Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving -- Success for the most part!

This year my wife had a number of other things to do -- all involved with her jewelry business and opening a flower shop next month. So guess who had to handle cooking Thanksgiving dinner? Yup, me! The good news is everyone survived! The bad news? Well there wasn't any, not really, although one recipe wasn't as well received as I would have liked, but brining the turkey and the changes to the stuffing went well. Here are the recipes, if you are interested. The menu was turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans almondine, fresh Tuscan bread, glazed carrots, and salad. Oh and we can't forget my granddaughters favorite nibble, large black olives. She likes to put them on her fingers and wave at Aunt Jen. Yes, she's all of 6 so it's cute. Now if she it still doing it as 16, we might need to talk.

Turkey Brine:
  • 16 cups of water
  • 1 cup of kosher salt
  • 16 oz of chicken stock
  • A good handful of cracked black peppercorns (give peppercorn a crack with a rolling pin or meat mallet. Don't crush, just crack them.
  • Two cinnamon sticks
Preparation and brining:
  • Boil the water and add the salt.
  • Once the salt is dissolved, add the other ingredients and let steep for 10-15 minutes. Don't boil, just keep a low flame under it and the water will absorbe some of the flavors from the other ingredients. I plan on looking for some more interesting recipes for Brine for next year.
  • Pour into a large bowl, add about an equal amount of ice to cool it down quickly. It must be cool, preferably cold, when it hits the bird. Warm or hot brine might actually start cooking the turkey.
  • Clean the turkey and remove the giblets, neck and other pieces and parts.
  • Prep a large container, either a brining bag or even a bucket.
  • Place the bird in breast side down and add the brine to cover the bird
  • If you need more liquid, dissolve more salt into water and add. If you don't add more salt, the solution may not be salty enough, depending on how much liquid you need to add.
  • Brine for 4-6 hours before cooking in the fridge or a cooler packed with ice. You can brine for longer, but remember to keep it below 40 degrees. I prefer the fridge. If you are going to brine overnight, turn the bird once in a while.
Now to cook the bird:
  • Pre-heat oven to 350.
  • Remove the bird from the brine and rinse completely.
  • Stuff the front and rear cavities loosely if desired.
  • If not stuffing, place a quartered apple, a quartered onion, several sprigs or thyme and rosemary. This helps keep it moist and adds aromatics.
  • Tuck the wings under the body and place in a roasting pan. A raised rack helps as well, but I haven't noticed much difference in the turkey, just in getting it out of the pan.
  • Coat the skin in vegetable oil, then salt and pepper the outside.
  • Cook for 2 1/2 hours. About each 30 minutes baste with liquid from the bottom of the roasting pan, or melted butter.
  • It's done when the breast is at 160F. I also check the stuffing and want to make sure it reaches 150F.
  • Let rest for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and slicing. Carryover raises the breast to about 180F and the stuffing to 165F.
I actually had two problems.
  • Even after nearly 80 hours in the fridge, my bird was still frozen. I couldn't remove the plastic bag with the giblets or even get to the neck. I ended up setting the bird in the sink, covered in cold water for an hour (changing the water ever 15 minutes) to get it defrosted enough. It did cut an hour off the brining time, but the bird still came out incredibly moist.
  • The brining bag was way to big for my 13 lb bird and I ended up doing to innovative knotwork to tie up the bottom corners with the top of the bag. if not, I would have needed to quadruple my brining solution. I might try a bucket next year.
OK, that was the turkey and much to my surprise, even the refrigerated leftovers were still moist today. As you can guess, you know what I had for lunch? A turkey sandwich -- just turkey, mayo, salt and pepper!

While the bird was brining, I whipped up the stuffing. I used some of it in the bird, and cooked the rest while the turkey was resting. Then, as a cheat, I mix the stuffing from the bird with the baked stuffing and it all ends up tasting like it had cooked in the bird.

Stuffing ingredients:
  • 1 Large onion, small dice
  • 2 large celery stalks, small dice
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, small dice
  • Several rosemary sprigs, stripped off the hard stalks and finely chopped
  • A handful of flat leaf parsley finely chopped
  • One stick of unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 bag of herbed Pettridge Farm Stuffing
  • 1 cup of chicken stock
Prep and cooking the Stuffing:
  • Mix all the ingredients -- EXCEPT for the stock -- and reserve until you stuff the bird
  • After stuffing the bird loosely, place the rest of the mixture in a baking dish, 1 1/2 quart is usually perfect.
  • Add 1 cup of chicken stock, cover and place in the fridge.
  • Once the bird comes out, put the baking dish in a 400F oven uncovered.
  • If the top browns to much before it's hot enough, cover.
  • Once it's done. mix with the stuffing removed from the bird. I check the temp, looking for 155F. It usually sits covered for 5-10 minutes so carryover works there as well.
I liked it, as did most everyone at dinner. My wife suggested a sweeter apple, so I might try that next time.

Giada DeLaurentis inspired Mashed Potatoes:
I caught most of this recipe on the food channel show on Thanksgiving. It looked interesting, so I figured why not! I liked it, but thought one ingredient was a bit overwhelming, so I made a few small changes.

Mashed potato ingredients:
  • 4 lbs Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 cup of mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 ounces of prosciutto, diced, with fat rendered.
  • A handful of Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped.
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup of Panko breadcrumbs
Preparation and cooking:
  • Boil the potatoes in heavily salted water, about 15-20 minutes, until a fork slips in easily.
  • Drain and then return the potatoes to the hot pan. Stir around for a few minutes. This helps get rid of any lingering moisture.
  • Mash while adding the butter and milk.
  • Once smooth, add the prosciutto, mozzarella, Parmesan, and parsley.
  • Place in a baking dish, 2 1/2 quart worked well.
  • Cover with the Panko breadcrumbs
  • Once the turkey is done, you can pop this in the oven for 20 minutes, uncovered at 400F. This can go in at the same time as the stuffing.
  • It's done once it's hot and the topping is nicely brown.
The original recipe called for more prosciutto and Parmesan, but we found then to be a bit overwhelming, especially the Parmesan. leftovers made great potato pancakes with the addition of beaten eggs.

Glazed Baby Carrots:
  • Steam a couple of cups of baby carrots until just about done. They should have softened slightly, but not too soft.
  • The carrots can also be set aside until the turkey is resting.
  • Add a tablespoon of butter in a saute pan along with 1/4 cup of light brown sugar.
  • Once the brown sugar has dissolved in the butter, add the carrots.
  • Toss until thoroughly coated and heated all the way through.
  • Top in the serving bowl with some chopped Italian flat leaf parsley.
A pretty easy side dish. The glaze is simply sweet and goes well with the carrots. My final recipe is actually the simplest of all.

Green Beans Almodine (which is a fancy way of saying green beans with sliced almonds):
  • About 1 1/2 lbs of green beans
  • Sliced almonds
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
Prep and cooking the green beans:
  • Trim the ends of the beans, remove any strings.
  • If they are large and thick beans, you need to blanch them (place in boiling for 2-3 minutes and then shock them with ice water to stop the cooking and retain the green color. If they are thin (less than 1/2 inch thick), you do not need to blanch them.
  • Toss in a bowl with olive oil and salt
  • You can cover them in plastic wrap and hold them for several hours in the fridge.
  • Once the turkey is resting, heat up a little olive oil in a saute pan on med-high.
  • Saute the green beans until heated. They can show a little color, but not too much.
  • Place in a serving bowl and top with a handful of sliced almonds.
As you can see it's one of the easiest recipes. I usually save this for last. They are best fresh from the pan. Hot, still have a snap to them, great taste. The almonds add a compliment rather than taking things over. I've tried walnuts in the past, but the flavors didn't work for me. Pecan's weren't bad. Blanched pastachios are an option I want to try ever since I saw a chef on Top Chef blanch them. I had never thought to blanch them before. Anyone know how they go with green beans?

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