Thanksgiving Pockets

Well, Thanksgiving is over, but the leftovers live on. Here is a great way to use some of those leftovers to capture that perfect bite. You know, the one where you load up your fork with turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, dressing, and gravy all at once. Here I package that perfect bite in a pastry pocket.

Ingredients
Roasted turkey (white and dark meat -- enough for 2 cups chopped)
1 can (16.3 oz) Pillsbury Grands!® Flaky Layers Buttermilk biscuits
1 cup Mashed potatoes
1/2 cup Mashed sweet potatoes
1 1/2 cups Dressing/stuffing
1 1/2 cups Gravy

Method
Preheat your oven to 350º.

Chop the turkey to about 1/4" and set aside.

Thanksgiving Pockets

Thanksgiving Pockets

Mix the mashed potatoes and mashed sweet potatoes in a bowl and set aside.

Thanksgiving Pockets

Flour your board or counter.

Roll one biscuit to about 7 inches in diameter, keeping it as circular as possible.

Thanksgiving Pockets

Smear two tablespoons of the potato mixture on one half of the pastry.

Thanksgiving Pockets

Evenly distribute about three tablespoons of the turkey on top of the potato mixture.

Thanksgiving Pockets

Evenly distribute about two tablespoons of the stuffing on top of the turkey.

Thanksgiving Pockets

Drizzle about two tablespoons of the gravy on top of the stuffing.

Thanksgiving Pockets

Fold the exposed half of each pastry round over the filling and pinch and roll to seal the edge.

Repeat the stuffing, folding and sealing with the remaining biscuits (eight total).

Arrange the pockets on a baking stone or sheet pan leaving about an inch between each.

Cut a one-inch X in the top of each pocket.

Thanksgiving Pockets

Bake on the center rack until golden brown (about 20 minutes).

Serve and enjoy! I served mine slathered in gravy.

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Being turkey season, the internet is seriously abuzz at this time of year with folks who are investigating the notion of brining their holiday bird. It seems people are on a seemingly never-ending quest for a better bird. The common refrain from people I talk to is, "So, what's the deal with this brining thing? Does it really make that big of a difference?"

In this post I hope to help explain why brining really is a very good thing indeed.

Let's face it, most of us probably grew up eating holiday turkey that was dry and generally lacking in the flavor department. I think this is why my grandfather always shunned the balsa-wood-like white meat for the far more moist and flavorful dark stuff. To this day I am firmly in the dark meat camp, but I digress.

Brining is all about pure science, but it's certainly not rocket surgery. Let's break it down and, as a favorite preacher of mine often said, put the cookies on the shelf where the kiddies can get to them.

The entire process of brining can be described by the scientific axiom that nature abhors a vacuum. When you submerge meat in a solution of water, salt and sugar, you have created a vacuum that nature simply must remedy. See, nature likes to have things in a nice balance called equilibrium. She doesn't like you gumming up the works. You've created an imbalance where the concentration of the water, salt and sugar outside the meat is much higher than that inside the meat.

Given this situation, nature goes to work trying to reestablish its required equilibrium. The cells inside the meat are surrounded by a semi-permeable membrane. Small molecules like water, salt, and sugar can pass through this membrane, but larger molecules like proteins cannot.

Through a process of osmosis by diffusion, the cell moves water, salt and sugar in and out of the cells trying to get things back into balance with the surrounding liquid. Also, since most brines contain flavorings in the solution, the cell unwittingly seasons itself as it allows the brine into the cells.

But wait, there's more.

As the salt concentration in the cell increases it causes some of the tightly-wound proteins to unravel, or denature, and relax a bit. This allows the cell to take on even more of the solution. Some proteins in the cell actually denature completely and are liquefied.

Here's a crude illustration that I've drawn to show what I've described.

To Brine Or Not To Brine?

The magic of brining continues during cooking. When the meat is heated, the proteins bind with one another and squeeze out moisture. However, brining adds 10% or more moisture weight to the meat. So, even though the cooking will cause a 20% weight loss in moisture, we started 10% or more ahead of the game, so the actual moisture loss is cut in half, resulting in more moist meat.

Also, remember those proteins that were completely denatured? Well, those proteins are no longer available to do the protein-binding mambo, so the meat is more tender.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of how brining works, and why it's a wonderful way to let nature help you cook a much better bird.

Tips:
  • Brining is also great for other meats that can use a little help, like pork.
  • When brining an "enhanced" bird (injected with a solution), cut the amount of salt in the brine by half.
  • A good time guideline for brining is 45 minutes per pound.
  • Always rinse brined meats well before cooking.
  • You don't need to cook to 180º. The FDA guideline is now 165º.

My brine recipes:
Turkey recipes:

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Simple Grilled Tuscan Pork Chops

As the name indicates, this is a quick and easy way to grill some restaurant-worthy pork chops, Tuscan-style. The recipe uses very common ingredients with great results.

I don't know what else to say, so let's get on it.

Ingredients
6 Pork rib chops, 3/4" thick
16 oz Zesty Italian salad dressing
1/4 cup Good balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup Honey
1 sprig Fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp Black pepper, ground fresh

Method
Put the chops in a gallon-size zip-top bag, and dump in the salad dressing.

Seal the bag, removing the excess air, and shake to coat the chops well.

Refrigerate the chops and let them marinate 4-6 hours.

Remove the chops from the bag and shake off the excess marinade. Set them aside on a platter.

Pour the marinade into a small sauce pan and add the balsamic, honey, and black pepper.

Bruise the rosemary by rolling it several times gently under a rolling pin. This will give you the flavor without the needles.

Add the rosemary to the sauce pan and bring the mixture to a slight boil over medium heat.

Boil the liquid gently for five minutes then remove from the heat. This kills any nasties that were hanging out in the marinade.

Start your grill and prepare for direct grilling over medium-high heat (400-450º).

Grill the chops until they readily release from the grate, about three minutes.

Simple Grilled Tuscan Pork Chops

Rotate the chops 45º and continue cooking for about two minutes.

Note: These cooking times are approximate, and they are based on chops that are about 3/4" thick. Your mileage may vary.

Flip the chops over and grill three minutes more.

Simple Grilled Tuscan Pork Chops

Brush the chops generously with the finishing sauce.

Rotate the chops 45º and continue cooking for about two minutes more.

Brush them with another good dose of the finishing sauce.

Remove the chops to a platter and, brush them with the sauce again and let them rest five minutes.

Serve with a good drizzle of the finishing sauce and enjoy!

Side dish suggestions:
Grilled & Glazed Carrots
Grilled Salad
Grilled Zucchini Fries

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Big Easy Turkey

Late this past spring the folks at Char-Broil sent me one of their Big Easy® Smoker, Roaster & Grill units to test drive. Well, here we are in November and I am still using it quite regularly. I had cooked chicken in it early on, but I'd never tried a turkey. I have since rectified that situation and here's what I found.

Let me start with the bottom line first: This is a serious turkey cookin' machine! It can produce a bird that is very close to fried, with none of the inherent hassle, danger and expense (peanut oil is way expensive).

Here's what I did:

I brined my 16-pound "enhanced" (with up to an 10% solution of who knows what) bird for 12 hours in a light version of my Ultimate Thanksgiving Turkey Brine (I cut the salt in half because the bird was "enhanced"). We'll appropriately call said bird "Tom" from here on.

I drained Tom very well and then patted him dry inside and out with paper towels.

Tom then got a good coat of peanut oil.

The great thing about the Big Easy is that it requires no preheating. You just stuff Tom in the cage breast-up, drop him in, crank it up to high and ignite. I inserted an oven-safe meat thermometer (calibrated, of course) in the thickest part of the breast for quick and easy monitoring throughout the cook.

Big Easy Turkey

I then let Tom bask in the infrared glow of the Big Easy for 2 1/2 hours when the thermometer read just under 170º.

Big Easy Turkey

Because the bird cooks breast-up, and the cooker is hotter at the bottom (where the burner is), you don't have to worry about the dark meat taking longer than the white. It all just magically gets done at the same time. See, I told you it's easy.

Big Easy Turkey

All that's left to do is remove Tom from his cage and let him rest for about 20 minutes.

Big Easy Turkey

As you can see, the skin comes out crisp and crunchy just like a fried bird, and the meat is moist and delicious.

If you are looking for a nearly foolproof way to cook your holiday turkey, I recommend that you seriously consider this cooker.

Obligatory Disclaimer: This is not a paid endorsement. It's just my honest assessment.

Additional posts about this cooker:
First Look
First Cook
The Verdict

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Pigamon Rolls

I recently posted a recipe for some killer pig candy. Here's how I described it:
How can you possibly go wrong with peppered bacon coated with dark brown sugar, baked, then glazed with pure maple syrup mixed with a little cayenne? Yeah, it's naughty good.
Now, imagine that pig candy chopped and sprinkled atop cinnamon rolls that are first glazed in cream cheese frosting. Need I say more? I thought not.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you pigamon rolls.

Ingredients
1 pkg Your favorite bake-and-serve cinnamon rolls (I used Rhodes)
4 slices Pig candy, chopped to about 1/4"

Method
Bake the cinnamon rolls per the package directions, then turn the oven off.

Smear the rolls with the provided glaze.

Sprinkle the rolls with the chopped pig candy.

Put rolls back in the warm oven for five minutes.

Pigamon Rolls

Serve and enjoy!

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This is just a quick post to encourage all food bloggers to go tell Cook's Source what we think of their apparent assertion that recipes on the web are in the public domain.
Food blogger Monica Gaudio found out that Cooks Source published a piece that she wrote about apple pie, but did not get her permission to do so. Gaudio contacted the publication, half expecting it to be some kind of unfortunate mix-up, and asked for a nominal sum of money as compensation. That's when Griggs -- or someone using her e-mail address -- responded, blasting Gaudio for even raising the issue: "... honestly Monica, the web is considered 'public domain' and you should be happy we just didn't 'lift' your whole article and put someone else's name on it!"
- Los Angeles Times - Daily Dish - Cooks Source magazine vs. the Web
Pass it on.

Pig Candy!

How can you possibly go wrong with peppered bacon coated with dark brown
sugar, baked, then glazed with pure maple syrup mixed with a little cayenne? Yeah, it's naughty good.

The great folks at Burger's Smokehouse sent me some of their "crazy thick" (1/4") dry-cured bacon to try, so I thought I'd give it a proper treatment. Right out of the gate, let me say that this bacon is outstanding! Order some up, and thank me later. I spent about half of my childhood just down the road from them in Columbia, Missouri, so that makes it even more special for me. We have to support our smaller family-owned producers.

OK, if you've never made or experienced pig candy, strap yourself in for a serious porcine indulgence.

Ingredients
1 lb Thick-cut peppered bacon, preferably Burger's
1/2 cup Dark brown sugar (more as needed)
1/4 cup Pure maple syrup
1/4 tsp Cayenne

Method
Preheat your oven to 375*.

Mix the syrup and cayenne well in a small bowl and set aside.

Coat both sides of each bacon slice generously with brown sugar.

Pig Candy!

Arrange the bacon on a wire rack inside a sheet pan as shown.

Note to self: Lining the sheet pan with parchment paper will greatly ease the clean-up.

Bake in the center position until the sugar is starting to caramelize and the bacon just starts to crisp around the edges. This should take about 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of your bacon.

Brush each slice with the syrup and bake another five minutes.

Flip the bacon over and brush the other side with the syrup.

Pig Candy!

Bake until the bacon reaches your desired doneness.

Remove from the oven and let sit five minutes.

Pig Candy!

Enjoy, but try not to eat it all at once.

Note: If you like this recipe, try the praline version.

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