Sunday, December 30, 2007

My First Roast Goose

While watching A Dickens's Christmas Carol and the Muppet's Christmas Carol this year, I found myself wondering about foods of Christmas past. I might have mentioned this previously but would Roast Goose make Christmas seem more...well more like Christmas? So I decided to have Goose for Christmas dinner this year.

I personally don't have a scullery maid with a cute Cockney accent to send to the butchers for a goose and didn't remember seeing any at the local supermarket. So I decided to order off the Internet. It didn't take me long to find Schiltz Goose Farms in South Dakota. I browsed the website to ensure it was a company that I felt comfortable doing business with and to try to find out if hopefully they raised their geese as humanely as possible. They do have several geese products marked as free range available. In the end because along with not having a scullery maid I also don't have a jolly, old cook in the kitchen, I decided to go with the Pre-roasted Goose. Not being sure what size to order, I figured the smallest size would be fine since I wasn't brave enough to invite over company this year for a goose dinner.

Upon putting in my order for the 6 1/2 pound pre-roasted goose, I noticed that I had waited too close to Christmas and unless I paid extra shipping (more than the cost of the bird) it would not arrive by Christmas. So feeling a little pinched by the cost of presents this year, I decided not to pay the extra shipping. Christmas dinner would just have to wait until the weekend for us. (Besides aren't there 12 days of Christmas anyway?) The company promptly contacted me by email to ensure that I knew the goose would not arrive until after Christmas. I emailed them back and told them that wasn't a problem.

The Goose arrived as expected on Friday. The goose was wrapped in plastic and felt heavier than 6 1/2 pounds. (Found out the next day that probably due to the ice packs wrapped in.) The bird barely fit in our little freezer but luckily it did. Next began the search for a roasting pan. I was expecting to find one for around $10 and did at Target however it didn't have a rack included in it. There was a roaster on sale for $17 with a little rack in it however since this is an experiment and I'm not sure if I will ever roast something again if this goose doesn't turn out...I felt the $17 could wait. We ended up finding a disposable roasting pan for a few dollars at the local supermarket.

Saturday evening we set the oven temperature to 380 degrees (instructions said 375 degrees but I don't think our oven heats up quite as well as new ones.) We unwrapped the goose out of several layers of plastic and ice packs. At that point it looked more like a 6 1/2 pound bird although still larger than I might have originally imagined it when I ordered it. Here is a picture of it frozen:

We put a little water in the bottom of the pan and stuck it in the oven for 75 minutes. Checking every so often to ensure there was still some water in the pan. I've read about goose roasting being a messy business but this pre-roasted goose was very simple. It took the goose about 85 or 90 minutes in our oven until the timer popped up. The 6 1/2 lb goose made enough for 2 hungry adults and 2 children (who were suspicious of the goose so ate only a little.) It seems like easily enough meat for a family of 4 or 5 (as long as the kids are not teenage boys with big appetites!) We also had mashed potatoes with it. The goose meat was dark and moist but not greasy. The color of all the goose meat looked darker than dark turkey meat. It almost looked more like pork than poultry. We saved the legs for later with some leftovers so not sure yet what the legs taste like. The breast meat was my favorite. Where turkey breast meat is so dry that you need a cup of water or gravy to choke down a few bites of deserty dryness, the goose breast was very moist & flavorful! Overall goose tasted like duck to me but with less fat deposits & more meat. The goose skin turned out crispy and was delicious - a combination of crispy, yet slightly chewy, and only a little bit fatty. The skin was thicker than chicken skin.

Next came the kitty leftover test. I gave little pieces of the leftovers to our cats. Two enjoyed it and two turned their noises up to it. One cat who wouldn't touch it won't eat any human food except for fig newtons. The two cats who enjoyed it...REALLY enjoyed it. They both licked their mouths like crazy after each bite and stayed to eat every scrap I gave them (normally if I give them chicken, they would eat just one or two little pieces and then walk off.) The eldest cat after her first bite looked surprised and then started purring like a mac truck rumbling by!

So overall Roast Goose was a success. I would definitely consider ordering it again next year although I think I'd make a side sauce/gravy just to add an interesting extra flavor to the dinner. The pre-roasted goose turned out so well, I'm not sure if I would be brave enough to try to order a raw one next year and perform the whole roasting process myself...guess I have a whole year to think about it.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Boxing Day 2007

Traditionally Boxing Day is a Canadian/English holiday that was based on putting food or small presents in the leftover Christmas boxes and giving them to servants and/or the poor as gifts. Most Americans have never heard of Boxing Day but I'd imagine that it will become a term more familiar to Americans in the upcoming years if for no other reason than for its usefulness to be exploited by marketers as an excuse for a sale. In honor of its origins I ensured that I'd made my donation to a children's charity that I support first and then decided to brave the crazy crowds to check out a few of the Boxing Day sales yesterday afternoon. I still have some friends & family who I'll be getting together with after Christmas and still don't know what to buy them so Boxing Day was a chance to hopefully take care of my final Christmas shopping. Here is my attempt to describe my Boxing Day shopping experiences.

Barnes & Noble:

This was my first stop. I know from past experience that Barnes & Noble has a pretty good selection of good holiday gifts for 50% off the day after Christmas. They didn't let me down. I picked up a nice calendar for 1/2 off, a Playmobil Christmas playset, 2 Cute Teddy Bears in snowflake sweaters, and a nice puzzle. I probably would have bought more but thought I'd better hurry up so I wouldn't miss what was on sale at Target. The store was busy but not annoyingly so and checking out was surprisingly quick. Both the Teddy Bears and Playmobil Santa Sled were great deals at about $8 each!

Party City:

Party City is a card/party store that claims to be discount (but it's not.) Most of their holidays stuff was on sale for 50% off but you had to look closely to see what was actually a deal: Christmas Candy = Not a Deal but Christmas Decorations = Deal. I picked up some snowflake hanging decorations that will be nice and festive for next year (at least they will be festive until the cats probably pull them from the ceiling and chew on them.) Also picked up a sale package of Hanukkah party Crackers. I'm very excited about the Cracker find! I've been reading posts on English blogs about these things and seeing them on some television shows so can't wait to pop open one for the first time and evaluate the "crackiness" of the pop! But do I open one now or hold off until 2008? (I know... I'll open one in order to blog about it! Wow...blogging can justify practically anything you want to do!)


In the past Target has seemed to be very lucrative as far as Boxing Day sales go...however this year it was a total bust in my opinion. Out of all the stores I went to, it was the only one completely crowded. Also many items I expected to find on sale (pajamas, gloves, scarfs, sweaters, special holiday gift packs, holiday themed toys) were not on sale! The only major sale area was the Christmas aisles. Since I didn't need an artificial tree, stockings, or was really a waste of time. I considered picking up some Christmas candy on sale but when I took a look at the crowds jostling around me and the likely long checkout wait for candy that my waist didn't need anyway...well I finally left the candy there and walked out.

Stein Mart:

Have you ever been to a Stein Mart? I hadn't until yesterday. It's this odd chain that I've been told sells designer, department store stuff at low prices...isn't that how TJMax or Burlington Coat Factory started out? I know I don't like those places so I've been in no rush to check out Stein Mart. However I know several friends who rave about the place. Upon first walking in the store did seem much cleaner and nicer than other discount stores I've been to. It did look just like a small department store. Although I didn't see any clothes that I personally would be caught dead wearing, I'd certainly classify the clothes as very designer looking. I didn't end up buying anything because my overall impression was that I'm about 10 to 20 years too young to be shopping there yet and haven't had enough highlights & plastic surgery to fit in as a shopper at this store. I don't mean to put the store down because I can certainly see why some of my friends love it. However for me I felt like I had somehow entered an old Twilight Zone episode...and was relieved to find that the doors did indeed open back up as I left and no undead sales clerks blocked me from leaving the store! Really if you've never been in one and there is one in your've just got to go in, browse, and let me know if some unnamed....something about the store also strikes you as odd!

The Hallmark Store:

The Fancy Hallmark ornaments were 40% off. Those things make the best gifts for people you don't know, care about, or are simply really hard to buy for! Quite a few ornaments were sold out already but a decent selection remained. I'm a sucker for ornaments that look like retro toys (and Hallmark knows this!) so I picked this one up as a gift....but I think I might keep it for myself:

Too my great disappointment Hallmark didn't have any of their Hoops & YoYo talking items on sale. They said the collection arrived before the holidays so it was still considered "new".

Well that's the end of my Boxing Day adventures. I'm trying to hold myself back from the temptation of going out to see what's left at Barnes & Noble the day after Boxing Day! Did you score any amazing deals during the Boxing Day/post-holiday sales?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Looking Back at the Sears Wish Book Catalog 1979 (Part 1)

This Christmas I received a Vermont Country Store Catalog in the mail for the first time. Taking a look at their old-fashioned catalog advertising format left me nostalgic for the many catalogs that used to arrive in the mail right before the holidays back when I was a child. The undisputed master of the catalogs in my opinion was the Sears Wishbook. I went to the Sears online website to see if I could recreate that Sears Wishbook feeling. I found the website to be organized very oddly and that most of the staples of their past Wish Books were not available on their website:

** Where were the Gourmet Processed Cheese Gift Packs or the many cans of nuts? (Especially the cheese in a frying pan gift! How could you ever go wrong with that classic?!?)
** Where were the tartan granny nightgowns trimmed in lace in sizes for men, women, boys, and girls? (Okay technically the men and boys items were called night shirts....but still!)
** Where were the pages of useless but festive decorative gifts for under $10 to give to Drunk Aunt Sally or Stuck-up Third Cousin Jenny?

How I miss the good old days of silencing people who complained about how hard you were to buy for by handing them the Sears Catalog with little pieces of paper for the pages that contain items you would enjoy receiving. Of course I never did receive such exotic gifts as Petit Fours, Cans of Nuts, a new Dollhouse, the Barbie Dream House, a Holly Hobbie nightgown, Chemistry Set, or the holy grail of gifts: a food cheese/sausage/cracker/chocolate sampler gift pack of my very own! Obviously our family was on a budget like most families so when I look at the prices on some of the items I can see why my parents did not buy them for me...they did the best they could by buying some of the less expensive items further down on my wishlist and of course more than once I received gifts that my parents must have wanted as a children but held absolutely no interest for me such as:

* A Laverne and Shirley Mystery Date Game.
* An ugly blue vinyl toy chest/hope chest.
* Slipper socks (although this gift came from Grandma of course.)
* A Clown doll.
* A Victorian looking candle holder.
* A Barrel full of Monkeys (I know some people love these things and don't want to offend those people but to me they were always a Barrel full of Boring.)

Looking through the Sear's 1979 Wishbook brings up some interesting item on practically every page however the page I spent the most time looking at and would pray for years in a row that by some miracle I should receive this expensive gift (because having this toy would of course make my life complete and ensure happiness for the rest of the days of my life!) was:

At what is equivalent to $206 today I can understand why I never received parents like many parents back in 1979 would never dream of spending $206 on a toy for one of their children. Although times and cultures have changed... which is apparent when you hear stories of parents from all income levels spending that or even more than that to buy their child a video game system or new iPod for this Christmas.

Here is the link to the flickr account of the person who so kindly uploaded this whole interesting 1979 Sears Wish Book catalog.

A question for the Comments: "What page was your favorite to look at when you were younger and what items where they?" or "What catalog page do you wish existed today so that you could order something from it?"

Roasting Chestnuts

Apparently I've watch "A Christmas Carol" too many times already this year and am dying to try a real Dicken's Christmas Feast. I've never had Goose, Fruit Punch, Plum Pudding, or Roasted Chestnuts. Are they as amazing and necessary to a happy family Christmas as the Christmas Carols make them look? Well in my attempt to try out these exotic holiday foods, I've started with Roasted Chestnuts since they are the easiest (and happened to spot some at the supermarket the other day.) At the supermarket I went carefully through the chestnuts to pick out about a dozen good looking ones (dark, smooth, and no holes or openings in the shells.) Sizewise I'd say they were about 1 1/2 to 2 inches. When I got home I threw the bag on top of the fridge and forgot about them. Then come the eve of Christmas Day, we're sitting by a crackling fire and I realize, "Hey, we've got chestnuts we can roast on the fire!" So I search for instructions on how to roast them and take down the bag of chestnuts. First thing I realize is that we don't have any container to put them in that we could put in the fire. We have some wire cage to grill fish in but didn't look like it would work for the chestnuts. So went with plan B and roasted them in the oven. Turned the oven on to preheat at 375 degrees. Used my paring knife to make little X's on the top of the nut. (Realized just before putting them in the oven that I didn't break the nut skin with my knife so had to go over them again to ensure the shells actually all had a hole or opening in them.) Put them in the oven for 20 minutes on a stoneware tray. Checked it at 20 minutes and it looked like only one chestnut had actually "popped" open the X slit. So put it in for 5 minutes more. The house started to smell like burning popcorn so removed them from the oven right before the 5 minutes were up. Let them cool down a bit then began to open them. First off I realized that I should have made bigger X's on my chestnuts - the little tiny X's mad it hard to get the shell off. I opened a chestnut and inside was this wrinkly, unappealing-looking white thing. Also had to carefully remove some of the skin from inside the folds of the nut. We all tried a bite. Although it didn't look burnt I thought it had a light taste of burnt popcorn. The texture was very much like a potato and someone else also thought it tasted like a potato. The aftertaste of the chestnut was not starchy like a potato though... sort of surprisingly rich and a little buttery or fatty. We tried to eat a few more but I found that on some of the chestnuts I must not have roasted them long enough because the inside skin stuck to the nut. The inside skin of the nut is dark and a little feathery.

I think Chestnuts must be something you either grow up with or are an aquired taste. Maybe I'd like them more in a recipe. I didn't hate them though... I think it's a food that I'd have to eat a few more times to decide if I like it. However from now on whenever reading about (or even now writing about) roasted chestnuts, I'll always experience a phantom whiff of burnt popcorn.

Ps. After my chestnut roasting experience, I did some research on chestnuts and found out some interesting things. For example in Europe (Italy and France) there were huge populations that were sustained most of the year on just chestnuts before and during the middle ages. They made them into soups & also ground the chestnuts into flour to make breads and other foods out of chestnut since wheat was not as common for poor people to have access to back then. Also one website claimed that it was a food much used by Alexander the Great's army. Apparently chestnuts are less common today due to some harsh winters in Europe a few hundreds of years ago, the opinion that allowing the poor to subsist off of chestnuts made them lazy and feel like they did not need to work hard for their food, and also more recent diseases that wiped out most chestnut trees in America. I did find a company that will actually sell you blight-resistant chinese chestnut trees saplings if you want to plant a pair in your backyard or on your farm so you can harvest your own edible chestnuts in 5-7 years.