Tag Archives: Alton Brown

The Life and Brines of a Young Dad at Thanksgiving

21 Nov

This year, I’m entering my first ever “Turkey Off”.  I think that’s where the ‘Young Dad’ comes in.  Don’t all we men at some point need to attempt to prepare a turkey so that one day when Dad is no longer around, we’re prepared?  Nevermind the carving, which actually concerns me more than the cooking of the giant bird.

I’m a young Dad as in my kids are young.  Probably a little closer to forty than most would usually be with a 2-year-old and 9 month old.  It’s a wonderful life, but one with very little sleep on average.  The beautiful topper right now is my precious 9 month old is cutting her first two teeth which means sleep, for her, is random at best.  My lovely wife takes the brunt of it, but the sleep deprivation has worked its way through the whole family.

So the “Turkey Off” was actually Dad’s idea.  I had suggested that perhaps I could tackle the turkey this year, but our lovely hostess, my sister, hinted strongly that it was probably best left for Dad.  Upon further probing, two concerns came two light.  First, there’s no evidence that my first time cooking whole poultry will lead to something edible.  I’m a decent cook, but I used to experiment quite a bit my first time out with recipes and that lead to some questionable (at best) results.  She doesn’t realize this, but I stick to recipes far more than I did in my younger days.  I still experiment with things I just whip up in the kitchen, but I usually have a better understanding what I’m doing now and I tend to use a trusted recipe as a guide.  I still have dishes that end up less than a success, but it’s usually just too little flavor rather than a horrendous taste.  And a little salt, or salty cheese, tends to solve those problems.

The second, and most concerning question my sister raised was my tendency for tardiness.  Yes, I tend to be late.  Now that I have a wife and two kids, I really tend to be late.  Always stuck in my head is Paul Newman‘s line, “Punctuality is the courtesy of Kings” (probably paraphrasing) that he delivered to another star actor encouraging him to be on time since everyone on a movie set is always waiting for the star, but yet, I have not resolved my tardiness issue.  The family will excuse being late with bread or dessert or even a random side dish (my usual entries), but it would be sacrilege to have all the other dishes prepared and presented on the table and that one giant spot in the middle vacant until I showed up.  I get that.

So I backed off and once Mom said Dad picked up a giant free range turkey this year, I figured there was no need to even consider the poultry.  Then Dad entered with his challenge.  He welcomes the young experimental cook’s challenge and thinks it will push him to make an even better turkey this year.  Plus, (he didn’t say this), with there being two turkeys, it’s no big deal if mine is a little late or if it turns into a dry, indigestible mess.

So now, off to prepping.  I did a little googling on Sunday to get an idea of what I was venturing into and realized that I have one day to get all my ingredients together.  Brining seems the way to go and since most turkeys (as far as I’m aware) that I would buy tend to be frozen, I have a three days of prep in front of me.  I needed to start up the extra fridge last night (or clean out the cooler) so that I have a place to thaw and the store the turkey in it’s brine and since thawing a large bird properly can take 2-3 days, I’m already behind.  Glad I didn’t wait until the last minute.

Now, the brine and the recipe.  So many vary and I love the idea of bringing something really different to the table in a smoked or fried turkey, but they both present more problems than I really want to deal with.  Frying a turkey leads to fires and trips to the emergency room every year.  I would trust I could avoid either catastrophe, but with my penchance for clumsiness, I’m not betting on it.  Smoking a turkey is a bit more doable, even though I don’t have a smoker.  It can be done on a regular charcoal grill, but my small grill may not be large enough to really keep the heat “indirect” and place a pan below the sweating bird to catch the drippings.  So, I’m left with the oven roasting option my Dad uses and trying a different recipe.

I’m currently leaning towards Alton Brown‘s recipe on Food Networks.  I figure if the entire Food Network puts one chef’s turkey front and center, year after year, then there has to be something special about it.  He uses ingredients I don’t tend to keep around the house and that increases the financial impact of this experiment, but not to the point that’s prohibitive.  Still, the smoking idea lingers in the back of my mind.  Either way, a decision must be made this morning so I can make the trip to the store (with both little ones in tow) and can start all my prep tonight.  Yeah, the other dishes on my plate include easy mashed potatoes and a pumpkin dessert thing.  Neither of those I expect to take much time and my wife will be assisting on both, but we still need to plan out time for each item to take over our little kitchen.  Don’t tell my Mom, but I’m thinking of using potato flakes instead of real potatoes to simplify Thursday.

The only reason I’m considering the “just add water” variety of potatoes is that with a few experiments under my belt now, I turn out really stellar mashed potatoes.  My wife is a lover of all things potato and really enjoys them.  It seems wrong to go that route, but I do believe that my mix of garlic, parsley, a little butter, and mostly olive oil provides a great tasting pureed bud.  Prepared from scratch or not, I imagine that the potatoes will contain more olive oil than butter.  The fragrant and slightly fruity oil really pairs well with the potatoes and you get all the creaminess without the trans fats.  Of course, Smart Balance Butter gets you that buttery goodness without any trans fats too.  Oh the choices.

The choices for the brine are endless too.  They all contain plenty of salt and water, but that’s where the similarities end.  I could go with a fruity, aromatic brine.  Or perhaps a very sweet bourbon brine?  There’s always the beer brine to consider, but I only have a stout beer in the house and a little too long in a brine bath will make that bird’s simply taste like beer.  Choices, choices, choices.

There is one thing I learned over the years; there is no choice when it comes to Cream Cheese.  Sure, you can use some low-fat or fat-free Cream Cheese in a cheesecake, but only very little and never, ever use it in frosting.  Fat-free and low-fat Cream Cheese has a flavor that just detracts from the sugary goodness of a frosting.  The extra tang can work in a cheesecake, but not in frosting, so don’t skimp on the fat there.

Good luck in your Thanksgiving Dining Endeavors and forget about the fat and calories for a day.  Enjoy and revel in food and family.