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.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Shrimp/Chemmeen Pickle

This awesome recipe belongs to my husband's paternal Aunt. After polishing off the last bit from the shrimp pickle bottle that she had sent us with someone returning from India, we had to call her for the recipe. Of course after thanking her properly for this delicious gesture in the early years of our marriage. It meant a lot to us and to our collective tummies. Like my HMom, this Aunt is an accomplished cook. At that time the word 'cooking' had barely taken root in my vocabulary. In contrast, now I can say with great assurance that 1 tbsp of chili powder means exactly that and it will not be 'just fine' to use 1 tbsp of coriander instead just because the measurements are the same:-)

In The Mix

Shrimp - 2lbs (~1kg) de-veined and shelled.
ground black pepper - 1 tsp
salt to taste
oil - enough to submerge one layer of shrimp

to grind
chili powder - 2 tbsp
garlic powder - 1 tbsp
ginger powder - 1/2 tbsp
jeera/cumin powder - 1 tsp
mustard powder - 1/2 tsp
methi/uluva/fenugreek - 1/2 tsp

vinegar - 1/4 cup
mustard - 1/2 tsp
ginger - 1 1/2 " sliced long
chopped onion - 1 cup

vinegar - 1/8 cup or as needed to taste
sugar - 1/2 tsp (optional)

How To Do

Marinate the shrimp with pepper and salt for 2-3 hours. Deep fry in oil and remove. Drain the oil from the pan and set aside that too.

Grind all the 'to grind' ingredients in the blender and soak in 1/4 cup vinegar. Break mustard using some of the oil remaining after frying the shrimp. Saute the long sliced ginger to half fry. Add the chopped onion and fry till light brown. Now add the ground, soaked mix from above and roast well. Add the remaining vinegar and check salt.

Can add sugar at this stage. Remember, this is pickle and so even if it tastes a little vinegary and salty when fresh, that will subside into a yummadoos pickle taste as it sits for a day or two. Add the fried shrimp and mix gently. Do not boil after adding the shrimp. Can add hot water, salt, vinegar or sugar as needed at this stage for a consistency that appeals to you. Add in some or all of the remaining oil if needed. Enjoy with anything carb and hot. This 'pickle' does not last long in our house. Keep that in mind when you make it:-)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Roasted Chicken Legs - from Mishmash

Mishmash's is another blog I appreciate for its presentation and nostalgic write ups. So when I had some chicken legs and wasn't sure what to do, I decided to try this out from there. It turned out well and I have made it many times since then. The pics are from one of those time. I was waiting to take a better picture but looks like this is as far as my clicking abilities can go with night light. Not that it is any better with day light but the excuse sounds good. Right? It is all Nancy's fault really as she thinks I am not cooking!! Kidding aside she keeps this blog going at times when I find it difficult to come back to it.

I am adding the recipe here for future reference. (My kids might want to make it?) I hope so. It is mostly verbatim from Mishmash.

In The Mix

chicken legs/drumsticks - 14-16 or as many as that comes in a pack. (multiply or divide from
mishsmash's ingredients based on quantity) medium cut chicken
breast pieces also come out very well and are more suited for
our everyday cooking needs.

for the marinade
chili powder - 2 1/2 tbsp (the kids like it less hot)
turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
garam masala - 3 tsp ( I use the homemade version from my Hmom. an easy version
is equal amounts of cardamom, cinnamon, clove powders)
freshly ground black pepper - 1 1/2 tsp
ginger - 2" piece
garlic - 8 to 10 cloves
lemon juice - 5 tsp fresh squeezed
salt to taste

to fry
curry leaves - 2-3 sprigs or as many as you want
olive oil - enough for half the height of the pieces to be submerged depending
on the size and shape of the pieces and the pan.

to saute

big red onion - 3 -4, thinly sliced
green chilies - 6-7, sliced once or twice at an angle
curry leaves - 2 sprigs
leftover marinade from the chicken. (neat idea!)
salt to taste

How To Do
Wash the chicken well and score it once or twice for the marinade to get inside. I don't pat dry anymore and like the resulting extra marinade. Crush and finely chop the ginger and garlic. I stopped using the pastes as I never had a good experience with the store bought version and I am not one to make that at home. The crushed chopped version seems to substitute very well. Marinate chicken overnight with the marinade ingredients as above.

Heat oil in a pan and fry curry leaves till crispy. Set aside. Place chicken pieces in oil and fry each side 2-3 minutes or until done on low to medium heat. Drumsticks will appear fried with shorter time but the insides might have red which simply isn't yum. Keep the leftover marinade for the next step.

Remove the fried chicken and drain on paper towels. We start the tasting process at this stage:-)) Remove some of the excess oil and add onion, chili and saute well. Add the marinade and curry leaves and saute till all blends well and appears cohesive. Remember to wash the marinade dish with a little warm water to increase the amount of marinade to add.

Now add the chicken pieces and mix everything together gently so as not to break the pieces. I also add the fried curry leaves at this time. Make sure chicken pieces are covered in the masala, cover and cook for a few minutes so all the flavors join together.

Serve alone or with the temporarily crowned King:-) More on the King er.. Queen later. Thanks Mishmash for this surefire recipe.