Thursday, December 28, 2006

It's all over until next year...

Are you exhausted too? Well now all that is left is the relaxing and the New Year celebrating! I hope everyone's holidays were peaceful, safe and full of fun. We had an excellent holiday. I got gifts to placate my 2 passions, cooking and knitting. And a few more things I can put candles in. I'm a big fan of candlelight during these long winter nights. I really learned to appreciate the beauty of the long winter night while spending many of them in Sweden. Everywhere there are tealights to twinkle in the dark. It's so peaceful. Funny I would find the darkness peaceful but I do. So here's to winter! We had a green Christmas day but now there is a nice little blanket of snow, another thing I find peaceful. And when the sun shines on the brilliant snow it really boosts the spirits. But I'll admit, it does look cold out there today. I think I'll stay in.... snuggle up with my knitting and maybe cook up a yummy dinner later!

Just so you know that even us expert cooks screw up, I'll share my turkey story with you. Due to the hustle and bustle, I forgot to take the bird out to defrost. I remembered on Christmas Eve. And while I didn't have a huge bird this year (about 13 pounds, 5.7 kg) it still required some time to defrost. So I left it out on the counter, not in the fridge. Part of the reason I hadn't taken it out earlier was I had absolutely no fridge space. Nada, as in - no way was another thing fitting in my fridge! I kept feeling the bird to see how the defrosting was going. I'm extremely aware of the 4 hour, 4-40 rule. This is the rule where nothing should sit out between 4 and 40 degrees for more than 4 hours. I turned the bird upside down once one end had defrosted enough so that the cold water from the bird would drip down the defrosted part. Just a side note, we had a ham in the fridge in case the turkey became in any way, questionable. So I had a back up plan (just by luck really, we were to have the ham for Boxing Day dinner).

So I kept an eye on the turkey and once it was defrosted on the outside I took it out of the packaging. It was still a little frozen inside but I was able to wiggle out the neck and the giblets. There was only the heart. I put the neck and heart aside in the fridge and added them later to the pan right before it went in the over. I salted the bird and put it in the roasting pan with lots of foil. As I mentioned, there was no room in my fridge so mister bird had to spend the night outside. Last year I had a covered pan so all I did was put something heavy on top to keep out the critters and I think I taped the lid on. This year I was using an open pan so I had to put the pan in the bbq to keep it safe. All night I dreamt about my bird making a run for it. Luckily the temperature cooperated and stayed just around freezing. When I brought the bird in the next day it had some surface freezing but at least I knew it was safe from the temperature danger zone.

I didn't have a rack to put the bird on in the pan so after rinsing the salt off, I put the bird on some celery, carrots and onion. This natural rack also added great flavor to the pan drippings which were later used for the gravy. You can do this for any roast or bird. Since I had a lack of fridge space, once we finished with our main meal we cut up the rest of the bird and put it in freezer bags. Most of it ended up in the freezer but we kept some out for munching and leftovers.

Speaking of leftovers, here is an awesome leftover sandwich. Smear a little dijon and mayo on once slice of bread and layer on some turkey. On another slice of bread smear on some leftover cranberry sauce and then layer some sliced brie cheese. Heat both slices of bread in a 325 degree oven until the cheese melts (about 5 - 10 minutes). Take it out of the oven and put the 2 slices of bread together to make a sandwich. It's very tasty!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Turkey Tip #6 - Great Gravy

Now this recipe is about the gravy, not the turkey but without great gravy, how good can a turkey really be?! This is not terribly complicated and will give you great results.

Okay, you've removed the turkey from the roasting pan. Now you should have a lot of great turkey drippings on the bottom of the pan. You are going to put that pan on the stove top over medium heat. Add 1 cup of riesling wine (or you can use brandy, I like the wine better because it tastes more subtle) and 1 cup of either the homemade broth you made the night before or 1 cup of the store bought broth. Let this all simmer for about 20 minutes. You are looking for the liquid to reduce. You should be able to look at the side of the pan and see where the liquid line has shrunk down the side by about 1/3. While that is simmering, take another cup of broth and add about 1/2 cup of flour, mix it until smooth. A whisk or putting it all in a jar and shaking it works well. Just DO NOT USE HOT BROTH. You'll have an explosion. Happened once when I was a kid.... Not pretty.

Turn down your pan on the stove to med low. Mix in your flour/broth into the pan. This is when a whisk is essential. Otherwise get your kids to all get spoons going in the pan! Pour slowly and mix vigorously as you add the flour/broth mix. Keep stirring until it starts to bubble again. You'll see how it thickens up pretty quickly. If it doesn't thicken up, mix more flour with broth and add it in. Sometimes it takes a little more flour if you have a lot of liquid you are trying to thicken!

Where are those mashed potatoes!?

Christmas Morning Strata

My Aunt had just asked me for this recipe that I made the last time she visited. It's quick, it's easy, it can be made the night before and it's nutricious. So I thought I'd share it with everyone. It's a great way to start any day but it really was originally called "Christmas Morning Strata" so try it over the holidays. I don't have a pic but you don't need to know how it's suppose to look, you really can't screw it up. I promise!

1C broccoli florets
5C ½ inch French bread cubes
2C shredded cheddar
1C cooked ham, cubed
3 beaten eggs
1 3/4C milk
2 tbsp finely chopped onions
1 tsp dry mustard
Dash of pepper

Place broccoli and 1 tbsp water in a microwave dish, cover and cook for 2-3 minutes, drain
Layer half on the bread cubes in a greased 2 qt. casserole dish
Top with cheese, ham and broccoli
Top with remaining bread cubes
Mix eggs, milk, onion, mustard and pepper
Pour egg mixture over layers
At this point you can cover and chill for 24 hours
Uncover and bake at 325 for 1 hour or until a knife comes out clean
Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Merry Christmas!!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Turkey Tip #5 - Resting the Bird

This is the single most important tip but it's the easiest one yet. You MUST let the turkey rest before you cut into it. I mentioned it before but it bears repeating, it's that important. Once you take the turkey out of the oven and confirm it is done but either jiggling the leg or testing the temp with a themometer, move it to a cutting board or serving tray. COVER IT TIGHTLY WITH FOIL. It will stay warm for quite a while so don't worry. Keep it this way for A MINIMUM OF 20 MINUTES or up to 45 minutes. This is the best way to prevent your turkey from drying out. All the juices redistribute through out the bird and stay moist. It's easy so do it.

I thought I'd provide a before and after shot!

Turkey Tip #4 - Easy Cornbread Stuffing

One week and it will all be over! Are you all ready? Don't panic. I'm still making gifts, the house isn't decorated or even clean yet and I do this as a living! By this time next week, it won't matter and all that will be left will be the relaxing, eating, drinking and spending time with family and friends. You know, the stuff that really matters! But before then, let's see if we can share a few more tips for a great Christmas dinner.

This is less about the turkey and more about the stuffing. I have posted my super easy cornbread stuffing before but it deserves a repeat. There are lots of fancy stuffing out there but this is simple and tastes delicious. As I mentioned earlier, I don't stuff mine in the bird, I cook it separately making it dressing, not stuffing. It just means the bird cooks a little quicker with less time to dry out. You can do it either way, it's up to you.

All I do for my cornbread stuffing is make some store bought packages of cornbread up ahead of time. I leave them uncovered on the counter to help them dry out a bit. If you can get store made cornbread or the cornbread bread cubes, go ahead. Just don't get the cornbread cubes already seasoned for stuffing. It will have tons of salt and it's better to season it yourself.

Break up the cornbread in a bowl. Toss in a finely chopped onion and some dried herbs. I use about 1 tbsp per package of cornbread mix or if you get the bag of cornbread cubes, use about 1/4 cup of dried herbs. You can use fresh herbs if you like but it isn't necessary. I use rosemary, thyme and sage or poultry seasoning. Melt some butter in the microwave. I usually start with about 2 tbsp. Add to the stuffing mix until you can get a bit to form a loss ball in your hand. Keep adding until you get this consistency.

I'll add the dish into the oven about an hour before the turkey is done. If I have to wait until the turkey is finished before putting the dish in the oven then I usually only need to cook it about 45 minutes if it's a big dish. Use a long flat pan like a lasagna dish if you are putting it in after, it will cook quicker. Remember to put some turkey drippings in the dish. I use my baster or a spoon and take some of the drippings out of the pan and drizzle them on the stuffing dish. Perfect.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Turkey Tip #3 - Preparing the Bird for the Oven and Cooking!

Lets talk about getting that bird ready to hit the heat. Many people still stuff their birds with stuffing. I stopped doing this a last year. One reason was the added length in cooking time required to get a stuffed bird cooked all the way through. This added time gives the white meat more opportunity to dry out. Definitely not a good thing. I was a little concerned as to how I would get the great turkey flavour into the stuffing, (which, when cooked outside the bird is called "dressing") but not to worry. I use my turkey baster to get the pan drippings out of the pan and onto the dressing either during the last hour of cooking if I am doing the dressing and the turkey in the oven at the same time or, if I have to do the dressing after the turkey because there simply isn't enough room for both, I siphon off some pan drippings when I take the turkey out and drizzle them over the dressing before it goes in the oven. I'll pass along my dressing recipe as a separate post.

Once you've rinsed off the salt coat from the night before, pat the turkey dry. Now it's time to get it ready for it's big day in the oven. I cut up some celery, onions, lemons and herbs to put inside both the body cavity and the neck cavity of the bird. The herbs I use are fresh thyme, rosemary and sage. If you don't have fresh use dried. You'll need dried in a minute anyway so if you want to save money and time, just buy dried. Cut the veggies into large 1 inch chunks. Before you stuff these goodies in the body cavity, check around the skin flaps and see if there are chunks of fat. If so, remove them. You will add your own moisture to the bird so you don't need these adding more grease to the mix.

Mix your dried herbs, thyme, rosemary, sage, summer savory, poultry seasoning, whatever, with a good amount of Olive Oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. I usually mix up about 1/2 cup of olive oil and a squeeze of half a lemon with about 2 tbsp of dried herbs. This is your basting mix. Spread it all over the turkey before it goes in the oven. You will use this to baste the bird every 20 to 30 minutes while cooking.

We have one more important step. Keeping the breast meat moist. The brining you did the night before will help but it won't be enough. Some people put cheesecloth over the breast meat at the beginning of cooking, some put bacon strips over the breast meat. I put butter mixed with herbs under the skin. Not a lot! For this 22 pound bird I used about 4 tablespoons. I have a 12.5 pound bird for Christmas dinner and I will only use 2 tablespoons for it. Mix the butter with the herbs and shove it under the skin. Make room between the skin and meat before you go in with the butter. It's easier if you have the space ready. This and basting will keep your meat moist!

And now - to the oven. I start mine at 425 for the first 30 minutes, uncovered. Then I baste, reduce the heat to 350 and tent foil over the bird. I cook it until the meat themometer says 180 degrees or until a leg gets loose. I usually do the leg method as I don't always have a themometer handy. Jiggle the leg, if it starts to give way from the body easily, it's done! And there should be no bloody juices coming from the bird. DO NOT CUT INTO THE BIRD!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The meat must rest for at least 20 minutes after you take it out of the oven otherwise you will open it up, let all the juices out and end up with a dry bird. Blah!