• A Few Tips On Cooking For Thanksgiving

    Rule #1: Think happy thoughts...

    Rule #1: Think happy thoughts…and be grateful.

    We are not much on “how-to” or “5 keys to the best Thanksgiving x…” posts here at the farm, but with the holidays coming (including the once in a lifetime bonus holiday of “Thanksgivvukah”) we figured we should share some thoughts on how to make the most of your Thanksgiving cooking. Here is our take on the important stuff:

    Before the holiday:

    • Don’t worry about the specific dishes and recipes you are going to cook until you have a guest count. Some recipes work with small crowds, some with big crowds. Cook dishes that make sense for the size of the group you have (and your budget).
    • Once you have the guest count, decide what you want to cook and what oven and stove top space you have. Make sure you can cook the dishes you want with the appliances and tools you have. Then when guests ask “what can I bring?” you will have a good idea of what else you need, based on the resources you have.
    • Remember that your grill can be a useful tool if you are out of stovetop burners or ovens.
    satay7

    Remember your grill is an extra oven or burner.

    • When a guest asks “what can I bring?”, be very specific and ask for something you know the guest can bring and/or make. At first, you may come off a bit fussy or demanding, but when a guest brings the perfect dish, pie, bottle of wine, etc. that fits with the meal, they will feel great- and so will you and the rest of your guests. Everyone likes to be a hero. Don’t be afraid to ask guests to bring what will be best with the meal.
    • Desserts are often best made day ahead or earlier in the day to save you time and space. Most pies are better at room temperature anyway. Cakes need to cool before frosting. All of this is best done ahead of time.
    pound7

    Make desserts ahead of time to save kitchen space….and sanity.

    What to cook on Thanksgiving?

    • Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for all we have (and regardless of the craziness of everyday life, most of us have a lot to be grateful for). The meal is not about Norman Rockwell paintings or Martha Stewart magazine spreads. Thanksgiving should be about serving your best dishes to the people you love. Beauty is only skin deep, makes sure the food tastes good!
    • With that in mind, there is nothing wrong with serving something other than turkey. If you make great beef, chicken, pork (or even vegetarian) dishes for a crowd, then serve them. Serve them with pride. How about a small turkey and something else? There will always be the high-maintenance jerk  someone who will talk about “grandma’s this” or “traditional” that. They can cook next year…but usually they won’t. Forget ’em (but with a smile, of course) and serve what you know tastes good. Tasty food wins over everything. Always.

    But what if I want to serve turkey?

    If you plan to serve turkey and actually want it to taste good and be moist, here are a few pointers that will make a big difference:

    • Deep-fried turkeys are great, but proceed with caution. Let’s face it, most of us drink a lot bit during the holidays. Booze, fire and hot oil are a very bad combination (particularly if you have kids running around). If you want a deep-fried turkey, hire a pro to do it. There are plenty of people who can do it for you. Seriously. DIY is great, but with hot oil? C’mon….
    • Your turkey will be better if you salt / brine it. You can use a water-based wet brine, or simply salt the turkey with what is called a “dry brine”. Either way, the pre-salting makes for moister, more flavorful meat (trust us, the chemistry is sound, even if it seems counterintuitive). There are plenty of good recipes for brined turkeys, but here is a good guide to the pros and cons of dry or wet brining your turkey.
    • One of the only drawbacks to brined turkeys is that you can’t use the drippings for gravy, as they will be too salty. We suggest you make a gravy using commercial chicken stock (usually it is your best option, that may sound heretical, but it is often true) or ask your butcher for turkey stock (they may have some) or extra turkey parts (like the backbone) for stock.
    • The best way to cook poultry is to do it in pieces. White meat is done at a lower internal temperature than dark meat and there is no magical way to change that. The easiest way to get perfect white and dark meat is cook the breasts and legs separately and then present them together (even Julia Child said this was the way to go). If you present the turkey well, no one will even notice. Actually, your guests will notice…that you served the best turkey they ever had.
    ChickenIng4

    Cook poultry in pieces. It works.

    • If you are cooking the turkey in pieces, you need to track internal temperature for best results. You need a quick read (cheap, like $10), or even better, a digital thermometer (over $50) to know the internal temperature of your meat. No excuses. And those “pop-up” thermometers in the turkey simply don’t work…unless you like to eat bone-dry turkey.
    • Rethink everything you know about the desired internal temperature of poultry. The “safe” 160-165 F degree internal temperature we hear about for poultry is based on the idea that you will eat the turkey at the very moment it comes out of the oven. Who does that? Nobody. At 165 F all bacteria are dead immediately. But turkey white meat starts to dry out above 150 F. This seems like an insurmountable problem, but if you cook the turkey breast to 145-150 F and let it rest for 20 minutes, the heat will increase to 160 while the turkey rests and the bacteria will be killed by longer exposure to temperature. You get a safe, but moist, turkey breast. (The government actually knows this, but figures we are all too stupid to understand this nuance). If you want more detail and a good recipe, see here and for the chemistry, see here.
    • Dark meat is very hard to overcook. Shoot for an internal temperature of at least 180 degrees. If you go a bit over, it’s no big deal. There is so much connective tissue in the dark meat that it will stay moist at higher temperatures. We suggest you simply cook the dark meat to the desired temperature while the white meat rests. Easy.
    • Don’t cook stuffing in the turkey. Just don’t. If you want to worry about food safety, cooking stuffing inside the bird is the biggest risk you will have.
    • You can deep-fry, roast or smoke your turkey at many different cooking temperatures. Many methods / recipes work, assuming you target the right internal temperature of your meat. Some cooking methods will yield more attractive, crisper skin than others. You can always crisp the skin of your turkey with a quick blast in a high-temperature (500 F) oven. If you crisp the skin for less than 5-10 minutes, it will have minimal impact on internal temperature but give you a golden brown skin.
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    Crisp the skin for a few minutes in a hot oven.

    Kitchen tips:

    • You are (most likely) not a chef, don’t try to act or look like one. Chefs do all that flashy and speedy chopping because they are used to prepping for hundreds of guests. For them, speed matters (and is a bit of a macho thing). For you, it is best to avoid slicing your fingers off. Even if you have 30 guests, the amount of prep you have to do is probably manageable. Take your time chopping and slicing. Even if you go slowly it will only cost you an extra 5-10 minutes. Take your time, keep your fingers intact and avoid a trip to the ER.
    • Plan on the right time and method for thawing your meat. If you have a fresh turkey or roast, that is great. But many of us will have frozen meat. Big frozen turkeys take a lot of time to thaw, and if you do it in the fridge (and you should), it will take days. Here is a guideThere is no better way to screw up your cooking for Thanksgiving than to forget to thaw the turkey or roast. Make sure you have a plan to thaw your bird.

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  • Weekly Cocktail #60: The Stone 75

    The Stone 75 Cocktail.

    The Stone 75 Cocktail.

    Ah, cocktails. Just when you think you’ve had enough….they pull you back in. And in this case, “had enough” meant that we recently hosted Mixology Monday and had seen our fill of cocktails and photos. We were a bit tired. Time for some tea, maybe a sip of wine, new kegs on tap (an IPA and a crisp golden ale), and perhaps some hard cider to celebrate the season. Cider? Hmm….

    stoneAnd this is what happens once you start mixing drinks and catch the bug. We got a few different bottles of hard cider to play with and suddenly the gears started grinding turning and we were mixing away. This time the inspiration came from a bit of internet research into different styles of cider. While looking at dry vs. sweet cider we saw a recipe for the Stone Fence, one of America’s oldest cocktails and perhaps our original highball.

    stone1stone2The Stone Fence is the simple combination of a big glass of hard cider and a shot of rum, applejack or whiskey. This drink is literally hundreds of years old and the variety of hard liquor simply reflects what was available at any time or different regions. Applejack in New Jersey or rum in Massachusetts, gave way (somewhat) to whiskey, but all still work. At some point, most people added ice to the mix and we get this “proto-highball”. A good sip, particularly if feeling a bit lazy. But as you may have guessed, the big issue is that this is a strong drink. We will forgo the “fell face-first into a Stone Fence” jokes…but you get the idea.

    stone7We decided to play with the basic recipe and craft something with a bit less booze (but just a bit) and a slightly more elegant presentation. We also had some old-school sugar to play with (a piloncillo of Mexican sugar that would be similar to colonial-era sugar) and decided to include it in the cocktail. As for inspiration, we looked to two of our favorite sparklers, the citrusy French 75 and the bitters-heavy Seelbach.

    stone3After some very pleasant experimentation, we came up with the Stone 75. The Stone 75 combines muddled lemon peel and sugar with lemon juice, Cointreau, Jamaican rum, applejack, tiki bitters (Angostura also work) and dry hard cider. Served in a coupé or flute and topped with a lemon twist, this is a very pretty cocktail.

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  • Mixology Monday LXXVIII Roundup: Intercontinental

    Time of the Saison cocktail.

    Time of the Saison cocktail.

    Another Mixology Monday has come and gone, so now it is time for the roundup. Our theme was “Intercontinental” and the goal was to mix a cocktail, or cocktails, that have “ingredients” from at least three but up to seven continents. And, as we mentioned, the definition of  “ingredient” was pretty broad, so we hoped to see many cocktails that spanned the globe….including Antarctica.

    mxmologoSo how did everyone do?  Very, very well, IMHO. The cocktails, photos and the stories were great. We actually had many of the ingredients (should we be embarrassed about that?) and mixed a number of the drinks. Very tasty. And just as important, an excuse (motivation?) to try something new. Whenever we feel we may be getting into a slight cocktail “rut”, Mixology Monday snaps us out of it.

    Thanks again to everyone for participating and to Fred Yarm at Cocktail Virgin Slut for keeping MxMo going. Here is the roundup (in no particular order):

    Feu-de-vie, one of our favorite booze blogs, covers six continents with the Giganta, a coffee-pineapple tiki-ish concoction with homemade Coffee-Macadamia Orgeat. Nice. We want some of that…

    Giganta cocktail.

    Giganta cocktail.

    Next we get the Vegan Pisco Sour from Elana at Stir and Strain. She has lovely creations and her photos are some of the best we have seen. For this cocktail, not only do we get four continents, but some cool info on using beer as a substitute for egg whites in “foamy” cocktails. For vegans, good stuff. For us, a tasty drink. Everyone wins.

    Vegan Pisco Sour cocktail.

    Vegan Pisco Sour cocktail.

    Amarula, the “Bailey’s of Africa” makes its first (but not its only) MxMo appearance in Swizzlestick’s Life is Beautiful cocktail. Lychee liqueur made it in as well. A truly global cocktail that hits six continents. Well done.

    Life is Beautiful cocktail.

    Life is Beautiful cocktail.

    The good folks at Booze Nerds take advantage of a good name/story and global ingredients to cover seven continents with the Amundsen (nice historical reference guys!). More importantly we get a very creative drink with spirits, amaro, bitters, spice, a tea reduction / syrup and a port wine float. Gold Star.

    Amundsen cocktail.

    Amundsen cocktail.

    The Straight Up, gives us another drink using Australian port and narrative license to cover seven continents with the ….and Antarctica. Again, we also see some tea and amaro in play for this beautiful aperitif-style cocktail. We certainly are intrigued with the mix of bitter, tannic, smokey and herbal ingredients. Gold Star.

    ...and Antarctica cocktail.

    …and Antarctica cocktail.

    Our Bay Area neighbors and frequent travelers BarFlySF, take us to five continents and then a few layers of hell as a bonus…seriously. They give us Dante’s Divinia and Dante’s Divinia Down Under, riffs on the Dante’s Paradise cocktail they discovered at Longman and Eagle’s in Chicago. And with some Habanero shrub involved- there will be some fire.

    Dante's Divinia.

    Dante’s Divinia cocktail.

    Out in Tennessee, Sass and Gin goes a slightly more traditional route with the Madison’s Revenge. This Manhattan variant shows that you can get to five or six continents quicker than you think. A little tuning of sweetener, spice or garnish and you have a global cocktail. Good work.

    Madison's Revenge cocktail.

    Madison’s Revenge cocktail.

    Our fearless leader Fred Yarm of Cocktail Virgin Slut pulls out a bottle of Van Der Hum, an African tangerine and spice liqueur, for a very spirituous, old-time cocktail the Daiqurbon. We expected to see a bit more Van Der Hum this MxMo, but since we couldn’t find any here in Norcal, we are glad somebody found some.

    Daiqurbon cocktail.

    Daiqurbon cocktail.

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  • Mixology Monday “Intercontinental” Cocktail #1: The Horn Of Good Hope

    Horn of Good Hope Cocktail.

    Horn of Good Hope Cocktail.

    Ah, another Mixology Monday, always good fun and a nice little prod to keep us from becoming lazier lazy drinkers. And this month we can’t be lazy at all, since we are hosting. The theme is “Intercontinental” and if you want to full download here it is. But basically we need to mix some drinks with ingredients from most of the continents. So far, there are already a number of very creative (and quite tasty looking / sounding) cocktails submitted. So we figured we may as well get going with a few of our own creations.

    mxmologoAnd since we already have a geographic theme we decided we would go a little further and look at the globe for inspiration. In this case we said where is the “end of the earth”? And we decided that Cape Horn in Chile and the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa fit the bill and started looking for spirits (we also looked at Cape Grim in Tasmania, but came up short on ingredients, otherwise we would have ‘The Grim Horn of Good Hope’, oh well…sigh).

    cape7cape5For Chile / Cape Horn it was easy to find an ingredient, Pisco, the local grape brandy that is very common here in Norcal (Pisco also comes from Peru) . For South Africa / Cape of Good Hope we have more options with all sorts of South African wine or Amarula, the local cream liqueur from the Marula fruit. We aren’t big cream liqueur fans, but couldn’t resist trying out the Amarula (we already have a few Amarula sightings for this MxMo).

    cape4It may be a hokey description, but Amarula basically tastes like “tropical Bailey’s” with sweet cream, caramel, a touch of ginger and mango-ish notes. Not bad at all, and not surprisingly Amarula is often mixed into coffee or chocolate cocktails. We chose to go in the direction of coffee, and the rest came together pretty quickly.

    cape3cape6The Horn of Good Hope combines Coffee Liqueur (Kahlua Especial from North America), Pisco (South America), Amarula (Africa), Grand Marnier (Europe) and a dusting of nutmeg (Asia), shaken with ice, strained and served as a cocktail. The flavor is in the Black Russian / Bailey’s and Coffee realm, but the Pisco adds strength and heat, the Grand Marnier adds burnt orange notes and the Amarula adds spice and tropical fruit flavor. The nutmeg adds extra depth of flavor and aroma that rounds things out. There is also a lovely nutty note throughout (no idea where it comes from, but don’t mind it being there). A good sip, even if somewhat (dare we say it) “frappuccino-ish”.

    cape2But this is a sweet, boozy drink, and best served as a sip- or almost a small dessert. We suggest you split this cocktail in half or even thirds and serve it as a quick shot or 2-3 sip cocktail. The first few tastes are the best, before the drink loses its chill and the sweetness takes over. Otherwise, if you like sweet drinks take your time and enjoy the full cocktail.

    cape1So that is our first try at “Intercontinental” cocktails. We got five continents on this one. We are aiming for six or seven with our next creation. Stay tuned…

    The Horn Of Good Hope:

    Ingredients:

    (Serves 1 to 2)

    • 1 oz. Pisco (We actually like Encanto from Peru, but Chilean Pisco is great, too)
    • 1 oz. Coffee Liqueur (Kahlua Especial)
    • 1/2 oz. Grand Marnier
    • 1/2 oz. Amarula
    • Fresh Nutmeg, for dusting

    Assemble:

    • Combine all the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until very cold and double-strain into small chilled cocktail glasses or coupes. Dust with fresh nutmeg. Serve.