Saturday, November 28, 2009

There's More Than One Way to Stuff a Turkey

As per my promise, I tried my Beer Can Turkey on Thanksgiving. Since I used a jar filled with white wine, my husband thought that maybe Mason Jar Turkey might be a bit more appropriate and I have to say I agree. I slept until I woke up (about 8 am), had my coffee, and got down to business. I set my oven for 325 degrees before I set about unwrapping and washing my 9-1/2 pound turkey. Ever since I watched a television show a few years ago about chicken processing and they showed thousands of them swimming in a “fecal soup” as they called it, I wash my poultry thoroughly. I know that the folks at Jennie-O thought that they were doing me a real favor by inserting a plastic truss inside, but since I was going to insert a glass jar up his rectum, I spent the better part of five minutes trying to remove it. Once the truss was removed, I rubbed the whole turkey down inside and out with a little olive oil, garlic, season salt and a good grinding of pepper. I then filled an empty 26 ounce (737g) glass pasta sauce jar about 2/3 of the way up with some chardonnay, then I added some lemon slices, garlic and salt. I then sat the jar in the middle of a glass 9x13” baking dish, gently sat the turkey down on top of it so that the jar propped it up. I then covered the neck opening with foil to prevent the moisture from escaping and popped it in the preheated oven where it cooked for 2-1/2 hours.

After the cooking time, I reached for my meat thermometer that is always in a cream pitcher next to my cook top. There was nothing there, vessel empty. Since I had been in the UK for two weeks, I figured that it must have accidentally gotten moved to one of my utensil drawers. No, no meat thermometer there. I racked my brain, tore my kitchen apart, cursed, and stomped my feet. I finally decided to strangle my husband once he returned from his morning walk because the Karen Harris jury trial had convened in his absence and had found him guilty and imposed the death penalty. Problem solved.

Luckily for my husband, I decided to take a shower and chill out. It was during this refreshing moment of solitude that a thought occurred to me. My son had been using my husband’s instant read thermometer barbeque tongs for sometime to check the temperature of his aquarium water and I was suspicious as to whether or not he had decided to upgrade his equipment during my absence. I tiptoed into his room and looked at my sleeping angel curled up all warm in his bed. I quietly made my way to his dresser and looked around the base of his aquarium and there it was, my $15.00 meat thermometer that had certainly been swimming with the fishes a couple of times a day, everyday for the past two weeks. I snatched it up in a huff, stomped towards the door, walked out and slammed the door behind me. How in the world was I going to disinfect my thermometer? I was so careful to cleanse my turkey and not cross contaminate my countertop or any utensils to keep my family safe from harmful bacteria only to be faced with having to jam a fish germ covered spike into the upper thigh of my much anticipated Mason Jar Turkey. Boys! Some parents of teenagers have to lock up the liquor cabinet. I guess I have to lock up my kitchen gadgets when I go out of town from now on.

I decided to go commando with my thermometer. I got out the disinfectant from under the kitchen sink and got the hot water stoked up. I scrubbed and dipped the spike until I felt like it was clean, then I did it again. I finally felt comfortable enough to check the temperature of my turkey. I shoved the thermometer into the thickest part of my turkey’s thigh and watched it until the numbers stopped at 178. Knowing that it would continue to cook for awhile I pulled it from the oven and allowed it to rest for 30 minutes. After its resting time I gently lifted the turkey off of the jar and placed it on a cutting board and began slicing. The result of all of this work was the most delicious turkey I have ever eaten. Normally dark meat people, I convinced my family to try the white meat first for blog review purposes. After the first bite they were hooked and now two days after Thanksgiving, all I have left in the refrigerator is a plastic bag full of dark meat. I guess I can proclaim this a success.

All of my side dishes turned out well enough. I have to admit that I’m not much of a stuffing maker. It seems like no matter what I do, I’m just not satisfied with the taste. My favorites seem to remain my step mom’s cornbread stuffing and the pork, sage and onion from Mark’s and Spencer; some things just can’t be improved upon. Well, that’s about it for this entry. I guess I’d better go, I’m out to hit the shops for the post Thanksgiving Day sales. This year I have something in particular that I’m looking for, a new $15.00 meat thermometer.

Mason Jar Turkey

I have to admit that this isn't one of my better photos but it gives you and idea about how the turkey looks after it's done still sitting on the jar.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving turkeys and pumpkin rolls

Thanksgiving is in a couple of days and since we live a thousand miles from my family, I will be doing things my way again this year. I’ve always looked upon Thanksgiving as the middle holiday. Sandwiched in between Halloween and Christmas, it is the starter course to the main dish of Christmas. When I was a girl, even though there were no presents involved, Thanksgiving was still pretty special because it meant getting together with my mom's family which was always an adventure. I would watch my mother begin the ritual a week in advance. Now I know that I’m no youngster but looking back these must have been near prehistoric times because my mother prepared a pterodactyl or a bird the size of one every year. Our refrigerator was totally dedicated to its thawing for what seemed like weeks. This giant fowl consumed the bottom shelf of our refrigerator for days, often leaking a watery pink liquid that was one of the only things that upon discovery could make my mother curse.

Finally Thanksgiving eve would arrive and my mother’s plans would be announced. She would wake up at 4:00 am (this is where things began to go wrong), season and prepare the bird and place it in the oven for its 12 hours cooking time (about 8 hours too long), for an estimated mealtime of 4 p.m. I hated this. Who eats a meal at 4 p.m.? I mean what do you call this meal? It isn’t lunch and it isn’t supper. I guess that’s why they really call it Thanksgiving. By the time you get to eat, you are starving and truly thankful for anything, even the petrified carcass sitting on the dining room table.

About 5:30 p.m. we would finally sit down for our meal. The turkey would always look beautiful but under that golden brown moist looking skin were breasts so dry they defy all description. Imagine that, thirteen hours in the oven and it was dry. Who knew? I love my mother and my love for cooking and eating was born at her knee but I always wondered why such a brilliant home cook would repeat this procedure year after year. I really think that it was some 60's rumor that if you didn’t bake the holy hell out of your bird, you would certainly kill your family and friends. In an effort to counteract all of the baking time and replace some of the moisture that escaped during the cooking, my mother would get creative. My two favorites were the turkey baked in a brown paper grocery bag and the other was adding oysters to her stuffing. Why she would take a perfectly good batch of cornbread stuffing and foul it with a couple of quarts of raw oysters in its liquor is a mystery to me. I really couldn’t tell you how it tasted because for some reason, I chose to eat only side dishes that year.

So here I am now, all grown up with a family of my own to torture on Thanksgiving. I’ve figured out how to combat the dreaded dry turkey, it’s called a thermometer. Between watching for the proper temperature and a couple of rashers of streaky bacon draped across the breasts, my turkeys usually turn out pretty good. Never one to leave well enough alone, I’m going to try my own version of the brown paper grocery bag this year, the beer can turkey. Karen and I tried this with chickens while I was in Nottingham with spectacular results only she had a specially made baking dish. Since I’m going to have to improvise, I figure all I need is a small turkey and a large glass jar filled with wine and spices. Then I plan on standing the turkey upright with the jar shoved up its bum and pray that it doesn’t topple over during the cooking. I will give a full report how it works on my next blog entry.

After all of this turkey talk you might be surprised that my recipe is for a sweet and not a turkey but I've got this recipe that I really want to share with you. I love traditional pecan pie but I must admit that pumpkin isn’t my favorite. I feel a little anti-American making that admission with the country’s love for pumpkin and all, so I thought that I’d try to find an alternate recipe that might be more to my liking. Last year our neighbor brought over a delicious pumpkin roll with a cream cheese filling so I thought I might give it a try. After much exhaustive research (I tore the label off the Libby's pumpkin tin and found it on the back), I finally located the recipe for this glorious dessert and present it to you here today. I usually prefer to stick with original recipes but this one is so good I’m going to make an exception. I hope you love it as much as I do.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone and all joking aside, enjoy every moment that you spend with your loved ones on this special holiday, even if you spend it eating dry white meat.

Holiday Pumpkin Roll

This is such an easy and delicious dessert. Although my photo is nice, I have to admit that I rolled it the wrong way (long side) and tried to reconstruct the pinwheel pattern with so-so results, but it really doesn’t matter how it looks because it is so delicious. Just imagine if you rolled it properly! This makes a great little holiday gift. Who needs cookies?!

3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (165g) canned pumpkin (or 2/3 cup of mashed sweet potato)
3/4 cup (75g) plain flour
1 teaspoon (5ml) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml) nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml) cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml) allspice
1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml) salt
1 cup (125g) icing sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, 180C.

Mix all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Line a jelly roll pan that is approximately (9x13) with parchment paper or grease and flour well; spread mixture evenly in pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Press the center to make sure that the cake springs back and is done. Immediately turn out onto a linen kitchen towel which has been generously sprinkled with icing sugar. Remove parchment paper and sprinkle with more powdered sugar and roll up, beginning with the narrow end, in the linen towel; set aside until cool. Unroll, spread with filling, re-roll and sprinkle with more powdered sugar. Wrap with cling film and refrigerate. Store in the refrigerator.


2 tablespoons (30ml) butter, softened to room temperature
8 ounces (226g) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
1 cup (125g) icing sugar

Mix well with electric mixer until well blended. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Easily serves 8.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Halloween, haggis and happy birthdays

I just got back from my annual trip to Nottingham. It started out as a real nail biter and ended as one as well thanks to the unpredictable winter weather in Denver. It is often humbling to realize that Mother Nature, not you, is often in control of your travel plans and if you don’t believe it just try and catch a plane during a snow storm. To make a very long story short, I made my connection in Houston by the skin of my teeth, flew on to Newark and in to Birmingham the next morning. The most surprising aspect of the whole trip was when my 2 bags, loaded with my UK hosts' wish list of American products and my clean underwear, came rolling out on the conveyor. It is times like this that make you appreciate the simple things in life.

Nottingham hasn’t changed much since I first laid my eyes on it. Oh sure there are subtle changes, restaurants that have closed and reopened under new names, a new modern art museum on the edge of the Lace Market and the silencing of the little old man who played the xylophone in the market square by his death a few years ago. The one thing that I find most comforting in life, is knowing that 5,000 miles from my front door, the oldest pub in the world is still open for business in this city’s center with no sign of closing its doors anytime soon. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I love this place and to arrive feels like I’ve slipped on a well worn favorite pair of shoes.

I arrived early on the morning of the 30th of October which gave me a little time to sleep off the jetlag, head to the store and get cooking. Karen’s village has embraced Halloween and I have to say that she is the inspiration behind it; not because she forces the issue but because she has made it so much fun over the years that you can’t help but get swept up in it. I do have to say though that the day takes on a darker tone there than it does in America. Where I have Snow White, Cinderella and Buzz Lightyear ringing my doorbell in Colorado, witches and the masked character from the movie Scream, seemed to be the popular costumes with the children here. One thing is the same however, the delight at having someone drop a handful of candy into your Halloween bag, is a universal thrill. I can’t tell you how lovely this quaint little village is by jack ‘o lantern light. Karen had a house full of guests that seemed to really enjoy the huge pot of Chicken Chili (which we have dubbed the official food of Halloween, find the recipe on ), a mild version of Texas Caviar, and hotdog bites in homemade barbeque sauce (recipe found on this blog) that was a particular favorite with the children, and lots of wine; great night all around.

On the 9th of November we left Nottingham for London to attend the Corporate Expatriate Relocation Conference and Exhibition which was put on by the people who are also responsible for publishing the American in Britain magazine. I loved meeting the publisher and finally putting a face to the name. After walking around the exhibition floor, we made our way to Notting Hill and Portobello Road to just shop around and have lunch. Since our train didn’t leave until 21.00, we had plenty of time to shop Oxford Street as well. I love London. It is without a doubt my favorite city in the world.

We had a couple of birthday celebrations for Karen who turned 29 again while I was there. It was at one of these that I was treated to haggis and neeps by Tim and Allie who live next door. I was very tentative because just the idea of sheep’s offal is a little off putting to me. I am here to report that it is actually quite good and the neeps (cooked and chopped potatoes and yellow turnips) that are traditionally served with it were a perfect accompaniment. It is now official, I will eat anything. At both of these celebrations we served salads as I was trying to perfect my favorite bleu cheese dressing recipe. I have to say that there is nothing better than this dressing with beetroot especially when it is grown at the bottom of Karen and Chris’s garden. As a matter of fact, I got to cook with a variety of homegrown produce provided by the village residents. Thanks to Tim for his hard work in providing us with fresh Swiss Chard, beetroot, celery and purple carrots and also thanks to Jane for giving us fresh eggs and freshly frozen raspberries for my first attempt at making a traditional Victoria Sponge which, if I do say so myself, was a culinary triumph. I’m a bit disappointed in myself that while I lived in England I spent too much time looking for American cooking ingredients instead of just enjoying the beauty that traditional English recipes have to offer. Oh well, better late than never. Instead of the run of the mill birthday cakes for Karen’s dinner and luncheon we prepared a lemon cheesecake with raspberry coulis and a Chocolate Lush (recipe found on this blog on my 4th of July '09 entry) both were delicious and huge hits with Karen’s guests.

Before I knew it, my time in Nottingham was over and it was time to fly back into the snow. I missed two weeks of beautiful weather in Colorado only to fly back into a winter storm. I don’t have much time to recuperate from my jetlag on this end of my trip either. As I type this the washer and dryer are humming and we are deep into birthday plans for my son Kevin’s 15th tomorrow. Thank goodness that his tastes are simple. A birthday pie or some churros are usually at the top of his wish list which is ok by me. Little does he know that he will also be getting a day off of school so we can stop by the DMV to get his learner’s permit. Let the wild rumpus begin! Oh well, I need some new stories anyway.

My new blog readers from Nottingham will be happy to know that I am a woman of my word and am attaching the recipe for my Herbed Bleu Cheese Dressing. This dressing is the difference between a good salad and a great salad. It is great poured over simple salad greens or even better drizzled over pear slices with crisp bacon crumbles and some glazed pecans.

Herbed Bleu Cheese Dressing

Not only is this a great salad dressing, it is also a wonderful dip for fruit, vegetables and, of course, chicken wings. I prefer making this the night before so the flavors have a chance to marry but if you don’t have the luxury of time, at least one hour will do. If mixture seems a bit too thick, add a small amount of milk at a time until desired consistency is reached. I usually don't endorse name brands but after making this several times in England using different brands, I have to say the brands noted below produced far superior results in my opinion.

4 ounces (113g) bleu cheese crumbles
1 cup (250ml) mayonnaise (I prefer Hellman's)
1/2 cup (125ml) cups buttermilk (In England, I think Sainsbury's is best)
1/2 cup (125ml) double cream or heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon (5ml) garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon (1ml) dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon (1ml) dried or ½ teaspoon (2.5ml) fresh chopped dill
1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml) dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml) freshly and coarsely milled black pepper
1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml) salt
Pinch of ground paprika or cayenne pepper for color and a spark of flavor (optional)

In a medium size bowl, combine all of the ingredients and gently whisk until the mixture is smooth and creamy but still with lumps of bleu cheese. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until ready to use. Store unused dressing in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Dressing may be stored for 7 – 10 days, if it lasts that long.

Yield: Approximately 2 cups (500ml)

Glazed Pecans

1 cup pecan quarters
1 tablespoon (15ml) butter
3 tablespoons packed soft brown sugar
2 tablespoons (30ml) water

Place pecans in a small frying pan that has been set over medium high heat. Stirring frequently, dry toast pecans until they are a golden brown and their aroma is released. Add butter and melt, add sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add water and stir well; cook for 30 seconds stirring. Remove frying pan from the heat and allow nuts to cool in the pan, stirring occasionally.