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Monday, October 29, 2007

Just Like Momma Did It

This weekend, I decided to make a Thanksgiving feast. What’s that you say? Thanksgiving isn’t for another 3 or 4 weeks? Why go to all that trouble?

Because I wanted to, and darn it I like turkey!

It’s a shame we limit ourselves to having certain culinary treats to one or two times a year, and only on special occasions. Oh I understand the traditions and all; nothing says Thanksgiving to me more than turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, but why wait for special occasions? Why not make every day, and every meal a special occasion?

All this turkey goodness originated from Ree over at The Pioneer Woman Cooks, where she was discussing (and showing) just how truly easy it is to brine a turkey. A lot of people are hesitant to brine a turkey, and I really think it’s the salt factor and the possibility of ruining an expensive (and important) meal. People worry about making the bird too salty or the resulting meat quality afterwards. Plus there’s all the preparation work, and waiting, and hoping you made the right salt-to-water-to-bird-weight-ratio. It IS intimidating. But is brining the way to go?

Now I have brined with the best of them. Alton Brown turned me on to brining several years ago and got me thinking about moist turkey possibilities. Still not entirely brave enough to try brining, years later I saw another wonderful example described in Pam Anderson’s “The Best Recipe” and decided that I would brine the next turkey I roasted. By that time, I had seen my sister-in-law brine a turkey, and I really did notice a considerable difference in the bird’s moistness and flavor. No more chalky, dried out turkey breast! So, off I went into The Brining Bird Abyss and never looked back.

So here I was this past weekend, drooling for dark meat and gravy, but didn’t want to go through the hassle of brining a turkey. Then I remembered when I was a little girl, my mom used to roast her turkey and pot-roasts in one of those oven roaster bags, and never had any dryness or flavor issues. Of course, I’m biased and everything my mom made was wonderful, but I thought, “What ever happened to those oven roaster bags? Why don’t people use those things anymore?”

Now, from what I understand, when you cook a turkey in one of those oven roaster bags, you are basically steaming the bird. Moisture can’t effectively escape, and viola, you have a moist bird. Not to mention you also get the best turkey juice for gravy! But the drawback is the bird doesn’t end up looking like a picture-perfect, roasted turkey. Usually, the thing just falls apart, and if you’re a crisp, turkey skin lover, you’re in for a big disappointment. The end result is a pasty, steamy creature that once resembled the turkey you placed in the bag three hours ago. But it tastes great!

So, this got me thinking. Surely there had to be a way to get the moist, flavorful benefits from one of those oven roaster bags, yet have a presentable, brown and crispy bird.

It turns out all I needed was a pair of scissors!

I did a little research and found out from some of my Cooking Jedi Masters over at The Cooking Forum that oven roaster bags work wonderfully for turkey if you cut the bag open about 45 minutes before it is done roasting. This gives the skin a chance to brown up without the bird drying out; all the steamy goodness has already happened. The rest is just vanity.

So, I went out and bought a nice 16 lb. turkey and gave it a shot. A little salt and pepper, a little seasoning, a sliced lemon and onion in the cavity, and three hours later I had turkey nirvana! Perfectly moist in every way and a nice brown skin. Heaven! I’ll never go back to brining and all that trouble, unless I’m trying to impress someone with my cooking repertoire.

So I guess what’s old can be new again. I’m good with that just as long as they don’t bring back those nasty aspic or jello salads. You know the ones with chicken livers or shredded carrots? Shudder.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Salsa, Lies, and Videotape

I like to be proven wrong, especially when it comes to my convictions and cooking. For example, when Molly over at Orangette teased her readers with the simplicity of a buttery tomato sauce, I thought “It couldn’t possibly be that easy. Surely there must be something missing!” But as Molly has faithfully proven to me before, simple can work. She’s a very trustworthy person, that Molly. She’s even convinced me to eat brussel sprouts. Sneaky!

I was convinced the Beer and Gingerbread recipe was a spoof. Not only do I have reservations about using a boxed cake mix (the recipe calls for 2 boxes), but it contained thick, dark beer. A lot of beer. But as I mixed and tsked my way through the cake and buttercream directions, I was stunned to find potential. The buttercream actually tasted better than my usual recipe I use from Wilton! Of course, I could not leave well enough alone and I modified the original buttercream recipe. It initially called for an all butter buttercream, but I find those icings to be too rich.

A mixture of half butter and half shortening cuts down on the richness factor, but not the fat. Hey, it's cake isn’t it? I also added a tablespoon of meringue powder, as called for in the Wilton buttercream recipes, as I think it adds more body and flavor. And then of course there is the beer; a full quarter cup of beer in the icing. The actual cake batter calls for 2 ½ cups!

All in all, it turned out surprisingly tasty and moist. Unless you knew it had beer in the ingredients, you wouldn’t be able to taste it, but it did have one of those “I can’t quite figure out what's in this” moments. It’s not something I would make on a regular basis, but I would definitely make it for an Octoberfest themed party.

On a different note, I made some lovely Peach Salsa this weekend. This past year has sent me into experimenting with different salsas that I could home can (preserve). There are tons of recipes out there for home preserved salsa; however, nothing compares to Annie’s Salsa, and it’s the only true tomato salsa I’ll make. All the others taste the same and don’t compare. But lately, I’ve been trying different kinds like this zesty peach variation. Of course I tweaked the recipe and added some fresh lime juice, a little bit more honey, and a touch of salt. Next, I’ll venture into a spicy little cranberry number that I’ve had on file for a while, but have never tried. Ole!

Take a look; isn’t it pretty!














Peach Salsa

6 cups peaches -- diced
1 1/4 cups red onion -- chopped
4 jalapeno peppers -- chopped*
1 red pepper -- chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro -- loosely packed
1/2 cup white vinegar
¼ cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons honey
3 cloves garlic -- finely chopped
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon canning salt

Place all ingredients in a heavy 8 quart saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Pack into prepared hot jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (0-1000 ft.), 15 minutes (1001-6000 ft.), and 20 minutes (above 6000 ft.). Makes 3 pints.

*We like it a little spicy, so I leave all of the seeds and ribs.

Note: If you do not do your own home preserving, follow the recipe prior to packing the salsa in the jars and chill for several hours before serving.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Beer and Gingerbread

O.k., I know I haven’t been here for a while, and I don’t really have much of an excuse, but I promise you dear readers that I will do my best to be faithful, and maybe even a little witty, from now until...well, from now on. Please forgive me.

When people ask me if I cook with beer or wine, I can’t help but want to blurt a little silliness, “Sure! And sometimes I even put it in the food!” But in reality, I do like to cook with booze on occasion. There’s the ol’ reliable slow cooker pot roast, with either a healthy slug of beer or wine depending on the end result, or whatever I feel like finishing off with a glass on my own. There’s beer bread and even savory cheddar beer soup, which my mother adored. There are silky sauces to be made from classy bottles of Italian Barolo. Then there’s deglazing, and marinating, grilling, and zesty batters. So many options! But in all my experience as a cook, I’ve never heard of using beer, especially very stout beer, for baking a cake. The very thought of it makes my face do funny things and strange noises come out of my mouth.

This month’s issue of Southern Living magazine has devoted an entire set of recipes to cooking with beer. Oh, I can understand the connection, what with it being October and all, but sometimes I think you can take a thing too far. The very first recipe is a Gingerbread and Beer Cake with Stout Buttercream. Not only do you put beer in the cake batter, you add it to the icing too! Ugh. But Southern Living’s test kitchen “has given it their highest rating,” so I’m off to give it a try, mostly out of sheer curiosity.

Cheers!
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