Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving - Turkey Brine

Thanksgiving is done. Turkey Day 2010 came and went and I got to try out my very first turkey brine. Let me tell you, once you taste a brined turkey - there is NO GOING BACK.

You might be asking by now, "What's a brine?" Think of it as a salt water marinade. The flavors and moisture is absorbed into the turkey. I found out that your brine base has three basic ingredients that you can build off - water, salt, and sugar. Here is what I came up with.

1 qt Weak Apple Juice (* see below)
1 gal. + Cold Water
1 1/2 c Salt
1/2 c Brown Sugar
2 T Peppercorns
1 t Onion Powder

Put your turnkey in a food safe container (bucket, brining bag, cooking bag, etc). You want a container large enough that the whole turkey can be covered with the liquid. mix seasoning and liquids and pour over meat. Keep in a cold place (refrigerator or garage if you life far enough north) for 12-15 hours (basically overnight).

When you are ready to roast it, drain the liquid and pat dry with paper towel. Rub a bit of oil over the skin and apply any desired herbs to skin. In the cavity I added an apple & onion (split in half and microwaved for 5 minutes in a bit of water to soften them up), and some fresh thyme and rosemary.

Bake at 450 for 30 minutes, reduce heat to 350 and roast until internal temp comes to 162 degrees. Allow to rest for 30 minutes to continue cooking and redistribute juices before carving. That's the perfect amount of time to cook a side dish - stuffing, casserole, veggies, etc.

I covered the turkey breast with foil after the first 30 minutes. After that, honestly I forgot to baste the turkey. It turned out completely moist all the way through with a mild apple flavor. My husband said it was the best turkey he's ever had.

As a side benefit - the drippings made the most amazing gravy. It was a hint of sweetness, a good balance of salt, and a bit of apple flavor. I only need to add a bit of pepper to season the gravy. A perfect match with my apple sausage stuffing.

We never got to do the kindness jar that I mentioned earlier in the week. My youngest got a case for the stomach flu. All of our plans went helter skelter. No volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House (thankful that our friends still could go and pick up my slack), no friends for Thanksgiving dinner, no lots of things. But surprisingly I was okay with all of it.

Far away from home and everything else, I had anticipated being homesick. God blessed me with a great level of contentment and peace. It was a wonderful day with my family. AMAZING food that we'll be eating for a while since it was just us, and lots of time with my boys.

I am so thankful for my family, our health, our friends, our church, a simpler life, and God's provision in our life. Oh yeah, and lots of great food. May the season and spirit of Thanksgiving last all year long.

* I actually didn't use apple juice. It was the juice produced by boiling my apple peels left over from making applesauce with a qt of water. If using regular apple juice I would use a watered down, weak version.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

Apple butter is one of those great fall flavors. I've also found it INCREDIBLY easy and inexpensive to make. Break out the slow cooker and it pretty much makes itself. If you teach my kids, act surprised when you get this for Christmas...
Apple butter is a great topping for bread/toast and all those traditional uses, but I've also started using it in baked goods like the Apple Cinnamon Frosting and in pancakes. If I can use pumpkin in it, I'm trying using the apple butter in it's place for a different flavor. It cooks very much the same.

This is at the early stage of the process.

5-7 pounds apples - peeled, cored and finely chopped
3/4 c brown sugar**
3 t cinnamon
1/4 t ground cloves
1/4 t nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Place the apples in a slow cooker and toss with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt.
2. Cover and cook on high 1 hour.
3. Reduce heat to low and cook 9 to 11 hours, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thickened and dark brown. (I let it go overnight)
4. Blend in either food processor or blender for a smooth consistency (or leave it lumpy if you'd like). Return to slow cooker and continue cooking on low 1 hour uncovered.
5. Spoon the mixture into sterile containers, cover and refrigerate or freeze. To can, pour hot apple butter into hot jars and process in a hot water bath for 10-12 minutes.

** I use sweet apples (Jonagold, Golden Delicious, Gala, etc.) that don't require much added sugar. Sweeten to you own liking.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving - Thankful Turkeys

Okay, let's get down to turkey. It's one of my favorite meats. I cook it more than just Thanksgiving because I can't wait that long to eat it. Usually it's a hot week in the summer and I blast the air so I can handle cooking in the kitchen. Throw in a few turkey roasts in between and frozen leftovers, and I make it through the year.

I've tried several methods over the years to cook. I was brought up on the turkey bag method. It produces a moist turkey. From all I've been learning about health/food/allergies/safety I'm not really comfortable to cook things in plastic. I've become more adventuresome over the years and have basted turkeys, applied herb butter under and on top of the skin (yum), cooked it upside down (resulted in very flat and compressed white meat), and sliding bacon under the skin.

This year I'm soaking the turkey in a brine (salt water solution) ahead of time, stuffing it with apples and aromatics, and cooking it with foil tent (removing at the end to brown). My SIL brines her turkeys and they are AMAZING so I'm giving it a whirl. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Tomorrow we kick off Thanksgiving week with a thankful jar. At each meal we'll put a note into the jar with something/someone we are thankful for. At the end of the week, we'll have a jar full to be grateful for. I've also planned out a theme to be thankful for each day - health/family, freedom, work, fun, faith/church, etc. I'm looking forward to the week ahead.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thanksgiving - Desserts

I'm torn on what to make for dessert this thanksgiving. Typically I can make several things as we are having a big gathering. But for a family of 4 in which the boys are a bit picky about dessert, I could be left with dessert to eat forever - and NOTHING good is going to come out of that...

Here are the front runners for this year:

Pumpkin Layer Cheesecake

Caramel Apple Bread Pudding
Pumpkin Toffee Trifle
Pumpkin Cake 2
or the Pumpkin Bread Pudding from Throwdown with Bobby Flay (vs. Pioneer Woman)

Maybe I'll make a few and freeze extra portions? Maybe I'll send it to work with my husband? What's your favorite finish for your Thanksgiving feast?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving - Stuffing & Kindness

One of my favorite things about the Thanksgiving meal is stuffing. Really, we don't eat this marvelous creation often enough. Note to self - great side dish to use more often. As a child I hated stuffing. It was big pieces and soggy, and all those spices... Mom made us kids Stove Top just so she wouldn't have to hear us complain. My kids have the same opinion. I look at my kids and know that someday maybe they will change their mind too.

Now technically, I don't make stuffing. I make dressing so it gets more crispy. I'm a texture eater and slimy/soggy is the worst texture to eat. However, it was always called stuffing, so shall ever more be referred to as that.

I've got two favorite recipes that I tend to go back and forth between based on my mood. Yes, I'm admitting that I'm moody. I know - newsflash right ;)

The first is a tangy Sourdough Bread Stuffing and the other a sweet/savory Apple & Sausage Stuffing. This year I'm leaning towards the apple & sausage option, but I'm going to throw in another recipe this year. I'm going to try making a gluten-free option with a great bread from Sami's Bakery that we've found (FINALLY one that my son LOVES). I'll try to make it kid friendly by chopping the bread up small, and tossing it with simple seasoning, oil, and sausage. Hopefully it will be more successful that past years...

As we focus on the meaning of the Thanksgiving, the boys and I talked about kindness tonight. That's a tough topic for 6 and 4-year-old brothers who would rather fight than do anything else. Then again it's tough at any age.

After a great devotional the other day on this character quality (coming from Colossians 3), we "clothed ourselves in kindness." The boys put on their favorite costumes and I tried to figure out what they were clothed as. The ninja was pretty easy. The Canadian Cowboy was a bit harder to figure out. That little man has one heck of an imagination.

From there we talked about people knowing that we are a child of God by our kindness. They see us for who we are. We can choose to clothe ourselves in kindness and look like God - or we can act without kindness. It clicked with them and they were kind (mostly) for the rest of the night. Here's hoping that it still sticks with them when they wake in the morning...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kitchen Disasters & Giving Thanks

I've not posted lately because the few new things I've tried have been COMPLETE disasters. I've been focusing on gluten-free baking to reduce our grocery costs. I've been using several mixes for baking, but it gets pricey. A collapsed and under-cooked cake, and tasteless biscuit, and cookies that stayed in a hard ball instead of spreading.

So be encouraged - we all have kitchen disasters. If you've made a mess of things, we all do. Keep on trying, because the tasty rewards are worth it.

This week, I'll take a look back at a few of my holiday favs along with many reasons to be thankful.