Brining a Thanksgiving Turkey

By grace.g.yang · November 20, 2008
Under: Dinner,My Life,Recipes

I actually got the idea to brine the Thanksgiving turkey from Alton Brown – I was up late at night watching the Food Network and Alton came on explaining why brining a turkey is better because you don’t open and close the oven constantly AND the overnight brining makes a big difference in flavor. I think my mom usually brushes the turkey with its own juices, but she’s been preparing turkeys for a while and knows what she’s doing and this was my first turkey so I wanted to experiment a little.

ANYWAY, as I was walking through Williams-Sonoma, I saw a recipe packet for Thanksgiving ideas. One of the first recipes was for a buttermilk brined turkey, which sparked my interest. Buttermilk? The picture looked really delicious, so I decided to give it a try. The main ingredient was a brining package that you buy from Williams-Sonoma (which I passed on because it was mostly salt, peppercorns, star anise, sage, rosemary, and other things that you could put together yourself). The FIRST thing I had to do was BUY a turkey:

Trader Joe’s had the best deals on turkeys – they were $1.79/pound (compared to $4.99 at Whole Foods) and they were all around 15 pounds, which was perfect for our party because you’re supposed to prepare about a pound – pound and a half for each guest. All of the turkeys were pre-brined (in a salt water solution), so I took that into consideration when I put together the buttermilk brine (I barely used any salt when I put together my brine).

Ingredients for brine (for a 15 pound turkey):

4 quarts of buttermilk
Whole peppercorns (a handful is enough)
Sage
Lemon wedges
Rosemary
Thyme
A little salt (if the turkey is already brined)

I bought a large brining bag ($4.99 at Bed, Bath, and Beyond), stuck my turkey in it (after I removed the gizzard and the heart, liver, etc) and then started pouring in the buttermilk and other ingredients. If you have a turkey that hasn’t been brined and you end up putting salt in the mix, melt the salt in water before you add it to the turkey. Here’s what the turkey looked like pre-brine:

The brine didn’t cover the entire turkey, so halfway through the night, I turned the turkey over so it would be evenly brined. In the morning, I washed off the brine, patted dry the turkey (inside and out), and put together an herb butter (butter mixed with thyme, sage, and rosemary) underneath the turkey breast skin so there would be a little more flavor during cooking. I covered the turkey with aluminum foil and stuck it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 4 hours (occasionally, I would open the oven door, and brush the turkey with a mixture of maple syrup and butter to get a really crispy crust). Here’s the final product:

To make sure your turkey is done, don’t rely on the thing that pops up on the turkey breast! I used a thermometer and made sure the temperature by the upper thigh (not touching any bone) was at 160 (although the USDA says it should get up to 165). The turkey ended up being really juicy and tender and was cooked really well, so I think it was pretty successful! I wish I could’ve made one turkey without brining it so I could’ve tasted the difference, but I barely have one oven so the buttermilk brine was good enough for me (and my guests)!

Cornbread Stuffing

By grace.g.yang · November 20, 2008
Under: Dinner,My Life,Recipes

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday of the year because we always have a big party in North Carolina. One of my favorite sides happens to be stuffing – not the stuff you make from a box like Stove Top, but the kind where you can taste big chunks of freshly made cornbread. I decided to make cornbread this year and let it sit out for a week so it would be really hard (to absorb all of the flavors and still have some texture). Here’s the recipe for the stuffing after you make the cornbread:

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 stalks celery, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced (for color)
1/3 cup diced liver (chicken or turkey)
6 cups coarsely crumbled cornbread
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (or 1 teaspoon dried)
3 cups hot reduced-sodium chicken broth
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 tablespoons butter, plus more for dish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add onion and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. Add liver; cook, stirring, until beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. In a large bowl, combine onion mixture, cornbread, and sage. Pour broth over mixture; stir just until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a buttered 1 1/2-quart shallow baking dish. Dot with butter. Bake until golden brown on top and crisp around edges, 40 to 45 minutes.

Here’s a picture of me mixing together all of the ingredients:

Cornbread stuffing

The cornbread stuffing turned out really well and I think everyone enjoyed the new take on a traditional side dish.

Next up: preparing a turkey!

Green Bean Casserole

By grace.g.yang · November 19, 2008
Under: Dinner,My Life,Recipes

Every year at Thanksgiving, my mom prepares a TON of good food (15 dishes, at least) but green bean casserole is definitely not on that list. Sauteed green beans with garlic might make an appearance once in a while, but green bean casserole is a little too…traditional…for us. I spoke with my friend, Blake, about preparing a Thanksgiving dinner and he insisted that green bean casserole HAD to be on the table. I didn’t want to disappoint, so I found a recipe for green bean casserole and made it. The recipe was adapted from Cooks Illustrated and really easy to follow – it was a real crowd pleaser (except Joe, who thought it wasn’t seasoned enough).

Ingredients:
Beans
1 lb green beans, cut into bite sized pieces

Mushrooms and Sauce
8 ounces baby portabella mushrooms (I had a mixture of white mushrooms, large portabella mushrooms, and baby portabella, so the recipe is definitely flexible)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh pepper to taste
1 tablespoon flour
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon dry sherry (I didn’t use any)
3/4 cup heavy cream
Salt & pepper to taste

Topping
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 can of French fried onions
Breadcrumbs

First, boil a pot of water and dump in all of the green beans into boiling water. Cook the beans for about 4 minutes and then drain the beans and plunge the beans into ice water (to stop the cooking). Make sure you dry the green beans and put them aside. Chris was responsible for drying the beans while I made the mushroom sauce and took his responsibility really seriously. The beans were REALLY dry!

Second, put the butter, garlic, and mushrooms into a pot and let the mushrooms cook through (about 5 minutes):

Add the flour to the mushrooms:

Add chicken broth and cream to the mushrooms and bring to a simmer:

Simmer the sauce until it thickens, about 5 minutes – it should look like this:

After the sauce has thickened, add the green beans (that have been thoroughly dried):

I refrigerated the casserole until Saturday and then brought it out to room temperature while I finished making the topping. For the topping, I just mixed the breadcrumbs and butter together (you can do it in a food processor, but I just used my fingers) and then mixed it with the French onion topping. Sprinkle the topping over the casserole and bake for about 30 minutes (or until it bubbles). I don’t have any final pictures, but it looked really pretty!

Next up: cornbread stuffing!

Making Truffles

By grace.g.yang · November 18, 2008
Under: Desserts,My Life,Recipes

Truffles are really easy to make and a great gift during the holidays. I wanted to give everyone a little something to take home with them after our Thanksgiving dinner, so I figured truffles would be perfect (hopefully you see it as me being like Martha Stewart, NOT Sandra Lee). Truffles are a mixture of cream and chocolate, although there are many variations (you can add liqueurs, nuts, fruit – the possibilities are endless!). I decided to make the most basic truffles:

Ingredients:
1 bag of chocolate chips (I bought a bag from Trader Joe’s)
3/4 cup cream
Nuts, fruit, cocoa powder, liqueur (if you want to jazz up the truffles a bit)

Here are the extras I rolled truffles in:

(l-r): cocoa powder, toasted coconut shavings, crushed almonds, and crushed pistachios

All you need to do is boil the cream, pour the cream onto the chocolate chips, and stir the chips until the cream is incorporated (which is actually a ganache). Refrigerate (or freeze if you’re impatient like me) the ganache in a bowl for about 45 minutes (or until it’s firm but stlil workable).

While the ganache is solidifying, use a food processor to chop pistachios and almonds (separately). Sara helped chop up all of the nuts to a fine consistency so we could roll the truffles in the nuts. Also, toast some coconut shavings in the oven but don’t forget to move the shavings around with a spoon once in a while so the they can cook evenly.

To roll the truffles, you can either buy a melon baller or a small cookie scoop, but I didn’t have time to pick either of them up so I used the tablespoon measurement to make equal sized truffles. It actually worked out really well! After the balls are shaped by hand, roll the truffle in cocoa powder, nuts, or anything you’d like! I would’ve taken pictures, but our hands were VERY chocolately.

Here are some of the truffles:

After you roll the truffles in the topping of your choice, refrigerate until an hour before serving. I bought little take-out containers at a craft store (although the prices online are about $1 cheaper) and put the truffles in the container for each guest to take home (the plates without truffles are mine and my brother’s):

You can also see the cranberry sauce I made! One bag of chocolate chips makes about 40 truffles, depending on how large your scoop is.

Next up: green bean casserole from scratch!

New York Thanksgiving

By grace.g.yang · November 17, 2008
Under: My Life,Recipes

This year, David and I started a tradition of having a big Thanksgiving dinner in New York with our friends before celebrating with our family in North Carolina. Over the weekend, David and I set up our tiny apartment for a dinner party similar to the ones we have at home with our mom and friends. I’ll go over some of the dishes I prepared with step-by-step instructions so you too can have a great (stress free) Thanksgiving. Below are the dishes I prepared (and when I prepared them) – I started preparing a couple days in advance so I wouldn’t be stressed out and could enjoy time with my guests on Saturday:

Cheese Sticks (appetizer) – Saturday, 20 minutes before party
Waverly Inn Biscuits – Saturday, 1 hour before party
Martha Stewart’s Mashed Potatoes – Saturday, 45 minutes before party
Sweet Potato Casserole – Saturday, 45 minutes before party
Cornbread Stuffing – Started on Tuesday, finished on Saturday, 1 hour before party
Green Bean Casserole – Started on Friday, finished on Saturday, 1 hour before party
Buttermilk Brined Turkey – Started on Friday, finished on Saturday during party
Gravy – Saturday, during party
Cranberry Sauce – Thursday
Pumpkin cheesecake – Friday
Truffles – Thursday
Drinks: PAMA liqueur with prosecco before dinner, white wine and Shiraz with dinner

Let’s start with the easy stuff – cranberry sauce.

Cranberry sauce, in my opinion, is great with a bite of turkey, some stuffing, and a little bite of mashed potatoes (and gravy). It’s SUPER simple to make and takes about 10 minutes, so there is absolutely no reason you should serve canned cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving!

Ingredients:

- 1 bag of fresh cranberries
- 1 cup of water
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- Orange zest (about half an orange)

Dump all of the ingredients into a pot:

Turn the fire to medium high and wait for the cranberries to start popping – you can actually hear the cranberries pop! Once they’ve popped, the mixture should bubble like this:

Make sure you stir the bottom of the pan so the cranberries don’t stick to it. The cranberry sauce can be transferred to a container and you’re done!

Tomorrow, we’ll make truffles!


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