Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tightwad Tuesday-Things to buy this week (even if you refuse to use them on Thursday)

Today's Tightwad Tuesday post is a simple list of ten things that will be a good deal if you buy this week. Some of these things are suspiciously Thanksgiving-y in nature (duh. that's why they are on sale) but you'll find that you will  probably use them year round, so get 'em while the gettin's good.

Tightwad Tuesday's Top-Ten

  • Turkey (again.duh.)-grab an extra for the freezer, the price per pound can't be beat.
  • Ham- so versatile, sandwiches, casserole, ham salad, chef's salad, breakfast meat- I LOVE PIG!!
  • Cubed bread/stuffing- I love this for topping casseroles, food processing into bread crumbs, saute into croutons... and hey...its already stale bread so it will keep for a long time.
  • French Fried Onions- Yes, I know they are franken-food but they are soooo good for coating baked chicken and pork.
  • Canned vegetables and fruit
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Last week’s bakery arsenal list
  • Butter
  • Clementines
  • Prepared chicken/beef/vegetable stock
 You'll be glad you did. Really.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

One Frau, One Oven, One Mission

I come from a large extended family of many cooks. A typical Thanksgiving meal might consist of 3 or four meats (turkey, duck, ham, and some type of roast) and enough sides to feed a small army. With 6 or seven people cooking, you end up with a lot of dishes. The first holiday I spent away from home posed a bit of a problem. How could I fix at least a good portion of our favorite dishes without taking off work the day before? And how would I get it all to be done at the right time? Would I have to spend the entire day on the kitchen?

First I decided that this meal would not be for the lunch hour. I love my family but I won’t get up at 4 am to start cooking for anybody. It's questionable that I would get up at 4 am to escape a house fire. We would eat mid afternoon or later.

Our Thanksgiving is admittedly low-brow and very ‘southern.’

Gravy-two kinds: giblet & brown
Stuffin’ Muffins’
Green bean casserole- Classic Hausfrau
Mashed potatoes
Cranberry sauce
Sweet potato pie
One or two other favorite desserts-in rotation, often pretzel pie, dutch apple, or cream cheese pie

The trick to pulling this off is to spend a little time each night leading up to the holiday doing whatever you can to make things easier on Thursday. Do some prep (chop, dice, cook pie fillings) and cook things that will keep nicely, perhaps even improve when left overnight (cranberry sauce, succotash, pies, vegetables for stuffing).

My biggest peeve is to shop when everyone else is shopping. So I usually shop Sunday night or Monday. No later or you will end up in a fist fight with other raging Fraus.

Shopping list- By Store section
Meat-Bacon (I use at least 2 lbs), turkey, chicken liver (if you make giblet gravy), salami, cold cuts for Thursday lunch snacks
Produce- garlic, celery, onion, scallions, portabella mushrooms, yukon gold potatoes, bagged cranberries
Dairy- eggs, butter, heavy cream/whipping cream, sliced cheese for Thursday snacks
Dry goods-Chicken Stock/Broth, crackers/breads for snack tray, corn starch, several loaves of dense, hearty bread (stuffing), onion,cream of mushrooms soup, French's onions, canned green beans, whatever bread/rolls you are serving.
Frozen corn, green beans, & lima beans
Apple cider
The following is a schedule rather than a collection of recipes. Fill in your family favorites or new ones from a cookbook. And if you have helpers...delegate, delegate, delegate.
Monday Night: 1.5 hr (mostly shopping)
  • Shop if you haven’t already
  • If your turkey is frozen, place in bottom of fridge on a cookie sheet
  • Dice hearty bread and spread on  cookie sheets to dry out; you can also toast in the over on  low heat, if you prefer.
Tuesday Night: 1 hr depending on your pie/dessert prep
  • Cook any pie fillings- for me that means 'Microwave sweet potatoes, whole'
  • Boil two dozen eggs-we like to snack before our afternoon meal, deviled eggs, summer sausage, cheese, veggies, dip, etc. Prepare everything but the deviled eggs now so its ready Thursday morning.
  • Boil 2 C cranberries, 1/2 to 1 C sugar, lemon/orange zest, 1C cider/water/juice until the cranberries pop, refrigerate
Wednesday night 1.5 hr
  • If you are brining, prepare your white-trash turkey bath
  • Prepare deviled eggs
  • Prepare/bake your pies
  • Peel potatoes and store in fridge just covered with water
  • Dice 5 yellow onions, 10 green onions, 5 cloves garlic, 2 bunches of celery
  • Caramelize onions, celery, garlic in butter
  • Cook succotash- saute a little bacon & onion, add frozen vegetables, simmer until veggies are done
Thursday Morning: 3-4 hr-mostly turkey time
  • Roast turkey according to whatever recipe you are following
  • Slow cook bacon-reserving drippings
  • Simmer giblet/turkey neck for an hour or so, skimming periodically
  • Prepare stuffing- We do stuffin' muffins' round here. Caramelize mushrooms, adding some of yesterdays onion/celery saute from yesterday. Mix coarse dry breadcrumbs, saute mixture, and bacon   adding enough stock/melted butter to moisten just slightly. Pack into buttered muffin tins and bake until tops are starting to get dry. maybe 30 minutes or so after the bird is out of the oven. 
  • Mix green bean casserole-mushroom soup, green beans, onions-ready to go in oven
  •  One hour before turkey is done put yukon potatoes to boil-drain, add butter, cream, S&P.
  •  Giblet gravy- Remove grody stuff from simmered stock (neck, heart, gizzard) add extra liver, diced celery, scallions to broth, simmer 15 minutes. Thicken with corn starch slurry (add cold water to a few Tbs starch), boil 3 minutes, remove from heat. Add chopped boiled egg, dash of cream if you want.
  •  After turkey is done, pull to rest, cover with foil
  • IMMEDIATELY put green beans & stuffing into oven. They’ll be done in ½ hr.
  •  Remove turkey to serving platter. Scrape bottom of pan, add scallions, garlic, stock and simmer for 15 minutes. Season w/ salt/pepper to taste. Puree any veggies from roasting the turkey into this.
  • If you are serving additional rolls/bread, you can warm them after the stuffing/beans are out of the oven.
It sounds like more work than it is. But I think you'll find it's not so bad. You'll have time to drink some wine, nibble your antipasto platter, and suck some sweetened condensed milk out of the can while no one is looking. And unless you invite them, you don't have deal with difficult relatives. And you don't have to share the the leftovers.

Questions? Post to the FB page. I'll try to answer asap.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tackling Turkey

It's that time again. And I have become aware of a few Frau-friends that have never tackled turkey. If this is not you, you can skip it.

Talking Turkey
First you have to decide whether to buy a fresh or frozen turkey. Frozen turkeys are usually cheaper and that is the only one I have had experience with to date. Every year I plan to buy a heritage bird and every year I decide I’d rather save the money and be able to celebrate Christmas instead. Pollan can bite me on that one. At least for now.

Allow for 1 lb of turkey per person. I always buy a bigger bird than we need because we like leftovers and, eventually, turkey & dumplings.

Thawing the Bird
The USDA recommends thawing your turkey, over several days, in the refrigerator. If you shop early (and you should) this is your best, and safest, bet. Least amount of work, too. Use the following guidelines, straight from USDA(40 °F or below)

Allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds
4 to 12 pounds 1 to 3 days
12 to 16 pounds 3 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days

Keep the turkey in its original wrapper. Place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. If necessary, a turkey that has been properly thawed in the refrigerator may be refrozen. But that’s stupid…why would you do that? USDA also says you can thaw a turkey in the microwave but that’s disgusting AND stupid. I think we can all agree that the USDA is full of government assholes just waiting for the opportunity to ruin your holiday.

If things get crazy and you find that you can’t shop until later in the week, thaw your turkey using the water bath method. You can also use the water bath method if you are a moron that forgets that you have a 20 lb turkey to thaw. Been there multiple times. Wrap your turkey securely (I put mine inside a strong garbage bag). Submerge your wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes (HAHAHAHHAHAHA…what?) Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.

Submerge in Cold Water-Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound
4 to 12 pounds 2 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds 10 to 12 hours

So, this is basically a Thanksgiving morning thing, and while it can be done, it can also be a pain while you are trying to do other things. Plus, you will have to get up at dawn for a large turkey. Nice work.

Since I am both a forgetful and lazy Frau, for the last few years, I have combined the water bath method with the newly popularized brining process. Brining is not necessary but it makes me feel fancy and hip which I need since I am cooking an industrially produced franken-bird instead of a heritage Bourbon Red. And since I do it in a cooler, it also makes me feel kind of white-trash, which is a nice contrast to the fancy & hip. I am a complicated Frau.

On Monday, I buy the turkey or pull it from the freezer to have a few days in the fridge to thaw gently. Wednesday evening, I get my cleanest, small, ice chest, fill it half full of ice water. Dissolve 1 C kosher salt and ½ C brown sugar into a quart or so of warm water. Pour brining mixture into the ice chest. Remove the wrapper from the turkey.

Do not forget to remove the giblets from the turkey cavity. They will usually be wrapped in a little packet of paper and placed inside the bird.
I have had the following proud moments:

1) The first time I cooked a turkey, I never even thought to look for a packet of giblets. So I cooked them, paper and all, right inside the turkey. Not always a huge problem but it can affect the flavor of the turkey, so avoid it.

2) I once searched and searched inside the cavity for the packet and never found it. I was convinced I had been robbed of my rightful giblets. The injustice! As it turns out, this company had stuffed the packet up in the other end instead of in the body cavity. Moral: If you don’t find it in one end, check the other.

3) I once forgot to take them out because I was in such a hurry to get the bird in the oven.

Allow the bird to chill (i.e. relax) in his ice bath in a cool place, turning every few hours, and adding more ice if necessary. No, you don’t need to get up in the night to do this. Just make sure there’s lots of ice in there before you go to bed.

Roasting Your Turkey
You really need a turkey roasting pan if you want great drippings for a better gravy. They are usually pretty cheap this time of year. Bed, Bath, & Beyond usually has decent ones for 15-30$. But, as always, buy the best one you can afford.

Remove the brined turkey and rinse inside & out with cold water. Place on the roasting rack. Now here is where you can add your own special touch depending on your tastes. In the past, I have done variations of the following:

Tucked fresh rosemary or sage sprigs under the skin; rubbed with olive oil & smoked salt; rubbed with softened butter; stuffed the inside of the bird with apples & oranges, or onions & garlic; basted with hard cider, regular cider, white wine, beer, and broth.

I don't stuff turkeys. Mushy. Gross. Questionable microbiology. More about stuffing methodology later.

Most years the turkey has come out very nicely no matter what I have done to it. However, for the last four years I have done the same thing and I doubt I will ever change it much.

Tuck herbs under the skin and rub the entire bird lightly with softened butter (or olive oil, if you prefer) & kosher or smoked salt. Toss a few onions, peeled & quartered, along with a few whole peeled garlic cloves in the cavity. Pour whatever kind of liquid you like, broth, cider, wine, beer into the bottom of the pan to prevent the drippings from burning. I have found I like broth & hard cider best. Place in a preheated, 500 degree oven for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 325. Take the pan out of the oven and create an aluminum foil tent over the pan/bird. This will keep things moist & juicy for now. Roast according to the timetable below:

8 to 12 pounds 2 ¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3 ¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4 ½ to 5 hours

Watch your liquid level and keep it sufficient to protect your drippings from scorching. You can baste every ½ hour or so if you want. But it’s really not required if you proceed with the next step.

Approximately 2 hours before you expect the bird to be done, remove the pan from the oven and remove the foil tent. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour to allow for some browning. Remove bird from oven and lay strips of thick cut bacon across the top of the bird, overlapping across the breast. I create a woven 'blanket o' bacon for this. Lay a few slices over the legs & thighs. Place back in the oven for the remaining time.

Ignore whatever pop up thermometer may have come with your turkey. They may or may not have been invented by extremists for the sole purpose of ruining Thanksgiving. After the bird has cooked for the recommended time, check the internal temp by inserting a food thermometer in the thickest part of the inner thigh and the thickest part of the breast without touching bone. When the internal temp has reached 155 to 160, take it out and let the bird rest. It will continue to cook and will reach the safe temp of 165.

The baco-basted turkey has been a huge hit. Only once has the timing been off where the bacon was overcooked due to a lagging turkey temperature. I think it was due to overzealous basting (i.e. opening the oven and wreaking havoc on your steady oven temp). If it looked like that was going to happen again, I would sacrifice the bacon to save the bird. Once the fat has rendered, it really has served its purpose from a culinary standpoint if not an aesthetic one.

So, that’s the bird-the toughest and scariest part of the whole deal. If this particular bird sounds too freaky for a first timer, just follow the cooking times and baste, baste, baste. But remember-bacon covers a multitude of sins.

A shopping list, more recipes, and master plan soon to follow. Pinky swear.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tightwad Tuesday: Build your bakery arsenal

Hello Frugal-Fraus,
Now is the time of year to stock up on your baking staples. The weeks leading up to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are VERY competitive for grocers. The result is that a lot of items you will use now and throughout the year are deeply discounted. Below is a list you might find helpful:

Sugar (granulated, powdered, & light & dark brown)
Baking Soda, baking powder
Karo syrup (shut up-no CS/HFCS debate here-ITS CHRISTMAS!!!)
Dried fruits
Spices (nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, etc.)
Vanilla and other extracts
Yeast (yes, you can freeze it)
Corn Starch
Flours (but these are best not stored for long...3-6 mo tops)
Butter (freeze it..its fine)
Food coloring (if you like your food freaky colors)

If you think of others, add them in the comments section.