Thanksgiving Turkey – Brining

Many of my friends ask me about cooking a turkey this time of year. Some of them have eaten at my house for Thanksgiving and want to recreate my turkey at home. Others just figure I know everything about cooking, therefore I must know how to make a great turkey.

It is true; I make a helluva turkey. There really isn’t a secret, other than a whole lot of salt. Brining makes the best darn turkey.

First, we should talk about turkeys. If you get a frozen supermarket turkey, odds are they have done the work for you. These turkeys have been “enhanced” with the addition of salt and possibly flavorings which will result in a very juicy and flavorful turkey. I don’t see the point of brining these turkeys (actually I’m not a big fan of these turkeys but they do happen to be very cheap at Thanksgiving). If you buy a fresh turkey, on the other hand, brining will produce the best turkey ever.

Brine is merely water and salt combined in a prescribed proportion. The formula is 1 cup kosher salt to 1 gallon of water. It’s easiest if you use 1 quart of warm water to dissolve the salt and then add 3 more quarts of cold water to get to the correct proportion of salt to water. Your brine should be cold before you immerse your turkey. You need enough brine to cover the turkey, so if your container is large you may need more than one batch. If you are using a bucket, one batch should be enough. You can add herb sprigs or halved citrus (squeeze the juice into the brine first) to the brine. The turkey will absorb some of the flavorings as it takes up the salt.

Folks ask how I deal with a big bird and a bucket of salt water. It doesn’t fit in the fridge. This is often true because the turkey is enormous. I am not a “big turkey” gal. Since I have a grill with a rotisserie, I make two 10-12 pound turkeys rather than wrestle with a gigantic 20 pounder. But, you may not have that choice because you only have one place to cook said bird. The answer is, I don’t put it in the fridge. I suggest a large camping cooler, one big enough to hold the bird(s), the brine and a bunch of ice packs (more on this in a minute). A five gallon bucket is usually big enough to hold a small turkey but since it’s not insulated, you need to fit it in your fridge. Fat chance. A cold garage can sub for the fridge, but you may not have a cold garage. Which is why I use a cooler.

Place your turkey(s) in the cooler/bucket. Cover with brine. If it’s not going in the fridge, add a bunch of ice in plastic bags to the cooler. This will keep the turkey chilled. You can skip the ice packs if you can put your turkey in the garage and it’s going to stay before 40 degrees F. But, do not just throw a bunch of ice in the brine. This will dilute the brine as the ice melts. Weak brine does not produce a tasty turkey.

The nice folks at Butterball suggest brining turkeys under 12 pounds for 6-8 hours. I put my turkeys in the brine the night before Thanksgiving, so I’m in line with their recommendations. If you have a 12-14 pound turkey, Butterball suggests 12 hours in the brine; more than 14 pounds, the turkey can stay in the brine between 12 and 24 hours.

Next, I’ll discuss cooking the marvelous bird.

A friendly reminder – if your turkey is frozen, take it out of the freezer right now and put it in the fridge! Never, ever thaw your turkey at room temperature. It’s going to take a good 3+ days for even a small bird to thaw in the refrigerator.


Carrot Cake

Update from January 23, 2011

I finally made this recipe and can give actual altitude adjustments. See my updated recipe below.

I haven’t made this recipe in years. I think I was in high school the last time I made it. Just like in those bygone days, it was a huge hit. It’s a bit more robust than other carrot cakes, filled with carrot (of course), pineapple, coconut, and walnuts. And no raisins.

But, first, a little story. My mother made this often for her business. The business was a family affair. My aunt was Mom’s partner and we all chipped in when there was a big party. My dad helped too sometimes, which usually worked out ok because he does know his way around a kitchen. One day, he was helping to make this cake – a lot of this cake since Mom never made a single recipe. My dad measured out the ingredients and as he was doing that, Mom walked by. She looked at the pile of dry ingredients and said “Something isn’t right.” My dad had mistakenly pulled out the salt bin for the sugar bin! Mom could tell by looking at the white crystals that it wasn’t sugar. She was good.

14-Carat Cake
(from Farm Journal’s Best Ever Recipes)

2 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups neutral vegetable oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups finely shredded peeled carrots (8 ounces)
1 can (8  or 8 1/2 ounces) crushed pineapple in juice, drained
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (2 oz)
1 1/3 cups flaked sweetened coconut (3 1/2 oz)

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
16 ounces confectioners sugar

Grease and flour 3 9-inch round cake pans.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add sugar, oil, and eggs. Beat at medium speed for 1 minute. Stir in carrots, pineapple, walnuts, and coconut. Divide evenly among prepared pans.

Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans on racks for 10 minutes. Remove from pan. Finish cooling on racks.

For the frosting, cream together butter, cream cheese, and vanilla on medium speed. Gradually add confectioners sugar, beating well until smooth and creamy. If the frosting is too thick to spread, beat in a tablespoon or two of milk.

Fill the layers and frost top and sides.

Modifications for 5,000 ft: Reduce baking powder to 1 1/2 teaspoons. Reduce baking soda to 1 teaspoons. Reduce sugar in cake by 2 tablespoons.

Makes 12 servings

Link to PDF of 14 Carat Cake Recipe

Cheesecake Cupcakes

This is a recipe with some history. My mom gave it to me; I have no idea where she got it. I carried it with me to Stanford, where I snagged a husband with them. They are that good. And unlike most cheesecakes, they are unbelievably simple to make. Pamela has been making them for years now. Her gymnastics teammates ask for cheesecake cupcakes on their birthdays. Mom, me, Pamela – three generations of cheesecake cupcake makers winning hearts. Maybe you can win over some hearts with them too.

Cheesecake Cupcakes

24 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Line 18 regular sized muffin cups with cupcake liners.

For the filling, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Make sure egg is fully incorporated before adding another. Beat in sugar and vanilla. Divide among muffin cups (about 1/4 cup per cupcake).

Bake for 45 minutes or until just set. Do not overbake! They should not brown at all.

Cool for 5 minutes in the pan.

Combine topping ingredients in a small bowl. Fill the depression in each cupcake (it will form while cooling) with 1 teaspoon sour cream mixture.

Bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Cool completely.

Store in refrigerator. Serve chilled.

Make 18 cupcakes

Link to PDF of Cheesecake Cupcakes Recipe

Lemon Love Notes

This recipe was one of my favorite cookies from my mom’s catering business. I have made many lemon bar recipes, but they don’t compare. The recipe was lost for quite a while, on two separate occasions. After my mom passed away, my sister and I divided up her cookbooks. I got most of them but not the book with this recipe. I didn’t even know what book contained it. I was visiting my sister in Connecticut and found the boxes of cookbooks in her basement. I wasn’t actually looking for this recipe, just looking through the books she had. And there it was! My sister generously gave me the book, Farm Journal’s Best Ever Recipes since the book has long been out of print. As you can see from the photo, the book has seen better days.

Now I knew what book had the recipe, but that didn’t mean I could keep track of the book. When you have over 800 cookbooks, sometimes they get misplaced. This week, I was going through the few boxes left from our kitchen remodel last year and in a book full of novels, I found it again. I hope you all enjoy it. Pamela certainly did; I almost didn’t get that photo before she ate half of them.
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup sifted flour
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
confectioners sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine crust ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix until crumbly. Press into an ungreased 8-inch square pan. A little confectioners on the fingers is useful to prevent the crust from sticking as you do this. Bake for 8 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack.
Combine sugar, 2 tablespoons and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add eggs, lemon juice and lemon zest. Mix well. Pour evenly over baked, cooled crust.
Bake for 25 minutes. The top will puff up during baking but falls in cooling. Cool in pan on rack and cut into 2-inch squares. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar.
Note: for altitude, use a pinch less baking powder.

Welcome to World on a Platter

Welcome! This blog is dedicated to the memory of my mom who started a catering business in the late 70’s. It was called “World on a Platter” hence the name of this blog. At the time, I wasn’t a foodie. In fact, I was a pretty picky eater. It wasn’t until I left my mother’s amazing cooking that I started exploring the wonderful world of food. Now, most people would call me an adventurous eater, and a very serious cook.

I love to cook and I love to try new recipes. I love to tweek recipes. This is a place for the recipes I’ve found that are worthy and to give advice on making recipes better. Just because it’s published somewhere, doesn’t mean it works!
I will also use this space to comment on food, from products I like (or don’t like) to the broader issues in food such as eating local and slow food.
But, mostly this is about recipes that I love. I hope you enjoy them too!