Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Who Knew You Really Needed a Turkey Baster and a Skimmer?

The turkey baster (on the left) is good for - well, you know - basting your turkey. I can't believe I've cooked almost 30 years worth of poultry without one. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks!

I got mine from WalMart for under 2 bucks, but this one's awfully cute, isn't it?

The skimmer's role at Thanksgiving is not quite as obvious, but no less useful. I grabbed it at the international market because I'd read that it would easily skim (hence the name skimmer) the scum from the turkey broth you make from your Thanksgiving carcass. It did, and without clogging up like the mesh ones I have used before! What a breakthrough... 

I also used my new toy to scoop sweet pepper strips from the saute pan, which is its more intended use, I guess. Much better than the slotted serving spoon I'd been using for jobs like this.

The peppers went into small freezer containers and the cooking broth was frozen into cubes for later use!

What new kitchen gadgets have you recently discovered?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Does Pasture-Raised Turkey Taste Better?

I've always wondered. 

This year I got a chance to compare, since we had the opportunity to eat a pasture-raised turkey on Thanksgving Day followed by our own turkey dinner on Friday. The free-range turkey was delivered fresh and cost over $4 per pound. I think I paid about $1.29 per pound for our frozen Butterball. So this allows us to compare fresh with frozen, as well.

My family said they couldn't detect a significant difference in taste between the two birds. Both were roasted in bags and were incredibly delicious and moist.

So, for over three times the price, the value (in our opinions) would only be in the pleasure or satisfaction you may receive from knowing your turkey's provenance. If how your turkey as treated when it was alive is important to you, or you're worried about what it may have been fed or injected with, then you may feel that a pasture-raised, organic turkey is worth the price differential. However,if taste and budget are your criteria, I say go with the Butterball and use the extra money buy the rest of dinner plus dessert and drinks! 

But if it is important to you to eat locally and you have a strong environmental concerns, by all means follow your conscience. After all, money isn't everything! 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Does Marinating a Turkey Make a Difference?: My Rum and Dr. Pepper Experiment

Jack's Instructions

My friend Jack's very specific instructions for marinating my 20-pound turkey were as follows:

Mix a fifth of Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum with a 2-liter bottle of Dr. Pepper and marinate your turkey in it for 12 hours.

Upon further questioning, I was able to extract this additional advice:

Make sure to baste your turkey or it will get too dry as the alcohol burns off.

How I Actually Did It

So I set out to clarify how to marinate a turkey by consulting my other friend, Google, who elaborated enough through a few different sources to help me piece together the marinating process for such a huge piece of poultry.

Here are the basic steps I followed (Google is there for you, too, if you need more information)  Mine turned out well, but I am by no means a detailed recipe writer yet. These instructions would probably be enough for an experienced cook, but may not suffice for a novice! Anyway, it's more than Jack gave me, right?:

1. I mixed together 2 liters of Dr. Pepper and 750 mililiters of Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum ) less the little bit that accidentally spilled into the glass of ice I had sitting on the counter...) in my large, covered, stainless steel roasting pan. It smelled great already. Tasted good, too.

2. I removed the giblets and neck from the cavities of the turkey (this is important whether you're marinating or not!).

3. I rinsed the turkey, but didn't bother to dry it off, since I was planning to plunge it into a liquid. (I read that you could also marinate the turkey in a cooking bag- similar to the way you marinate chicken breasts in a baggie. One person who did it that way placed it in her crisper drawer to marinate.)

4. I placed the turkey, breast side down, into the marinade, covered the pan, and put it in the fridge for about 12 hours.

5. Then, I turned the turkey over and let it marinate on that side for about 8 hours. Since I had read that marinating time should be 12-36 hours, and I figured the breast was the most important area, I marinated for the last 4 hours on the breast side again. NOTE: Each time I flipped it, I marinated the top side of the turkey, using my new turkey baster- just to try it out!

6. I seasoned the turkey inside and out with salt and pepper, then placed it in a cooking bag like I always do. I poured the marinade into a pitcher and ashed and dried the roasting pan before placing the turkey (in the bag) in it. When I use a bag, I do not place the cover on the pan. In this case, the turkey was too large for the lid anyway! (I have since read that one should rinse the turkey again after marinating, but before cooking. Not sure why...)

7. I set the oven to 325 degrees on convection roast, and the timer for 4.5 hours.

8. Per Jack's instructions, I opened the bag after an hour to baste the turkey with its own juices that were collecting in the bottom of the bag. By then, it was already getting quite brown in some areas, so I placed aluminum foil over a few spots and reclosed the bag. I checked and basted at the second, third and fourth hour marks, too.

9. Once the temperature was right according to the instant-read thermometer, I let it rest out on the counter for 20 minutes before carving (or mutilating, in my case!).

Here's how it turned out. 

The missing pieces were the results of my "taste testing" prior to carving.

I think the meat was moister and a bit sweeter with the marinade than with regular roasting. And you can see it browned a little more than usual. Next time, I would cover it sooner. The one thing I'm not sure about is whether it was actually the marinating or the basting that made the difference! I didn't realize that I was actually changing two variables in this little experiment.

Making a Glaze From Marinade

I wasn't sure it was worth the extra twenty dollars or so for this preparation, until I tasted the glaze I made with the leftover marinade. So deliciously sweet and sticky to drizzle over the turkey like gravy! Today at lunch, I spread some of it cold on my leftover turkey sandwich. It was about the consistency of honey, and every bit as sweet!

I had always heard that liquids used to marinate poultry or meat had to be discarded, but I  really wanted to make a glaze after my husband commented that it would be great if the rum and soda were a sticky glaze! So my friend Google came to my aid once again, convincing me that it is safe to use the marinade, either as a sauce or for "mopping" on the grill if it is boiled first for several minutes. (Please*do*not*take*my*word*on*this, since I am not an expert (quite to the contrary- I'm the Home Ec Dropout... *Do*your*own*research!)

Anyway, I poured the marinade in a 3- quart saucepan (the amount left was about 2 liters), boiled it for about 10 minutes, strained it to remove little bits of icky turkey stuff that had formed, and transferred to a 2-quart saucepan. Then I added a cup of brown sugar and reduced the mixture to between 1 and 2 cups (I didn't measure it) by simmering over low heat. I forgot to time it, but I believe it took at least an hour. It was so delicious, it makes me want to try more reductions- maybe red wine is next!

My daughter said the turkey may not have been that much better, but the sauce was definitely worth twenty dollars! I agree.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Preparations

Our 20-pound turkey has been thawing in the fridge since Sunday. All the ingredients for corn pudding, dressing, and mashed potatoes are in the cupboard. There are fifteen bags of frozen cranberries in my freezer, which should be enough since a batch of my famous homemade Cranberry-Orange Relish only takes two! And I bought a small pumpkin pie, because there's no way I can make one any better, or as economically.  Oh, and Cool Whip, which makes everything taste better!

Then, today, my friend Jack told me about marinating his turkey in Captain Morgan Spiced Rum and Dr. Pepper. It sounded so lip-smacking good that I shopped a little more for those two items, and a turkey baster. The bar is stocked with a veriety of wines (sparkling and regular), spirits and mixers. With all this and a can of Pillsbury crescent rolls on hand, I think you could say I'm ready to cook Thanksgiving dinner for not only three people, but a small Army if one happened to drop in! 

I used to always forget something, until I wised up and wrote a list of Thanksgiving menu essentials (which also happen to be our Christmas dinner essentials) in my Run-Back-Into-The-Burning-House-To-Save-This-Book book of handwritten recipes.

But, there is one thing better than cooking a huge, delicious Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings: Eating a huge delicious Thanksgiving dinner in someone else's dining room! Our next-door-neighbors' out-of-town guests had to cancel, so they have invited us to join them and their two adorable daughters tomorrow to share their 20-pound turkey!

I'm still making my homemade cranberry relish and corn pudding as our contribution to the meal. And their kids love sparkling grape juice, so I promised to bring them a bottle of their "beer".

While I was looking forward to our private little family dinner, I am now eagerly anticipating a holiday celebration in a larger family atmosphere. Our friends will get to taste the corn pudding I've eaten every Thanksgiving and Christmas of my life, and I'm sure they will have special dishes or traditions of their own to share with us!

After the big day, I'll share the corn pudding and cranberry relish recipes (with pictures), so you can try them for Christmas (if not before- we eat both all year 'round!).

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Give Thanksgiving a Chance!

Christmas should not start before Thanksgiving

There. I've said it. 

My favorite home improvement store put out the huge Christmas inflatables before Halloween.
Santa's been at most of the malls for over a week now.
At least half of my neighbors have their Christmas trees up already.
Radio stations have started playing Christmas tunes 24/7.

This isn't really new, and I've learned to accept it, if not embrace it. But now, Black Friday is starting on Thanksgiving Thursday. Enough is enough!

While I love everything about Christmas, I believe that Thanksgiving is quite a wonderful and important holiday, too, and should be given its due respect. All it asks for is one day. Gratitude, food and family- who could ask for more in a holiday?

So, go shopping on Thanksgiving Day if that's what makes you happy. As for me, I'll be relaxing in front of the fire with my husband, daughter and cat, with a glass of wine in my hand.

However you choose to spend Thanksgiving, at least take time to be thankful! You'll still have 39 days between November 23 and December 31 to celebrate Christmas!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why Didn't I Think of That?

The Quirky Quilter, Elaine Myers (read more about her here), always quilts with a pincushion on her wrist  and a piece of batting pinned to her shirt. She says it's a long way around a long-arm quilting machine frame and there's never a trashcan nearby, so she just sticks her stray threads to the batting. 

Why didn't I think of that? Maybe because I just throw everything on the floor, Eleanor Burns style!

Elaine Myers, The Quirky Quilter, with her 3 quilting essentials:  a pincushion on her wrist, batting pinned to her shirt, and a timer for billing clients fairly.

Elaine explains the long-arm quilting process using a model she made from caradboard boxes, mailing tubes and popsicle sticks!

Elaine says professional long-armers want to receive your quilt top, batting and backing separately, not pinned or basted. And they need the batting and backing at least four inches larger all the way around! If you hire someone to quilt for you, check to see what makes it easier for them and gives you the best results.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Anthropologie Inspired Spice Jar and Canister Makeover

I fell in love with these little Chalkboard Spice Jars last time I visited Anthropologie:

$10 - $12 each from
Which got me thinking about the little jars I use in my spice cabinet to hold extra bulk spices and other odd things that come without decent containers, like baking soda.

I daydreamed for awhile about using chalkboard paint on my jars, but couldn't figure out how to get a cute little label shape just the right size without hand-cutting a stencil, because I'm a little lazy like that. 

Meanwhile, I realized I was bored with the sad and pathetic P-Touch labels I had put on my Blue Willow canisters, too. Would chalkboard paint work on them? 

Before I had time to really mull over the chalkboard-painting and mess-making and buy the supplies, a visit to Staples made it super simple for me (after all, I'm the Home Ec Dropout, not Martha Stewart). Coincidentally, though, the labels I stumbled upon were made by Matha Stewart Home Office with Avery.

My spice jars are not quite as cute as the ones at Anthropologie, but the jars were free (from Better Than Bouoillon chicken base- the labels peel off the top and front very easily) and 48 Kraft paper labels cost $3.99. I just wrote on them with a fine-point Sharpie marker.

And my updated canisters took all of five minutes. The chalkboard labels were 12 for $5.99. I had to cut one in half and recut the bottom edge to shape for the smallest jar, using another sticker as a pattern. 

Staples sells a 4-pack of Martha Stewart chalk for $3.99, which seemed expensive to me. So I wandered over to the art supply area, where I found a box of 12 for $.99. OK, to be fair, the MS chalk already had a little point whittled onto each piece. Big whoop, right?  For three extra dollars? The cheap kind worked just fine!   

So my canisters and extra spice jars have a new look, and I have lots of stickers left over for more projects. If I had done my own painting of the labels, I would've sized them specifically for each jar, but who knows how it would have turned out in the end?

Now if I could just learn how to do that cute lettering the scrapbookers do...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Valuable Advice x 2

FIRST:  Do not try to cook pasta shells (for Pumpkin-Ricotta Stuffed Shells) in a smaller pot with less water than usual (or recommended) so that you can do the elbow macaroni for macaroni and cheese in your pasta pot! You get this stuck to the bottom,

a few left intact,

and a bunch of pasta scraps left in your colander!

Actually, it kinda works out if you also accidentally used your 3-quart glass baking dish for the mac and cheese, meaning that the whole set of stuffed shells wouldn't have fit into any of your remaining available baking dishes. So, I guess stuff has a way of working out (at least that's what I'm trying to tell myself).

SECONDLY, although no less importantly:

Never browse Facebook for your old   former (well, maybe I had it right to start with) classmates and friends for the very first time on the exact same day that some smart@*# at AARP has chosen for you to receive this in the mail: 

But, I still think these are the best days of my life. Well, maybe not today...  

How was your day?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

Julie & Julia

I just finished reading Julie & Julia by Julie Powell. What a departure from the movie, which I thought was absolutely delightful. I'm glad I read it because it offered a more realistic account of her experiences with cooking all 524 recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child... in one year! And blogged about it every step of the way !What surprises me now is the casting of the seemingly sweet Amy Adams, who portrayed  Julie as a cute, giggly, adventurous, though slightly skeptical gal! Having read the book, I'm thinking maybe Amy Pohler would've been a better choice. Of course, Meryl Streep was fabulous (even better than Dan Aykroyd) as Julia.

Anyway, I enjoyed both the book and movie, and am completely intrigued and inspired by the Julie/Julia project! However, I'm certainly not up to cooking kidneys, liver, gizzards, or any manner of aspic. And no one in my family would touch that crap with a ten-foot pole, including me.

I was talking to Mabz about this and she said, "Mommy, why don't you bake your way through the Christmas Cookies book?"

Now, that I think I could manage.

What cookbook would you like to cook and eat your way through?