Archive for November, 2008

To Brine, or not to Brine

This year, I have agreed to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family. This decision, of course, has brought on panic. When I am experiencing a panic about serving food, my go to guy is my friend Duke Adamonis, a culinary school graduate and all around foodie extraordinaire (and also a person who had an interesting airline experience a while back). While I was begging him for information, it occurred to me that it might be a friendly thing to share his knowledge with my faithful readers (also, that it might be an easy column to write). So, here it is:

Ok, I’d like to remove any shred of credibility right away. Give me your best Turkey Day mix up.

One year, my sister went to check a turkey that had been in the oven at 375 for hours, and found that the internal temperature was only 75 degrees. So, she called over my Mom, who checked and saw that, yes, it was only 75 degrees. My Mom called over my grandmother, who went in to see what was wrong – maybe the oven wasn’t working right, or maybe the poundage of the bird was more than what was labeled.

Now, it’s funny that anyone would have asked my grandmother for help, since years earlier she had put a turkey in the oven and over the next few hours kept opening the door, looking in, etc., but never actually turned the HEAT on.

Anyway, my grandmother checked the weight and the oven – by now she was an expert on the oven – and she pronounced everything shipshape. So, she called the rest of us over and we all started checking things out. We took the temperature all over the bird – breast, thigh, leg, other breast, and it never topped 90 degrees. We double-checked the oven, and it seemed hot enough.

Then we tested the thermometer to make sure it was calibrated correctly, and sure enough, in ice water it read 0 degrees…Celsius.

Nice! So, since we’re on the topic, what temperature should a turkey reach before you take it out of the oven? Fahrenheit, of course.

The internal temp for any fowl should be 165 (f) minimum to kill off any potential Salmonella bacteria. So, I recommend that the turkey should reach an internal temp of 160 degrees, measured in the turkey’s thigh (just above the drumstick). Once it’s out of the oven; it will continue to cook due to residual heat and the internal temp will pass 165 (f). Let it rest, covered in foil for about 20 min before carving.

Whatever you do, don’t wait for the pop-up thing. That pops at 180 degrees and you will likely have a very dry bird at that point.

I’m thinking that I might not stuff the turkey this year, which is causing a bit of a ruckus in my family. Why wouldn’t you want to stuff a bird?

Because the liquid from the bird will flow into the stuffing, thus any potential Salmonella bacteria will do the same. To make it safe to eat, the stuffing has to come up to 165 degrees, and it’s bringing that stuffing up in the middle of the bird to temperature that will likely dry out the rest of the meat.

What do you recommend instead?

Stuff the bird with apples and onions or any aromatics of your choice, which should add flavor to the meat while the turkey is cooking. Then, just throw the apples and onions away after you take the turkey out of the oven.

I have noticed that some turkeys available at the store are pre-brined. Should I brine my turkey, and if so, how?

Many of the turkeys that you can buy at the store are injected with liquid to make them weight more – thus they can charge more – so there is not really a need to brine them. A fresh turkey should always be brined, as it will add flavor and help to keep the turkey moist.

To brine the bird, soak it for at least 24 hrs in a container large enough to hold the bird and COVER the entire bird in the brine. The most common mistake is to not cover the breast with the brine. The container must be refrigerated, or packed in a cooler with ice.

Take the bird out of the brine and pat it dry. Bring it up to room temp if you have the time (about an hour or so). Rub the skin with duck fat (or fat of your choice, but if you don’t use duck fat I will know and I will find you) and some pepper. Bake it off as usual.

Great! How do I make a brine?

Your basic recipe for brine should be a gallon of water, 1 cup of kosher salt – not iodized salt – and ½ cup of sugar. Make enough, obviously, to cover the turkey.

Take ½ of the gallon and put it in a pot over medium heat, add the solids and stir until they dissolve. Take it off the heat and add the rest of the water to cool it down faster. Then, you can put it in containers and refrigerate it if you want; it will last for weeks.

Ok, so I’m brining the bird. Do I need to baste it?

You can if you want. It tends to crisp the skin, which makes the skin taste better and look really nice, but it does nothing for moisture. If you want to baste, just use the juices at the bottom about every 20 minutes or so, maybe a bit more toward the end to make sure the skin looks evenly cooked.

One more thing, what’s an easy recipe that people can make to impress their Thanksgiving guests?

Well, an easy thing to do would be to add a tablespoon or so of truffle oil to your mashed potatoes, but truffle oil is pricey and not always easy to find, so instead I’ll recommend roasted squash with sage and maple.

Peel the squash (any squash will do) and cut into ½ inch cubes. Toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast in a hot oven (400 degrees Farenheit). Once they start to caramelize, toss them with freshly torn sage, and then put them back into the oven until they caramelize to your liking. Take them out, toss them with a little maple syrup (not too much – you don’t want them to be wet, just enough to taste), and that’s it.

Thanks. One last question: How do you know when they start to caramelize, and if I’m cooking this for the first time, how do I know when they caramelize to my liking?

The edges turn brownish blackish, which means that the sugar has risen to the surface and is cooking off.

To see if they are caramelized to your liking, take one out and pop it into your mouth; it should be sweet and soft (make sure it cools first, though, no need for an ER visit on Thanksgiving).

The Day to Day Grind Tim 19 Nov 2008 1 Comment

A Massachusetts Republican in Barack Obama’s America

I sat in the usual coffee shop, using the stirrer to break up the clouds of milk that were swelling to the surface. As the milk spread throughout the cup, the entire mixture lightened in tone, and instead of cloudy, my coffee became overcast. A shadow fell over the table and I heard the familiar voice of my old friend, Rick O’Shea. He pulled up a chair with a look of concern on his face.

“Why so glum, chum?” he asked.

Well, it’s the election. I have to admit that I’m a bit sad about the fact that things in Massachusetts aren’t going to change any time soon.

“What do you mean? This election was all about change. Bush is out. The Democrats are in. Barack Obama. Change. Get on board!”

Right. I’m sure things will be quite different. Just like they are now in Massachusetts since we elected Deval Patrick on his Change platform. Let’s see…a State Rep got re-elected despite skipping a year’s worth of payments on his mortgage and using 50 grand of his campaign account for personal use…a State Senator got bagged on film stuffing cash into her bra and claimed it was a Republican conspiracy…the voters told Beacon Hill to keep those taxes coming…and all of the open seats went to Democrats. Yep, things are different.

“Awww. Poor you. You always give me static about being a Yankee fan in Massachusetts, but you’re just as bad. I mean, a Republican in Massachusetts? Talk about going against the grain. At least the Yankees win one once in a while and have cool hats. Even when you guys get a Governor elected, the legislature just overrides all of the vetoes and then blames the Governor when things don’t go well. I’d bet that the legislature actually enjoys having a Republican in the corner office; at least they can blame someone.”

Yes, that’s true. At this point, with Patrick in there, the state is a model of the Democratic Party system. It’s the liberal Garden of Eden.

“Wow, sour grapes.”

At least one good thing could come of the national election. I’m hoping that John ‘Can I Get Me a Hunting License Here’ Kerry will be appointed Ambassador to the UN. It’s a position he was born to hold.

“Instead of Secretary of State? You’re not a big Kerry fan, I take it?”

No. I mean, I don’t agree with Ted Kennedy’s politics, but at least by all accounts he works hard and gets things done for his constituents. Do you remember when Kerry was running for President, and a journalist, I think it was Jon Keller, interviewed a number of Massachusetts politicians and asked them to name three things that Kerry had done for the state in his more than twenty years in the Senate?

“That rings a bell. I take it the answer wasn’t good.”

None of them came up with a single thing Kerry had done for us. By the way, the junior Senator got about 66 percent of the vote this past Tuesday.

“Now you’re just whining. None of this can come as a shock to you, can it? I mean, you live in Massachusetts. The people grumble about the government and taxes, but when push comes to shove we vote the D and choose not to rock the boat. This isn’t new.”

I suppose you’re right. It’s just frustrating. Of course, it’s not just the Commonwealth I’m depressed about.

“You didn’t think, with George Bush slung around McCain’s candidacy like a noose, that McCain was actually going to win, did you?”

No, I guess I didn’t. I was surprised, though, at how pervasive the political argument got to be in the culture. I mean, everything, even the comics pages, were full of pro-Obama messages; and I don’t mean just Doonesbury. Speaking of that, there is something that needs to change in the way that politics are covered on TV.

“Oh yeah? Only one thing?”

Well, at least one. I heard a caller to a radio show the other day say that he didn’t know that Walter Cronkite was a Democrat until after Cronkite retired. Yet these days, when a news station, say ABC, wants an evaluation of a debate, they turn to a guy like George Stephanopoulos for his opinion. Talk about unbiased – the guy was only a senior adviser to Bill Clinton and now he’s the Chief Washington Correspondent for ABC News.

“You’re not going to start whining about the liberal media, are you?”

I’ll try not to whine, but honestly, these are the best people available to serve as our journalists? There aren’t any young reporters out there who haven’t worked directly with one side who could fill the role? I don’t mind if guys like Stephie, or Paul Begala, or Karl Rove have their own talk shows or whatnot, but they shouldn’t be propped up as unbiased observers.

“Here we go.”

In that regard, I at least respect James Carville. I mean, at least the man Dennis Miller described as a ‘Muppet washed on hot’ has never pretended to be unbiased. He goes on to fight for his position, not to present a shaded view as ‘the news.’

“Are you done?”

Yes, I’m done. I just hope that Obama isn’t Jimmy Carter.

“I don’t think that he could be any worse than the guy we have now.”

I hope you’re right.

Rants Tim 05 Nov 2008 2 Comments