Archive for the Home cooking and more Category

Cooking the Easter Bunny

Posted in Home cooking and more with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2009 by restaurantouring

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A couple years ago, I was driving a friend’s car (she was too tipsy to drive) when I accidentally ran over a rabbit that was running across route 10, in East Hanover.

Damn thing came outta nowhere.

I felt pretty bad about the whole crushing-a-skull-under-the-driver’s-side-wheel thing, and the fact that it was Good Friday only made things worse. It was like I just killed the Easter Bunny.

So, this year, I decided to kill a bunny rabbit on purpose.

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After severing the forequarters and cutting off the hindquarters, I trimmed the loin from the ribs and left the belly meat attached. I stuffed the loin with some caramelized onions that had been sauteed with some garlic and fresh sage leaves. I wrapped it all in some duck bacon that my good friend, Jose, bought me, seared it off, and finished it in the oven. It ain’t too pretty, mainly cuz the duck bacon was too thick and not nearly long enough, so the whole package unraveled by the time the food hit the plate. I will probably stick with good ol’ pork bacon next time.

I should note that the rabbit did not come with the liver, kidneys, or heart for some reason. I generally like offal, and I try to make an effort to eat it whenever it is available, if only so that it does not go to waste. For this dish, I was actually counting on some rabbit liver, so I was pretty upset when I discovered that this thing came with no offal whatsoever. Bummer.

While the rabbit finished cooking, I sauteed some potatoes in the rendered duck fat from the bacon, and seared some oyster mushrooms to go along with it. I deglazed with some chardonnay that I had laying around and added some fairly concentrated, gelatinous, deeply caramelized duck stock that I also had lying around. I reduced it to nappe consistency and lightly sauced the loin with that. A la minute.

Voila: dinner.

I hope everyone had a happy Easter!

P.S. I’m a big fan of total utilization. As I write this, the remaining bones and carcass from the rabbit is slowly simmering in a pot of water for stock. I threw in some chicken bones I’ve been saving up for the past couple weeks, too. I just threw the bones into a zip top bag in the freezer and took them out to make a batch of rabbit/chicken stock.

check my Flickr account for higher-quality and larger-sized pictures, especially since WordPress does this annoying thing where the right side of all my pictures gets cropped out of the frame (I’ll figure out how to fix it one of these days, I swear): http://www.flickr.com/photos/epicnomz

to learn more about breaking down bunnies into marketable consumer cuts, search for Michael Pardus, longtime instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, on YouTube. His user name is MPardus, I believe. Or, just click here.

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Creole Gumbo

Posted in Home cooking and more with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2009 by restaurantouring
Creole Gumbo

Creole Gumbo

The word “gumbo” comes from the African word for okra, kingombo, and in New Orleans, there’s no doubt that a cup of gumbo is king. Bad puns aside, here’s a recipe for some creole gumbo. Happy Mardi Gras, everyone:

Ingredients:

– 4 tbl butter

– 1 lb. smoked andouille sausage, sliced

– 1/2 cup of flour

– the trinity: ½ onion, chopped, 1 bell pepper, chopped, 2 stalks celery, chopped

– okra, sliced

– 2 medium tomatoes, chopped

– 4 cups, beef or chicken stock

– 4 cups, fish or shrimp broth

– 1 bay leaf

– ½ tsp. thyme

– salt and pepper

– hot sauce (optional)

– 12 to 18 shrimp

– 6 to 12 oysters, mussels, or clams

– 12 crawfish or 3 split crabs

– cooked long grain rice

– chopped parsley, to garnish

Directions:

Melt the butter in a large dutch oven or heavy pot. Sauté the andouille to render out some of the fat. Strain and reserve. Sauté the okra to prevent sliminess. Strain and reserve. Add flour to the fat to make a roux, adding more butter or oil as needed. Gently cook roux until it darkens to the color of chocolate. Add onions and cook until onions caramelize. Stir constantly to make sure nothing burns. Add the rest of the veggies and tomato and cook until soft. Pour in the stock with the okra, sausage, bay leaf, and thyme. Lightly season the gumbo with salt and pepper (the flavors and salt will concentrate after simmering for an hour to two hours). Add the seafood last, to ensure that it does not overcook – clams, oysters, or mussels first, followed by the crabs split in half, and finally, the shrimp). Divide soup into 6 bowls, making sure that every bowl gets a little bit of everything. Top with a mound of rice, and sprinkle with some of the chopped parsley. Serve very hot, with or without hot sauce.

Notes:

– Whenever you’re working with bivalves like clams and mussels, you want to be sure to use fresh product.  Also, be sure to soak them in several changes of cold water so that they won’t be too gritty or sandy.  Scrub the outsides of clams with a brush under cold running water.  Remove the beards of the mussels with a needle nosed plier.

– Be careful with the clams, since clams will add saltiness to the gumbo over time.  A perfectly seasoned gumbo may end up being far too salty the next day.  To help remedy this, remove the shells before storing your gumbo overnight.

– You may find that the gumbo is not thick enough to your liking.  You can remedy this in a number of ways.  You can add less liquid (remember that the seafood will give up some liquid, too.  This can thin out the gumbo), make a larger batch of roux, or fortify the gumbo with additional roux after you’ve simmered it for a while.  Okra helps.  File powder (ground, dried sassafras leaves, used as a thickener and flavoring agent in Cajun style gumbos) works too.  I’d stick with roux and okra for this version of gumbo, though — I think it’s more authentically Creole.

A Cook’s Job is Never Done, Part II

Posted in Culinary ruminations and other random thoughts, Home cooking and more with tags , , on January 16, 2009 by restaurantouring

The last time (or the first time, depending on how you want to think about it) I blogged about how a cook’s job is never done, I left you with some frantic passages which tried to evoke the energy and freneticism of the kitchen.  The idea was to give my readers the sense of what it’s like to work in a kitchen and have a million things to do at once.  In retrospect, that tone of voice was probably just me trying to emulate the lovely Shuna Lydon, an outstanding professional chef who also has a blog, which she lovingly named Eggbeater.  She has tons of wonderful posts on her blog.  The difference is that she actually knows what she’s doing, and is able to use that almost frantic, energetic tone extremely effectively.

Me?  I’m just a monkey with a spatula.

In fact, I just read her blog post from Christmas after I finished typing that last sentence, and I’m floored.  I don’t know what to say anymore.  My ramblings and rants are pretty meaningless in comparison, I think.  Ah well.

I was originally going to write a little bit about how I think a good cook makes use of everything and anything it can get its hands on.  For example, say you have a chicken.  You break it down to get the meat and save the carcass for stock.  Maybe you remove the meat from the legs and thighs for stir fry or skewers and use those bones for the stock as well.  Grill the breasts or something.  Use the skin for a galantine.  Use the giblets for garnish or to fortify the stock or a sauce.  Liver pate or something.

Truth be told, I don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore.  I’m calling it a night (it’s actually 3:15 AM, Wednesday morning, and I have work in less than 5 hours.  I just thought I’d get a jump on some blogging so that I could schedule these posts to update automatically).

Until next time, practice your craft, everyone.  And eat more pork.

Thanksgiving, Top Chef, Pictures, progress, and more

Posted in Culinary ruminations and other random thoughts, Food on TV, Home cooking and more with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2008 by restaurantouring

Hi, everyone.  I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving!  Hopefully, all your turkeys came out perfect, your dressings were aromatic, your gravies un-lumpy, and all your sides were delicious.

Admittedly, my own turkey (I got a 13.4 pounder for Thanksgiving with the fam) turned out pretty poorly.  I broke my probe thermometer and it was too late to get a new one, so I was roasting somewhat blind.  Then, in the middle of trying to get the bird golden brown, I had to go pick up my grandmother before she got too angry at all of us for forgetting to pick her up (no one else in the family seemed readily willing to go and pick her up for some reason).  I handed responsibility for the turkey over to someone else, who ended up ruining the outside of the turkey despite me giving timely instructions by cell phone (the skin got way too dark), and the foil covering I made for the breast wasn’t put onto the turkey the correct way, nor was it put on at the right time.  Sigh.  Needless to say, dinner didn’t start until an hour and a half later than expected because my family decided to keep cooking new, subpar, mediocre dishes, plus there was a decent amount of bickering and arguing.  Ah, well.  What’s Thanksgiving with the family without fighting, right?

Of course, the turkey dried out.  Between the extra hour and a half and the cycles of resting, cooling, and reheating the bird every time everyone “decided” that dinner was ready (it wasn’t), the breast meat overcooked and got fairly dry, despite my brining the bird for a day before hand, and the legs were starting to dry out as well.  Good thing there’s gravy and cranberry sauce.

I also made a roasted pumpkin terrine that turned out all right.  I layered it with apple, carrot, and dried cranberries for interior garnish.  It was all tied together with a pumpkin butter, apple cider vinaigrette.  I served it with a cream sauce that I made with heavy cream, maple syrup, sage, and some cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.  I wish I took pictures.  The battery for my camera died and I have been scouring my cluttered apartment for the charger.  No luck so far.  Hopefully I’ll have some time to do some cleaning this weekend, since I will be pretty swamped with work this week.

Also, apologies for not updating about the 3rd episode of Top Chef.  Things got hectic with family, food, black friday shopping, etc.  If you missed it, Richard was eliminated.  I was so sad.  I liked him (no homo).  The contestants first had to draw knives with numbers and put their own spin on recipes from the Top Chef cookbook.  The numbers on the knives corresponded with pages in the cookbook.  Grant Achatz was the guest judge (you had all better know who Grant Achatz is.  He’s fantastic).  Maybe 15 minutes into the challenge, Padma and Grant interrupted the chefs and announced that they had changed their mind and wanted a soup instead.  Then, all the contestants had to take what they had already started to cook, and turn it into a soup.

To save time, the Top Chef kitchens provided them all with cartons upon cartons of Swanson broth.  I was horrified — not at the blatant ad placement (c’mon.  This is Top Chef we’re talking about here.  Any fan of the show should be completely desensitized to it by now), but because homemade stock is magnitudes better than the packaged, store-bought kind.  For shame, Top Chef!

Leah made a white asparagus soup with tuna tartare, which seemed to greatly impress Chef G (Achatz), since white asparagus is a tough ingredient to work with.  Danny also made a great soup (a ham and egg soup).  Jamie made a deconstructed falafel soup.  Leah ended up winning the quickfire (I love that damn woman).

For the elimination challenge, Leah was asked to pick teammates that she wanted to work with.  She picked the two Europeans, Fabio and Stefan (nooooooo!  team Europe!!!!), as well as Melissa, Hosea, and Radhika.  Leah’s team was nickednamed Team Sexy Pants.  The other team, fronted by Ariane, was nicknamed Team Cougars (because Ariane is such a cougar, raaar).  Then, the contestants found out that they had to cook for the band, the Foo Fighters, plus their roadies.  This was a catering gig, much like when I cooked for Five Finger Death Punch, Unearth, and some other bands at the Starland Ballroom (see the About Me page on this blog for more details).

The theme for this challenge was Thanksgiving.  Ariane made a bombtastic turkey breast and totally redeemed herself in the eyes of the judges, since it was the best turkey between the two teams.  Unfortunately for Richard, the judges decided that the dessert he made for the Foo Fighters was the worst thing on the menu.

Richard tried to please the band by making a dessert with bananas and chocolate, since they mentioned that they loved to eat chocolate covered frozen bananas.  So, he decided to make s’mores with ganache and banana creme.  The problem was that s’mores should be made a la minute, which he tried to do.  Unfortunately, the s’mores still sat around for a good bit, so they weren’t nearly as good come service time.  The judges commented that the banana creme looked like spit (or something similar in consistency and appearance).

It was too bad for Richard, since he didn’t want to throw someone else under the bus when he had to face the judges.  Danny also made some fairly awful dishes, but being a bullshit artist, he lied his way through the challenge.  “Richard, please pack your knives and go.”  Sadness.

There seemed to be some friction between Jamie and Danny in the stew room, too.  This could get interesting.  Maybe Jamie was just sad that she’s quickly become the only member of the former Team Rainbow?  Remember that Patrick was eliminated in the first episode, and now Richard has been eliminated.

That’s all for Top Chef.

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve had quite a few updates recently.  I must admit, I’ve been cheating somewhat *evil*.  A few weekends ago, I was really quite bored and had nothing to do, so I wrote maybe a dozen entries in the span of a few days.  I used WordPress to schedule them to post at midnight, on just about every night.  So, if you’ve seen a lot of posts (and if you’re wondering why it took me this long to write about how my Thanksgiving was whereas it seems I’ve been writing about cooking with wine, frying chicken, etc. etc.) — well, that’s why.  I’ve been cheating.  So, there you go.  It feels good to get that out into the open.  *sigh of relief*

Finally, once I get my camera charged back up and ready to go, I’m going to be making some aesthetic changes around here.  I got tired of this silly default theme a long time ago, and I think it’s time to spruce the place up a bit — add some pictures.  I may even take pictures related to previous posts.  If I do so, I will edit those posts and also write a new entry with the pictures and links to the relevant posts.  I don’t know . . . something to pass the time, as well as to make the blog more pleasant to look at (I do enjoy pictures, you know).

That’s all for now!  Leave me some comment love if you please.  I’d love to hear about how you spent your Thanksgivings, how the turkey came out, what else you made for dinner, etc.  Also, if you have any questions or suggestions for future blog topics, please leave them here!  I will do my best to answer your questions as quickly as possible, while still posting meaningful, fun to read, informative blog entries.  There’s too much to do!

Cooking with Wine

Posted in Food experiments at home, General food knowledge, Home cooking and more with tags , , , on November 30, 2008 by restaurantouring

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The late, great Julia Child proclaimed in the 1970s that you should never cook with a wine that you wouldn’t drink.  Her reasoning was that as the wine reduced in your food, flavors concentrated.  If the wine you cooked with had a good flavor, it would taste better as it reduced.  If the wine you cooked with had a bad flavor, the bad flavors would concentrate as the wine reduced.  Things seemed to make sense.

Of course, another aspect to this good wine / bad wine debate involves the tannins in wine, as well as general balance of flavor.  Thus, contrary to what Ms. Child advised, it may not be a bad idea to cook with cheap wine, either.  The idea is that as a good wine reduces, so do the tannins (besides the good flavors of the wine).  Too high a concentration of tannins and you potentially have bad tasting food on your hands, despite how nice the wine was that you used.

On the other hand, if you used a cheap wine, the flavors could potentially get better as things reduced and reached a better balance of flavors and tannins.  This has the added benefit of the fact that if you screw up the dish, at least you’re not wasting all that good wine for bad tasting food.

This all seems to make sense, despite the two schools of thought being at odds with each other.  So which camp should you choose to side with?

I say drink the good stuff and cook with the cheap stuff.  Not just because I’m poor (low level government employees/chumps like me don’t make a lot of money, despite the corruption that is the whole of New Jersey).  Note that I did not say that you should cook with bad wine.  Bad wine is bad wine, no matter how you look at it.  Not much can be done to improve a bad wine.  But there are plenty of cheap wines out there that don’t taste too bad after some cooking — especially if you’re cooking something already heavily flavored with it, like a well-seasoned beef stew or braise.

Likewise, there are plenty of good-tasting wines out there which you could potentially ruin by cooking it.  Besides, if it’s the good stuff, wouldn’t you want to drink as much of it as possible?  That way, you’re getting the pure flavor of the wine, without having all the tastiness get masked up by your food.  Flavorful dishes, like red wine braised short ribs, can hide the more subtle qualities of a good wine more than other foods cooked with wine, so it seems like there is tremendous potential for tremendous waste here.  If you want to cook with wine, I say you’re better off finding something less expensive with a similar flavor profile.

Experiment.  Try different wines.  If you find a wine you like to cook with, keep it in mind.  Stick to that wine if you’re really happy with it, but I say always leave your options open.  Try everything.  Be objective.  Taste your food.  And enjoy it.  Especially that fancy bottle of red you’ve been aging for ever.

But maybe with those braised short ribs, rather than in those beef short ribs, yeah?

Toasting and Grinding Your Own Spices

Posted in Books and gear, General food knowledge, Home cooking and more, How To's with tags , , , , , , on November 29, 2008 by restaurantouring

Why you should toast and grind your own spices:

Spices are valued because of their essential oils, which remain locked up in whole spices.  To unlock, you simply grind those spices.

The reason why you should grind your own spices is because those essential oils are very volatile, meaning that they dissapate very quickly.  Logically, the pre-ground spices you buy at the grocery store are probably pretty flavorless already, since grocery store spices are typically months, if not years old already (And yes, this is true even if the bottle still has the stay-fresh-seal intact.  Sorry).

The reason why you should toast your own spices is because the act of toasting sort of “wakes up” those flavors and essential oils.  Suddenly, decent-tasting spices become extraordinarily deep and flavorful, and you really do get more bang for your buck.  Trust me, there is no substitute.

How to toast your own spices:

Toasting your own spices is easy.  Heat a clean, dry pan (I like stainless steel.  I use my clad pan.  A dry cast iron pan or a nonstick skillet both work very well, too) over medium or medium-high heat.  Once it gets hot, add the spices you wish to toast.  Keep the spices moving — toss the spices in the pan, stir it with a heat proof spatula, or just jiggle the pan vigorously on the stovetop, kinda like you’re making stovetop popcorn.  Once the spices start to smell really fragrant, remove the spices to a cool bowl or plate (plates are better, since there’s more surface area to spread the spices.  That way, the spices cool faster and steam doesn’t build up).  The whole process should only take a couple of minutes.  Just be careful not to burn anything!

Grinding your own spices:

This is where things get a little more creative.  There are many ways to grind your own spices.

First, before you grind anything, make sure that your spices have cooled.  Grinding spices that you have just toasted isn’t the best way to do things for two reasons: 1) steam may be built up in the spices, so that when you grind them, the spices get gluey and stick together in a clump, rather than in powder form; and 2) I think grinding hot spices promotes the dissipation of those volatile essential oils, which would negatively impact flavor and be counterproductive, considering the trouble you went through to toast your whole spices in the first place.

I own a terrible mortar and pestle, so that doesn’t really work for me.  My mortar and pestle is made of smooth, light-weight wood, which is why it does such a bad job at grinding things.  If I owned a marble, ceramic, or other stone mortar and pestle, I’d use it all the time.  There’s something quaint, satisfying, meditative, and cool about grinding your own spices with a mortar and pestle.  Just be sure that the grit on the interior surface / bowl of the mortar and on the end of the pestle is fine enough, and to your satisfaction.  Otherwise, your grind may be too coarse.  I should add that to my holiday wishlist: mortar and pestle, NOT MADE FROM WOOD.

When I grind spices, I use an electric coffee grinder.  It’s sweet.  It’s got a rotating blade in it, kind of like a mini blender or food processor.  The blades are thick and sturdy, and rotate extremely fast.  The model I own (which is actually different and more expensive than the one in the link above, yet they perform equally well) is actually detachable, which makes cleanup a snap.  The best part is that it only cost me around 20 or 25 bucks, and it makes things so much easier.  If your coffee grinder can’t be disassembled for washing, you can just run some dry, uncooked rice or kosher salt through it to clean it.

You can also simply use a knife to chop or crack spices.  Sometimes, this is even more advantageous.  Black pepper, for example, tastes very different when used whole, ground (especially when it’s finely ground), or simply cracked.  Cracked black peppers are great for brines and for steak au poivre, for example.  You can rough chop spices with a knife or even lay the knife flat and pound on the side of it with your fist to crack spices open.  Be careful not to cut yourself!

Alternatively, you can put your spices into a cloth bag or fashion a satchet out of a couple layers of cheese cloth.  Then, you can use a rolling pin, a meat mallet, or the bottom of a heavy pan to smash the spices until it reaches the consistency you desire.

There are tons of possibilities, really.  It is up to you how you wish to grind your own spices, but please do not be discouraged.  For the sake of flavor, it’s worth it.

Where to get spices:

Internet sources are probably best for buying spices, as long as it is a reputable, professional source.  Alternatively, you can usually sniff out spice markets in your area by simply looking around (especially in foreign, unknown places).  You can also search for stores nearby on the internet.  I go to my spice guy, Mark, whom I wrote about in a previous blog entry.

Thanksgiving Day Turkey

Posted in Books and gear, Home cooking and more, How To's with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2008 by restaurantouring

Note: If you read this recipe before 6:15 PM EST on 11/24/08, you should take note of the recipe changes I’ve made.  I had to go back and check the salt content and I realized I was recommending too little salt.  I’m sorry I goofed!

I apologize to the couple I bumped into at Bed Bath and Beyond last weekend, who ended up buying that All Clad roasting pan after I talked to them (Hey, All Clad!  Throw me a freaking bone here, please!).  I promised you a recipe for my turkey brine, and I’ve put it off until now to do it.  I’ve been very busy, but I hope you’re still out there, checking this blog (probably not.  I have 3 readers that I know of, and sadly, I am one of them and another reader is someone I charged with editting my rants).

But I hope you’re still there, or at least searching around for another brine recipe, because I’m a firm believer that brining your turkey is the single best thing you can do for your Thanksgiving turkey.  Brining ensures that your turkey is properly seasoned throughout, and also makes sure that your turkey is moist and flavorful, even after spending a couple of hours inside the oven.  Brining also gives you a bit of a buffer, in case you forget the turkey and leave it in the oven for a little too long.  Luckily, if you have a probe thermometer, you can eliminate that problem altogether.  Finally, brining is simple, even if some people say it is unnecessarily arduous.  Personally, I say it’s unnecessarily arduous to try to chew through another piece of tough, dry, flavorless turkey, but that’s enough of that.  Let’s cut to the chase:

To brine, you will need a couple of special tools.  The first is a clean 5-gallon bucket, or some container large enough to hold your turkey submerged in about 2 gallons of the brining liquid.  Home Depot sells them for about 5 bucks apiece.  Be sure to pick up the lid to go with it, and wash it really well in the tub when you get home.  Make sure that you’re not trying to reuse the old bucket from the last time you decided to repave your driveway or something, since that won’t taste very good.  The second item is the  probe thermometer I mentioned earlier.  I like Polder brand.  I got mine for about 20 bucks at Bed Bath and Beyond.  Or maybe it was Linens N Things?  I can’t remember.    Either way, you can get it on Amazon.com for 20 bucks, too (as soon as the price drops back down to $20 that is).  Anyway, let’s move on.

Brines should be around a 5% solution of salt in water.  To achieve this, it is best to weigh your ingredients.  Hopefully, you have a food scale somewhere in your home.  If not, you can approximate this solution by dissolving about 1 and 2/3 cup of kosher salt into a gallon of water.  A little more salt doesn’t hurt either — just don’t use too much, and definitely don’t use less.  I use Diamond kosher salt — the kind in the red and white box.  A cup of Diamond kosher salt weighs approximately 4.8 ounces, and you’ll need 8 ounces of salt for every gallon.  Things would be so much easier if we used the metric system. . . .  You’ll probably need about two gallons of water to brine your turkey, so you’ll need about 3 and 1/3 cups of kosher salt.  Unfortunately, I have no idea how much the equivalent amount of regular table salt would be, because I almost never use the stuff.  Tastes funny.  I think it’s the iodine.  Again, hopefully you have a scale.  You should be adding a pound of salt (16 ounces) to two gallons of water (that’s 5%).

You can either dissolve the salt in hot water, allow the brine to cool down, and brine your turkey in the refrigerator, or you can take your salt for a spin in your food processor for half a minute and dissolve it in cold water.  Processing kosher salt in a food processor creates a salt powder, which dissolves very very easily, even in cold water.  This way, you don’t have to wait for the solution to cool down before you dunk your bird inside.  Just be careful when opening the lid to your food processor — don’t inhale!  Lung-fuls of salt powder isn’t pleasant, trust me (not that I’m speaking from personal experience . . . or anything. . . .).

You can also brine your turkey on your porch or in your garage if the temperature outside doesn’t rise above 40 degrees Fahrenheit (I’d keep it outside at no higher than 37 degrees, just to be safe.  The windier it is outside, the better).  Alternatively, you can fill zip top bags with ice and slap them on top of the bird.  This serves to weight the bird down so that it is submerged, and also to keep the mix cold.  Replace the ice as needed, and make sure your zip top bags are good and waterproof, to prevent the melted ice from diluting the solution.  Brine overnight, and up to a day in advance.

That’s it.  A simple brine.

Of course, why should you be satisfied with just salt and water?  Sugar can be added to further enhance the effects of the brine.  White, table sugar will do in a pinch, but it has no flavor.  I try to add flavor whenever and where ever possible.  Here’s my recipe for my own turkey brine:

– 1 canister of orange juice or apple juice concentrate (it’s probably in the frozen section of your grocery store)

– 3 cups of kosher salt

– 1 cup of good soy sauce (I use Kikkoman because advertising works)

– 4-8 ounces of molasses (I believe they come in 12 ounce jars)

– half a cup of dark brown sugar

– a tablespoon of cracked peppercorns.  To crack peppercorns, lightly smash them with the side of a broad knife, or use the flat side of that meat mallet you have laying around somewhere.

– an onion, cut into quarters

– a couple ribs of celery, snapped in half or into thirds

– a couple of carrots, chopped into 1-inch chunks

– 3 bay leaves

– about 10 stems of thyme

– a bunch of parsley.  Also about 10 stems of it, torn up into pieces

– 10 sage leaves, shredded

– 5 star anise, smashed with the side of a knife

– a few cloves of garlic, smashed with the side of a knife

– a couple oranges or apples, cut into chunks

– 2 – 4 cinnamon sticks, snapped in half

– 232 ounces (two gallons, minus 3 cups) or so of home made vegetable stock.  If you use the canned stuff from the store, please be wary of the sodium content and adjust the amount of salt you add accordingly.  Also, please consider making your own veggie stock.  Just heat up two gallons of water and toss in some chunks of carrot, onion, celery, parsnip, and tomato.  Simmer for an hour or two.  Remove the solid chunks of veggies by straining.  Dissolve all the other ingredients into the broth.  You can probably (definitely) find better vegetable broth recipes online, since mine is very simple.

– You can also swap out some of the broth for wine or juice or apple cider.  It’s best to bring wine up to a boil, to drive off some of the alcohol, since alcohol may inhibit the brining process.

Again, brine your turkey for up to a day, flipping the bird (HA!  I swear that was unintentional.) halfway through the brining process to ensure that your turkey is seasoned evenly.  Then, remove it to your roasting rack and roasting pan, pat dry all around with paper towels, rub the turkey with oil, and roast it at 500 degrees Fahrenheit for half an hour.  This will give the turkey a very nice GBD (Golden Brown and Delicious) color on the outside of the skin.

If your turkey does not brown after half an hour in a 500 degree oven, a few things may be going wrong: 1) Your oven may not be calibrated correctly, so even though you set it to 500 degrees, it may not be reaching such a high temperature, 2) You may not have thoroughly dried the skin of the turkey before putting it into the oven, 3) There was too much acid in your brine (from citrus or vinegar or juice, etc), and the acid is preventing the turkey from browning properly, or 4)  You didn’t allow the oven enough time to preheat.  Allow an oven to preheat for at least half an hour before baking, especially when you need to bake at such a high temperature.  Other factors may be at play here, but these are the major factors that I can think of.

DO NOT STUFF YOUR BIRD.  Placing a rib of celery, a quarter onion, orange, or apple, herbs, spices, or other aromatics into the bird’s cavity is fine, but do not do not do not do not do not stuff the bird otherwise.  It won’t cook properly.

After half an hour, remove the turkey from the oven, put a double layer of foil directly onto the turkey breasts (to prevent the white meat from cooking too quickly and drying out), push the probe from the thermometer directly into the middle of one of the breasts (punching through the foil is fine).  Set the temperature on the probe thermometer to 160 degrees, and make sure you flip the switch on so that it will beep when the breast reaches that temperature.  You should also take this opportunity to wrap some foil around the wings and the ends of the legs, since those are small, thin areas that may burn easily if you’re not careful.

If you don’t have a probe thermometer, please try to get one.  If not, a 15-pound turkey should cook for another hour and a half or maybe slightly longer.  Larger birds will take longer and will most likely dry out more, even though you brined the turkey (don’t worry, the drying won’t be as bad as it normally might be).  Basically, try to avoid getting a turkey larger than 15 or 16 pounds.  Don’t be greedy and grab the 21 pounder.  It won’t cook properly.

Lower the heat down to 350 degrees and bake the turkey until the probe thermometer starts beeping at 160 degrees.  Do not open the oven door in the middle to check on the turkey or to baste it.  Leave the fate of the turkey up to the Thanksgiving Day / Polder gods.  Remove the turkey, let it rest for half an hour, and then you can carve and serve it.  It is important to let the turkey rest for two reasons: 1)  At 160 degrees, the turkey can still harbor salmonella.  Salmonella dies at 165 degrees, and the carryover cooking will easily bring the temperature of the turkey to above 165 degrees.  2) meat that has had a chance to rest after roasting has the benefit of being juicier, since the liquids in the hot meat have the chance to settle and become reabsorbed by the strands of protein in the meat.

Summary: Roasting a Thanksgiving Day turkey is easy.  All you have to remember is to avoid getting a bird larger than 15 or 16 pounds, always brine the bird, never stuff the bird, and once it is in the oven, don’t go futzin’ around with it and opening the oven door repeatedly.  The rest is simple, as well: 1) brine (repetition never hurt anyone), 2) pat dry and rub the turkey with oil, 3) roast for half an hour at 500 degrees, 4) cover the breasts, wings, and drumstick ends with foil, 5) finish the turkey in a 350 degree oven until a probe thermometer tells you that the temperature in the middle of a turkey breast has reached 160 degrees, 6) rest the turkey for half an hour, and 7) enjoy!

P.S.  Fans of Alton Brown’s show, Good Eats, will notice that this recipe basically follows Alton’s method for roasting a whole bird.  Clever, you.  Alton Brown rocks my socks.