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To brine or not to brine…

I’ll come clean. I am barely cooking at all this Thanksgiving. Instead I’m flying to Florida on the holiday to help stage an epic 90th birthday party for my Grammie Florence on the Friday, and I am some kind of excited about it.

I wish I could say I’ll miss the unbearable stress of accommodating twenty people in a living space that barely houses four, or that I’m pining for the experience of getting a massive bird, fifty side dishes (including a jell-o salad) and six pies made IN ADVANCE, or even that I regret not having the opportunity to get sideways drunk well before sundown on the case of nasty  New Beaujolais my Uncle Fred invariably drags through the door. I won’t. What I will do is throw together a pie this afternoon, help roast up a little turkey breast tomorrow morning, then swallow three Klonopin in the car on the way to JFK in preparation for the flight and the prospect of having to re-don the skimpy summer wardrobe in a roomful of cameras.

As such, I’m not even going to apologize for recycling last year’s turkey post. Nobody was reading me at the time, so only a few stalwart family members even saw it anyway. And for those of you about to enter the inferno of frenzied dinner prep and family holiday shenanigans remember, it’s all about the path of least resistance, which in my experience leads straight to the portable bar.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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In your kitchen? Seriously?

Brine a turkey? Are you for real?

It isn’t hard enough to time everything so that a large turkey, two kinds of potato, four vegetables, three sides, dinner rolls, stuffing and gravy all hit the table at the same moment, hot and unspoiled?

Would you seriously consider adding to that madness a procedure that requires a trip to Home Depot the day before Thanksgiving for a bucket big enough to hold an eighteen pound bird and about fifty gallons of salt solution; soaking the bird in the solution for twelve to twenty-four hours; finding adequate cold storage for same; then fishing the sodden bird out of the drink early in the morning of a day when you’ve got ten people coming for a midday meal, some of whom might even be your in-laws?

Really? Well prepare to eat the meal in your pajamas, and you might as well start with Bloody Marys for breakfast and work up from there.

Let me tell you, I tried brining exactly once and all I have to say is never again. See above. Now, I can’t tell you absolutely that brining does not produce a moister bird. It may very well, and people who know a lot more about cooking than I do swear by it. What I can say is that when it comes to the year I tried to brine my bird, I can barely remember eating the meal (now generally referred to as the brining incident amongst my nearest and dearest) let alone cooking it. In any case, it took months of talk therapy, some high grade pharmaceuticals and a few meds that are not, strictly speaking, in the Physician’s Desk Reference to deal with the fall out from that little adventure, and there is no way I’m going to revisit it. For me, the big bird soak was the straw that very nearly broke the slattern’s back, the final drop that loosed the deluge from the sherry bottle if you will.

So long story short, my advice is not to brine. Just cook the stuffing separately and drizzle it with some of the drippings from the bird before serving. Same diff, and your guests will not be any the wiser. When you shorten the cooking time (unstuffed birds cook much faster), the white meat is less dry. For flavor, use lots of butter and sherry and shove some fresh sage and half an onion in the cavity before you roast the bird. That’s it. Not exactly rocket science, but at least it gives you a fighting chance of remaining upright until the pies are cut.

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Game for more Thanksgiving madness? Try these:

Happy Thanksgiving: Embrace the can
Don’t desecrate your Thanksgiving bird

What the hell is self-rising cake flour and, more importantly, where did I get it?

Recipe: Nigella’s Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes

Cupcakes gone blond

So today my shining light of a daughter turns 18, which makes me 97, or maybe it just feels that way. Anyhow, with such an auspicious occasion to mark, I wanted to find an appropriate treat to cap the festive birthday dinner — traditionally the birthday girl’s choice, and as always she’s requested mac and cheese with grilled asparagus on the side.

Allegedly purchased by me, but when?

I found this delightfully easy recipe for chocolate cherry cupcakes in Nigella’s Domestic Goddess book, and was congratulating myself on coming up with the perfect marriage of the adult (sour cherries, dark chocolate) and the childish (cupcakes) in an incredibly simple recipe (bonus!), when I noticed that it called for self-rising cake flour. Now, this item struck me as just a tad exotic to have on hand, but lo and behold after a bit of frantic rummaging I did find some in the dark recesses of the pantry. It is, to say the least, unusual to find exactly what I need on any given day; however, given my customary frame of mind during a trip to Fairway, it is not surprising that I have in stock things I can’t recall ever buying.

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Embrace the Time Suck

Recipe: Chocolate Crinkles

I know, I know, refrigerator cookies are a pain in the ass. They’re fiddly and time consuming, either of which is usually enough to put me off making them. On the other hand, look at it this way, the chilling period frees you up to do other things, like read an improving book, catch up on your favorite Castle episodes, or have that life saving midday glass of wine to prepare for a bout of bathroom cleaning. (Why approach the toilet bowl without at least a small load on? I guess people do, but I think it’s inadvisable, even reckless.)

Now where did I put that cookie dough? courtesy rachelheldevans.com

Of course there’s always the risk that, having become a little over-relaxed during the chilling period, you’ll forget about having made the dough and discover it moldering behind the extra large Bosco bottle a month or two past its expiration date, but what’s life without the odd surprise?

Now, to make a proper crinkle, you’ve got to refrigerate the dough. Believe me, I’ve tried skipping it and it just does not work, and no, I don’t know why. You’d have to talk to a proper baker, or at least a sober one, to find out. But really what other kind of cookie offers the magical mix of a crunchy exterior with a soft chewy middle? It’s an unbeatable combination, and if you’ve got sufficient lead time, the chocolate crinkle is a real bake sale winner. If you have little kids and a truckload of patience, the rolling and sugar coating step is enough like a Playdough activity to keep them busy for a good hour. Don’t worry, the high temperature of the baking will kill most of the germs from the finger licking — theirs not yours. Though let’s be honest, when was the last time you made cookies without consuming half of the dough? And this is good cookie dough. Real quality product. Or so I have been told. Read the rest of this entry

The Slattern Rants: “Oh no, I don’t cook.”

I ADORE puppies…as long as someone else does the cooking.

As I have previously documented in my cluttery, overfurnished, boozy little corner of the blogosphere, given even a glimmer of a chance, I would move into a hotel and eat every meal in a restaurant for the rest of my life. In a heartbeat. Alas, though we all have dreams, we must also live in the real world. As such I can cook, and of necessity I do cook; from time to time I’ll admit I even enjoy it.

Knowing how to prepare a basic meal is just one of those things a reasonably competant adult should be able to do, along with riding a bicycle, driving a car and swallowing the worm at the bottom of a tequila bottle without going all sissy and gagging.

PSST Guy. Guy, your shades are on BACKWARDS. Courtesy foodnetworkhumor.com

Now I’m not saying everyone needs to be able to rustle up a standing rib roast or les nonnettes de poulet Agnès Sorel at the drop of a hat, but really the production of a simple omelette or burger should be well within the abilities of even the meanest intelligence. Hell, Guy Fieri has built a lucrative career as a cook, and he can’t even figure out which side of his head his fucking sunglasses belong on.

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Roast Your Own

Recipe: Roasted peppers

Courtesy anolobb @ Flickr

If you don’t like the way they make ’em in the city
Cause they taste all wrong and the dang pepper ain’t pretty
Roast your own, roast your own.

˜ With apologies to Hoyt Axton

Freshly roasted peppers are a staple in my kitchen. You can throw ’em in a salad, eat ’em with pasta or grind ’em up for soup. They’re also delicious on sandwiches or with fresh mozzarella for lunch. Sure you can buy them in jars at the market, but they always seem to have vinegar in them and they never taste good. And anyway why would you buy something nasty that’s so easy to make and tastes infinitely better when you do?

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