Saturday, November 29, 2014

First time hosting Thanksgiving dinner and a turkey brine recipe.

"We can choose to be grateful, no matter what. "This type of gratitude transcends whatever is happening around us. It surpasses disappointment, discouragement and despair. It blooms just as beautifully in the icy landscape of winter as it does in the pleasant warmth of summer."
~President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Grateful in Any Circumstances"

Thanksgiving 2014 Sunrise

Just about every year for the past 40 years my mother has hosted Thanksgiving dinner to which usually upwards of 30 people come. This year, I offered to change to course of history. With Thanksgiving dinner at my house, only a handful of guests were invited. I just don't own that many chairs. Plus it was my first time hosting and making a turkey, so I didn't want to overwhelm myself.

Speaking of turkey, I read all kinds of recipes and tips online before I decided to brine my turkey. Everything I'd head and read convinced me that my turkey HAD to be brined to be juicy and moist. So the night before, I got started with my preparation of both the turkey and the veggies.

After two and a half years living in my new house and being SO careful, this guy finally attacked me. I was surprisingly amused at myself. Laughing sure is good for the soul.

So the brine. There are endless recipes for turkey brine on the internet, but all of them seem clear about the basic salt and water ingredients and ratio. The salt must be coarse kosher salt. And you must have one cup of salt per gallon of water. Also, use two oven bags (Reynolds makes these) one inside of the other to avoid any leakage. As for a recipe and instructions, this is what I came up with:

1 cup coarse kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
16 cups water (split in half during the process)
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
5 fresh sage leaves
1-2 Tbsp of peppercorns (crushed)
a few random celery sticks and leaves
Combine salt, sugar, and half the water (8 cups) in a large saucepan and stir on stove. Add all the fresh herbs and bring to a boil. Let boil for a minute or two and then turn the burner off. Let the saucepan sit for as long as it takes for the liquid to cool.
While brine is cooling, take turkey out of it's plastic and rinse off. Remove the neck and the giblet and set aside for later. Place the oven bags in a large stock pot or bucket or casserole dish that can fit in your fridge and fit the turkey. Place the turkey, breast side down (this is important since you want it to get the most access to the brine, since it will cook breast side up and the juice will drain down to the back), in the two oven bags. Add remaining 8 cups of water (cold) to turkey bag.
When the rest of the brine is cooled, add it to the turkey. At this point, be very careful that you have a good hold on the edges of the bags so that the brine doesn't spill right out as you're pouring it in. Make sure all the herbs go into the bag. 
Now you will take the inner bag and wind up the top as tight as you can, pressing out as much air as possible so your turkey is completely immersed in the brine. Secure it with a twist tie. (Reynolds oven bags come with a handy tie.) Then do the same for the out bag. Next place the container in the fridge. If your container with the turkey in it doesn't fit on a shelf  (like mine) then you should have planned better to start, but just transfer it to carefully to another container.
Leave turkey in the fridge in the brine for 8-10 hours. In the morning, place the bag in a freshly scrubbed and disinfected sink, undo the bags, and pour out the brine. You will want to rinse turkey to get any excess salt or wilted herbs off and dry it thoroughly, inside and out, before placing it the roasting pan.

Then just prepare your turkey as you like. I put onion quarters, celery and carrots in the cavity, along with some other aromatics (more rosemary and thyme) and then slathered the outside with melted butter, crushed fresh rosemary and thyme, and pepper. Then I cooked it for 3 1/2 hours until it was perfect. And it was perfect.

I have to admit, I'm pretty proud of myself. That turkey tasted so yummy, I'm ready to roast another. Apparently, even the white meat was tasty. I'm not a big fan of white meat; I much prefer the dark and juicy thigh meat, myself. Everyone's offerings made for a beautiful plate.

And, I've been enjoying leftovers for last two days. Yum! First Thanksgiving dinner as host was a success! I think I'll go make myself another plate.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Utah Opera: Madame Butterfly and Why You Should Care to Go to The Opera, My Dear.

"An opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I've left the opera house."
~Maria Callas

Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City, Utah

As a kid, I can clearly remember my brother quoting, Laverne and Shirley, "Would you care to go to the opera my dear, and you'll say..." and then there was a lot of spitting. Probably I remember most the recording he made of himself quoting them. (Note to self: we've GOT to get those tapes digitized.) Here, watch the original for yourself.

Shirley was quoted (and still is) over and over again in my family, spitting and all.

Every once in awhile it's nice to play dress-up and go to the opera. I really do love the opera and it's simply fabulous to have a night out on the town and a reason to wear all your jewels. This year, I decided to treat myself to season tickets to Utah Opera. So in October, I took my mom to see Madame Butterfly for her birthday. So tragic and so beautiful.

Some of you may be rolling your eyes by now or maybe you've stopped reading, but pause one moment while I tell you the opera is mahvelous and addicting, and why I just can't get enough.

1. The drama. Oh, the drama! Every opera has it and frankly, it always makes my own life's drama pale in comparison. It's like a full season of Days of Our Lives rolled up into one night.

2. It's architecturally beautiful. The lighting, the costumes, the sets are all absolutely stunning (when done well, and Utah Opera always does opera well). The elaborate layers of color, dimension, and fabric give your senses something to write home about.

3. The music. Now, this is a debatable point, since some operas I simply like more than others. But, typically, Puccini (composer of Madame Butterfly) never disappoints.

4. People watching. Come on now, everyone donning their best for a night out on the town certainly means there will be some entertainment off-stage also. Also, the half who certainly don't don their best also provide interesting people watching. Watching those who think they have donned their best is always, well, eye-opening. There are often some handsome men who have clearly been coerced into coming by their girlfriends, wives, mothers, and grandmothers, but suit up or tux up for the event. And let's face it, a man in a tux is a nice sight.

5. It's glamorous. It just is.

6. The voices. I mean really. Half the time they aren't even miked and if have never experienced an operatic voice and the power it has, just try Renée Fleming's  soprano on for size, the only performance of our national anthem

Now, if you're just having a hard time getting into opera, but want to dabble in it, might I suggest one of the top ten most popular operas:

La bohème by Puccini
Carmen by Bizet
Madama Butterfly by Puccini
Tosca by Puccini
La traviata by Verdi
Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) by Mozart
Rigoletto by Verdi
Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) by Mozart
Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) by Rossini
Aida by Verdi

They’re popular for a reason: they all mix music and drama and emotion in a particularly gripping way. All are typically considered good starting points for beginners and you can find great recordings of all these works to help ease you into your opera journey. I've also, conveniently, linked videos to scenes from each one. Enjoy!

And maybe I'll see you at the opera next time!


Monday, November 17, 2014

Ten random thoughts for Monday.

Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.
~William A Ward

Sunday Sunset
Photo by me
9 November 2014

1. A neatly made bed and a clean sink won’t solve everything, but they make it easier to deal with almost anything.

2. A good bra is like money in the bank. Only it’s not, because good bras are REALLY expensive. And banks are, like, not so good with the money, as it turns out.

3. "Bean counters should not be allowed to make decisions for humans." ~former co-worker Victoria

4. For some reason it warms my heart when I watch the car in front of me slightly swerve to drive around a small pothole or drive closer to one side of the lane to avoid a deeply-set manhole. I know they are smart, aware, and know the roads just as well as I do and I can’t help but feel like kindred spirits.

5. I was once billed for a first trimester ultrasound. Convincing the bill collector that I never had an ultrasound and was not pregnant was no easy feat. Finally she said she would check with the doctor's office (thank you), and I never heard from them again.

6. I've worn a toe ring for over 16 years.

7. I've been called Henry twice (TWICE!) in the last two weeks. Via email. In response to an email *I* sent… I’m hoping it’s an auto correct issue.

8. I dislike the word noshing. I also dislike when people say nom nom when expressing their satisfaction with food. When women refer to their husbands as hubby or announce “we are pregnant” or “I’m preggo,” I just throw up a little in the back of my mouth.

9. I need a massage. Yes, need.

10. Is it Friday yet?