November 28, 2010

Last post about Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2046

This is my last post about Thanksgiving this year. I promise.

All the planning was worth it. The meal was great, I wasn't stressed, and we ate just 3 minutes after the schedule time (4:00). Here's some of the highlights.

The table
Thanksgiving 2024

Thanksgiving 2019

Thanksgiving 2017

Antipasti. I also made stuffed mushrooms with spinach, blue cheese and bacon, but somehow they weren't photographed.
Thanksgiving 2020

The dry-brined turkey! The meat was very flavorful and moist, and the skin crisped up to a perfect brown.
Thanksgiving 2031

Thanksgiving 2041

The butcher
Thanksgiving 2036

The sides
Thanksgiving 2042

Thanksgiving 2043

Thanksgiving 2040

Thanksgiving 2039

Thanksgiving 2038

Biscuits (that didn't brown. Blaming the altitude for that one).
Thanksgiving 2037

Happy guests!
Thanksgiving 2044

Pumpkin cheesecake
Pumpkin Cheesecake

Hope you had a wonderful and delicious holiday, too!

November 23, 2010

Tips, Tidbits & Tricks: Countdown to Thanksgiving

The countdown is on! These tips will help keep you sane on the big day.

- If you haven't done your shopping already, go soon! Stores get more and more crowded as the holiday approaches.

- Make dishes ahead of time. Good choices: mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, casseroles. You can even make the gravy ahead of time. Just warm over low heat, adding more stock if too thick.

- Have your side dishes ready to pop in the oven as soon as the turkey's out to rest. It can rest up to 30 minutes, giving you plenty of time to warm the potatoes through, bake off the rolls, and saute some green beans.

- Things always take longer than you think. So just know that going in, then try not to stress. A stressed-out hostess makes everyone else at the party tense and unhappy. So don't let that be you.

- Set up the table the night before. That way you aren't scrambling to find more wine glasses or serving pieces while you are cooking.

- Create a plan of attack. Make a list of all that you need to do, the time it takes, and work backwards.

- Keep things easy with store-bought appetizers. You'll free up time and counter space. Cheese and crackers, olives, and nuts are delicious paired with a Thanksgiving cocktail.

- Take butter out of the fridge early in the day so it can soften. Mmmmm....butter.

- If the turkey's browning too fast, simply cover the breast with aluminum foil.

- Fill the sink with hot, soapy water so cutlery and small dishes can soak once you finish the meal.

- Relax. Your Thanksgiving will be great! Especially if you brined your turkey and riced your potatoes.


November 22, 2010

Tips, Tidbits & Tricks: The Sides

For many, the turkey takes a backseat to all the delicious sides ... mashed potatoes, dressings, green beans, rolls. Yum. There is a limitless number of sides you could make for your Thanksgiving meal, so I'll just go through my favorites since I am the one writing this. Feel free to share your favorite side in the "comments" section!

For a fun twist on Thanksgiving, you might want to make side dishes that go along with a Thanksgiving theme (like my Italian-flavored feast). Go Southwest with a turkey seasoned with cumin and chilies, jalapeño cornbread dressing, cranberry chipotle relish, and mashed potatoes with green onions and queso fresco. Or go with an Cuban twist and flavor your turkey with lime, cumin and garlic seasonings and serve with congris, fried plantains, yucca, and Cassava bread.

Mashed Potatoes (aka My Favorite Food):

Image: Make Life Delicious

- If you want fluffy potatoes, you MUST use a ricer or a food mill. I am pretty relaxed about my gadgets and don't have many one-task-only trinkets lying around, but a ricer tops my list of must-haves. When you prepare mashed potatoes in a mixer, the beating releases a starchy gel called amylose. And it yields gummy potatoes.

Ricing yields a lighter, fluffy potato because you aren't developing that amylose. Just stir in melted butter, salt and warm milk after ricing, and you've got a perfect potato.

- You can make mashed potatoes ahead of time. For my brother's wedding, I was in charge of the mashed potatoes for the mashed potato bar at the rehearsal dinner. Now, I couldn't just whip 25 lbs. of raw potatoes into creamy, buttery mashed potatoes on the spot, now could I? So I made them the night before (which took hours, by the way) and just put them in a 9x13 casserole dish. Just dot with a few pats of butter and bake for about 35 minutes at 350 (or whatever your oven is set on) and they'll be just as delicious as if you just made them. [Author's note: if you use a mixer instead of a ricer, I cannot guarantee how good they'll be the next day. So you should just get a ricer and not worry about it.]

- Some nice add-ins: caramelized shallots, chives, buttermilk (use in place of whole milk or half-and-half), sour cream, roasted garlic, herbs, cheeses, wasabi. Honestly, I like mine plain. Why mess with perfection?


Image: Woman's Day

- Use the drippings from roasting your turkey to make gravy. EXCEPT if you brine or dry-brine your turkey. The drippings will be too salty, so just use a couple of teaspoons in the gravy for good flavor without all the salt.

- Make the gravy like you would any bechamel or white sauce. Add equal parts flour to fat (meaning 4T of flour to 4T melted butter, drippings, etc.). Whisk to get all the lumps out, then let cook for about 2 minutes over medium heat to get the raw flour out. Slowly whisk in chicken or turkey stock. I like to add just a little to start and whisk to make sure that the gravy gets lumpy. Then whisk in the rest. Once you've added all the stock, simmer rapidly for a few minutes until the gravy reduces to desired thickness.

- I realize that isn't a very exact gravy recipes, but it doesn't need to be. If it's too watery, increase the heat to reduce it down, or you can whisk in beurre manié (paste made with equal parts flour and butter beat together). If it's too thick, just whisk in some more stock. Season as you go. You'll be fine.

Green vegetables

Image: Key Ingredient

- I love roasting vegetables, so try tossing together broccoli florets, olive oil, salt and pepper and spread out on a baking sheet. Roast at 400 (or whatever your oven is set on) for about 25 minutes. Finish with shredded Parmesan and lemon juice. Other vegetables that are delicious roasted: asparagus, sweet potatoes, carrots, any root vegetable.

- You can sneak greens into other dishes, like I am doing with my Italian Chard Stuffing.

- A lightly-dressed green salad is a nice foil to all the rich flavors.

Cranberry sauce

Image: My Recipes

- It's incredibly easy to make your own. And you can flavor it however you like. Basic idea: pour one bag of cranberries in medium saucepan. Add 3/4 cup liquid, some sugar, and a pinch of salt.

- Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and cook until saucy and most of the cranberries have popped.

- Chill. Can be done a few days in advance (like today!).

- And that's it.

- Variations: use pomegranate juice in place of the water, add a cinnamon stick (remove before chilling), add some orange zest and a splash of Grand Marnier.


Image: Fravelicious

- Either make your own or buy them.

November 21, 2010

The Turkey: A Photo Adventure

As I mentioned in Tips, Tidbits & Tricks: The Turkey, pt. II, I am making Fine Cooking's Fresh Herb and Salt-rubbed Roast Turkey. Here's a little photo adventure of my own Thanksgiving progress.

You may be in awe that I am starting my cooking 4 DAYS EARLY, but this turkey needs to sit in the fridge for 4 days, so start today (or tomorrow if you like living on the edge and only letting it dry brine for 3 days. Crazy!).

Here's the recipe so you have it. You'll want to make it once you see how easy it is to whip up. Plus, you don't get more make-ahead than 4 days before Thanksgiving!

herbs 2

loosen skin

loosen skin even more

herb it up

herb it up even more

salt the cavity

salt the skin

bag it

November 17, 2010

Tip, Tidbits & Tricks: Dressing

Now, if you aren’t from the south you might be wondering what in the world is dressing? You might call it stuffing. But in the south we don’t stuff our turkeys. So we just call it dressing and serve it on the side.

Since that’s straightened out, let’s get into our first foray into Thanksgiving side dishes and one of my favorites.

- Don’t use fresh bread for your stuffing. You want stale bread. Don’t have any? Dry out bread cubes in a low oven (around 275) for 15 minutes. Do the same if you are making a cornbread-based dressing.

- If your recipe calls for rice, make sure to cook the rice first. Sautee any onions, mushrooms, or garlic before adding it to the dressing mix.

- Prepare dressing close to when you are cooking it. It’s not the best “make-ahead” side.

- If your dressing is too dry, add a little chicken broth. Too wet? Cook uncovered a bit longer to help dry out the dressing.

- The oldest recipe on record for dressing/stuffing is from Apicius, who lived in Rome in around the 2nd century BCE. His cookbook, Apicius de re Coquinaria, has a recipe for stuffed chicken, hare, pig, and dormouse.

- The USDA recommends cooking the turkey and dressing separately (meaning use these recipes and tips in this post for dressing and not stuffing). If it’s tradition and you just can’t have Thanksgiving without stuffing, the make sure that the stuffing reaches an internal temperature of 165 at the center.

- If stuffing the turkey: use warm/hot stuffing, stuff loosely, make sure the stuffing is quite moist, and immediately put the turkey in a hot oven after stuffing.


- Italian Chard Stuffing (what I’ll be serving as dressing, of course)

- Sausage, Apple and Cranberry Stuffing

- Cornbread Stuffing With Sweet Potato and Squash

- Wild Rice and Goat Cheese Dressing

What about you? Planning on stuffing your turkey, or serving the tasty dish as a side?

Tips, Tidbits & Tricks: The Turkey, pt. II

I apologize for the delay in Thanksgiving tips! It was a busy week last week. But now I’m back with tips about brining, seasoning, carving, etc.

- Don’t brine kosher or self-basting turkeys. It will just be wayyyy too salty.

- Cook’s Illustrated advises this ratio: for a 4-to-6 hour brine – 1 cup salt per gallon of cold water. For a 12-to-14 hour brine, use ½ cup salt per gallon of cold water. Mix up brine, then refrigerate for recommended time.

- Brining yields a tender bird because of osmosis – the flow of water across a barrier from a place with higher water concentration to one with a lower one. Meaning from the brine to the turkey.

- I found this recipe for Spiced Roast Turkey in Cottage Living years ago.
  • 4 quarts water
  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 serrano chili, halved
  • 1 t whole black peppercorns
  • 1 t anise seed
  • 1 t coriander seeds
  • 1 t juniper berries
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Let cool 3 hours, then place turkey in brine and chill.

- And now for something completely different…a dry brine (my brine of choice this year). Fine Cooking says of a dry brine, “[it] creates satiny leg meat and juicy, perfectly-seasoned breast meat.” Yes, please!

Fresh Herb and Salt-rubbed Roast Turkey
From Fine Cooking
Four days before you roast the Turkey [so Monday], mix
  • 2 T chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 T chopped fresh sage
  • 2 t chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 T extra-virgin olive oil
in a small bowl. Loosen the skin around the shoulders of the bird and around the cavity. Carefully slide your hands underneath the skin to loosen it from the breast, thighs, and drumsticks.

Rub the herb mixture on the meat, under the skin. Pat the skin back into place.

Rub 2 oz. kosher salt inside the cavity and on the skin. Tuck the wing tips behind the neck and tie the legs together with kitchen string. Put the turkey in a large food-safe plastic bag (such as a turkey-size roasting bag) and tie. Put the bag inside a second bag and tie.

Refrigerate the turkey, turning it over every day, for 3 days.

Remove the turkey from the bags and pat dry. Put it in a flameproof roasting pan and refrigerate, unwrapped, to let the turkey air-dry overnight (for the fourth day).

Brining or dry brining is a good way to add flavor to your turkey. But in case you [unwisely] don’t brine your turkey, there are lots of variations to add great flavor to a relatively flavorless bird. Here are just a few ideas:
- Roasted Turkey with Juniper-Ginger Butter & Pan Gravy
- Hickory-Smoked Bourbon Turkey
- Turkey with Chipotle Rub

This section is not helpful at all. I am not going to recommend cooking times and temps. It depends on the size of your turkey, whether it is a whole turkey or pieces (such as the breast), whether you want to roast it, grill it, smoke it, or fry it. And now that I live in Colorado, I have altitude to contend with. So my advice is read, read, read. Find as many variations as you care to, then come up with your own time and temp. Better Homes and Gardens has an interactive roasting guide if you’d like to take a look/see why I don't want to get into this roasting business.

But do brine your turkey. It helps keep the meat moist even if you overcook it.

Cook’s Illustrated does such a good job describing how to carve a turkey, I decided to not reinvent the wheel.
-Let the turkey rest 20-30 minutes so the juices have time to redistribute

- Slice through the skin between the breast and leg and, using your hands, pull the leg quarters down until the joint between breast and leg is exposed. Remove the leg by cutting between the hip joint and any attached skin. Repeat with opposite leg. Remove the wings by cutting through the wing joints.

- Separate the thighs from the drumsticks by cutting between the joint that connects the two. Leave the drumsticks whole and slice the thigh meat off the bone.

- Remove the breast meat from the carcass by running the tip of the knife along the breastbone. Use your other hand to hold and pry meat from the bone as you cut. Slice the removed breast meat crosswise into slices. Repeat with the other breast.

There you have it! You can now make a delicious turkey.

Coming up --- sides, desserts, cocktails, and more. Come to think of it, you might not even need that turkey…

November 05, 2010

Happy Friday!

Don't forget to turn your clocks back this weekend!

November 03, 2010

Tips, Tidbits & Tricks: The Turkey, pt. I

Unless you are a vegetarian, vegan, or don’t like turkey (like my mother), the centerpiece of any Thanksgiving feast is the bird. Which can be tricky. White meat cooks faster than dark meat, the skin doesn’t always crisp, you forget to remove the giblets. And on and on and on.

There is a LOT of advice out there on the best ways to handle a turkey. So much so that the first year I roasted one I made a chart of which source recommended which temp, cooking time, to baste or not, to brine or not. I finally ended up with a complicated combination of techniques and methods and I cannot possibly remember what I did. Helpful.

But what I can do is round up and condense all there is to know about turkey and give it to you on a silver platter. [Pun intended.]

Choosing a turkey

Factors to consider:

  • How many people are you feeding?
  • Do more prefer dark or white meat?
  • Do you want leftovers?
  • Would you prefer a ham?

If you answered “yes” to the last question then you are pretty much just wasting your time reading this.

- A good rule of thumb is one pound of turkey per person, which allows for Thanksgiving deliciousness, leftovers, and the stuff you don’t eat (giblets, bones, etc.).

- If most people at your table prefer white meat over dark, a great choice is to buy one or two turkey breasts rather than a whole bird.

- Many small farms are now raising heritage breeds of turkeys that are more flavorful and juicy than supermarket birds. Check out or search for farms in your area that offer these breeds. You might have to order early though, so you better get on it.

- Pop-up timers and other gadgets are a waste of money. If they pop up at all, you can be sure that you have already overcooked your turkey and your Thanksgiving is ruined. Just kidding. But you will have dry turkey.

I have my turkey. How do I store and thaw it?

Fresh turkey: store at around 40 degrees F. No need to defrost since it is not frozen.

Frozen turkey: store at 0 degrees F or below (aka keep that turkey frozen). Thaw in the refrigerator. Allow 24 hours per 4-5 lbs. to thaw, meaning it is going to take a whole lot longer to thaw than you think. You need days.

Whew…that’s a lot of turkey! Tomorrow we’ll look at brining, seasoning, cutting, and more. In the meantime, here's a map of Turkey for you to be looking over.

November 01, 2010

Tips, Tidbits & Tricks: Thanksgiving

Happy November! And with November comes. . . Thanksgiving!

You might be thinking, “Meg, it is but November 1! How can you be thinking Thanksgiving!” Well, reader, it just so happens that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday…the planning, the cooking, the entertaining. I love it all!

Over the few weeks, Tips, Tidbits & Tricks will focus on all things Thanksgiving – how to keep the turkey moist, make-ahead recipes, and easy table décor.

So stay tuned!