Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Turkey - Frying Up Our Thanksgiving Tradition

It started back in the 1990s. I saw Martha Stewart fry up a turkey for the first time on her television show, and as I was wont to do back in my early homemaking days, I immediately decided we had to do this at home. Turkey fryers were not easy to find back in those days, you actually had to go to a sporting goods store. Finding enough peanut oil to fry it in involved a trip to a restaurant supply store. But once we tasted the delicious bird, we were hooked. First of all, fried turkey means no need to get up a 7 a.m. to start a bird. It takes only about 3 and half minutes per pound to cook. That's right, turkey in under an hour!  The color is amazing  and the crisp skin in delectable, while the meat is still tender and juicy. Not to mention that my dear husband likes to take charge of the outdoor cooking! That leaves me with a free oven and time to prepare  the  side dishes.
I've spent a long time perfecting this technique and I'm finally willing to share our secrets.

Equipment-wise, you'll need a turkey fryer. Fortunately, they are everywhere these days. This burner is fired by a propane tank. You must use it outside and at a safe distance from any structures.

The kits usually come with the needed pot.

I like to use a fresh turkey. If you use a frozen one, you'll need to get it thawed at least three days before Thanksgiving. For the fryer, you'll need a turkey of 15 lbs or less. If you need something bigger, fry two smaller turkeys.  You may want to do a fill test for oil before prepping your bird. Put the turkey in the pot and fill with water until it rises to the fill line of the pot or covers  the bird by around 1/4 of an inch. Then take the turkey out and you'll need exactly as much oil as you have water. You can mark that with chalk if your pot doesn't have markings. Make sure you pat the bird dry before you get ready to prep it.

Remove any giblet surprises inside the bird and if there's a  pop-up thermometer, ditch it.  for my bird I do a dry brine. Start with about 1/4 cup of kosher salt.

Rub the turkey inside and out generously with salt inside and out, two to three days before you plan to cook. Then stick it in the fridge in a pan or sheet tray.

The night before cooking, the turkey needs a spice rub. I use the very same one that Martha Stewart first showed my back in the day.

  • 25 medium dried bay leaves
  • 3 1/4 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 3 1/4 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
  • 3 tablespoons Konriko brand, or other hot Creole seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
I put all of this together in a spice grinder and make a powder. (My spice grinder in a coffee grinder I got on discount and only use for spices.) You could also use a food processor for a less powdery rub.  You can also pretty much use any rub you like, though I'd avoid one with sugar in it, the sugar might burn in the oil. Rub the turkey inside and out with the spice rub and then return to the refrigerator.
    The day you plan to fry, take that turkey out and let it get close to room temperature before frying. 
    When it's time to fry the turkey, add the peanut oil to the pot and then turn on the fire. Make sure to use peanut oil. It has a higher smoking point that other oils. This year for a twist, we added around 1/2 cup of bacon fat to the peanut oil and it was absolutely delicious.
    Heat the oil to 350 degrees. It takes 30 to 45 minutes depending on the outside temperature when you fry. Someone should stay with the turkey fryer all the time while the oil heats.
    When you truss up the bird, you'll need to use metal picture wire.  The wire also gives you a handle for lowering the turkey into the oil.
Once the oil is to temperature, carefully lower the turkey into the oil. My fryer came with a hook that aids in taking the turkey in and out of the oil.
Put lid on and cook. You may need to adjust the burner to keep the oil at 350 degrees. Cook for about 3 and a half minutes per pound.
The turkey should have an internal temperature of 160 when it is done.

 Now comes an important key to a great turkey. Let it rest for as long as you cooked it. It's an important step. You should also let an oven-cooked turkey rest for at least half an hour to 45 minutes before carving. Heat contracts the meat. Resting relaxes it and allows it to become tender and juicy.
You'll find this bird to be juicy and delicious with the most delectable skin  you've ever experienced.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Best Sage Dressing


I've eaten sage bread stuffing at Thanksgiving all of my life. At the Thanksgiving dinners my Mom made for me and her when I was growing up and for the Thanksgiving dinners I made for my roommate when we were in college.

I never actually had a recipe, I just kept playing around and adding a few new techniques. One major revelation came from Alton Brown  - think about what something is before you make it. This is bread pudding. I also picked up a great secret ingredient form the folks at Cook's Illustrated - soy sauce! 

Don't knock until you've tried it, okay. I promised a friend that I would blog this recipe a year or two ago - but I did not. Because I suck. So as I prepped ahead of time for this year, I took photos. I will add a nice picture of this year's finished product when I finally put it in the oven.

You'll need:

2 loaves of sandwich bread
2 tsp dried sage
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 stick unsalted butter
1 32 ounce container chicken broth
4 celery stalks
1 large onion
3 cloves of garlic

Let's start with bread. I have two big loaves of the cheapest white sandwich bread on planet earth. You could use good bread or stuffing cubes. But pulling apart and toasting the bread for stuffing is an indelible memory from my childhood, so I do it this way.   I also have a big-ass bowl. Everyone needs a BAB. If you don't have a BAB, you'll need multiple small-ass bowls.

Tear it into pieces.  Enough to fill a BAB.

The bread will need to be toasted in a 350 degree oven. I use two big-ass sheet pans (half-sheets). You can use multiple smaller sheets or line the oven racks with foil. Try to keep the bread to one layer. Toast it until it begins to turn golden brown then remove.

Let's check out the other ingredients. One large onion, three or four stalks of celery, three cloves of garlic, butter, ground sage and thyme, soy sauce and four eggs. You'll also need half and half and a 32 ounce package of chicken broth.

Dice the celery and onions,

Melt half a stick of butter in a large pan and add 2 teaspoons each of ground sage and thyme. The spices will "bloom" in the butter and add an extra layer of flavor.

Add the celery and onions along with a sprinkle of salt and cook over medium until onions begin to turn golden brown. Then add the minced garlic.

After about a minute, add the chicken broth and a tablespoon of soy sauce. Don't leave out the soy sauce. It makes a world of difference to the flavor.
Let this simmer over medium for about 10 to 15 minutes.  You'll probably want to let it cool a bit.  While it cools, put the four eggs in a bowl or cup. As I said, this is a bread pudding. Now it's time to make the custard.

Add some chopped fresh parsley if you have it on hand. If you do not have fresh parsley, don't bother to add dried. We want the fresh pop of the parsley and dried doesn't have that.

Add 12 ounces of half and half (a cup and a half) and whisk it all together.

Now get out the BAB. Put all of the bread in there.

Dump in all the cooked vegetables.

Give it a good stir with a spoon, or better yet mush with your hands and then salt and pepper to taste before you add the custard mixture.

Use your hands (or a spoon, if you must) to mush it all together. Now, butter a 13 x 9 or thereabouts casserole dish.

Dump the mixture in there and press it down to make it fit. It will.

If you are making ahead, you can cover it with plastic wrap and stash it in the fridge. Otherwise, you'll want to preheat a 325 degree oven and melt what's left of that stick of butter. Drizzle it on top and bake for between 45 minutes to an hour until the top is a beautiful golden brown. 

If you are making ahead, follow the same procedure after you let the casserole get to room temperature.

I'll post some baking pictures after Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Spooky Boo-tiful Halloween Treats

Those who know me well know that I don't dig on blue food. In fact my distaste for it caused Percy Jackson fans to turn on me in droves.

But this Halloween, I actually cooked with a blue (ish) food. I made a delicious Halloween treat with Boo Berry cereal. Though like most allegedly blue foods, Boo Berry is purple. There are some blue marshmallows in there.

Count Chocula, Frakenberry and Boo Berry cereals were a staple of my childhood and my husband gets excited every year at Halloween time when they make their return to the cereal shelves. 

This year for my Halloween party, I decided to turn all three of these childhood favorites into cereal bars. I did not really eat Boo Berry as a kid, I leaned towards the Count and his chocolatey goodness.

This would work with about any of your favorite cereals. It's the basic recipe for Rice Krispies treats. Sub the cereal of your choice or mix and match at will.

This dish consists of three ingredients: cereal, marshmallows and butter.

You'll need six cups of cereal, a 16 ounce bag of marshmallows (about 40 marshmallows) and 3 tablespoons of butter.

You can either butter or spray a 13 x 9 pan with cooking spray. You could also line it with parchment paper, which I find to be a neater solution.

Put 3 tablespoons of butter in a large pot to melt.

Dump in the bag of marshmallows and melt together over low heat, stirring constantly.

Measure out 6 cups of cereal. Make sure to use dry measure cup.

It should only take a few minutes for the butter and marshmallows to melt nicely.

Turn off the heat and add the cereal.

Mix it together thoroughly.

Immediately dump the mixture in the greased or parchment-lined pan.

You can press it down with a greased spoon, thoroughly greased hands, plastic wrap or wear thoroughly buttered food service gloves like I did to press it all down.

Leave this to set for a few hours. In this case, I did the exact same thing with the Frakenberry and Count Chocula.


You could also stir in nuts, dried fruit or coconut. I'd be careful with things like chocolate chips or peanut butter. They could melt and change the consistency of the bars.

Once they are set, I pull out the parchment paper and cut the bars with a serrated knife.

I served these bars on platters in front of the cereal boxes for my Halloween party. I like how it looks like the characters on the boxes are reaching for the treats.

Who can blame them?  The chocolate ones are still my favorites. And the blue ones.... well even through they are purple... they are still blue.

I will leave those for my husband to enjoy.