Turkey or Whatever

This is another repeat post from previous years’ discussions about preparing a Thanksgiving dinner. While turkey continues to be the biggest dinner entree for this holiday, ham, duck and chicken are also popular. For a bachelor, a smaller featured protein might be a better idea. 

Don’t feel like you have to have, or cook, a turkey for Thanksgiving. There are lots of choices out there. You have to take into consideration your tastes and your circumstances. I won’t be cooking a turkey this year. Most likely, I’ll go with a chicken. But for those of you who will be doing a turkey, there are some things you might want to think about, even if you’re a seasoned cook.

Almost everyone will be buying a frozen turkey. Just make sure you have yours a week ahead of time. No later than Sunday, you should have your turkey thawing in the refrigerator, because it will take anywhere from two to four days depending on size.

When buying your turkey, remember they are all NOT just the same. Some are going to be what’s called “self basting.” That means they’ve been injected with a solution of salt, broth and seasonings. While these birds don’t dry out as easily, they are loaded with salt. If you brine the turkey, and you should, you won’t need that. But if you wait too long to buy your turkey, you may have limited choices. As always, check the label. It should tell you if a solution has been added and tell you what’s in it.

Most people buy too big a turkey. If you’re a bachelor like me, you might be eating turkey for weeks. Figure you need about a pound per person per meal. Remember that the turkey weight includes bones and all. So, a ten-pound turkey should feed five people two meals each. There are lots of leftover turkey recipes floating around. Maybe you have a favorite you might share with the rest of us. Just enter it in the comments.

Brining means soaking the turkey in a salt-water solution. The best solution for a container is a clean five-gallon bucket. You can find them at a hardware store if you don’t have one available. Another possibility is a large metal or plastic cooler. You need a cool place to keep it, too. If you have access to a walk-in fridge, like they have at restaurants, that’s ideal. Also, a good option is if you have a spare refrigerator or one you can borrow the use of for a couple days. The turkey and the brine have to remain below 40°F to keep it safe from bacteria. You might think the salt solution would be enough, but there are bacteria that thrive in salty environments. Don’t put the container outside if it’s cold. Animals can smell it and will try to get to it if they can. A cooler works well as long as you can keep adding ice to keep it cold. Just make sure it’s big enough to keep the turkey completely submerged.

You’ll want to make your brine first and then wash your turkey while the brine solution cools. First, thoroughly clean your sink. Use bleach if you have it. Make sure you rinse the sink completely so there’s no soap or bleach left behind. Wash the turkey inside and out. Don’t forget to pull out the bag of goodies inside. Don’t throw it away, it’ll be used later.

There are many recipes for brining solution out there. If you don’t already have one, here’s a simple one.

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 gallon ice
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon each of rosemary, sage, thyme, and savory or 4 tablespoons poultry seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon each of optional seasonings such as cumin, oregano, black peppercorns, basil or red pepper flakes
  1. Combine everything except the ice in a large stock pot and turn the heat up to high.
  2. Bring it to a boil, stirring to make sure everything is dissolved and mixed.
  3. Remove from heat and let it cool completely about two to three hours.
  4. Put the turkey into the container breast side down, legs up. Pour in the solution and add the ice. If the solution doesn’t completely cover the turkey, add more water. Make sure the cavity is filled.
  5. Put the container, covered, in a cool place where it can stay below 40.
  6. Brining should take at least ten hours, but not more than 48.

Brining works by using the salt as a conductor for the other flavors. Don’t worry, it won’t make the turkey salty. But it will make it cook faster and retain more moisture.

When you remove the turkey from the brine, drain off as much as you can and then pat dry before preparing it for the oven.

Vegetable Cooking: Artichokes

Lots of people are urging us to eat more vegetables. If you’re like me, you might not find a lot of vegetables very good raw. At least not without heaps of Ranch dressing or something.

Many of you may not be that familiar with cooking vegetables. So, here are some ideas. We’ll be looking at how to cook several common vegetables over the next several posts.

Artichokes. If ever there was a food that looks unappealing, it’s the artichoke. This is the flower of the thistle plant, a common weed. The globe artichoke, the one most of us are familiar with, is grown mostly around the Mediterranean, especially Spain and Italy. In the U.S., all artichokes come from California, mostly around the town of Castroville.

Artichokes are usually harvested in the spring, but another peak harvest time is mid-autumn. The California artichokes are harvested continuously through the summer.

When shopping for artichokes, look for full but small heads with no brown spots. The leaves should be tight and not easy to pull off. The rule is the smaller the better.

Trimming takes a little time but is easy. Take your kitchen shears (You do have kitchen shears, don’t you?) and remove the tough outer leaves closest to the stem. Then snip off the pointy ends of the outer leaves so its easier to handle. This is a thistle, remember. Wash thoroughly by turning it upside down in clean water. Trim off most of the stem so it sits flatter, but take care not to damage the base, which holds the whole thing together. Rubbing a halved lemon over the trimmed leaves, or bracts, will keep them from browning before cooking.

Most commonly, we see this leafy head steamed. Just put a steamer basket in a large pot with about two inches of water in the bottom. Steam the trimmed artichoke for about 20 minutes and you’re done.

In addition to steaming, there are lots of ways to cook this funny looking vegetable. Usually, you’ll like it best with a melted butter dip. When serving, keeping it in its own bowl works best. You should have another bowl on the table to discard the outer parts of the leaves after the good bit has been scraped off.

The part of the vegetable that’s edible is the meaty base of the leaves and the inner base, called the heart. Above the base, buried under all the leaves, is the choke. You can take a spoon to scoop out the feathery, fiberous choke if the thing has been cooked well. But be careful. The choke is called that for a reason, so you should try to remove all of the fibers.

Personally, I think it’s a lot of work for the amount of edible food you get. But I have to admit that heart, once you reach it, seems well worth the effort. That’s why pickled or jarred artichoke hearts are so popular, especially on a salad.

Another popular cooking method is braising. This is best done with baby artichokes. Just cook in a large skillet with some olive oil. After a minute or two add a cup of white wine, a cup of water (two cups of water if not using wine) and a teaspoon of dried thyme, rosemary or tarragon. Cover and cook for about another 15 minutes. Artichokes are done when you can easily insert a knife into the base.

To grill artichokes, open up the center of the head to scoop out the choke. Cover with extra virgin olive oil and kosher salt. Grill over medium-high heat until tender.

Round vegetables are great in the microwave. Just placed the trimmed artichoke in a glass or microwave safe dish. Add 1/2 cup of white wine or water, some dried thyme and salt. Cover tightly with plastic wrap using a toothpick to make a very small hole near the dish side so it doesn’t explode. Microwave on high for about 8 minutes for an average size artichoke. Be careful removing the plastic as the steam will be very, very hot.

In addition to cooking and eating, artichokes make colorful houseplants with a brilliant bloom. You can also make a herbal tea. If you’ve ever had the Italian liqueur Cynar, that’s flavored with artichokes. A chemical compound in the leaves is a useful diuretic which also aids in liver function and lowering cholesterol.

Kitchen Intermediates – Part 1: Dutch Oven

Money of you readers of The Bachelor’s Kitchen will remember a few months ago when we talked about the basics every kitchen should have to cook and feed yourself. That’s one of the goals of this blog — to show singles that you don’t have to have a big kitchen or a lot of money to make some great food. We also have to think about what’s the minimum equipment we need and what we can do without. We also have to think about things we’d like to have, useful items that are a bit more than a basic but still won’t overrun your small kitchen.

The single most useful pot or pan in your kitchen is the trusty cast iron skillet. It’s cheap and durable. You can even expect to pass it down to your children, grandchildren or other members of future generations. It’s precisely this durability that has made this an American cooking basic for centuries.

This skillet’s cousin is the dutch oven. There are three basic types of dutch ovens, only one of which is a true dutch oven. Most dutch ovens are really just big pots.

Of the big pot variety, there are two basic types which are defined by their materials. The most common is the enamel-covered metal pot with a lid. When choosing this style, make sure the handles on the sides and the lid are oven-proof. This can be made from steel, cast iron or aluminum.

A newer version of this style is the all-aluminum pot, also called a stock pot. These are high quality pots that can go from stove top to oven easily with even heating and easy cleaning.

The traditional dutch oven is made of cast iron and has a upward-lipped lid and short legs on the bottom. This is where this pot gets its name. Back a few centuries ago when most European and American settlers still cooked over open fires, the dutch oven was the only way to bake. It would be placed over hot coals, with more coals placed on top, which is why the lid looks sunken into the pot. This type of pot should be treated just the same as a cast iron skillet. These are also the least expensive models.

Dutch ovens are larger and heavier than the skillet to handle larger cuts of meat and cooking liquids for braising. They also are commonly used for deep frying because they hold heat well and are taller than the skillet.

Dutch ovens can range in price from as little as about $30 up to nearly $300 for the stainless all-aluminum model. Look for the widest you can find.

Never use soap and water on a cast iron dutch oven. Cure it the same as with a skillet and clean it the same way. Not only can it be used for cooking soups, stews and other large-pot items, but you really can bake in the cast iron model.

Vegetable Cooking: Beets

As we continue our series of posts about cooking vegetables, we now take a look at one that many people think they don’t like even though they haven’t tasted it. Personally, I think this is due to some sort of childhood experience, but I’m not a shrink, by any definition.

If we’re going to eat more vegetables, and we should, we need to know how to shop, prepare and cook them. That’s the point of these posts.

By the way, if you have a favorite recipe along these lines, please feel free to share it with all us Bachelor’s Kitchen readers. Just click on the Comments link at the end of this post or send me an email to bchlrkitchen212@gmail.com.

Beets. I’ve talked about this root vegetable before when we were discussing winter vegetables that are still available now at the farmers markets. There are several varieties of beets, but not all of them will you see at the market or in the produce aisle at the supermarket.

One of the remarkable things about the beet is that almost everything can be eaten. The green top leaves, or chard, can be cooked like spinach or collards. The stalks can be cleaned and cut into chunks to flavor soup. But the root end is what we think of most and use most from this vegetable.

The beet has been grown for about 4,000 years, mostly around the Mediterranean and Middle East. It became popular in Northern and Eastern Europe because of its hardy nature. Like most root vegetables, it will keep in a cool, dry, dark place for several months.

When choosing beets to cook, look for bulbs that are dark red or bright orange in color. Wash and trim off the greens and tap root. How you cut them will depend on how you plan to cook them.

Roasted or steamed beets are the most popular way to prepare them. Cut into 1/2-inch chunks. For steamed, put into a steamer basket over a pot of boiling water for about 15 minutes or until tender. To roast, spread the pieces out in a single layer on a cookie sheet or baking sheet. Coat with olive oil and bake in a pre-heated 500-degree oven for about 30 minutes, turning them over about halfway through.

Beets can also be microwaved. Cut the beets into 1/4-inch rounds and put into a glass pie pan. Add a 1/4 cup water and cover tightly in plastic wrap. Heat on high for 10 minutes, then allow to stand for 5 minutes before serving with butter.

Vegetable Cooking: Broccoli

There’s more than one way to cook a vegetable. As we continue our series of posts about cooking vegetables, it’s time to look at one of the most popular green veggies in the produce aisle.

No matter what former President George H. W. Bush (I) says about it, broccoli is a nutritious, versatile green vegetable. It’s found on lots of tables every night across the country.

Broccoli was cultivated from a wild cabbage found in Roman Italy 2,000 years ago. It is in the same family as cabbage and cauliflower. Most of our broccoli comes from California. The U.S. is the third largest producer of broccoli and cauliflower, behind China and India. It’s a cold weather crop, growing poorly in warm, summer weather. If not harvested, the heads, or flowers, will turn a bright yellow.

Nutritionally, eating it raw has the biggest bang for the nutritional buck. The more it is cooked the less nutritional value it has. But even fully cooked, it still packs quite a punch of phytonutrients and cancer-fighting compounds.

Buying. While broccoli that’s gone too far in the field turns bright yellow, the ones you choose in the store should be dark green with a slightly purplish cast to the florets. The heads should be tight and firm. There should be no yellow or brown spots on either the heads or the stems. Broccoli is usually sold by weight, so often people are more likely to buy the florets only. But many cooks and chefs swear by the stalks, so you might want to give the whole thing a try.

Preparation. Chop the heads off the stalk. Some people like to peel the stalk like a carrot. Cut the stalk in half and cut into half-moon shapes about 1 inch thick. Whether you separate the head into florets is up to you and the method you’re using to cook it.

Steaming is one of the most common ways to cook this. One of the easiest, too. Just put all the pieces in a steamer basket in a large pot with about 2 inches of water in the bottom. A tablespoon of lemon juice will help the water give off a nice flavor and fragrance during cooking. Steaming can take as little as 5 minutes or as long as 15 depending on how hot the water is and how much broccoli is in the basket. Sprinkle kosher salt over still damp florets and stalks when done. I also like to splash some good balsamic vinegar on it instead of butter. Serve immediately.

Microwave. Just put the pieces into a glass baking dish, cover tightly with plastic wrap and heat on high until tender, about 4 minutes.

Roast in a 400° oven by laying the pieces out on a cookie or baking sheet after coating with extra virgin olive oil. Turn after about 5 minutes and should be done in 10.

Broccoli also goes well with a sauce, quiche or frittata. In all of these uses, it should be at least partially cooked before added.

Vegetable Cooking: Brussels Sprouts

We should be eating more vegetables. So, we’re continuing our look at ways to cook vegetables for those looking for some ideas. Today’s topic is Brussels sprouts.

These mini-cabbages get their name from being heavily cultivated in the area of Northern Europe now called Belgium. They prefer cooler weather, but not cold. Like their culinary cousins, broccoli, kale, cabbage and collard greens, this vegetable is packed with nutrients, especially those that help fight colon cancer.

When shopping for brussels sprouts, look for tight, firm deep green heads that are still on the stalk. There should be no yellow leaves or signs of insect activity.

Prepare these buy removing the outer leaves and trimming the stems before washing thoroughly.

The only method of cooking not recommended by nutritionists is boiling, which removes a lot of those valuable nutrients. But most other methods can perhaps change your mind about these vegetables that lots of people, including me, don’t like. Okay, I’ll admit it. Rarely have I had brussels sprouts that I thought tasted good. But those of you who know me know I’m not the best vegetable eater.

Braising in some white wine can be a flavorful way to fix these. Use a shallow pan with a cover. They’re usually done in about seven minutes over medium-high heat. Remove the sprouts with a slotted spoon, turn up the heat and add a teaspoon of butter or olive oil. Reduce the sauce into a glaze which you then pour over the sprouts.

Like other vegetables in this family, they like the microwave. Put in a glass dish with about a 1/4 cup of broth or water and cover tightly. Heat on high until tender, about six minutes.

Roasting can be one method that adds a lot of flavor. Cut the sprouts in half and arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet or baking dish. Toss with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and pop into a 500° oven for about 20 minutes. Turn them over halfway through the cooking time. They should come out browned and tender.

Of course, sprouts can also be steamed in the same way you did other green vegetables. They take about six minutes.

Thanksgiving Only A Month Away

Walking through the grocery store the other day, I noticed all the stuff for Thanksgiving was already out. Baking supplies. Frozen Turkeys. Pumpkins. It made me realize that although it may seem awfully early, it’s time to start planning. Even though we haven’t passed Halloween yet, I have learned that for bachelors, planning is key to having a trouble-free event, no matter what it is. In fact, advance planning makes shopping, cooking and even eating easier and healthier.

As a bachelor, I rarely cook a whole turkey. Unless I have other people over, it’s a lot of work for way too much food. I’d be eating turkey for a month. While I like it, that’s just a little too much.

If you live alone, don’t be afraid to make something else. Turkey may be traditional, but you’d be better off with something smaller rather than rely on a frozen dinner or one of those processed turkey loaves swimming in salt-laden gravy.

A good choice is just a plain old chicken. You’ll get a few meals out of it and it goes better with a wider variety of side dishes. It’s easier to cook goes a lot faster.

A duck is also a good choice if you like duck. A little extra care has to be taken to ensure something that isn’t dripping with grease, but it’s not that hard.

A goose is a good choice if you want to do something different and you’re having just a few people over. But the same rules as cooking a duck apply. You can usually find goose in the frozen meat area of your grocery.

Another good choice for one is a Cornish game hen. These are just the right size for one, you cook them the same as a chicken and there’s no leftovers.

Whatever your choice, remember that this is a holiday for relaxing and enjoying the bounty of the harvest. It’s not the time to stress over cooking or entertaining or even spending a holiday on your own. There’s always football to watch, at least. And don’t think you have to cook a bird. Ham, roast beef, whatever you like is all good.

I’m not a holiday person. But Thanksgiving at least has a few redeeming qualities that we all can share. Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll be giving the lowly bachelor a few tips I’ve picked up along the way. If you have some you’d like to add, please enter a comment by clicking on the link below. I’d also love an article or two about your Thanksgiving experiences. Just email them to bchlrkitchen212@gmail.com.

Simple, Basic, Classic Pasta Dish: Amatriciana

We have a new pasta dish here in The Bachelor’s Kitchen. It’s a classic, simple, but full-flavored pasta dish that goes well with a mixed salad, especially with balsamic vinegar. It’s called Amatriciana. An easy-to-read version is available on this website at the recipe name link above.

The origins of this simple sauce are not clear. Likely it came from the area around Amatrice, a mountainous part of Italy. The base of this sauce, traditionally, is cured pork cheek. (Don’t get squeamish, the cheek, like the tongue, is often the tastiest part of many animals.) Since that ingredient may not be readily available in your grocery store’s meat section, you can use lean, thick-cut bacon instead.

There’s lots of room to change this to match your tastes, like more herbs (that’s what we like), different kinds of pasta, and different kinds of cheese (just stay away from soft cheeses, you need something with some strength). Any brand of can stewed tomatoes will work, just don’t select the ones that are already seasoned.

To begin, you’ll need a large skillet or a medium saucepan to warm up on the stove. Remember, set it on a low heat so the pan doesn’t start to smoke. Turn the heat up to medium-high when you’re ready to cook. You will also need a pot to cook the pasta.

Chop up four or five slices of bacon in a dice. Don’t go cheap here. The more fat you have the greasier your dish will be. We like to get ours from a smoked meat vendor at the Farmers’ Market. Also, chop enough onion for about a half-cup. A teaspoon of minced garlic is also needed and you may have to chop that as well. For dishes like this, we often use pre-cut garlic packed in olive oil to save time. Measure out about a 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes, it adds just a little bite to the sauce but it won’t clear your sinuses.

For pasta, a pound of dry linguini or fettucini is preferred, but if all you have is spaghetti, that will work, too. If you have fresh basil, use it. We grow our own so we have fresh basil all year. You can also use flat leaf parsley or half the amount of dried herbs. That might not seem like much, but we’re not making pesto, here.

Now, let’s talk cheese. Please, we beg you, spend the money for real Parmegiano cheese. Pecorino, a sheep’s milk cheese, is just as good but has a slightly more intense flavor. Avoid that green canister of mostly sawdust. You can use the American Parmesan if you must but make sure it’s refrigerated.

Cook the bacon until crisp, about 5 minutes. If you use fatty bacon, drain all but about 2 tablespoons from the pan. If you used lean bacon, you can skip that. Add onions to the bacon grease and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and the red pepper flakes and cook for just about a minute. Add the tomatoes along with all the liquid in the cans. Let this mixture simmer over medium-high heat for 10 minutes. Stir frequently, breaking up the tomatoes as you stir.

While that’s cooking, turn up the heat under the pasta pot. Add several teaspoons of salt. Drop in the pasta when the water is at a rolling boil and cook according to package directions until al dente, about one minute less than package directions. Drain then add to the tomato mixture along with the basil. Toss and serve with the grated cheese.

If you don’t add the pasta to the sauce, hit it with some olive oil and toss to keep the strands from sticking together.

Tips For Shorter Cooking Time

So often we hear people say, “I just don’t have time to cook.”  Well, we don’t believe it. You make time for the things that are important to you. We understand that time can be a big hurdle to making good food at home. But there are little tips for reducing that time.

Let’s recap the Bachelor Way. First, you need to build an eating plan. We don’t call it a diet because making changes to your eating behavior is hard. Diet makes it sound like a temporary thing. Seeing your doctor or a nutritionist is the place to get started. They can help you come up with a good eating plan. It will take time to get going. But it is time well spent.

Next, you use your grocery store ads online or in print, to create a grocery list. Start filling in your meals for the next week with recipes that use the ingredients on your list. If you know you’re not using something that week, and it’s not on sale, cross it off. It will save storage and money. That does not mean you won’t need to build up a pantry. If you can wait a bit, that same item may be on sale another time.

With your groceries and recipes, you next plan your cooking. Multi-tasking can be an asset here, allowing you to make more than one recipe at a time. Or if a dish is to be made later in the week, you can prepare your ingredients, doing the chopping and measuring when you have the time, like while you are waiting for your current dish to cook. Invest in cheap sealable containers to store your leftovers and prepared ingredients.

Planning ahead is the key to shortening your time in the kitchen. Know what you are making and eating before mealtime. Bachelors, and many others, can often be found standing in front of an open refrigerator trying to decide what to eat. That wastes time, money and your health.

Another tip is the buy more time. You do that by buying pre-washed and pre-chopped fruits and vegetables. Packaged frozen vegetables, without sauce, are good to keep in the freezer for whenever you need them. They are already chopped and washed and ready to go.

Many singles often rely on frozen dinners to get out of cooking time, especially after work. If you buy entree-sized plastic containers, you can make your own frozen meals. That size container is ideal for one serving of protein, vegetables and maybe a starch. Just pop open one corner of the container and put it in the microwave. In general, you will need to cook on high for three to four minutes, depending on the density of the food. Remember to allow the food to wait inside the microwave for one to two minutes to allow the heat to distribute evenly. This is a great way to set up leftovers to be sure they are used and will stay fresh for weeks longer than they would in the refrigerator. You can also take these to work for an easy to heat lunch. The frozen meal will be kept cold until lunchtime. Then, a couple minutes of microwaving will make this ready to eat.

Speaking of the microwave, this is a very useful appliance. It’s not good for all foods, but you can use it to jumpstart your cooking. Take, for example, baked potatoes. We don’t like to cook the potato only in the microwave because the ends of the potato end up hard and unappealing. But you don’t have to do it all in the oven. Use a microwave to get the potato hot, then wrap it in foil and put in a hot oven. You cut the cooking time in half.

Microwaves are also good for steaming vegetables and other dishes in just a couple minutes.

Cut Your Cooking Time

The whole idea of The Bachelor’s Kitchen is to help single people eat better by learning to cook their own food to become healthier and happier. That means setting up your own system for getting it done without taking too much time or effort. Cooking can be fun. Cooking can be creative. Cooking can be educational.

One of the biggest hurdles home cooks face is time. No one wants to come home from work and spend an hour or two cooking up dinner. But you also don’t want to stop at the fast food drive-through for breakfast every day. That way leads to many health problems when you get older.

That’s where the Bachelor way comes in. It does take a little planning to get started. And there are many tips for cutting down the cooking time, or rather, the time it takes to get everything prepared for cooking.

Whenever a recipe calls for prep time, we always double it at the very least. Often it can take longer. That is a big reason why so many people don’t want to do that at the end of a long day. It’s actually harder when there’s only one of you, or even if there’s two. There’s less motivation to take good care of yourself, believe it or not, then when you always face responsibilities.

Once you have set up your eating plan, you can take steps to reduce your prep time so you spend even less time in the kitchen. It all starts with your eating plan. You should get some help for this stage from your doctor or a nutritionist. Next, you look at the weekly circulars from the area grocery stores. This can be made easier by determining if you can do all your shopping at one store. There are many factors to consider and you should make your decision by what’s important to you. If saving money is at the top of the list, you may have to visit several stores to get the best deals. If you can build a weekly menu from the items at just one store, you may find that cheap food does not mean good food. Crappy ingredients make a crappy dish.

Always make a grocery list. Impulse buys will quickly defeat the purpose of cooking better. And remember that cooking good food is important for mental, emotional and physical health.

While making your list, watch for items you use often going on sale. That’s when you stock up! As we’ve said before, a well stocked pantry is important for lots of reasons, one of which is so no matter what you make, you have plenty of ingredients to work with.

Now you need to match up your grocery list with your eating plan. Look for recipes that fit the groceries you have or will get. Also, take into consideration that if only a partial amount is used, you find something to do with the rest of the ingredient before it goes bad. You can make a second dish at the same time or later in the week with all your ingredients prepared.

There are more tips coming soon for time saving ways to cook better with less time and effort.