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Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

I hear it every year:

“How do you keep your turkey so juicy?”

For a long time I used to explain my cooking process until eyes glazed over and the smile-and-nod reflexes would kick in.  So, now my response is, “I don’t cook the **** out of it.”

An overcooked turkey is a dry turkey–if you put it in a bag, or roast it upside down, or dance voodoo chants while it’s in the oven–it won’t matter if that turkey is in the oven for hours upon hours.  One of the best ways to guarantee a moister turkey is roasting with a high heat method and keeping that bird in the oven just long enough to get the thigh temperature to 161 °.  Sure, there’s always brining, and I have no beef with that process; in fact, I will brine turkeys when I’m smoking one.  However, I think there’s a few drawbacks to brining turkey, and I prefer doing a more traditional roast.  So, these are my tips on doing a traditionally roasted turkey that doesn’t turn to sawdust:

  • Buy a digital meat thermometer, preferably one that has a long ovenproof probe that you can keep in the bird while it’s in the oven.  Stick that probe deep in the thigh, as that’s where you’re going to test for readiness.
  • High Heat Roasting:  heat that oven at 500° (yes, really) and once you put your bird in the oven, close the door and set the timer for 30 minutes.  At 30 minutes, turn the heat down to 400, and don’t be tempted to open the oven door.  Keep it closed unless you’re seeing the breast getting too dark–go ahead and cover the breast with foil if that’s happening.
  • Pull the bird from the oven when the thigh reaches 161°.  Poultry is cooked at 165°; when you pull the bird out a few degrees early, the carryover cooking that happens while the turkey rests will bring it up to temperature.
  • Let it rest!  Loosely cover the bird with foil so it has a chance to finish cooking.  Give at least 20 minutes to smaller birds (under 13 pounds), 30 minutes to the bigger ones.  This gives the turkey a chance to finish cooking and for the juices in the meat to redistribute.  Cutting it straight out of the oven releases too many juices and will dry out the meat.
  • Don’t stuff it!  Put a few things in it for seasoning such as half an onion, a few sprigs of herbs, a quarter of a lemon.  But, a stuffed turkey means you have to make sure that stuffing also reaches 165°, and that can add more cooking time (which is exactly what we’re trying to avoid).
  • I put butter under the skin of the breast; it’s a great way to add a little extra fat and flavor to the breast.  Using a compound butter–butter blended with seasonings and herbs–is easy and can be done well ahead of time.

Compound butter is one of those nifty little condiments you can make and use to add tons of flavor with little effort.  The big granddaddy of compound butters is Maître d’Hôtel butter; a little fresh herbs, some lemon, and a bit of salt and pepper make a butter worth serving on hot steaks in fancy joints.  I’ve seen all kinds of compound butters popping up all over the place–from the basic lemon-herb to port-dried-cherry-bacon to chipotle-garlic.  Let me show you how easy it is to make, and I’ll let you and your imagination go from there.  Ready?

To start, have two sticks (1/2 cup) of butter, softened.  Add your ingredients into a bowl:

With this batch, I’ve focused on the flavors I prefer with turkey–parsley, sage, thyme, marjoram, and savory.  As a general ratio, expect to put about 1/4 cup of herbs to 1 stick of butter.  Also in the bowl is the zest and juice of one lemon.  I gave all of this a good beating using the paddle attachment in the KitchenAid mixer.

Plop all of that right in the middle of some parchment or waxed paper:

Fold the paper over and using your hands, push the butter into a log shape:

Roll the log in some plastic wrap and twist the ends to shape and press the butter into a firm cylinder:

Refrigerate or freeze butter (this can be frozen for up to several months, so make extra and save for another dish in the future) and slice as needed:

See those little slices?  They’re perfect for sliding right under the skin of the breast, where they’ll melt and season the meat as it roasts.   Wasn’t that easy?

Are you ready for Thanksgiving?  How do you like to cook your turkey?

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Yow, that was a long title.

Hey, can you believe it’s been this long since I’ve posted?  I’ve been a bad, bad food blogger, not getting pictures of anything interesting when I’ve made it.   Most of my holiday baking this year I’ve already posted about before, but I do have something new for you guys.  Tomorrow is the office holiday party, and we all know how much of a drag those things are, but I still wanted to bring something fun and tasty for the office.  These were a whole lot faster than trying to decorate an army of gingerbread men, but they’re full of spice, a little dense and moist, and the orange zest in the frosting helps keep the whole thing from getting too heavy.  As for decorating, go silly with sprinkles, or get elegant with some fine slivers of crystalized ginger.  You can see which way I went.

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean-Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes approximately 22 cupcakes

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup boiling water
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Sift together flour, baking soda, spices and salt
  3. Beat butter, sugar and molasses at medium speed until smooth and light.
  4. Beat in eggs one at a time, and scrape bowl between each egg.
  5. Add flour mixture alternating with boiling water, beating in at low speed after each addition.
  6. Spoon batter into paper-lined muffin cups and bake 20-25 minutes.
  7. Cool in pans for 5 minutes, then cool completely on wire rack before frosting.

Vanilla Bean-Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1-8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (save pod for another use)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest
  • 1 pound confectioner’s sugar
  1. Beat cream cheese, butter, vanilla seeds and orange zest until fluffy.
  2. Gradually beat in confectioner’s sugar and beat until smooth.

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I have to tell you guys, I am cooking for 30 people this year.  Funny enough, this is our usual Thanksgiving at El Rancho Destructo–my in-laws invite all of their family and friends, and it’s a huge party.  I get the tasks of most of the traditional American dishes like stuffing, cranberries and mashed potatoes while they handle the South American dishes like rice with lentils, tamales and salsa.

One of the things that I’m also responsible for is the turkey.  Now, last year I went with the idea of roasting a 29 pound turkey.  FOLLY, my friends, it was pure folly.  Have you ever tried to wrestle a 29 pound bird?  This year, I decided to break down and cook three turkeys, and one of them would be smoked, which I could do several days in advance.  Although I have experience in smoking meats, this was my first time smoking a whole turkey, so after a little research, I worked out a game plan.

I know that there are people out there who hail from the Church of Brined Turkey;  me, I’m really not totally sold on it.  The breast meat can be kind of slippery, and I think the bird doesn’t release enough of those wonderful, delicious drippings that are so important for gravy and drizzling on the pans of stuffing before popping them into the oven while the turkey rests.  However, there is one time I absolutely kneel at the Altar of Seasoned Salt Solution, and that’s when it’s time to smoke poultry.  My worry was the long cooking time and what it would do to the breast meat;  I’ve smoked turkey legs plenty of times, both brined and just dry-rubbed, and the brined legs are far more tender.

As for my brine, I was suckered into buying a brining mix when I went to go purchase my wood at the local BBQ supply shop, BUT, if you want to do everything on your own, I have tried Alton Brown’s brine recipe with great success.  What’s the deal behind brine? you might ask.  The long scientific version is here, but the short version is that in soaking a turkey in a salt solution will cause some of the proteins in the meat to break down to not only create a tender piece of meat, but as the turkey cooks, proteins shrink and release water.  Fewer proteins in the meat means less water gets squeezed out, hence a juicy turkey.  This is necessary during the long, slow cooking process of smoking, which will dry out an unbrined turkey.

The night before, I prepared my brine (and even though I bought a mix, I still doctored it) and lined my small cooler with a plastic bag, filled it with cooled brine and several quarts of heavily iced water.  The turkey went in breast-down, I sealed the bag, shut the cooler, and left it on my porch overnight, where the brine stayed below 40°.  My Sunday morning consisted of pulling myself from my warm, cozy bed to face a damp and chilly sunrise.

You know it’s a good idea to truss your turkey, right?  Of course you do, because you know it helps the bird to cook evenly and keeps those legs looking neat and tidy.  After the long soak in the brine, use a few paper towels to dry off the surface of the bird and give it a little massage with some vegetable oil.  No need for seasoning the skin–the meat is now plenty seasoned enough.  I let the bird hang out on the counter for a bit while I got started on firing up the smoker.

I have a Weber smoker that uses charcoal as its main source of fuel.  I tucked in a few pieces of apple wood with the charcoal for the smoke.

The basin gets set in just above the coals and filled with liquid.  The basin serves a double purpose:  by adding liquid, it protects the meat from being cooked by direct heat, and the steam helps keep the meat moist.  This is also another excellent way to add more flavors by adding aromatics–here there is an orange, an onion, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, cloves and allspice berries.  It also catches all the drippings from the meat, to keep the flare-ups from falling fat at bay.

Approximately at 8:15 AM, our 12-pound bird is placed in the smoker.   The smoker is kept at a pretty even 250° which is done by controlling the airflow to keep a slow burn.

Seven hours later, the thigh is registering 165° and it’s done!  At this point, the turkey has been wrapped very tightly and stored in the refrigerator–I haven’t cut into it for fear of drying out the meat between now and Thursday.  I’ll reheat the turkey before setting it out on the buffet, so I can’t tell you how it tastes right now–but all signs (and previous times I’ve smoked turkey legs) point to having created a smoked masterpiece.

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Every year, my mom and I are on a mission to have me make tons of homemade jams and treats to give out for the holidays.  She’s the financial backer while I do all the hard labor in the kitchen–I don’t mind.

Really, I don’t.  Don’t look at me like that!

In the last conversation I had with her a few days ago, I told her I was switching gears from all the late summer fruits to autumn flavors such as Brandied Apple Butter.  She asked, why not make a cranberry relish? And wouldn’t you know, I thought that was brilliant.   I have a deep love of cranberries that goes all the way down to the shameful admission that I wouldn’t even turn down the canned jellied cranberry sauce.  However, it seems that here at El Rancho Destructo, I am the only one who feels this way, so I usually make my cranberry sauce the way I like it:   Jezebel Sauce (cranberries with horseradish and dijon stirred in).  I decided I should make a batch of something cranberry, so with a few bags in hand, I pulled out things that I knew would be delicious and came up with something that even Choo thinks it could turn him to the Dark Side of these tart little berries.  Granny Smith apples, oranges, red wine and dried cranberries knock this sauce out of the park–and I really think the dried cranberries are what make this special, by bringing up the intensity of the cranberry flavor with very little of the tartness associated with the fresh ones.

I can’t tell you how easy this one is, too–throw everything into the pot, simmer it for a while, and DONE.  How easy is that?

Cranberry & Apple Relish

  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1- 12 ounce bag fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest, finely grated
  • 2 tart apples such as Granny Smith or Pippin, peeled, cored & chopped
  1. Add all ingredients into a large saucepan and on medium heat, bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
  2. Simmer until fresh cranberries have burst and apples are tender, but have not lost their shape.
  3. Pour into bowl, cover and chill.

*Note:  if canning this sauce, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

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Ok, I lied.  Last post, I said it was the last of the baking.  Turns out tonight is my father-in-law’s birthday party, and he requested I bring up his favorite cookie to share.  I’ve made these many times before for the in-laws, as they’re fast and easy to make, and they love coconut (and to tell the truth, so do I).  

Back when I was a teenager (oh, it hurts to say that was in the 80’s) my mother had a recipe for a simple macaroon–a bag of coconut, a can of condensed milk, dried cranberries, white chocolate chips, chopped macadamias–scooped into little balls and baked until golden.  They weren’t the lighter, fluffier macaroons that used egg whites; these were dense, chewy and caramelly–a cookie right up my alley.  The recipe was sadly lost until the day in 2001 when I was working at Border Grill as a pastry cook and I had to make a batch of their pajas (“straw” in Spanish, as they do resemble a pile of straw, or a haystack).  I laughed when I realized that it was essentially the same cookie, but their version was with chopped dried apricots, dark chocolate, and pecans.  I made hundreds of those pajas during my time at the restaurant, and the recipe is as natural as breathing. 

It’s an incredibly easy recipe–just five ingredients–and a cinch to adapt to your personal tastes.  Don’t like pecans?  Use almonds!  Can’t stand cranberries?  Swap them with dried cherries!  The possibilities are endless! 

Pajas

adapted from Border Grill

1-7 ounce bag shredded, sweetened coconut

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup dried fruit–cranberries, cherries and apricots (chopped) are best

1 cup chopped nuts such as pecans, macadamias, or almonds

1-14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

  1. Preheat oven to 325°.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all 5 ingredients and stir until well coated with the condensed milk.
  3. Line baking sheets with parchment paper (I mean it, too–these will stick to an unlined pan!)
  4. Scoop dough into golf-ball sized pieces and place 1″ apart on lined sheet pan.
  5. Bake for 20-24 minutes, until coconut is a dark golden brown.
  6. Cool completely on pan, peel off from parchment paper. 

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Hey, Merry Christmas everyone!  I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday filled with family, friends and good cheer!

After the crazed consumerist orgy of the past 24 hours, I have some time to play with my new gift:  a little tabletop photo studio while Choo has a Three Stooges Marathon and Kiddo builds Xanadu out of Lego.  I can finally catch up here and write about the last of the Christmas baking.  Man, I don’t know about you guys, but I have put out a massive amount of baked goods and candies over the past two weeks and I think I’ve hit my sugar limit.  I know it’s bad when I’m craving a spinach salad and an unsweetened ice tea.  Still, I’ve had fun, stretched my skills a bit, and everyone who has been a lucky recipient has enjoyed their treats (so they say!). 

First up:  Martha Stewart’s Gingerbread Snowflakes

I love gingerbread, and this is a great recipe, full of spice–I’d highly recommend using this if you like to decorate with gingerbread.  I had them sit out overnight after icing them, as royal icing needs a few hours to set, and I awoke to the best-smelling living room, ever.   If you’re using them for decorations, make sure to roll them thin and bake 4-5 minutes longer to dry out the cookie, and if you’re planning on hanging them, use a drinking straw to poke a hole to run a ribbon through. 

Just a note:  yes, this recipe has black pepper in it.  Don’t get all weirded out by it;  black pepper is a component in quatre épices (four spices), a traditional French spice blend used in everything from things such as pain d’epices to savory stews.  Don’t skip it.  You’ll miss the great bite that the pepper gives this cookie. 

Next up:  Frosted Chocolate Cookies

After a long conversation with Kiddo, we decided to make cookies for Santa.  I originally had ideas of sugar cookies and royal icing;  Kiddo said no way–Santa likes chocolate.  Who am I to argue this?  Of course Santa likes chocolate, and remembered an easy chocolate cookie recipe I had made last year that would be perfect. 

These Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies came from the December 2005 issue of Bon Appétit, and they were part of my cookie platter last year.  It’s a very non-fussy recipe and with the exception of resting the dough in the fridge for an hour, it all whips up in a snap.

(These were taken with my new “studio”–this is going to fun to figure out to take even better pictures!  Next year, I’ll have to ask Santa for a new camera.)

I did do a few small tweaks to the recipe–I didn’t make them into sandwiches, since I thought they would be more fun just topped with the filling and then decorated.  Yes, you’re seeing Kiddo’s work here–he thought sprinkles would be cooler than the crushed candy canes, so that’s what we went with.  Easy, fun, and tasty–these are very sweet, so one is pretty much it for me, but they’re fantastic with a cup of coffee.  Santa seemed to like them, too, as a few were missing from the plate we left out for him last night.

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These little guys came from the December 2007 issue Gourmet, and they were a part of my cookie platter that year.  The original recipe calls for a citrus icing, but I was feeling a bit experimental and drizzled them with dark chocolate.  It was a perfect combination, as the dark chocolate makes a nice highlight to the orange-cardamom punch these cookies hold. 

Oh, by the way, I don’t have a square cookie cutter.  I just used a ruler and pizza cutter after rolling out the dough.  It’s a fast way to make a bunch of these at one time, and they all come out nice and even.  This makes drizzing the chocolate easy, too, because I can just line them all up on the rack, and do it all in one go:

Orange-Cardamom Cookies

Gourmet  | December 2007 ◊ Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez and Lillian Chou

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 large egg yolk

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Make dough:
Whisk together flour, zest, cardamom, and salt.

Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, then beat in yolk and cream. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches just until a dough forms. Quarter dough and form each piece into a 6-inch disk, then chill, wrapped separately in plastic wrap, until firm, 2 to 3 hours.

Cut and bake cookies:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Roll out 1 piece of dough between sheets of parchment paper into an 11-inch round (1/8 inch thick). Slide dough in parchment onto a tray and chill until firm, about 15 minutes.

Cut out as many cookies as possible with cookie cutter (chill dough again if necessary), reserving and chilling scraps. Transfer cookies to a parchment-lined large baking sheet, arranging them 1 inch apart.

Bake until edges are golden-brown, 9 to 12 minutes. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes, then slide cookies, still on parchment, onto a rack to cool completely.

Make more cookies with remaining dough and scraps (reroll only once) on cooled freshly lined baking sheets.

For the dark chocolate drizzle:  melt 3 ounces of a quality dark chocolate and pour into piping bag (or ziploc bag–just snip off the tip when you’re ready to go).  Drizzle chocolate onto cooled cookies and let set until firm.

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