellious.

In this concise, yet compelling book, Brandon outlines the reasons why anyone seeking the truth should become Catholic, using arguments both old and new. Brandon is an engineer by training and a philosopher by avocation so it’s no surprise that the book and its arguments are laid out in a logical progression, from whether God exists, to the necessity of religion vs. pure spirituality, to the supremacy of Christianity over other religions, to the Catholic Church. Read More and Comment

Is the iPhone X worth $1,000?

Here’s the thing about the new iPhone X. Apple needed to create a top-of-the-line, all-the-bells-and-whistles phone because every major phone maker must have one like it. The problem is that unlike most Android phone manufacturers, Apple has to make their phones in immense quantities.

A middle-of-the-road Android manufacturer will sell probably 10,000 to 100,000 units of their top of the line phone. If Apple priced their top phone at the normal tiers starting at $699, the demand would be for the usual 10 million, at least, and perhaps more. Which is great if you can make the phones.

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