Make Thanksgiving Easy Again: Easy Turkey

Easy Turkey | Cook it Pretty

Two years ago I hosted my first Thanksgiving without parental supervision, and I did a lot of research on turkey roasting techniques. The combination of all the tips and tricks I found resulted in a successful approach that I’m ready to confidently share with you.

Easy Turkey | Cook it Pretty

You’ve probably seen blogs and magazine articles telling you to do everything from turning the turkey upside down to cooking it straight out of the freezer. Cover it! Don’t cover it! Baste it! Basting is over! Stuffing will kill you! Flip it! Change the temperature 10 times! Buy a million gadgets you’ll only use once a year! Hosting a big meal is stressful enough without all this conflicting information. I’ve boiled everything down to one tip for you: DO LESS.

Easy Turkey | Cook it Pretty

The only thing that is difficult about being in charge of the turkey is that you have to do some pre-planning. If you’re hosting Thanksgiving, my guess is you already know that you have some planning in your (very near) future. In Dubai I only have access to frozen turkeys so I do not get a lot of choice in the matter and the following tips and techniques are for frozen turkey. Some thoughts to get you started:

  • Buy your turkey as early as possible. If your turkey is frozen, you’ll need to allow for 3 days of defrosting in the fridge. But people, this isn’t hard! All it does is sit there and take up all your fridge space for a few days.
  • Don’t double-brine. Did you know that most frozen turkeys are already in brine? Check the labels and you’ll likely see something about the ingredients including salt or salt water – that means it’s been in brine. So lucky you, you do not need to brine it again.
  • No special equipment required. As long as you have a roasting pan that is big enough for your turkey, you’re good to go. While things like roasting racks can be nice, you don’t have to have one. My method doesn’t require a baster either. One thing that’s nice to have is a meat thermometer, in case you’re anxious about things like serving your loved ones undercooked meat (raises hand).
  • Plan around oven space. Turkeys take a long time to cook and will dominate your oven on Thanksgiving day. Plan any other dishes you’re making around the idea that your oven will be in use most of the time. Things like pie can be easily made the day before to avoid conflicting oven time. Stuffing can be prepped the day before and baked after the turkey comes out. Consider vegetables cooked on the stove top, such as sauteed green beans, rather than a roasted dish that requires oven time. Or farm out your other oven dishes to guests, potluck style.

So you have your turkey defrosted and your suitably sized pan, your other holiday dishes under control, and you’re ready to go. Where to begin? Read on!

Easy Herb Roasted Turkey

Defrosted Turkey
2 Onions, halved then quartered (you want big pieces)
3 Celery stalks, chopped into 2-3 inch sections
Butter, softened
S&P
Herbs of choice (I like rosemary, sage & thyme)
1/2 Orange, quartered

Calculate your cook time
Cook time = 15 mins x #lbs. For example, a 15lb turkey will take 225 mins or 3 hours 45 mins. Preheat your oven to 325F.

Prep the pan
Place the onion and celery chunks in the bottom of the roasting pan, reserving some onion to be later placed inside the turkey. These will serve as your roasting rack, raising the bird off the bottom of the pan. They also provide a nice flavor to your drippings, which you can later use for gravy.

Prep the bird
Check the neck cavity and main cavity for little bags of gizzards, removing everything. Keep them if you like to include them in your stuffing or stock or if you’re like my mom and cook it up for the dogs. Toss them if you’re like me and get grossed out by everything I just said (it’s hard for me to even type the word gizzards). Place the turkey in the roasting pan on top of the chopped onion and celery. Fold the wings underneath the body of the turkey – this prevents them from getting dried out or burned, and it just looks better.

Give it a rub
Take the softened butter in your fingers and rub it all over your turkey, including the legs. Sprinkle everywhere with generous amounts of salt and pepper, including some inside the cavity. Add your herbs, like rosemary, sage, and thyme everywhere as well.

Easy Turkey | Cook it Pretty
Get aromatic
Put remaining onion and orange pieces inside the cavity. I’ve seen this called “aromatics” – you won’t be eating them, but they add juice and flavor to the meat from the inside. Don’t stuff it too full or it may affect your cook time, a few pieces of each will do.

Tie the legs, or don’t
This is a purely aesthetic choice. If you want a pretty picture, there’s something that makes the tied up legs just look better. But if you don’t care and just want it easy, skip this because you’ll just be removing the tie later. I skipped it last time and it looked a little awkward, but who really cares because it tastes the same!

The do-nothing part
Now put it in the oven and set your timer according to the cook time above. THEN DO NOTHING. Don’t baste it or change the temperature or use tin foil on anything. Just ignore the turkey for the next 3 hours or so. Do your other prep and stove top cooking. Have a glass of wine. Study up on making gravy so you can put the pan drippings to use. (I can vouch for this method from The Kitchn).

Check the temp
Many frozen turkeys have a pop-up plastic thingie that tells you it’s ready. I’ve heard it’s best to double check this with a meat thermometer inserted into the thigh. Make sure it’s in the 165-180F range. The skin should be browned and crispy. Then it’s done! You roasted a whole turkey all by yourself!

Let it rest
Let the turkey rest at room temp for at least 30 minutes before carving. This is a good time to make your gravy, in which case you’ll need to remove the turkey from the roasting pan and transfer it to a cutting board. Put gallon-sized ziplock bags over oven mitts in order to safely grab the hot turkey without ruining your mitts. Be careful, turkeys are heavy and hot!

Carve it up
I’m lucky because my husband is amazing at breaking down the bird. I have never attempted this myself. But here’s the video from NYT that he watched before doing it the first time, and he knocked it out of the park. I like this method because it’s much easier to serve than carving it at the table, and you can break it up into dark and light meat platters.

You did it! Wishing you a juicy and delicious turkey to share with loved ones this Thanksgiving.

© Cook it Pretty 2016

Southwest Quinoa Salad

Southwest Quinoa Salad | Cook it Pretty

My Dad is a nutritionist’s, personal trainer’s, and doctor’s dream. He follows instructions and has admirable levels of will power. Over the past several years, he has gradually lost weight and completely changed his lifestyle, all under professional guidance and with no extreme diets or fad exercise routines. He’s definitely the healthiest septuagenarian I know.

When I visit him in California, I benefit from all this because all I have to do is wake up and get dressed and I have a ride and a gym buddy every morning. We usually do some grocery shopping afterwards, for lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and the occasional pre-made dish from the Whole Foods salad bar. One day his favorite one of these, a quinoa salad with corn and black beans, was no longer available. It had become one of my faves as well, and I was disappointed to not see it in the fridge when I was home in June. I decided to recreate it myself, and Father’s Day seemed like just the occasion for it.

Southwest Quinoa Salad | Cook it Pretty

Shopping for produce in California is AN ABSOLUTE JOY. I never really appreciated this before moving to Dubai. The availability of local produce in California is exceptional, and the summer haul is hard to beat. I still come across some California fruits in Dubai, but it makes me sad to think about how long they must have been sitting on a boat to get here. Not exactly fresh from the farm. Not to mention the sticker shock of all the imported goods, and by imported goods I mean nearly everything.

Enter this fresh sweet corn from Northern California! I admit, it’s been a very long time since I’ve actually shucked corn and cut it off the cob myself. I tend to just keep frozen corn stocked and had convinced myself it “tastes the same.” NO it does not! The extra effort is definitely worth it. That said, of course you could still make this recipe with good ol’ frozen kernels.

Southwest Quinoa Salad | Cook it Pretty
I roasted the corn on a cookie sheet with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. This was definitely the star of the dish. Of course, the local avocados also helped. Lately it seems I don’t eat much without adding avocado to it. I can’t help it, I’m Californian. It’s what we do.

I made a pretty huge batch so that Dad (and I!) could enjoy the leftovers for the rest of the week. Good thing it was a hit, because we sure did have a lot of it! That day I served it as a side for some roasted salmon, along with some truly special heirloom carrots. It’s also great on its own for a light and healthy lunch (Dad-approved, vegan and gluten free, btw) and would be the perfect dish to bring to a summer BBQ. In Dubai we can only have winter BBQs, but you get the idea.

Southwest Quinoa Salad

Big Batch of Salad
2 cups uncooked white Quinoa
3 ears of Corn, cut off the cob
2 large Avocados, diced
1 red Bell Pepper, diced
1 medium Red Onion, diced
1 can Black Beans, rinsed
Handful Cilantro, chopped or cut with shears
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper

For the Dressing
Juice from 2 Limes
1/3 cup Olive Oil
1 Tbs Honey
1/2 to 1 tsp Chili powder
Salt & Pepper to taste

NOTE: This is a big batch, but you can easily reduce amounts of everything if desired!

To cook the quinoa, bring the 2 cups of quinoa plus 4 cups of water to a boil in a sauce pan on the stove. (If you are cooking for fewer people, try 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups water. Just remember it’s always a 2:1 ratio of liquid to quinoa). As soon as it’s bubbling and boiling, cover and reduce the heat to low. Let cook for about 15 minutes, until all water is absorbed. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool for a bit before adding other ingredients, as the salad should be served room temp or slightly chilled.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Add corn kernels to a cookie sheet or shallow roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil, and a bit of salt and pepper, tossing to coat. Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes. Let cool.

Combine cooked quinoa with prepared vegetables, beans, and cilantro, adding the corn when it has cooled. In a separate bowl, whisk together ingredients for the dressing. Treat the given measurements as a guideline, adding more or less of what you like to suit your tastes. Skip the chili powder if you’re averse to spicy (like my Dad!). Taste it to make sure it’s not too tart or too spicy, and add a little more honey and/or salt and pepper if needed to balance out the flavor. Drizzle over the salad and lightly toss together.

If you want to garnish with some pretty avo slices like in the photo, this is how to do it:
Slice the avocado in half lengthwise and remove the pit. Gently peel off the skin, which should be easy if it’s ripe. Lay the avocado half flat-side down and slice lengthwise in narrow strips. Pick a few pretty bits to fan out and place on top of your salad so when you enter the party everyone says OOOOOOH briefly before eating it all and telling you how awesome you are.

Enjoy!

© Cook it Pretty 2016

Risotto for Beginners

Broccoli Parmesan Risotto | Cook it Pretty
It is possible to make risotto without crying or getting eliminated from Top Chef. Take it from me, someone who has made risotto all of three times in my life. Two of the three were successful, so I feel like those odds are pretty good. I’m pretty sure that other time was the recipe’s fault for not including cheese.

Which brings me to my first tip: choose a risotto recipe with cheese involved. After all the work you put in, you’ll be happier if you’re rewarded with creamy cheesy goodness.

Next tip: Look to the experts for a solid base recipe, and add whatever ingredients you like. I chose one from Biba Caggiano, an Italian chef whose food our family happily consumes as often as possible in her Sacramento restaurant. Her book, Italy al Dente, contains more risotto recipes than I could make in a lifetime. The recipe she says she used to teach her daughter the basics of risotto, Risotto alla Parmigiana, seemed like a good place to start. (Watch Biba be charming and make risotto in 3:30 in this cute video).

Broccoli Parmesan Risotto | Cook it Pretty

I got my next tip from the author of A Cozy Kitchen: Prep everything in the recipe before you even fire the stove. Having everything measured and ready to go will ensure you don’t overcook something while you’re chopping something else, and you’ll feel like you have your own cooking show once you get going.

Finally, making risotto is all about stirring and patience. So take my friend Seriously Yum’s advice and have a glass of wine for yourself handy so you feel better about being chained to the stove. (Chair optional). Maybe this is why everyone messes up their risotto on Top Chef! They need wine. Ready? Give this one a go:

Broccoli Parmesan Risotto

6 c low sodium chicken or vegetable stock
4 Tbs butter
1/2 c yellow onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c Arborio rice
1/2 c white wine + a glass for the cook
2 c broccoli, chopped to bite size
1/2 c Parmesan, grated
Salt & Pepper to taste
Red chili pepper flakes optional

Measure and prep all your ingredients. Steam the chopped broccoli until very tender and set aside. Add 3 Tbs of the butter to a large skillet over medium heat and add the onion once melted. Stir about 5 minutes, add garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Add the rice and stir 2 minutes until it is coated in the butter and appears translucent. Next add the wine and stir until it’s mostly absorbed. Add the stock 1/2 cup at a time, each time stirring until the broth is almost fully absorbed. This process may take about 20 minutes, this is the part where you’ll want that wine to sip on. Once you’re through the stock, add the reserved 1 Tbs butter and most of the Parmesan, stirring to combine and melt the cheese. Stir in the steamed broccoli. Taste and add salt, pepper, and chili flakes if desired. Top with the remaining grated Parmesan. Pour yourself another glass of wine and enjoy!

© Cook it Pretty 2015

Salmon With Love & Lemon Dill Sauce.

I’m not that big on Valentine’s Day. Especially going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day with a bunch of other couples forcing some romance. Just because you pay more for your meal and something might be heart-shaped, it doesn’t really mean you love each other more. After dealing with so much long distance in our relationship, we have come to value just being together as being special enough. We’ve been known to eat frozen pizza and ice cream on the couch on Valentine’s Day. (Note: I still believe that flowers are nice. Aren’t they always?). If we have a nice meal, it’s probably one I’m cooking at home. In all likelihood it will be something like this Salmon with Lemon Dill Sauce.

Salmon with Lemon Dill Sauce | Cook it Pretty

We like salmon. He loves extra sauce everything. It feels a little special, like something we might overpay for in a restaurant. This is one of the first sauces I learned to make, and I was pretty proud of it. Smooth, creamy and lemony. The pictured version was my second attempt, which came out a bit different texture-wise, either an error on my part or Dubai cream just isn’t the same. I would definitely have had to pack up my knives on Top Chef, but the man didn’t seem to notice.

Pair it with something green like asparagus, green beans, or broccoli (pictured roasted with red pepper flakes and parmesan), add mashed potatoes and you have a complete fancy-enough-to-impress meal. Whoever you make it for will definitely feel the love.

Salmon with Lemon Dill Sauce
2 salmon fillets
1/2 c heavy cream
2 Tbs white wine (chardonnay is usually what I have on hand)
2 Tbs butter
1-2 cloves minced garlic
1 Tbs flour
2 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp lemon juice (1 for sauce, 1 for salmon)
1 tsp chopped fresh dill (extra for salmon and garnish if desired)
Salt & pepper to taste

To Cook the Salmon
Heat oven to 400°F. Drizzle a baking dish with olive oil and add salmon fillets. Sprinkle with 1 tsp of the lemon juice and salt & pepper. Add a pinch of dill if desired. Cook about 15 minutes, depending on thickness of the fillets.

To Make the Sauce
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook garlic for about 1 minute, then add wine and cook another minute. Add flour and cream while whisking in the pan. Reduce heat to a simmer and add lemon juice. Let simmer 2 minutes, then add dill, salt and pepper.

Top salmon with sauce and garnish with lemon zest and dill. Serve with sides of choice.

It’s January. Eat a Salad.

We’re all trying to eat a little better in 2015. Sometimes you need a salad, but it’s even better to want a salad. Here’s my favorite conglomeration of healthy and colorful things, which happily are also delicious together.

Spinach Avocado & Feta Salad | Cook it Pretty

Spinach is my favorite healthy green base, and I’m just not going to be that into a salad that doesn’t have cheese or avocado involved somehow. Throw in some corn, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, and an easy homemade balsamic dressing and you’re in biz.

Spinach Avocado & Feta Salad | Cook it Pretty

Spinach Avocado & Feta Salad with Balsamic Dressing

For the Salad
1 bag or package of baby spinach
1-2 cups frozen cut corn, thawed
1 avocado, cubed
1 cucumber, sliced (here in Dubai they’re local or Omani cucumbers, you can find Persian cucumbers at Trader Joe’s in the US)
2 handfuls of mixed cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 red onion, diced finely (to taste, a little goes a long way)
1 handful of crumbled feta cheese

For the Dressing
2-3 Tbs olive oil
1-2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
Salt & Pepper to taste
Pinch of dried herbs, such as thyme or rosemary, optional

Boom. A healthy and tasty salad for all your New Years Resolution needs, and an easy homemade dressing you’ll probably always have the ingredients for. All measurements are approximate, taste and adjust to your preference.

Couscous or Quinoa, Pumpkin or Squash?

Any conversation about squash or pumpkin can get pretty confusing around here. In Dubai, and apparently in Australia as well, butternut squash is referred to as butternut pumpkin. I’ve also seen acorn squash labeled as green pumpkin. I like pretty much all manner of squash and/or pumpkin and tend to gravitate toward recipes with these ingredients. (A recent review of my Pinterest boards made that pretty clear).

Butternut Squash Couscous | Cook it Pretty

So I recently picked up a “butternut pumpkin” and was looking for a recipe to use it with. I opted for  this Couscous Salad with Butternut Squash and Cranberry from The Kitchn. I followed the recipe pretty closely except for not soaking the dried cranberries (I eat them straight from the bag anyway – anyone know why I would need to soak them?) and adding some honey to the dressing as I found it a little too strong on the vinegar. I do love the local couscous, how cute is the packaging?

Dubai Couscous | Cook it Pretty

As I was making it I realized how close this recipe is to the Quinoa-Stuffed Acorn Squash recipe that is a big favorite of mine. After tasting it, I concluded that I prefer the quinoa/acorn version. This recipe from Camille Styles is the favorite of which I speak. I’ve made it over and over and it has sweet, salt, spice, and heat in all the right places. I always use cranberries instead of currants and different chopped nuts instead of pepitas, and my favorite personal addition is dates.

Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash | Cook it Pretty

I think this one also wins for presentation, and the addition of greens ups the health factor. Secret bonus of this presentation – no peeling or chopping the squash. That’s right, it’s actually easier to make it the cute way this time. I’ve made it clear in the past how partial I am to quinoa. Maybe I’m biased, but quinoa beats couscous this round. Cute camel packaging notwithstanding.

Call them Capsicums

Santa Fe Stuffed Peppers

Pinterest vs. Reality: Santa Fe Stuffed Peppers

Oh the joys of little differences living abroad. In Dubai, most produce is called by its British name. Therefore, bell pepper is capsicum, zucchini is courgette, and eggplant is aubergine. I can never remember to call cilantro coriander. My spellcheck doesn’t even understand courgette or aubergine.

So I suppose I’ve made Santa Fe Stuffed Capsicums, recipe from Skinnytaste. Skinnytaste is a fantastic source of inspiring recipes! This is a good one when you’re craving Mexican flavors but want to keep it lighter. It also yields a lot, and makes great leftovers.

Santa Fe Stuffed Capsicums

Capsicums and Coriander

I used to complain about how hard it is to cook for one, because I always had so much left over and felt like I was often wasting ingredients when they went bad before I could consume them all. I was missing the upside, which was that after I invested all the time in making a big meal, I was set with leftovers for a bit. Not so much now that I live with a hungry man. Now I hardly ever have leftovers and I feel like the food just goes so quickly!

Santa Fe Stuffed Capsicum

As long as there’s avocado…I shall be happy.

So I appreciate that this large batch recipe holds up well for leftovers and it’s super satisfying and healthy. I’ve already whined about the lack of black beans here, so I subbed another type of bean and added more corn. The other modification I made this round was that I used chicken instead of turkey. I haven’t found ground turkey here yet, but I did find “minced chicken”. Worked just as well!

This recipe is easy to modify, so try it with different proteins or go all-veg! It will always look cute when served in the pepper. Er, capsicum.

Good Girl Train: Hummus Chicken & Veggies

Three weeks of vacation back home turned into a vacation from caring about what I eat or how much exercise I get. I don’t get to eat all this amazing US food anymore, I needed it ALL! It was glorious, but it’s time to get real and hop back on the good girl train. (I did pick up another great baking-with-mom recipe in the process, which I’ll tell you all about soon.) I got a good start this week in the fitness and food departments. Admittedly, this is one that isn’t so pretty, but it’s impressively delicious which is what really matters.

Veg Chop

At least produce is always pretty. Wishlist: pretty cutting board.

This EASY Hummus-Crusted Chicken recipe from gimmesomeoven is a great way to get a lot of protein and veggies in one pan. I never would have thought to bake chicken topped with hummus, but now that you’re thinking about it, it sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Now consider chopping up some squash and onions and cooking them all together as one healthy, happy, flavorful meal. Yum, and so little cleanup to go with it. It’s also gluten-free and low-carb, if those are things that matter in your life. Perfect for your post-workout dinner! I even used a disposable pan this time…so it really couldn’t get easier.

Zuc and Onion

Veggie layer with zucchini, onion, olive oil, s&p.

I follow the recipe from gimmesomeoven pretty closely, except that I have skipped the lemon slices on occasion and I use regular paprika because I don’t like smoked. I have found that flavored hummus makes it extra tasty, infusing a lot of extra flavor into the chicken. If you go this route, I recommend Trader Joe’s three-layer hummus. (Do it in my honor, since I’m living in a Trader Joe’s-less world.) You can omit the onions if you’re not a fan, add garlic cloves, or change up the squash. For example, I have made this with nothing but zucchini and chicken and been happy with the outcome.

Hummus Chicken

Enjoy!

Serve with a glass of wine and enjoy, you deserve it!