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Talking Turkey on the Grill

Holidays play an important part in my family’s deep-rooted traditions. A holiday wouldn’t be the same if we weren’t spending time together, most likely while enjoying a beautiful, home-cooked meal. While the ‘big’ holidays are always special, we also look forward to the casual, summertime holidays that are celebrated over grill-outs, cold beers and fireworks. Not only are these holidays fun and exciting, they are also stress-free! We’ve started the tradition a few years back of spending these summer holidays with our close friends, Chrissy, Carl and their son Lucas, who are as near and dear to us as our own family.

A few months back, as we were enjoying a Sunday dinner with our friends, we shared conversation about how much we love Thanksgiving dinner, and how it’s a shame to enjoy such a great meal only once a year. This immediately led us to deciding on having a Friendsgiving Dinner on Memorial Day weekend. The timing would be perfect – it would be exactly 6 months until the actual Thanksgiving holiday, and we would have the rest of the summer to grill up burgers and hot dogs. From there, the wheels were in motion and the menu was planned between all of us…and a new holiday tradition was born!

The Menu

We decided to stick with a traditional Thanksgiving menu: stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, cold apple cider, a pumpkin dessert and, of course…the turkey. Chrissy and Carl also kicked the mood up a notch by digging out their Thanksgiving decorations and playing A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving DVD…complete with popcorn as a snack. Since Memorial Day is the official kick-off to summertime (Carl’s awesome mojitos were a nice reminder of this), I thought it would be fun to cook the turkey on the grill. I have always heard that grilled turkey is fantastic, so what better opportunity to give it a go?

*Note – there was one additional item added to the menu, which I will be sharing in the future. Trust me, it’ll be worth the wait!

The Turkey

The first thing that I learned right out of the gate was that whole turkeys aren’t cheap this time of the year (and the local supermarkets aren’t giving away free turkeys with your bonus points). To not risk over-grilling a $45 bird, I decided to just go with a 6lb turkey breast. An additional benefit to going this route is that you can always purchase legs and wings separately, so you can prepare as many as needed. Being that this was my first try at grilling a turkey, I spent a good amount of time doing my research on the proper cooking methods. One of the key steps that I followed was to soak the turkey overnight in a brine. Not only does brining add flavor to the turkey, it also adds extra moisture to avoid the turkey from getting dried out while on the grill.

Brine Recipe
1-1/4 cups coarse salt
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 gallon cool water
Place water, salt and sugar into a large pot, bring to a slow boil. Remove from heat, let cool completely. Place turkey breast into pot, be sure to cover completely with brine. Cover the pot tightly with a lid, refrigerate for 8-12 hours. Rinse brine off of turkey breast before seasoning.

After rinsing the brine off of the soaked turkey, I brushed it with 1 cup vegetable oil, then coated the entire bird, inside and out, with 1 tbspn Italian seasoning and some salt and pepper.

There are a few methods for grilling a turkey that I found online. The most common method that I found and decided to follow was to cook the turkey sitting over a drip pan, using indirect heat. After warming the grill up to 350˚, I placed the seasoned turkey breast, skin side up, on a rack and placed it inside of a roasting pan. I added 1 cup of water to the roasting pan (adding additional liquid as needed while grilling, to prevent the drippings from burning. I sat the roasting pan over indirect heat and let it go for 1 hour and 45 minutes, until the internal temperature of the turkey was 165˚. After removing it from the grill and letting it rest for 20 minutes, the turkey was ready to be sliced. While the turkey was resting, I put the drippings to good use by making a home-made gravy (click here for the recipe).

If you are looking for a new method for making a turkey, I highly recommend grilling it. There is minimum prep time and effort involved, and if you follow the brining method, you will be sure to end up with a turkey that is flavorful and juicy!

Whole turkey cooked on a gas barbecue, using a roasting pan. Image courtesy of istock.com

Whole turkey cooked on a gas barbecue, using a roasting pan. Image courtesy of istock.com

What, No Cranberries?!?

Aside from finding out that turkeys are not in large supply this time of year, it was also a challenge to find fresh cranberries for my home made cranberry sauce. Instead of resorting to frozen cranberries, I thought it would be fun to add a bit of a summertime flavor to the table by making Bon Appetit’s Cherry Compote recipe (click here for the recipe). This an excellent substitute to the traditional cranberry sauce. It offered a nice summertime sweet/tart flavor combination, and the leftovers worked very well served over vanilla ice cream!

You Can’t Forget the Pumpkin!

It’s no secret that I am a nut for all things pumpkin. Even though we are not in pumpkin season, we made sure that it would somehow be represented at our Friendsgiving meal. For dessert, my wife Daria made a pumpkin crisp that has been a signature at our family’s Thanksgiving dinner for a few years now. We made sure to add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which put this dessert over the top!

Pumpkin Crisp
(Originally posted at myrecipes.com)

1 (15 oz) can pumpkin
1 c. of evaporated milk
1 c. sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 (18.5 oz) pkg butter-flavored yellow cake mix
1 c. melted butter

Optional:
1 c. chopped pecans
Ground nutmeg
Whipped cream
Vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 350F.  Stir together the first five ingredients. Pour into a lightly greased 13×9 inch baking dish.  Sprinkle cake mix evenly over pumpkin mixture (if you wish to add pecans, sprinkle them evenly over cake mix).  Drizzle melted butter over cake mix. Bake at 350F for 60 – 65 minutes or until golden brown**.  Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  IF desired, serve with whipped cream, sprinkle of nutmeg or vanilla ice cream.

** If baking ahead of time, I baked for about 55 min then re-heat again for another 10 min before serving.

I am very fortunate to be thankful for a lot of things in my life, most of all for my family and friends. I am also thankful that we started a new tradition to look forward to every Memorial Day!

Here’s to friends…and Friendsgiving!

Friendsgiving mascots!

Friendsgiving mascots!

 

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The turkey breast, fresh off the grill!

 

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…and dinner is served!

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Apples and Kale

November 18, 2015 Menu 1 Comment

Brussels sprouts have quickly become one of my favorite greens to serve as a side dish to a Sunday meal. My Honey Balsamic Brussels Sprouts recipe, which I posted a while back (found here), is also one of the most talked about recipes on my food blog. For this recipe, I’m combining brussels sprouts with chopped apples and kale (another of my favorite green power foods) for a healthy, tasty and vibrant side dish that is perfect for Thanksgiving dinner.

Because kale can toast up pretty quickly in the oven, you do not need to add it to this dish until the last 7-10 minutes of baking. By simply layering the kale on top of the already baked sprouts and apple mixture, the kale will toast up nicely, while absorbing the flavors of the other ingredients. Once removed from the oven, gently fold in the kale, plate it, and serve it up with all of your other favorite Thanksgiving sides!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Apples and Kale

1 12oz package brussels sprouts, tips removed, then sliced in half
2 apples – peeled, cored and cut into 3/4 inch chunks (Macintosh or Granny Smith work well)
2 tbspn olive oil
1 tbspn honey
1/2 tspn onion powder
handful of chopped kale
zest plus juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425˚. Mix olive oil, honey and onion powder together. Place brussels sprouts and apples into a baking dish. Toss with oil and honey mixture. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes, or until sprouts are softened. Remove from oven, layer the top with kale, place back in oven for another 7-10 minutes, or until the kale starts to crisp. Remove from oven, mix together. Top with zest and juice of one lemon. Season with salt and pepper.

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Mixing the brussels sprouts with the chopped apples and the dressing.

 

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Layering the kale on top of the baked sprouts and apple mixture.

 

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The finished dish, plated and ready to be served.

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Carrot Pecan Pesto

November 11, 2015 Appetizer, Entrees, Menu, Pasta No Comments

Pesto is traditionally thought of as a pasta sauce that is made of fresh blended herbs, garlic, olive oil, grated cheese and pine nuts. Its most common ingredient is fresh basil. However, there are a number of creative variations that have popped up over the years. I like to do a half and half blend of basil and mint, and my sister-in-law makes a delicious pea pesto. This carrot and pecan version of pesto makes for a fantastic addition to your Thanksgiving menu. It would work well as an appetizer with fresh veggies or crackers. If pasta is part of your Thanksgiving dinner, it would be a nice alternative to a traditional marinara sauce/red gravy. And you can bet that slathering it on top of a turkey sandwich would be heavenly!

Before you break out your food processor or food chopper, you’ll want to first roast the carrots and pecans in the oven for 15 minutes. This will soften the carrots for easier chopping and will enhance the flavor of both the carrots and pecans. I decided to use pecans in this recipe because I feel that their taste is very complementary to carrots. You can use walnuts, pine nuts, macadamia nuts, or any holiday nut combination of your liking.

Carrot Pecan Pesto

1/2 lb baby carrots (1/2 of a small bag)
1/2 cup pecans
vegetable or canola oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
dash of ground ginger
1 tspn fresh thyme, plus additional for garnish
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375˚. Lightly coat the carrots with a small bit of vegetable or canola oil. Place the carrots and pecans onto a baking tray. Bake for 15 minutes, remove from oven.

Place the roasted carrots and pecans, parmesan cheese, ginger and thyme into a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Keeping the machine running, slowly add the olive oil until fully incorporated. You may need to scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl a few times. Season to taste with salt and pepper, garnish with additional sprigs of fresh thyme.

 

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Root Vegetable Ratatouille

November 14, 2014 Appetizer, Entrees, Menu No Comments

I always enjoy cooking with vegetables, and ratatouille is one of my favorite dishes. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I came up with a dish that replaces most of the traditional ratatouille veggies (eggplant, tomatoes, summer squash and seasonings) with some of my favorite root vegetables (rutabaga, turnips, acorn squash, along with traditional yellow squash and bell pepper), autumn spices and a Golden Delicious apple for a bit of sweetness. I guess you can even call this dish “rootatouille!” All kidding aside, this is a great recipe to prepare along with your Thanksgiving dinner.

You will need to put in a little bit of effort ahead of time to peel and chop the vegetables. A few minutes in the microwave will help soften the acorn squash for easy cutting, and you’ll want to peel and slice the apple last minute to avoid it from browning. Once the prep work is done, all you’re looking at is 10-15 minutes of sautéing the veggies, and then the dish is ready to serve!

 

Root Vegetable Ratatouille

1 rutabaga, peeled and diced
1 turnip, peeled and diced
1 yellow squash, diced (you can use green zucchini squash if you prefer)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 acorn squash (prep directions below)
1 Golden Delicious apple, peeled and diced (prep the apple just before you are ready to add to remaining ingredients to avoid browning)
2 tbspn olive oil
2 tbspn brown sugar
1/2 tspn cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
2 tbspn maple syrup (regular pancake syrup will also work)
salt and pepper to taste

Start by cooking the acorn squash whole in the microwave on high for 5 minutes. Carefully remove (it will be hot), let sit until cooled. Once cooled, cut in half, remove pulp and seeds. Remove skin, cut the squash into small chunks, set aside.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the rutabaga, stir until evenly coated, cook for about 5 minutes, until it starts to soften and the pale color starts to turn into a golden brown. Next, add the turnip, pepper and yellow (or zucchini) squash. Stir together and cook for another 5 minutes, until all veggies start to soften. At this point, you’ll want to peel and dice the apple.

Next, add the apple and acorn squash to the mix, stir together. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and syrup, mix together. Lower the heat, let simmer, stirring occasionally until all veggies are softened to your liking. If the mixture looks like it’s starting to dry up, you can add a bit of water or broth to loosen it up. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve and enjoy!

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