Turkey Day Remembered: Everything Else!

Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without the sides and desserts. I’ve already talked about brining and cooking the turkey, making breakfast and preparing the stuffing, but that’s not all we had. My mom made her famous mashed potatoes that I just can’t go through a Thanksgiving without. Em also made a recipe that we got from FoodNetwork.com called Brussels Sprouts Gratin that was super good and will probably find its way into my regular vegetable side rotation.

Em also tackled the pies, but took care of them the night before, so they were good and done and ready to go when we were done eating. She made Smitten Kitchen’s Silky Smooth Pumpkin Pie which was a pretty fun twist on the traditional pie (it includes canned candied yams) and a family recipe for Pecan Pie.  She also made cranberry sauce as well, something that I’m still not sure how I feel about (not a big cranberry fan).

Lastly, I made some gravy using the Betty Crocker Cookbook (page 442) that allowed us to utilize our brand new gravy separator. I’d never used one of these things before, but they’re pretty handy. Not sure if I’ll use it for anything other than Thanksgiving, but it’s not like it takes up that much space.

And there you have it, that’s how our Thanksgiving went down. I’ve said this before, but I’m not the world’s biggest fan of turkey. Still, I thought the brine made for a very moist and flavorful turkey. I love those mashed potatoes, as always, and was pleasantly surprised with how interesting and good the stuffing tasted. Even the side dish we found at the last minute wound up being a real winner, so all in all I’d say we hit Thanksgiving out of the park. Thanks to Em for being an awesome cooking partner and my folks for coming and enjoying themselves and our food!

Turkey Day Remembered: The Bird

And now, back to the bird! I figured it would be appropriate to post this two weeks after the actual Thanksgiving meal. Man, I can’t believe it’s already been so long since Turkey Day. Anyway, 20-30 minutes before we planned on cooking the bird, I pulled it out of the brine, patted it dry and stuffed it with the stuffing. The bird then went into the roasting pan on a rack and some halved onions and went into the oven as per Alex Guarnaschelli’s recipe.

The only change we made to that recipe was not doing the butter and lemon under the skin thing, but going with a trick we learned from Martha Stewart last year that involves soaking cheese cloth in white wine and butter and then putting that on top of the turkey in the oven for the first two hours of cooking. It was a super easy process that resulted in a pretty good looking and tasting bird.

Turkey Day Remembered: Betty Crocker Bread Stuffing

Much like the recipe I initially chose for pumpkin pancakes, the one I chose for stuffing wound up being all kinds of wrong for what we were eating. It didn’t help that I somehow missed several ingredients on that original recipe. Worried, I turned to my Betty Crocker’s Cookbook and came across the very simple and easy-to-make recipe for Bread Stuffing (page 280).

As you can see from the pictures, the recipe is pretty simple and luckily fit in our bird with some left over that I set aside in a separate container for my mom who is a vegetarian. The only deviation I made from the recipe here was using Pepperidge Farm Honey Oat bread instead of white bread (which we never have in the house anyway). I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself here, but that added sweetness really brought out some great flavors with this stuffing and I’d recommend giving it a try next time you’re looking for something to stuff your bird with.

Turkey Day Remembered: Pumpkin Pancakes & Turkey Sausage

With the turkey brining and the pies cooked (I’ll post about those tomorrow), we actually had a pretty good amount of time to make things happen in the morning. I thought it would be fun to make some pumpkin pancakes and cook up some turkey sausage. I found a particular pumpkin pancake recipe on Food Network’s site that sounded pretty good, but then I realized that it was for like 15 people and I couldn’t figure out the math on how to make it for four people. So, I quickly found one on my phone that I wrote down on a piece of paper and didn’t save. As such, I don’t remember exactly how I made them, but you can see the ingredients above.

I actually mixed the dry ingredients together the night before to get things ready. Then, in the morning, I broke out the big mixer and got the dough made which wasn’t any trouble. However, I’m apparently incapable of making a worthwhile pancake on the correct heat and kind of screwed them up. My wife said I didn’t have the heat right, either too high or too low, I honestly don’t remember. They weren’t terrible, but they also weren’t great.

For the sausages, I just tossed them in a cast iron pan and got them going. A few were pink inside, so I goofed up on that too. I was not happy with how breakfast turned out, but luckily it didn’t ruin my mojo with the rest of the cooking. More on that tomorrow!

Turkey Day Remembered: The Brine

Hi gang, you might have noticed that I didn’t do any posting last week. We had some family stuff going on that was more important than writing about food (and I like writing about food, so you get the idea). Anyway, I know everyone’s moved on from Thanksgiving and is now focusing on Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s and the like, but I wanted to do a few posts about what we made for Turkey Day, partially because, as I mentioned, I like writing about food and also so I can remember next year what I did this year because we had a pretty damn good meal if I do say so myself.

Longtime readers might remember that I actually handled the turkey last year when we were at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving. That was a straightforward bird-in-the-oven process, but this year we decided to try brining the turkey beforehand. I did some looking around in various cookbooks and on some different websites, but decided to go with Alex Guarnaschelli’s Thanksgiving Turkey Brine as posted over on Food Network’s site.

Before last week, I’d heard of a brine, but never made one. That basic idea is that you soak meat (or whatever you’re going to eventually cook) in a water based solution with several other spices, herbs and kinds of food you want the subject to take on. In the case of Guarnaschelli’s turkey brine, I liked that it included two full bulbs of garlic, soy sauce, molasses, honey and a pound of salt. The only change I made was using some dried thyme instead of fresh because I couldn’t find the latter at my grocery store.

The process was actually pretty simple. The first step involves boiling three quarts of water and then pouring it over the salt. I knew this would involve a lot of water and wasn’t sure if I had a bowl large enough, so utilized both of my larger stock pots. After that, you just add in all the ingredients, clean off your turkey and start soaking.

I bought one of those Styrofoam beer coolers to brine the turkey, but it looked a little small and awkwardly shaped, so instead I went with a collapsible, circular cooler we have lined with a large plastic food bag we found at the grocery store. I poured a bag of ice in the bottom of the cooler, then put the bagged turkey inside and finally, carefully poured the brine into the bag. Once it was all in, I closed the top with a twist-tie and then added more ice around the bag. With that all done, I moved the cooler into the bathtub just in case we sprung a leak. The turkey soaked over Wednesday night and went into the oven on Thursday. To see how that turned out, stay tuned!

Cooking Turkey Stock & Gravy

I know I promised you guys this post about making gravy from home made turkey stock in my post about cooking the Thanksgiving turkey this year and here it is. A little late, but exactly one week after Thanksgiving seems to have nice timing, no? Anyway, this one was pretty simple. The one thing I was tasked with before heading to Ohio was making the gravy. I had just seen Michael Ruhlman post his recipe online and figure he was a good guy to work off of. I didn’t know anything about turkey stock, but I had just finished making a ton of chicken and beef and figured that poultry is poultry so I took about a dozen or so frozen cubes with me.

But then, I got tasked with cooking the turkey and saw that, next to the recipe for the bird in my mom’s Martha Stewart cookbook was a recipe for making turkey stock that only took about 45 minutes. It fit in with my turkey timeline, so I whipped it up! Like with the turkey post, I don’t have the recipe in front of me, but it was pretty simple. I cooked a leek, stalk of celery and onion in some butter. Once that was done, I added about 7 cups of water (I think) and all the giblets but the liver. I got that boiling and then simmered for 45 minutes. When that was done, I decided not to chop up the remaining giblets for the gravy thinking it might freak people out and discarded all the solids.

In the meantime, while not doing my other turkey duties, I trimmed the fat off the liver and gave it a good chop. Once that was done, I cooked the pieces in butter and set aside for later. Those pieces went back into the stock and eventually into the gravy. When it came time to make the gravy, the process was pretty simple. I had exactly the amount of turkey stock thanks to Martha’s recipe and didn’t have to deviate from Ruhlman’s recipe at all. My wife helped me figure out the seasoning at the very end with salt and lemon juice and then we were good to go!

I didn’t tell the family until afterwards that the chunks int he gravy happened to be liver and no one seemed to mind when I informed them after the fact. All in all, it turned out to not only be tasty food, but it was gratifying to know I was able to use pieces of the bird that a lot of people just throw away. I hope they added deeper flavors, but even if not, it’s cool to use all the buffalo sometime, you know?

Cooking My First Thanksgiving Turkey

Sorry about the lack of posts here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen lately, I tried getting a few posts in the works before taking off for Ohio for Thanksgiving, but the end of the week was pretty empty. But, never fear, I’ve got plenty of posts in the works including this one which I didn’t even have planned!

I went into this Thanksgiving thinking I wasn’t going to be cooking anything, which was kind of a bummer because I like cooking and I like contributing. Traveling 10 hours, though, doesn’t leave you a ton of time to make something. But then, on Thanksgiving morning, while we watched the Macy’s parade, my mom asked if I’d be interested in handling the turkey. I read through the Martha Stewart recipe and it seemed simple enough, so I gladly volunteered. I don’t have a lot of the specifics about the ingredients and what not because I didn’t mark the page in the cookbook and I didn’t take a ton of pictures, but the process was pretty simple.

First and most importantly, I made a timeline at mom’s suggestion. I counted out how many hours the whole thing was supposed to take and then counted back from a possible eating time of 5:30PM and plotted it out. I kept my watch on my arm most of the day and the timeline near the oven, so I wound up not having any trouble. I even got to run out and play football with my dad, uncles and cousins which was a lot of fun.

So, here’s the basics. First I washed the bird with cold water and let him sit for about an hour and forty five minutes. In that time, I mixed together a big chunk of butter and a bottle of wine. This was for basting throughout the day. It also served as a soaking dish for a four layer, 17-inch square of cheese cloth that would eventually go on the bird. At the designated time, I got the oven temperature up to 450, rubbed the bird down with butter, added salt and pepper and draped the cheese cloth over the body before popping him into the oven for 30 minutes.

A half hour later I dropped the temperature down to 350, basted and was on a baste-every-30-minutes routine for the next two and a half hours. At that point, I removed the cheese cloth, turned the turkey around in the oven for another hour and it was good to be taken out by the designated time. I’m actually not that big of a turkey fan, but everyone said it was a great turkey which either meant I did a good job or my relatives are really nice.

I’ve got to say, I’ve heard some horror stories about cooking turkeys, but this method turned out to be fairly simple and produced great results. However, I completely understand how hectic it would have been had I been in charge of everything. The only other thing I was in charge of was making the gravy which I will write more about tomorrow (it involves giblets!). If I ever do a whole Thanksgiving on my own, I think I’ll have to bust out the big three-foot wipe board to keep track of everything. Thanks again to Mom for giving me the opportunity to try something new and my family for not being too scared to eat the bird!