Monday, December 21, 2009

Cake In A Jar - Bacardi Rum Cake

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays & A Wonderful Year Ahead Everyone!

This is the last on jar cakes. I promise!

It came about because I also wanted a cake with easier ingredients to make in bulk and guess what turned up in the search? Bacardi Rum Cake! So that was the second cake that went into my jars. This site also has many helpful baking tips. I changed the glaze from the original recipe a little as it was too heavy for us.

Apparently this is a very popular cake and came out in an Ad for Bacardi Rum in the late 1970's. From the reviews it looks like different versions can be made by adding to the recipe or changing the type of the rum used.  But for this classic cake, use only the dark/gold rum. It looks best when made in the classic bundt shape as shown in the ref picture. I didn't add chopped pecans for the jar version. Hope to make the bundt version with the chopped nuts for one of our gatherings provided there is time. It is a good looking cake I think.

In The Mix

pint sized canning jars/lids - 6 (used wide mouthed for this cake)
shortening - 2 tbsp or melted as needed

classic yellow cake mix - 1 box (18.5 oz)
jell-o vanilla cook & serve - 1.5 oz (only used half of the 3 oz. package)
eggs - 4
water - 1/2 cup (did not use the cold milk)
vegetable oil - 1/2 cup
bacardi gold/dark rum - 1/2 cup

for the glaze 
butter - 1/4 cup (4 tbsp)
water - 1/2 cup
sugar - 2/3 cup
fresh orange juice - 1/2 cup (pulp removed)
bacardi gold/dark rum - 1/4 cup

How To Do
Follow steps as before for the jars.
Sterilize by boiling in water for about 15 minutes. Take out only the jars and let dry.
Spread melted shortening to cover all the inside areas making sure to leave the lip clean.
Keep the lids in the warm water till you are ready to put them onto the jars.

Preheat oven to 325C.

Beat together the cake mix, jell-o vanilla, eggs, water, oil and rum on high for 2 minutes. The batter is ready!
Pour batter to a little less than half of the jar. Place on a cookie sheet to balance the jars and keep in the oven. Bake for 45-48 minutes.

While the jars are baking, prepare the glaze.

Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Add water, sugar, orange juice and stir till all the sugar is melted. Boil for 5 minutes while stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add the rum. The rum could cause steam to rush out so be a tad careful here. Let sit while waiting.

Insert a skewer in the center of the jar to see if done. Turn off the oven, but keep the jars inside.

As before, take out the lids and screw tops and keep on a plate. No need for this to dry out.

Take the jars out one at a time from the oven, gently insert a skewer to make deep holes and pour 2-3 tbsp or more of the glaze into each jar. Place the lid onto the jar and screw on with reasonable tightness. Set aside for the jars to self seal. The heat and moisture will help with the sealing process. When the jars are completely cooled, press the center of the lids. If they don't move up or down, they are vacuum sealed. You will most likely hear a gentle popping sound when this happens.  If they move up and down then there is no seal and use as you would a regular cake. Once completely cooled, decorate as you please. See previous post for ideas.

The original glaze when I made it was really rich and we felt the rum content was too much for us. The glaze we used was lighter and more pleasing to us. I think the gentlemen in the family will prefer this cake and the ladies will prefer the one in the previous post. I plan to make a yellow cake mix from scratch when I try to tackle this another time. The cake apparently stores well whether sealed or not. But for the jar version, it is safer to make sure that they are sealed.

When you are ready to eat, open the lids and slide out the cake and cut into circles or just spoon out of the jars or make long cuts using a knife and slide out the pieces to enjoy!

Here is the lowdown on jar cakes compiled from the many sites and from trying out:

* buy 1 pint sized jars. these can be wide mouthed or not. the wide mouthed ones are easier to slide out of but the other looks better.

* only use shortening to grease the jars prior to baking

* any quick bread type of recipe (recipes with baking powder)  can be baked in the shortest time and the baking time is similar to that of the actual recipe.

* a regular cake recipe will take longer with the jar baking time about 15 min less than the actual baking time.

*quick bread types can be filled up to half or slightly more of the jar as they will not rise out of the jar too much at that level.

* regular cake recipes should be filled less than half of the jar to avoid overflow

* even if the cake overflows, it can be pushed back into the jar while closing the lid but this is not much fun to do.

* for each recipe you try, it is good to make one jar at first to get an idea of the amount of batter needed and the baking time.

* they are all time great gifts with a home made touch for friends, family, teachers, work.. you name it.

* it may sound like a lot to do but once you make the jars in a cake  a first time, it will not feel so and there is no parallel to it for a personalized gift

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cake In A Jar - Yogurt And Brown Sugar Cake from Cannelle et Vanille

The Manger is up and lighted.

So is the tree with the ornaments.

Even the ginger bread house is made and devoured!

The dangling roof lights from last year were never taken out and so turning those on was easy as usual:-) Hey, you do what you can to make life easier.

Now it is time to bake some gifts and goodies, mainly the cake.  Unfortunately having a crazy time at work with projects moving at the speed of light does not conduce to relaxed planning at home for the holidays. Instead you develop brain fatigue at the prospect of working through the holidays leading to inertia and apathy. OK it is not that bad only pretty close. Luckily squeals of laughter from the little ones jumping in joy at the thought of the upcoming holidays (already here) and of getting gifts from Santa and everyone else can just perk you up. Why the activities can even help to relax and restart the overworked brain! Since the fruits were not bought they didn't get macerated and the fruit cake simply cannot be made this year. That is when I remembered the cakes in a jar that we had sent out as gifts to family in the early years of our marriage. They were apparently a success unless the recipients were being polite out of love:-).

Those were the early years of food blogging. Google had not made its appearance, yet the truly initiated were already making their mark on the net. When my search for Christmas gifts yielded these pages (I am so glad I was able to find them intact again now, years later!) I was energized. Had a hard time finding the canning jars (also called mason jars) then but now I see them everywhere. In grocery stores as well as in Target. I made brownies and banana nut bread then but wanted to try something different and more Christmassy this time.

Yogurt And Brown Sugar Sponge Cake from cannelle et vanille

When one of my colleagues came back from a trip to France, we were all given the delightful French Macarons. Now, they are not the thick heavy macaroons  that we are used to but melt in your mouth angelic textured pieces of sheer delight!  cannelle et vanille was brought to my attention by the colleague as a good site for homemade french macarons with detailed instructions. The recipe index at the home page makes it very easy to navigate. The pictures are so awesome that I couldn't take my eyes off of the site for the longest time. I hope I will get to make those macarons some day (I hear Starbucks sells some in their stores) but didn't want to try this for the Christmas baking. The name of this recipe is what caught me and the 'yogurt and brown sugar cake' sans the ice cream  from there is what I made as it sounded yummy and doable. I just had to get muscavado sugar from amazon. Other than that I had all the ingredients. So made them in the jars and they were delicious and light as hoped.

In The Mix
pint sized canning jars/lids - 5 (used narrow mouthed for this cake)
shortening - 2 tbsp or as needed
check here for gram conversion

butter  - 170 grams/11.942 tbsp ( keep at room temp for some time before making the batter)
brown sugar - 150 grams/10.537 tbsp (to soften this, keep covered with a wet paper towel for a while)
granulated white sugar - 85 grams/5.971 tbsp
muscavado sugar - 50 grams / 3.512 tbsp
vanilla extract - 1 tsp
eggs - 2
yogurt - 180 grams/12.645 tbsp
all purpose flour - 180 grams/12.645 tbsp
baking powder - 4 grams/0.843 tsp
zest from 1 lemon

How To Do

Sterilize the jars and lids by boiling in water for about 15 minutes.
Take out the jars and let dry.

Spread melted shortening to cover the insides making sure to keep the lip clean.
Keep the lids in the warm water till you are ready to put them onto the jars.

 Preheat oven to 350C.

Beat the butter, brown sugar, white sugar and muscavado sugar together for about 2 minutes. If you find that the muscavado sugar does not completely get broken, this is just fine and even desired. Makes for a crunchy bite in the cake as the site suggests.  Add lemon zest and vanilla extract and mix well together. Add the eggs one at a time and then add the yogurt. Time to add the flour and baking powder. Both can be sifted together for a good mix.

Checkout my new digital scale. I had bought this for my HMom before she left last year and meant to get one for myself based on all the awesome reviews. Got it at last and it is all that and more. Love it.

Pour the batter to a little over half of the jars. Place on a cookie sheet to balance the jars and keep in the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Insert a skewer in the center to see if done. Turn off the oven, but keep the jars inside.

Now that the jars are ready, take out the lids and screw tops and keep on a plate. No need for this to dry out. Take the jars out one at a time from the oven, place the lid onto the jar and screw on with reasonable tightness. Set aside for the jars to self seal. The heat and moisture will help with the sealing process. When the jars are completely cooled, press the center of the lids. If they don't move up or down, they are vacuum sealed. You will most likely hear a gentle popping sound when this happens.  If the lid moves up and down, then there is no seal and just use as you would a regular cake. The sealed cakes are perfect for mailing and have been known to keep fresh and moist for up to 6 months when stored in a cool, dark place. They never last this long anyway so I have not experienced the longevity personally. Can vouch for 3-4 weeks for sure.

Once cooled, decorate to your heart's content. You can make little notes and thread on a ribbon tied to the jar. Little pieces of fabric cut as 10" squares or circles will add to the festive look. This time we printed out little index cards and punched holes on them to thread. We had greetings from the 4 of us as well as a link to the original recipe site and the name of the cake on it. Lovingly homemade yet with a nice professional touch I'd say. If that is too much, just put a little circular festive label on the top with the cake's name handwritten on it. We tasted some ourselves a few days later and the cake stayed as fresh and moist as the day it was made!

For these type of narrow jars, use a knife to slice inside and slide out the pieces.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Apple Car....t A Fun Kitchen Activity With Kids

"Mom, Mom I want you to do the cutting." says my girl. She's been at it from the morning. I wave her away impatiently. "Later Molu, Mommy is busy". She is persistent yet yielding so Mom gets away without cutting anything. Later, when the two of us were all dressed to go out but waiting so we can open the door for the cleaning service, I could still see the unspoken request in her face. I give up and say, "Now is the time to do this cutting. Where and what do you want me to cut?" Little did I know that this oh so patient requester had a very specific task at heart  and knew exactly how to go about it!! The above picture is the result of our few minutes together in the kitchen. A lovely fruit snack that she observed in their baking class by volunteering Moms.

To make it, I was assigned to peel and cut carrots. Not to be cut long but as discs K? We don't have pear? No problem. Let us use those apples sitting in the fruit bowl. Now we need some cream cheese and with some colorful fruit loop cereal pieces we are all set. I still had no clue what it is all about. So I went about focused on  following the deftly thrown instructions from up there on the high stool.

Finally the apples were cut as specified and we glued the carrot discs to each side with cream cheese. Then it dawned on me that we are trying to make a fruit car here. Call me clueless, though I prefer guileless:-) Now I am totally on board and dutifully pasted on the carrots as well as the fruit loops. Let me put it into a recipe format here.
In The Mix

apple or pear - 1
carrots - 1
cream cheese - 2 tbsp or as needed
fruit loops or cheerios - 8 - 12 (fruit loops add color)
whipped cream - (optional)

How To Do

Most of it is as mentioned above. Cut 2 slices from the apple as seen in the picture. Dice the carrots into tire shapes. Glue 2 of these on to each side of the apple pieces. Glue the fruit loops over the carrots. If you glued some of those fruit loops to the top it will look like this.

Or try whipped cream AND fruit loop!

When we took that first bite of this quick snack I was taken aback to find it crunchy and tasty! I know, I know.  It is all the cream cheese. Yet all the additions went very well together! This is so simple, many of you probably are in on this but I am glad that my little one got me to see the possibilities by keeping after me. She made another set just for Dada & bro since they had gone out earlier.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thanksgiving - Cranberry Sauce

When it first dawned on me that cranberry sauce is one of the sides on the Thanksgiving table and that I would need to see to it, I wasn't very enthusiastic. Especially after visualizing that store bought can of cranberry sauce. Finally we picked up a good looking fresh sauce at Trader Joe's and that was that.

When I invited one of our relatives - a distant cousin - staying nearby for the Thanksgiving dinner, she generously offered to make the cranberry sauce. Didn't give it much thought as it was sort of taken care of by then and didn't want her to dwell more on this unfamiliar sauce. As luck would have it, my eyes fell on a fresh bag of cranberries while shopping and I picked it up just in case.

Well, the turkey was done and while the mashed potatoes were heating up and the gravy was cooking I decided to bring out the sauce. At the mention of cranberry our cousin's eyes lit up and she again offered to make the dish. When I said that I have some fresh cranberries, her enthusiasm knew no bounds. Gave her complete freedom and she was busy looking for things. I heard pan, sugar, water etc and the next thing I know there she is, standing next to a shimmering mix of dark pink on the stove. One of the kids had tagged on as a temporary associate. My daughter is a constant companion in all cooking activities but this time it was my son. The color was irresistible and in the white dish it literally sparkled! Only when I tasted it along with the turkey and all the sides that I understood its purpose. The tangy taste is a perfect accompaniment with all the food. And very easy to make.

I asked for the recipe which she generously recited. It is reproduced here.

In The Mix

Fresh cranberries - 1 bag ( 12 oz.)
water - 1 cup
sugar - 1 cup (do not heap)
orange rind - 1 tbsp or less. (peeled thin)
cardamom - 1 or 2 pods crushed (optional )

How To Do

Wash the cranberries and remove remaining stems etc. Dissolve sugar with water in a sauce pan and start heating. Add the cranberries and boil. Also add the orange rinds and cardamom if you are adding those at this time. After a while the cranberries will start popping. This is a contained activity so no worries there. Stir once in a while and add more sugar if preferred. Can cover and cook or leave it uncovered which is what she did.

Remove from heat, cool to room temp and refrigerate if time permits. Remember to remove the orange rinds and the cardamoms too if you can find them. We were a little rushed and so I cooled it down by holding afloat in a larger bowl full of water and stirring. The first spoonful made all of us say aha!. A permanent addition to our Thanksgiving table has been born. She apparently makes it all the time for her mom who loves to snack on it, Thanksgiving or not!

We tasted the Trader Joe version afterward and as the cousin had stated, it is a good substitute if you are pressed for time.

Missing Dessert

Didn't make any dessert this time and we had ice cream and an Indian sweet. Made this pound cake from a Box next day to compensate:-).

When we were having leftovers the next day - 'leftover feast' according to my girl - I realized I didn't make fresh dinner rolls like I had wanted to. The guests didn't seem to mind. It was great fun planning the dinner together with my husband and pulling it off -thanks mainly to word wide web resources - with fairly minor mishaps. Our thanks to all resources. I hope to repeat this in the coming years and add new sides that we discover....

It gives a good feeling to have finished off the TG dinner chronicling while it is still fresh in our memories. I can hear my girl waking up. Time to press the post button. Holiday season is always one of joy and I wish all my readers a wonderful time ahead.

Updated Nov28, 2014:
The kids tried to make the cranberry sauce today and thought some of the steps could be more detailed. Isn't this cute that they tried it? So I have updated the recipe based on their questions.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Thanksgiving - Corn Bread

Corn Bread is a favorite of yours truly and it was with pleasure that I started the process. An arduous process that included a trip to the store, buying a box with instructions and following it. Seriously, it turned out to be a little longer than I intended simply because I didn't follow the last step of adding only two cups instead of the entire bag of corn bread mix. I should have known this would be the case because it was a different brand and I wasn't familiar with "the" ways. Mixing it thoroughly like for appam batter also probably didn't help:-)

Sooooo, the next time around I brought home with me two familiar brands. The always dependable - our sole pound cake source - Betty Crocker and that worthy maker of delicious pies, Marie Callender's. Betty Crocker had good instructions and Marie Callender just needed to add water. The key in both cases was to contain the number of strokes while combining the mix with the liquid. Too much and the resulting bread will be flat.

Verdict: Betty Crocker's looked and tasted like the traditional version and are shown sliced inside the glass pan in the pic above. Marie Callendar's was more moist, ate like a cake and is in the first pic as well as the at the end. Both were good but I guess for corn bread it will be MC from now on.

For leftover cornbread:
If you like 'avalose podi' a Kerala snack (made of fried powdered rice/coconut) with honey, then trains cannot stop you from enjoying cornbread with a generous drizzle of pure golden honey. But then, what can you expect from a honey lover?

Last Up : Cranberry Sauce and the Missing Dessert

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thanksgiving - Mashed Potatoes

I had always loved mashed potatoes. From Boston Market and KFC, I mean. Never knew how to make them although I have mashed quite a few for our regular dishes. This mashing seemed different. And so it was! It also has turned from a healthy side selection to a guilty pleasure once I found out the ingredients.

The recipe came straight from pioneerwoman and I would like to reproduce it here for reference and notes. Thanks PW for this delicious recipe!

In The Mix
potatoes - 5 lbs (Use only Russet or Yukon Gold for the fluffy texture. I used Russet)
butter - 3/4 cup (keep at room temp)
cream cheese - 8 oz. (1 package, keep at room temp)
half and half milk - 1/2 cup
seasoned salt - 1/2 tsp
freshly ground black pepper - 1/2 tsp or more
regular salt - 1/2 tsp
fresh chives - 1 tbsp minced

How To Do
Peel and halve potatoes before cooking. I always cooked potatoes with skin on. So it was liberating and easy to do this. No messy stuff remaining while trying to peel hot potatoes! Boil water in a large pot and add potatoes. Cook for about 35 minutes while boiling. I covered with a lid just for the last 5-10 minutes. Make sure the potatoes don't fall apart but are pretty close to it.

Drain the cooked potatoes and put back into the same pot. Mash over low heat. This step from PW is just great as it helps to make the mashed potatoes not too ....mushy. Do this for about 6-8 minutes. Occasionally getting distracted with other things is allowed.

Turn off the stove but keep the pot there depending on your moisture confidence. Add 1 1/2 sticks of butter, the cream cheese and milk (1/2 & 1/2) and mash well to mix through. Now add the seasoned salt and ground pepper. I kept adding more black pepper since the husband favors pepper. Then I added 1/2 tsp of regular salt and that was the end of the salty road for us.

Mix all together and keep in a baking dish. I made it the previous day as suggested and this helped a lot with the time. Sprinkle in some herbs and serve hot or cover with foil in the refrigerator to heat up the next day.

The next day right after the Turk came out I lowered the temp to 350C and baked the potatoes covered for about 45 minutes. Had kept at room temp for about 3-4 hours before that. Sprinkle chives on top and use a new foil to cover before baking. Add 2-3 slices of butter spread along the top to complete the experience. The potatoes were so unbelievably fluffy when mashed that both us found it hard to keep our hands off of it. The reheated version was good but next time I'll serve it fresh made which just melts in your mouth!

Coming Up: Corn Bread

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving - The Stuffing

Traditionally, stuffing used to be stuffed inside the Roasting Turk. Lately it is baked apart from the poultry and me thinks this is a good change. AB of course has specific reasons not to put the stuffing inside. Read here for further enlightenment. We were planning on having it baked separate anyway and this went well with our humble plans. I liked many stuffing ideas but the one that appealed most was found on a Williams-Sonoma leaflet/holiday guide that my husband picked up when he went there to get the brining bag. It is named sausage, chestnut and mushroom dressing in the leaflet.

I didn't use the brandname La Brea stuffing which the recipe was centered around and just used a regular bag. Also made variations based on availability and personal taste. Let me tell you... it came out splendid! The accurate and organized timings/steps in the recipe helped big time in the crazy rush to finish dishes on time without burning things.

In The Mix

butter - 4 tbsp
hot Italian sausage - 1 lbs (casings removed)
regular white mushrooms - 7 oz. (half of a regular packaged box)
stuffing - 1 lbs (any herbalized or regular mixed croutons package will do)
low sodium free range chicken stock/broth - ~750ml (warmed)
cooked turkey giblets - from 1 turkey bag (minced, not in org recipe)

garlic cloves - 3 (crushed and minced)
yellow onions - 2 diced
celery - 4-5 sticks diced (org recipe used a fennel bulb instead)
fresh Italian parsley - 1 tbsp minced
fresh thyme - 1 tsp minced
fresh sage - 1 tsp minced
fresh rosemary - 1 tsp minced (not in org recipe)
kosher salt - 2 tsp
freshly ground pepper - to taste
dry sherry - 1/4 cup

chestnuts - 1/2 cup (roasted, peeled and halved)
fresh curly parsley - 1 tbsp minced (not in org recipe)

How To Do

Preheat oven first to 425C to roast the chestnuts.

Grease a baking pan with 1 tbsp of the butter.

Rinse and slice the mushrooms to include the stem at the center.

Cook the Italian sausage in a pan over medium heat. Remove lumps by stirring well. Set this aside once fully cooked. About 7 minutes.

Melt remaining butter in the same pan. Mix onions, celery and Italian parsley together and saute well. Do not brown the onion mix. 10-12 minutes seem about right. Now add the garlic, mushrooms, thyme, sage, rosemary, salt, pepper and cook again for about 12 minutes. I did all the cooking uncovered.

Add the sherry and mix gently. Set aside.

to roast chestnuts

Use a sharp knife and make X's on the flat side. This allows steam to escape while in the oven and keep from exploding. Arrange chestnuts with flat side up in a cookie sheet. Bake for about 20 min. Cover with foil once out of the oven to keep them warm in case you get distracted with other stuff. This also gives time to cool down a bit before you can start peeling. It will be difficult to peel if you wait too long so get to it as soon as you can. Peel them off and cut in halves. It is completely okay if at anytime here you feel like a song is coming because that is exactly what happened to my husband when he saw the chestnuts roasting on an open fire, er... in the oven :-)

Looks like salted mango pickle 'uppumanga' from Kerala. But looks ARE deceiving. Chestnuts taste more like any steamed dense carbs. I picked them up at the local grocery store and rumor has it that they are readily available in any Asian grocery store. Roasted, peeled version that is. But then, be forewarned that no songs will be forthcoming with that option:-)

Change the oven temp to 375C.

In a large bowl, combine the cooked sausage, prepared mushroom mix, chestnuts and curly parsley. If you had saved the cooked giblets that came inside the turkey, now would be the time to add it after mincing. Then add the store bought stuffing and mix all together.

The time has come to add chicken stock. Since we don't want to end up with a mushy texture for the croutons, extra care need to be taken in adding the stock. I found that about 650ml did the trick for me. The dry bread (croutons) should be moist but not...mushy. Pour this mixture into the baking pan, cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake for about 30-32 minutes to get crispy delicious stuffing. Ready to serve after 10-15 minutes.

When dinner was over and conversation kept going around the dinner table, hands continued reaching out to the stuffing for small portions again and again. Yum indeed!

Next Up : Mashed Potatoes

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving - The Fresh Herbs

Apart from the Turkey, what got me excited about Thanksgiving cooking was the generous usage of herbs in all the recipes. Having a cabinet full of Indian spices had kept me content for a long time but the chance encounters with fresh herbs here (read thyme, sage etc) had always left me intrigued. Thanksgiving gave me a chance to be acquainted with them on a personal basis. I am a much happier cook for this encounter.

The first thing was to make a list of the things I would need. Many are not in our regular list and I had some bad experiences looking for just one or two of even the dried items in regular grocery chains. Most likely because although the associates tried to help, I just didn't know what I was looking for:-) On your own, you can spend hours and hours looking for that one thing and still not find it. I had been to Wholefoods before for something and was quite enamored of it. there are no Wholefood stores that close to us but there is one next to where my son goes for Piano. So I made a list of all possible things we would need and not have and set off on this journey. Came back quite a satisfied customer with every single item checked off!! The staff was incredibly helpful and you know their customer service policy when you see 3 or 4 associates in each aisle helping people in need. I even saw oven bags there within $4.00. I won't need it to use in the oven since the Turkey is already brined but am planning to check it out as brining bag next time.

All the fresh herbs were together as if waiting for me right next to the entrance. If it were not for the labels I wouldn't know one from the other. Have taken snaps of the ones that I got this time and hope to add to it later on.

Before I forget: If you get a bunch of fresh herbs and won't be using it all at one time, then here is a trick to make them last longer. As soon as you come home, wash the leaves under water and drain in a colander. Then wrap them in paper towels and keep in the refrigerator in a ziplock bag or in a closed paper bag. They will keep fresh for a good while. I always keep curry leaves this way.

Here they are in no particular order:



Curly Parsley

Italian Parsley





Of course I will not recognize any of them in the dried form either! Since that can be found in nicely labeled containers, this will not be a problem.

Stuffing/Dressing is next.

Thanksgiving - The Gravy

A good gravy is the life of a Thanksgiving dinner. Of course the bird is the King. I didn't mean to put it down. But with a good gravy you can make up for shortcomings of the meat and the sides. We followed Alton Brown's (who else?) gravy recipe for this.

Remember the roaster with drippings we set aside? This is the gravy starter. So time to bring that around.

In the Mix
Roaster pan with turkey drippings after the turkey is done - 1
low sodium chicken broth - 24oz ( have to use the organic version)
red wine - 8 oz ( used merlot)
all purpose flour - 1/3 cup
fresh herb - 1 tbsp (used tarragon this time)
giblets/neck - from 1 turkey
kosher salt - as needed
freshly ground black pepper - as needed

How To Do
This part can be done while the turkey is resting waiting to be carved. Cook the giblets and neck in water. Don't add salt. Take the solids out once cooked and keep that water handy. Keep the giblet. We will use it in the stuffing.

Turn on two burners and place the roaster on low heat. Add the wine and the chicken broth and whisk to combine. Scrape off everything. Ran out of the organic broth and so used regular canned broth. I have a feeling that the organic version would have added more to the taste. My stuffing used the organic version and it was oh! so yummy!!

Cook for 2-3 minutes and transfer the stuff into a fat separator. (note to self : buy a fat separator next year as it is really handy) In the absence of a fat separator we can just pour the stuff into a large clear measuring cup using a colander. Let sit for a few minutes and separate the fat using a spoon or the spout.

Measure out 2/3 cup of the fat or as much as you have short of this quantity. Place the roaster back on the stove and add the fat. Add flour and whisk at medium to high heat for about 3-4 minutes as the mixture thickens. Add the separated liquid (not the fat) back into the pan in small amounts. Whisk until smooth. Check salt and if too much, add in some of the giblet water. That is what it was for! Cook for 5-6 minutes. The mixture will thicken even more while waiting to be served. Keep this in mind.

Add any herbs you have. Tarragon was not bad but I will try a mix of herbs next year. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a gravy boat to serve. A picture post on herbs is up next.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving - Hello Mr. Turkey!!

The Turkey is finally in the bag! Yes, literally. I had been planning on making that turkey dinner ever since my son started Kindergarten and now that my little girl has started Kinder, it is simply written that we should do this. I had it in the back of my mind and a chance discussion about Butterball Turkeys to one of my kid's daycare teachers sort of started the train.

Once we decided that we are going to do the whole enchilada, both us were heavily invested in the process. We selected a fresh Butterball Turkey from our local grocery store and read up on recipes that we liked. Truth be told, I only meant to look up one website which is simply fabulous in every way. I had tried Pioneer Woman's Lasagna and it came out well and since she had put out an array of Thanksgiving dishes, it was going to be my one stop shop. But my enterprising husband convinced me to go with the one and only Alton Brown of Food Networks.

So, we used Brown's recipe for the brine, turkey and gravy, and referred to PW's recipes for sensible instructions and tips on preparation etc. The step by step pictures are simply awesome. Made the mashed potatoes from there. Stuffing was based on a mix of recipes and corn bread from a Box. Cranberry sauce was homemade. To keep the posts short I plan to make each item into a post although the recipes were pretty much faithfully followed. The little variations and notes will help us in the coming years. With all the hurry, we couldn't get to dessert. Secretly, I can't imagine a pie that tastes of pumpkin. Never liked it. However, seeing this recipe presented by Ivoryhut at the pioneerwomancooks page has changed my mind. I'd certainly like to try it out next year.

Things you really need before starting.
vertical pot/ bucket - 1
brining bag - 1

turkey roaster with rack - 1

meat thermometer with external alarm -1

The Turkey Brine

Let us begin at the very beginning, a very good place to start. The Brine!
After a short research we found that regardless of what is in the brine mix, the very act of keeping the fresh/thawed turkey in the brine helps keep meat juicy, moist and tender. This helps when you overcook by mistake because even then the turkey will not dry up. For this reason it won't need to baked in an oven bag either.

Alton Brown's brine recipe calls for allspice berries and candied ginger. I didn't add candied ginger simply because we couldn't fancy it. Took me some time to figure out that allspice berries are simply whole allspice which is available in the spice aisle.

In The Mix

Turkey - 12 lbs (We got the Butterball. This is available in all local grocery stores)
kosher salt - 1 cup (available in the baking aisle)
brown sugar - 1/2 cup
vegetable stock/broth - 1 gallon (Wholefoods, Trader Joe's)
black peppercorns - 1 tbsp
allspice berries/whole - 1 1/2 tsp
cold water - 1 gallon
ice - 30 cubes

How To Do

Getting a vertical pot or a bucket if you don't have it, is worth it. My husband went and got a paint bucket from OSH in a splash of inspiration and it was just great to keep the brining bird. We also used a brining bag which is great to keep things clean and compact. If you plan early, you can get these from Amazon but we were late and Williams-Sonoma came through. Only two of the 4 were large enough for the turkey, the other two were sized for a chicken. I think XL storage bags from Ziplock are also a good substitute.

Fresh Turkey was our choice because we didn't want to deal with the thawing time. If you get a frozen one, thaw it in the fridge before brining. Do not wait till the last minute to get the birdie. The good ones will be long gone.

Boil all brining ingredients except cold water and ice 2 days before D-day. I did this in the evening after coming back from work. Stir well so the salt and the sugar melts. Peppercorn and allspice didn't melt. I might crush them once next year but it seemed to work OK as is. Boil for 5 minutes while stirring. Remove from heat and let cool. Then keep it in the refrigerator.

On the eve of D-day
line up the bucket or any large enough vertical pot with the brining bag. Add 1 gallon of water and the cold brine from previous day to the bucket. Add the ice cubes. I might have added more ice than needed but the results were satisfactory.

Prepping The Turkey
Empty the sink of any dirty dishes and get ready for turkey cleaning. Place the rack in the sink as it helps much with the cleaning process. We got the roaster and the rack from Target. The V shaped rack helps in carrying the turkey back and forth without it slipping from your hands. Open the turkey bag and place the turkey on the rack under cold water. Take out the bag of giblets and neck from inside. Wash them well in cold water and keep in the refrigerator for later use. Discard all bags that came with the turkey. Clean the empty bird thoroughly in cold water and let drain on the rack inside the sink.

Put the waiting turkey breast first into the bucket and make sure that it is fully immersed.

Can you find the inner turkey in here?

Seal off the bag and keep in a cool place or in the refrigerator which is what I did. Our party was at dinner time and so this timing worked fine. We brined for about 18 hours. If you are planning for lunch, you have to plan accordingly. Brining for longer up to 24 hours will not harm so long as it is safely kept below room temp.

Now for the Guest of Honor!

The Roasted Turkey

Our guest list was not large. We didn't want to add more pressure to ourselves this first time. We also didn't want to deal with a large and difficult to handle bird. So the 12 pounder did very well by us.

In The Mix

Brined (12 lbs) Turkey - 1 (see above for how to brine a turkey)
aluminum foil - folded into a triangle for breastplate.

for stuffing the bird

red apple - 1, halved
big red onion - 1/2
cinnamon stick - 1
water - 1 cup
fresh rosemary - 4 sprigs
sage - 1 or 2 sprigs

for coating the skin
butter - 1 stick (8 tbsp solid)

How To Do

Remove all racks except the last one from the oven. This helps with handling logistics as well as to get good heat for the cooking process.

Preheat oven to 500C.

Bring out the turkey that was brining and wash completely with cold water. No need to worry about salt being lost since it is already absorbed into the meat. Pat dry and keep on the rack. Place the rack into the roaster. Check that the legs are tied and the wings are folded back under the body following Brown's video instructions. Buy a meat thermometer if you haven't already as it is totally justified. Ours didn't have a pop in thermo and so this was doubly needed. Target is a good source.

Microwave the apple halves, onion half and cinnamon in water for 5 minutes.

I brushed the Turkey with melted butter instead of canola oil as I didn't want oil on my turkey. Adding 1 -2 cups of water or broth to the roaster will help prevent smoking from the butter/oil drops in the pan in the initial high heat stage. If not, be ready to turn off the smoke alarm:-) Put a rosemary sprig all the way inside and add the sage and the remaining rosemary sprigs. Then place microwave heated apple, onion and cinnamon stick inside. Now place the turkey (ideally legs first) into the 500C preheated oven. Our roaster was too long to go in like how Alton Brown's video shows and so it was placed horizontally. Make sure not to get burnt as the oven is really hot.

Bake for 30 minutes at 500C.

Pull out the turkey and lower the oven temp to 350C. It s already looking good!

Place the bi folded triangular breast plate as shown in Brown's video. This prevents the breast/white meat from over cooking while at the same time helps to cook the exposed legs/dark meat properly.

Please insert the thermometer probe into the meatiest part at this time. I could not find any thermometer that is specified for more than 400C. So this step needs to be done after the 500C bake. When the probe is inserted, make sure the reading is below or around 100C. If it reads close to 160C then the probe is not at the right place as we found out. Watch AB's carving video to understand which part of the meat you should insert the probe into and how it should go in. It is into the breast - the first piece that he carves out - that the probe should be inserted. The video is also a great source to learn how to carve that bird.

Put the turkey back and bake at 350C till the temp on the meter gets to 165C. AB says a 14-16 pounder will take about 2 1/2 hours and so I went to take a shower after about an hour but was called out since the alarm went off in the middle. We debated about the time and what the meter said and it got to 165 while debating. Finally decided to go with the thermometer and got the bird out. The 2-4 lbs difference is probably why it was done early, but based on the results we will keep the 165C next time. Do get that alarming thermometer even if your turkey comes with a pop up version. Saved the day for us.

Bring a cookie sheet and place the turkey rack on it. Set to cool for half an hour before serving. Use the half hour to make the gravy as now we have the turkey drippings in the roaster pan.
This will be posted next.

For a first timer my husband skillfully carved the turkey and when we say we ourselves enjoyed this normally bland meat of a turkey, that is saying a lot! We were planning to recycle the leftovers into soup and a curried duck version but will not be doing that as we would like to eat the delish meat as is.

The part that I enjoyed most as is the case for most cooking holidays was all the hustle and bustle around the house. Thanksgiving is a lot more fun when the Turkey is home:-)

added on 12/01/09
Happened to talk to a colleague on Alton Brown's Turkey. They've been making it for the past few years. It is the butter basting that caused the smoke. Adding water will prevent it but I agree with him that it will add a steamed effect to the expected crispiness of the skin. They also set the temp to 165C in the 350C baking step. Even with the oil, canola oil is the only brand that should be used apparently. Should just go with AB's well tested recipe I guess.