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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Let's Talk Turkey -- Part 2

Two more days til turkey time!!!  So I decided to do an unprecedented Tuesday post (gasp!) since I know you will all be very busy on Wednesday with all your pre-preps for the big day.


Didyaknow – Benjamin Franklin once wrote that he believed the turkey should have been our national bird because, among several reasons, it was an honorable bird as well as being native to America. I'm not sure it would be as easy to enjoy if you were sitting down to the dinner table with a roast representation of our country, even with mashed potatoes and gravy on the side.

In the South, preparing turkey seems to come down to two basic schools – roasting and deep-frying.  What don’t we deep-fry in the South? Well, apparently nothing.


I like to think of deep-frying turkey as an X-game in the sport of cooking.  If you're willing to take on some challenges and a risk or two, then it's worth the effort.  Some things to know about deep-frying a turkey:

* They DO make special equipment for this procedure which usually includes a large stock pot, a poultry prod and/or lifter, a thermometer, a propane tank, and a whole lotta oil.

* Do NOT fry your turkey in the house...or even close to a house...unless you have a good fire plan or have purchased a specifically marked indoor turkey fryer. Which they do have on the market now, they're like hyperbaric bird chambers.

* Do NOT stuff your turkey before frying unless you want to deal with oozing gooey stuffing bits floating (and burning) in your oil.  If you want flavor, you can inject your turkey with a marinade before frying.

* You DO want your turkey to be completely thawed, or fresh, and patted dry.  You know how oil and water don't mix? Now imagine that with 20-30 gallons of angry hot see where I'm going with this.

Why then, despite the risks and more than slight danger of cooking a bird this way, do people do it? Because the end product is crazy good and very moist and it takes less time than cooking turkey in a conventional oven.

The most traditional way to prepare turkey is to roast it.  Roasting is a dry heat cooking method where hot air surrounds your produce and cooks it outside in.  The best way to get a nice even roast is to make sure air has room to circulate around the turkey and that’s why most people roast their bird on a rack or a bed of mirepoix.

Mirepoix is a mix of chopped onions, carrots and celery (traditional ratio is 2:1:1) which will add flavor to your drippings resulting in a nice rich-tasting gravy.  One thing to keep in mind if you go that route, the bigger your bird, the bigger you need to make your veggie pieces (it’s all about proportion).

You also want to make sure you have the right size pan for roasting.  It needs to be big enough to allow air to circulate, but close enough to prevent your juices from spreading out to far and scorching on the pan.

You’ll want to cook your bird uncovered.  If you cover it with foil, you create a steam bath which will compromise the roasting.  So keep that in mind when you get your pan, if the pan is too deep for your bird, it creates a similar situation.

Don’t forget to baste!  Basting is key in keeping the turkey moistened since hot air around it is dry, so make sure to do that on a regular basis throughout your cooking process.

There is much back and forth on whether or not it’s safe/healthy to cook a stuffed turkey.  The important thing to remember is that if you do stuff your bird, you want to make sure that the turkey and stuffing are the SAME temperature.  Introducing a hot item into a cold bird is where bacteria get happy and you get into trouble.


Now some people swear by the brown bag roasting method.  My sister-in-law does a mean brown bag bourbon turkey which is super tasty.  I always wondered how people could cook something in a brown bag without it bursting into flames in the process and now I know – brown bags burn at 450° so as long as you are baking/roasting your dish at temperatures under that, it’s all good (and flame-free!).

Now when I say “brown bag” I mean a brown PAPER bag, not a plastic grocery bag that happens to be brown.  You can use any ole paper grocery bag, but probably best to find one with little to no printing so that you’re not adding extraneous chemicals to the mix.

What you will want to do is make sure to grease down the upper part of the bag (on the inside) so that it doesn’t stick to the turkey whiles it’s cooking.  Butter or olive oil works fine.

I conferred with my SIL and she said that she uses two bags, puts one on either end so they overlap in the middle, but you can use one (if you’re bird isn’t too big) and staple it closed.  Do not use tape…please.

I know, I know, after telling you to cook your turkey UNCOVERED, why would I tell you about shoving it in a bag.  Unlike foil, paper “breathes” which allows some of the moisture to escape while still keeping enough in to turn your turkey into a moist marvel.


Once your turkey has done it’s time in the oven (or fryer), the best way to test it is to poke it in the thickest part of the thigh.  You want the juices that flow out to be clear, not pink or red.  Either of the latter means it “ain’t dun cookin’ yet.”

After it is done, let your turkey sit for about 15 minutes so that the meat can settle and absorb the moisture you’ve worked so hard to maintain. If you cut it too soon, all those nice juices will flow out and you’ll end up with dry turkey.  But if you have a little patience, glory sweet glory!

So here ends my treatise on turkey. I hope you all have a super wonderful food, friend and family-filled holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving and Bon Appetit!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Let's Talk Turkey -- Part 1

In prep for the biggest eating holiday of the year, I thought we could talk a little bit about the bird biz behind the buzz of Thanksgiving.


I'll be honest, I'm not sure which I like better, swapping Thanksgiving turkey recipes or swapping stories about wrestling with Thanksgiving turkeys (and I mean that literally in one case). 


Didyaknow, you'll get the best meat-to-bone ratio on turkeys weighing over 12 lbs.

The one thing people seem to forget when buying turkey for a gathering is that you need to factor in the bone weight when planning how many lbs. to purchase.

Fr'instance, in college, my roommates and I decided to host a turkey dinner with all the fixin's for our friends who had not yet left for the holidays.  So we bought a 15-lb. turkey for 15 people... :/  Being the gracious hosts we were, we gave our guests the bounty from the bird and made do with the bone scrapings for ourselves. We were like hyenas picking the bones cleaned. Not pretty, but lesson learned.

I usually count 2-3 lbs. for bones and then plan accordingly after that.  In looking around online, I found a useful site at USA Today to help with that and any other T-day math needs you might have.

GIBBLES and Other Fun Parts
okay, I know they're called giblets, but seriously, isn't "gibbles" more fun to say?

You want to make sure the first thing you do is locate the packet of extraneous parts and remove it from the bird before cooking.  You laugh, but it's amazing how many people forget about that and consequently how many birds are inedible as a result of that (because they are usually encased in plastic).

Just a heads up, the body cavity isn't the only place they get tucked away.  For the above mentioned turkey dinner, I came home to find one of my roommates and a friend of ours conducting a cavity search...with a flashlight...on our turkey.  It was under the neck flap, on the other end of the bird.  It was not a good year for that bird.

Some people I know roast the extras when they cook their turkey and then add them to the gravy for bonus flavor, or you can boil them up separately, drain it and use it in making your gravy.


So for those of you who fly fresh when it comes to turkeys, kudos on saving yourself a lot of headache and super bravo for planning so well in advance.  I'm not familiar with many places that you can procure a fresh turkey without having to pre-order it several weeks before the week before Thanksgiving. Heads up though, if you haven't purchased fresh turkey before, it does cost more than frozen.

For the rest of us, who despite our better intentions, do not plan that far ahead, the challenge of the best way to defrost a bird lies ahead.  It's still going to take some pre-planning, so don't expect a day of miracle.

The two most recommended ways to properly defrost a turkey are in the refrigerator or using a cold water bath.  The has a handy chart that breaks down time/days to bird weight, so definitely check that out.

De-frigeration (don't know if that's a real word, but please feel free to use it) takes longer, but doesn't require as much attention. Pop it in the fridge (breast side up) still in its wrapper and let sit for the per weight allotted amount of time.

Cold water bathing doesn't require as much time and does require a bit more attention because you'll need to change out of the water every so often so that it doesn't get too cold which becomes counter-productive to the whole defrosting process.

In my family, we usually go the bath route, quite literally one year.  Was at my brother's house and my sis-in-law and I decided to toss the bird in the kid's bathtub. Turned the water on and let it fill...only we kind of forgot that we left the water running until one of my young nieces came by and made a comment about how much fun the turkey was having in the tub.  We got there before things go too messy (and the turkey enjoyed a nice cold bath).


Universally, I think the biggest challenge to preparing a turkey is keeping it moist.  All the gravy in the word can't disguise a dry bird.

One method is using fat.  Fat = flavor.  Fat = moisture.  A bird's natural fat is one way to maintain moisture, but oftentimes because fat has become a less than pleasant word when associated with food, your bird may have already been cleaned of excess fat.  A couple of ways to introduce this back is by using butter or bacon or fatback.

Barding is adding a thin sheet of fatback or a layer of bacon across the top of your bird.  The drippings will soak into the bird, keeping it moist and add a nice flavor to the pan drippings which can be turned into gravy. The thing to remember about using bacon, though, is that you are going to have to fight off family to claim the crispy goodness from the top of the bird. Trust me, it's worth a few bruises.

Larding is inserting fat into the food, I've done this before by putting butter under the skin of the turkey and it melts into the bird.  Again, gives some nice flavor to your drippings.

Another way to keep the turkey moist before cooking is to add moisture to it.

Brining seems like the trendy thing to do this year as I've seen lots of brining packets available at various shops.  It's similar to marinating, but takes much longer (up to 10 hours) so does require some serious planning ahead. At it's most basic, a brine is a mixture of salt, sugar and water, but usually folks will add herbs and spices to help infuse the bird with more flavor.  Brining hydrates the uncooked bird in such a way that it not only adds flavor, but helps to tenderize it and can shorten the cooking time.

There are several sites online, including one by Butterball which provides instructions on how properly brine a bird.

Okay, this seems like as good a place as any to stop right now.  As I was researching this I discovered that there's a lot of be said about turkey prep, so I am going to continue this discussion on Wednesday...or possibly Tuesday because I know most of you will be busy getting ready for the big day on Wednesday...but in either case, there will be more to come. Plan to talk to you about cooking methods and hopefully provide some helpful hints along the way.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The New Southwest: Pomegranate and Lime Chicken Thighs

Okay, this was the recipe that originally caught my eye when I was checking out The New Southwest.  Takes a little more time than the enchiladas did, but the flavor is pretty outstanding.  I ended up making the enchiladas as a side dish to go with the chicken thighs and it made for an outstanding meal together.

The original recipe is set up for grilling the thighs, but because I do not have a working grill, I made some modifications and prepared them stovetop.  My modifications are noted below, but I've provided the recipe as is in the book.

Pomegranate and Lime Chicken Thighs

For the thighs

1 cup Green yogurt plain
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs I used 5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Pomegranate arils for garnish (optional)

For the Pomegranate and Lime Glaze

2 cups pomegranate juice
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice = juice from 2 small limes
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

To marinate chicken, combine the yogurt, pomegranate juice, salt and garlic powder in a ziptop bag.  Add chicken thighs and toss well to coat.  Refrigerate for at least two hours or up to overnight.  I whisked the yogurt, juice and spices in a bowl first to get them well blended, then poured them over the trimmed chicken thighs in the bag.

Once you are ready to cook the thighs, preheat your grill to medium heat.

To prepare the glaze, place the pomegranate juice, sugar, lime juice, honey, and mustard in a small saucepan, whisk together and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until thickened, approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, place chicken thighs skin side up on heated grill, cover, and cook until chicken has browned and is no longer pink, approximately 25 to 30 minutes.  Uncover, flip thighs, and cook for just 2 to 3 minutes more to crisp and slightly char the skins.  Remove cooked thighs, top with glaze, garnish with arils, if desired, and serve immediately.

Okay for the grill-free folks out there, I went stovetop.  I put them in a deep skillet over high heat for a few minutes, then drained off the excess liquid.

I continued to cook them over high heat until they were seared, then lowered the temperature. 

I added about half of the glaze to the pan (holding some back the rest to drizzle over the thighs when I plated them), and continued to cook the thighs, turning every couple of minutes until they were no longer pink inside.

I garnished them with fresh arils and then served them up with some stacked squash enchiladas on the side.

Muy bueno!

YIELD: 2 to 3 servings


I found the small container or arils at Harris Teeter.  You should check the produce area at your grocery store to see if they sell them separately.  Otherwise, pomegranates are currently in season and easy to find whole.

The flavors in this dish are really well balanced.  I could tell because when we started eating, Dad said that he could really taste the lime in the glaze, Mom said the honey was the first thing she tasted and for me the stand-out flavor was the Dijon, so we enjoyed a difference experience form the same dish.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The New Southwest: Stacked Squash Enchiladas

So I wanted to feature a recipe from The New Southwest, the cookbook I told you about last weekend.  There were really too many delicious dishes to choose from so I settled on one vegetarian (today's post) and one non-veg (post on Wed).  If these don't convince you to add this book to your collection, nothing will.

This recipe works well as either a side dish or a main course.  The roasted peppers give a nice weight to the flavor without overpowering it.

Stacked Squash Enchiladas
recipe from book with side notes by yours truly

3 large zucchinis, ends removed, cut into large chunks
2 large yellow longneck squash, ends removed, cut into large chunks
2 Hatch green chiles, stemmed, halved vertically (Anaheim chiles may be substituted)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt for roasting and seasoning to taste
8 green onions, ends removed, halved horizontally
juice of 1 large lemon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
6 7-inch tortillas
2 cups shredded Monterrey Jack cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the zucchini and yellow squash pieces along with the Hatch chile halves on a large rimmed baking sheet, toss with olive oil and a pinch of salt, and roast for 60 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly.

I found that mixing my squash chunks in a bowl first with the oil and salt was easier. Kept pieces from flying about and then I could just pour them out onto the cookie sheet and place the pepper pieces with them.

Place green onion pieces, lemon juice, and cooled squash and chile pieces in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process together to a uniform mixture.

Season with cumin, coriander, and salt to taste, and pulse process just to blend.  Pour mixture into a large bowl.

Set up a small assembly line with your bowl of enchilada sauce, tortillas, cheese and a 9-inch nonstick pie plate.  Begin assembly by dipping each side of one tortilla in the sauce, then placing in the bottom of the pie plate.  Note that this sauce is quite thick so don't worry if the sauce doesn't really adhere to the tortilla -- you're just trying to dampen the tortilla.

Instead of dampening the tortillas, I put a thin layer of the sauce on the bottom and then just started the assembly process. I ended up using just 5 tortillas because 6 would have put it well over the edge of my pie dish.

Next spread a generous layer of the sauce on top of the tortilla and top with a sprinkle of cheese. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.  Once your stack is assembled top with any remaining cheese.

Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and tortillas are slightly crisp at the edges.  You may opt to broil your enchiladas for an additional 1 to 2 minutes, just to crisp up the melted cheese on top.

Remove baked enchiladas from oven, slice, and serve immediately.

YIELD: approximately 4 servings.


Don't forget, the best way to prevent inadvertent eye or face burning is to wear gloves when handling the raw peppers.

If you want your enchiladas to have a bit more bite, you can always roast the peppers with the seeds.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Good and Good For You: Cilantro

Okay, so I haven't had a chance to get in the kitchen and play with new recipes...saving that for this weekend.  In the meantime, I thought I would do a little research into one of the ingredients that crops up in The New Southwest and many other cookbooks -- cilantro.

Now there are two predominant camps when it comes to cilantro, people seem to either love it or hate it, and I used to be in the latter camp.  But I'm slowing making my way into some middle ground with this herb.  Though it started to became very trendy in the 1990s, its been around forever.

Cilantro is the leafy part of the coriander plant, Coriandrum sativum, and is sometimes known as Chinese parsley. Cilantro is common to both Mexico and China and though Mexico sits on the border, it was actually the Chinese railroad workers in the 1860s who introduced the herb to North America.  They planted seeds by their camps to use the herb for cooking and left a trail of the herb behind them.

These days cilantro is used in wide array of ethnic cuisines in the U.S.  While some people use cilantro and parsley interchangeably (they are both members of the same family), there is a distinct difference in taste.  Cilantro has a very herby, pungent, almost astringent taste with slightly sweet undertones.

Cilantro is best used fresh and raw because it loses its aroma once dried.  In order to retain its potency, the best practice is to add cilantro at the end of your cooking process or as a garnish.  Cilantro makes a great salad green and is also good used as the main herb for pesto or chimichurri, a green sauce served with grilled meats (hmmm, may be seeing a post with that soon).

One of the interesting things about cilantro is that it's actually considered a healing herb.  The leaves have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.  They have a positive impact on blood cholesterol levels (lowers bad/increases good) and is believed to help in regulating blood sugar levels.

Cilantro is a good source of potassium, calcium and contains high levels of lutein which is good for good eye health.  Cilantro also contains vitamins A and C, which are amplified when cilantro is consumed with carotenoids (orange and yellow fruits and veggies).

One of the properties that cilantro promotes is detoxification in the body, especially with skin, bone, and brain.  Through environmental effects and consumption of other foods, metals build up in the body and cilantro is a good way to help detox and process those metals.

So if you're like me and like the idea of eeking out your youth a little bit longer, then jump on board the kinda-like-it Cilantro train with me and let's test that puppy out.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Check It Out: The New Southwest

Yep, got a new cookbook for the collection that I want to tell you about.  If you are a fan of southwestern cuisine, I would highly recommend running out to pick up a copy of The New Southwest by Meagan Micozzi, either for yourself or a gift for someone else.  Is that Christmas just around the corner? Huh.

I love how she takes ingredients from different regions through the southwest and pulls them together in new and interesting ways. I've not done a lot of southwest-based cooking, but I'm anxious to get in the kitchen and start trying out some of these dishes:

-- sweet glazed avocado doughnuts
-- caramel-soaked Mexican chocolate pancakes
-- sage and honey skillet biscuits
-- chipotle twice-baked sweet potatoes
-- coffee-rubbed lamb chops with weeknight mole
-- pomegranate and lime chicken thighs
-- dulche de leche layer cake with sweet pecan "pesto"

Should I go on or do you need a minute to wipe the drool from your chin?

She provides a short guide in the front part of the cookbook to ingredients that should grace a Southwestern panty followed by a section called "Building Blocks" that includes a series of recipes introducing the ingredients that she uses throughout the book.

So check it out, I think you'll like it and I'll test out a couple of her recipes for you this week.

The New Southwest
by Meagan Micozzi
Hippocrene Books, Oct 2013
978-0-7818-1315-0 / 256 pages
$35.00 USD

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Pumpkin Lasagna

Yummy time!  Back to one of my other favorite ingredients...pumpkin!  So got this crazy idea for a vegetarian lasagna using pumpkin and I've got to say, pretty happy with the results.

Disclaimer:  my lasagnas never have that red saucy delectability, but that's only because I lean towards a cheese heavy lasagna so they tend to be more pink in appearance.  As always, these recipes are just a jumping off point and you can add, subtract or adjust ingredients to suit your palate pleasure.

Pumpkin Lasagna
recipe is for one 8x8" baking pan

1-1/2 to 2 cups roast pumpkin, large chopped
1 cup + 3 tbsp. tomato sauce
1 cup ricotta
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1 large carrot, cubed
1cup chopped fresh baby spinach, de-stemmed
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 to 1/2 cup grated parmesan
lasagna noodles

Roasting Pumpkin and Parboiling Carrots

Cut 1 small pumpkin into large chunks, de-seed, and place on a prepared baking sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.  Remove and allow to cool.  Remove rind and cut into chunks.

Peel and chop the carrots.  Put in a small microwave bowl.  Add 1 tsp. of water, cover with plastic wrap and cook on high for 1 minute.

Lasagna Layering

You can either pre-cook lasagna noodles or use oven ready noodles. For a 8x8" pan, you can fit three across (though you'll have to trim them to fit).

In a small bowl, mix ricotta, 1 cup tomato sauce, and spices.

Cover bottom of pan with 3 tbsp. of tomato sauce.  Lay down your first layer of noodles.

Cover with 1/3 of the ricotta mix, the shredded mozzarella, parmesan, and half the amount each of the pumpkin chunks, carrots, and spinach.

Lay down a second layer of lasagna and repeat the fill process. Top with a final layer of noodles and just the cheeses and ricotta mix.

Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes if you're using oven ready noodles or 40 minutes if you're using pre-cooked noodles.

Once done, allow to sit a minute or so to firm up, then serve.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Apple Cider Slushy

Ai-ai-ai, can't believe I survived October!  So I have been wanting to do this write-up since I went to the NC State Fair this year.

Every year I always make a stop in the apple area...yes, I am doing another apple post (I LUV APPLES!)...and yes, the NC State Fair has an area dedicated to apples.  Usually I grab a cup of hot apple cider, but this year, I branched out and tried a "Freezie." Basically, an apple cider slushy and it was super delish!  I've been wanting to try it at home and finally got a chance to purchase my own ice cream maker.  So for your viewing/my tasting pleasure, I made a batch of apple cider slushy.  Big smiley face.

Apple Cider Slushy

With Ice Cream Maker -- following the machine's instructions, pour 2 cups of cold apple cider into the freezing component and spin for 30 minutes.  Scoop and serve.

Sans Ice Cream Maker -- place a 9x13" metal cake pan in your freezer and let chill for 10-15 minutes, pour 2 cups cold apple cider into the chilled pan and let sit.  Check and stir every 20 minutes until frozen through.  Scoop and serve.