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Vol 38 Issue 23, Nov. 25, 08 - Winter 09
now in our 38th season

Family Feasts

by Maryjane Mojer
Executive Chef, Bartlett's Ocean View Farm

Fall and winter cooking (and eating) is by far my favorite. I do look forward to spring each year as much for the asparagus and fresh fruit as the warmer weather. However, the flavors of fall and winter as well as the scent of cold weather food make me feel at home where ever I am. It seems as though the holidays start as soon as that first cold night hits and I smell a fire from someone’s fire place or woodstove wafting through the air. Slow cooking is essential to the pace of the seasons, and taking time to enjoy the meals that we prepare is more important than ever.

It almost feels as though some big force is trying, somehow, to get us all to slow down just a bit by getting our attention with any means necessary. With cell phones, the internet, face-to-face calls online, etc. everything is available here and now.  Boil-in-bag and microwavable meals may well have their time and place. For now, taking the time to make something from scratch is not only more economical (and ultimately better for you) it can also be more enjoyable. If you and your family are cutting back on going out to eat  or to the movies, or any number of things that cost a pretty penny, use that penny and the ones you’ll save to buy the more inexpensive cuts of meat, to make stews, soups, and casseroles. Let this be the winter that you perfect the bread recipe, sans electric bread maker. Learn how to braise and brine, and as always, share. One household makes the soup, one the salad, one the bread and one the dessert; all from scratch. Sounds like a party to me! Break out the board games and enjoy the imposed time in.

I keep reading and hearing conversations about cutting back and saving in this difficult economic time. Start with the basics and move on from their. A friend of mine is hesitant to start to teach his children to cook. He doesn’t consider himself a very good cook, and doesn’t want the kids to follow in his footsteps in that respect. Truth is, he is a fine cook, and the kids really won’t care what they make. The time shared, the experience is what they will remember.

There are so very many quick and easy holiday gifts to give and so many electronics available. I am a gadget gal myself, but nothing takes the place of a real, live, book. There are some wonderful books about cooking with kids. Again, it’s not always about the destination (the meal) it’s about the journey (the process of cooking, buying and preparing the meal.) If you no longer have young ‘uns at home, spend time with your nieces or nephews or godchildren or grandchildren or whomever you can, and start that from scratch enjoyment of cooking. That’s really the gift that keeps on giving. There are also some tremendous new cookbooks that I’ve already bought as gifts. Lynne Rosetto Kasper, who hosts the Splendid Table weekly on NPR has a cookbook out called How to Eat Supper. The stories and recipes are great to read, and delicious. Five Minute Artisan Bread by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois is a great gift for the wannabe bread maker on your list.

M.F.K. Fisher’s books are always a favorite, too. How to Cook a Wolf is a wonderful collection of essays and recipes that, when I first read it was somewhat nostalgic and out dated. It relates to cooking during times of rationing and war. How to be economical and still feed your family. While we are not in as dire straits as she was when she wrote the book, there is so much to it that will feel familiar at this time. Edward Espe Brown’s Tassajara Bread Book is a classic that every budding cook or baker should be at the very least familiar with. There are so very many cookbooks, food books, food travel books and experiences to be had. The library is, as always, a great place to browse and to try the books. Take them out for a test drive, if you will.

As for what to cook for the holidays; we are pretty traditional. Turkey at Thanksgiving, Prime Rib at Christmas, Lamb or Ham at Easter.  While I won’t be cooking the Thanksgiving turkey for our family, I will cook one a couple of weeks later. I started brining my turkeys a couple of years ago and never looked back. Brining can make something wonderful even better. The process leaves you with a turkey (or chicken or roast, or venison or just about anything) moist and flavorful and delicious.

Brining is, historically, a method used to preserve meat. The meat is essentially soaked for a period of time (hours or a couple of days) in a strong solution made with heavily salted water, sugar, spices, and various other ingredients. Salt is key. Without it, you’re making more of a marinade than a brine. The salt breaks down the fibers in the meats and allows the flavors to be absorbed. If you’re salt sensitive, this may not be for you, or, simply enjoy it in moderation.

The following is one of my favorites. It’s great for turkey, pheasant, chicken and duck.

One gallon water
One cup kosher salt
One cup brown sugar
Two cups apple cider
One quarter cup whiskey or one dark beer
One head of garlic, separated and lightly smashed

Combine all ingredients, bring to a boil to dissolve sugar and salt, and cool completely.

Rinse the turkey well, and pat dry.

Line a plastic bin or five gallon bucket with a large Ziploc. Be very careful what you use and avoid all buckets that contained chemicals. Place the bird in the bag and pour the brine over to cover completely.  Store for up to 48 hours in a refrigerator.

Remove from bag, rinse well, and discard brine. Place turkey in a roasting pan. I like to make a raft of sorts with stalks of celery, onions, carrots, etc. and roast the bird on top. Massage a bit of butter under the skin, and pepper the inside and out (lightly). Roast at 350 until done (which depends on the size of the bird, but approximately, if not stuffed, 18 minutes per pound.) I prefer not to stuff a brined bird. As the turkey cooks, the salt becomes concentrated in the stuffing. While I am a salt girl, it’s too much even for me!

What I especially like about a brined bird are the leftovers. They stay moist, and keep the flavors of the brine, making leftovers even better. (Honestly, leftovers are my favorite part of any holiday meal.)

We will be going to my mother in laws in the Catskills for Thanksgiving. My daughter will have her first Thanksgiving as a married woman (and will enjoy it knowing that next year, her first child due in May will be the joy of the season!) Jacob will be enjoying turkey in Florida, and Jed here with family. Heather and Leah will be making the trek to the mountains to spend the day with us.

I hope the holidays bring joy, peace and a sense of home to each of you.

Happy Holidays!

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