kruizing with kikukat

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey Day Shortcuts and Lessons

Happy Thanksgiving!!!  No big party for me this year.  Just enjoyed a quiet lunch at home with ma, pa, D1, D2 & The Help.  Tough crowd, easy food:  turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing (if you grew up in Hawaii, you know it as stuffing), cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.  Very traditional and very un-fussy, especially since I took some major shortcuts this year.

kamado-smoked turkey
cranberry sauce
wild rice dressing

Shortcut #1:  One picture that is missing from my Thanksgiving photo cache this year is a glistening, golden-brown turkey.  I just didn't feel up to brining and smoking a full bird, even an organic, free-range bird, so bought a Butterball turkey breast roast (all white meat . . . de rigueur for most of my family).  I did the usual thing of brining, a non-negotiable component when cooking turkey in a kamado.  I used the same brine recipe I've been using for years:  8 qts water, 2 c rock salt, 1 c honey, 8 garlic cloves, 1 bunch thyme, 1 tbsp cracked black pepper.  Had an easy time because the turkey and brine fit easily in my fridge.  I didn't really read the pkg directions so I'm not gonna blame the Butterball folks, but nobody told me the meat was encased in netting for GOOD REASON. 

This morning, I figured I'd cut the net off so the skin could brown, and this is about where things fell apart, literally.  So instead of a football-shaped turkey roast, I ended up with odd-sized pieces of turkey breast to roast.  Selecting the largest, fattest piece, I stuck the remote thermometer probe in the middle of it. 

It cooked in just over an hour in the kamado (tried to keep the heat around 325 degrees.

The finished product was actually very tasty.  Just the color sucked big time.  I've had no problems in the past when smoking a whole bird, so I'm attributing the lack of color to the lack of skin real estate on the meat pieces.

Lesson  #1:  try a different turkey breast roast.  KTA sold 3 different turkey breast roasts this year.  One was a roast which contained both light and dark meat (don't ask me how a breast roast can contain both light and dark meat . . . thats a question for Butterball).  Another roast contained rib bones.  And the third, which is the one I bought, was boneless.  Next year, I'm buying the one with the bones (no dark meat).  I think these pieces are probably what I was expecting this year, just the turkey breast, like a big chicken breast.

Shortcut #2:  Buy a pumpkin pie.  We are fortunate in Hilo to have Short n Sweet, a gourmet bakery that specializes in fancy wedding cakes (how many places in Hilo can actually boast being endorsed by Brides Magazine?).  The Help treated us to a Maple Pumpkin Pie.  At $17.99 per pie, its definitely not the cheapest pie in town, but for homemade crust, its definitely worth it.

Lesson #2:  Homemade is not the ONLY choice.  This pie totally restored my confidence in supporting local businesses.  I appreciate the time and effort that goes into making something from scratch, and I think its great that there are others who also don't think the gargantuan pumpkin pie at Costco is the cat's meow (sorry, Desi & Kenni).

Shortcut #3:  Make cranberry sauce ahead of time.  I made the cranberry sauce on Tuesday evening.  
cranberries, apples & ginger

I located this recipe on the internet.  I found it in 2 places, so theres no telling how many other sites have it.  I assumed that because it was published twice, it was a good recipe.  This year, I decided I wanted something with "bite", something more complex than the orange marmalade cranberry sauce I normally make.  

 The recipe seemed easy enough:  cook together a bag of fresh cranberries, sugar, cider vinegar, grated ginger and some apples.  Easy.  

The sauce stayed in the fridge until about an hour before we were ready to eat.
Lesson #3:  Fix this recipe!!!  The cranberry, apple & ginger flavors go well together, but I like my cranberry sauce to be sweet.  This was a little too puckery for me.  Will fix for the next round.

Lesson #4:  Don't take too many shortcuts.  And thats why I put my efforts into making Wild Rice Dressing.  This had several steps, as the croutons in the dressing had to be "made" ahead of time and the wild rice needed to be cooked before the entire dish got baked.

I had a bag of wild rice I bought from the liquor store in Waimea.  It came in a canvas bag and looked like authentic Minnesota wild rice.  But the recipe called for 2 cups so I had to supplement with wild rice from the natural food store.

The lighter colored rice is from the Waimea store.  The darker colored rice is from Island Naturals.  There is a big difference:  the lighter colored rice will cook in 25 minutes.  The darker colored rice takes longer to cook, maybe 35 minutes.

Once the wild rice is cooked, its tossed together with sauteed mushrooms, onions & celery.  I managed to find fresh shiitake mushrooms at Island Naturals, so I bought a handful of those.

fresh shiitake mushrooms
The addition of  minced fresh sage, pecans and dried cranberries round out the flavor profile. This dressing is definitely something I will make again.  The recipe can be found on the Simply  Recipes website.

With no plans for dinner, I think I can close the book on Thanksgiving 2010.  This was one of the least complicated Thanksgivings I've celebrated in my adult years.  Having a HUGE, killer work week next week, I just didn't have it in me to throw together a huge family get-together this year.  But the coziness of this year's meal allowed me to test out new dishes with captive, albeit, unappreciative, tablemates.  

Three of my tablemates this year really set the bar low . . . tablemate #1 was presented a bowl of from-the-freezer soybean rice and ate only that, in spite of the Thanksgiving fare that was set out before her.  Tablemate #2 chose to eat two servings of just mashed potatoes and gravy.  Both remarked that the only turkey they ever CHOOSE to consume is prepared in the school cafeteria by large people.  And Tablemate #3 said the food was ALRIGHT, although he did remark that the maple pumpkin pie must've been expensive since the pumpkin layer was so thin.  Sigh . . . that's why I said "tough crowd" at the beginning of this post.

Moral of this post:  be thankful for what you have . . . the means to put food on my table, darling daughters, doting parents and a goooood friend (those of you who know me and my family well are probably on the floor laughing hysterically now) who are able to share a meal with me.  May we have many more of these occasions to celebrate.

I am also thankful that I had the foresight to buy and prepare another all-white meat turkey roast which will allow me respite from cooking during the busy time between now and Christmas!!!

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