Friday, October 2, 2015

Dinner on the Fly - Lessons on Life from the Kitchen

Folks - the internet will be likely shut off Friday or Saturday morning in preparation for the move out of the Crash Pad Saturday so I will save this to come up to give you a short story and recipe. Hopefully I will be back on line Sunday, safe at home.
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Back when I was in my late 20's, I had an evaluation for a leadership position for an outfit I worked for.  It was something in which no woman had ever held the position and certainly not anyone my age.  I'd like to say I was cool and collected but I was nervous as hell.  At any point in the interview I expected the next thing out of my mouth to be "Beer" or "Donut".   The senior folks read through my resume (oh please, please tell me I used the word "Statistical" and not "Sadistical") and  commented on the recent MBA (not my first choice in studies, but I knew that just being a science geek or a pilot isn't guarantee of leadership positions later).  They also mentioned my age (back in those days you didn't have HR breathing down your next going "Good Heavens, Man, you can't ask THAT question?)

After the technical type questions I did OK at came the deal breaker - "Describe your organizational skills".

I thought of all those classes, I thought of Peter Drucker books and multi attribute utility diagrams; I thought of getting a big box of an airplane across a big desert with steam gauges and sweat. One never forget those flights, suspended in space, hanging from a point between mobility and absolutely motion, thinking there is no better job as you chase the wind, knowing it's too good to last. I thought of budgets and acquisitions and purchase orders and how none of them do you any good when you're looking down at 200 miles of open water and the EICAS panel is lit up like a Christmas tree and everyone is looking at you to make a decision before the other one flames out.


All those things I thought, but what came out of my mouth  without pausing for breath, was "I once cooked Thanksgiving dinner for 23 pilots including real mashed potatoes and pie without a microwave and everything was hot on the table at the same time.

"Oh, Crap, did I just SAY that?"  I thought, as I felt a breeze on my cheek, the axe falling, most likely. What's next, conversation about dishware and shoes?

But I got hired.  A couple days later I was riding herd on a couple hundred people.  I hoped they didn't all expect pie.

So for tonight, a little lesson on creativity and timing.  Sometimes it all comes together, sometimes it's "Hello Aurelio's?"  There are a million cookbooks out there, but some of the best meals are when you just get creative with what's in the kitchen. Sure, there is the occasional disaster (do not substitute duck wings for chicken wings and cook for the same amount of time unless you have a craving for rubber bands) but with practice and a few hints, most folks can learn to craft such a meal without resorting to a sodium drenched frozen something that costs three times as much as making it yourself.

It started with a  pack of two turkey tenderloins I got on sale for less than $4, some fresh veggies and some dry goods/  I said "tenderloin with garlic sliced in a chardonnay sauce?" and Partner in Grime said "stuffing with onion and celery as a bed?" and it went from there.

It ended up as this.

Turkey Tenderloin in White Wine Reduction with Garlic and Mushrooms served on Onion/Sage stuffing with Walnut Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pear Cinnamon Balsamic glaze. 

No recipe, no rules, and two big thumbs up.

Start with the tenderloin(s).  Marinate in a dab of olive oil, a little lemon juice and then rub with garlic and roast until not quite done (about 10 minutes less than package directions, still pink in the middle). While that cooks, chop a couple large sweet potatoes in two inch chunks, toss with a litttle walnut oil and place in a cooking pan. While you're in the chopping mode, chop 1 and 1/2 onions ( the half in small pieces, and the whole one in bigger chunks) and also chop  2-3 stalks of celery.  Throw the whole onion in bigger pieces in with the potatoes.  I have these nifty Ceramic knives that Old NFO gave me a few years back that make it easy. Preheat oven to the temp on tenderloin package.

Get out a box of Stove Top stuffing (also on clearance) put water and butter per directions in pan with 1/2 teaspoon of sage and set on cold burner.


Saute the celery and the half onion bits in a pan with a little EVOO until the celery is JUST starting to get limp and the onion is starting to caramelize.  Toss the celery/onion mixture in the water for the stuffing, and put pan back on a cold burner.

About now, the timer for the turkey should go off.  Remove it from oven and let cool slightly, then slice in pieces.  Place potatoes in oven, the temperature raised to 375 F. and the timer set for 30 minutes.

Turn the heat on the water for the stuffing on warm (you want it to heat, not simmer).  In the same pan you did the onions and celery in, saute some sliced mushrooms and a child sized handful of fresh basil.  When the mushrooms are starting to soften, drain off any liquid and add 3/4 cup of white wine, and a splash of lemon juice, stir until the liquid begins to cook down a little bit. Place turkey slices on top and let it finish cooking, stirring occasionally to let the wine reduction cook down, adding 2-3 tablespoons of butter at the end to thicken. Leave pan on low, stirring occasionally, while potatoes finish up.


When timer goes off for potatoes (or when they are starting to be get soft) drizzle1/4 cup Cinnamon Pear Balsamic Vinegar over top (from Artesanos, or your favorite balsamic).  Stir and return to oven for 10 minutes or until soft in the middle when poked with a fork.

Raise the heat under the veggie infused stuffing water  and heat to boiling, add stuffing mix.  Stir, cover and remove from heat.

When potatoes are done, everything is done. Serve turkey over stuffing with sweet potatoes. Drizzle any extra juice from the glazed potatoes over the turkey and stuffing. 

It might not be dinner for 23. It may just be dinner with your best friends of the two and four legged variety; time to laugh, time to shed the worries of the week, watching them all fly away as the wine is poured, burdens vanishing as they approach the color of wind.

5 comments:

  1. I can empathize on that organizational skills answer.

    Scene: bush camp, Northern Ontario, August 1967.

    50 miles from town by boat and truck. Cook gets fired for on the job drinking.

    OOPS!

    24 hungry teen males will invade the dining room at 0630 expecting more than cold cereal.

    No electricity or propane within 20 miles: stove demands kindling, then pine, then chunks of birch to maintain a steady heat.

    And yes, they got fed, but no pie for the lunch boxes. Just take an extra ham sandwich, kid.

    In retrospect, one of life's more shining moments.





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  2. Travel safe. We'll be looking for you Monday. And that looks great! :-)

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  3. I wonder how many times your answer to the "organizational skills" question has been repeated at the "interviewers" own Thanksgiving dinners?

    Great skill to have and pull off successfully BTW!

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  4. Is tha A4 a flying model or what? can't figure out from the pic what that thing is sticking up from the pilots ,ahem, lap?

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  5. The thing I love about this story (and I've read it a few times over the years :)) is that it reminds me of my mother. She's certainly not a technical geek. But come Thanksgiving given half a choice I'm going home. Why?

    Because she's the only woman in the family who can get a Thanksgiving meal for 15+ people to the table, hot. The way its supposed to be. That, is a dying, and impressive art. It takes planning, leadership (of your likely less then talented help) and a little improvisation. :)

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