Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Day Recipes/Tips

I first "brined" my Thanksgiving turkey about seven or eight years ago...I am completely sold on this technique.
Scientifically, brining works by using osmosis to cause water to enter and stay inside the cells of the meat (turkey). Because osmosis also lets salt into the cells, you'll end up with a saltier, but much more juicy bird. One "downside" is that you can't cook the stuffing inside of the gets too salty. But I happen to think that cooking the stuffing inside of the bird is not a good idea in any case. Cooking the stuffing inside of the bird allows the stuffing to soak up liquid from the turkey...resulting in drier meat. I always mix up my stuffing and cook it in a pyrex baking dish at 350 degrees for an hour or so. Whenever I baste the turkey, I take a few spoonfuls of the "drippings" and drizzle that over the stuffing while it cooks.

RECIPES...both of these recipes for brine were printed in the Detroit Free Press in 2002.

Molasses Brine
8 quarts water
2 cups Kosher Salt...important, do NOT use regular table salt
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup mild (or light) molasses
Mix all of the ingredients together in a pot big enough to hold the turkey and the brine. Mix until everything is dissolved. Add the turkey and refrigerate overnight (10-12 hours). Two hours before you plan to start cooking the turkey, remove it from the brine and rinse it for several minutes, inside and out, under cold running water. Dry off the turkey and cook as usual.
Some suggest adding a cup of Bourbon to the brine...haven't tried that, but it sounds great.

Apple Cider Brine
2 quarts Apple Cider
6 quarts water
2 cups Kosher Salt
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
Follow the same directions as above for Molasses Brine.

Other can add some herb/spices/vegetables to the brine (onions, carrots, peppercorns, thyme, etc.).
If you don't want the added flavor of the molasses or the cider, you can do a simple brine with 8 quarts water, two cups Kosher Salt and 2 cups regular sugar.
Also, if you don't have a pot big enough to hold the turkey and the brine, you can use two garbage bags and a bucket or large bowl to hold the turkey and the brine.

"Fool-Proof" Gravy Method
Next to overcooking the turkey itself, making the gravy is usually the biggest problem on Thanksgiving. I learned this method, and it always works for me...
While the turkey is roasting, put the "giblets" (neck, heart, kidneys, etc., but NOT the liver) in a small saucepan and add three or four (or more) cups of regular old chicken stock). Bring that to a mild simmer and let it cook for an hour or so, then strain out the "turkey stock". When the turkey is finished roasting, take it out of the roasting pan. Pour all of the liquid in the pan into a measuring cup (they make special ones that have the spout at the bottom so that you can separate off the "juice" from the fat, but a regular measuring cup works too). Use a spoon to remove the top layer of fat, leaving behind the "juices". Put some of the fat in a saucepan and, when it's hot, start adding flour a tablespoon at a time (1 tablespoon of fat to 1 tablespoon of flour is the ratio). One or two tablespoons of flour/fat is usually enough to thicken one cup of turkey stock to gravy consistency). Cook the flour/fat for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly so it doesn't burn (this gets the "raw" taste out of the flour).
Now, put the roasting pan right on top of your stove burner and start heating it up. When you see the residue in the pan start to sizzle, add your turkey stock and the "juices" from the measuring cup...stir, scraping up the "brown bits" from the bottom of the pan. When that is at a simmer, start adding the flour/fat mixture a tablespoon or so at a time and stir hard with a whisk or spoon. After adding each tablespoon of flour/fat, let the mixture simmer for thirty seconds or so to "thicken". When it gets to the consistency of the gravy that you're lumps!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fall 2009...Busy Busy

Busy November...
This is usually a busy time of the year for me, and this year is no exception.
First and foremost, there's UM football which keeps me occupied every weekend from the beginning of September until the third weekend in November. Notwithstanding UM's poor showing (boy, that's an understatement!), this year has been great fun. Roger and Gretchen split my season tickets with me this year, and we got a season parking pass for their motor home. Now we head to Ann Arbor on Friday afternoon and camp out next to the Stadium until Sunday.
Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and I'll be heading down to Gretchen and Roger's on Wednesday...returning home on Sunday. Roger roasts a mean turkey, and his corn casserole is the best!
And then...on Monday, I will be heading out on another great adventure. My itinerary is looking like this...

West Bloomfield
Memphis, TN
Austin , TX.
Del Rio (cheap Meds in Mexico!..."legal" Meds, of course)
Big Bend National Park (tent camping)
San Antonio
New Orleans, LA
Mobile, AL (Ron Buttarazzi!)
Gulf National Seashore (tent camping)
Tampa (Ed and Molly!)
Palm City (Mom!...and Ace!)
Tampa (New Year's!)
Palm City
Cruise (destination tbd)
Everglades National Park (tent camping)
Marathon (Mark and Faith!)
North Ft. Myers (Cousin Bill and Nancy!)
Tampa (Gasparilla!)
Jacksonville (Deb Sidle...Go Blue!)
Charleston, SC
Princeton, NJ (Bill and Kathy!)
Wilmington, DE (Dave and Marschia!
New York City (Momofuku Noodle Bar!)
Strongsville, OH (Gretchen and Roger!)
West Bloomfield...finally!

I'm really excited about visiting's one of my favorite States, and I haven't been there in years. I've got Texas Monthly magazine's list of the Top 50 BBQ spots, and I'm hitting as many as I can...smoky brisket, great potato salad...and the wonderful cobblers
Austin and San Antonio are great food cities...chicken-fried steak at Threadgill's and Tex-Mex at Mi Tierra. Plus, I'll be tent camping at a nice little State Park right outside of Austin.
Big Bend National Park is an awesome park...tall mountains, deep canyons, great hiking, the Rio Grande. Weather permitting (it gets cold down there!), I'll be camping in the Chisos Basin.
Houston and Galveston are two of my favorite cities for seafood...fried shrimp at Captain Benny's and Gilhooley's for grilled oysters...yum!
Ah...and then...three whole days and nights in the Big Easy...right in the French Quarter. A couple of dozen at Acme Oyster Bar, Friday lunch at Galatoire's, the great charcuterie at Brasserie Luke, the fried pig ear salad (don't laugh, it's phenomenal!) at Couchon...I could go on and on. Pound for pound, New Orleans is my favorite city for food (not to mention drink!).
From there, it's over to Mobile, AL to visit my old Notre Dame buddy, Ron Buttarazzi, who I haven't seen in over ten years. Ron might join me for a few days of tent camping at Gulf National Seashore...right on the beach!
Then...over to Tampa to visit my good friends, Ed and Molly Wickliffe. I have celebrated New Year's there every year for the last ten years or so, and I head back in early February for the Gasparilla Festival...more drinking!
On to Palm City to visit Mom and Ace for a few days. We're all thinking Cruise, but we haven't decided where yet...maybe west through the Panama Canal...or east to San Juan, St. Thomas (my diamond earring headquarters!), St. Martin (nude beach!), and beyond.
As soon as we return, I'll be heading to Everglades National Park for a week of tent camping...right on the beach! I just hope that the "bear spray" that I bought in Alaska works for alligators as well.
Now down to Marathon to visit my good friends, Mark and Faith Freedman, in the Keys.
I expect that, once again, I'll be making good on the annual stone crab bet that Mark and I have on the UM/OSU game. My only consolation is that, win or lose, I still get to eat stone crabs. We even have a cool "crab trophy" that the winner gets to hold.
Next...up the west coast of Florida to North Ft. Myers to visit my cousin Bill and his wife, Nancy. Some of you may remember Bill as a chef extraordinaire at several of my Summer Picnics twenty years ago or so.
Then...over to Jacksonville to visit my friend, Debbie Sidle...who I have not seen in at least twenty years. She is a die-hard UM fan.
Continuing on north...for two days and nights in Charleston, SC...voted America's friendly city for at least ten years in a row...and another great food town. The fried green tomatoes at Magnolia, the stuffed shrimp at A.W. Shucks, the great fried (and steamed) Oysters at Hymans...I can almost taste them as I sit here.
From Charleston, it's on to Princeton, NJ to visit my good friends, Bill and Kathy Lamping. Kathy is a law school classmate from my days at Notre Dame, and Bill has earned the coveted monogrammed chef's jacket for his steadfast work at a number of Summer Picnics. Bill and Kathy told me that they have a list of great restaurants for me to visit while I'm there.
On to Wilmington, Delaware for a few days with my good friends, Dave and Marschia Valentovich...and their wonderful cats! I met Dave back when I worked for Volkswagen, and I have had some of the best times with them! I am as relaxed as I can possibly be when I'm there. And then, there's the thought of Marscia's stupendous home-baked bread.
Next stop...New York City for lunch at Momofuku Noodle Bar...the hottest place in town right now. I served several of their dishes at the last Summer Picnic, and I just bought their cookbook. If I'm that close to New York, I can't pass up the chance to eat there.
After lunch, a long drive to Strongsville, OH for a day or two of R&R with Roger and Gretchen before heading home...finally! I expect to be home sometime in the middle or end of February.
And the best part...I don't expect to see my first snowflake until my return.

You can not imagine how monumental the task of packing for this trip...hiking clothes, cold-weather clothes, camping gear, cruise wear (including a sport coat and dress slacks)...and on and on. Then everything has to go in some kind of container, and it all has to be packed in the Escape in a way that makes it all accessible. I've spent at least four hours a day for the last two weeks getting things organized, and I'm still only 80% complete.

More later...and...sometime before Thanksgiving, I'll post my two favorite recipes for brining turkeys as well as my absolutely fool-proof method for making gravy.

And...I'm posting a few tailgate photos, a photo or two of Jones (including "the Clash of the Titans), and whatever else looks good.