The philosophy behind brining your turkey, or most any meat, is to marinate in a salt rich liquid which initially draws moisture out of the meat and then lets it back in accompanied by whatever else you've chosen to flavor your meal.
A properly roasted, non-brined, turkey will retain 83% of its pre-cooked weight. Whereas, a properly roasted, brined, turkey will retain 94% of its pre-cooked weight. Retaining moisture, and thus tenderness and flavor, is what it's all about.
When brining a turkey, be sure you purchase a “non”-brined turkey. Many of the food processors are brining the birds at the factory. Be sure the label does not say “solution added.”
Here's the foundation recipe for brining your turkey, we will get to some options a little later.
Brine, for one, approximately 15 pound, un-brined turkey
1 quart water
1 cup salt, or 1 1/2 cups kosher salt
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar
5 quarts ice water
Place 1 quart of water in a saucepan along with the salt and heat just enough until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Mix with the ice water and vinegar.
Optional flavor ingredients:
-fresh or dried herbs such as rosemary, thyme, sage, about 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons
-smashed garlic cloves, 4 to 6 cloves
-2 cups Apple juice or cranberry juice, (cranberry juice may change the color of the meat)
-one whole onion, cut up
-1 to 2 teaspoons crushed juniper berries, crushed black peppercorns and/or crushed whole allspice berries
-3 bay leaves
-zest of 1 or 2 whole lemons
When using the above optional ingredients add them to the hot mixture on the stove and let them simmer for 4 to 5 minutes. This will help bring out their flavors.
I like to brine turkey in a 5 gallon bucket. So buy a new bucket or find one that is VERY clean and wash your bucket exceptionally well, rinse thoroughly. Place your brine in the bucket and submerge your turkey in the brine. If the liquid does not completely cover the turkey add a little more ice water until it does. Now cover with a few more inches of ice.
Top this with a few towels for insulation and place in your garage to stay cold. You can wrap the whole thing in a blanket or two to help keep in the cold. If you have used enough ice it should easily sit overnight in your garage and not be a problem. This is a 12 to 16 hour turkey brine recipe. When you are ready to take it out of the brine the next day, it should still have ice on top of the brine.
Brining your bird is the only way to go. Be sure to have a good meat thermometer for the next day when you cook this wonderful turkey.
Oh, and by the way, you can use this same brine for chicken or pork loin. When brining these meats submerge in the brine for only about 4 hours.
Thanksgiving is just starting to peek over our horizon. At this time most of us are finalizing our guest list, agonizing over our menu or deciding what special dish we can bring “to pass”. Every year it always works out fine and part of that is because we put so much of ourselves into making it happen properly.
Unlike other holidays during the year Thanksgiving seems to always be about the side dishes. Yes, the turkey does take center stage, but all Thanksgiving tables are laden with multiple and unique side dishes. The side dishes generally tend to be the same every year. For some of us it may be the only time we eat these dishes. Sure, we do like, (or love), these dishes, but for some reason Thanksgiving is the only time we bring out these recipes.
For me, part of the love of cooking is always cooking something new. Whenever I'm cooking dinner I always try to add at least one new twist, ingredient or recipe. Often times I'm cooking entirely new dishes, loving those dishes, but then not making them again for a long, long time because there are so many other new dishes to try.
I always give my readers some new flavors to try, new combinations to enjoy or just plain ‘ol advice on how to make existing recipes better. I ran into one of my readers recently and she told me that a recipe I had printed many, many months ago was truly spectacular. What she did was combine part of my recipe with part of her recipe and she was just in love with the results. That was tremendously pleasing.
One of the things that's important about side dishes for Thanksgiving is the ability to make these dishes around the chaos that exists in the kitchen. When we remove our turkey from the oven we can have as much as 30 minutes before the meat needs to go on the table. During those 30 minutes we can finish all of our sides including this one.
Spinach au Gratin
3 Tbl unsalted butter
3 Tbl all-purpose flour
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 pint half and half
3 10 oz boxes frozen spinach, thawed with moisture squeezed out, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
24 oz mild cheddar cheese, shredded
8 oz chopped toasted walnuts, optional
Heat the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and garlic, cook making a roux.
Add the half-and-half, whisking to remove any lumps. Bring to a simmer.
Add the spinach breaking apart any lumps. Bring back to a simmer and gently cook for 5 to 7 minutes. If mixture is too thick add some milk to thin it down.
Add salt and pepper to your own personal taste.
Remove from heat, fold in the cheese and walnuts, place into a prepared, (lightly buttered), 9 x 13 baking dish.
Heat under the broiler until cheese is very lightly browned and bubbly.
Chicken is the most widely served meat in the world, with more than 50 billion chickens slaughtered each year.
Every family in America has several favorite chicken dishes. This time a year barbecued chicken may lead the parade, however, throughout the year each season has its own favorite.
Some dishes are popular enough to be served through all four seasons of the year. White meat or dark meat? Most people have a favorite. In my house we both tend to like dark meat. However, when I make a whole chicken we save the breast to top our salads the following day.
Generally, I’ll buy a whole chicken and cut it up. I will put the largest pieces, the breasts, in the heat first and the smallest, the wings, in the heat last. In this fashion they all finish cooking at the same time. It takes a little practice, but I’m sure the readers of this column are up to it.
Chicken is extremely cross-cultural. From stir fried chicken, chicken Marsala, southern fried chicken, chicken sausage, tandori chicken and on and on. We can buy chicken frozen, fresh, canned and dehydrated. I like to cook several meals of our favorite chicken dish and freeze the extra for future meals.
When cooking chicken it is important to remember to cook it thoroughly to avoid any food borne illness. The cooked temperature for chicken would be 165°F. In the following recipe the chicken pieces are rather small so be sure that when you cut up your chicken breasts to cut them as evenly sized as possible, this way they will all be done at the same time.
Overcooked chicken, any overcooked meat for that matter, will be dry and tough. Once you remove your baked food from the oven it will continue to cook for a short period of time. This”carryover cooking” is very important to account for in your temperatures. For a whole chicken or large roasts the internal temperature will rise a minimum of 10° after it is taken out of the oven. For small pieces of chicken, such as in the following recipe, you can count on only about 5° of carryover cooking.
So if you're watching the internal temperature of these pieces of chicken, be sure to take it out of the oven when it reaches 160°, and let it stand for 8 to 10 minutes.
Crunchy Chicken Parmesan
2 cups dried breadcrumbs, preferably Panko
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese grated, grate it yourself
2 Tbl dried parsley
1 stick unsalted butter
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp powdered garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
4 boneless skinless, rinsed and patted dry
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dry mustard
Preheat oven to 350°
Cut chicken breasts lengthwise into even thirds, set aside. Combine bread crumbs, cheese, paprika, garlic powder, salt, pepper and parsley in a bowl mix thoroughly. Melt butter in a saucepan, add Worcestershire sauce and dry mustard.
Prepare a baking sheet by lining with foil and coating with nonstick spray. Dip chicken pieces into butter mixture and roll into spiced bread crumbs to coat thoroughly. Arrange evenly on the baking sheet, pour any left over butter mixture over chicken. Cook for approximately 18 minutes, until an internal temperature of 180°, in the thickest part, is achieved.
Serve over noodles that have been tossed with marinara sauce or some garlic infused extra virgin olive oil. Add a side of vegetables and your sitting down for dinner.
We had some business associates from out of town spend an evening at our home recently.
Sometimes, in these situations, we all find it difficult to decide what to serve for dinner. I love to cook seafood and can prepare dinner in a vast number of ways, but what if they aren’t fond of the blessings from the ocean? Pork tenderloin is great, it can be seasoned just so and served with some cinnamon applesauce. But what if pork just isn’t their cup of tea? Well, I choose grilled flank steak with a chimichurri sauce and, by chance, picked one our guests favorites.
But, when cooking a full dinner such as this, I always start with the dessert. I feel it is important to make dessert first, then, no matter where you may be with the rest of the meal the dessert is finished. So, before I faced that daunting question about what to serve for dinner I agonized over dessert. Perhaps they don’t like pie. What if they don’t care for ice cream? You can appreciate what a dilemma this is. In making my decision I decided to jump ahead of summer, into fall, and go with pumpkin cheesecake.
Give your self plenty of time to make this recipe as you need to bake the crust first and let it cool most of the way back to room temperature. Also, this makes quite a bit, one 9 x 13 x 2 pan. So, cut it in half and use a smaller pan if you need too. When cutting it in half use 2 eggs instead of 3. An 8 x 8 x 2 pan would work nicely.
Pumpkin Cheesecake Crumble
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, cold, diced
1 1/2 cups pecan pieces
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
16 oz cream cheese, room temp
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbl cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
2 cups sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 350
Butter the inside of a 9 x 13 x 2 baking pan.
For crust, blend the first 4 ingredients in a food processor until coarse, turn out into a bowl and mix in the pecans and oats. Spread 1/2 of this mixture into the bottom of the buttered pan and press it down, then spread the rest out on a baking sheet for the crumble. Bake the crust in the buttered pan for 25 minutes and the crumble on the baking sheet for 13 minutes.
For filling, blend all ingredients until smooth, spread out on the still slightly warm crust and bake until just set in the center, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 to 12 minutes. Blend all the topping ingredients and gently spread over top. Place it back in the oven and bake for another 8 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
When cool, crumble all of the remaining crust mixture and sprinkle over the topping.
Now, what was it I was going to make for dinner?
Well, October is here and it’s time to start thinking about all those wonderful holiday foods. First up will be Halloween, then Thanksgiving, after which we roll into December with multiple holiday food opportunities.
Our palates undergo a change this time of year and we begin to get excited about flavors and spice combinations that we left behind last winter. One such food is pumpkin. Yes the Great Pumpkin has risen out of the pumpkin patch and now resides in our kitchen.
We are all fascinated with pumpkins. We carve them into all kinds of faces at Halloween. In the fall, all around the United States, at major pumpkin festivals there are Pumpkin Chucking contests. Cinderella’s carriage turned into a pumpkin at midnight. The students at Hogwarts liked to drink pumpkin juice. Some parents call their children pumpkin and spouses call each other pumpkin. Toasted pumpkin seeds are a snack we enjoy around this house, that would my pumpkin and me.
There are lots of things to do with pumpkin, soups, quick breads, pies, roasted and on and on. Pumpkin has lots of vitamin A and beta-carotene besides being delicious all by itself or with the spices that traditionally accompany our American recipes.
So, how about Pumpkin Cookies? Sound good? They are just great. Try this recipe right away, you won’t be disappointed.
½ cup butter
1 ½ cups sugar
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp salt
1 can pumpkin puree (14oz)
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
3 tbl milk
1 tbl butter melted
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 350
Combine all dry ingredients, sift, and set aside.
Cream butter with sugar, add pumpkin, egg and vanilla, a little at a time, mixing well each time.
Add dry ingredients 1/3 at a time mixing and scraping in between. Do not over mix.
Drop cookies on parchment lined baking pan, #40 scoop works well. Flatten slightly.
Bake for 15 minutes or so until done.
While cookies are baking make glaze. Mix all ingredients, be sure to achieve a drizzling consistency.
When cookies come out of oven allow them to cool for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack. Drizzle with glaze.
When done cookies are soft and not crispy.
One thing I always do in my kitchen is grate nutmeg fresh. There is a small micro plane style device I think I got at Sur laTable. It is oval and about 3” or so in length. It holds a couple of fresh nutmegs and you can grate them right into the holder. This is a wonderful way to add nutmeg and you may even start adding it to other dishes such as soups.
Next week we will cover a couple of great new side dishes for Thanksgiving and the week after that brining your turkey!
American Culinary Federation
Growing up in a family of talented cooks, Chef Darrel was introduced to the wonders of the kitchen as a child. Going on to earn a degree in culinary arts, he studied in the U.S. and Italy. He is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and the American Culinary Federation.