There really is a lot going on for the Parks Family right now. Because of the new shop opening at Community Market, Laura has taken over the management of the Christmas Tree operation this year. With opening day Friday after Thanksgiving, we are all trying to jam 48 hours of work into a 24 hour day. And so, for the first time in my 43 years, we are going to a restaurant for our Thanksgiving Dinner. We just don’t have the bandwidth to do all that it takes to make it happen at home this year, so we made reservations at John Ash & Co. We take our fall holidays pretty serious, as you can imagine, and so this was a pretty big decision. It got me thinking about all that goes into the holiday meal. And so this newsletter is dedicated to the minority of you that do everything it takes so that the majority of your family long for those great meals and memories for the rest of the year.
We all know what the acronym above stands for. It is a great one to remember this time of year, as the holidays are stressful enough with out adding to it ourselves. I have put together my ideas on how with a little planning, you can reduce your stress level this year.
The star of most Thanksgiving tables is the turkey. Hopefully by now you have your bird reserved and received my Pick Up Schedule email this week. If you didn’t get it, please contact me so you know when and where your turkey or other cut will be ready for pick up. The two questions I get asked the most this time of year are “How do I cook my turkey?” and “Should I brine it?” In this week’s “Serving Suggestions” is how I have cooked my turkey for years. It gets pretty good reviews, but use your own judgement. I talk to customers all the time that tell me about some disaster or another in the kitchen, and nine times out of ten it is a result of following some internet recipe to the letter only to find out the when they set their 1972 avocado-green oven to 350, it only musters up about 225 and they can’t figure out why the turkey walks out of the oven 3 hours later. So my first tip is to use common sense. If you don’t have the latest Viking oven in your kitchen, spend $5.99 on a thermometer that will tell you the ACTUAL temperature in your oven. Another flaw I see from time to time is cooking with alcohol. Nobody likes Brandied-this or Bourbon-that more than I do. But remember that when cooking, booze is a flavoring, and you need to cook the alcohol out. If you dump a cup and a half of Chardonnay into your gravy five minutes before service, even pickled-at-noon Aunt Edna is going to wrinkle her nose. I like to add wine or liquor to a dish when I deglaze the pan. This gives it plenty of time to mellow, and the cooks plenty of time to finish the bottle (ever wonder why no recipe ever called for a full bottle of anything???)
One of the other things that sometimes gets forgotten when planning for the holidays is the food around the main meal. I’m not talking about appetizers or side dishes here. You are the one who decided that this is going to be the year that you “prove” yourself by inviting every 3rd cousin you never met, your spouse’s entire extended family from Des Moines, and cheap Uncle Fred and his 7th wife. All these people are so thankful that you invited them that they want to spend every possible moment at your house. Or at least every possible meal time. You can save yourself a lot of stress here with a little planning. Since I’m not cooking this year, I took some time to put together some of the quick meals we use around our house when we have to feed many people quickly and affordably. There are also some cool tips and ratios Jayne added to our Serving Suggestions page you might find handy as well.
Pork Scallopini: Laura and I try and keep a few pounds of this in the freezer at all the times. It thaws quickly and we can get a great meal on the table in about 20 minutes.
Smoked Ham Frittata: Real men don’t eat quiche, but one of them was smart enough to rename it ‘frittata’ so we could enjoy egg pie with the rest of the world!
Carne Asada: These thin cuts of Beef Sirloin Steak might be as versatile as ground beef. My favorite way to get a quick marinade on them is to throw them in some fresh salsa for as little as 30 minutes and as long as a day. They are too big for your skillet? Turn it upside down and sear them using the bottom of your pan! The sides of a cast iron skillet get just as hot as the rest of it, so use ’em.
Pulled Pork: Usually better a day after you cook it, this is a dish you can make several days ahead and reheat.
Cube Steak: Here are three different ways to use this under-appreciated but deliciously tender cut from the top round.
I hope this helps you have a stress-free Thanksgiving or at least less stress than if I hadn’t added my two cents!
To Brine or Not To Brine…
It has become the norm for folks to brine their turkey every year. In fact, I even get asked by new customers if they should brine our VF Chickens. There are always exceptions, but here is my basic philosophy on brining anything: Brines have become popular over the years due to the lack of quality meat available to the general public. You see, by brining something you are soaking it in a salt bath, basically making the meat hold more water. This makes the meat artificially juicier. You can also use a brine to impart more and/or different flavors to your meat. So yes, if you just bought a turkey that cost less than $4/lb, you should probably brine it. Anything under that price has probably been frozen at least once, and even fresh has a severe lack of flavor. Modern commodity meat is manufactured specifically to be cheap and have an extended shelf life. The by-product of this is bland meat that gets dry and tough when cooked, even if you are talented chef. I can prove this point rather easily. Think about the last time you went to a white tablecloth restaurant. Let’s assume that the farm the protein came from was NOT listed in the menu. I bet the entree had a really great sauce on it, didn’t it? That is because the commodity meat that even the best restaurants use has very little flavor.
Now ask yourself the question at topic again: Should I brine my turkey this year? You just spent $7 or $8.50 a pound on some of the finest turkeys in the world raised on the finest pasture right here in Northern California. It better taste spectacular with salt and pepper and maybe a little butter under the skin. Properly cooked, I am confident the only way you have had a turkey with as much natural flavor as this one is if you bought one from us last year.
For Every Rule There Is An Exception
I do like to “dry brine” my turkey. All you’re going to do is salt the outside (skin) of the bird and drape it with a light kitchen towel. Let it sit in the fridge naked except for the towel for a couple of days before cooking. This magical little trick makes for incredible crispy yet juicy skin, and we all know that’s the best part!