Cooking up a storm
A benefit of having an Airstream the driveway is the use of a second refrigerator. The extra 10 cubic feet of our Dometic NDR1026 gas refrigerator always come in handy when Eleanor is stocking up on ingredients for a big feast. (By the way, the refrigerator has operated normally ever since we removed and reinstalled it in September at Paul Mayeux’s shop. The theory for its prior poor operation is that it had a small internal obstruction or bubble that was dislodged in the process.)
The flip side of having a second refrigerator is that someone has to go back and forth between the house and the Airstream to deliver and retrieve things from that refrigerator. This is where my talents are usually invested, along with tasks such as dumping the compost, taking out recycling and trash and documenting the cooking process with my camera. If only my college journalism professors could see me now…
In the morning I went out to get Keli the American Duck for her steam bath. Unfortunately, 24 hours in the refrigerator was not enough to fully defrost her. The refrigerator was running exactly 32.0 degrees inside, probably because temperatures have been cool in Tucson lately and because we put two solidly-frozen ducks in it. We reduced the refrigerator’s cooling level, but it was essentially too late. Keli couldn’t be steamed until she was fully defrosted.
We left the duck out on the counter for a while, and then Eleanor had a brainstorm. We’d just done a load of dishes and the dischwascher was still very warm from the drying cycle. Eleanor popped Keli on the lower rack for an hour, closed the door, and managed to get some of the defrosting process completed that way. But it wasn’t until after dinner that Keli was frost-free enough to come out of her plastic bag and get prepped for the pot.
In the meantime we had a technical problem to solve. We didn’t have a steamer large enough for a 5.1 pound duck. The pot needed to be big enough for the duck while sitting on a rack so that an inch or so of water could be brought to a boil beneath. After trying several odd contraptions we finally found a combination that would work, using two aluminum foil pie tins to support a pair of round cooling racks, upon which Keli perched.
The steaming process went well. Once the water was to a boil, Keli began sweating like a nervous Aeroflot passenger. Christopher Kimball and his team of cooking gurus were right: Keli the duck lost a lot of fat in a short period of time. I collected the grease/water combination when she was done, separated the water, and ended up with more than a quart of grease.
The city of Tucson has a program to keep grease out of the public sewage system. They’ll be collecting the grease on the day after Thanksgiving, where it gets turned into biodiesel fuel for cars. If I still had the Mercedes 300D, I would like to think that a bit of Keli-grease would come back to power my car a few miles.
This is not the end of Keli’s cooking process. Her next step, today, will be to visit the “tanning booth” (rotisserie) to brown the skin, with a bit more seasoning.
While Keli worked on her fat-reduction program, Eleanor also worked on the stuffing and the first of the side dishes. As I had feared, Eleanor has gone far off the reservation and so now the side dish list consists of:
boiled potatoes with fresh herbs
mixed grains & wild rice with persimmon & figs
pork & apple stuffing
haricot vert with cranberries & walnuts
butternut squash with pear & gorgonzola cheese
cipollini onions and chestnuts
roasted carrots and pearl onions
Romaine with pomegranate
Yeah, we’ll need some help with eating all of this … Carol & Tom, Mike & Becky, Rob & Theresa, Terry & Greg, Judy & Rick, David & Lee & Hannah: feel free to give a call today to schedule dinner with us this week. Please.
And when the actual Thanksgiving Day rolls around Eleanor plans to make pumpkin soup, too. I would try to stop her but (a) it’s all so good; (b) this is what she likes to do. You can’t stop a good chef any more than you can stop a monsoon. Eleanor cooking is like a force of nature. It’s just going to happen, so I’m going to continue playing errand/garbage boy and await the spectacle that is coming later today. Pierre is waiting too, for his moment in the oven with his rich French friends (bacon, butter, and more butter), so it is going to be an interesting day indeed.