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

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Boozy Irish Cupcakes

THIS IS IT! The best cupcake recipe on earth, and the only one you really need. I suppose they would be inappropriate for a child’s birthday. But otherwise, I have every cake-baking occasion covered for you with this single recipe.

Boozy Irish Cupcakes | Cook it Pretty
One of those occasions is of course St. Patrick’s Day. Oh, you don’t usually make cupcakes for this holiday? Well, you should. Because THESE cupcakes are made with the same ingredients as an Irish Car Bomb shot, which I know you have consumed on at least one March 17th in your life. That means Irish whiskey, Guinness, and Bailey’s. Mixing these things with chocolate is a good idea.

Boozy Irish Cupcakes | Cook it Pretty
It will result in a beautiful, boozy, chocolaty mess as pictured above. First you incorporate the Guinness into the chocolate cake batter. Then you fill the cupcakes with whiskey ganache, and top them with Bailey’s buttercream frosting. Bailey’s. Buttercream. I’m always trying to think of more things to frost with this, because it is downright incredible.

Boozy Irish Cupcakes | Cook it Pretty
It would be a shame to only use this recipe once a year, which is why I have also used it for loved ones’ birthdays along the way. No one turns down booze and chocolate. No one you want to be friends with, anyway. So yes, the cupcakes are sitting on a decidedly wintry, holiday-ish plate because I last made them for my husband’s December birthday. But you should definitely make them for St. Patrick’s Day, or Equinox, or your friend’s bridal shower, or to celebrate your half birthday.

Boozy Irish Cupcakes | Cook it Pretty
I tell people that if I have made them these cupcakes, I definitely love them. Not only because of the gift of deliciousness that they are, but also because they’re a little extra time consuming with the whole ganache filling step. But definitely, definitely worth it.

The recipe comes from Smitten Kitchen, with a couple Cook it Pretty tips:

  • The amount of whiskey in the ganache is totally dependent on your taste. I always add a bunch more than the recipe calls for. If I’m making a boozy cupcake, I want to be able to taste it. Since most of the beer cooks out in the cake part, this is the place where you’ll really taste a little alcohol. Taste as you go!
  • This also applies to the Bailey’s frosting, which is my favorite part. Start with the recommended amount, then add a little more to your taste. The flavor is awesome.
  • The trickiest part of this recipe is the coring and filling of the cupcakes. I actually own a coring tool for this sole purpose, which is made for apples but works perfectly for cupcakes too. You’ll need something like this to make the recipe work. Mine looks like this:

Cupcake Corer | Cook it Pretty

  • I use the ziplock bag with the corner cut off trick instead of a piping bag to get the ganache into the cupcakes.
  • VERY IMPORTANT: Put the “cores” you remove from the cupcakes into a bowl, drizzle with leftover ganache, and dollop some frosting on top for a super delicious reward for all your hard work.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

All the Pumpkin Pie Things

Pumpkin Pie Filling | Cook it Pretty
I made a big batch of pumpkin pie filling at Thanksgiving time and froze the leftovers. I knew I could use it for something delicious when the craving struck. So recently I opened my freezer to discover a small pack of puff pastry squares. Light bulb moment: Heyyyyy that sounds like instant pumpkin pie to me! I decided to cut the squares down to fit a mini muffin pan. Bite sized instant pumpkin pie…even better.

Mini Punkin Pies | Cook it Pretty
I didn’t waste time trying to make the crust pretty, I just kind of threw them in the tin, filled with the excess pie filling, and started baking. While I am the biggest fan of home made pie crust you know, especially my Mom’s, this was just. so. fast. Which makes it kind of irresistible, doesn’t it? Filling I already made and dough I don’t have to fret over? Pretty close to instant gratification for all your pumpkin pie craving needs.

Even after that mini pie feast, I still had more filling left. Also in my freezer, old-ass bananas saved for just such an occasion. Substitute a cup of pumpkin pie filling for one of the two eggs in my go-to banana bread recipe, reduce the sugar a tad to balance the already sweetened filling, and BAM – Pumpkin Spice Banana Bread.

Pumpkin Spice Banana Bread | Cook it Pretty
That’s two pretty major leftovers baking success stories in a row. Both delicious, quick, and easy. What’s your latest brilliant use of leftovers?

Thanksgiving Essentials: Ginger Apple Cranberry Sauce

 

Spiced Cranberry Sauce | Cook it Pretty
I’m pretty big on cranberry sauce. I love it in all forms, including shiny and jiggly out of a can. Last year I made cooked cranberry sauce for the first time, a departure from my Mom’s usual fresh cranberry relish – a family favorite close to my heart. Maybe it was because I was more focused on other things, like hosting my first Thanksgiving in Dubai, but it was a surprise hit.

Dubai Spices | Cook it Pretty
The reward could have been enhanced by my efforts to grind my own cloves. Cloves are plentiful in this land of spices, but seem to be most common in their whole, hard-as-nails form. Chopping wasn’t happening. My knives were no match. I tried mortar and pestling, slow and tiring. I even took a hammer to these suckers. I now understand why whole cloves are most often used as sharp objects plunged into defenseless foods like oranges.

Spiced Cranberry Sauce | Cook it Pretty
Success could also have been made sweeter by the hunt for key holiday ingredients, like the cranberries. In a land where I often call foods by names not widely understood by others, seeking cranberries in multiple markets was…interesting. Cranberries? They’re red and smooth? Possibly frozen? Very tart? *Points to image on a bottle of cranberry cocktail and smiles hopefully*

Spiced Cranberry Sauce | Cook it Pretty
Whatever other factors involved, the stuff tasted good. It smelled amazing. It was spiced and sweet. It tasted like it should taste. It tasted like home. The double batch lasted through many rounds of delicious leftover turkey sandwiches. I made it ahead of time and it made my life easier. And for all these reasons, I’m making it again this year. In Dubai again, this time with the in-laws. Please wish me luck on my holiday food shopping adventures.

Ginger Apple Cranberry Sauce
Double Batch, Serves 16

24 oz fresh or frozen cranberries (680 grams, for those of us shopping in the metric system)
1-2 tart apples, chopped
1 1/2 c water
1 c honey
1/2 c brown sugar
3 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ginger
4 Tbs candied ginger, chopped
2 Tbs Cointreau or Grand Marnier
Zest from 2 oranges

In a large saucepan, bring cranberries, apples, honey, brown sugar, spices, and water to a simmer. Cover and simmer for around 10 minutes (until you notice it thickening) over medium-low heat. Add zest, candied ginger, and orange liqueur, continue simmering uncovered for a few more minutes. You’ll know when it starts to look like sauce. Remove from heat and taste, adding more sugar or spices if needed. Let cool in your serving dish of choice. Keep covered in the fridge until Turkey Day – you can make this a couple days ahead and save yourself the stove top room day-of. Bring to room temp before serving time.

© 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.

#TBT: Remember When Thanksgiving Happened?

It’s 2015! While most people have already received that memo, I need to do a throwback to reflect on Thanksgiving 2014. It was a unique holiday – our first time celebrating in our new Dubai home, our first time hosting as a couple, and our first International Friendsgiving. It was so memorable to share an American holiday with friends from all over the world. For me it was the perfect mix of old traditions and new twists.

International Friendsgiving | Cook it PrettyI focused on the mains like turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pie and we went potluck style for the rest, menu as follows:

Roast Turkey with Herb Butter rub
Spiced Cranberry Sauce
Classic Herb Stuffing
Gravy 2 ways
Mama’s Pumpkin Pie
Spiced Fig Sangria
Aussie Green Bean Casserole with Bacon
Southern Sweet Potato Casserole
Southern Mac n Cheese
Belgian Truffle Mashed Potatoes
Belgian Potatoes au Gratin
New Zealand Glazed Fruit Cake

Highlights: (1) Our turkey was beautiful. Juicy and delicious! Watch this 5 minute video next time you roast a turkey. Don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be. (1a) One of the best things I learned while hosting this year is that my soon-to-be-husband is a turkey breakdown master. (Look at those butchering skills in the first photo!)

Roast it Pretty(2) This cranberry sauce from The Kitchn is a winner. I was worried about straying from my Mom’s classic cranberry relish, but I opted for a cooked version because I don’t have a food processor here. I doubled the recipe and added a granny smith apple. Bomb. Also, great to make a day or two ahead.

Spiced Cranberry Sauce(3) I officially love stuffing, and while I will still call it stuffing, Paula Deen tells me it’s actually dressing since I don’t cook it inside the bird. My European friend called it a savory bread pudding, which I may also start using because it sounds so much fancier. I combined tips from two recipes which were both of the traditional onion/celery/sage variety. Made it mostly ahead and did a final bake the day-of.

Planning and Stuffing | Cook it Pretty(4) Pie. Our Moms are amazing. This being in charge and cooking all week thing isn’t easy (you can do it, but it’s work). The man learned a few things about making a smooth gravy, number one being it wasn’t as easy as his Mom makes it look. Same goes for me with the pie crust. I’ve made pie alongside my Mom countless times, but the magic of her ease with it just isn’t there when I do it on my own! There were nearly tears, and many texts and emails were exchanged with Mom along the way, but two pumpkin pies happened. The crusts didn’t look perfectly manicured by a longshot, but they were GOOD. Some of our guests said they’ve always heard so much about pumpkin pie but had never actually tasted it. How fun that their idea of pumpkin pie will be shaped by my Mom’s family recipe.

Mama's Pumpkin Pie | Cook it Pretty

I loved tasting what everyone else made and sharing some American traditions with them. I was thankful for the day, for our friends, and for the leftovers for many days to follow. Shame we only have one day a year dedicated to gratitude, I’m ready for another feast with loved ones already!

Aside

HBD America: Pinterest vs. Reality

I would love to get a little patriotic and host a party here in Dubai for the 4th. In my Pinterest dreams, said party would look something like this:

Pinterest 4th

Adorable patriotic party foods! Find recipe links here.

Then I remembered anyone I know who would really appreciate such details doesn’t live here, and I’d be hosting primarily former military dudes. Let’s be real, it would probably look more like this:

Real 4th

Which is also fun…

Also, am I really going to cut fruit into star shapes? How long does it actually take to make triple layer jello shots? Where would I even find blue sprinkles around here? If you are more ambitious than I am this holiday weekend and want to find the how-to’s for all that really cute stuff, check out my “Happy Birthday America” Pinterest board and please let me know if you try one!

Even if we just have a party of two and a few American beers, I’m still planning to wear my patriotic striped sailor shorts. Happy Birthday, America!