Thursday, April 25, 2013

WOW...I have not posted in awhile!

I am doing a "project" where I guest post along with others about Learning Hospitality.  When I posted the link to this blog I realized I have been very remiss in posting updates!  I have been Facebooking and started as Tumblr, but I have not updated here...so here I am.  In the few minutes I have before I run out to Mr. BHS at the high school- a fundraiser for our Drama Booster group.  Ah, the life of a busy mom.  Tomorrow I am leaving for the Women of Faith conference...a much needed break!  This last week I was in the ER with a migraine...first time I had to go to the ER for a migraine in about 8 years!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ralph's Famous Thanksgiving Turkey Instructions


I've been asked how I make our Thanksgiving turkeys.  I offer this note with a summary of my process.  There are 4 major elements:

  • SPINE
  • BRINE
  • BROWN
  • BACON

SPINE:
After completely thawing the turkey, I remove the entire spine, from neck to tail.  The spine absorbs heat and also keeps it from getting inside the turkey, which greatly increases cooking time.  I've discovered that I save at least one entire hour by simply removing the spine.  Don't throw it away, though: keep it to boil with other scraps to make stock for turkey soup, later.


BRINE:
Brining the turkey before cooking it is the key to moist white meat.  It also allows you to introduce subtle hints of flavor that make for a more interesting tasting turkey.  Brining a turkey is pretty easy, so I won't write up a step-by-step guide here: details can be found easily with Google.  I'll just give you my highlights:
  • I use white wine for the acidic element, instead of vinegar.  You've heard the adage, "don't cook with any wine you won't drink".  Well, this case is the exception to that rule.  The wine you use in the brine can be cheap, because you're going to end up dumping it out when you're done, anyway.  I use at least one bottle per turkey, so using the good stuff would be an expensive waste.
  • Don't forget the pumpkin pie!  "Say what?"  For the sweetness in the brine, I use lots of brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.  That's basically pumpkin pie without the pumpkin or the pie.  But it really makes your turkey taste like Thanksgiving.
  • "Are you going to Scarborough Fair?"  Skip the parsley -- but sage, rosemary, and thyme are essential to a good turkey brine.
  • Brine overnight: I put my spineless turkey in the brine on Wednesday, and let it soak for at least 8-12 hours.

BROWN:
I learned this trick from Alton Brown, so I name this phase after him.  And also because "brown" is the main objective here.  We all want our turkeys to have that nice, crispy, golden brown and delcious skin, but all too often we wind up drying out the meat along the way.  This phase solves that problem by browning the skin, but not roasting the meat -- that happens later in the last phase.

But first, we have to make the bed -- for the turkey.  In a large, wide, roasting pan, we're going to make what I call a "mirepoix rack".  We'll use about 6-10 peeled carrots and 6-10 celery stalks.  Trim their tips and tails, and then alternate them across the bottom of the pan: carrot, celery, carrot, celery, etc.  Slice 2-4 onions horizontally into thick, whole rings, and spread those out as another layer on top of the carrots/celery.  Finally, peel and bruise (make 'em weep) at least 6-12 whole garlic cloves (1-2 bulbs) and toss those far and wide all over the bed, too.

Put the brined turkey to bed, breast-side up.  Splay the bird as wide as it will fit across the pan.  Even if it's not that much, we still want a wide surface area for browning and roasting.  Daub the skin with a paper towel to remove excess brine water, but you don't have to dry it off completely.  Brush the skin thoroughly with olive oil, or smear it with butter (whichever you prefer).  I usually sprinkle on some Old Bay for good measure.

Place your top rack in the middle slot of the oven, and pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees (F), a.k.a., "broil".  When the oven is good and hot, put the panned turkey in it.  Toast it until the skin is golden brown, usually about 30 minutes.  I usually spin the pan around after the first 15 minutes, to make sure it browns evenly all over.  Remove the well-tanned bird from the oven, and lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees (F) for the baking phase, described below.


BACON
This is where the magic happens, the final stage of Thanksgiving turkey perfection.  While we wait for the oven to cool down to 350, and we let the turkey rest for a few minutes, cover the entire breast with whole strips of bacon.  You'll want to either weave or criss-cross at least 2 layers of bacon across the breast.  3 layers are better, if the bacon is thin, but 2 is enough if the bacon is thick.  You can even get fancy by using peppered or maple bacon, but plain ol' bacon is just fine, too.


Once the breast is well-covered with bacon, the turkey is ready to go back into the cooler oven for the final roasting.  It's at this point that I usually place my temperature probe in the thickest, deepest meat of one of the thighs, so that I can monitor the internal temperature remotely.  The turkey is done at 165 degrees (F): that usually takes about two hours for a 16 pounder (your mileage will vary).

The bacon will cook through, shielding the breast from the worst of the heat.  It will become crispy and turn dark brown/black -- don't worry: it's supposed to do that.  In the worst case, burnt bacon is better than burnt breast.  Not only does the bacon protect the breast from overcooking and drying out, but the rendered bacon fat also self-bastes the turkey -- it's a win-win proposition!  

I haven't tried using "turkey bacon" as a kosher substitute.  As far as I can tell, it doesn't have enough fat to render as a baste, and isn't flexible enough or sticky enough to wrap the breast closely.  While I suspect it will work well as a shield, I don't think it would add any additional flavors, either (turkey + turkey = turkey).  But turkey bacon is better than no bacon.  And turkey bacon is definitely better than using aluminum foil to shield the breast, which is an excellent shield but does nothing for flavor, and can also make the skin breast skin soggy if too much moisture condenses underneath it with no means to vent properly.

When the turkey is done, remove it from the oven and the roasting pan, and put it on a cooling rack with a cookie sheet underneath to catch any drippings.  Remove the bacon shield, and then cover the turkey loosely with aluminum foil. Let it rest there for at least 10 minutes before carving.

Done!

The bacon and mirepoix rack can be used for side dishes.  One idea is to simply rough cut the bacon and veggies, and mix them together into a tasty side dish.  Another is to chop them up into smaller bits for use in stuffing, along with your favorite croutons, bread, and/or corn bread.  Or you can set them aside for later use in your turkey soup.  No matter what, you'll be able to use every part of this recipe in something else, and some point.

And that's all there is to it.  I hope you enjoy a happy Thanksgiving!  :-)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sunday Night Meal Prep for the Week

I am hoping I can make this a new tradition here...actually planning ahead and not waiting til the last minute...especially when it comes to meals.   When I don't plan ahead it is never good for the budget or the waistline!  Tonight my hubby helped me! I think he cut up about 20 roma tomatoes, 3 or 4 HUGE onions, 7 red/yellow/green peppers, a bag of carrots, several pounds of asparagus  a bunch of celery, and several pounds of broccoli!
That is a LOT of veggies!

I made Vegetable Stir Fry for dinner tonight using all of the yummy veggies hubby cut.  

While hubby was finishing cutting all of the veggies I started browning the ground beef to be used for Shepherd's Pie (or Cottage Pie as Erin who lives Down Under tells me is what it is really called!).  When I brown ground beef I hardly ever just brown the meat by itself.  I usually add stuff to it...like the wonderfully cut veggies!  
This is the ground beef as I was browning it.  I opted to used the carrot "sticks" I had bought from the farmers market since the meat is going to be used for Shepherd's Pie anyway.  I also added diced onion, celery, and red/yellow/green peppers to the beef.
My Tupperware Potato Masher is really a good tool to use for mixing up the ground beef.  And Alton Brown calls things like this uni-taskers!  
Kind of steamy, but you can see that there is a LOT of grease in the pan so it will need to be drained.  And I mean poured into a colander (NOT just "scooping out" the grease).
If you look closely you can see the white handle of my Tupperware Small Thatsa Bowl sticking out on the left side.  The next couple of pictures I will show you WHY you drain the ground beef!

Ummm...YUCK!  FYI, that is a 2 Cup capacity Tupperware measuring cup...and it is past the 2 cup mark....that folks is why you drain the ground beef!  If you did not drain it, that grease would be in your food!   (excuse the cup, it was already dirty when I put the grease in to measure it, lol)
I always spray the ground beef a little bit too...just to be sure to get all the grease out!
All done and ready to use in the Shepherd's Pie.  This was a 3 pound roll of frozen ground beef from Aldi (I believe it is 80/20.)

And lest you think that I am super organized and have everything together...I am not!  My house is a HUGE mess as usual.  There are about 3 loads of laundry in the living room on the love seat and chair...waiting to be folded.  My coupons are several weeks past needing to be cut.  The kitchen floor is a mess...like sticky in parts mess.   The trash needs to be taken out.  My room needs a ton of TLC....well, you get the idea, lol.  Another day this week I will post the recipe and steps to make the Shepherd's Pie.  Right now I am going to finish watching some Sunday evening shows and either fold the clothes in the living room or cut my coupons. (Most likely I will play Words with Friends and Song Pop, Pin some great things on Pinterest, log onto Facebook, well, you get the idea...









Saturday, October 6, 2012

Apple Spice "Cake"


I have been sick for a few days...achy, sore throat, stomach "issues" and just general blah!  I have started to feel better and was going through Pinterest and found an easy Apple Cake that I had the stuff for...so I made it.  I modified the recipe a bit, but oh my gosh was it good!

I cut up 4 apples (2 gala and 2 Granny Smith apples)
about half a spice cake mix
1 stick butter
about a 1/2 cup of pecans pieces
caramel for drizzling

Core the apples and slice into thin slices and put into 9 by 13 baking dish sprayed with baking spray.  I gave the apple slices a rough chop in the dish so they were not too big.  Sprinkle about half of the spice cake mix directly onto the apples and then melt the butter and pour over the top of the cake mix and apples.  Sprinkle the pecans on top and then bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-45 minutes or until bubbly.  Drizzle caramel on top when done.  Serve topped with ice cream or whipped cream.

Monday, September 17, 2012

My new (household) best friend!

I cannot believe I am about to share this on the "interwebs"...but this is the before and after picture from my kids bathroom...

Before and After...I am a believer!  LOVE the Scouring Stick!

I used up the whole stick (and you can see that I do need a little more), but I got the toilet clean!  I thought I was going to have to get a new toilet in there!  I mean seriously, I have used a SCREWDRIVER to try to get the crud off of that toilet!  I am hooked now!  It really looks like a new toilet!!


Wednesday, September 5, 2012



Vegan French Onion Soup

6-8 Whole onions cut into slices
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tsp. cracked black pepper
1-2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
6 cubes Knorr Vegetable bouillon
10 cups hot water
1 teaspoon Cumin
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon Garlic salt
 (Optional-Gluten Free bread  and dairy free cheese for topping the soup when done)

Peel onion and then cut into slices.  Place oil in large skillet and turn heat to medium high.  Add onions and pepper to skillet and sauté for about 10 minutes until onions are still crisp tender.  Add paprika to onions and stir well.  Add bouillon cubes to a large crock pot then pour in hot water and stir well with a wire whisk.  Add onions to bouillon mixture and then add cumin, bay leaves,  worcestershire sauce and garlic salt.  Cook on high in crock pot for 4-6 hours.  Pour soup into ramekins and top with bread and cheese and put in oven at 400 degrees until cheese is melted.  

I made this today for my family.  My daughter is a Vegan who is also Gluten Free so I try to make some things she can eat.  This recipe turned out really well!  I worked at a place today where I had an hour long break so I came home and sauteed the onions and added them to the crock pot and set it on high while I was at work.  I chose to use french bread and shredded mozzarella cheese on mine (which is pictured here).  My daughter used her Light Tapioca Bread and her dairy free cheese on hers.  

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Organization

Those who know me from my coming and goings at the schools in our town would say that I am an organized person.  Those who know me on a personal basis as well and have been to my home know that I WANT to be organized, but normally I get in the way of actually BEING organized.  Not to mention that there are 6 other people in my house (more if you count various "adopted" children who seem to always be here, lol!) who make it even more difficult to be organized!

As the mom, my room becomes the dumping ground for things that no one knows what to do with.  The garage is another big dumping ground in our house for sure.  Here is what happens when I ask one of my kids to take something to the garage:

Me: "Take this thing (box/tool/do-dad/thingamagig) to the garage- but put it somewhere out of the way, like one of the many shelves lining the walls."
Kid: "Ok, sure!" (well, normally they first say "Do I have to?" or "Why can't so and so do it?" or my favorite ", "You want me to do it now?" (no, I want you to do it next Thursday, I am just telling you now so you can clear your schedule!)
Me: "Thanks!"
They take the "thing" to the garage, open the door, throw it in, slam the door and go back to their tv/computer/xbox or other electronic distraction.  Then the next time I go to the garage to get something I can barely walk from the door to the fridge and I can almost NEVER get to the other side of the garage easily!  This frustrates me to no end because I am always the one who cleans up the garage and then it get messed up pretty quickly.

But I digress (as usual...).  Pinterest has got to be one of my favorite things recently.  It is very easy for me to spend way too much time "pinning" ideas/recipes/pictures/etc but I have actually DONE some of the things I have seen!  I am in LOVE with the way I organized my drawers now thanks to seeing a "Pin" a friend posted and actually making it happen!  Here is what my drawers look like right now, a couple of weeks after I first started this method.
This makes me very happy!
Small steps...but I am making progress!