Hector Wong's "Ho Ho Ho Hawaii'

hector's_ho_ho_ho_hawaii_11_2013.jpgHappy Holidays. Here is my Thanksgiving recap, which I repeat for Christmas and New Years. Happy all everyone. This year I was 'dedocratically' elected to host Thanksgiving. Dedocratically is my Spanglish word for 'dedo' which means finger, and 'cratic' for part of the word democratic. I was appointed by a finger! I adore hosting Thanksgiving because I have an opportunity to cook savory. Most importantly, I have an opportunity to serve more than one dessert! This year, I made 4 pies, each with alternatives to flour. Please don't label me the next gluten freak. I am slowly converting a few recipes without flour or with grains that are a little less common. Flour is wonderful, and I can't live without it. But as with everything, moderation is the key for long living and eating. I believe flour is overly used, specially the common wheat flour. It does not need to be everywhere! Pie crust, pressed cookie bottoms, and turkey stuffing, works great with little or no flour.

In order by time, as I made these, served these, or put away these: 1- TWO TOTAL TURKEYS. I was never a believer of stuffing, because it makes the bird technically impossible to cook properly, literally! Stuffing baked in the bird, prolongs the cooking time and dries out the breast. This changed after I read Rose's Celebrations cookbook, the turkey breast meat and breast bone are surgically removed, leaving the skin intact. Then the bird is stuffed. It is the best stuffing that can exist, soaked in the roasting juices, and wrapped under the crisp breast skin. The removed breast is baked separately. Nowadays, I tweak Rose's recipe. I buy a second turkey to make fresh turkey stock. I bake the stuffing on a pan, with the fresh turkey stock, and cover the pan with pieces of raw turkey skin. This year, I saved the turkey meat; shredded, it became a stuffing ingredient. The second turkey is roasted, unstuffed. The turkey is rubbed with a traditional Peruvian marinade. The recipe is coming in my next cookbook, but you can ask anyone from Peru how to make Peruvian marinade. There are more than a dozen methods to roast a turkey and prevent it from drying out. The sure way, and in my opinion the only way, is to use a thermometer to read the internal meat temperature. Please forget all the tricks, such as foil, an apple inside, basting, upside down roasting, a v-rack, a paper bag, misting, praying, keeping your spouse cleaning the house and away from the kitchen, etc. Use a thermometer instead. The breast is done when it reaches 160 oF. If you plan to serve the thighs, put a second thermometer on the thighs. The thighs are done when it reaches 175 oF. Yes, white meat and read meat don't always get along, and it isn't kosher to use the n word in the food business. If the breast goes a degree over 160 oF, you are dry-doomed, all the pan juices or gravy you add will not fix anything; you can drown the overcooked meat in liquid, and it will never ever moisten. If the breast is done (160 oF), and the thighs aren't (175 oF), serve only the breast, and after you are done carving the breast, return the turkey to the oven to continue to cook. Did you know that salmonella is dead at 140oF? So, honestly, if I am the only one eating, I cook my turkey to only 140 oF (ok maybe 145 to be exact, or possibly up to 150 oF, but no more). Enjoy pink, after all November is only a month after the pink month. The breast meat is amazingly juicy at 150 oF. It is pink, but not runny red, and if you quickly dunk your carved meat in the pan juices, nobody will ever notice. I am quoting my mother, everyone still remembers her incredibly moist turkey which NOONE had ever replicated. Before her death, she told me: "the turkey needs to be under done." 2- LEMON MERINGUE PIE. The recipe is as straight as I can do it, from The Pie and Pastry Bible. Lemon meringue pies are loved with the mountain high meringue. I believe it is a messy and cumbersome, to use a spoon, spatula, or fork, to create a meringue mountain. So, my take is to use a very large rose petal piping tip. First, create a small mountain with half of the meringue (with a spoon), and then, cover with rose petals. The crust is Rose's Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust, which I adore making and eating. This year, instead of all purpose flour, I decided to use einkorn flour. Einkorn is an ancient wheat, and it is well tolerated by people who suffer from allergies. Also, instead of rolling the pie crust, I decided to press it on the pan instead of pressing a dough ball and rolling it. The results were great, the crust was tender, but not as flaky, so more on this later. Believe it or not, this year, I didn't use my pastry board or my rolling pin! Also, I realized, I don't have a high quality metal pie pan. I think next year, I will bake all my pies in cheesecake pans, since after all, I wrote a cheesecake cookbook! Buy my book: I love how pies shape on cheesecake pans. Look at my pumpkin chiffon pie. And, I bet, pies bake more evenly in cheesecake pans. Perhaps you don't need crust on the sides, it hides the filling, and it is harder to slice! 3- RICE. Plain good old white rice. I don't use beans to pre bake my pie crust. I use rice. Save the rice and cook it as you normally cook rice, it will have a distinct buttery golden taste. 4- PECAN PIE Another recipe, as straight as I can do it, from Rose's Celebration. I constantly swear to everyone about how to fix the usual problems of overly sweet and overly clogging pecan pies, by making small changes. Use a tart pan: there is a higher proportion of nuts and crust compared to filling. Use lyle's golden syrup: it is tastier and slightly less sweet compared to corn syrup. Serve it with a chocolate drizzle: chocolate is the perfect compliment and the bitter in it heightens all flavors. Wow, this was my favorite of everything I made. 5- LEMON CHIFFON CAKE I actually didn't make this for Thanksgiving, but for the Sunday prior. But I like to include it on this story because this is the recipe from The Cake Bible, but using corn starch instead of flour. More to report later, I just wanted to tell you it was as tall as my head. 6- LINZERTORTE In my opinion, linzertorte is Austria's best contribution to the pastry world. It is easy to make (all pies and pastries are so complex to execute), and it uses very few ingredients. The hardest part is making your own raspberry jam, because anything money can buy contains more sugar than raspberry. I make my raspberry jam years ahead! Instead of all purpose flour, I am using freshly ground whole grain kamut. And instead of un-skinned almonds, I am using mac nuts. I figure, it is necessary to keep the "skin" balance, so using nuts without skin, which mac nuts are, is necessary, since the skin is coming from the whole grain kamut. One recipe makes 4 small tarts. Instead of rolling the lattice and the little balls for decor, I made a turtle shell pattern. Make little discs of varied sizes and arrange on top of the jam like laying garden stepping stones. Linzertorte is crisp on the first day, and becomes softer and more delicious as days go by; keeps at room temperature for over a week. The raspberry flavor ripens and intensifies with the nuts. For my kamut take, I recommend making it 7 days ahead. The whole wheat freshly ground kamut becomes less gritty, unless you have a flour mill sifter to remove some of the brand... which I don't... I figure, owning a flour mill is already over the top! 7- BRUSSELS AND ASPARAGUS Everyone seems to have made brussels sprouts this year for Thanksgiving. I made mine's 2 months ago! Fill a foodsaver vacuum bag with brussels sprouts, water, salt, a touch of sugar, hot pepper, and a little white vinegar. Seal, and boil the bag until slightly underdone. Then, dip the hot bag in iced water, to quickly cool it down, which keeps the greens green. It stores in the refrigerator for weeks, because this is almost like canning or pickling. The cooking time for brussels sprouts is 20 minutes, for asparagus is 10. For artichokes is 45. I timed my artichokes wrong, so they were too underdone and inedible, but I still put them on the table as table decor. 8- STUFFING No-one, I repeat, no-one, goes to my extend of trouble to make stuffing. It has become my favorite food to eat. The recipe evolved from Rose's Celebrations. I make different substitutions each year, depending on how I feel culturally. One year, I used Chinese sausage and taro instead of Italian sausage and chestnuts. Most years, I use homemade bread croutons instead of store bought ones. This year, my homemade croutons were wheat free. I loved them so much, I think no-one should be using bread croutons. I use fresh bread fruit (ulu). It is a pain to cube, because the fruit sap is very hard to clean; use a plastic cutting board and run it in the dishwasher at least 5 times. Peel and clean the bread fruit. Cut large cubes, about 1/2" square. Toss with a generous amount of olive oil and salt. Bake in a sheet pan, as a single layer, at 200 oF until golden, which takes about 2 hours. Low heat and long time are needed for the bread fruit to lose water and shrink before it roasts. I highly recommend you do it months ahead, and keep frozen. My croutons are short of spectacular. They absorb all the stuffing juices just like how bread croutons do. The flavor is amazing; please try it. This is a reason I claim flour is overly used! Mushrooms, fresh turkey stock, onions, chestnuts, Portuguese sausage, sage, thyme, and the white meat from my first turkey, are in the stuffing. The best place to find chestnuts is Chinatown. I realized, Chinatown is the best place to buy any last minute Thanksgiving ingredients. For some reason, nobody was in Chinatown shopping during Thanksgiving Day, and all stores in Chinatown were open! 9- PUMPKIN CHIFFON PIE Another recipe, almost straight, from the Pie and Pastry Bible. In my opinion, compared to a traditional pumpkin pie, a pumpkin chiffon pie belongs to the table on Thanksgiving. A traditional pumpkin pie is too heavy to enjoy after a big meal, and perhaps the reason many people hate pumpkin pie! A pumpkin chiffon pie has all the ingredients of a regular pumpkin pie, except the filling is aired with meringue. It is eating air. Honestly, it feels being cheated eating something that is half filling, but you will appreciate on Thanksgiving. My crust is completely flourless. I replace the flour, that I would normally use to make gingersnap cookies, with powdered mac nuts. Together with the ground pecans and fresh ginger, it is awesome. The topping is whipped cream, with dulce de leche instead of sugar. You can't go wrong with anything from dulce de leche. It also helps keep the whipped cream from watering. 10- PUMPKIN POKE Poke is Hawaii's ceviche and loved as the ideal finger food prior dinner. My guests loved the pumpkin take. Instead of fish, there was cubed pumpkin. This was a much lighter finger food than serving the usual cheese or crackers which would be too heavy for Thanksgiving and needless to say boring. Honestly, I never serve any finger foods. In my opinion, it is the worse thing to do, filling your stomach unnecessarily prior dinner; needless to say, there will be no room, in you, for dessert, and that will piss me off. Pumpkin poke is my invention. It is cubes of butternut squash cooked 'al dente' with all the spices of pumpkin pie: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, light brown sugar, salt, etc; except with about 1/3 of the sugar and 3 times more the salt. Refrigerate for 2 hours. Add a lot of fresh lemon juice as if you were making ceviche, then refrigerate overnight and serve with salted onions. It is served cold, and I used my 3-compartment stacked server. As guests arrived and devoured a section, I would remove the empty section and reveal the section under, which remained cold and good looking. Was perfect to stage this, as something to nibble on, while waiting for all guests to arrive. My friends never arrive on time. 11- BEANS Plain good ole white beans cooked in the raw clay pot. My clay pot is artisan made and unglazed. I love it. Unglazed clay leaks, but with repeated use, it starts to seal. It is fun to use. Every now and then, the bottom of the pot makes a windy noise and a squirt of water sizzles on the fire. The kitchen smells amazing, as flavor permeates from the inside of the pot to the outside, and from the bottom fire to the inside of the pot. I often use a pressure cooker for beans, but I could never tell exactly when the beans were done, depending on the bean variety and how long the beans has been stored, the cooking time varies. If you have all the time in the world, use a clay pot and watch the beans transform til done. I soak my beans in water and salt overnight as this recipe demonstrates. It is an amazing technique. The amount of water and salt are measured. Believe or not, a little salt in the water helps the beans absorb water (via osmosis). Also, the salt prevents the beans to ferment which is specially good if you live in hot hawaii. 12- EAR PLUGS In closing, wearing yellow ear mufflers is awesome to keep the mixer noise enjoyable.