Category Archives: feasts

Roasted Turkey Ballottine stuffed with Venison Sausage and Brown Rice Pilaf

My food therapy continues.

I’ve been cooking a bit for a friend (the “boss”) who has a bounty of hunted, caught and harvested foods on hand and it has become an unexpected way for me to connect with food again.

It’s not about my career, I’m ready for a new direction; it’s about me and food. It’s a very personal relationship that has been deeply wounded by trauma and physical ability, but healing is happening in these solitary afternoons in someone else’s kitchen.

I was planning to make turkey sausage today using one of the recently slaughtered farm raised turkeys and I needed it boneless for the grinder. I decided to test my chops, and my disgruntled hand, and debone the whole damn bird. I removed all the bones, except the wings, leaving the skin basically in tact. I was going old school, back the beginning.

I didn’t need to do it, but I wanted to. I may never have another chance. I mean how often do you have a whole turkey you need to carve raw?

It starts with a slice down the spine using a sharp boning knife, then slowly separating the skin and meat away from the carcass without breaking through the skin anywhere except the neck and legs. The real test is the breast bone, there’s only one chance for a showpiece finish. Spoiler alert… I did it! My hand is only a little worse for the wear too.

Ready for stuffing

Dem bones.

As I mentioned, my intention was to make sausage; until the boss walked in. “I thought you were roasting it!” “No,” I said with a smile, “sausage!” Back and forth we went for a few quick rounds of remember this and what about that. Ultimately, cravings win every time. I can do this.

When I arrived that morning I noticed a jar of marinara on the table. I assumed it was a hint, so I decided to make him venison sausage and pork meatball angel hair pasta for dinner. There were savory sausage patties in the freezer I had made previously (my venison story has yet to be told).

His sister had also made fantastic meatballs with his pork, so I pulled some from the freezer to use too. I think he would have liked that. The reason I mention it is that I already had onions sautéing with venison sausage while the turkey debate was underway. Now, there shall be no pasta and I have to shift gears to roasting the boneless turkey. I can do this.

The beauty of his kitchen is limited supplies. Not too many options and back to basic pantry resources; it helps to keep my mind from getting overwhelmed. I found a bit of brown rice in the cupboard and decided to cook it al dente and stuff that bird!

While the brown rice and venison pilaf simmered, I diced some organic spinach and carrots to toss in the mix. A bit of color in the final dish.

I seasoned the inside of the bird with some salt and pepper, parsley, nutmeg, and a few thin slices of butter along the breast meat. I keep a little supply kit of some herbs and ingredients I like around too, including some sprigs of amazing wild mountain oregano and thyme from Greece. A dear friend brought me back bunches from her recent trip. Oh yes, that’s right, I also sprinkled those on the bird!

Once the rice was al dente, done but able to handle more cooking, I took it off the heat and let it cool a bit. I then piled in as much as possible into the center of the bird, shoved some in the leg pockets, then stretched and pulled; overlapping the skin alternately like a shoe lace. As it turned out, the oregano has a very sturdy stalk which worked perfect as a skewer to secure my franken turkey’s backside together.

I lightly oiled the outside of the bird just before going in the oven, then I noticed a colorful plate of fresh veggies out of the corner of my eye, waiting to be added to the now stuffed rice mixture. I decided it would make a perfect accompaniment as a side salad. There are no mistakes, only menu revisions.

In the bird goes… but the oven is questionably luke warm. I turn it up, thinking maybe it’s just off a bit. After 30 minutes at 550* I can reach in and grab the pan. This is not gonna happen.

Only one thing to do, the birds coming home with me. So it does, then goes directly into my oven. After about 20 minutes at 425* the backside was golden and crisp; I broke some of the longer oregano sticks off and flipped the bird. The breast was now up, lightly golden and ready to be a show bird when done.

It cooked about another 15 minutes at 425* and at the timers buzz it was perfectly golden but needed time for the center to get properly heated. I dropped the oven down to 350* and covered it loosely with a brown paper bag. He prefers that I don’t cook with foil.

I basted the bird a few random times as well, mostly to grab a quick “quality control” sampling of the drippings. It cooked another 30 minutes or so until a minimum 165* internal temperature was reached in the thigh and the rice center. After about an hour of cooking, I had a speculator feast for the senses.

Any roast should sit and rest about 20 minutes before carving. I could dig in, but I don’t have the heart to cut into it before he sees it tomorrow. It’s a special dish for sure. Traditionally ballotines (and galantines) are often served cold, though the rich pan drippings and crunchy bubbly skin is seducing me. Maybe he won’t notice just a nibble.

Fortunately there’s leftover lunch for the boss to enjoy instead. He pulled some local salmon he caught from the freezer for me to make today too, so I whipped up a lightly battered fish and chips with homemade cocktail sauce. He says it’s a favorite. Warmed up and served with that spinach salad I unexpectedly made and dinners ready!

It’s maybe a not so random road that life puts us on. Who knows how we got here, it certainly wasn’t planned, but it’s truly a win-win-win. My friend , the “boss” can enjoy and share amazing quality food he worked hard for, cooked deliciously by a retired classically trained French chef (me!) and I will hopefully find a new life long love affair with food.

Amen.

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Next…

Today I said the words “Maybe I won’t be a Chef anymore”.

I’ve never said that before. What struck me even more than the words themselves was that I was comfortable with them. I wasn’t experiencing the same sensations I was getting when I tried to picture going back to the kitchen, planning an event, building a recipe. The thought of doing these once innate skills suddenly brought on feelings of dread, anxiety, tension and stress. But none of that happened when I made that comment.

This is my career, my passion. A lifelong joy, dedication and decades of hard work. Then suddenly it’s not. It was gone quickly after the death of my husband. I’ve slowly been putting myself into work, but I’m not getting the same gratification from it. Food doesn’t really look good or taste good or inspire me. It’s important to do the job right, make my customers happy, never let them down; but what I get in return is not what it used to be. And that sucks. It’s really messing with my head.

And then I made that comment to my therapist. And it felt ok, it was ok. There are several theories as to why my grief has created this barrier for my return to work. Is it because work was an escape and I no longer need an escape? Is it because I have already decided I can’t go back to my “old’ life and that was part of it? Or maybe it is just the universe keeping me on a new path. I have long known I don’t have the hands for many  more years in production; but suddenly I don’t have the head or the heart.

That became clear when I took the bandages off after trigger finger surgery. Because I was losing his insurance, I had to expedite the surgery planned for later in the year to shortly after his passing. The visible wound finally “healed” but I was not able to do what I used to. That’s when I realized it wasn’t just the hand. Without the head you can’t run a kitchen, it’s a multi-tasking skill of planning and timing; I’m functioning on a single task mindset. Without the heart the food falls flat, it has no passion or character; there is a difference, you really can taste the love.

Then, there is the issue of my muted taste buds. I have not had a properly functioning palate in months and let me tell you, it is a cruel hell on earth for a Chef to lose their taste. I believe it is a situational manifestation of my current situation…. and not permanent. Fingers crossed.

When I take a step back and realize I presently can’t taste food well, am not physically able to cook well, don’t “feel” like doing it and don’t see myself doing it; then maybe I have to acknowledge there’s a reason for that. Maybe, if I allow myself to make that a possibility, then new opportunities will open themselves up to me. I don’t feel like I have to walk away from everything I’ve created, I just know I can’t go back to what it was.

Recreating myself, my career, my business, my family, my future, my home, my habits… will take time. It’s all in transition and interwoven with grief and trauma. I’m just kind of a mess right now, even while getting the best care and love anyone could ask for. It seems to me the wisest things I can do for myself is to let it happen with an open mind, an open heart and honesty. And get good sleep.

Whatever I end up doing it’s just part of my new life. I don’t need to understand the hows and whys to see the signs telling me that what is coming is better than anything before; with effort, patience and time I will reap the good stuff.

Kind of like Artichokes and Abalone.

Cheesy Tater Soup

Todays soup du jour tasted great and it sure was pretty.

A little bit of this and a little bit of that.

  • Leftover Homemade Mac & Cheese Sauce
  • Chicken and Beef Broth (because chicken & beef make pork)
  • Heavy Cream
  • Chardonnay
  • Worcester
  • Potato Starch for thickening
  • Toppers: Fresh Parsley, minced cheese w/ Roasted Pepper and Caramelized Onion, and Crispy Bake Hash browns.

It was a very silky soup offering cheesy goodness and flavors with an unexpected complexity. It reminded me of Welsh rarebit. The crispy, fresh and savory toppings added a satisfying texture.

One of a kind – the best soups always are.