Archive for turkey

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!

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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.