Thanksgiving Cooking Guide

November 21, 2012

Obviously, your biggest Thanksgiving decision is how to cook your turkey. This year I was going to try Chris Kimball’s November 2012 recipe for Grilled Turkey, but my 22-lb turkey will overhang the disposable pan, so would cook unevenly. I hope to give that recipe a try later, but won’t risk my huge Thanksgiving turkey on something I think won’t work. So, my options are:

  1. Herb Roasted Turkey, which I’ve rated 5-stars in the past. It is brined in salt water for 4 to 6 hours, then air-dried, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours to get crisp skin. The herb paste adds great flavor, but the recipe calls for a relatively hot oven (400-degrees) so I doubt this will work on my big turkey.
  2. Old Fashioned Roast Turkey.  This is one of my favorite turkeys. It is drapped with salt pork, which constantly bastes the turkey during baking. Also, it salts the turkey instead of brines it.
  3. Brined Roasted Turkey. For many years I brined my turkey to help keep the turkey from drying out. Chris Kimball’s formula is 1 cup salt per gallon cold water for 4- to 6-hour brine or 1/2 cup salt per gallon cold water for 12- to 14-hour brine. The hardest part is finding a stockpot or clean bucket large enough for the turkey.


  1. Best Turkey Gravy. A classic recipe for turkey gravy.
  2. Make-Ahead Dripping-less Turkey Gravy. This recipe was developed by Cook Illustrated because it’s associated turkey recipe was cooked too hot to yield usable drippings. So if you don’t have drippings, here is the solution.

Cranberry Sauce:

  1. Cranberry-Orange Sauce. Don’t make a standard cranberry sauce, when a little bit of triple sec and orange zest make it so much more interesting.
  2. Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce. I made this recipe for years, which is 100 times better than canned cranberry sauce.


  1. Fluffy Mashed potatoes. Cut potatoes into 1″ chunks. Rinse, Steam for 10 minutes, Rinse again, Steam for 20 more minutes until done. It requires my Dutch Oven, but I’ve had dinner guest that raved more about these potatoes than the 5-star main course.
  2. Holiday Scalloped Potatoes. A nice 4-star alternative to standard mashed potatoes.
  3. Master Recipe for Mashed Potatoes. Requires boiling potatoes with their skins on, then peeling hot potatoes. For 15 years Chris Kimball has told us to make mashed potatoes this way.
  4. Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Peeled before cooking, then boiled in half-and-half normally added at the end of the recipe.

Pumpkin Pie:

  1. Matt’s Pumpkin Pie. Make the filling the night before for the best flavor. This recipe is based upon King Arthur Flour recipe. My son Matt took over the pumpkin pie baking responsibilities last year.
  2. Libby’s Pumpkin Pie. For a long time this was my “go to” pumpkin pie recipe, until I discovered the King Arthur recipe.
  3. Chris Kimball’s Pumpkin Pie. I could never bring myself to put yams into a pumpkin pie, so have never made it.

Coq au Vin

November 19, 2012

Immediately after my first trip to France in 1992, I made 10 batches of Coq au Vin in the months subsequent to my trip trying to replicate my delicious Parisian meal. Unfortunately, my efforts came up short and I abandon my attempts. Over the years I would occasionally make a mediocre Coq au Vin. My only modest success was a “Modern Coq au Vin” that I cooked for my parents, brother and sister in 2007; which was this recipe from Chris Kimball (different version than I cooked today). Today, I finally discovered where I had gone wrong all these years. I hadn’t been reducing the sauce far enough, so the flavors were not sufficiently concentrated.  My 2007 attempt reduced a bottle of wine down to 3 cups. Today I reduced the sauce down further than I ever have (down to 2 cups), create an extremely rich and velvety consistency. The sauce was the best 5-star sauce imaginable. Unfortunately, I still believe that chicken does not have the inherent richness to match this amazing sauce; certainly not super-market chicken breasts. Next time I’ll try thighs which can be cooked longer and are more flavorful. Still, I give today’s recipe 4-1/2 stars; better than any restaurant chicken in Paris.

After 20 years of trying, a home-run Coq au Vin


  1. Coq au Vin is usually translated as chicken with wine, but I know enough French to know that chicken is Poulet. This translation is just being polite, because coq obviously translates into cock (or rooster). Most old-time recipes called for old barnyard fowl because they required a long braising to make them tender. Today’s supermarket chicken needs to be handled more gently, so do not cook past 160-degrees for white meat and 175-degrees for dark meat.
  2. Chris Kimball says to use 24 frozen pearl onions, and to thaw, drained, and pat them dry with a paper towel. In the past I have been unable to find frozen pearl onion, except sold in a disgusting pre-made cream sauce. I did try the cream sauced variety (from Birds-Eye) once, but will never use them again. Today, I did see that Birds-Eye also sells a larger bag of un-sauced, frozen pearl onions. But I already had 8 ounces of boiler onions in my kitchen from another French stew I made last month. So I used my fresh boiler onions and saved the $4. I’m still not sure if there is difference between boiler onions and pearl onions.
  3. I used 2 cups of small, fresh boiler onions, and tried a new technique which was a good alternative to the 40-minute braise that Julia Child recommends. First, roll the boiler onions between your two hands to remove as much of the papery exterior as possible. Next, slice of the stem and root end. It’s a lot of slicing because I had 30 small boiler onions. Boil them in water for 1 minute, drain them in a strainer and shock them in an ice water batch. That let me peel away any remaining exterior.
  4. Chris Kimball says to chop the bacon medium in step 1, but I cooked the bacon whole and crumbled it into small pieces after cooking. There doesn’t seem to be any real difference between the two techniques.
  5. While I do own a splatter screen, I didn’t use it today. After seeing the mess that the bacon and chicken made on my stove-top, I’d certainly remind you that this will be a good time to use it.
  6. Finally, I’d also like to mention that Julia Child adds 1/4 cup cognac. She does that to a lot of her stews, but I don’t have cognac. I didn’t add it, but it sounds like it could add some great complexity. Chris Kimball recipe doesn’t call for any cognac either.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $23.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time: 4:30 PM. Dinner time: 7:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s version of this recipe was in his 10th Anniversary America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook. The descriptions of how I prepared the recipe today are given below:

6-oz Thick-cut bacon
4-lbs Bone-in chicken pieces
8-oz Pearl Onions (Labelled boiler onions in my supermarket)
10-oz white mushrooms
2 medium cloves of carlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 bottle medium-bodied red wine
2-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaf
Salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons minced parsley
10-0z wide egg noodles or 2 pounds russet potatoes.

  1. Cook the bacon in a dutch oven for 10 minutes over medium heat until crispy, using a spatter screen if you have one (which you will also use for the chicken). When crispy, remove bacon to paper towels and pat to remove any excess grease. Crumble bacon as set aside until ready to serve. Remove pot from heat.
  2. Meanwhile while the bacon is cooking, prepare your chicken by trimming away any excess fat. If you are using chicken breasts, remove the ribs and cut each breast in half. Dry the chicken using paper towels and season both sides with salt and pepper.
  3. If you have less than 2 tablespoons of bacon fat, add vegetable oil.Put the Dutch oven with the bacon fat over medium-high heat until begins to shimmer. Cook the chicken in two batches, cooking for 8 minutes per side (a total of 32 minutes). After each batch is complete remove to a plate and set aside. Again, use a splatter screen if you have one.
  4. While the chicken cooks prepare pearl onions and quarter mushrooms. If using fresh pearl onions, roll the onions between your hands to remove as much of the papery exterior as possible, then slice off stem and root ends. Add the onions to boiling water for 1 minute, empty to a strainer then shock in an ice water bath. This will help you remove any remaining outer skin.
  5. Remove all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pan, and cook the quartered mushrooms and pearl onions over medium burner for 10 minutes
  6. Press garlic cloves directly into pot and add 1 tablespoon tomato paste. Cook for 30 seconds, then add flour and cook for 1 additional minute.
  7. Add wine, chicken broth and deglaze the bottom of the pot. Add thyme, bay leaves add 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
  8. Return the chicken to the pot, nestling them so that they are all submerged. Cover pot and cook chicken over medium-low burner until chicken reaches correct internal temperature; 160 for white meat (20 minutes) and 175 for dark meat (40 minutes). Use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken when done, placing in a large bowl and tent with aluminum foil to keep warm.
  9. While the chicken cooks, put a large pot of salted water on the stove-top and begin heating for your eggs noodles (or mashed potatoes).
  10. Reduce sauce, uncovered, for 20 minutes until the sauce has reduce to about 2 cups and is thick. If you only cooked white meat then that may take 35 minutes. Replace the chicken in the pot for last 5 minutes to reheat.
  11. Remove pot from heat and put chicken on serving platter. Fish out the 2 bay leaves, whisk in the butter and adjust salt and pepper according to your taste. Pour sauce over chicken and spring with bacon and parsley.

Shepherd’s Pie

November 11, 2012

I have a friend who introduced me to Shepherd’s Pie about 10 years ago. It was her signature dish, and when I saw the current issue of Cook’s Illustrated my memories flew back to those simpler years in Hoboken, New Jersey. I was surprised by the long length of the ingredient list, and while they are common enough, with such a long list you’re sure to need a special trip to the supermarket. In my case it was 4-ounces of white mushrooms, scallions, carrots and port. Overall, the pie took more effort than I had thought; making the mashed potatoes, browning the vegetables and meat in many steps, then broiling the final pie. However, it is not daunting; everything is straight-forward with no special skills or techniques. In the end Chris Kimball’s recipe was very good, I give it 3-1/2 stars; delicious, well-balanced. A solid recipe for classic Shepherd’s pie, but not so exceptional as to surpass the memory of my friend’s Shepherd’s pie.

Classic Shepherd’s pie is not as easy as you think

While I just got back power two days ago after Hurricane Sandy; I lost two 80-foot pine trees and spent 11 days without power; this recipe also reminded me how fortunately I am. The area where I lived in Hoboken was exceptionally low-lying and the damage was exceptionally devastating. My friends have virtually all moved out of Hoboken, it seems to be a transitional town, everybody staying and enjoying it for a few years before the headaches eventually become too great. But I feel for all those who have moved in, as it could have just as easily been me and my friends who were hit so hard.


  1. Chris Kimball says not to use beef that is fattier than 93%, but I tempted fate and used the 80% lean ground beef that was already in my refrigerator. I cooked it separately so that I could discard some of the extra fat, before combining the other ingredients.
  2. I didn’t have a 10″ broiler-safe skillet, so I used my 12″ skillet to cook the meat, then assembled the pie into a Pyrex pie plate.
  3. I didn’t melt the butter separately as instructed in the recipe, I just allowed the residual heat of the potatoes to do it for me.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $14.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:45 PM. Finish time 5:30 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared the recipe today are given below:

1-1/2 lbs 93%-lean ground beef
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons water
Salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2-1/2 lbs russet potatoes
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg yolk
8 scallions (green parts only)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 onion
4-oz white mushrooms
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, pressed
2 tablespoons Madeira or ruby port
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups beef broth
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 carrots
2 teaspoons cornstarch

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the beef, 2 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and baking soda. Allow to stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.
  2. In the mean time, Peel your potatoes and cut into approximately 1″ cubes. Put potatoes in a medium saucepan, adding just enough water to cover, then add 1 tablespoon salt. Set over high burner, cover, and bring up to a boil. Reduce to medium-low, and continue simmering for 10 to 12 minutes. The potatoes will be done when a paring knife doesn’t meet any resistance. Empty potatoes into a strainer and then return them to the same saucepan for about 1 minute until all the surface moister has dried. Remove potatoes from heat and stir in butter.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together your milk, egg yolk, then mix into the potatoes. Thinly slice the green parts of 8 scallions, add to potatoes and season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper. Cover saucepan and set aside.
  4. Chop the onion and mushrooms. Peel your garlic cloves. Peel and chop your carrot (to be used in Step 6)
  5. Using a 10″-skillet that is safe to eventually put into the oven, pre-heat vegetable oil over medium burner until it’s shimmering. Add onion, mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; saute for 5 to 6 minutes. Add tomato paste and press garlic directly into the skillet; continue to cook for 2 more minutes. Add Madeira or Port and continue cooking for 1 minute. Mix in flour and continue cooking for 1 minute.
  6. Add 1-1/4 cups beef broth, 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, 2 sprigs fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf, and 2 chopped carrots. When it comes up to a boil, reduce the burner to medium-low and add ground beef in 2″ chunks. Cover the skillet and cook for 12 minutes until the beef is cooked through, using 2 forks to break up the meat half-way through cooking.
  7. Stir cornstarch and remaining 2 teaspoons water together in bowl. Stir cornstarch mixture into filling and continue to simmer for 30 seconds. Remove thyme and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Set an oven rack to be 5″ from the broiler, and pre-heat while assembling the pie. Put mashed potatoes in a large Zip-lock bag and cut of a 1″ opening in one corner, then pipe the potatoes into an even layer over the filling. Use the back of a spoon to smooth out the potatoes, ensuring that all the meat is covered. Finally use the tines of a fork to make ridges over the entire surface, in whatever pattern you like.
  9. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, put pie on-top and broil for 10 to 15 minutes until the potatoes are golden brown, rotating the pie half way through broiling to ensure even browning. Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

I assembled in a pie plate, for lack of oven-safe 10″ skillet

From the Darkness

November 5, 2012

It’s been a week since Hurricane Sandy hit the New Jersey coastline; a week of darkness and biting cold that will not be soon forgotten. My kids remain out of school; their last day in school was October 26th and the electric company estimates they’ll be out until November 11th. The inside of my dark house is just 50-degrees, but this week will be colder than last week and I hear there is a new storm that will hit in a few days. Because the damage was so sever there is no place to go to warm up and take a break from the realities of the storm’s aftermath. No internet for the kids at the library or Panera. Of course, if you are reading this blog, then you have internet and undoubtedly know much more that me about the storm and its aftermath. I have had virtually no news, except for a very little that I can get on my cell phone. But from a personal perspective, I can tell you that the most demoralizing part of this past week has been the gas lines. Lines stretching farther than the eye can see (no exaggeration). Even though I had a small generator I cannot use it for lack of gas.

But there may be brightness on the horizon. I see that there has been progress in the last 24-hours. Power to thousands in my town has come back over the weekend. Today is my first day back to work, as my office has had its power restored. My kids are spending the day with friends who do have power. So while my personal situation with my power being restored seems bleak; I lost two 80-foot trees into the power lines behind my house. I do finally see some light at the end of this dark tunnel. Tonight we will finally celebrate Halloween.

Collection of my Black-out recipes and how to adapt them:

1. Shrimp Scampi. This will probably be the first recipe you make, because without a freezer you need to use your defrosting shrimp. It’s easy to make and ready in about 15 minutes, instead of the usually 40 minutes (owing to your pre-thawed shrimp).

2. BBQ Chicken Skewers. Required: Grill. The only adaptation is to slice a half-pound of bacon into 1″ lengths. Put one 1″ slice of bacon between each piece of chicken. While the bacon paste provides a more even coating, this method is still delicious and will be the best recipe you make during your blackout.

3. Beer Can Chicken. Required: Grill. I was able to find a whole 7-pound chicken on sale for $7. It takes a total of 3-1/2 hours; 2-hours for the dry spices to marinate the meat, and another 1-1/2 hours to cook and rest. But if you don’t mind the unattended time; then this chicken can be made with very little actual effort.

4, Ground Beef Tacos. Hopefully you have some cheese leftover in your ice chest. Plus I was able use some ground beef that I found buried in the freezer. When power eventually comes back, my refrigerator and freezer will be completely empty.

5. Chicken Big Mac. The chicken can be cooked either in a skillet or on the grill. The only drawback was that the buns cost me $5 because the supermarket only had the super expensive buns in stock.

6. Chicken Saltimboca. Of course you’ll need a supermarket to buy the prosciutto, but this can be made in under 30-minutes. It was the second recipe I ever posted on this blog back in January of 2010. I intend to post an update to the recipe, and I’ve adapted Chris Kimball’s original recipe to render more flavorful sauce.

7. Pizza. Required: Oven that can be lit manually. I didn’t make the dough, but bought one of those pre-risen doughs from the store’s refrigerated section. I still had mozzarella left over.

There you have them. Seven back-out recipes for 7-powerless days. I will add to this posting as I come up with more recipes that can be made during  blackout.

Updated 11/7.

Day 8. Italian Sausage Sandwiches. I sliced the sausage into wheels, and cut the onion into half-rings. I also used some beer to deglaze the pan to get more of the caramelized flavor into the sandwiches. I cooked 2 sausages per person, but 2-1/2 per person would have been better. Chris Kimball has a recipe for the grill here, but its too cold to be outside and you’ll have to cook the onions extra to compensate for the lack of microwave.

Day 10. Homemade Macaroni and Cheese. The main limitation of this recipe is that it requires nearly a quart of milk. You will have to forego the nice oven-toasted crust, but you can substitute crumbled bacon for an extra punch of flavor. Homemade mac & cheese will make the kids happy, and can still please an adult (unlike the boxed version). Still no power at my house, but at least the kids are back in school.

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