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  1. Friday, November 16, 2007

    Thanksgiving Prep: Good Gravy!

    Let’s talk gravy. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without good gravy. And it’s not that hard to make! I’ll walk through how I do it – keep in mind this not a very exact recipe, but hopefully enough info to be useful.

    1) Reserve your juices from the turkey. Skim the fat off the top, if you can. I have to admit I don’t usually do this because there isn’t always that much, and my gravy always comes out fine. There are techniques for separating the fat – but I don’t remember them. Sorry! (Maybe some of you out there can share your tricks of the trade.)

    2) Thickening – you can go two ways:

    SLURRY: For good gravy. Simply whisk together some water & flour (kinda thick, but thin enough you can pour it). Add to your simmering meat juices to thicken. You may need to use a sieve at the end to take out lumps.

    ROUX: For fantastic, smooth-as-silk gravy. Yummier and truly not any harder. Here’s what you do: Cook equal parts butter & flour in a saucepan on low heat, whisking constantly. 3-5 mins to make a white roux. You can cook a few minutes longer for a nuttier flavor, but the longer you cook roux the less it will thicken your gravy.
    You can refrigerate or freeze unused roux for later. Like the slurry, add in small parts to your meat juices to desired thickness (and remember, your gravy will thicken over time and once it cools). How much roux? Well, I’m going to make 4 T butter/4 T flour next week. If it’s too much, I’ll save for later. If not enough, easy to make more!

    3) Getting the right amount of gravy is usually a challenge, especially at Thanksgiving with many guests. You want a lot, but there aren’t THAT many juices from your turkey. You can add some chicken broth to your juices, but I think that’s sad – detracts from your delicious turkey flavor. Last year I used a turkey gravy base from Williams-Sonoma to increase the amount of gravy. It tasted great. This year I noticed in the Trader Joe’s Thanksgiving flyer that they have a jarred turkey gravy – haven’t tried it, but I think I will as I’m CERTAIN it will be less espensive than good ole Williams-Sonoma. Just make sure you use these products as supplements to your homemade gravy – it will taste much better than just using these handy gravy products alone!

    Another way to get more volume…I simmer the neck and giblets that come with the turkey – enough water to cover. I use that broth as well as the pan drippings and that helps make lots more gravy without having to resort to using chicken broth.

    4) Seasoning is simple – salt and pepper.

    It’s not hard to make good gravy. I promise! If you haven’t done it before, give it a try. If you are a gravy expert, please share your tips!

  2. Wednesday, November 14, 2007

    Thansgiving Prep: THE TURKEY

    Today is all about the turkey. To those of you out there who will be doing this for the first time this year, have no fear – it’s not that hard. You’ll do great!

    Jane’s Turkey Confession: I always buy a Butterball (which is already brined, etc) and just follow the directions on the package. Done and done. I’ve never had one come out badly – always juicy and yummy. If you buy a frozen turkey, make sure you read the thawing instructions and give yourself time to let it thaw!!!

    I DO put my stuffing in the bird…actually only about half of the stuffing I make fits into the turkey, so I bake the rest of it. When the turkey is done, I combine the two stuffings together – that way you get the juicy turkey stuffing, but you’ll still have enough for everyone. I’ll share my stuffing recipe with later…

    Here are two great tips from some friends!

    Tip #1 (from friend’s hubby Aaron): Cook the turkey upside down (breast down). It won’t be pretty when you’re done, but most of us carve the turkey before dinner is served anyway. I haven’t done this but have heard that it makes for VERY moist and yummy meat. Aaron also said he cooks the turkey at a lower temperature for a much longer time.

    Tip #2 (from my Boston friend Dottie): A tip for great turkeys without losing precious sleep from a friend we both know.
    1) Stuff your turkey and do whatever else you do to make it tasty
    2) Place the turkey in a brown paper grocery bag on the roasting pan. If the bag’s not big enough, put another paper grocery bag at the uncovered end, and hopefully over the other bag.
    3) Staple the bag closed.
    4) Cover entire bag with cooking oil. I usually don’t get the underside that’s actually hitting the pan.
    5) Bake at 425 degrees F.

    A 22 lb. stuffed turkey is done in 3 hours. (adjust time accordingly for the size of your turkey). I (Dottie) have been doing this for over 10 years and the results are always fantastic. The skin is crisp, the meat is always moist. If I’ve overcooked the turkey, the meat is still moist, the skin perfect but the meat is falling off the bones.

    Thanks for the tips, Aaron & Dottie! Now, if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, recipes, anything – please share!

  3. Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    Thanksgiving Prep: Great Guides!

    Today I’d like to share a few helpful Thanksgiving planning guides I’ve found recently. I usually end up sticking to my own recipes, but once in a while one of these guides will tempt me enough to try something new – and I’m usually happy with the result. 🙂

    First, Real Simple magazine has a nice Thanksgiving menu plan in their November issue. The article is called “Back to Basics Thanksgiving” and it pretty much is just that – good traditional dishes with a little modern twist. And each recipe has variations to tailor to your taste. There was also a super cute decorating idea in the magazine – cut the tops out of mini-pumpkins and use as candlestick holders. They look so cute! Their website is also full of great Thanksgiving tips.

    The Real Simple Menu: Classic Roast Turkey, Gravy, Garlicky Green Beans & Pinenuts, Warm Apricot-Cranberry Sauce, Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges, Herb Stuffing, Apple Crumb Pie.

    Trader Joe’s just sent out a mailer that is GREAT. Normally their mailers don’t really get me to go buy new things, but this one is geared just towards Thanksgiving and there are a few items I’m definitely going to get. If you have a TJs nearby, try to track down this mailer to see what items will be helpful to you! Trader Joe’s always has great products that make it easy to cheat, which is my kind of cooking! 🙂

    Lastly, my friend Meagan sent me a PDF from Williams-Sonoma with a Thanksgiving plan. This plan also looks quite delicious, albeit a bit more gourmet than Real Simple. But I’m sure some of you out there are a bit more gourmet, so this guide is for you! One quick note – some of the recipes call for WS-specific products, which tend to be pricey, but they are always good.

    If you’ve come across any other helpful Thanksgiving guides this year, please share!

  4. Sunday, November 11, 2007

    Week 42 Menu

    Thanksgiving is less than 2 weeks away! This week will be Thanksgiving Prep Week on TWFD…get ready for tips and recipes, and please plan on sharing your own!

    I can’t believe the number of comments on the Ice Milk post…you people were seriously cracking me up. I’ll try to get controversial more often!

    Here’s the menu for this week. Please share you menus – they’re usually better than mine! 🙂

    The following meal is one that Cate loves…she’ll eat it all, which happens so rarely these days!
    Baked Stuffing-Coated Chicken (so easy, click for recipe)
    – Wild & Long Grain Rice
    – Carrots

    Beef Stew

    Mac & Cheese
    – Salad
    – Bread

    – Leftovers

    – Pizza (I’ve been making this a lot lately with the TJs pizza crust…it’s just so easy and fast. But I’m going to try to think of something else for Friday, but this is a filler just in case)

    – Eat out

    Chicken Piccata
    – Mashed potatoes
    – Veggie

  5. Thursday, November 8, 2007

    Milk on the Rocks

    If you read my blog, that means you probably have some level of trust in the things I tell you. Today I’m asking you to tap into that trust and give me a chance, because I’m CERTAIN that some of you out there are going to think I’m crazy!

    Last night I was eating a cookie and with some milk. Not just any old milk. Ice milk. That’s right folks, ice IN the glass of milk. “What?!?! That’s WEIRD! Ice doesn’t belong in milk! Gross!” Just a sampling of comments I’ve received from friends over the years, and maybe even what you’re thinking right now. Trust me – it’s awesome. The picture above is really an equation that will allow you to reach milk nirvana. If you’re having a hard time drinking this down (ha ha), keep in mind milk is mostly water anyway, so really it’s not a big deal if the ice melts a bit. In fact, I don’t even really LIKE drinking milk that much. I’ve gotta have it on the rocks or not at all.

    As I was drinking my icy milk last night it hit me – I have a food blog that bunches of people read – and none of those bunches can talk back! (Well, I guess you CAN comment, but you know what I mean.) Remember, you trust me. I know what I’m talking about. TRY IT. What’s the worst that can happen?

  6. Tuesday, November 6, 2007

    Kitchen Tips: Soft Brown Sugar

    The other night I was thinking it’s been a while since I did a “Kitchen Tips” post…then later that evening a friend stopped by to borrow some brown sugar and was excited about the piece of bread inside my brown sugar container. Tah-dah! A post!

    Want soft brown sugar? Just throw a piece of bread in the container. That’s it. Simple, easy, cheap. I change it out, oh, I don’t know…hardly ever. I use white bread so no funny little grains fall into the sugar. The bread never gets moldy and the brown sugar always remains the perfect consistency. Just a little something I learned from my mama at a young age.

    My friend Adrianne’s scienctist husband tried to explain why it works to us…he said the explanation really wasn’t complicated, but I think Adrianne and I only caught a couple words…like “the bread won’t go moldy” and “there’s a scientific reason it works” – good enough for us cooks. 🙂

  7. Sunday, November 4, 2007

    Week 41 Menu

    Sorry today’s menu is late and without a picture – it’s been a BUSY day. I’ll try to beef this post up later…just want you to have a place to post your menus. By the way – last week was awesome! So many menus…I love it! Keep sharing!

    Thanksgiving is less than 3 weeks away!!! AAAHH!!! (Just part of my “uh-oh-I’ve-only-got-6-weeks-until-baby” panic.) For those of you who will be facing the daunting task of making Thanksgiving dinner, I will share all my tried and true recipes with you. I’ve done Thanksgiving oodles of times, so I feel like I’ve got it under control. 3 years ago I was as pregnant as I am now and my feet were MUCH more swollen, so this year will be a cinch…hopefully!

    – I have book club…need to come up with something for Nate & Cate

    Bistro Chicken (carry-over from last week)
    – Potatoes
    – Veggie

    Lentil Soup (by the way, this recipe rules)
    – Crusty bread

    – Leftovers

    – Let me think about it…I’ll get back to you. 🙂

    – Eat out

    – Chicken Cordon Bleu (from the freezer section)
    – Rice
    – Veggie

  8. Friday, November 2, 2007

    The Goods: Cheese Crumb Cake…mmmm…

    The beginning of my pregnancy was a doozy – so so sick – just thinking about it makes me feel not so good. And sadly during that time I never wanted sweets or desserts, which is SO unlike me. The last few months, however, my love of “treats” (side note: Nate thinks it’s so funny when I say “treat” and now Cate says it too) is back. Maybe not such a good thing…

    It definitely wasn’t a good thing at the grocery store last night. Despite the fact our house is full of Halloween cookies and candy, I just couldn’t resist this box of Entenmann’s Cheese Filled Crumb Coffee Cake (say that three times fast). Oh so bad, but oh so good. I’m pretty picky about my treats, but this prepackaged goodness makes the cut. And hey, I’m pregnant and need to pack a few more pounds on before baby comes in six weeks (wait, SIX?!?! I’m not ready!).