Archive for November, 2011

Give those bones new life with stock

The feast is over, and you are as stuffed as that turkey that’s now stuffed inside you. Now it’s off to a comatose state in front of the TV or, if you are one of those insane ones, off to bed so you can be up in a few hours for the Black Friday pandemonium. Oh, and then there’s that carcass, the culinary wreckage of a feast that only comes once a year.

Most people will just toss those bones and any scraps of meat left on them in the trash without a second thought. But did you know that you can actually resurrect them, giving new life to what is otherwise considered waste? Bones, believe it or not, are a crucial component to classical cooking. After they’ve been picked to, well you know, bones can be simmered in water to make stock. Stock, of course, is the base liquid for myriad other dishes in the culinary world, most often soups and sauces.

In fact, according to The Culinary Institute of America’s “The Professional Chef,” stocks “are referred to in French as fonds de cuisine, or the foundations of cooking.”

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Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s a last-minute survival guide

Here it is upon us once again and all too soon: Thanksgiving.

You know what that means? Well of course it signals several helpings of turkey and a tryptophan-induced coma in front of the television soon after.  It also means that those other holidays — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and  Chrismukkah — are just a blink away.

As things in the kitchen move into high gear, it’s good to slow down and remember to enjoy the process. If you can think of what you are doing as an expression of love instead of a load of work, it will make the day that much more enjoyable.

It’s also a good time to remind about basic kitchen safety of the fowl variety. Undercooked turkey, as we all know, does not make for good eats or safe eats. Here are some tips and facts to remember if you are cooking the bird yourself in the oven:

  • Be sure it’s thawed, but don’t do it at room temperature. Ideally, a frozen bird should have several days in the fridge to thaw, about a day for every four pounds. If you’re in a pinch, you can thaw the bird quicker by covering it in cold water, unopened in its wrapper. If you do it this way, be sure to change the water frequently, every half hour or so.
  • Before cooking the turkey, clear the cavity of the various parts we call giblets. Rinse the whole bird with cool water inside and out, pat dry, then proceed with seasoning, similar to roasting a whole chicken.
  • 325 degrees is the recommended oven cooking temperature from the experts at Butterball. A 10-18 pound bird will take from 3 to 4 1/2 hours. One as big as 24 pounds will take more than 5 hours. The general rule of thumb is about 12 minutes per pound for an unstuffed bird. Cook it breast side up.
  • The bird is done when it hits 180 degrees, as measured with a thermometer in the thigh. (Note: The USDA will let you get by at 165, but it’s better to be safe than sorry if you’re new at this.) And be sure to let it rest at least 15 minutes before you go carvin’ to let the juices recirculate.
  • For beginning cooks, I don’t recommend stuffing the bird, since this can increase your chances of picking up salmonella. The reason is, by the time the stuffing reaches the proper temperature — 165 degrees — the rest of the turkey can dry out. Make the stuffing on the stove and save yourself the headache and the risk.
  • Remember to thoroughly clean and sanitize absolutely anything that has come into contact with raw turkey before it touches anything else. That includes cutting boards, knives and your hands.
  • Toward the end of cooking, if the wings and skin are browning too much before the turkey is done, cover them loosely with foil.
  • If you want to brine your turkey, see my guide to brining.
  • If you need help cooking your turkey the day of, call the Butterball Talk Line, that famous line of yearly communication in which turkey experts will talk you through any Thanksgiving dinner anguish. The number is 1-800-BUTTERBALL, or 1-800-288-8372.
  • More helpful info can be found at butterball.com or here at fosterfarms.com.

If you’re not making the main event, remember there are plenty of other sides you can put together quickly and easily. The host will love you for it, too. Here are links to some on this site, with step-by-step photos on how to make them:

Remember to relish the day and don’t stress about the food. In the end, the most important thing at the table are the friends and family gathered.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Brining brings out the best in a bird

Confession: Much of my high school senior year was spent at the beach. During class hours. Yes, while I should have been absorbing formal education, I and a group of friends were instead absorbing sun, sand and most of all the ocean. We never skipped the whole day – just some selected classes we decided we’d rather not attend, or perhaps we were just dealing with teen angst the best way we knew how.

Our thinking was that nature’s saline solution that we knew as the Pacific could cure all life’s ills. And magically, somehow that saltwater did indeed make us feel better every time we took a dip.

Turns out, at least from a culinary standpoint, we were on to something. Saltwater really is magical stuff. While each component alone has too many uses to mention in the kitchen – water is used for everything from steaming to making stocks, and salt for everything from preserving to insulating – when used in tandem, they work a magic all their own.

Water mixed with salt is known as a brine, and it’s a classic way of making food flavorful even before the cooking process begins. Brining becomes especially popular this time of year because of Thanksgiving, when the process is used for turkeys.

If you’ve ever had a turkey that’s been brined, you probably already know the results: a bird that is moist and exceptionally flavorful, traits that brines help create. All done ever so simply by submerging food for hours in water and salt (you can experiment with other seasonings, too, from brown sugar to peppercorns).

Yet I sense your hesitation. “What if I get this whole brining thing wrong on the big day? Domino’s may not be able to rescue me if somehow I end up with a waterlogged turkey.”

No worries. Here’s what we’re going to do: practice. And not on a turkey, but something smaller and more manageable: a chicken.

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