Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Turkey Tip #2 - Prep the Bird!

Here is my next turkey tip. How to prep the bird properly. DO THIS THE DAY BEFORE!! This is extremely important and can make the difference between a juicy bird and a dry bird. So here goes.

First, be sure to fully defrost your bird in the fridge. It takes about a day for every 5 pounds or 2 kilograms. I put our 22 pound turkey in the fridge on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening when I took it out to brine it (to be explained shortly), it was still frozen on the inside. Luckily it wasn't frozen solid so I was able to wiggle the neck, tail (also known around here as the pope's nose... my family is from Newfoundland, I can't explain it) and giblet packet out. It is imperative that you check the inside of the bird for these things. You don't want to cook the bird with these inside!!! My mom did this once. Yes we all have our turkey cooking horror stories.

You have some options as to what to do with the neck, tail and giblets. The liver should be separated from the group. It makes gravy or broth bitter. It looks just like a human liver, except much smaller, so it is easy to identify. Either cook the liver separately or toss it. The rest of the inside treasures can either be made into a broth that you will later use in the gravy or just tossed in the pan with the turkey to flavor the drippings. I support either choice! First let me explain brining and then I'll tell you about the broth. Both of these things should be done the night before.

There are 2 types of brining, wet and dry. I use the dry method simply because I do not have a container big enough to soak a big turkey in salt water overnight. And I find dry brining really simple so that is what I am going to focus on here. You can find lots of info about wet brining on the net, try the food network or Martha.

Dry brining is simple. After you empty out the giblets, give the bird a wash with cold water and pat dry, inside and out. Now take either some kosher salt (my preference) or regular table salt and coat the outside and sprinkle a lot on the inside in both the body cavity and the neck cavity. You want this bird well coated!

This is the bird the next day after a night of partying it up in its salt suit. Attractive, isn't it?!

Okay, on to the other step you should do the night before if you feel so inclined. The broth. The last 2 years I have made a broth out of the inside treasure collection, as opposed to just putting them in the pan with the turkey to add to the drippings flavour. It really is up to you. I'll share my whole turkey gravy recipe with you later. It is awesome, if I do say so myself!

In a pot, add some chopped onions, carrots and celery. This is the classic French flavour base known as mirepoix that is in all soup broths and stocks. Don't worry about the size or bother peeling the carrots, you are going to toss all this out after the broth is made. Add the inside treasure collection, except the LIVER to the pot. I also add a can of low sodium chicken broth. Add some herbs like thyme, rosemary and sage to the pot. Simmer gently until the pot reduces by about 1/3. Drain out everything but the liquid and ta da! You have broth! If you don't have time or energy, don't sweat it, just skip this step and use some can or box of broth tomorrow when you make gravy. It's the holidays! Relax, have a cocktail, chat with your guests. Don't stress yourself!

And about the sodium content. While I advocate strongly to reduce the salt in your diet, keep in mind that a turkey has no sodium to start with. The amount added by the salt brine in not huge and will result in less salting at the table by your dinner companions. And you will note, I didn't add any to the broth. I can add it later to taste when I make the gravy. After coming back from a week of eating out and a big turkey dinner, Tim's blood pressure is still fine. It's the big picture here, not one meal. But you'll see, I don't over do the salt during the rest of the turkey prep because it simple doesn't need it.

As always, if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Turkey Tip #1 - Buying the Right Size!!

I'm back from the Big Apple! It is always great to see the city as it prepares for the holiday season.

The official lighting of the tree in Rockefeller Center is this week! It's quite a sight to behold. Imagine, that tree was in someone's yard just a couple of weeks ago! It was discovered by helicopter. And for those of you concerned about the environment, it was getting old and would have soon fallen on it's own so the owners knew they were going to have to cut it down in the next year to avoid serious property damage. It's over 100 years old.

Saks was testing their lights for their official unveiling later that night. It's a beautiful display, don't you things?! And Cartier was not to be outdone by any of their neighbors.

Traveling around the holidays always puts me in the spirit. Even airports decorated for Christmas seem pleasant.

Okay, on to the bird. Thanksgiving dinner went well and I'll be sharing more tips, recipes and pics in the days to come. And then there will be recipes for the leftovers. So stay tuned. But today's tip is about size. Turkey's are one of the many things in life where size matters. Bigger isn't always better! I wrangled a 22 pound turkey for 7 people. It's kind of sad when the friends are gone but the leftovers linger... and linger... and linger. So what size bird should you buy? The rule is 2 pounds per person or just under 1 kilogram per person. This will leave you with leftovers but just enough for some sandwiches or a soup. If you want more leftovers, I wouldn't get more than 3 pounds per person or about 1.3 kilograms per person. Leftover turkey does freeze well and lots of recipes call for cooked turkey or chicken which make a great use for these leftovers. But be sure to wrap them up in serving sizes or meal sizes separately. One big block of turkey isn't going to do you much good when you only need a cup. And be sure to mark the freezer package with the name, amount (weight or size) and date. You'll be grateful when you are standing at your freezer door while juggling frozen packages as your fingers get frostbitten!

If you don't want leftovers, get about 1 1/2 pounds per person or about 6oo grams per person. If you aren't feeding a large crowd, consider a large chicken or just a turkey breast but be sure to follow my tips for keeping the meat moist (coming up in the next few days), even if you are cooking these smaller meals. I learned the hard way so you don't have to!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Healthy Fried Chicken

I can chew! Whew! I've had a Caesar salad the last 2 evenings just because I could! I made up some of my low far creamy Caesar dressing (see below). The first night I sauteed a piece of Salmon to go with it and last night I added in some grilled chicken. I still have to let the croutons get a little soggy in the dressing but I don't mind. It's better than pureed!

Tomorrow we had south for the American Thanksgiving. This is the 8th year in a row I have made the trip to cook a bird for some displaced Canadians on one of the best holiday's of the year. It is the single most relaxing weekend of the year for me even though I cook the whole Thanksgiving day dinner. Last year was my best dinner ever. I made notes and saved the recipes I used for inspiration. So I'm looking to make a repeat. Expect a lot of tips for a great holiday dinner over the next couple of weeks. You'll be all set for Christmas!

Here is a recipe to try now. Sorry no picture but it was a hit with my folks who were in town when I served it.

Healthy Fried Chicken
4 Chicken breasts, thighs or legs with the bone in but the skin removed. (I cut the breasts in half because they are usually so large)
1 cup Buttermilk
1 egg
1 cup Flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
(experiment with your spice and herb mixtures, come up with your own special homemade fried chicken!)
2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil of your choice.

Preheat oven to 400
Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high heat with the 2 tbsp of oil.
Beat the egg and add it to the buttermilk in a shallow dish.
Combine the flour and cornmeal in another shallow dish.
Dip the chicken in the buttermilk mixture and then the flour mixture.
Cook in the pain until lightly browned on all sides.
Place in a baking sheet and cook in the oven about 20 minutes for breasts and about 30 mintues for legs and thighs. Remember to let it sit for about 10 minutes to let the juices redistribute and to prevent it from getting dried out the minute you cut into it. Take it off the pan and put it on a room temp dish. But don't cover it or you will lose the crispiness on the skin.

It's quite tasty! Simply place any leftover chicken on a plate in the fridge until cool, then cover and you'll keep the skin crispy.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

My Dinner Selections

Just thought I'd share a pic of my dining choices for today. The dish to the front left is a piece of donair pizza. Beside it is some perogies with sour cream and in the back is a chicken and spinach curry with mashed potatoes which was surprisingly good and easy for me to eat. Welcome to my world. Tomorrow I'm pureeing a steak. Wish me luck!

The Necessity of Chewing

As I mentioned I have had gum surgery lately. While it has put a damper on my cooking desires, my appetite is still good. Problem is that the thought of eating is exhausting. Everything must be pureed and then it takes forever to gnaw my way through a meal. Not really a meal, more like a snack. So by the time I'm done, I've managed to only get down half of a normal serving and then I'm hungry again in a couple of hours! When you can't chew and the roof of your mouth is covered in plastic (it would be so much worse to try and eat without the protection, the roof of my mouth is full of stitches...) it is impossible to taste anything. As I write this I am trying to gnaw on what would amount to one slice of donair pizza. When you can't chew you really want big taste. Tonight I'm going to make a curry chicken. Yes, it will be pureed but hopefully the big taste will come through. So to everyone out there who can chew... CHEERS! You don't know how good you've got it!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Pastelli's Restaurant Review

I'm sorry to say I haven't been blogging much lately. This week I had gum surgery so I haven't felt up to doing to much. And the only thing going on in my kitchen is the pureeing of food from my freezer. Once again I am grateful that I freeze lots of leftovers. I haven't been in the mood to cook but we still have lots of healthy options right in the freezer. It's hard to be inspired to cook when all you are going to do is puree the food and swallow it. I'll be glad when I can chew again! And all this is after Tim having his wisdom teeth removed a month ago and then he was on pureed food. Now he has an infection so we have matching swollen faces at the same time....

Before my surgery, we had gone to Pastalli's. I'm not sure how long the Italian restaurant has been open but it was one of the first restaurants I went to when I first moved to Moncton over 7 years ago. And not once in the past 7+ years have I left there disappointed!

This visit we had some special appetizers and wine pairings put on the menu in honour of the wine festival that occurs here in Moncton annually. There is nothing quite as interesting as the proper pairing of food and wine. I had a fresh mozzarella salad with a bold Italian red wine while Tim had a spinach and goat cheese wrap with a nice French Sauvignon Blanc. We were both pleased with our selections. Although mine had a balsamic glaze that was way too thick but it was delicious anyway.

Since I had ordered an appetizer, I opted for a lighter main course. I have a terrible habit of ordering too much food. I went with the Scampi alla Romano. Basically shrimp and pasta in a garlic sauce. There may have been too much garlic but since I love garlic, I enjoyed it. Tim had the lamb chops and they were cooked to perfection. I brought home my leftover pasta and it filled the fridge with a garlic smell. I enjoyed it every time I opened the fridge door. It didn't last past lunchtime the next day...

Even when I look at the small complaints I may have with a dish at Pastalli's, the overall experience makes me glad I spent my entertainment dollar there. Not everything you have when you go out may be exactly as you expect but when you can walk away from the experience with a general feeling of pleasure, then that is an evening well spent!