Thanksgiving Q&A 2014

McCROSKEY: Grab hold of yourself! You’ve got to talk them down. You’re the only chance they’ve got!
KRAMER (into mike): All right, Striker, now you listen to me and you listen close. Flying is no different than riding a bicycle…it just happens to be a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes. Now, if you just follow my instructions…
Lloyd Bridges and Robert Stack, Airplane! (1980)
It’s T-Day minus 2. Are you ready?
I feel like a crisis counsellor the week before Thanksgiving. I give out a lot of pep talks, with rotisserie turkey advice mixed in. Here are the questions I’m getting this year:
You have a lot of turkey recipes on your site. If you had to pick just one, what would it be?

PicOfTheWeek: Rotisserie Turkey Breast Redux

I couldn't decide which picture to use as the main one in last Thursday's Rotisserie Turkey Breast post; eventually, Pinterest's love of portrait orientation won out. Here's the landscape version. The golden brown turkey skin has me salivating for Thanksgiving already...

Rotisserie Turkey Breast, Dry Brined with Italian Spices

A Turkey breast is perfect for a smaller Thanksgiving, or as a backup bird if you need some extra white meat.

(My mom always cooks an extra turkey breast on Thanksgiving. Actually, my mom cooks multiple whole turkeys AND an extra turkey breast. If my whole family shows up, we can get 30+ people to the table, depending on who brings friends. Mom never wants someone to go away hungry, or without leftovers, so she always errs on the side of more turkey.)

Turkey breast is a very neutral flavored protein. (That’s a polite way of saying it tastes boring. Can you tell I’m a dark meat fan?) To perk up the flavor, I rub it with an Italian inspired blend of coarsely ground spices. That blend includes a big dose of red pepper flakes and black pepper, adding a spicy kick to contrast with the neutral meat.

Turkey breast is a very lean protein, almost pure muscle, with no interior fat or connective tissue. (Which means it will be as dry as cardboard if it is overcooked.) I cook the breast to 150°F, plus four minutes, to keep it as juicy as possible while still cooking it enough for it to be safe to eat.
For more details on 150°F turkey breast, see my post: Turkey Temperature, or the 150 question.

Of course, I cook it on the rotisserie. The even heat of the rotisserie crisps up the skin - the best part of the breast, in my opinion - and bastes the bird in its own juices while it cooks. And look - no trussing!

Recipe: Rotisserie Turkey Breast, Dry Brined with Italian Spices

Pressure Cooker Butternut Squash Puree with Honey and Sage

Pressure Cooker Butternut Squash Puree with Honey and Sage

Butternut squash are a lot of work. Peeling the hard skin, seeding, roasting, pureeing - I love the taste, but I saved it for Thanksgiving, when I could face the extra work for a good side dish.

Then I joined my CSA, and got winter squash every year in my fall share boxes. For a while, the squash were seasonal decorations, hanging out on my kitchen counter during the cold winter months. When spring rolled around, they went in the trash. I meant to use them, really I did, but I never got around to it.

What changed?

First, I put out a call for help from my readers, and I got some great ideas.

Second, I found the pressure cooker squash technique in Modernist Cuisine at Home. Their big trick is adding baking soda, increasing the pH of the squash. This food science trick lowers the browning temperature enough for the squash to roast in the pressure cooker. The result is browned, caramelized squash after 20 minutes of high pressure.

The third thing is: I found pre-cut squash at my local grocery stores. It’s cheating, I know. But…if I don’t have to clean the squash, it can be a weeknight side dish.

In spite of all that, I can’t give up on the holiday connection. I still serve squash on Thanksgiving, seasoned with sage, the herb that I associate with the flavor of Fall.

No pressure cooker? No worries, see the notes section for oven roasting instructions.

Recipe: Pressure Cooker Butternut Squash Puree with Honey and Sage

PicOfTheWeek: Browns Tailgating with 36 hour Sous Vide beef short ribs

Short ribs, 140*F for 36 hours, then in the beer cooler for the trip to the Browns tailgate.