Julia Child’s Deconstructed Thanksgiving

November 29, 2015

If you like dark meat, this will be the only turkey recipe you will ever make from this point forward. Removing the thighbones, then trussing the thighs up using skewers and string, makes the dark meat the absolute best part of the entire evening. This was my second year in a row making Julia Child’s Thanksgiving. Last year I posted the turkey/stuffing combination, and this year I also wanted to include the gravy recipe; the 3 recipes go perfectly together. This post is intended to ease the juggling between the three recipes; integrating the timing of each step was the biggest challenge.

Traditional Thanksgiving meal

Traditional Thanksgiving meal

By separating the turkey into three major pieces, some of the most fundamental Thanksgiving issues are solved. (1) Getting the dark meat cooked properly without overcooking the white meat. (2) getting real turkey drippings into the stuffing. As a bonus, this method cooks the turkey in about half the time, freeing up my oven to cook rolls, pies, and gravy the rest of the day. There are a few issues (discussed below), but overall this technique provides a delicious turkey. It was the best dark meat I’ve ever eaten. Chris Kimball agrees, saying “this is now my new, absolute favorite.” 4-1/2 stars. I hope you all had a delicious Thanksgiving.

Most beautiful dark meat ever

Most beautiful dark meat ever

Start the evening before Thanksgiving, taking care of most of the prep work in about 1-1/2 hours. Cut the turkey into three major parts, (1) breast/wings, then (2) cut off each leg/thigh quarter. At first, I misread the instructions and started to cut off just the leg; not the entire leg quarter (i.e. including the thigh), but realized my mistake before I did any damage beyond the skin. The recipe only brines the breast/wings. It salts/seasons the leg quarters separately.

Shopping List for Turkey, Stuffing and Gravy:

  • Turkey (between 1-1/2 and 2 pounds per person)
  • 24-ounce loaf of hearty white sandwich bread (e.g. Arnold’s or Pepperidge Farms)
  • Fresh sage (enough for 2-1/2 tablespoons)
  • 5 onions
  • 7 celery ribs
  • 1 carrot
  • 6 unpeeled garlic cloves
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 cup dried cranberries (about 4-ounces)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 ½ cups chicken broth (28 0unces)
  • 2 cups dry white wine (2/3-rds bottle)
  • Wooden skewers

Issues / Comments:

  1. Cutting off leg quarters, not just legs. As I mentioned above, I almost cut off just the legs in step 2. The recipe calls for me to remove the “leg quarter”.
  2. Because the wings overhanged my 12″ skillet, the juices dripped down to the oven floor and filled the house with smoke. My solution is that I recommend putting a foil-lined baking sheet below the skillet to catch the juices. If it starts to smoke you can just swap it out for new foil. Fortunately, my guests had not yet arrived.
  3. I was surprised that it took me a full hour to deconstruct and prepare the turkey, most of the time was separating the leg quarters. The back was pretty easy to remove using kitchen shears.
  4. The recipe calls for a 12-to-15-pound turkey. I bought a 19-pounder because of the number of guests, but my turkey took double the time to cook than stated in the recipe. In the end, we ate an hour late, but only because I cut the resting time down (more than I should have).
  5. If your turkey weighs more than 17-pounds you will have to remove the stuffing before the turkey has finished cooking,
  6. While Chris Kimball tries to have the white and dark meat ready at the same time, it was not the case. The dark meat took longer, but that gave the breast an extra 10-to-15 minutes to rest. The beautiful thing about this recipe is that I was able to remove the white meat while the dark meat came up to temperature.

Rating: 4-1/2 star.
Cost: $25.  ($10 of which was by 21-lb turkey; which was subsidized by my supermarket)
How much work? Medium/High.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time 12 Noon. Dinner time 5 PM.

The original Cook’s Illustrated recipe is here.  The recipe as I cooked it for this Thanksgiving is as follows:

The Evening Before Thanksgiving:
1 Turkey
1 teaspoon minced fresh sage (remaining 2 tablespoons will be for tomorrow)
Salt and pepper
Wooden skewers
1-1/2 pounds hearty white sandwich bread (e.g. Arnold’s or Pepperidge Farms)

  1. Expect to spend 1-1/2 hours this evening on preparations. Mince enough fresh sage to yield 1 teaspoon and set aside until you are ready to season/truss the thigh in Step 5.
  2. Remove turkey from packaging, and remove the giblets and neck (from inside the body cavity). Reserve in a gallon-sized plastic bag (or in a large Dutch oven), which will be used tomorrow along with back and thigh bones to make the gravy.
  3. Put turkey breast-side-up on your largest cutting board. Tuck the wing back just to get it out-of-the-way. Working on one leg quarter at a time; remove the thighs/legs (the entire leg quarter in one piece). Cut through the skin around the quarters where it attaches to breast; which will allow you to better see the actual meat. From the front of the turkey (near the wings), use a boning knife to cut deeply along the bone, freeing the thigh meat; until your knife reaches the hip bone. Bend the entire leg quarter back so that the bone pops out of the hip socket, then you can continue to cut the meat away and remove entire quarter.
  4. To de-bone the thigh (just the thigh, not the drumstick), use the tip of your boning knife to cut along the length of the thigh; there is usually a thin line of fat that will show you where the bone is. Then cut around the tip of the bone and work your knife underneath the bone to expose the joint between thigh and leg. Cut through the cartilage and remove thighbone; adding bones to your bag/pot for the gravy. Repeat to remove the second leg quarter.
  5. Rub interior of each thigh with ½ teaspoon sage, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
  6. Poke 3 skewers through skin/meat to close up the thigh where your removed the thigh bone. Wrap some kitchen twine around the wooden skewers to tightly close the thigh into a nice, round piece of boneless meat. Set on a large plate, cover, and refrigerate for 6 to 12 hours until ready to cook.
  7. Trim away and discard any excess skin from around the neck. Trim away and discard any large globs of fat from the skin.
  8. To remove the back bone from the breast, flip the turkey over breast-side-down. Use kitchen shears to cut through ribs (following vertical line of fat where breast meets back) until you can’t cut anymore. You’ve reach the bone near the wing joint. Repeat on other side of backbone.
  9. Use a little force to bend the back-section away from the breast, and the shoulder joint should pop out of the socket. Cut between the bonds to separate the back from the breast, and add the back to the bag/pot for making gravy.
  10. Dissolve 3/4-cup salt into 6 quarts of cold water in a large container (I used my 8-quart stock pot; so reduced to 1/2 cup salt and 4 quarts of cold water). Submerge breast in brine, cover and refrigerate for 6 to 12 hours until ready to cook. Refrigerate reserved bones.
  11. Cut bread into 1/2-inch cubes (including the crust). Spread on-top 2 rimmed baking sheets and bake at 300-degrees from 30 to 40 minutes until it becomes dry and lightly browned. Stir a few times during baking and empty into the largest bowl you own. Set aside until Thanksgiving day.
  12. While the bread drying out is in the oven, you will have time to pre-mix your pumpkin pie filling. If you are going to make dinner rolls or bread, then mix your biga.

Thanksgiving Day:

Stuffing Ingredients:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
3 onions, chopped fine
6 celery ribs, minced
1 cup dried cranberries
4 large eggs, beaten

Gravy Ingredients:
2 onions, chopped coarse
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 celery rib, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3-1/2 cups chicken broth
3 cups water
2 cups dry white wine
6 sprigs fresh thyme

  1. At 8AM. If you are making dinner rolls or bread, start the dough early in the morning. The dough needs time to rise, and you need time to bake the bread without conflicting with your turkey roasting schedule. Also, I had extra rolls to serve hot around lunchtime.
  2. At 11AM: If you want your pumpkin pie shortly after dinner, this is your last free oven time to bake it. It is also possible to put it into the oven around 4:30PM (while the turkey rests); but the pie won’t be cool enough to eat until about 7:30PM.
  3. At 12 NOON: Set two over racks to the lowest and second lowest positions; pre-heat to 450-degrees. Put reserved turkey bones, onions, carrot, celery, and garlic in large roasting pan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and toss to combine. Roast, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 50 minutes until everything becomes well browned.
  4. At 12:30PM: Remove the breast from brine and pat dry using paper towels (leaving the leg quarters in refrigerator for now). Tuck the wings behind back. Finely chop 3 onions. Melt butter in 12″ non-stick oven-safe skillet over medium burner. Add chopped onions and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they have softened and are just beginning to brown
  5. Meanwhile, mince 2 tablespoons of fresh sage and 6 celery ribs. Add minced celery and sage to skillet, plus 1-1/2 teaspoons pepper. Continue to cook for 3 to 5 minutes until celery is softened. It is essential that the vegetables have time to dry out in the skillet or your stuffing will turn to mush. Empty vegetables into your large bowl with the bread cubes. Set aside until Step 9.
  6. AT 1PM: Transfer your gravy ingredients from the roasting pan to a large Dutch oven and set aside until Step 8.
  7. Reduce oven temperature to 425-degrees. Use paper towels to wipe out non-stick skillet. Brush surface of breast with 2 teaspoons vegetable oil and set turkey breast with the skin-side-down into skillet. Roast at 425-degrees for 35 minutes; placing a foil-lined baking sheet on the rack below turkey to catch any drippings.
  8. For the gravy, add 3-1/2 cups chicken broth, 3 cups water, 2 cups white wine and the 6 sprigs fresh thyme to the pot with the roasted turkey/vegetables from Step 6. Bring up to boil over high burner, then reduce to low and simmer for 1-1/2 hours, until it is reduced by half.
  9. At 1:30PM. Add 1 cup cranberries and 4 beaten eggs to bread mixture and toss to combine (mixture will be dry). Empty stuffing to 16″x13″ roasting pan, then use a rubber spatula to form an even 12″x10″ rectangle. The turkey will be set on-top of stuffing to protect it and prevent it from burning.
  10. Remove the breast from the oven and use paper towels to pat up the hot juices from the top of the breast. Use wads to paper towels to flip over and set over two-thirds of stuffing.
  11. Brush leg quarters with 1 teaspoon vegetable oil and arrange over the remaining stuffing. Lightly season legs and breasts with salt.
  12. Use your rubber spatula to tuck and exposed stuffing under the turkey, so that it is almost entire covered.
  13. Bake for 30 minutes at 425-degrees.
  14. At 2:30PM. Reduce oven to 350-degrees and continue cooking turkey for between 40 minutes and 2 hours.
  15. For the Gravy, empty the contents of pot through fine-mesh strainer set over a large bowl. Use the back of a spatula to press solids to render as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids. If you have more than 4 cups of liquid continue reducing until you have 4 cups. Empty the liquid into a fat separator. Allow to settle for at least 5 minutes (until Step 20)
  16. If your turkey is more than 16-to-17-pounds you will need to remove the stuffing before the turkey has fully cooked to prevent it from becoming too greasy. Put stuffing into an oven-safe pyrex casserole dish and continue baking until nicely browned. Also continue cooking turkey in the roasting pan on a v-rack.
  17. At 3:30PM to 4:30PM. Begin to check the internal temperature and remove when the breast registers 160 to 165 degrees and thighs reach 175 to 180 degrees; Remove each piece individually as each piece attains the proper temperature.  Set onto a cutting board and tent with aluminum foil.
  18. In my case, parts of the skin was not crispy. I broiled the leg quarts to crisp up the skin. Rotate turkey as necessary to crisp the entire skin.
  19. Allow turkey to rest for 30 minutes before carving. While turkey rests, use a spatula to stir stuffing and scrape up any browned bits. Evenly rearrange stuffing over the entire roasting pan and keep warm in the turned-off-oven.
  20. While the turkey continues to rest, finish making your gravy. Separate 1/4 cup of fat to medium saucepan. Put over medium-high burner and cook until bubbling. If you do not have 1/4 cup of reserved turkey fat, then supplement with unsalted butter. Whisk in 1/4 cup flour and cook for 2 minutes, constantly whisking, until it becomes honey-colored. Gradually whisk in hot turkey liquid and bring to boil. Reduce burner to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it has thickened. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
  21. Remove skewers and twine from leg quarters. Carve turkey. Before serving stuffing, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. and arrange in center of large serving platter. Serve.
The breast also roasted up wonderfully moist.

The breast also roasted up wonderfully moist.


Thanksgiving Cooking Guide

November 25, 2015

Here is a summary of many of Chris Kimball’s Thanksgiving options. A few of the posts are not his recipes, but I’ve nevertheless included (for my convenience). I still am afraid to risk my Thanksgiving turkey using Chris Kimball’s November 2012 recipe for Grilled Turkey; if anyone has tried, please post a comment with your results.

The best turkey options are:

  1. Julia Child’s Deconstructed Turkey. While I was resistant to departing from the tradition of roasting the turkey whole, this recipe came out fantastic last year. This recipe elevates the dark meat to become the star of the dinner. Classic stuffing with sausage.
  2. 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.
  3. Old Fashioned Roast Turkey.  This is one of my favorite turkeys. It is draped with salt pork, which constantly bastes the turkey during baking. Also, it salts the turkey instead of a wet brine.
  4. 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.

Gravy:

  1. Traditional turkey gravy. This was part of Julia Child’s deconstructed turkey.
  2. Best Turkey Gravy. A classic recipe for turkey gravy.
  3. 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.

Potatoes:

  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 in 2011. For him, it’s a labor of love.
  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.

Thanksgiving Menu

November 22, 2014

Of all the holidays on our busy calendars, Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite. I love the simplicity of the celebrations. There are no presents to buy or expectations to fulfill (other than a bountiful meal). It is simply a day to share and appreciate the important people in our lives; wonderful friends, our family, and the people we love. As a bonus, since I love to cook, it usually means that I have a crowd to cook for. Especially on Thanksgiving: the more the merrier.

Appetizers:

  • Ceviche.
  • Meat and Cheese plate: Salami, Ham. Boursin, Manchego, Jarlsberg.

Dinner Menu:

Beverages Menu:

  • Beer.
  • White Wine.
  • Red Wine; Malbec, from my time living in Argentina.
  • Sangria.

Dessert Menu:


Pre-Thanksgiving Preparation Timeline

November 18, 2014

It snuck up on me, but the time has come. Thanksgiving preparations begin now. I need a full week to fully defrost my big turkey (plus a day or two to prepare it).

Planning for the Thanksgiving

Planning for the Thanksgiving

Wednesday or Thursday Before Thanksgiving: Buy and Defrost your Turkey

When planning on what size Turkey to buy, a general guideline is to plan for 1-1/2 pounds per person (assuming you want leftovers). Without leftovers you can get away with 1 pound of turkey per person.  I’m planning for a crowd of between 12 and 14. So I need approximately 20-pounds.

If you are buying a frozen Turkey, it is essential that plan ahead. A large turkey will take a full week prior to Thanksgiving. In my case, my refrigerator seems to run a little cold. Every year I need an extra day or two to fully thaw my turkey. Thaw your turkey by keeping it in its original wrapping, placed on a rimmed sheet pan on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator. Thawing guidelines are generally 5 hours per pound, but I haven’t found those guidelines are accurate for large turkeys. Cooks Illustrated cites 1 day for every 4 pounds of turkey.

Turkey Weight Approx Thaw Time
10 to 14 lbs 4 days
14 to 18 lbs 5 days
18 to 22 lbs 6 days
22 to 26 lbs 7 days

Saturday or Sunday Before Thanksgiving: Take Inventory

With about 5 days to go you should have your menu planned, and you should have selected which recipes you will use. Different recipes will require different slightly different ingredient lists.

This weekend is when most people do a majority of their Thanksgiving grocery shopping, so go early in the day to try to beat the crowds. Ultimately, patience will be required no matter what time you go. Hopefully you can finish most of your major shopping early on Saturday, as the availability of key items diminishes.  Especially prone to selling out are items for pumpkin pie and fresh spices; especially thyme and sage.

  1. Cranberries. Ocean Spray supplies 75% of the total world-wide market of cranberries, but has a 100% monopoly on the supermarket supply of cranberries in my area. The lack of competition has resulted in inferior berries. I usually have to throw away up to 1/4 of the bag, because they sell unripe berries intermixed with ripe one. The monopoly means that I have no alternative.
  2. Russet Potatoes, 6 or 7 onions, 1 bunch of celery, a few carrots, garlic, sage, thyme, maybe parsley (but you can usually find parsley).
  3. Canned pumpkin, evaporated milk, pie dough, ground cloves (you can substitute whole cloves and grind them yourself, using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle).
  4. Bread Cubes or high-quality sandwich bread. While Pepperidge farms stuffing is ubiquitous, it’s just as easy to make your own using high-quality sandwich bread. Arnold Country Classics White Bread (24oz) is Cook’s Illustrated choice, but Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Hearty White Bread Celery was the runner up in the CI taste test.
  5. Chicken Stock. Make sure you have at least 4-cups for gravy and stuffing. I have already made a fresh batch of homemade chicken stock.  This year my gravy recipe alone calls for 3-1/2 cups. Actually, this year I used spare turkey bones to make turkey stock.
  6. Butter. Be sure you have at least a pound, but butter usually goes on sale around Thanksgiving. I usually pick up a few pounds of Land o Lakes for $2/lb, and freeze any extra. (This year it’s a little more expensive, and it seems like $3/lb is the lowest price).
  7. Heavy Cream For mashed potatoes and maybe whipped cream for pie. A few eggs (for stuffing).
  8. Any specialty items: White wine for gravy, Salt pork, sausage, kosher salt. This year I need 1 cup dried cranberries  for the stuffing.
  9. Snacks for Thanksgiving Day: Chips, Salsa, Cheeses, Sandwiches. These items don’t generally sell out, but it’s nice to know that you have one fewer thing to worry about.

Tuesday Before Thanksgiving (2 days before):

Take stock of the status of your turkey. Is it soft? Or is there any chance that the turkey’s interior is still frozen? If it’s still partially frozen, then you should thaw it in a clean bucket filled with cold water (leaving turkey pre-wrapped). I don’t have any buckets large enough for my 20-lb turkey, so I use a sink lined with a large trash bag. Depending upon how frozen your turkey is, it can be completely thawed in just a few hours.  Of course, don’t thaw using anything other than cold water at this point.

Wednesday Before Thanksgiving (the day before):

On Wednesday morning, assuming your turkey is thawed, brine or salt the turkey. Lately I’ve been salting because it leaves the skin more appealing.

There are also some things that you can optionally make ahead:

  1. Cranberry sauce.
  2. Pie dough.
  3. Mix the pumpkin pie filling, which will taste better if you mix the night before.

Thanksgiving Day:

Decide when you plan to bake your pumpkin pie. Your options are (1) early, an hour before the turkey goes in the oven, or (2) immediately upon taking the turkey out of the oven. I am going with option 1. Option 2 will require a little cooling time in the refrigerator so that it is cool enough to firm up. There is a school of people who make it the night before and leave it at room temperature until dessert the next day (I’d be too worried about potential bacteria to even consider this).


Thanksgiving Cooking Guide

November 25, 2013

I’m re-posting my Thanksgiving Cooking Guide from last year. I still am afraid to risk my Thanksgiving turkey using Chris Kimball’s November 2012 recipe for Grilled Turkey. I still hope to give that recipe a try later, but won’t risk my huge Thanksgiving turkey on the idea. 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.
  4. Roasting Pre-cut Turkey Parts. For 2013 Cook’s Illustrated is urging me to cut up my turkey prior to cooking. Even though using Julia Child’s name does give me some assurance that everything would be okay, I simply cannot bring myself to depart from a traditional whole turkey roasting all day in the oven. It’s as much as the warm, aroma-filled house as it is about the seeing the massive turkey resting before the meal. In other words, giving thanks for turkey parts seems insincere.

Gravy:

  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.

Potatoes:

  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 in 2011. For him, it’s a labor of love.
  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.

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.

Gravy:

  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.

Potatoes:

  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.

Happy Thanksgiving

November 25, 2010

It’s now after 12 noon and the turkey is in the oven and it should be coming out around 4 PM, for a 5 PM dinner. Tonight’s menu includes: Old-Fashioned Turkey with Gravy, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. I have never liked stuffing, so I only make it when we have friends. I will provide updates as the day progresses.

I woke up 15 hours ago for this? But worth it !

  • 6:30 PM – It’s over. I can’t believe that I woke up 15 hours ago to start the preparations, but everything turned out great. The skin on the turkey was delicious with the constant basting of the salt pork. This year’s gravy (Chris Kimball’s recipe without turkey drippings) turned out better than my own recipe (with turkey drippings). The mashed potatoes were silky smooth and very rich; I generally followed this recipe except that I didn’t add garlic and used my ricer. The only recipe that failed was the pumpkin pie; the homemade crust was shallower than the store-bought, which shortened the cooking time dramatically. But because I was eating and not keeping an eye on it, the crust burned, so we will try to eat the filling only. I promised the boys another pumpkin pie tomorrow.
  • 5:45 – Everything is on the table. It all looks delicious. Dinner time!!!
  • 5:30 – Everything is done cooking, except that the pumpkin pie is in the oven and will cook during dinner. It should be ready to eat about 7:30. I am about to carve the turkey.
  • 4:30 – The internal temperature of the turkey is 155-degrees. Only 10 more degrees to go. The potatoes are diced and simmering; they need to simmer for 25 minutes, then I will process them in my ricer. The cranberry sauce is ready, and I put it in the refrigerator, because it is right around that critical temperature where bacteria will multiple. The gravy is still boiling (rather than simmering), and hopefully won’t delay dinner. It looks like dinner will be closer to 6 PM than 5.
  • 3:40 – Time to dice the four pounds of russet potatoes. I will use a garlic-less version for this past recipe. What I like about this recipe for Thanksgiving is that 95% of the work (i.e. the dicing and mixing) is done hours before dinnertime; only the mashing (or using the ricer) is left for the last minute.
  • 3:35 – The cranberries are off the stove and cooling; I will add the triple sec in about 30 minutes.
  • 3:30 – I just realized that I was supposed to have started the “dripping-less” gravy 1-1/2 hours ago. The recipe requires that I reduce the liquid by half, so I will have to keep it turned up pretty high. I want those concentrated flavors, not a watered-down sauce.
  • 3:15 – The cranberries are cooking on the stove, and I can hear them beginning to pop. They have another 2 minutes to go before I turn them down to a simmer. My oranges didn’t yield much zest; I needed a full tablespoon, but only got less than a teaspoon. I’ll add some squeezed orange juice, though it is much less potent.
  • 2:50 – The internal temperature of the turkey is 125-degrees. According to the recipe I have to wait until 140-degrees to remove the foil, cheese cloth and salt pork so that it can nicely brown. It seems like we will eat at least a half hour late.
  • 2:30 – The pumpkin pie mix is ready and in the refrigerator. The recipe says that it is best if you let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. I am using the King Arthur Pie recipe, which is much better than the Libby recipe. I haven’t tried the CI recipe, but the ingredient list didn’t make we want to try. Also, I am too low on sugar, so could only make enough for one pie. I will need to use the rest of my 29-oz can of pumpkin tomorrow for a second pie. The grocery stores all closed at 2pm.
  • 1:34 – The first slushy snow of the season has just begun falling outside. I’m glad the turkey is keeping the house warm. The internal temperature of the turkey is 107-degrees; a long way to go.
  • 1:10 – Lunch is almost ready. Mini-grilled cheese sandwiches made a very narrow loaf if Italian bread. (see photo below). I was out of sandwich bread, but they came out cute. Hopefully they are flavorful.
  • 12:35 – Getting ready to make a light lunch, I’m thinking about grilled cheese sandwiches for the boys.
  • 12:30 – I’m never sure exactly when to start the cranberry sauce. I will use the recipe from my own cookbook (see recipe at bottom). But, it does look like it originally came from Chris Kimball’s recipe. I’ve been making this variation for the past few years.
  • 12:20 PM – Fortunately, I have time for a second cup of coffee while I finalize which recipes I will use for my dinner. Already, I decided that I will make the Cook’s Country of Old-Fashioned Turkey with Gravy. At 4:30 in the morning, I was mistakenly looking at the Cook’s Illustrated version of Old-Fashion Turkey, sans stuffing.

Pumpkin Pie Recipe:

Cranberry Sauce Recipe:

12 ounce bag cranberries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons Triple Sec

  • Begin at least 2 hours before dinner time.
  • In saucepan, boil water, sugar, orange zest, and salt to boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar; about 5 minutes.
  • Add washed cranberries; return to boil over for 5 minutes, without stirring.
  • Lower heat and simmer until about two-thirds of berries have popped open and sauce thickens, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Off heat; stir in triple Sec.  Let cool for 1 hour on counter-top, then cover and refrigerate (up to 7 days.)
  • Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving.
  • Makes about 2 1/4 cups

Thanksgiving – Early Morning & Before

November 25, 2010

With my nearest relative more than 2,500 miles away, every year I celebrate Thanksgiving with my sons and invite all my friends. Some years we have 20 people, and other years, such as today, we are just the four of us. But the whole ritual of cooking changes very little no mater with whom we celebrate Thanksgiving; with more people we have more side dishes, and more stress. Our stress-free menu this year is a simple one: roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. I will provide updates as the day progresses.

Covered with foil, cheese cloth and salt pork. Still 6 hours until dinner.

  • 11:30 AM – I finally had a cup of coffee.
  • 11:10 AM – The turkey is in the oven. I can rest for the next 3 hours.
  • 10:45 AM – Finishing the kitchen cleanup, and noticed a problem with the recipe. I did some more checking and realized that I was looking at the wrong recipe. The correct one is here. The main difference is that the Cook’s Country recipe places the salt pork on the breast, and the Cook’s Illustrated puts the salt pork on on the non-breast side. I’d rather baste the breast side, which has the tendency to dry out.
  • 10:00 AM – I got back from the store, and removed the turkey from the bath. I patted it dry and put it in the refrigerator to dry the skin.
  • 9:00 AM – Went to the store to buy my final ingredients. I also decided to buy a “safety” pie crust just in case mine doesn’t turn out.
  • 8:30 AM – Got out of bed and changed the water in the turkey bath. Inside the cavity is still pretty frozen, but it should be ready about 10:30. Perfect, because I’m aiming for an oven-time of 11 AM.
  • 5:00 AM – Went back to bed for a few hours.
  • 4:45 AM – I start to make a shopping list of last minute items that I will need: Red onion, salt pork, russet potatoes, garlic. Also a pie crust.
  • 4:35 AM – I search the Cook’s Illustrated website to see which turkey recipe I wanted to follow this year. I decide of Old-Fashion Turkey, sans stuffing.
  • 4:30 AM – With the turkey in the sink defrosting for 30 minutes, I just changed the cold water. Chris Kimball recommends changing the water in which you are “speed defrosting” the turkey every 30-minutes.
  • 3:53 AM – I awake and take my 20-pound turkey out of the refrigerator. Every year I tell myself that I will buy the turkey earlier next year, so that I don’t need to wake up in the middle of the night to start defrosting in water. But every year I awaken early in the morning to find that it is still frozen. My refrigerator is on the recommended setting of 3 (out of 5), so I’m not sure why I have this problem every year.
  • T-Day minus 1: Yesterday. I stopped by the supermarket to buy some thyme. I wasn’t sure about potatoes, so didn’t buy any. I decided not to brine my turkey, because I don’t have a suitable bucket; they are all exceptionally dirty this year (even though I would have lined it with plastic bag).
  • T-Day minus 5: Friday. I bought all the usual ingredients for pumpkin pie, also whipping cream this year (rather than my usual heavy cream).
  • T-Day minus 7: Friday. I bought the turkey. A 20-pounder this year, and put it in the bottom shelf of my refrigerator. In theory 7 days is plenty to defrost a 20-pound turkey, but every year I find that it is still frozen.

Happy New Year

January 15, 2016

I know that I am a little late with my annual summary of favorite recipes; but I was traveling in Colombia and I was not able to really write much of anything while I was away. I hope to publish my travel posts, and additionally, I have about 5 new recipes that I need to publish. Hopefully I will be able to catch-up this week.

Best meal of the 2015.

Best meal of the 2015.

 

My top 5 recipes for 2015 were:

  1. Pot-Au-Feu. This was an amazing meal. The first time I have cooked with bone marrow; wow, I never knew bone marrow added so much. This recipe is an absolute must.
  2. Semi-Boneless Grilled Leg Quarters with Lime Dressing. This recipe was based upon Chris Kimball’s recipe, but I de-boned the thigh and trussed it back up (as in Julia Child’s turkey recipe). By combining these two recipes, it made a delicious 5-star recipe even better. I made the recipe many times over the summer, and had the biggest impact on my daily menu of any other recipe this year.
  3. Ultimate Charcoal-Grilled Steaks. Wow, perfectly evenly cooked steaks from edge-to-edge. The results are better than any other steak that I’ve ever cooked. It’s almost impossible to otherwise obtain such professional results at home.
  4. Authentic Baguettes at Home.  I know that I am not alone in my love of Paris, both for the food and for the sights. I made these Authentic Parisian-style baguettes that took two or three days to make; which required a few special tools and a lot of patience. I’m not sure that I will make them again; but it was definitely the best bread I made all year.
  5. Shrimp Scampi. While this recipe is for a non-Chris Kimball shrimp scampi; he recently came out with an updated recipe(which I have made, but not yet posted). His previous recipe was quite old, and lacked both punch and sufficient sauce.

Of course, the biggest (and saddest) news of 2015 was that Chris Kimball will be leaving the Cook’s Illustrated/ATK organization that he created. I hope to continue to follow him whatever his future endeavors may include.


Better Chicken Marsala

December 9, 2015

Of course we have all had Chicken Marsala in restaurants; it’s one of those ubiquitous staple of Italian-American cuisine. Today’s recipe is a good solid recipe, everything is well cooked and tasty. But overall, Chicken Marsala is a well-worn path to known flavors. This recipe executes everything well; especially the quick sear on the chicken before re-heating the cutlets in the sauce. Too often the flour coating turns gooey from too much time in the sauce. I can only give this recipe 3-1/2 stars; better than average (3-stars being average). In the end, there is no big-flavor payoff for the many steps.

Very solid Chicken Marsala

Very solid Chicken Marsala

Chris Kimball recommends spending a little extra for a moderately priced dry Marsala ($10 to $12 per bottle). You will use about two-thirds of the bottle. He also recommends serving this with some form of starch; potatoes, white rice, or buttered pasta.

Rating: 3-1/2 star.
Cost: $24.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time 4:30PM. Dinner time 6 PM.

The original Cook’s Illustrated recipe is here.  The recipe as I cooked it for this Thanksgiving is as follows:

2-1/4 cups dry Marsala wine
4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1-oz dried porcini mushrooms
4 (6-to-8-oz) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt and pepper
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
3-oz pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thin
1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (cut into 6 pieces)
2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley

    1. Rinse porcini mushrooms, and add to medium-sized saucepan. Add 2 cups Marsala, and 4 teaspoons gelatin in with the porcini and set over high burner. When it comes up to a boil, reduce burner to medium-high and allow to vigorously simmer for 8 minutes until it has reduced by half.
    2. In the meantime, trim away any pockets of fat and cut each chicken breast in half crosswise. Next cut only the thick halves in half again, horizontally, creating all 3 cutlets of approximately the same thickness. Put cutlets between sheets of plastic wrap and gently pound so that they are an even 1/2″ thick. Put chicken in bowl and toss with 2 teaspoons Kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Allow to sit for 15 minutes.
    3. After the Marsala has reduced by half strain through a fine-mesh strainer and use a rubber spatula to press down and extract as much liquid as possible; throwing away the spent porcini.
    4. Empty the Marsala back into the saucepan, adding 2 cups chicken broth, and bring up to a boil. Lower burner to medium-high and allow to simmer for 10 to 12 minutes until it has reduced to 1-1/2 cups. Set liquid aside.
    5. While the liquid is reducing is Step 4, Add 1/2 cup flour to a pie plate and dredge one piece of chicken at a time if the flour. Gently shake to remove an excess flour. Set chicken onto a wire rack that is set over a sheet pan.
    6. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil to a 12″-regular skillet. Pre-heat over medium-high burner until it begins to smoke. Add 6 pieces of chicken to skillet, and reduce burner to medium. Cook the first side for 2 to 4 minutes until it turns golden brown. Flip chicken and continue cooking for 2 to 4 minutes until the second side turns golden brown.  Remove cooked chicken to the wire rack.
    7. Repeat Step 6 with the remaining 6 pieces of chicken and another 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
    8. While the chicken cooks cut pancetta into 1/2″-pieces. Slice the crimini mushrooms thinly, and prepare shallot and garlic.
    9. Reduce burner to medium-low and add diced pancetta. Cook for about 4 minutes until brown and crisp; stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom to loosen and brown bits for the bottom of the skillet.
    10. Add crimini slices into skillet with pancetta, increasing burner to medium-high. Cook for about 8 minutes mushrooms begin to brown; stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the skillet.
    11. Use a slotted spoon to remove mushrooms and pancetta to a clean bowl.
    12. Add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil and minced shallot to skillet; cook for 1 minute until softened. Add tomato paste and minced garlic; cook for just 30 seconds.
    13. Begin to add your components back to the skillet. Add the reduced Marsala, 1/4-cup of Marsala from the bottle, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano. Bring up to a simmer, then add the chicken back to the sauce and allow to reheat for about 3 minutes; flipping halfway through to ensure both sides are hot.
    14. Remove cutlets to serving platter.Remove pan from burner and whisk in 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (cut into 1/2-tablespoon-sized-pieces) and 2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley. Add parsley and cremini mushroom mixture. Stir until mixed and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper according to taste. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve.

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