Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On the road again....

Work travel has been a bit much recently.  (I know, I know - there is at least one person who reads this blog that I can not hold a candle to their work travel schedule.)  Summer generally brings a spate of speaking engagements and professional meetings.

For the past five years, I teach for two solid (and I do mean S.O.L.I.D) days at a particular university located in Madison, WI.  Between traveling to and fro (along with giving that pesky exam the students seem to enjoy so much), it takes about 4 days out of my crammed summer schedule and zaps the heck out of me.  (While I do enjoy talking, lecturing almost 8 hr a day for two days straight is a bit much.)

If I am lucky, I finish up lectures one day in time to hit the Penzeys Spices right down the street from the university.

They have expanded since last year!

(Yes, I asked the staff if it was OK for me to take pictures while I shopped.  They are so kind, they didn't in bat an eye when I told them I wanted to blog about it.)

 This gives you a minute example of what awaits at every store.

Personally, I thought I did pretty freaking well.

1) I only spent $68 on some fabulous new things and a few old favorites that needed replenishing.
2) I was "quick" and actually finished just at 7p when the store was closing.  (I didn't arrive until 6p.)

Other random things from the trip.

This was my view on the flight from Chicago to Madison.  I asked if I had been assigned that "time out" seat.  The flight attendant and I spent a good bit of time chatting since she was seated in front of me most of the flight (only 21 minutes flying time).

This water fountain ROCKS.  As a person who carried a stainless steel water bottle with me almost everywhere, it was awesome to have a water fountain available to accommodate reusable water bottles.

It doesn't take a whole lot to excite me.

Want to attract all young girls within a three gate area at the airport?  Knit a splashy colored pair of socks.

Most exciting news yet?

The offspring has earned his first level provisional black belt in Taekwondo!

He is beyond excited and we are extremely proud!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Crying fowl!

As much as I dislike a certain grocery store chain, there is a store in the same shopping center as the Taekwondo studio the offspring attends.  It is hard to justify an additional stop during an already busy day/evening when you have an hour available to walk over to the store.  Last Friday, I went to grab some fresh cilantro (since it won't make it 6 days between "grocery day" and when it was needed) and cheese (greater consumption than planned) for dinner.  Commuting from produce to dairy led me past the frozen turkey case.  What do I spy?  A HUGE sale.  ($0.59/pound for whole birds vs $1.89!!!)  So, I schlepped a 12.5 lb bird back to Taekwondo.

Time to smoke some turkeys!

I called a dear friend and she grabbed one also.  (Which found its way to our house.)  After thawing in the spare refrigerator for a week, I started the brining/smoking process.

I started by giving the herbs a bit of a hair cut.  (You can't even tell I was out there.  They are loving this summer.)
I placed two bags (you can use trash bags - if your brand of trash bags has an issue with leaking, use three) in a large stock pot.  I used a 16 qt and a 20 qt for the two turkeys.  I threw half my herb assortment in along with a handful of whole peppercorns.
I placed the turkey in the pot with the back facing upwards.  If you end up with an air pocket in your bag, the back will not be submerged in the brine vs the breast.

Make sure to remove the neck and giblets from the abdominal cavity.
I mix up a brine.  The ratios I generally use are:
1 gallon water/4 lbs of bird weight
1 lb salt/gallon of water
1/2 c sugar/gallon of water

(For my 12 lb bird, I used 3 gallons of water, 3 lbs of salt, and 1 1/2 c of sugar.)

Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water.  The salt and sugar will dissolve more easily if you mix up each gallon separately.  Pour the brine into the brining bag set-up.
Pull the inner most bag up and squeeze out as much air as possible.  Make sure to jiggle the bird a bit to ensure you have all the air out of the abdominal cavity. 
Twist the bag and secure with a rubber band.
 Pull up the second bag and repeat the closure process.
Place the bird in the refrigerator and allow it to brine for about 12 hours before smoking.
Twelve hours or so later, prep your grill.  My husband prefers to set the fire on one side of our grill and place the meat for smoking on the other side.

A good bit of fat comes out of the turkey during the smoking/grilling process, so we line the turkey side of the grill with aluminum foil to ease clean-up.
Once the fire is ready, remove the bird from the brine and allow it to drain.
Pat the bird with some paper towels.  Immediately dispose of the paper towels to prevent potential microbial cross contamination.
Place the birds on the grill.

My husband prefers to cover the grate of the "fire side" of the grill with several layers of foil to help direct the heat, and more importantly, the smoke towards the birds on the "cooking side".

(In this picture, all of the fire is on the left side of the grill.)
We prefer hickory wood chunks for smoking.  We soak the wood chunks for at least 30 minutes before using.

I like to smoke turkeys for about one hour.  After this time, we only add additional charcoal to the grill.

(After the smoking process is over, I like to throw any cast iron in need of a new seasoning coat on the "fire side" of the grill.  Might as well make good use of the long fire.)
We maintain a steady fire throughout the smoking and cooking process.  We shoot for approximately a 300F average temperature on the "cooking side" of the grill.
Cook until the deep portion of the thigh registers at least 165F.  The two 12 lb birds took about 4 hours today.  They taste fabulous!

We ate some for dinner.  The rest was froze for both families to use later.

The carcasses are sitting in the spare fridge waiting to be converted to smoked turkey broth.  (I refuse to waste anything.)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A great gift idea

Most of my fondest memories revolve around food or more precisely, sharing food with others.  Food does much more than nourish our bodies.  Gathering together to share food allows us to commune with family, friends, and love ones, providing us with emotional nourishment.  The act of preparing food can also provide a mental release after a long day.

Need a gift for a recent graduate/newlyweds/new home/new parents?  When these opportunities arrive, I generally turn to food.  Who wouldn't?

One of my favorite items to gift is Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.

This book offers tons of great recipes presented in simple terms and will accessible ingredients.  Additionally, there isn't a need for lots of high end kitchen equipment.  Bittman has prepared a vast repertoire recipes which cross many regions and ethnicities.

Cooking for ourselves with fresh ingredients also provides our body with healthy, nutrient dense foods.

There are many available format options available.  If you would rather, the book is available in Kindle; Nook; and iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad formats.