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!

Leftover Turkey Soup

It’s been a crazy few weeks. Since my husband is deployed, I decided to hit the road and drive myself and my dog home for the holidays. I drove 5 days with a couple friends from California to Massachusetts. I’ve done this trip a few times already, it’s a lot of fun with company but still exhausting. I originally wanted to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family once I got back, but now I’m glad I took their advice and sat it out. I’ve been home about a week and am just now feeling like I’ve caught up on sleep.

A couple weeks ago I cooked a “friendsgiving” meal in California. Afterwards, I came up with a leftovers soup recipe that was pretty great. I planned on posting it the day after Thanksgiving. Problem is, I left my handwritten recipe on the west coast. I know a lot of people have already used their leftovers or eaten them all, but once I got my hands on a turkey carcass here, I had to try and recreate my soup.

So after a small delay, here is my leftover turkey soup!


For the stock:

  •  1 roast turkey carcass
  • 4-6 qts water
  • 12 oz wheat beer
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp pepper
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 large shallot, cut in half
  • 3 celery stalks, cut in thirds
  • 2 carrots, cut in thirds
  • 1 lemon, cut in half
  • 2 pieces of peeled ginger root, about 1″
  • 6-8 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 stems fresh rosemary
  • 1 stem fresh sage
  • 4 stems fresh thyme
  1. Put the turkey carcass in a large stock pot. Pour in 4-6 quarts water, until the turkey is submerged. Add the beer, salt, and pepper, and bring to boil.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and reduce hear to low. Simmer for 2-4 hours until meat is easily removed from the bones.
  3. Using a ladle, strain 4 quarts of stock through a mesh colander or cheese cloth into a separate bowl or vessel. Pick as much turkey meat off as you can and add it to the stock. Set aside.


For the soup:

  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup leftover squash puree (you can substitute with flour if needed)
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • 2 zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
  • 1 1/2 yellow onions, cut into petals
  • 5 celery stalks, sliced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 4 qts homemade turkey stock
  • 1 cup of carrot greens, coarsely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 Tbsp fresh sage leaves, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • salt & pepper to taste
  1. In a ceramic soup pot or dutch oven, melt butter over medium low heat. Stir in squash (or flour) until thick, making a roux. Add garam masala, curry powder and a pinch of salt and pepper.
  2. Add zucchini, onion, celery, carrot and shallot to the pot and stir until coated. Reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Carefully pour or ladle the turkey stock and meat over the vegetables. Add the carrot greens, rosemary, thyme, sage and lemon zest. Cover and cook on low heat for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally. In the last 5 minutes, stir in the fresh lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh herbs and bread (optional)

What’s kind of funny is that my brother in law loves making turkey soup after Thanksgiving. He does his with hot peppers, corn, beans… much more of a Tex-Mex take on it. He made his, and I actually “borrowed” the leftover turkey from a friends dinner the next night. So basically, it was soup wars this weekend at home. No one could pick a winner though, since they were two totally different takes.

I like traditional recipes with a twist. I kept my soup fairly classic, but was inspired by the cinnamon and nutmeg smell of the leftover squash puree, and decided to add in some Indian spices to enhance those flavors.

Soup is an easy way to use up Turkey Day leftovers. The cover photo is my first batch. I didn’t use the indian spices, squash, ginger and zucchini at first. It was definitely more traditional. In the end, I’m glad I got a second chance to revisit and add to this recipe.

You don’t need to follow this, or any, recipe word for word. Soups are a great tradition for after the holiday and every family probably had a way they like to do it. Whether it’s spicy and heading south of the border like my brother in law’s take, a classic with a twist like mine, or made with whatever herbs, vegetables and flavors you enjoy, it’s always a hit. And a great way to condense and clear space in the fridge, am I right?

Like I said, I’m with my family through the holidays. I’ll try and come up with some fun posts while I am here, especially now that the countdown to Christmas is on!

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.