Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Feast

The holidays in general are a great time of year. We get together with family and good friends and celebrate. We start by giving thanks for all that we are blessed with and then end with hope for continued strength and great changes in the new year to come. The holidays are a time of sipping hot chocolate by the fire and eating great food from Thanksgiving all the way until Christmas and sometimes that food continues into the new year. For those who have to do all cooking though it can be a bit overwhelming. My second year of cooking for Thanksgiving we decided to invite all the hunters up. We living in Pennsylvania and deer season always starts the Monday after turkey day. I waited until Sunday that year to cook for a couple reasons. Not only did I have to work both thanksgiving day and on black Friday. I had the weekend off and everyone would be there by Sunday at the latest. I cooked for 20 people that year and the only problem I had was who was going to help me do all the dishes! I learned a few things that year. Making dishes ahead of time was a huge life saver. Not only did it leave me to worry only about cooking the turkey that day but it gave me time to enjoy everyone’s company as well. I don’t make all of the following dishes every year. It depends on how many people I’m cooking for. This year it’s easy, just myself, my husband, my daughter and my mother in law, so I’m keeping it simple. Read through the following recipes. I’m sorry I don’t have any pictures to give you at this time. Also nothing is going to be in the recipe format that I normally do. I promise it won’t be hard to follow. I wish you all the best of the holidays, no matter what you celebrate!

 Stuffed celery almost always graces my table around the holidays. The ingredients in it will probably sound strange to you but I promise it’s really good.
In a small food processor, pulse a small onion until it’s finely chopped. Do the same to a jar of green olives with pimentos. Combine the onion and olives with a container of small curd cottage cheese. This can be a few days ahead of time as it will let the flavors meld together. To serve, cut cleaned celery into two inch pieces and stuff with the filling. Keep cold until ready to eat.

Stuffed mushrooms are served when I have a bigger amount of people. I usually only do about 2 dozen mushrooms because not everyone will eat them and with all the other food most people will only take one. Click here for the recipe.

Stuffing should never ever be placed in side the cavity of a raw bird. By the time the stuffing would reach the correct temperature your turkey would be overcooked and dried out. My mother refuses to listen to me and still puts the stuffing in the turkey every year. You risk a nasty case of salmonella or a dried out, need a hacksaw to cut turkey. I make this the day before as well and let it cook during the last hour before supper time. Take about a pound of bulk breakfast sausage. You’ll find it in plastic tubes around the meat section of your grocery store. Jimmy deans is a popular brand. You want to a breakfast sausage because it contains sage and other spices that compliment poultry. Cook the sausage until done and remove to a large bowl that is big enough to mix your stuffing in. In the same pan, add in one stick of butter and let melt. Then add in a large onion chopped and about two or three stalks of celery chopped. Cook for about 5 minutes or until they become translucent and tender. If using fresh herbs chop a few sages leaves, and a couple sprigs of both thyme and rosemary and add to the veggies. If using dried, add in about a tsp of each, or you can use about a tbs of poultry seasoning. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into the bowl with the sausage and add in a one pound package of unseasoned stuffing croutons. These are usually only found around the holidays and to me, make the best stuffing. You want to reserve half a cup to a cup of the croutons for the mashed potato recipe of mine. Stir everything together and add in enough chicken stock to soften the bread. Make sure you add it a little at a time so that you don’t end up with soup. Once combined, place in an oven safe dish, cover and place in the fridge until ready to cook.

Mashed potatoes are something you find with all turkey suppers. It’s just a given. You want to use the right potato too. I like using Russets or Yukon Gold. Stay away from the small waxy potatoes unless you plan on making smashed potatoes, in which case you would leave the skins on. When making mashed potatoes you should plan on using one to one and half large potatoes per person or at least two medium or 3 small. Peel and wash the potatoes then cut into two inch pieces and place in a large pot. Add enough cold water to cover them and a pinch or two of salt. I always make garlic mashed for thanksgiving so I add a few large cloves of garlic to the pot of potatoes. Bring to a boil over high heat and then lower to medium and let simmer until very tender. Drain in a colander and return the hot pot. Place over high heat for about a minute to remove any excess water. Turn off the heat and add in a few tablespoons of butter. You can either use a hand mixer or a potato masher. The later will probably give you some lumps but that is what lets people know you made real potatoes and not potato flakes. While mashing, slowly add in some heavy cream or milk. I make mine a day head of time so I add in more cream then you would normally use. Once they are all mashed, place them into a casserole dish and keep in the fridge until the next day. About an hour before supper mix together two tablespoons of melted butter, the stuffing croutons that were reserved and a teaspoon of garlic powder. Sprinkle it over your potatoes and place in your oven along with the turkey.

Sweet potatoes are sometimes found on a Thanksgiving as well. You prepare them the same way as mashed potatoes, only I mash my sweet potatoes with a little bit of butter and some orange juice. Then just top them off with mini marshmallows if you like and toss in the oven till the marshmallows are browned.

Vegetables are a very important part of a balanced diet and on Thanksgiving I try to make two or three different kinds. It also is the easiest of all Thanksgiving dishes to prepare. While I never make green bean casserole, it is pretty easy to do. Just mix two drained cans of green beans together with a can of cream of mushroom soup. Top is off with a can of those French fried onions and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
Normally I buy a bag of frozen corn, usually the kind that has a butter sauce. Just follow the directions on the bag.
The other vegetable dish I do is Brussels sprouts. I buy about 2 pounds and slice them in half. In a sauté pan over medium high heat, in about 2 tbs of olive oil, I add 2 cloves of minced garlic and sprouts. Stir to coat in the sprouts and cover. Make sure to check them every few minutes to prevent them from burning. Once they are soft, I turn the heat up to high and add in a 1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar and let it reduce down, uncovered until its thick and syrupy and the sprouts are all nicely coated.

I get help from the store to do biscuits. You’re favorite brand is fine. Making them yourself if actually quite easy to do but it requires that the butter in the biscuit dough remains cold. This is hard to do when you’ve had the oven going for half the day, but of course I have a trick for that too. If you decided to make your own, make them the day before and cook them until they are just starting to brown. They will most likely be cooked through by then. Just remove them from the oven, let them cool and store them in a covered container or zip top bag. Then, while your putting the rest of your dishes on the table, place the biscuits onto a cookie sheet and pop them back in the oven for about 5 minutes or until they are warmed through and nice and brown.

Now of course is the turkey, the most daunting task to any Thanksgiving meal. I have tried countless ways of making the perfect thanksgiving turkey. I’ve brined them, deep fried them, stuffed the cavity with lemons and garlic, but let me tell you something, none of that really matters. While deep frying a turkey will help to lock in the moisture, it can be dangerous to do and it makes a greasy mess in my opinion. Brining will give some flavor but to me it wasn’t worth the effort. Stuffing the cavity with aromatics like lemon and garlic will enhance the flavor of your gravy if you use the dripping from the bird, but again it does nothing to flavor it because of a thin membrane separating the cavity from the meat. Basting is not necessary either; again it doesn’t help to keep the bird moist because it’s going to penetrate the skin and it lowers the temperature of your oven each time you open the door. The only way you’re going to have a nice juicy turkey is to cook it properly. Also remember to keep your hands very clean. Always wash them with hot soapy water after you’ve touched any type of raw meat or poultry.
First things first, the size of turkey you need depends on how many people you’re going to be feeding. You want at least one pound per person. I usually go with two pounds per person because I love leftover turkey. Next comes defrosting. It takes about 5 hours per pound to defrost a bird so you’re looking at up to 4 days for a 20 pound turkey. Just take it out of the freezer the Monday before thanksgiving, place in tray, in the fridge and left it defrost that way. You should never leave it out to defrost on the counter; however I have forgotten to take it out in the past and will leave it on the counter for a day to give it a head start. In most start bought turkeys you will find its neck and a plastic bag with organs in it. If you like cooking these for your gravy then by all means do so; however I just throw them out. If your turkey isn’t defrosted completely, and in most cases it’s not, just run cold water into the cavity. It will loosen it up enough for you to remove the organs and neck. Next you should wash your turkey with a touch of soap, making sure to rinse it good. Pat it dry with paper towels and place it breast side up in a roasting pan that is just big enough to hold it. Don’t bother with using those racks that come in so many roasting pans. All the racks will do is let juices drip onto the hot pan and burn creating smoke and giving you nothing to make gravy with. If you prefer, you can roughly chop some carrots, celery and onion into large chunks and place on the bottom of your roasting pan for the turkey to rest on. This also helps in flavoring the gravy.
Now you can either truss the bird or what I do is to fold the wings under him, and just use a piece of kitchen twine to pull the legs together. This allows the chicken to cook evenly.
There are two different ways you can precede from here. If you are really worried about a dry turkey, take a stick of soft butter and smear it under the skin of the bird. The butter will melt during cooking and not only give flavor, but also baste the meat. You can also mix in some finely minced garlic and herbs with the butter to give the turkey more flavor. Then just season the outside with some salt and pepper, you can add some sage and thyme to it as well if you’d like, just remember that it’s only adding flavor to the skin and not to the bird. If you don’t want to, or don’t feel the need to do the butter trick then just season the outside and place your bird I the oven at 350 and let it roast for about 15 to 20 minutes per pound. Check your bird once an hour by turning the light on in the oven. If the breast is nicely browned, take a piece of heavy foil and fold it into a triangle. Use this to cover the breast which cooks quicker then the dark meat found in the legs of the bird. Your turkey is done when an instant read thermometer reaches 140 degrees when inserted 3 inches into the area where the breast meets the thigh. Most people tend to test the temperature at the thickest part of the breast at which case you’d want it be 160 degree. However this puts a hole into the part of the turkey that dries out the quickest and allows the juices to escape. Remove the bird from the oven and tent with a large piece of foil. This allows the turkey to continue cooking while letting the juices “settle.” It is very important to let this happen, otherwise the first cut you make will be the juiciest and the rest of the turkey will be dry.

To make the gravy, pour the juice from the turkey into one of those fat separator measuring cups. Place the pan you cooked the turkey in, over medium high heat and add back in a few tablespoons of the fat. Whisk in an equal amount of flour and let cook for a minute or two. Then pour in the juices, whisking constantly to not only prevent lumps but to lift up all the yummy bits that were cooked onto the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil. Add in chicken stock to make the gravy as thin as you want. If you’re making a lot of gravy, you need to start with more fat and flour. If after you’ve boiled the gravy, it’s not thick enough you can slowly whisk in a slurry of flour and water while the gravy boils, however this can cause lumps. To remove the lumps, just strain the gravy through a sieve.

I hope this helps makes your Thanksgiving a little more manageable. I love to watch the Macy’s Day Parade every year and by doing what I can ahead of time; I get to see the whole thing. Many thanks to all of you who have become fans of my blog; you are the reasons why I do this. I wish you all the best this holiday season!

H A P P Y  C O O K I N G !!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Just wanted all my foodies to know that I'm currently working on a menu plan for Thanksgiving and hope to have it up by the end of next week at the latest. That is the reason you haven't seen to many new posts from me lately. I know making the perfect Thanksgiving supper is a lot of work, but I have a few tricks up my selves for making it go smoothly and of course make it easy on you. I've cooked Thanksgiving for 20 people before. Two oven and several hours later, everyone was stuffed with probably the best meal I have ever made. I do have to warn though, that these recipes are not slimming. I go all out for the holidays, using real cream and full fat everything! I look forward to hearing what you have to say and hope that you try a few of the dishes for yourselves this year!
As always, Happy Cooking!

Chicken Cesar Salad

This is truly one of my favorite meals. I love salads in general but there is something about the garlicy dressing when it mixes with the tomoatos and paresan cheese that makes this salad wonderful. It's one of my husbands favorites too. The dressing contains no raw eggs or anchovies like traditional cesar salads do, but I promise that you won't miss them.

What you need:
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tbs dijon mustard
1 tbs white vinegar
1/2 c mayo (make sure to use real mayo and not the salad dressing kind)
1/2 c olive oil
3 romain hearts torn into bite sized pieces or 16 ounces of your favorite salad greens
salt and pepper
1 lb chicken breast
1 lb of vine ripe tomatoes
2 cup croutons
1/2 c parmesan cheese
4 hard boiled eggs (not pictured and optional)

What you do:

In a sautee pan over medium heat or on a grill, season and cook your chicken until done. About 3-5 mins per side. Let it rest for a few minute before slicing. Meanwhile in a small food processor, minced the garlic. Add in the mustard, vinegar, and mayo. Turn the processor on to combine. While it's still running, slowing add in the olive oil. This will give a nice thick dressing. If the dressing appears to thin, drizzle in more olive oil.Season with salt and pepper. Dress the greens with some of the dressing, to your tastes.
Cut your tomatoes into wedges and place on top of the dressed greens, followed by the croutons. Arranged the slice chicken on top and sprinkle the whole thing with Parmesan cheese. Quarter the hard boiled eggs and place around your plate. Top with more dressing if desired. This makes two big salads or 4 smaller ones.

H A P P Y  C O O K I N G !!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Baked Chicken Fingers

I know everyone out there is going to take a look at these ingredients and say "How can that make crispy and delicious chicken finger?" The answer is quite simple. It's all in the flakes! Whether you decide to use bran flakes like I did, or prefer corn flakes, they are what makes these chicken fingers. The chicken is soaked in butter milk, dipped in some egg and then the coating is applied. They remain moist and very flavorful without having to fry them. My husband couldn't stop telling me how good supper was. He was looking for more! I served them with steamed broccoli, oven fried potato wedges and a homemade honey mustard sauce. For the fries all you need to do is cut large russet potatoes into several wedges. Place on a cookie sheet, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder and bake at 400 degrees for about 45 mins. 

Chicken Fingers

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 sleeve ritz crackers
1 c bran flakes
1 c buttermilk
1 egg
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp black pepper

How to:
Cut each of the chicken breast into several strips, about 3 inches long and 1 inch thick. Place in a bowl and cover with buttermilk. Let sit in the fridge for at least 15 minutes, but an hour is best.
In a resealable bag, place the crackers, bran blakes and seasonings. Close the bag and take a rolling pin to crush everything and give it a shake to evenly distribute everything.
Remove the chicken from the fridge. In another small bowl whisk together the egg and two tbs of the buttermilk that the chicken is in. Empty the coating onto a plate. Take each chicken strip and dip it into the egg. Then place in the crumb mixture to cover, giving it a press so that the coating sticks well. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Continue until all the strips are coated. Give the chicken a quick spray with a cooking spray such as pam and place in a preheat 400 oven for 20 mins. After 10 minutes, flip the chicken strips and place back in the oven to finish cooking. Let them sit for 5 minutes before serving to "crisp" up.

To make the honey mustard sauce combine 1/2 c Dijon mustard with 1 tbs mayo and 3 tbs honey. Whisk them together for the perfect dipping sauce.

H A P P Y  C O O K I N G !!
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