Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving weekend. It went by waaay too fast, didn't it?

So this year, I decided to make Thanksgiving dinner (like pretty much the whole enchilada). And as hard as it may be to believe, I have never once made a Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve made side dishes here and there, but never went all the way. When I started working in the professional kitchen, it was my time to take a break away from the kitchen on Thanksgiving. And before that, I guess I just never really had to or wanted to. As horrible as my mom’s cooking is, she was the one that always prepared Thanksgiving dinner.

I realized that I have never cooked a turkey before. Can you believe that? I usually only eat turkey on Thanksgiving. And wherever I go for Thanksgiving that year, the turkey is always prepared by someone else…so there was never a need for me to bother.
I’ve cooked chicken and duck plenty of times. And I figured that turkey isn’t much different, other than the size. But it was kind of a daunting task. I worried greatly about f*cking it up. What if I underseason or overseason it? What if I overcook it? I mean it can’t be that much different than preparing, seasoning, and cooking anything else I've ever made, but still…just the fact that I have never did anything with a turkey made me wonder if it was going to turn out okay. I mean...I knew that it would be edible, but I worried that I would f*ck it up by not making it good. I researched different recipes trying to decide which method I should use. I really wanted to try deep frying it. But it was going to be a great hassle to do at home.

The only thing I knew was that I was going to be wet brining it, or so I thought. I went to Walmart to look for a big bucket or container to fit the bird and all that brining liquid in. I wasn’t able to find one. Maybe I was looking in the wrong section. So I figured that I’d borrow one from work. And how was I going to fit a bucket that huge in my fridge? I would’ve had to use an ice box filled with ice. Most of the turkeys I’ve eaten had gone through a wet brining process. So yeah, they were never dry and usually “juicy”.  But after doing some reading, I’ve decided that I was never going to do a wet brine. When I was watching ABC’s “The Chew” chefs Michael Symon and Mario Batali (Batali swears by the wet brine method while Symon argues that the wetbrine makes the turkey watery) debate it out on which method is better, I was ambiguous on who I thought was making the better argument. And then I came across this post that totally convinced me why dry brining produces a more favorable turkey (not to mention a heck of a lot more convenient!).
I started the dry brining process on Monday to be cooked on Thursday. I am usually good with salting when it is for seasoning. But since I have never salted a huge bird for dry brining purposes (of course the salting was not purely for brining purposes but for seasoning as well), apprehensions lingered.

With my other dishes for the Thanksgiving dinner, there were no worries. The rest were items I was comfortable with making. I kept it pretty traditional. It is fun to put a twist on the traditional items at times, but I find that the classic traditional Thanksgiving foods give me the warm fuzzies of Holiday traditions. I made:

o   Turkey

o   Gravy

o   Stuffing

o   Mashed Yam

o   Green Bean Casserole

o   Creamed Corn

o   Buttermilk Biscuits

o   Cranberry Sauce (with Pinot Noir)

o   Pumpkin Pie

My personal favorites were the cranberry sauce and the pumpkin pie.  I had a little mishap with the pumpkin pie and spilled a little (around the pie crust and in the oven), but it was still good. Notice a bit of the filling baked around the edges of the crust? lol but the rest of the crust (that was untouched by the spill) was flakey and buttery how I love it.
As for the turkey, I was nervous all the way through the entire process from the time I started salting it until days later when it finally came out of the oven. I was really counting on Michael Symon’s dry brine/cheesecloth/no-baste method. Although his method is made to skip the basting step, I still basted anyway. What’s there to lose, right?

Oh and I didn’t have a rack high enough for my turkey roasting pan, so I had to improvise and use some of the mirepoix for that extra elevation to ensure a crapload of turkey drippings for the gravy.

A few hours after cooking away in the oven, the turkey was ready to come out. Judging by appearance, the turkey looked ready. I took it out and let it sit for a bit before carving into it. When taking that first bite to taste my very first turkey, I was thinking, “OMG! I wonder if it’ll be too salty or too bland.” I wasn’t really worried about the juiciness or being over or undercooked. I was just worried about the saltiness. When I took it out of the brining bag (aka my trash bag since I didn’t want to spend more money on a bag when I can just as well use a trash bag that I already have at home), I gave it a rinse, then lightly salted it again since I figured that some of the saltiness would have been rinsed away.
After letting the bird sit for a bit, I pulled out a small piece from the drumstick. Okay…so it was a little bit salty….a tad on the salty side but still edible. I wasn’t too thrilled with my results, but at least I learned something and finally made a turkey. Everyone else seemed to like it though.

Our family’s Thanksgiving turkey has come a long way. I still remember the very first time we ever had a turkey. My parents were total FOBS and have never had turkey. I heard that turkey wasn’t really widely consumed in Korea (I don’t know about now). The first turkey we ever had at home was made by my mother. She actually put Kimchi in the turkey as a stuffing, along with some kind of rice lol. The other day, my boss joked to me about if I was going to stuff my turkey with Kimchi (at least I think he was joking since he likes to think I put Kimchi in everything). And it kind of reminded me of it. I reminisced about that turkey this Thanksgiving with my mom and had some good laughs. It was the driest turkey I have ever had. She told me that she just opened the turkey package on the same day, seasoned it, stuffed it, and cooked it. There was no brining, marinating, or any steps taking to prevent that nightmarish dry, tough turkey. Is it me, or does it seem like a lot of moms turkeys were like that in the 80s?
After the first unsuccessful attempt that year, I don’t think my mom ever made another turkey again until years later. I remember having some tasty turkey at church (I thought it was super tasty at the time after eating my mom’s). And we found out that they had ordered it from Ralph’s or Vons….or was it Luckys. Anyways, after enjoying the meal at church, we started ordering our Thanksgiving dinner from one of them grocery stores too. That had become a tradition for the next few years.

Our next wave in turkey tradition proceeded when our live-in housekeeper/nanny, BL, started making turkey. She made it pretty yummy, Guatemalan style. I can’t even remember what she put in it, but I just remember that it was darn tasty. She lived with us for six years and was part of the family (and a mom to my youngest sibling). And while she was with us, she always made two turkeys each year…one for us and one for her to take home (she went home on the weekends and holidays…not her home home, but her home while she was living in LA). She was really good at making Korean food too, and even spoke Korean! My grandmother didn’t speak English and always spoke to her in Korean, and I guess she caught on…same thing with the food. She later went back to Guatemala and opened up a Korean restaurant there.
Some of the first Spanish words I've learned was from BL. She would speak to us in Spanish...my grandmother to her in Korean, and in Spanish with my parents (since they speak Spanish fluently). My brother (middle child) and I spoke to her in English. My youngest brother's (who BL raised from birth) first language was Spanish! And over the years, BL, my brothers, and I kind of developed our own trilingual language, a combination of Korean, English, and Spanish. It was our own language that only we understood. Others often looked upon us with puzzlement and amusement whenever they heard us conversing in our language.
Anyhoo…after she left, my mom started making the turkey again lol. By then, she had done some research and the turkeys got at least edible. And as the years went by, the turkeys got better and she has been making them each Thanksgiving ever since. I still don’t really like her turkeys though.

I never really eat my mom’s cooking. The only thing of hers I enjoy eating is Galbi. We have completely different palates and she’s a horrible cook. She is the reason why I even learned how to cook. When I was growing up, the cooking was always done by my grandmother, and then followed by a series of housekeepers over the years. When times got tough and we had to cut back on such luxuries as having housekeepers, my mom started to cook. And OMG~ I could not ever eat anything she made. Everything was always so gross and tasteless. I was always eating out or having stuff to go. It was getting old. I missed home-cooked meals. But I did not know how to cook to save my life. I think the only thing I knew how to cook at the time was probably Ramen.
I began looking up simple recipes and started learning here and there. Sometimes my dishes came out good. Other times, it was a fail. But I learned enough to cook myself my own meals at home so that I wouldn’t need to go out each time I was hungry. After a while, I found an inner joy in cooking. I continued experimenting with whatever food I felt like eating at the time. I made it the way I wanted, the way I liked it. Cooking gradually became a hobby over time. Years and years later, I wanted to take the hobby a step further and learn how to cook at a more advanced level (but still had no interest in cooking professionally)…and that is when I enrolled in that joke of a culinary school. And the rest is herstory. 

There wasn't much leftovers left. But I had some mashed yam and cranberry sauce left, so I had to do something with 'em to get rid of everything. After turkey day, I usually spend the next 2-3 days eating leftovers...but any more after that just gets sickening! I decided to make something quick and simple using the limited ingredients I had at the moment.
I was actually craving cranberry muffins or cranberry tartelettes..But I was out of butter. I suppose I could have used oil or something for the muffins, but it's not the same without making it with browned butter. I used the cranberry sauce that I had left and made bread pudding....quick and simple, and one of my fav ways to get rid of ingredients getting old. Too bad I didn't have any vanilla ice cream or any cream left to whip.

Now with the yam....I actually wanted to make yam crème brulees. But I had used up all the cream with the bread pudding. Oh well. I kind of wanted to make something I can munch on during the day (with my coffee....on the days I do drink coffee lol). Yam bread sounded munchable and comforting. So that is what I went with. I think this is one of my fav breads.


  1. Herstory!!! HAHAHAHH!!! I loves!

    That was such a cool Thanksgiving story. I'm glad you were able to do the whole dinner this year by yourself. Did anyone help you prep or clean up? I have never brined my birds b/c I think it's too much work.

    What was the size of your turkey? I think the trick is to buy a smaller size (mine was 10lbs this year) and treat it like a big fat chicken. Seriously. 20 min per pound and voila, you're done. I totally laughed about your mom's stuffing story! I think we tried that when we were kids - just used that box stuffing and shoved it in the bird. Tasted sooo bad and the turkey was sooo dry. Sigh, good memories though huh :)

    Your nanny sounds super cool. 6 years is a long time so I'm sure you and your siblings got close to her. Do you still keep in touch w/ her?

    And I agree with the 'inner joy in cooking'. I thin that's very well said.

    Happy post Thanksgiving!

    1. No, I don't really like anyone helping me (aka getting in my way) lol. The turkey was about 15-20lbs. Well, the dry brine method is a lot simpler and more convenient though. You should try it next year. It'll make your turkey so juicy and moist.

      Lol we used to use box stuffing at one point too. Yeah, it seems like turkeys in many families have come a long way.

      Our nanny was dope. We have lost touch over the years though.

  2. What's your recipe for turkey gravy? I had the mirepoix as well but have no idea what to do w/ the drippings.

    1. Faye the way I make turkey dripping gravy, I dump it in a saute pan with some garlic, and diced mushrooms if I have em, (and I use some of the giblets if no one objects) cook til tender, then add halfnhalf, reduce to desired consistency. You can use milk, but it might requiring thickening with flour or starch.
      Also if you want more finshed volume, add some chicken broth, maybe some white wine in the pre-reduction phase. Salt n pepper to taste, and viola.

    2. I made a roux with the fats of the drippings, used some turkey stock (that I made with the internal organs that come with the turkey), s/p, and tossed in some herbs....sage and I had some chopped parsley that I wasn't going to use for anything else, so I just tossed that in too.

    3. Thanks for the gravy tips. I like the ones where you don't have to add flour so the half n half + reducing method looks great to me. You all have some guts (no pun intended) to add the turkey giblets to gravy! I couldn't do that.

  3. Heya. Life. Anyways.... if you can taste the salt in the turkey its kinda not done right. This is why I don't brine, and don't particularly like turkeys that were.
    Although it sure seems to be a trend right now. Like deep frying. I have one, but the prob is I cant see spending 30 bucks for 3 gallons of cotton-seed oil or something suitable. My sisters and mother ALWAYS made Sahara Desert Turkeys. Mouth watering to look at, rawhide to eat. Mine are always moist and delicious--with no brining. I do baste though. So, what keeps the inside moist is the stuffing. And I make it medium wet (not dry) and salt it slightly (which brings the moisture into it from inside) What keeps the outside moist is covering it--tightly. Oven proof plastic then heavy duty foil. The way I cook turkey though, is in an electric roasting pan. And with that domed lid it holds a BIG turkey. I set to 350, baste every 45 minutes or so, cook to 165 and voila.
    This year those frzn turkeys all looked like huge chickens to me (ive been eating a lot of chicken lately) so I opted for doing a ham, made a kick-ass honey-ginger coating for it, accompanied by the usual with Mexican zucchini for the veggie side. 'Twere good, and produced many ham sandwiches in the aftermath.

    1. It was just slightly saltier than it should have been. I shouldn't have salted after rinsing (even though it was very very lightly salted). With other birds I have wet or dry brined, I usually don't salt again afterwards, but with the turkey, I just didn't want to risk the slightly blandedness.

      I don't use stuffing in the bird (for common reasons why others don't). As Alton Brown says, "When it comes to turkey, Stuffing Is Evil. That's because stuffing goes into the middle of the bird and is extremely porous. That means that as the turkey around it cooks, juices that may contain salmonella bacteria soak into the stuffing, which then must be cooked to a minimum of 165°F in order to be safe. Getting the stuffing to this temperature usually means overcooking the turkey"
      Maybe that would be something you disagree with lol.

      What kind of stuffing do you make anyway? Did you make the Thanksgiving dinner this year?

    2. Disagree with? lol It's royal bloody poppycock that internal stuffing dries out the bird if it gets to 165. Oh please, when I can temp a thigh or breast at 165 the stuffing temp is WAY higher than that, like 180.
      Understand also that Im stuffing the bird with hot, or at least still warm, stuffing.
      My proof of validiity? I'm still kickin, and only got sick on turkey dinner once about 6 years ago, and I was the only one who did. :p
      No I did ham this year, turkey last year.


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