Month: December 2012

Cider-Brined Turkey

This post probably would have been more useful to you about a month ago, as you were prepping for Thanksgiving. Sorry, my bad.

It’s just that doing so would have meant making a turkey around Halloween, and I just wasn’t ready for that (not to mention, it seemed a little obnoxious to be thinking about turkey while millions of people were still without power after Hurricane-turned-Superstorm Sandy). Plus, I live alone, and that’s just way too much turkey.

I’m hoping you’ll overlook this indiscretion and and, if turkey is making an appearance on your holiday table this year, you’ll consider this version. I think you’ll be pleased.

Roasted turkey

Roast the turkey breast-down under high heat, then reduce the temperature and flip the bird

I made this on my first Thanksgiving on my own, 2004, and it’s been the centerpiece of my holidays ever since. The combination of brine and a high-heat roast keeps the meat juicy and flavorful. If you’re just making a turkey breast, cut the recipe in half.


Brining imparts flavor and moisture. Use a double layer of oven bags to prevent messy leaks in your refrigerator.


The turkey starts breast-down under high heat


Carved turkey breast is devoured quickly

Apple Cider-Brined Turkey

Adapted from Cooking Light

Serves 12

8 c apple cider

2/3 c kosher salt

2/3 c sugar

1 Tbs black peppercorns, coarsely crushed

1 Tbs whole allspice, coarsely crushed

8 1/8″ thick slices peeled fresh ginger

6 whole cloves

2 bay leaves

1 12-pound fresh or frozen turkey, thawed

2 oranges, quartered

6 cups ice

2 Tbs butter, melted, divided

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, divided

1/2 tsp salt, divided

Special equipment: 2 turkey-sized plastic oven bags

In a large saucepan, combine first 8 ingredients (through bay leaves). Bring to a boil; cook until sugar and salt are dissolved, about 5 minutes. Cool completely.

Remove giblets and neck from turkey. (Reserve for gravy, if desired.) Rinse turkey with cold water; pat dry. Trim excess fat. Stuff body cavity with orange quarters. Place a turkey-sized oven bag inside a second bag to form a double thickness. Place bags in a large stockpot. Place turkey inside inner bag. Add cider mixture and ice. Secure bags with several twist ties. Refrigerate for 12-24 hours, turning occasionally.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Note: now would be a good time to disable your smoke detector and open multiple windows.

Remove turkey from bags. Discard brine, orange quarters, and bags. Rinse turkey with cold water; pat dry. Lift wing tips up and over back; tuck under turkey. Tie legs together with kitchen string. Place roasting rack in pan, and arrange turkey, breast side down, on roasting rack. Brush turkey back with 1 tablespoon butter; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bake at 500 degrees for 30 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Remove turkey from oven. Carefully turn turkey over (breast side up) using tongs. Brush turkey breast with 1 tablespoon butter; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes. If the turkey is browning too quickly, shield the turkey with foil. Insert a thermometer into the meaty part of the thigh, making sure not to touch bone. The thermometer should read 170 degrees.

Remove the turkey from the oven; let stand 20 minutes.


Candy Cane Cookies

This blog post isn’t for you.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love you to love these cookies.

But this really isn’t about you. It’s about my grandma, Evelyn, and the most sought-after, fought-over treat she makes.


Two weeks ago, Evelyn celebrated her 90th birthday. I was so happy to be back in Nebraska celebrating. Evelyn is a quintessential farm wife who grew up in Nebraska during the Depression. Well into her 60s, she was still driving farm trucks and helping out on the farm (Update: my dad informs me she was “pushing 80” when she finally gave up driving trucks, and noted that she still brings out supper during harvest sometimes). To this day, you’ll still see her overexerting herself in her garden and flowerbeds.

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If there’s such a thing as a genetic sweet tooth, there’s no doubt I inherited it from her. The cookie jar and candy dish were never empty. She’d often say, “I think we should have dessert first, so we’re sure to have room.”

Every Christmas, Grandma made plates of holiday cookies and candies for family and friends. Of all the treats you might find on that plate — peanut butter blossoms, divinity, sugar cookies, fudge — the first to disappear on our plates was always the candy cane cookies. There were never enough. We’d beg her to only make candy cane cookies and cut out the rest, or at least make a double-batch. I don’t think we’ve ever succeeded.

On Christmas Eve, we had to be the first ones to our grandparents’ house, not so that we could inspect the presents under the tree (although my brother did plenty of that), but in hopes of sneaking an extra candy cane cookie. If she delivered cookie trays to our house or wanted us to come pick them up, I angled to be part of the transaction. I’m surprised these cookies have never used for outright bribery or gambling.

Grandma thinks she’s had this recipe at least 50 years. The first time I asked for the recipe, I had to call and ask her what a “slow oven” was (around 300 degrees).

Just yesterday, she confessed to me that she likes making the cookies, but doesn’t like frosting them. “Do you want to come over and frost these for me?” she asked. Note to family members within driving distance: missed opportunity!



The irony is that these cookies are the antithesis of a Christmas cookie: they aren’t buttery, gooey, indulgent, glittery, or magazine-photo-worthy. They’re dry and rather plain. Outsiders don’t get it. An in-law politely said, “I’m not really fond of them.”

I’m more than okay with that. These cookies are nothing special, and that’s precisely the point.

Besides, that means more cookies for me.


Candy Cane Cookies

Yield: 18-24 cookies

1 c butter, softened

2 tsp. vanilla

1/2 c powdered sugar

2 Tbs. water

2 1/2 c flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 c oats

For powdered sugar glaze:

1 1/4 c (or more) powdered sugar, sifted

2-3 Tbs. (or more) milk

Red food coloring

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cream butter and vanilla. Add powdered sugar; blend well. Add water, flour, salt and oats. Mix well. Shape into canes and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 300 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until set and lightly toasted. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Combine 1 cup powdered sugar and milk to make a glaze to desired consistency. (The thinner your glaze, the more it will be absorbed into the cookie.) Dip cookies in glaze and place on waxed paper to set.

With the remainder of the glaze, add red food coloring and a few more tablespoons powdered sugar to make a thick glaze. Spoon glaze into a Ziploc bag, snip the corner, and pipe stripes onto the cookies.

100% Whole Wheat English Muffins

RHRW Note: Welcome my first guest blogger, Danielle. She is an English professor and a dear long-distance friend. We agree with her self-assessment about her frugality, but love her anyway.

I am, shall we say, frugal. Some — my husband, good friends, acquaintances forced to dine out with me — would call me cheap. I am, however, willing to pay for good, high-quality food. What will remain an unnamed brand of English muffins, however, does not count as high-quality food. So when my local grocery store raised the price of English muffins to $4.50/package, I decided to make my own, something that I’d never made before.

Even though I’d never made English muffins, I am not a novice baker. Much like our resident blogger (see Knotted Dinner Rolls), I spent many years in 4-H baking. I love to cook. I like to bake. The time requirements often keep me from pursuing it more often than I do. On a rainy Sunday afternoon with some time on my hands while I waited for students’ papers to come in during finals week, I experimented with the English muffin.

Whole Wheat English Muffins

These came out well. They’re approximately the same size as store-bought muffins. They had the requisite “nooks and crannies” I look for, they were 100% whole wheat, and there were no preservatives, a win all around.  Though there is a bit of sugar in here, honey or agave syrup would work well too.


100% Whole Wheat English Muffins

Adapted from Food Network

Makes 9 muffins

1 cup warm skim milk

1 Tb sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 Tb canola oil

1 envelope active dry yeast

1/8 tsp. sugar

1/3 cup lukewarm water

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup white whole wheat flour

Special equipment: 3-inch metal baking rings. You can purchase specialty baking rings at most stores that sell cooking equipment. I used the rings of quart jars used for canning. Tuna cans with the top and bottom cut out would work too, or even rings made out of aluminum foil.

In a bowl, combine warm milk, sugar, salt, and oil. Stir to dissolve salt and sugar.

In a separate small bowl, combine yeast, sugar, and lukewarm water. Stir to dissolve yeast. Mix yeast mixture with milk mixture.

Put flours in a medium to large bowl, and add the liquid mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon until the flour and milk mixture is thoroughly combined. Let rest for 30 minutes in a warm place. The dough will be batter-like in its consistency and considerably stickier than any bread dough you’ve worked with before. It is not meant to be rolled or kneaded.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat nonstick pan or griddle on stove top on medium-low heat. Dust bottom of the pan with cornmeal. Coat metal rings with non-stick spray, dust with corn meal, and place in the pan.

Pour 1/4 to 1/2 cup batter in each ring. Cover pan with a lid or cookie sheet. Cook muffins for 7 minutes on each side. Author’s note:  I recommend cooking one muffin first to check the timing, then cook as many as your non-stick skillet will allow you to. I could cook 4 muffins at a time. If you have a griddle (and rings) that allow you to cook more, do so. It will speed up the process considerably.

Remove muffin from ring and place muffin a cooling rack placed over a cookie sheet. When all muffins are finished cooking on the stovetop, bake for 7 additional minutes to finish cooking through. Let cool completely.