Recipe: Turkey Brine and Tasty Tips

Ah, to brine or not to brine? That is the question. And the answer, my friends, is definitely to brine.

Say goodbye to dry turkey on Thanksgiving and hello to juicy, flavorful bites of the most delicious meat you’ve ever tasted, all through the process of brining. How does brining work, exactly? The cells of the turkey meat have a natural level of salt already in them. When you immerse your turkey in a brine for several hours, the salty brine increases the level of salt in the cells, drawing water out and flavor in. Any seasonings added to the brine are also absorbed into the meat, which means that you’re flavoring your bird from the inside out. Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it?

Here’s a basic recipe you’ll want to print out and keep on hand for next week and every November to come. Keep in mind that the brining process takes about 24 hours, so you’ll want to plan ahead. You also need to make sure your turkey is completely thawed.

Turkey Brine

8 quarts cold water
2 cups coarse kosher salt
8 large bay leaves
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons whole allspice
1 turkey, thawed (giblets and neck removed)

Directions
Line a large soup kettle with two turkey-sized oven bags, one inside the other.

In a large saucepan, combine 1 quart water salt, bay leaves, peppercorns and allspice. Stir mixture over medium heat until salt dissolves. Remove from heat and add 1 quart of water and cool the mixture until lukewarm. Pour mixture into bag-lined soup kettle and add the remaining 6 quarts of water. Carefully place turkey into the mixture. (This can get messy if it overflows, so do it in a large sink or tub!) Gather the bags and squeeze out any air. Tie the bags closed, cover (if possible) and refrigerate for at least 18 and up to 24 hours, but no longer.

Remove turkey and place it in a roasting pan. Discard the brine. If you’re not ready to roast, cover the roasting pan and refrigerate.

HINT: Along with adding flavor and ensuring moistness, brining helps tenderize the bird by breaking down tissues. Do not stuff a brined bird as it will result in excessively salty stuffing. Season the bird as normal before roasting.

HINT: Feel free to dress up the brine with orange peels, lemon peels, garlic, cloves or any other favorite herbs and spices.

HINT: For a spectacularly moist turkey, roast the bird upside down so the juices flow into the breast. It will be the best turkey you’ve ever made, guaranteed.

Recipe: Thanksgiving Rolls with Honey Butter

MF Thanksgiving Rolls
Thanksgiving just isn’t the same without a giant basket of warm rolls, with the keyword being “giant.” I’m sharing a favorite, passed-down-for-generations recipe for fluffy rolls and creamy, sweet honey butter to slather all over them. Even if you’ve never made rolls before, you can master this recipe. It’s simple and delicious and can be adapted into larger or smaller rolls, depending on your preference. I definitely recommend making more than one batch because these are going to go fast.

And the honey butter? You might need a batch all to yourself. Check it out. There is no better compliment to a warm roll than this fluffy, mouthwatering condiment. Mmm, mmm, mmmmmm! (By the way, it also tastes great on a leftover turkey sandwich!)

MF Honey Butter

Thanksgiving Rolls

1 cup hot water
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons shortening (I like the butter-flavored variety)

1/2 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg, well beaten

4 1/2 cups flour

Directions
Stir hot water, salt, and shortening together in a bowl, allowing the shortening to melt completely. Set aside to cool. In another bowl, mix lukewarm water, yeast, and sugar together. Set aside until frothy. In a large mixing bowl, combine water/shortening mixture and the yeast mixture, then blend in the beaten egg. Add half of the flour and mix until well combined. Add the rest of the flour and mix on high for about 30 seconds, or until a sticky dough forms. Cover dough with plastic wrap and allow to sit in a warm spot for about 30 minutes. It should approximately double in size.

On a clean, dry surface, spread a thin layer of flour. Scoop your dough onto the surface and lightly flour the top. Using your hands, spread the dough out into a large square. Use a pizza cutter to cut the dough into individual servings. One batch makes 24 muffin-sized rolls. Remove each square and tuck the corners into the bottom to form a loose ball. Place dough balls in a greased muffin tin and allow to rise again until double in size. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.

HINT #1: If you prefer larger rolls, cut 12 servings instead of 24.
HINT #2: For Parker House-style rolls, put two dough balls in each muffin tin, side by side.
HINT #3: For a perfect, golden-brown top, beat one egg and 1 tablespoon of milk together and brush a thin layer on top of your rolls right before putting them in the oven.
HINT #4: Unless you have an extra large, industrial mixer, avoid doubling the recipe. It will overflow over your mixing bowl upon rising. Make one batch, transfer that dough to another bowl to rise, and start a new batch in your mixing bowl.

Honey Butter

1/2 cup butter, slightly softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup honey

Directions
Whip butter, then add vanilla and egg yolk. Add honey gradually while whipping and mix until creamy. Chill before serving.

HINT: Because this contains raw egg, refrigerate after serving and avoid serving to pregnant women.

Recipe: Chocolate Whoopie Pies

MF Whoopie Pies
Depending on which region of the country you hail from, you may or may not be familiar with the delicious joy that is the whoopie pie. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then welcome to your lucky day. Whoopie pies are cake-y sandwiches with silky, fluffy frosting middles. Wrap your hands around one and you’ll never want to let it go. The recipe I’m sharing is a big one, making about 20 pies. You can easily cut it in half; however, whoopie pies freeze beautifully, so I like to make a full batch and then keep the freezer stocked with them. (Hint: Keep them out of the fridge. It will dry them out quickly!)

Are you drooling yet? Let’s get started.

Chocolate Whoopie Pies

3 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
4 large eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
6 cups flour
2 cups cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3 cups milk

Filling

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups marshmallow cream topping
3 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup half and half

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, with an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together until creamy. Add eggs, oil, and vanilla and mix until well combined. In another large bowl, sift flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Alternately add flour mixture and the milk to the egg and sugar blend, mixing well. Using a 1/4 measuring cup or large ice cream scoop (remember, you want them to be uniform), place six circles of batter on a prepared baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

For the filling, combine all ingredients except for the half and half in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer until a thick, uniform paste forms. Slowly add in the half and half until you reach a thick, creamy texture. You may add more or less half and half, depending on your taste.

Once the cakes have cooled, spread the filling between two cookie cakes. Wrap individual whoopie pies in plastic wrap for best handling and storage.

Baking Tip: Help for Sticky Situations

wo8i5123

Here’s a quick tip to make your cooking and baking easier: Before you measure out oil, syrup, peanut butter, or any other sticky substance for a recipe, rinse your measuring cup under hot water for about 30 seconds or so. The heat (and even a few drops of water) will keep the substance from sticking to your cup. No spatula required!

Baking Tip: Salted vs. Unsalted Butter

There are a few questions about butter that come up from time to time, so let’s set the record straight with a quick Q & A.

If the recipe doesn’t say unsalted or salted butter, which do I use? Bakers and chefs usually choose unsalted butter in their recipes because it’s easier to manage the salt content in the dish. Most recipes that call for butter—especially baked goods and desserts—are created with unsalted butter. It is the standard in baking and is always implied unless otherwise specified.

Can I adjust the amount of salt in a recipe if I am using salted butter? Yes and no. Each manufacturer of salted butter uses a different amount of salt to create their product, so it’s impossible to create a perfect substitution scale for salted butter. However, here is a general rule to follow that works pretty well: for every 1/2 cup (one stick) of butter called for, decrease the amount of salt by 1/4 teaspoon.

When should I choose salted butter over unsalted butter? Think of salted butter as a condiment—something that is added singularly to enhance whatever you’re eating, like ketchup or mustard. For example, I like to use salted butter to spread on warm bread, muffins, or my corn on the cob. It adds a more savory flavor and (bonus!) I don’t have to add any salt!

Using the right butter in your baking and cooking is a small thing that makes a big difference. Your results will taste like—well, they’ll taste like buttah!

Baking Tip: Use Good Eggs

One of the secrets to my cookies is a commitment to using the best available products in them, including–and especially–fresh eggs. If you haven’t tasted a farm fresh egg before, put it on your to-do list. Fresh eggs from free-range, quality fed chickens are a taste experience in themselves. Plus, they are higher in folic acid, Vitamin B, and Omega-3s. They literally have a butter-like taste, and you know what happens when you add more butter taste to cookies, right? That’s right–Nirvana.

If you have access to a local farm, offer to buy fresh eggs from the farmer each week. He probably has more eggs than he knows what to do with, and he will probably charge you less than what you pay at the supermarket. If you’re unsure of where to look, search for local farmer’s markets in your area.

If you don’t have access to a local farm, you can purchase organic eggs at most grocery stores. They may cost a little more, but the taste (and health) benefits will be worth it. When it comes to eggs, the term organic means that the chickens are free-range (not locked in tiny cages) and fed an organic diet as opposed to genetically engineered corn or animal byproducts.

It’s a simple thing, but I think you’ll notice amazing results once you switch to high-quality eggs in your baking and cooking. Your cookies, your stomach, and your health will thank you!

By the way, check out other Mrs. Fields giveaways on two other great blogs: Tatertots & Jello, and Sassy Scoops! Enter to win!

Recipe: Stuffed Oatmeal Cookie

Today I’m sharing another cookie recipe that can be adapted a zillion different ways. (Really, I counted.) The backbone of the recipe is a simple oatmeal cookie; it’s up to you to accessorize it however you like with any type of dried fruit (mango is amazing!), chocolate, and nut. Make them regular size or oversized–they work great both ways. Try my version or create your own, but definitely save this recipe. It’s bound to become a favorite.

Stuffed Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
2 cups flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons milk (cream or half-and-half works, too)
1 1/2 cups oats
1 cup dried cranberries (or any diced, dried fruit)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or milk, white, or dark chocolate)
3/4 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, or macadamia)

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small sauce pan, melt butter on low heat. In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda, and salt together. With an electric mixer, blend sugars together. Add melted butter and mix until a smooth paste forms. In a small bowl, beat eggs, vanilla, and milk together. Add egg mixture to butter and sugar and beat until smooth and creamy. Slowly add in flour mixture, followed by oats, dried fruit, chocolate chips, and nuts.

Place dough on prepared cookie sheets. Oversized cookies=1/3 cup of dough, 6 cookies per sheet, baked for 11-13 minutes. Regular cookies=1 heaping tablespoon, 12 cookies per sheet, baked for 7-10 minutes. Remove immediately to a cooling rack.

How To: Toast Coconut

One of my favorite secret ingredients in baking is toasted coconut. You can add it to so many different recipes to amp up the flavor and texture to create new, exciting recipes. There is more than one way to toast coconut, but this is the way I like best. Are you ready?

Start with a non-stick pan on medium-high heat.

Add your shredded coconut to an already warm pan.

Using a spatula, spread the coconut evenly over the pan.

Continually stir and fold the coconut in the pan. The more you stir, the more evenly the coconut will toast.

Keep stirring and folding, stirring and folding, inhaling the incredible aroma all the while. Mmmmmm.

In about 5-7 minutes, you will have evenly toasted, beautifully brown coconut.

The toasting really picks up momentum at the end, so watch closely. Once it reaches your desired level of toastiness, remove it immediately from the heat. Then, immediately remove it from the pan. Otherwise, the coconut will continue to toast in the hot pan.

Voila! You’re done. Allow the coconut to cool completely, then add it to chocolate chip cookie dough or graham cracker crusts, crumble tops for cobblers, ice cream, or even salads. It adds a rich, nutty-sweet flavor to recipes you already love!

Store leftover coconut in an airtight container in the fridge where it will keep fresh 3-4 weeks.

Three Baking Must-Haves

Baking is equal parts science and art. The science part is obvious–exact measurements, chemical reactions, and convection, among others. The art side is much more abstract, like knowing how to place your fondant flowers on your cupcakes or how to know when your cake is done baking simply by tapping the top with your finger. In my experience, the more comfortable and confident you become on the science side, the easier the art part comes.

Having the right equipment for baking is a big part of gaining confidence in all areas of baking. You can follow directions precisely, but still have inconsistent results if your tools are low quality. Here are a few items that every baker (even would-be bakers) should own. They aren’t expensive and they’ll last forever.

1. Stainless steel or heavy aluminum cookie sheets (sometimes called jelly roll pans). I love these baking sheets because they are versatile–cookies, sheet cakes, rolls, cinnamon rolls–everything bakes perfectly and evenly. They are available in a full size and half size. I recommend having at least two of the full size and one of the half size.

2. Silicone baking sheets. No more greasing your cookie sheet or lining it with parchment paper, silicone baking sheets are a one-time investment that you will absolutely love, and a great way to go “green.” These non-stick sheets help conduct the heat evenly, can handle every type of oven, and are also ideal for candies.  I recommend having two in the same size as your cookie sheets.

3. Cooling rack. Remember, just because you’ve pulled something out of the oven doesn’t mean it isn’t still baking! Removing your cookies from the baking sheet and transferring them to a cooling rack is one of the most important steps in baking. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most neglected. Cooling racks are extremely inexpensive and, again, a one-time investment.

Baking is a wonderful hobby, one that brings joy to the baker and everyone around her too. And the more you stick with it, the more you will master the art and science of your own creations. If you’re investing your time in the kitchen to create something wonderful, invest a little in the equipment you use. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Fine print: The links I’ve provided are just examples. I am not endorsing or recommending any particular brand.

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