Spicy Cajun Turkey (…or Chicken)

Some people get the post-Thanksgiving blues once the big meal is done. Me? Not so much. Since I do all the cooking (which I always call my own personal sporting event), my husband does the cleaning, and then it’s time for CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS.

We have a rule in this house: no Christmas stuff gets put up before Thanksgiving. But the second those leftovers are in the fridge, I grab myself a glass of mulled cider and get to work on our tree. Maybe it’s a little bit of wanting to get my money’s worth out of my decorations, but mostly I just love the way a house looks with some extra glitter, tinsel & twinkle lights. The halls are decked from Thanksgiving night until New Years Day.

Now, you might think I am sad that my biggest cooking day of the year is over… again, not so much. I don’t go quite as “hard” as Thanksgiving, but Christmas is another reason to make a holiday feast, so I decided to share some recipes that can carry over.

I did a poll on Instagram asking my followers if they wanted my turkey recipe or my Hawaiian sweet roll stuffing recipe and the results were literally 50/50. So, ask and you shall receive! Today I’m going to start with the turkey.

You can get turkeys for *super* cheap after Thanksgiving. I saw them for 99 cents a pound a couple days after, so it’s a great, economical way to enjoy the big bird more than one time a year. (Plus, if you overcooked it on Thanksgiving, this can be your redemption.)

Not everyone wants to deal with the whole turkey all over again, so I’m actually going to give you my recipe for a bone-in turkey breast. This is perfect for about 4-6 people, and actually what I made on Thanksgiving since we had a small crowd. And maybe you don’t want turkey again at all, which is understandable. I know a lot of people who go with ham on Christmas, but I’m a poultry and seafood only kind of gal. If you want to change it up just a little, you could also use this same preparation on a chicken!

There are two parts to this recipe… the brine and the rub.

First things first: you’ll need a bone-in whole turkey breastapproximately 4-7 lbs. (Mine was about 5 lbs this year.) Alternatively you could use a whole chicken. 

THE BRINE

  • 2 cups beer, anything light, or blonde, or a lager (I used Kona Longboard Lager)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 lemon, sliced in half
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
  • 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs of fresh sage
  • 2 habanero peppers, sliced in half
    1. Put the beer, water, salt & brown sugar into a large stock pot and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt & sugar. One it starts to boil, add the remaining ingredients and lower the heat. Simmer it for 5-10 minutes, until fragrant.
    2. Let the brine cool completely. (Very important, you don’t want to start cooking the bird.)
    3. Place your turkey breast (or chicken) into a brining bag & carefully pour in the cooled liquid, including the lemon, garlic, herbs and peppers. Add more water if needed to submerge the breast fully. Tie the bag tightly, put in a pot or baking dish & refrigerate for 6 hours to overnight.

IN-BETWEEN TIPS 

  • If you have not heard of a brining bag, they are just thick, clear plastic bags you can get at the store. You can also use a sturdy trash bag or a plastic/glass container, if you have a big enough one. You don’t want it to be huge, because you don’t want to be adding a gallon of water to get the turkey submerged.
  • If you are hosting a large crowd and want to do a whole turkey or two chickens, keep the brining recipe the same but double the rub. The only difference is you definitely want put it in the fridge overnight to brine.
  • Before it’s time to cook, take the turkey out of the fridge, remove it from the brine, and pat it dry. Let it sit out and come up to room temperature. This is SO important. If the turkey goes in the oven cold, it takes longer to cook, and this way the skin starts to crisp up immediately, instead of having to warm up first.
  • If you are doing a whole turkey or chicken, you can re-use the lemons, garlic, herbs and peppers from the brine to stuff inside for extra flavor. For the turkey breast, you can put them in the bottom of the roasting pan to add flavor to the drippings.
  • I like to put veggies under my turkey in the roasting pan, but it’s not necessary. For the record, I used 3 chopped carrots, 3 chopped celery stalks and a chopped yellow onion. 

THE RUB (for bone-in turkey breast or 1 whole chicken… double for a whole turkey or 2 whole chickens)

  • 1 Tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp white pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted & cooled
  1. Remove turkey from the brine and pat dry. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Mix all the spices together in a bowl. Stir in the cooled, melted butter to create a paste. Slather the turkey all over in the spice mixture.
  3. Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan & tent it with foil, careful to keep it from touching & rubbing off the spice mixture. Cook for 30 minutes covered, then remove & cook another 30 minutes. Start checking the temperature every 15-20 minutes from here, until it reaches an internal temp of 155-160.
  4. Remove the turkey from the roasting rack, place on a cutting board, tent with foil and let it rest 30 minutes before carving. Reserve pan drippings to add to your gravy.

If you have kiddos or aren’t a spicy fan, leave the habaneros out of the brine and the cayenne out of the rub, and you will still have a tasty turkey. The rub goes on pretty thick and creates almost a crust, which really helps lock in all the flavor and juices.

I’ve been working on this for a couple years and it always gets rave reviews. Turkey has a reputation for being bland and boring, so you have to add a lot to get a lot out of it, but honestly it’s not a ton of work. Just a ton of ingredients.

Even if it’s not the holidays, you could do this with chicken any time of year, for any occasion. It’s a perfect Sunday dinner. And if you happen to see turkey breast on sale at the store, grab it and try this out one weekend. Serve it over some mashed potatoes or roasted vegetables. Slice it thin, and have incredible sandwiches all week long. Use the carcass to make stock for your next soup. Why does turkey just have to be for Thanksgiving?

Not just turkey either. In a few days, I’ll be back with my Hawaiian sweet roll stuffing! See you then!

The Picky Gourmet Guide to Thanksgiving Prep

Halloween ends, and suddenly we are thrown into Christmas season overnight. Seriously. I was in Target to get candy on the 31st and saw all the naked trees lined up at the back of the store, ready to brought out, decorated and on display for November 1st.

I get it, it’s exciting. My husband always rolls his eyes when I drag out my holiday décor too early for his liking… but I wait until the day after Thanksgiving. Remember Thanksgiving everyone, that holiday that actually takes place in November? I do, because it’s one of my favorite days of the whole year. It’s a day devoted to family, friends and food… what more do you need?

What’s funny is that back in the day, being a picky eater, Thanksgiving made me a little uneasy. We didn’t sit down as a family a lot for dinner due to everyone having a crazy schedule, so when we had guests on top of actually sitting down together for a meal, I was always nervous about being called out for my sparse plate. Luckily, Thanksgiving included a lot of my “safe” foods- rolls, potatoes, corn, things like that. I actually never ate the turkey until I was a teenager, and then it took me another couple years to venture into using the gravy. But let’s flash forward to now, when I’ve come to my senses and am obsessed with Turkey Day.

Last year after moving to California was my first time cooking the big meal for my husband and friends. It. Was. Awesome. People kept asking if I needed help, saying I looked so busy, but I loved every single second of it. The reason it felt so easy, in spite of the half a dozen dishes I prepared that day at the same time, was because I prepared. So don’t let the stores and TV commercials make you forget about Thanksgiving! Here are my tips for making sure you are prepared.

Practicing on a turkey breast is a great way to prepare

  1. Plan your menu at least two weeks in advance. Figure out how many people are attending, how much food you need to prepare, and pick out your recipes. Simplify things by writing out a grocery list and combining ingredients (things like herbs, butter, oils and seasonings). Don’t write out that you need 2 sprigs of rosemary for your turkey, and down the list have 2 more for your potatoes. Find the common items and total them out, as in I need 4 sprigs of rosemary total for my menu.
  2. Practice. If it’s your first time, try out recipes before hand. Roasting a bone-in turkey breast is a great test drive, and you can slice it up and use it for sandwiches, soups, etc. Lot’s of people have “friendsgiving” events before the actual holiday where everyone makes one dish to bring. That’s a nice way to practice something you are unfamiliar with to get a sense of the time and effort needed for the dish.
  3. Add a bit of nostalgia. Don’t get totally fancy and new school, people want comfort food on Thanksgiving. Think back to your family meals growing up. What was the one dish that stands out to you? For me it was corn casserole, and I called up my mom and had her send me over the recipe. (It ended up being by Paula Deen, who knew)
  4. Divide the cooking areas. Unless you are lucky enough to have double ovens, timing things out can be tricky. I like to utilize my slow cookers and my stove top as much as possible. Also, a lot of baked, casserole type dishes can make the meal heavy and lacking in texture. It’s also a good idea to write out a schedule with cooking times and locations so you know when to start what dish.
  5. Prep as much as you can before the big day. Chop your veggies, then blanch and shock them (it makes the colors more vibrant!) and divide them into tupperware according to the dish they are going in. Make sure your turkey is thawed in advance, preferably with time to brine it. Make sure all the dishes, platters and utensils you need are clean and put them out where they are easily accessible.
  6. Cut a couple corners. You don’t need to do everything. Buy store bought rolls and use those disposable aluminum baking pans if you can. The world won’t end if you take a shortcut somewhere.

Thanksgiving isn’t the day to wing it and experiment, so I picked out some recipes by other folks to create my menu. Oh- one last tip that I heard somewhere last year and loved. Print or write out your recipes and tape them up on the cabinets. It might look crazy, but it’s so helpful to just look up and read, especially when your hands are dirty and busy!

Anywho, here’s my menu from last year. I used the same recipes for my friendsgiving event a few days ago, except for the fact that I only made a 5lb turkey breast.

Served up with some bread and some mulled cider out of my second slow cooker, it was a fantastic meal. This is great for around 6-8 people with some leftovers, so if you have a larger crowd you might want to add in some extra sides and make sure you get a big enough bird.

Bad lighting, great food

Obviously, whatever you cook on Thanksgiving should be a reflection of you and your family. It’s all about love and comfort food, so do what makes you happy. If you take the time to really plan out your day, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your company much more. Holiday’s shouldn’t be stressful. They should be fun.

Good luck with your holiday preparations! Check back in around Turkey Day, when I’ll be posting my leftover Thanksgiving soup recipe.

Prep Days

Every now and then when I have a free afternoon I like to get a head start on future meals. Cooking every night can be a challenge. Some days you just want something easy, that you don’t need to think about. Instead of turning to a flavorless microwave dinner or a frozen pizza that always turns out overcooked and undercooked at the same time, I like to make my own freezer shortcuts.

This past week I had one of these prep days, but for a slightly different reason. I’m going to be away for a while, and when I get home I want to have some easy options. I hate getting home from a trip, all worn out, and realizing there’s nothing in the kitchen.  Here’s some of my favorite ways to make sure there’s always something good to eat.

Frozen Fruit for Smoothies

I do this every month. I buy a bunch of fruit and divide it up into freezer bags, labeled with the date and contents. In the morning I grab a bag, put it in the blender with some apple juice or coconut water, maybe some fresh greens, and it’s an easy breakfast. You could put protein powder in these too. This is also great because you can save fruit you have left over that would otherwise go bad. I always start each bag with a banana and usually strawberries. Then I add any combination of kiwi, blueberry, raspberry, mango, blackberry… Whatever you like or have around.

Frozen Sauce and Stock

This is a little more work, but it pays off in the future. I got my crockpot out to slowly simmer a rustic pasta sauce for a few hours while I worked on everything else. I made it from scratch, but I’ll let you know the recipe in an upcoming post. If you have leftover bones and veggies you can make stock. I happened to make chicken stock a couple weeks ago. I made so much I actually gave some away to neighbors, but I saved two containers. I can thaw out the sauce for a quick pasta dinner, or the stock for a soup. Freezing these basics in bulk saves a lot of time making a meal later on.

Frozen Pasta

Gnocchi has become a staple for my prep days. I love to make a bunch of it and save it. They cook in about 2 minutes in boiling water, whether they are fresh or frozen. I make a ton of it and portion it out into meal sizes. The next week when I am too tired to cook, I get dinner done in less than 5 minutes. Also frozen ravioli is a great quickie meal, but I’ll admit that the ones in the picture are store bought leftovers. Someday I’ll try making my own.

Ice Cube Tray Hacks

I love this one because it helps keep things from getting wasted. Since I was leaving, my herbs were not going to get tended too, so I clipped what I could off my plants to save. Using an ice cube tray I froze parsley inside of olive oil. You can throw a couple of these into a sauce or into a skillet dish. I also froze mint to make ice cubes that are amazing to use in iced tea or a cocktail. I had some buttermilk that would have gone bad, so I froze that too. Always make sure to properly label them.

I know people that will go all out and make a bunch of make ahead freezer meals, basically plan their whole month out. I am not that disciplined, I just like to have a few go to items. Just spend a couple hours one day to benefit for many days after. If you have any great make ahead meal or foods to freeze, feel free to comment. I’d love to hear!

This post is going to have to be short and sweet. I’m two days into my cross country trip, currently in a hotel in Colorado. I need to rest up for tomorrow’s drive. There will be more to come once I get to Massachusetts!