Gravy Tips

Happy Thanksgiving!

Many home cooks obsess about making gravy to accompany their roasted turkey and resort to using a pot full of water and a dried gravy packet or two. For a more flavorful gravy try the following Ample Bites tips along with or instead of the gravy packet.

1. Keep the roasting pan moist with beer or wine and water during the roasting of the turkey.
2. Save the juices in the roasting pan when the turkey is removed.
3. Save drippings on the cutting board when carving the turkey.
4. Add the cutting board drippings and scraps to the roasting pan juices and heat the pan to a simmer.
5. In a separate small saucepan, make a roux with vegetable oil and flour using equal amounts of each.
6. To make the roux, bring the oil to a shimmer over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to a simmer and gradually whisk in the flour until the roux is smooth.
7. Gradually add the roux to the gravy in the pan to bring it to the desired thickness.

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Roasting Poultry Pieces

Some home cooks fret about roasting a whole chicken or turkey. The worries are typically about whether the bird will be cooked through and still be moist and then, of course, carving the whole bird.

Another way to go about roasting poultry is to do it in pieces. You (or you butcher) can cut up the bird before roasting or you can simply buy the pieces you prefer. Chicken breasts, legs, thighs and wings are sold precut and pre-packaged. Turkey breasts, drumsticks and wings are readily found at most grocery stores.

Roasting poultry in pieces significantly reduces the cooking time, allows all of the pieces to be cooked to a crispy, golden brown, and takes the worry out of getting the temperature (165F) correct.

This method of cooking poultry is by no means reserved just for the holidays. Roast three or four chicken breasts for dinner or to slice up for sandwiches rather than using salty deli meat.

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Roasted Poultry Pieces
(Mark Kelly, 2013)

4 bone-in chicken breast halves, with most fat removed and skin-on
6 bone-in chicken thighs, with most fat removed and skin on
3 large sprigs fresh rosemary
12 whole garlic cloves, peeled
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a small bowl toss the garlic with a tablespoon of oil.

Arrange the poultry on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Brush each piece with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread the garlic cloves among the chicken pieces. Place the rosemary sprigs among the chicken.

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest portion of the largest chicken breast registers 165F.

Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to rest at least 10 minutes before serving. Discard the rosemary. Save the roasted garlic to spread on toasted bread.

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Turkey Recipe and Cooking Methods

If you are still undecided about how you plan to cook your Thanksgiving turkey, consider that there are countless methods for cooking your turkey. Choose from one of the favorites, invent your own method, or just use Ample Bites’ recipe.

Some people, like my mother, have cooked them in the oven overnight at a lower temperature. Others roast their turkey in a large paper bag. A recent craze has been to deep-fry the turkey in boiling oil, while trying not to burn the garage down. A tried and true method used by many is to smoke the turkey using a smoker or either a gas or charcoal grill.

Ample Bites is a traditionalist and I prefer the oven-roasting method that starts with a brined fresh turkey. The initial roasting takes place at high-temperature (450F). The heat is then reduced to 325F for the balance of the cooking time. This method is pretty foolproof but it does take some attention on the part of the cook to make sure the skin browns but does not burn and the turkey reaches 165F.

Brined and Roasted Fresh Turkey
(Mark Kelly, 2012)

Serves 8 – 10

1 12 – 14 pound fresh turkey

For Brine
2 quarts of cold apple juice
1 cup Kosher salt
2 Tbsp dried sage
2 Tbsp dried thyme
2 Tbsp dried rosemary
2 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper

For Roasting
1 ½ Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 Tbsp finely grated lemon zest
1 Tbsp minced fresh rosemary
1 Tbsp minced fresh sage leaves
1 Tbsp minced fresh thyme leaves
1 medium onion, quartered
1 orange, quartered
1 lemon, quartered

Thaw turkey, if frozen, and remove neck and giblets. Mix brine by pouring salt and spices into the apple juice until salt is completely dissolved. Place turkey in plastic brining bag and pour brine in. Pull the bag tight and tie it closed. Place the turkey in a cooler with a bag or two of ice for 24 hours.

Remove the turkey from the brine after 24 hours and rinse it with cold water. Pat the turkey dry, inside and out, and leave uncovered at room temperature for about one hour before seasoning.

Preheat oven to 450F.

Rub the turkey inside and out with black pepper. Place the turkey in a rack in a roasting pan. Mix butter, lemon zest, rosemary, sage and thyme in a small bowl. Rub herb butter over the top of the turkey and inside cavity.

Place onion, orange, and lemon inside turkey cavity. Foil the tips of the wings to keep them from burning. Pour 4 cups water into pan. Roast turkey, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325F. Baste turkey with pan juices; add more water, if needed, to maintain at least ¼-inch of liquid in the bottom of the roasting pan. Continue roasting turkey, basting every 30 minutes and tenting with foil if skin is turning too dark, until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of the thigh without touching bone registers 165F (juices should run clear when thermometer is removed), about 2 ¾ hours total.

Transfer turkey to a platter. Tent with foil and let rest for 1 hour before carving.

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An Alternative Appetizer for Thanksgiving Day

Rather than serve cocktail shrimp or spinach dip as an appetizer this Thanksgiving try something a little different this year. This recipe for Charcuterie Cones presents elements of an Italian antipasto salad in a finger-food format.

Charcuterie Cones
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Food & Wine magazine, November 2012)

Makes 24 cones

24 slices of soppressata or hard salami, thinly sliced
1 small head of radicchio, shredded
5 pepperoncini, stemmed, seeded and chopped
8 ounces fresh goat cheese
2 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the pine nuts until they are just beginning to brown, tossing occasionally, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the radicchio, pepperoncini, goat cheese, vinegar, oil and pine nuts and fold together until thoroughly mixed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Allow the salad to rest for 10 – 15 minutes for flavors to blend.

Arrange the slices on a work surface and divide the salad equally among them. Roll the sausage to form 24 cones and serve or refrigerate for serving later.

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More Alternative Thanksgiving Sides

Ample Bites has recipes for Roasted Acorn Squash with Chile Vinaigrette and Parmesan-Roasted Cauliflower that are easily scalable to the size of your Thanksgiving party.

Simple preparation with robust flavorful outcomes make these side dishes perfect for pairing with your roasted turkey. In fact with a watchful eye these two dishes can be roasted simultaneously in the same oven at the lower of the two oven settings of 425F.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Chile Vinaigrette
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Epicurious, 2012)

Serves 4 – 6

2 (1 ½ pound) acorn squash
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp Kosher salt
6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 ½ Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 – 2 tsp finely chopped or ground dried hot red chile, including seeds
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Put the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 450F.

Halve the squash lengthwise, then cut off and discard the stem ends. Scoop out the seeds and cut the squash lengthwise into ¾-in-wide wedges. Toss with the pepper, salt and 2 tablespoons of oil in a bowl. Arrange cut side down in 2 large shallow baking pans.

Roast the squash, switching position of the pans halfway through roasting, until tender and undersides of wedges are golden brown, 25 to 35 minutes.

While squash roasts, mince the garlic and mash to a paste with ¼ teaspoon salt. Transfer the paste to a small bowl and whisk in the lime juice, chile to taste, cilantro and ¼ cup oil until combined.

Transfer the squash, browned sides up, to a platter and drizzle with the vinaigrette.

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Parmesan-Roasted Cauliflower
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of bonappetit.com, February 2013)

Makes 4 Servings

1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1 medium onion, sliced
4 thyme sprigs
4 unpeeled garlic cloves
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup grated Parmesan
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425F.

Toss cauliflower with onion, thyme, garlic and oil on a large rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast, tossing occasionally, until almost tender, 35 – 40 minutes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese, toss to combine and roast until cauliflower is tender, 10 – 12 minutes longer.

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Creole Versus Cajun

Below you will find an article that I found in an issue of Saveur magazine. It was written by chef Frank Brigsten. The article answers the question “What is the difference between Creole and Cajun cuisine?”. Ample Bites found the article to be interesting and informative. I hope you do, too.

Creole Versus Cajun by Frank Brigsten

As a New Orleans chef, I am often asked to explain the distinction between Creole and Cajun, Louisiana’s famous cuisines. It’s the difference, I always say, between city and country tables. Creole, from the Spanish “criollo”, meaning “native to a place”, evolved across nearly 300 years in New Orleans – a city founded in 1718 by the French, ruled soon after by the Spanish, and home over the centuries to arrivals from all over Europe, West Africa, the Canary Islands, and the Caribbean. Creole food is classically French in spirit, exemplified by rich dishes such as shrimp remoulade and trout meuniere. But it borrows from elements from the cooking of all of the city’s populations. Spaniards brought the bell peppers that, along with onions and celery, compose the “holy trinity”, Creole’s version of a mirepoix, the flavor base of so many dishes. Sicilians introduced canned tomatoes, commonly used in Creole sauces. File (ground sassafras leaves), and earthy gumbo thickener, comes from the Native Americans; okra is African, while spicy cayenne is Caribbean. Cajun food, on the other hand, has its origins in the countryside of southwest Louisiana, called Acadiana, where the Catholic French colonists of Acadie (Nova Scotia) started settling in the 1750s when they were expelled from Canada by the British. There, they continued their traditional ways, trapping, fishing and pig farming. Though also French-based with multicultural influences, Cajun cuisine is founded on hearty one-pot cooking and rustic ingredients – salt pork, corn, and wild game and seafood. Soups and stews are built on a long-cooked roux made with lard or oil – darker and more intense than the butter-based Creole version. Cajun cooking wasn’t familiar to city folks until Paul Prudhomme and other Acadian-born chefs popularized it in the 1970s, but the ubiquity of crawfish, pork products, and deeply colored gumbos show how thoroughly New Orleanians have embraced this rural cuisine.

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Alternative Thanksgiving Side Dishes: Part One – Two Gratins

Depending on upon where you live or where you were raised you have staple side dishes for your Thanksgiving meal. Green bean casserole, varieties of sweet potato dishes, and stuffings or dressings are among the most popular. If you want to mix things up a little bit this year, try one of these gratins.

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Fennel Gratin with Pecorino and Lemon features a mild anise flavor with a crunchy breadcrumb topping.

Leek and Mushroom Gratin is a bit creamier with the same topping.

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Fennel Gratin with Pecorino and Lemon
(Mark Kelly, 2012)

Serves 10

Gratin
5 Tbsp EVOO
1 large onion, halved, cut into ¼ inch thick slices
3 large garlic cloves, minced
5 large fennel bulbs, trimmed, cored, cut into ¼ inch thick slices
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 ½ tsp coarse kosher salt
½ tsp black pepper

Crumb Topping
3 Tbsp butter
¾ cup panko
1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
1 Tbsp chopped Italian parsley
1 ½ tsp finely grated lemon peel

Gratin – Lightly oil shallow 2-quart glass or ceramic dish. Heat 5 tablespoons oil in large wide pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic.; sauté until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add fennel; increase heat to medium-high and sauté until fennel is slightly softened and beginning to brown, stirring frequently, about 18 minutes. Stir in broth and next 4 ingredients. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until most of broth is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Transfer to dish.

Crumb Topping – Melt butter in large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add panko; sauté until golden, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat; cool to room temperature. Stir Pecorino, parsley, and peel into panko.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Sprinkle panko mixture over fennel. Bake until gratin is heated through and topping is deep golden, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Leek and Mushroom Gratin
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Gourmet, October 2012)

Serves 6

¾ stick unsalted butter, divided
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
¼ pound Gruyere, finely grated – about 2 cups
½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
1 Tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley
3 pounds leeks, root ends trimmed
2 Tbsp all purpose flour
1 ½ cups low sodium chicken stock
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over low heat, then cool.

Toss melted butter with breadcrumbs, cheeses, garlic, parsley, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a bowl until combined.

Trim each leek to an 8-inch length. Halve leeks lengthwise, then cut crosswise into roughly 1-inch pieces. Wash leeks and drain well.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a 1 to 1 ½-qt heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook roux, whisking, 1 minute. Add stock in a slow stream, whisking, then bring to a boil, whisking. Add nutmeg and zest and boil, whisking, 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 400F. Butter baking dish.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add leeks and ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper, then cover leeks directly with a round piece of parchment paper and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is absorbed and leeks are tender and just beginning to brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat until foam subsides. Add mushrooms and ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is absorbed and mushrooms are just beginning to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Remove parchment from leeks and stir in mushrooms. Transfer mixture to baking dish, spreading it evenly. Pour sauce over vegetables and top with crumb mixture. Bake until gratin is babbling and topping is golden, about 15 minutes.

Note: Gratin can be assembled, without breadcrumbs, 8 hours ahead and chilled (covered once cooled). Bring to room temperature, stir, and top with breadcrumbs before baking.

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Crab-Stuffed Salmon

Do you like salmon? Do you like crab (and who doesn’t)? If you answered “yes” to both questions try this decadent but truly simple recipe. Crab-Stuffed Salmon involves a handful of simple ingredients and about 30 minutes of total preparation and cooking time.

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Crab-Stuffed Salmon
(Mark Kelly, 2013)

Serves 4

2 thin salmon fillets, about 1 pound each
8 ounces crab meat
8 ounces goat cheese
1/4 red pepper, finely diced
1/4 onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 sprigs thyme, leaves minced
1 Tbsp cajun seasoning
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a skillet over medium heat bring the olive oil to a shimmer. Soften the onion and pepper for 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook for one minute more. Allow to cool.

In a bowl, combine the crab, goat cheese, onion-pepper-garlic mix, thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Fold the ingredients together with a spoon until fully incorporated.

On a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet place one salmon fillet. Spread the crab mixture evenly over the salmon. Sprinkle with the cajun seasoning. Place the second fillet on top of the crab mixture. Season the top piece of salmon with salt and pepper.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the center of the lower piece of salmon registers 145F on an instant-read thermometer. Serve immediately.

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Brine for Fresh Turkey

With less than two weeks until Thanksgiving you should be making a decision about what brining method you will use for your fresh turkey. There are many recipes available in cookbooks and on the Internet. Ample Bites suggests that you need look no further. This simple brine produces a very juicy, flavorful roasted turkey.

You probably have the Kosher salt and the required spices so all you really need from the store will be the brining bag and the apple juice.

Now that the brine decision has been made you can start planning your appetizers and side dishes.

Brining a Fresh Turkey
(Mark Kelly, 2013)

1 12 – 14 pound FRESH turkey
1 brining bag

For Brine
2 quarts of cold apple juice
1 cup Kosher salt
2 Tbsp dried sage
2 Tbsp dried thyme
2 Tbsp dried rosemary
2 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper

Thaw turkey, if frozen, and remove neck and giblets. Mix brine by pouring salt and spices into the apple juice until salt is completely dissolved. Place turkey in brining bag and pour the brine in. Squeeze most of the air from the bag and seal it tightly. Place the turkey in a cooler with a bag or two of ice for 24 hours.

Remove the turkey from the brine after 24 hours and rinse it with cold water. Pat the turkey dry, inside and out, and leave uncovered at room temperature for about one hour before seasoning.

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