Tuesday, November 22, 2011

To brine, or not to brine?

Incidentally, this is actually a chicken I recently brined before roasting. But you get the idea.

Turkey day grows closer by the second (hooray!) and if you're like me, you're busy dreaming about how delicious the day's feast will be.  Since heading home to the newly-minted Peachtree Corners (go, Mom!) for the day is a bit of a hike (Mr Turvy has to work on Friday- ugh!), we'll be sticking around Boston to celebrate Thanksgiving with my in-laws.  They're cooking for a crowd and I've volunteered to bring mashed potatoes (surprise, surprise) and my grandma's butterhorn rolls (recipes to follow). Has anyone had butterhorns before?  They're a bit of a hassle to make but are buttery and sweet and delicious and well worth the effort. 

Several years ago, I cottoned on to the idea of brining a turkey. If you've never had the pleasure of brining a turkey before- DO. IT. THIS. YEAR. (I'm giving you a few days head start to assemble everything you'll need). Seriously, you won't regret it.  When I first brined a turkey for my family's Thanksgiving a few years ago, it blew our minds. I'm not exaggerating, either.  For the first time in the history of Thanksgiving turkeys, this one was melt-in-your-mouth juicy and we couldn't get enough. That go-round, I used this recipe for Herb-Roasted Turkey from my favorite of favorite cooking websites, Epicurious. I used the herb butter and basted with chicken stock and pan juices instead of apple cider and didn't end up making the apple cider grazy.

A few tips for cooking your bird:
-The brining process can take up to 48 hours, so get started asap! You need at least 15-18 hours to brine the turkey and at least twelve hours afterwards for it to sit on a rack in your fridge, uncovered
-When you brine, it helps to put the brine mixture and the turkey in a small (like the ones for a bathroom sized garbage can) garbage bag tied at the top so no liquid can escape and do all of this inside a stockpot
-Remove the little white temperature thing that pops out (which I neglected to do on the above chicken). It isn't always so helpful at giving an accurate temperature reading.
-A word to the wise, cooking stuffing inside of a brined turkey can make things awfully salty, so make an extra batch of stuffing to cook independently of the bird (and mix the two together). And if you're cooking stuffing inside of the bird, inserting it en masse into a cheesecloth (tied at the top) will make it infinitely easier to scoop out of the cavity once the turkey is done.
-If the turkey breast/tips of wings and feet start looking too brown, pop on some aluminum foil to nip the browning in the bud.
-If your turkey doesn't come with one of those metal things to hold its feet together, find some string and tie them yourself. And if you're really feeling fabulous, give your turkey fancy booties that look like chef hats
Tres chic. Your fancy friends will be impressed.

Any questions?

Since I still have beaucoup de time on my hands, in addition to a crockpot curried chicken for dinner (recipe to be posted later- provided it turns out), I've gotten a jump on Thursday's mashed potatoes. It's hard to keep up the potato fluffiness by fixing them two days in advance, but you can roast the garlic ahead of time with no adverse effects. (A head of roasted garlic can be refrigerated for a week in an airtight container). Roasting garlic takes about 40 minutes in a 400 degree oven and is easy-peasy if you follow these steps.

Roasting garlic in 5 easy steps
1. Set your oven to 400 degrees
2. Peel some of the excess layers of skin off the head of garlic, so it looks like this
and lop off the tip of your head of garlic to make it easier to rescue the cloves once it's roasted, comme ca:
Look Ma, no tops!

3. Place the garlic in aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil (about 1 T) and sprinkle with salt and pepper
4. Pinch the aluminum foil closed around the top of the head of garlic and pop in the oven for 45 minutes (I like to rest the garlic atop a square of aluminum foil just in case any oil leaks out)

5. Remove from the oven and enjoy. If you're using it immediately, remove individual cloves from the head using a fork. If you're using it within the week, store, cut-cloves down in olive oil in an airtight container. 

Now that you've got the garlic roasting part down pat, here's the recipe for the potatoes I'll make on Thursday. These aren't exactly figure- friendly but will definitely impress your guests on special occasions.

Roasted garlic mashed potatoes with crème fraîche
Serves 8-10
4 pounds russet or yukon gold potatoes, peeled, rinsed and diced into 1/2" cubes
8 T butter, unsalted (I like to use unsalted butter to moderate the amount of salt when I'm cooking)
5 T crème fraîche
8 c water
1 head of garlic (or 12 cloves), roasted (see directions above)
1/2 c milk (use whichever milk you buy- you can use light or heavy cream if you have either handy)
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Boil 8 cups of water on high heat.  Add potatoes and cook until they hold their shape but are easy to smush (not in a Jersey Shore way) or bite (about 15 minutes). Drain the potatoes (don't rinse), add garlic and mash using a mixer, old-fashioned masher, ricer (whatever gives them the texture your pretty little heart desires). Add butter, crème fraîche, milk, and salt and pepper to taste and continue to mash/stir until everything is well-blended. If you're making these ahead of time, pouring 1/4 cup milk or cream on top of the potatoes before you cover them will keep them fluffy when you need to reheat before the big feast. Hope you love these potatoes as much as I do!!

A note on the creme fraiche- un produit de France, it's relatively similar in taste and consistency to American sour cream (not quite as delicious but will work as a substitute in a pinch) and can be found in the dairy or deli section of your local grocery. You may have trouble finding it at grocery stores like Ingles, Stop & Shop and Shaws but I've had luck finding it at specialty markets, gourmet grocers and Trader Joes. I've also only ever found one brand that sells it, Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery and it looks like this.
Happy Turkey Day, y'all!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chickpea salads are for lovers

Many of you know that I've been spending lots of time chez nous these days.  Not exactly my most favorite thing in the world, but to keep myself from going stir crazy, I've been doing lots of cooking.  And since I'm not in the office at the moment, I'm also trying to keep the budget down so Mr Turvy doesn't pitch a fit when he comes home to find me romping around our tiny kitchen in new frocks and feather earrings. (Hence the influx of inexpensive potato dishes of late- plenty more where those came from). I have a handful of favorite lunches that won't break the bank (or induce a nap immediately afterwards).  One recent fave is a chickpea and tomato salad.  Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans (by my mother and Goya brand canned products and virtually no one else) are extra high in protein and are a staple in Middle Eastern, Indian and African cooking.  (They use them lots of other places, too!) Have you tried Clover Food Lab's chickpea fritter sandwich yet?  Yum, yum!

In any event, I've created a tasty chickpea salad that requires minimal cooking and is easy to throw together in 5 minutes using things I almost always have on hand in the kitchen, like these guys:

 You may not have all of these in your pantry, but the beauty of this recipe is that it lends itself well to substitutions.  When I made this last, I used a sprinkle of ground coriander and a pinch of sumac (which I'd bought with fatoush salad in mind. But then I couldn't find a good recipe. Does anyone have one?) If you don't have either, don't fret- you can do without or add a favorite seasoning in their stead.  And a word of advice when buying dried herbs and spices- look for them at specialty ethnic markets (Asian, Indian, etc) and in the "international" aisle of your local grocery store. I've found that Badia (usually in the Hispanic foods section) carries the same spices as McCormick and for a fraction of the price.
Here's a little something to look forward to...

5 Minute chickpea and tomato salad
Serves 2 (or one really hungry person who loves chickpeas)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 medium tomato, cored and diced
1/2 red onion, peeled and finely diced
1 T fresh parsley (I prefer flat leaf to curly), rinsed and chopped
2 T lemon juice
2 T olive oil
1/2 t salt
1 t cumin
1/2 t ground pepper (5 turns of a pepper grinder)
1/2 t red pepper flakes
sprinkle of cayenne pepper
In a bowl, combine the last eight ingredients.  Add the chickpeas, tomato and red onion. Stir, add additional salt/pepper/spices to taste.  Enjoy! 

A few notes on the recipe: 
I'm not always wild about the idea of eating onions mid-day, especially when you work in close proximity to others. Keep that in mind if you're planning on eating this dish at work. If you're particular to one kind of onion- yellow, Vidalia, red, scallion- feel free to use your fave. 

Make sure to drain and rinse the chickpeas thoroughly before adding them to the dish.  You can tell when the chickpeas are rinsed when the water runs clear, like this:

Get rid of those bubbles
There you go

Hope you like this cheap and easy lunch.  Do you have any go-to, yummy lunches that require minimal cooktime and effort? 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The funny thing about being a kid

...is, well, pretty much everything, really. Sometimes, when I think about paying bills and doing boring adult stuff like running errands and getting the car serviced and reading a newspaper that doesn't have comics and being responsible more often than not, it reminds me how sweet we had it when we were kids.

(Plus, I'm way overdue for a new blog post. My youngest brother, aka The Backwards Boy, and I have agreed to update our respective blogs at least once a week and I've thus far done a terrible job holding up my end of the bargain. And those of you who aren't into cooking/reading about how bad I am at DIY projects might enjoy something new for a change).

Ok, back to kid stuff. (I'll see if I can't add some old pictures to this post later, but no promises). Just to get this out of the way, in pretty much the absolute nerdiest way possible, I loved school. Couldn't get enough of it. I loved reading, I loved learning new things and I loved spelling tests (probably because they were a guaranteed A). And to secure my nerd status in middle school, I was in the county spelling bee. Will have to remind myself to tell our future children of what not to do in middle school: namely pursuing activities that shore up nerd status or debuting risky new haircuts like the female bowl cut- though that's a post for another day). Back at the spelling bee, things were going gangbusters for me until I encountered the word "orthographies" and was knocked out. I'd never heard the word before and as a last ditch effort, tried to get all Spellbound on them by asking for things like language of origin and definition-clearly hadn't bothered to learn either so this wasn't exactly very helpful. Now try to imagine how hard the crowd might laugh and how your face might fall when the prompter tells you that the word you're about to misspell means "to spell correctly". Boy, did the crowd eat that up. And I know it's almost 10 years old, but if you didn't see it, do yourself a favor and rent/Netflix Spellbound immediately. One thing I didn't like about elementary school, however, was that I never seemed to be able to get my act together for homework assignments. At around 8 o'clock the night before a book report was due, for example, I'd panic; I hadn't read the book yet and I DEFINITELY hadn't started the project. Cut to me, speed-reading A Wrinkle in Time or Misty of Chincoteague and my mom helping me to sleepily scribble a poster for it at 1:00 am. Hardly ideal.

Another vivid childhood memory-riding to tennis lessons every weekend with my pal Cara. Her parents had a van that, if memory serves, was basically this exact one, called, as I discovered via that link, a Nissan Vanette. The best thing about their van was the fact that at least one of the sliding side doors was broken and would periodically fly open while you were driving, usually at high speeds. So when her parents (or, if you were really lucky, her super cool older high school brothers) picked you up, you immediately threw all of your tennis gear in the back-so it wouldn't fly out if/when the door opened en route and sat poised to use all of your nine year old might to shut the door because, let's be honest, it opened every time. It probably should have been harrowing, but I loved it when the door next to me opened and I sprang into action and held that door closed for dear life the rest of the way there. For much of our time in Ohio, I played at the same tennis facility, Olympic, which put a bubble over its courts to winterize them, something that vexed me to no end. What was the bubble made of? Where did it go in the summer? What was possibly big enough to blow it up? Maybe some things are meant to stay a mystery. There were several coaches there, but two I remember best: Winn (as a kid, it never occurred to me that this might be a nickname, I just assumed his name was Winn because he was a 'winn'er and won lots of matches), who had us hit with nerf balls before we graduated to real ones and used to hold us upside-down over the garbage cans at the net, and Steve, who made us scream "LOW TO HIGH" as we practiced our strokes and gave us posters (Andre Agassi and Jennifer Capriati were particularly sought after) for hitting the most serves in or squeezing the most balls onto our racquets during pick up. I liked Steve, he was funny and brash and encouraging, but he constantly flirted with the girls in my drill groups (I was young but played with older girls and thought this was something that older girls did. If only I'd paid attention enough to learn some sweet moves. Just going to leave the whole creepiness factor alone).

Outside of tennis (and the one million other activities I was involved in), I spent much of elementary school lobbying to get my ears pierced so that I could wear the dangliest, most glorious earrings imaginable! From the minute I realized that the Pierced Ear Club was something most of my girl classmates-and even some of the boys had already joined (and this happened sometime in kindergarten), I knew I had to get in on it. I cried. I pleaded. I appealed to my parents' sense of not wanting their favorite (and only) daughter to be a social pariah. For the record, this last approach seemed to have no effect. Apparently they didn't care that the only girls who didn't have their ears pierced were the ones who wore long skirts and turtlenecks and spent recess reading books about horses. For hours, I tallied the girls in school who had pierced ears vs. the ones who didn't and reported back to my mom; "Mo-oomm, come on! It's pretty much just me and the weird horse girls!!" (Fortunately, my elementary school was tiny or this really would have cut into my time reading biographies-phew!) Vigilantly, I kept tabs on who had recently gotten her ears pierced and who was "definitely going to in like a week because her parents are really nice and they really want her to get them pierced, she didn't even have to ask them!" Clearly, this didn't work either. One year, sick of my nagging, my mom told me that if I didn't ask about it for a year, she'd relent. (She denies the promise to this day, but she wasn't the one who had so sweetly and patiently x'd off 365 calendar days only to hear, "Well, I know you haven't asked about it in awhile, but I definitely never said that". Beyond infuriating!)

Finally, in fourth grade on my 10th birthday, she let my college-aged babysitter, Mary Kae, take me to Claire's. I picked out "diamond" studs, spent 30 days twisting them while slathering my earlobes with antiseptic and thought my heart would explode with happiness. It was only as an adult I learned that she'd only relented because I'd found a chink in her armor. Though I typically only resorted to lying 'for emergencies only', clearly this was social survival mode; I told the absolutely teensiest white lie that Cara's parents (who shared my parents' views on most things, including ear piercing) had said that she could get her ears pierced. This worked like a charm. Not so much of a charm that my mother actually agreed to take me, but well enough that Mary Kae was allowed to accompany me (since you needed someone over 18 to give permission). It bears mentioning that Mary Kae, who I practically idolized for her permed hair (another on-going battle which I ultimately lost) and off-the-shoulder sweatshirts, had a boyfriend named Donnie at the height of NKOTB popularity. And I thought that earrings like these (in nearly every store at the time) would be the perfect gift for her. Things really came full circle when, nearly 15 years later, I took my mom to Claire's for her very first ear piercing, thus ending her long run of unclipping one earring to talk on the phone and forgetting where she'd left it. Even now, like some sort of raccoon or kitten, I'm continually drawn to the dangliest, most glorious earrings imaginable. Feathers? Hoops? Shiny ones? Oui, oui.

Among other things I wanted like burning as a kid: to learn double dutch, a Skip It (remember those?) and cable tv. What was on your kid wish list and how hard did you have to work your parents to get it?