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For the last few years, I’ve been a firm believer in brining turkeys. The results speak for themselves. I’m a dark meat guy and, of all the white meats, turkey breast was the one I feared the most. But a brined bird will give you moist flavorful white meat. Here’s all you need to know.

There’s a separate challenge with turkey breast which comes from the high position of the breast meat in the oven. By the time the thighs fully cook, the breasts get overdone. The solution is to butterfly the bird:

Take a big sharp knife and cut through the bones along either side of the backbone from head to tail. Remove the spine and save for stock, then take a small knife or shears and remove the ribs. I then take a knife and score the inside of the breast bone right down the center. Flip the bird over and press down on the outside of the breast until the bone underneath snaps and the bird lays flat. Now the thighs sit at the same height as the breasts, allowing them to cook evenly. Tie the ends of the legs together and tuck the wing tips under the body to keep things tidy. You can do the butterflying either before or after brining – though doing it first will help you fit the bird into a smaller brining vessel.

Good luck and have a great holiday!

We just downloaded the entire camera card for the first time in a while and it gave me a chance to scan all the pics in iPhoto. I found some random food stuff that I might as well share:

Salted pumpkin caramels I whipped up for Thanksgiving.

Bûche de Noël with cocoa and almond meringue “mushrooms” for Christmas dinner dessert. The cake was rolled up with a filling but i can’t quite recall what it was – buttercream with almonds maybe.

Bang Bang Shrimp from Bonefish Grill. My dad’s fave. Very tasty but a little greasy. We think they toss them is some mayonaissy sauce while they’re still hot.

Klein Farms had beef shanks at a really good price so I bought a bunch and made some osso buco. I then shredded it, blended in lots of Parmesan cheese and turned it into whole wheat raviolis. A couple hours of work and we had enough for a dozen meals-for-two.

I was watching Bacon Paradise on the Travel Chanel the other week and was inspired to make some bacon waffles a la Hash House a go go. Three strips of thick cooked bacon laid across the waffle iron after the batter is poured in. If I make them again, I won’t cook the bacon so crispy.

I planted heirloom Touchon carrots last year and left them in the ground over the winter. I dug them up at the beginning of March. They were never thinned out so they stayed kinda small, but it was quite a bounty of 2-4 inch carrots.

I had a bit of email dialogue with Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, authors of Charcuterie, to try to solve a problem with my first batch of saucisson sec. The flavor, color, and texture were great. But most of the links had air pockets running through their centers. On each of the three pieces below, you can see how the fibers stretch across the gap, as though the denser areas on either side of the gap pulled away from each other as the top and bottom collapsed inward.

Brian felt strongly that my auger-style sausage stuffer (a KitchenAid attachment) was introducing air into the sausage. He recommended switching to a plunger-style model or pressing the links like one would press sopressata. Since part of my reason for starting charcuterie (and cheese- and winemaking) is to save money, I don’t think i’m going to shell out for a $200 stuffer. I’ll keep my eye on Craigslist though.

Having used the KitchenAid stuffer a few times, I’m stubbornly convinced I’m not introducing air into the sausage. Trying to be scientific about it, I’ve made a second batch, changing only one aspect of my process. The sausages shown above were cured in 25-30% humidity, and I should have had it near 70% for the first week to slow down the drying. I really didn’t think it would be a problem with such small-diameter links.

I hesitate to set up the humidifier in such a small room in case I overdo it, so I’ve set up several large buckets of water and have been misting the room and the links several times a day and have been able to get the humidity to 50%. They’ve been hanging for a week and don’t seem to be shrinking quite as quickly as the previous batch. And no mold from the excess moisture so that’s good. I added a splash of vinegar to the spray bottle to keep the pH down and inhibit any undesirable microbes.

I’ve also started a nice piece of Bresaola. It will be in the fridge for another week before I hang it. The diameter is closer to 3 inches, so I’ll have to get the humidity up near 70% to prevent case hardening.

Weighed the cheeks today and they’ve each lost about 15% of their weight after hanging for 6 days. I also made 12 links of saucisson sec, a basic French dry sausage, on Saturday night. Simply seasoned with black peppercorns and garlic, Ruhlman describes it as tasting “like the French countryside.” Sold.

I picked up 4 pork cheeks (along with some shoulder, fatback, and sausage casings for my next project) from Baringer Bros. meats at the Allentown Farmer’s Market last week. I’ll do 2 cheeks to start and the other 2 in a couple months. Apparently the flavor is intense and a little goes a long way. Here is a condensed version of my prep. Consult Ruhlman’s Charcuterie for detailed instructions.

Step 1 – The obligatory and clichéd wearing of the cheek on your face like Hannibal Lecter.

Steps 2-4 – Trim off the skin, any stray sinew and fat. Combine with salt, sugar, garlic, pepper and fresh thyme. Refrigerate for 6 days.

Steps 5-6 – Remove from fridge, rinse off seasonings and pat dry. Punch a hole near the top and loop a string through for hanging. I had seen a preparation where the cheek was trussed with a sprig of rosemary so I copied it. Looks nicer and smells better. You can see that they’re firmer as they’re not laying flat onto the cutting board. Each lost an ounce of liquid during the curing. We’re looking for an overall loss of 30% of the starting weight.

Step 7 – Hung in the cellar. I attached tags onto which i can write the weights every 4-5 days. The aroma is a little pungent right now but it will get better as the water leaves. I’m hoping these are edible by New Year’s.

I really appreciate the drive to DIY before reaching for the credit card. There are certainly plenty of house/yard projects I have to hire someone for, but my first thought is always “Can I do it myself?”

When it comes to food, I understand my limitations and have enormous appreciation for skilled chefs and a good restaurant experience, hence this blog. That being said, I’m also somewhat frugal and am always looking to have a home dining experience that feels a step above the norm. It’s not only the result that I love – enjoying the process is key. And while cooking and baking can take up to a few hours per recipe, long-term recipes offer a whole different level of satisfaction.

Three time-intensive foods – wine, cheese and cured meat – also happen to be our idea of a heavenly meal. And I’m excited to say I’m close to achieving that trifecta at home.

I started winemaking a few years ago and have made cheese the last couple summers. Wines take a good two months from fermentation to bottling – plus at least 6 months of aging if you so choose. I’ve only attempted fresh cheese so far (mozzarella, chevre, feta and ricotta) which take a few hours to a few days. The next step would be aged cheeses (maybe brie or bleu) but the kits I’ve seen are a bit pricey. So I’m skipping ahead to salted, cured meats – aka charcuterie.

Inspired mainly by watching too much Anthony Bourdain, I started some research a couple months back and found that my basement conditions in winter are close to perfect. It’s an uninsulated stone foundation and sits right around 57º through March. We have a tiny room in the basement that had once housed a toilet and maybe a sink. The room had been partitioned with paneling that had taken on a fair amount of water damage at the base over the decades. We knew the whole setup was a mess but hadn’t touched it since we moved in almost 5 years ago. Now I had the perfect motivation.

I tore the walls down and poured a concrete slab on top of which the new walls would sit. This is the lowest spot in the basement and I don’t want any leaks damaging the new walls or spawning mold or mildew. I put up new studs and concrete backer board, and painted the brick wall and floor with mildew-resistant masonry paint. The new walls are covered in glossy white tile. The ceiling was the challenge. I originally wanted to enclose the pipes to keep the room as clean as possible. I decided the pipes were OK and hung a pine ceiling in 3 pieces to fit snugly around them. Twenty steel hooks were the final touch and I’m ready to hang some meat. I received Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie for my birthday last month and have decided to start with guanciale.

We had a really good gardening year despite the heatwave that gave some people a lot of trouble. Tomatoes, eggplant, cukes, beets, beans, rhubarb, herbs – all great. Not as much success with onions as last year, and the fennel bulbs failed to materialize. Most of it is finished due to the cold nights, though the hot peppers and carrots are still going strong. I may try overwintering the carrots and some onions I planted late. Here are a few pics:

2 cherry tomato plants from Lowe’s and a Yellow Pear heirloom plant produced easily over a thousand pieces of fruit.

Our heirlooms and fresh mozzarella – a combo we enjoyed at least 3 days a week all summer.

Brandywines, Black Krim and Black Beauty eggplant – all heirlooms so I’ll be planting those seeds in the spring.

Frankentomato – a Brandywine that split and healed a dozen times.

A tenant in our tomatoes for a few weeks this summer.

Another inhabitant. Found a couple of these guys on the tomatoes and parsley.

My wife insisted on planting a store-bought redskin potato in a coffee can in February against my advice. The vine was 2 feet long by the time i got it in the ground. We ended up with maybe 20 medium to small potatoes in a few months. Glad she didn’t listen to me.

The final big haul last week. The bell peppers had only just started turning red but the plant was dying from the cold. I pickled the green tomatoes. We’ll see how they turned out in a few weeks.

 

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