Catered by…Trader Joe’s

In food on 01/21/2009 at 7:51 pm

Trader Joe’s has been hit or miss lately. Sure we love the dairy products, namely their vanilla yogurt, string cheese and the newish Greek yogurt, and we find their quality to be comparable to the Whole Foods generic brand 365. But some of the stuff have been real dogs, especially the meat. Thanks to Trader Joe’s, our Thanksgiving last year was nearly ruined.

We bought our turkey from Trader Joe’s a week before the big day, happy to be done with shopping before the rush. The night before Thanksgiving, around 10pm, we decided to brine our bird, for optimal juiciness. When we cut open the plastic wrapping, the most heinous odor wafted into our kitchen/dining/living room. We couldn’t figure out where it was coming from exactly, I mean, meat isn’t supposed to smell, especially fowl. But after a few minutes of investigating this rotten plastic nauseousness, we concluded that we indeed had foul fowl.

This necessitated a 7am trip the next morning to Whole Foods to procure a fresh turkey, because Trader Joe’s wasn’t open. Then we undercooked the thing because we were so frazzled. We ended up eating at 8p, long after all our side dishes had turned ice cold. Though our guests were quite gracious, we were duly embarrassed with the fiasco.

At least we can say that the lenient return policy is true. It turned out that many other people had the same faulty bird snafu, so one wonders how many other Thanksgiving meals were ruined, or at least thrown off-schedule by the same horror we encountered.

Best new product: Vanilla Cake Mix.

This can be the base for many riffs on cake. I finally found a cake mix that is not chock-full of preservatives, though I still pine for my Duncan Hines childhood. Recently, I tried to reproduce Grandma’s lemon poppy seed loaf with this product. The mix calls for 1 stick of butter. I find that to be too sticky a final product, 2/3 would be better. Also, substitute 1/4 cup of lemon or lime  juice in the liquid requirements.The texture of the cake is more rough and strangely chewy, almost cornbread-like instead of spongy, but it’s still the best ‘organic’ cake product I’ve tasted.

Worst new product: Bratwurst

Another disappointing meat. The casing was too thick to bite through, the sausage itself, too small, almost the size of a breakfast link, and it was a strangely non-natural-looking pink hue. And the meat itself was too lean, not seasoned properly and ground into small bits. My other half wouldn’t even touch the stuff. Madison is, after all, home of the annual Bratfest.

What is so hard about making a good bratwurst? Apparently, a lot. For the longest time, bratwurst was not available in NYC. I’m talking about the raw version which usually comes in a coarser grind. The pre-cooked type doesn’t have the little pieces of fat mixed in that burst in juicy pockets when you bite into it. A couple years ago, Fairway finally started carrying Johnsonville Brats, and we always stocked up on 5 or 6 packs when we trekked down to the Hudson in our parkas to enter the cold meat room.

It’s funny in a sad way how local butchers can’t replicate the glory of a large brand-name bratwurst. Can the bratwurst really conquer conventional wisdom that homemade is better? We’ve never made sausages, yet. But the sausage maker/meat grinder attachment for the Kitchen-Aid is on the list. Father actually bought it for himself this year, so we’ll wait for his review to see if it’s worth buying. Our Persian friend recently invested in an industrial strength meat grinder to make fresh food for her Siamese cats, so we’ll do an equipment comparison with her.

Here is a classic recipe:

1lb 60% Pork, 40% Veal

1 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Onion
1/2 tsp White Pepper
1/2 tsp Marjoram
1/2 tsp Sage
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Celery Seed
1/8 tsp Ginger
1/8 tsp Mace
1/8 tsp Cardamon
2 oz Red Wine

Grind meat through 5/16″ plate. Stuff into sheep or hog casings and air dry for 30 min or until dry to the touch. Refrigerate or freeze for use.

The classic way to cook bratwurst is in beer for 20 min, then grill for flavor. Tuck inside bratwurst buns (special heartier hot dog buns, more QQ, not to be found in NYC at all) and top with sauerkraut and mustard.

cheesy bread

Bonus Recipe (Semi-Homemade with Jeju):

This is our go-to recipe when we’re craving pizza or cheesy bread. Alas, there are no good pizza joints near our apartment. Oh the travesty!

Trader Joe’s pizza dough

Rough cornmeal

Trader Joe’s shredded cheese, any variety

Parmesan cheese

Pizza sauce: (1 can tomato paste, 1 can worth water, drizzle of olive oil, oregano, basil, 1 tsp honey, 1sp vanilla extract, salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder, paprika; Mix well and let flavors mingle together at least 1 hour prior to use)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. A pizza stone is a must, you won’t get the proper crisp crust without it! Take pizza dough out of fridge to warm up at least 30 minutes before use. Very important to relax the gluten. No need to fight with your food.

Sprinkle flour on work surface. Coat ball of dough lightly as well. Spread out with fingertips. Roll out to 1/4″ thickness. Cover surface with thin layer of olive oil. Sprinkle with smoked sea salt, freshly ground black pepper. Oven should be at temperature now.

Sprinkle cornmeal on pizza stone in open oven. Work fast here and be careful of the heat! Fold dough into quarters and place carefully on pizza stone, unfold. Add sauce and toppings. Grate Parmesan cheese, then top with shredded cheese. (Chedda is betta.)

Cook for 7 minutes. Take pizza out and drizzle with truffle oil, if you have it. Cut and serve. Mangia!

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