Yesterday I got engrossed in researching hospitals and specialists for this ongoing thing I have (no diagnosis yet), and pretty much everything else went by the wayside, including this post. Hey ho. So, what have we been cooking this past fortnight or so?
Well, first up, there was that lovely turkey dinner I mentioned at the end of the last Foodie Friday entry. I’d said we were just putting the turkey in the brine. The brine makes such a difference; I highly recommend brining any bird you roast, and pork as well. It makes it far more moist. A brine is a saltwater solution; brining is putting something in a saltwater solution. Heat the water first so that the salt dissolves and floats about, or else it sits in an inert pile on the bottom of the container and the whole endeavor is useless. Of course, then you need to cool the brine before you add the meat so that it stays at a sub-40F temperature, which is useful for those who like to avoid food poisoning.
Many people I’ve come across think that the purpose of brining is to make the meat salty; it shouldn’t do that, provided the excess salt is rinsed off the surface when pulled out of the brine. What happens when you brine something? Fasten your seat belt: here’s the science of it:
Brining meat adds moisture to the meat through osmosis. Osmosis happens when water flows from a lower concentration of a solution to a higher concentration through a semipermeable membrane. In meat, this membrane is the plasma membrane that surrounds the individual cells. When meat is placed in a brine, the meat’s cell fluids are less concentrated than the salt water in the brining solution. Water flows out of the cells in the meat and salt flows in. The salt then dissolves some of the fiber proteins, and the meat’s cell fluids become more concentrated, thus drawing water back in. Brining adds salt and water to the cells so that when the meat is cooked and water is squeezed out, there is still water left in the cells because water was added before cooking. [Source]
The salt introduced into the cell also denatures its proteins. The proteins coagulate, forming a matrix that traps water molecules and holds them during cooking. This prevents the meat from dehydrating. [Source]
If your brine includes flavorful things (herbs, spices, etc), then that flavor gets sucked into the meat as well, just like in marinades.
Before I leave the subject of brining, there is this funny anecdote regarding brine (though of a different sort).
Right, your lesson for the day is over now – on with the recipes!
First up, that roast turkey dinner:
- Roast Turkey – We quite like Alton Brown’s recipe, though we’ve had to adjust it, of course, to suit our cooler & turkey sizes. We stick with the salt & water concentration and the time, but all the other ingredients are subject to change based on what we have on hand and what I remember to buy. A slice or two of lemon in the cavity goes quite nicely, I’ve found.
- Green bean casserole – the bog standard one. We took my parents’ advice and added one cup of shredded cheddar cheese to it this time, and I liked it! Chris couldn’t tell a difference. We’ll keep doing it. 🙂
- Smashed potatoes – always a favorite.
We had some plain vegetables with that meal, as well. It was all tasty. 🙂 Looking through the rest of the menu, some highlights are:
- Ouefs Enterallies – The title is French, and I knew the first word meant eggs, but haven’t been able to figure out the second word. I thrust it at a friend who happened to be visiting the afternoon before we had this, because she loves to visit France, and she came up with some form of “whole” (y’know, “entire”) from it. You do start with whole boiled eggs, so I guess that’s it, but that’s very boring, so it shall continue to be known in our house by the amusing nickname it already had: Egg Entrails.
Despite that unappetizing nickname, it’s actually very tasty, and pretty quick to put together, particularly if you’ve pre-boiled the eggs and keep bacon bits on hand in the freezer like we do. It’s a definite favorite here. It’s also almost a one-dish meal; we had some fruit on the side and it was fab. This would make a wonderful brunch, too.
- Southwest Breakfast Scramble – I recently found this great blog, Budget Bytes; all the similar food blogs I’ve found before (trying to keep recipes as cheap as possible) have had recipes that really didn’t appeal, and of course the prices all vary by location so that bit’s no use anyway. But this one has recipes that appeal, so I’ve been trying them, and so far they’ve all been keepers – usually we decide we’ll tweak it a bit, but that’s fine.
With some modification, this one’s quite tasty – and definitely gets an upvote for being very quick and easy!
- Pot Roast – Everyone has a different way to make pot roast; we like this one.
- Brown butter pasta – Always a favorite. As written, it’s vegetarian, but we like to add some beef to it. We had this the night after the pot roast and threw some of that in with it.
- Taco pork bowls – We started with this recipe (another from Budget Bytes), but didn’t have the chicken on hand that I thought we did, so used pulled pork instead. Since it was already cooked, we didn’t do the slow cooking; we just heated it all through while the rice cooked. Tasty, so we’ll try it again as a slow cook meal – and probably have it again as a quick & easy meal this way, as well.
- Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies – Finally got around to trying these, and they’re pretty good! They certainly won’t replace our usual oatmeal raisin cookies, but they make a nice change.
That’s about all of note, so I shall close here. Hope you’re inspired to go spend some time in the kitchen! 🙂