Talkin’ Turkey Tips with the folks at Ralphs

The Thanksgiving turkey is the second best thing about Thanksgiving.

What’s the best thing about Thanksgiving? The long awaited gathering of family and friends around the holiday table laden with a cornucopia of food, including that glistening Thanksgiving bird.

Holiday roasted turkey. Photo credit: Ralphs

There are so many ways to prepare the hallowed bird from roasting it breast side up, stuffing herb butter under the skin, engulfing it in a cooking bag, deep frying to brining.

I’ve always been a big fan of brining, which is a form of marinating the turkey in a salt mixture with various herbs and other ingredients. But it can be quite a painstaking and time consuming production, steeped in mystery and intrigue. The time honored process is not always honored.

Chef Geoffrey Zakarian and I at Sur La Table during a recent signing of his book: My Perfect Pantry: 150 Easy Recipes from 50 Essential Ingredients

At a recent book signing in Los Angeles with Food Network Star and Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, I asked the question, “to brine or not to brine?”

His answer: not to brine.  Chef GZ says he has a few fellow chefs and culinary colleagues that are big briners, but he is not. When it comes to cooking the bird, he keeps it simple and that way he gets simply delicious results.

This year I’ve decided to keep it simple. No brine, no lengthy 12 hour marinating time. But I wanted to make sure that my turkey was moist, flavorful and delicious because after all, I have a culinary reputation to uphold.

Kristin Livingston, Natural Food Manager, Ralphs, Westwood, CA.

I reached out to the experts at my favorite market Ralphs for a little advice on making an oven roasted, moist and juicy Thanksgiving turkey. They invited me to chat with Kristin Livingston, Natural Food Manager, at their Westwood store near the campus of UCLA. Here’s a mind-bending fact: it’s the busiest store in Southern California and generates $1.4 million in sales a week.

We had a great chat, I asked her lots of questions, and here are a few tips Kristen shared with me during the time we spent together.

What kind of turkey should I buy?

It depends on your budget and preference. There are whole turkey breasts, oven ready turkeys, natural, organic and frozen turkeys. Most frozen turkeys are flash frozen immediately after being butchered and are delicious. Some turkeys have a salt solution injected into them to make them very flavorful.  I prefer the free range, certified organic turkeys that are feed healthier fed and free of hormones and antibiotics.  I think they are tastier.

There are a variety of turkeys to chose from.

What size turkey should I buy?

A widely used general guideline is one pound of turkey per person. But if you are serving a lot of guests, I recommend preparing two smaller turkeys weighing 12 pounds or less.

What’s the best way to thaw a frozen turkey?

The best way to thaw your turkey is in the refrigerator. A general rule to follow when thawing a turkey is to allow 1 day of thawing for every 4 pounds. Make sure to keep the turkey unopened and thaw it breast side up.  It’s best to cook it within 4 days after thawing.

How should I season my turkey?

Here the possibilities are endless.  Make sure you wash and pat it dry first. Of course you need to generously salt the outside and cavity of the bird. Adding olive oil, vegetable oil or butter on the surface of the bird before adding the salt will help it brown.  There are a lot of traditional turkey seasoning mixes out there, but why not try something different like a Indian or Moroccan spice mix. There are many on the market or you can experiment with making your own.*

Should I stuff my turkey?

So many herbs, so many choices for your Thanksgiving turkey.

Stuffing a turkey is no longer recommended because of health reasons. If the bird is removed from the oven before the stuffing reaches 165°F, some bacteria from the stuffing or from the interior surface of the turkey’s cavity could remain alive in the stuffing.  To get the stuffing up to 165°F, you would risk overcooking the breast meat.  My recommendation is to cook your dressing or stuffing separately.

But do stuff the cavity of your turkey lot of aromatics like onions, garlic, thyme and rosemary. Those aromatics will cook and the flavors will permeate the turkey. Besides, those pan drippings make the best gravy.  Also, many stores stock a poultry bundle that can take the stress out of what herbs to buy. I would suggest trying that.

How long should I roast my turkey in the oven?

I recommend a temperature of  325°F from start to finish.  The  general cooking guideline for a fully defrosted or fresh bird is about 15 minutes per pound.

How will I know when the turkey is done?

A temperature of 180°F degrees is what you are looking for.

Your turkey is done when it reaches a temperature of 180°F degrees in the thigh and 170°F degrees in the breast. It’s best to use a meat thermometer to make sure you don’t overcook your turkey. Some turkeys come inserted with a plastic pop up button. But these buttons are set to pop up at 180°F to 185°F degrees and at that temperature, the turkey is overcooked and dry.

How long do I wait before I carve it?

Just like you let a steak rest after cooking so the juices can redistribute throughout the meat, you should let your turkey rest too. About 15 to 20 minutes is best. While its resting, why not use that time and make a gravy out of the those flavorful pan drippings.

Should I carve the turkey at table or not?

Turkey breasts removed and sliced for serving.

I love the presentation of a beautiful turkey at the table. Yet carving takes time. You can carve and plate the turkey right before serving to make it more convenient.  The best way to do this is to:

  • Remove the legs and thighs and cut through the bone that connects them.
  • Remove the wings and separate them at the joints.
  • Remove the wishbone and cut away to remove both breasts.
  • Slice the thigh meat.
  • Slice the breast meat, cutting it at an angle against the grain.
  • Arrange the turkey pieces and slices on a serving platter with fresh herbs and roasted vegetables for a great presentation.

My tip if you need more help

Since 1981 the folks at Butterball Turkey have staffed a Turkey Talk Line with food experts who can help answer any turkey question you might have. You can call them at 1-800-BUTTERBALL (800)288-8372 or visit their site at http://www.butterball.com/contact-us for information on their hours of operation and how you can chat, text or communicate with them about all your turkey questions via social media.

Time to make that turkey

*I like Kristin’s suggestion to make your own Indian or Moroccan inspired turkey seasoning. Here’s an easy mix I created you might want to give a try. Feel free to tweak this rustic blend and add additional ingredients if you like.  Double the recipe if you think you many need more seasoning mix. I recommend you rub the surface of the turkey with olive oil before you season your bird. In a bowl whisk together:
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground thyme
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon sugar

The folks at Ralphs have shared an easy recipe to help you make your turkey moist and delicious.  There are so many other great recipes on their site as well. Make sure to visit  them at https://www.ralphs.com/recipes and see what’s there. Have a Happy Thanksgiving my foodie friends. [Note: this is not a sponsored post]

Easy Thanksgiving Turkey

  • Servings: 10 to 14
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Recipe courtesy of Ralphs.

Ingredients

1 turkey (14 lbs.)
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and whole
1 small onion, cut in quarters
salt
ground black pepper
1 poultry bundle (thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, parsley)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  2. Rinse turkey and pat dry.
  3. Combine butter, 1 minced clove garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Carefully spread the butter mixture between the skin and meat of the turkey, trying not to tear the skin. Sprinkle outside of the turkey and the cavity with additional salt and pepper.
  4. Stuff turkey cavity with onion, garlic cloves and poultry bundle.
  5. Truss the legs and place the turkey in a roasting pan.
  6. Roast for about 3 hours, basting with pan juices every 30 minutes. Cook until the internal temperature is about 170°F when thermometer is inserted into the meaty part of the breast.
  7. Remove from oven. Rest for 15-20 minutes before carving.

 

 

 

 

National Pie Pot Day is coming – I got ya

Turkey Pot Pie Casserole

I don’t need a day to celebrate my love affair with meat pot pies. But it you give me one, I’ll take it.

September 23rd is National Great American Pot Pie Day. Urban legend points to the pie maker and frozen food manufacturer Marie Callender’s as the source of crowning this crust filled observance.

And speaking of crust, it’s the very best part of the pot pie.

Back in the day

I remember how Mom would occasionally stock our freezer with frozen Banquet turkey and chicken pot pies. They were packaged in a gold and red box that made my taste buds weep. We would pop that aluminum pot pie tray into the oven and it seemed like it took ages for it get done. And if you took it out too soon, the crust at the bottom would be soggy. But it didn’t matter, we ate them anyway. Between that golden brown, flaky double crust delight was tender chunks of meat and vegetables mixed in a delicate gravy. They were such a treat and not to mention these little pot pies gave mom a day off from serious cooking.

Turkey pot pie remake

To this day I love pot pies. And for years I have made and served a modified version of a turkey pot pie. It’s made in a casserole dish and has a single, puff pastry crust. I’ve posted pictures of it on my social media pages. But I’ve never published the recipe – until now.

While the flaky puff pastry crust is definitely the star, the filling is deliciously satisfying and flavorful. Using turkey thigh meat makes it hearty.  And the Jersey sweet potatoes and fresh rosemary elevates the dish to something you’ll be proud to serve company.

Enjoy National Great American Pot Pie Day and enjoy this recipe any day you want that down home pot pie flavor minus the gold and red box of course.

Turkey Pot Pie Casserole

  • Servings: 6 to 8
  • Difficulty: intermediate
  • Print

It’s made in a casserole dish and has a single, puff pastry crust.

Ingredients

2 cups Jersey (white) sweet potatoes peeled and cut into cubes
1 cup carrots, peeled and sliced
½ cup chopped yellow onion
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 ½ to 2 pounds skinless, boneless turkey thighs cut in chunks
Cooking oil (Grapeseed oil used in this recipe)
1 ½   teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary
2 ½ cup chicken stock (organic used in this recipe)
1 cup frozen sweet peas
4 tablespoons flour
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed (Pepperidge Farms used in this recipe)

Directions

  1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a non-stick skillet set at medium heat. When oil is hot, add Jersey sweet potatoes and cook 5-6 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula. They will be slightly browned. Remember, color equals flavor. When done, place in a separate bowl or plate.
  2. To that same skillet, add about a teaspoon more of oil and add sliced carrots. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula.  When done, place cooked carrots in a bowl or plate with sweet potatoes.
  3. Wash and pat dry turkey thigh. Cut in 1 inch pieces/chunks. Place cut meat on waxed paper or parchment paper. Generously season with salt, pepper and garlic powder to your taste. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of flour over turkey meat and mix well. Add 2-3 tablespoon of oil to that same skillet set medium heat. When oil is hot, add turkey thigh meat. Cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly until done. Add the cooked meat to the sweet potatoes and carrots in your separate bowl or plate.
  4. To that same skillet, add another teaspoon of oil, onions, garlic and 1 teaspoon of rosemary. Sauté for 1 minute. Add 4 tablespoons of flour and 3 tablespoons of oil. Mix well, stirring for a minute until flour is well incorporated.
  5. Whisk or stir in 2 ½ cups of chicken stock into flour mixture and mix well.  Add 1 tablespoon of butter. Turn down the heat and simmer 2 minutes or until the mixture begins to thicken.  Make sure to stir mixture constantly while simmering. Season with additional salt and pepper to your taste.
  6. Add in cooked sweet potatoes, carrots, turkey thigh meat and 1 cup of frozen sweet peas to the thickened stock mixture. Stir well. Pour mixture into a baking dish (13 x 9 used in this recipe) sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.
  7. Place one thawed puff pastry on a lightly floured, parchment paper covered surface. With a rolling pen, gently roll out pastry to fit the inside of  your baking dish. Roll puff pastry loosely around the rolling pin and ease it on top of the mixture in casserole dish.  Lightly press it into place. If pastry is too wide, just press the edges up along the sides of the dish. Lightly the brush the surface with milk or an egg wash.  Make 6 to 9 prick marks in pastry with a fork to vent the surface. Sprinkle top with the remaining ½ teaspoon of fresh chopped rosemary.
  8. Place casserole dish in oven and bake 25-30 minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling.
  9. Remove from the oven and cool 20 minutes before serving. Cut into 6 squares.

    Cook Jersey sweet potatoes 5-6 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula.

    Cook sliced carrots 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula.

    Sprinkle salt, pepper, garlic powder and flour over turkey meat and mix well.

    Add turkey thigh meat to a skillet and cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly until done.

    Add flour and oil to sauteed onions and garlic.

    Whisk or stir in chicken stock into flour mixture and mix well.

    Add in cooked sweet potatoes, carrots, turkey thigh meat and frozen sweet peas.

    Pour mixture into a baking dish sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.

    Gently roll out single sheet of puff pastry to fit the inside of baking dish.

    Ease puff pastry on top of the mixture in casserole dish. Lightly press it into place and brush with egg or milk wash.

    Cut into 6 or 8 serving squares.

     

It’s brine time with Chef Daria

The holidays are upon us. And undoubtedly you will be enjoying some of your favorite foods.

daria-favorites-picmonkey-collage

A few of Chef Daria’s favorite Thanksgiving entrees. Left top: Herb brined turkey. Left bottom: cornbread dressing. Right top: candied yams. Right bottom: macaroni and cheese.

Everyone gets a  little nervous when making the holiday turkey.  While your family and guests are sitting around the dinner table admiring the glistening bird, their secret prayer is always this: please don’t let this turkey be tasteless and dry.

It’s a tall order to be sure.

While the star of your holiday dinner may be the turkey, it should not be a lame duck.

Well there’s good news. The hue and cry of the masses – well your family – has been heard.

daria-pickmonkey-collage

Left: simple brine and herb butter ingredients. Right: brined turkey

Los Angeles based Chef Daria Le Sassier of Le Sassier Catering  is back with a recipe for making your bird moist, tender and flavorful by brining. Brining? Yes and it is easier than you think. This ancient method not only hydrates the turkey, but it infuses the most subtle flavor. See Chef Daria’s quick video on how to brine a turkey and her brine recipe below. You can do it – yes you can!

Brine Ingredients
2 cups kosher salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
5 fresh sage leaves
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
3 cloves garlic
2 quarts of water
2 quarts cold water
2 large turkey size oven roasting bags
14 to 16 pound turkey

Method
In a large kettle, combine the salt, brown sugar, sage, thyme, rosemary, peeled garlic cloves and 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir until salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from the heat.

Add the cold water to cool the bring liquid to room temperature.

Place the turkey-size oven roasting bag inside a second roasting bag. Add the turkey. Carefully pour the cooled brine into the bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible. Seal the bags. Turn and rotate the turkey to coat. Place turkey in a roasting pan and place in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours. Make sure you turn the bag several times while it marinades.

After 12-12 hours, drain the brining liquid, remove turkey from the bag and rinse it. Pat it dry.

With your fingers, carefully loosen the skin from the turkey breast. Rub half of the herb butter under the skin. Then rub the remaining herb butter over the turkey skin.

With the breast side up, place turkey on a rack in a roasting pan. Bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 3.25 hours to 3.45 hours or until the food thermometer reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to baste the turkey throughout cooking process with pan drippings.

When done, remove from the oven, cover with foil and let rest 20 minutes before serving.

Herb Butter Ingredients
2 cups butter, soften
½ cup olive cup oil
1 cup packed fresh parsley sprigs, roughly chopped
1/3 cup fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
1/3 cup fresh rosemary leaves, roughly chopped

Method
In a small bowl, combine softened butter, olive oil and chopped herbs. Use a fork to mix together until well combined. Cover and put in the refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes, until firm but not hard.

5 tips to keep you stewing

Stew in pot

Simmer ready Turkey Tenderloin Stew

It’s just a pot of stew, right?

Not so fast.

That pot of vegetables and meat that slowly simmers in a savory stock transforms itself into a masterpiece of humble beginnings and epic ends.

It is imbued with pomp and personality. It is comprised of creativity and resourcefulness.  And it is reflective of the composer’s emotions and experience, virtue and values.

Yes, a stew is more than a stew

A stew is an often a magical and sometimes imaginative concoction of ingredients that bond harmoniously.  Yet, a stew is always stalwart even in the presence of the most delicate ingredients. And no two are ever alike because each individual pot is a personification of the moment and the marrow in which it is made.

A pot of stew is like bushel of love in a bowl.  Pare that bowl of stew with a generous portion of homemade corn bread or a hearty artisan roll, and you may just fall in love or get someone to fall in love with you. It’s shamefully clear, I love waxing stewfully about stews. With all that said, lets get down to simmering business.

Tips for making your stew anew

With the fall of the year upon us, chances are you will be making a pot of stew or two or three before the daffodils bloom in spring.

In making a stew, there are no rules – let your imagination be your guide. However, from my years of stew making, I’d like to share a few “stew tips” with you.

  1. Get to first base. The first step in making any stew is to create a base packed with flavor. I like starting out with a combination of ingredients like onions, garlic, shallots, celery and bell pepper sautéed in some kind of oil or fat like  butter, olive oil, or Grapeseed oil. Sometimes I infuse extra richness by adding a little sesame oil or lard.
  2. Stock it up. Whether you use chicken, beef, vegetable or seafood stock, elevate the favor by adding a little wine, beer, pumpkin puree, vegetable juice, clam juice or even fruit juice to your taste. I often deglaze my sauté pan with wine (white or red) or beer (craft or flavored). Sometimes I pour a little directly in the stock as well. I recently made a tomato based Italian stew and added a little orange juice; it was a great flavor enhancer.
  3. Use a few unusual suspects. We know the usual suspect when it comes to making stews, but try a few unusual suspects like yams, white sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, turnips, rutabagas, roasted beets to mention a few. When the usual and unusual suspects cozy up in a simmering pot, they give your stew an amazing “one off” depth of richness that is surprisingly good.
  4. No naked proteins. Now that I have your attention, the point here is to always season then brown proteins like beef, pork, chicken and lamb in oil or fat before adding them to your pot.  If you are making an all root vegetable stew, the same rule applies. Color equals flavor and the more color you get on the meat, the more flavorful your stew will be. When you brown that seasoned protein, you sear that seasoning right into the flesh. For a quick seafood stew, I browned shrimp and rockfish at high heat in a little Grapeseed oil before I added them to the stew. The color and flavor was awesome.
  5. Get fresh with herbs. Using fresh herbs gives your stew a freshness and brightness that dried herbs don’t deliver. Sure you have to use more of them, but it is so worth the effort. Some herbs are great for simmer and some are good for finishing. Try finishing your chicken stew with a little fresh mint or simmer a little fresh tarragon in your next beef stew.

Easy Turkey Tenderloin Stew 

click on arrow below to view video

Ingredients
1 ½ – 2 pounds turkey tenderloin
1 pound baby Yukon potatoes cut in 1 inch pieces
2 medium white sweet potatoes cut in 1 inch pieces
2 medium zucchini cut in 1 inch pieces
2 medium carrots, sliced
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves chopped garlic
½ cup white wine
1 – 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
7 cups chicken stock
1 ~ 15 ounce can fire roasted corn
Salt
Pepper
Red pepper flakes
Grapeseed oil
Flour

Method

  1. Cut your turkey tenderloin into chucks and generously season them with salt and pepper.
  2. Lightly coat the chunks in flour.
  3. Add a few tablespoon of Grapeseed oil to a skillet and heat. Add turkey tenderloin chunks and brown until almost done. Remove from heat and add to a stock pot.
  4. Add a little more Grapeseed oil to that same skillet if needed, heat to medium and sauté your onions and garlic about a minute then deglaze the pan with white wine and add to stock pot.
  5. To stock pot add cut white sweet potatoes, Yukon potatoes and zucchini , sliced carrots, fresh thyme leaves, 2 teaspoons of salt, ¼ teaspoon black and red pepper flakes, and canned corn.
  6. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 1 hour. Serve with corn bread or dinner rolls.

Tip:  For added thickness, place 1 cup of stew stock and 2 tablespoons of corn starch in a blender. Place your hand on top of the blender lid to prevent it from dislodging. Mix well. Stir the thickened mixture into stew.