November 26, 2008

To Brine Your Turkey or Not

That is the question. Some folks say that turkeys don’t need to be brined, but in my opinion a brine can really make a tasty turkey for your holiday dinner.

Brine you may ask? Brining adds moisture and flavor to poultry and helps to keep it from drying out. A turkey can be a serious investment in time so you want to make sure it is perfect, especially if you're entertaining. Whether you grill, smoke, fry, or roast your turkey, you should use a brined bird.

A brine is simply a salt and liquid mixture that adds lots of great flavor and moisture to your bird. There are many recipes out there for the perfect brine, but all do about the same thing. But- there is one step that is a must when brining a bird- you must brine the bird for at least 24 hours. Otherwise the entire brining process just isn’t worth it.

To properly brine a turkey you need to start the night before you plan to cook. You will need at least 10 to 12 hours (plan on 1 hour per pound of turkey), a container large enough to hold your turkey and enough brine to cover it. You'll also need salt, water, sugar, seasonings, and enough room to refrigerate it. A large stainless steel stock pot or even a 5 gallon clean plastic bucket ( or my family has used a clean cooler before) would make excellent containers. Whatever container you choose, the turkey needs to have enough room to be turned so it should be big.

Now let's get to the turkey. The turkey should be cleaned out, completely thawed, and should not be a self-basting or Kosher turkey. Self-basting and Kosher turkeys have a salty stock added that will make your brined turkey too salty. A fresh turkey works best, but a completely thawed, previously frozen turkey will work just as well.

To make the brine
Mix 1 cup of table salt in 1 gallon of water. You will need more than 1 gallon of water but that’s the ratio to aim for. One way of telling if you have enough salt in your brine is that a raw egg will float in it. Make sure that the salt is completely dissolved before adding the seasonings you like, making sure not to add anything that contains salt. Brines can be spicy hot with peppers and cayenne, savory with herbs and garlic, or sweet with molasses, honey and brown sugar.

Sugar is optional to any brine, but works to counteract the flavor of the salt. While you may choose a brine without sugar, I do recommend that you add sugar (any kind of "sweet" will do) to maintain the flavor of the turkey. Add up to 1 cup of sugar per gallon of brine. Like the salt you need to make sure that the sugar is completely dissolved.

Place the turkey in a container and pour in enough brine to completely cover the turkey with an inch or two to spare. You do not want any part of the turkey above the surface of the brine. Now you put the whole thing in the refrigerator. If you are like me, making enough room in the fridge is the hardest part of this project. The turkey should sit in the brine for about 1 hour per pound of turkey. Brining too long is much worse than not brining enough so watch the time.

Don't have room in the refrigerator? Try a cooler. A cooler big enough to hold your turkey makes a good container for your turkey and brine. The cooler will help keep it cool and allow you to brine your turkey without taking up precious refrigerator space. If the weather is cool, but not freezing you can put the whole thing outside until you need the turkey.

When you are ready to start cooking your turkey, remove it from the brine and rinse it off thoroughly in the sink with cold water until all traces of salt are off the surface inside and out. Safely discard the brine and cook your turkey as normal. You will notice the second you start to carve your turkey that the brining has helped it retain moisture. The first bite will sell you on brining turkeys forever, and after you've tried this you will want to brine all your poultry- I promise!

Whether you decide to brine this Thanksgiving or Christmas or not- I wish your family happy holidays and the best to the new year!

November 19, 2008

Skillet Cabbage Anyone

Ever tried skillet cabbage? Yeah me neither until a co-worker of mine suggested I try it. He had it at deer camp this year and swore I wouldn’t be disappointed.

I’m up to trying new things so I decided to give it a shot. It’s very different, but tasty! It reminds me of something my southern grandma would have made me, because let’s face it – this isn’t the healthiest side dish (the cabbage is cooked in bacon grease!) But if you like rich southern cuisine, you’re gonna be a fan!

Skillet Cabbage
4 C. Shredded Cabbage
1 Green Pepper, Shredded
2 C. Diced Celery
2 Large Red Onions, Sliced Thin
2 Tomatoes, Peeled and Cut Coarse
1/4 C. Bacon Drippings
2 T. Sugar
1/2 t. Salt
1/4 t. Pepper

Prepare vegetables and mix together lightly. Heat bacon grease in large skillet over medium heat. Add vegetables and sprinkle with sugar, salt and pepper. Stir briefly to mix. Cover and cook exactly 5 minutes over medium heat.

November 18, 2008

Brussels Sprouts: The New Wave

Brussels sprouts get a bum wrap in my opinion. Yes, they are strange-looking and large and round, but they are so tasty. Most folks don’t know who to go about preparing them. I like them all different ways. I found this recipe on All and thought it sounded interesting. A breaded Brussels sprout? Hum, might be good…and it is!

Try serving a plate of these at your Thanksgiving dinner this year- they are sure to be a hit!

Breaded Brussels Sprouts
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, melted
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons dried bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt

Wash and trim Brussels sprouts. Cut an "X", about 1/8 inch deep in the stem of the sprouts, (this helps cook the sprouts more evenly and quickly).

In a medium-size pot, cover Brussels sprouts with water, add 1 teaspoon salt and bring to boil. Cover and simmer for 6 minutes or until tender; drain. Be careful not to overcook sprouts.

Place sprouts in a small casserole dish. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of melted butter over the sprouts and mix well to coat.

Combine parmesan cheese, dried bread crumbs, garlic powder, black pepper, seasoning salt and remaining butter and mix well; sprinkle mixture over sprouts.

Heat sprouts under broiler (about 4 inches away from heat) for about 5 minutes or until crumb mixture is lightly browned. Serve hot.

November 13, 2008

A Twist on Lasagna

How about a new turn on your traditional lasagna? I like change, don’t you. Then you will love this Gorgonzola Lasagna recipe.

If you aren’t a fan of gorgonzola cheese though- be ware because the bases for this sauce is the cheese.

Gorgonzola Lasagna
6 lasagna noodles
Gorgonzola Sauce (see recipe below)
Zucchini squash, sliced approximately 1/3" thick for try using butternut squash instead since it’s in season right now
3/4 pound mushrooms, cut into chunks
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and sliced approximately 1/3" thick
Fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped or torn into strips
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (for topping)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. Drain and set each noodle flat on paper towels. Do not stack lasagna noodles (they will stick to each other and you cannot separate them).

Use a small baking dish (approximately 9" x 7" x 2 1/2"). Smear a little Gorgonzola Sauce on the bottom of the baking dish.

Layer as follows:
First Layer: lasagna noodles, zucchini or butternut squash, basil, mozzarella cheese, & Gorgonzola Sauce.

Second Layer: lasagna noodles, mushrooms, basil, mozzarella cheese, & Gorgonzola Sauce.

Third Layer: lasagna noodles, sliced tomatoes, basil, and Gorgonzola Sauce; top with parmesan cheese.

Cover dish tightly with foil, (tenting slightly to prevent foil from touching top layer). Bake in middle of oven for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes or until top is bubbling. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

Gorgonzola Sauce
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup half and half cream
1/4 to 1/2 cup Gorgonzola cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour and blend thoroughly. When perfectly smooth and free from lumps (but not in the least browned), add garlic. Gradually add half and half; reduce heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce boils. Add gorgonzola cheese (it is difficult to gauge how much to use because the cheese varies in ripeness - use just enough so you can smell the cheese) and stir until well blended. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.