Thanksgiving 2014-New & Improved?
01/16/15 - 13:00 Filed in: Lessons Learned | Turkey | Holiday Meal
There is an old line: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it”. I have been having very good success with my Thanksgiving Bill of fare. Sure last year I had some temperature related issues with my baked goods, but I have solved those. So this year I could've just done the same old same old, but I have decided to make some big changes. This blog will describe some of the reasons behind those changes and the preliminary planning before this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. I will probably write a follow-up to this after Thanksgiving where I look at how things really went, versus how I thought they would go. Also if you are interested, there are links to the picture entries for these items and the recipes (for everything but the turkey) at the end of this blog entry.
This blog entry was originally intended to be posted a few days before Thanksgiving when I wrote it, with Part 2 the final results being posted a few days after Thanksgiving. As it turned out work hit the fan, I had issues with the software for my site and together these two items prevented me from posting this blog. Thanksgiving is well behind us, but I am still going to post this blog because I think there might be some worthwhile information in it.
BACKGROUND:For the last seven years or so, I've been doing a brined turkey. The recipe for the brine itself has been unchanged for seven years. What in that time I have tried several recipes for a brined turkey.I started with one recipe and then about four years ago switched over to a different one that has been producing the best bird yet. I should qualify that. It has been the best bird yet in terms of taste, but there is something about this recipe where the skin seems to darken up quite a bit more than any other turkey I've made. It has been a matter of perception and not taste, but it still has bothered me. Last year when the dust settled, I thought I might look for a new recipe for the turkey.
By the time Thanksgiving had rolled around I had decided to try new recipes for much of the dinner this year. Part of it was born from the desire to try something different. The rest of that was born out of necessity due to fact that I was wicked busy and might benefit from a simpler prep. For the last couple years I've been making these great dinner rolls, but they are a bit prep intensive and involve a multi day rise. I also wanted to see if there were some recipes for something that was more of a traditional nature. The same was true with my desserts. For the last two years I've been baking the same two desserts, but this year I wanted to go for something different. Once again I was hoping to find something that is more traditional. Lastly I was looking around to see if there was a potato dish for the grill that I might use this year. While I didn't find one for the grill, I did find a different recipe for garlic mashed potatoes that sounded excellent on paper. The one thing I did not change was the cranberry dipping sauce I I've been making for a number of years now. The first year I made it, people didn't touch the jellied cranberry sauce I put out as well. The second year I asked whether people wanted the jellied cranberry sauce and it was a resounding no. Not only do people dip their turkey in it, they were dipping their bread and anything else they couldn't find it in it.
NEW TURKEY RECIPE: As mentioned, I had told myself last year I wouldn't mind trying a new turkey recipe this year. I had also noticed that brining a turkey has seem to have peaked in popularity. In a case of kismet, I bought Dr. BBQ’s LOW & SLOW BBQ video class from craftsy.com this summer and there was a interesting looking turkey recipe called Creole Butter Turkey. In the class Dr. BBQ mentions he is not a big fan of brined turkeys. He actually used a store-bought injector sauce, which he says is better than anything he could make himself. This recipe did several things to vastly simplify both the prep and the grilling experience. Not doing a brine saved me from having to start the prep 3 days in advance, with daily maintenance required for the next two days after that. He specifically used an enhanced turkey (like a Butterball) for this. This meant I was not having to pre-order a fresh turkey in advance. I was able to go to the supermarket 5 days ahead and get a Fresh Butterball.
When it came to prep on Thanksgiving morning, this new recipe was a very quick prep. The prep involved using an injector sauce and a rub. Unlike the last recipe involved a 3 day brine, which I didn’t need to do. Then I had to chop up a ton of fresh herbs Thanksgiving morning. I used to run into trouble with the herbs. I would try to buy them the day before, so they would be nice and fresh. The only problem was it seem like every year my supermarket would be out of one of these herbs. It seemed to be a different one every year too. I would then waste the next hour or so driving around to other stores to see if they had the one herb I was missing. Using fresh herbs I didn't have the option of buying in advance. This prep involved injecting the bird, which took under 15 minutes, and applying a spice rub which could be made ahead of time. This year I was even luckier because I had some rub left over from another Dr. BBQ recipe I had made several months ago.
While the Creole injector sauce Dr. BBQ used wasn't available around here, I could order it online a couple weeks in advance. and have it delivered to my door. So inject the bird and rub it was many levels of magnitude simpler then using the herb paste from the other recipe. With the old recipe, once I found all of the fresh herbs, I had to chop them up Thanksgiving morning to make an herb paste that was put on top of, and under the skin. Something about this process somehow always managed to take longer than I counted on. Chopping the fresh herbs would take longer, then getting them distributed under the skin would be more difficult and take more time. Plus I was always worried about tearing the skin.
For this bird, I would simply be injecting the sauce a process that should take 15 minutes or less and involves no chopping. I used to chop up apples and onions and put them in both cavities of the bird. This recipe does that, but only has you put them in the main body cavity, reducing the prep time for that by 50 percent. Dr. BBQ does something during the final stage of prep that simplifies the grilling process. He lets the bird sit out at room temperature for one hour. He has you put a large freezer bag full of ice on top of the bird (breast side). This helps the white meat and dark meat portions of the bird to cook evenly. It means I don't have to go out midway through the cook and turn the bird over, like I've had to in the past. This is tough to do on the grill and bringing the bird into the Kitchen is a pain. Plus overtime you have to open the grill you have extended the cooking time. Before going out to the grill, the bird is rubbed with a BBQ rub. This rub can be made in advance where no fresh herbs are involved. As I mentioned: In my case I already had some left over barbecue rub from one of Dr. BBQ’s cookbooks that I was able to use. Bottom line: This recipe has simplified the prep and the grilling and if it turns out a tasty bird, things don't get any better than that. The time I save is one of the things that is allowing me to do more this year.
NEW ENGLAND THANKSGIVING BREAD:Since Thanksgiving originated around here, I figured this year I would find some traditional regional recipes for my baked goods. The first item I turned up in my search was a KAF recipe for a traditional New England Thanksgiving bread. The recipe had Celtic origins and had two versions: One with Celtic fruits and fillings and one with items indigenous to New England. This recipe worried me a little bit because it used a so-called sponge which consisted of yeast and some of the liquid ingredients that later get combined with the dry ingredients and fillings. It wasn't so much the concept of sponge, which I had never done before, but the fact that the sponge had to be mixed and go to work for 2 hours before the fillings and other dry ingredients were added. Then there was a 1-1/2 to 2-hour rise for the combined ingredients. Then the dough was allowed to rise for another 1 to 1-1/2 hours before being baked for 35 minutes. This is a lot of prep and rise time particularly for a meal I was planning to serve around noon time. But on paper this bread looked absolutely delicious and I hoped it would be worth the time and effort. It need to be the first item on my agenda Thanksgiving morning.
NANTUCKET CRANBERRY CAKE:The island of Nantucket, Massachusetts is the second-biggest supplier of cranberries in the US. It is not surprising that a traditional Nantucket Thanksgiving dish would be made from cranberries. This was called a cake, but was made in a pie plate which I found a bit strange. The other thing I found strange about it is the fillings one on the bottom and the dough went on the top and there was nothing resembling a bottom crust per se. One of the things I liked about this recipe is I could make it the night before and reduce the burden on the morning of Thanksgiving day. This recipe read really good on paper too and I had high hopes for it.
SECRET INGRDIENT APPLE SPICE CAKE:This was my safe dessert recipe for this day. Not specifically a Thanksgiving recipe, but an Autumn in New England type recipe. I knew if people didn't care for the Nantucket Cranberry Cake, they would certainly like this one. It had rather simple prep with simple ingredients and could be thrown on my baking Egg at the last minute. In fact, if need be, I could have it come off the Egg just as the turkey was finishing and let it cool while we were eating. This Apple spice cake was full of ingredients that I and my guests love. The little surprise twist was a cherry juice concentrate, which was the secret ingredient mentioned in the recipe title.
GARLIC MASHED POTATOES:This recipe was from the amazingribs.com website and surprisingly enough was cooked not on the grill or smoker, but indoors. I have made several garlic mashed potato recipes before, and compared to them this was quite simple. With all the other things I had going on simple worked for me. The simple was by design to let the flavors of the potatoes and garlic shine through without being masked by lots of other herbs and spices. The recipe called for you to use a ton of garlic, but the garlic was boiled before being used in the potatoes.This would serve to tone down the garlic flavor.
TART CRANBERRY DIPPING SAUCE:The inclusion of this item on this year's Bill of Fare was a no-brainer. This item has proven to be far more popular than I ever imagined. The first year I made it I also had jellied cranberry sauce which no one touched. People were dunking their turkey in it like you were supposed to, But they were also dunking just about every other food on the table in it because they thought it was so good. The recipe had a relatively simple prep and could be made ahead of time. This insured it was the one item I retained from previous years.
So there you have the rationale behind what was on the menu for this year's Thanksgiving dinner. Part two of this blog entry will cover Thanksgiving dinner 2014. I will discuss the actual prep and whether the various changes lived up to my advanced expectations. There were certainly a few surprises in store for me, I can tell you that.
RELATED LINKS: Here are some links to my picture entries for the items described above. Some of the recipes are freely available on the web and if so, I have provided a link to the recipe as well.
CREOLE BUTTER TURKEY Picture Entry.
NEW ENGLAND THANKSGIVING BREAD Picture Entry.
NEW ENGLAND THANKSGIVING BREAD Recipe
NANTUCKET CRANBERRY CAKE Picture Entry.
NANTUCKET CRANBERRY CAKE Recipe
APPLE SPICE CAKE Picture Entry.
SECRET INGREDIENT APPLE SPICE CAKE Recipe
BUTTERY GARLIC MASHED POTATOES Recipe
TART CRANBERRY DIPPING SAUCE 2014 Blog Entry
TART CRANBERRY DIPPING SAUCE Recipe
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