Lessons In Thanksgiving

Scott and I have been having Thanksgiving dinner together for over a decade by this point.

2012 marks, what I believe, is our 13th (I think, I’m bad at keeping track) year of dining together on the big day.

I’ve been making Thanksgiving dinner for us this entire time and over the years I’ve learned a lot.

Not only about cooking for the big day but also what we like and prefer.

One big thing I learned is to keep things simple.  While Thanksgiving is a big day full of eats, there doesn’t need to be 16 courses for the meal.  I find that can get over whelming, not just for the cook, but also for those eating.  I fully want to get my grub on but not quite that much.

We have a turkey, and a few staple side dishes.  Plenty of food to keep us satisfied and the fridge stocked with leftovers for the next few days.

Comprise is also a large part of Thanksgiving.  Everyone has different traditions and different things they are used to eating on the big day.  Scott was used to having sweet potatoes with his dinner.  I didn’t care for sweet potatoes (that has changed and now I love them).  So instead of tossing another side dish on the table, I make sweet potato pie for dessert instead of pumpkin.  Homemade crust and homemade whipped cream to go with it!   He’s happy and I’m happy.  Comprise, it helps keep things simple.

Over the years we’ve realized that we prefer to eat the big dinner as a late lunch, around 1 or 2pm.  This means that the kitchen is cleaned up shortly after and the rest of the day can be spent doing whatever we feel like.  Having an evening meal meant that we were doing dishes at 8 o’clock in the evening.  Yuck.

I was worn out by then and grumpy at having to still be doing more work.  An afternoon meal gets rid of all of that!  And if we get hungry again, then it’s easy to pull out some leftovers and heat.  Simple!

We like having a nice crisp pinot grigio with dinner.  It makes the dinner feel more fancy and goes perfectly with the turkey and sides.  No fussing with special cocktails and making sure things are mixed properly.  A simple wine, easy to take care of and no stress.

While making dinner is a lot of work and I’m prepping for days before hand, it’s low stress.  Now we’re in a groove and every year Thanksgiving turns out awesome.

What is your approach to Thanksgiving?  Is it a high maintenence affair or simple and casual?

Brining 101

Are you going to be brining your turkey this year for Thanksgiving?

Is this your first time brining a turkey?  If you know anything at all about this blog then you know that we are all about the brine here!

If you’re brining a turkey for the first time then this post on Brining A Whole Turkey is for you!

Here are two additional articles that provide tips for brining:

Don’t worry, these tips and suggestions don’t apply to just turkey.  You can brine chicken and pork as well!
Here’s a Tequila Brined Chicken and Cider and Beer Brined Chops to give you an idea of how to brine other items.

Last year for Thanksgiving we had a Bourbon Brined Turkey and this year we’re having that again!  I’m going to up the bourbon to 1C and add a little more jalapeno peppers in for some kick.

Leftover Idea: Turkey Nachos

Everyone else is starting to post holiday cookie recipes and I’m over here still talking turkey.

This is my last leftover post and then you are free to put Thanksgiving behind you.  Or if you’re like us, you’ve got leftovers in the freezer and might be pulling them out soon to make this.

It was two days after Thanksgiving and I wanted to use up a little bit more turkey before it was wrapped up and placed in the freezer.  I thought of making sandwichs and I knew soup was right out.

I wanted something fun and a little different.  Plus it was a game night and game foods started running through my head.

I finally settled on nachos!

Turkey nachos, easy, different, and fun to eat.

Andrea’s Turkey Nachos

  • Leftover Turkey, cubed or shredded
  • 1/2  Red Onion, chopped
  • 1 Green Pepper, chopped
  • 1 Carrot, shredded
  • 1 Can Pinto Beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1C Frozen Corn
  • Salt
  • Garlic Powder
  • Chili Powder
  • 2C Your Favorite Salsa
  • Shredded Cheese
  • Tortilla Chips

Preheat oven to 400 Degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick spray or olive oil.  Put a layer of tortilla chips on the baking sheet.

In a sautee pan, add in about 1/2TBSP olive oil and heat over medium heat.  Add in the onion, pepper, carrot and season with a little salt, garlic powder, and chili powder (amounts are to your taste).  Sautee for about two minutes.  Add in the turkey, beans, and salsa.  Heat until everything is heated through.

Remove mixture from heat and pour over the tortilla chips.  Sprinkle the top with your favorite cheese and place in oven.  Bake about 10 minutes, just until the cheese is melty and bubbly.

Remove from heat and serve with guacamole and sour cream!

Perfect way to get out of the Thanksgiving leftover rut and simple enough to put together that you aren’t slaving away in the kitchen.  Again.

I used pepperjack cheese and chihuahua cheese.  Nice and creamy melty goodness!

Have fun guys, and remember, always play with your food! Enjoy!

Bourbon Brined Turkey

Beer brined, cider brined, and I’ve used wine in a brine. This year I decided to just throw caution to the wind and bust out the big guns.


For Thanksgiving this year, I decided to go with a Southern inspired meal.  Mashed potatoes and stuffing were standard but I made collards for a side dish and wanted to make my turkey have a bit of a Southern flair to it.

I went back and forth on what to use in the brine.  Finally it occurred to me that bourbon would probably be really tasty when used in a brine.  It’s sweet, smooth, and it’s made in the south.

I put the brine together the day before Thanksgiving and it smelled amazing!  And a little boozy. Happy Holidays!

Andrea’s Bourbon Brined Turkey

1, 12-14lb Turkey

Brine Foundation:

  • 2/3C Bourbon, I used Knob Creek
  • 3 1/2C Chicken Stock
  • 4C Hot or Boiling Water
  • 1C Kosher Salt
  • 1/2C Brown Sugar, Packed

Additional Seasonings and Ingredients:

  • 2 Fresno Peppers, sliced in half
  • 2 Cherry Peppers, tops sliced off
  • 1 Large Onion, chunked
  • 3 Carrots, chunked
  • 3 Ribs Celery, chunked
  • 1 Large Sweet Apple, cut in half
  • 1/2TBSP Poultry Seasoning
  • 2TBSP Garlic Powder
  • 2TBSP Chili Powder
  • 1TBSP Smoked Paprika
  • Additional Water
Roasting Ingredients:
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Onion
  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic Powder
  • Chili Powder
  • Smoked Paprika
  • 1/2C Bourbon
  • 3C, Chicken Stock
In a large bucket, add in the all of the ingredients for the brining foundation.  Stir and allow to rest so the salt and sugar dissolve.  Make sure the turkey is cleaned, neck and giblets removed.  Rinse and pat dry.
Once the salt and sugar are dissolved and the liquids are cooled, add in about 4 more cups of water along with the additional ingredients.  Stir.  Add the turkey into the brine, breast first and legs towards the top of the bucket.  Remember, the turkey should be vertical in the bucket.
Fill bucket with cold water until the turkey is completely covered and submerged.
Store in a cold place, like your fridge.  Brine turkey for 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 350.  Remove turkey from brine, rinse and pat dry. In a roasting pan, add in the liquids and stir.  Add in the veggies and then place the turkey in the pan.  Allow to sit for at least 1/2 an hour before roasting.  Rub turkey with light olive oil and sprinkle with a little bit of garlic powder, smoked paprika, and chili powder.
Fill the cavity of the turkey with onion, carrots, and an apple.  In the roasting pan, roast turkey at 350, basting every half hour, until the internal temp of the turkey reaches 163F.
Remove turkey from oven, tent with foil and allow to rest for half an hour.  Carve and serve!

The chili powder will make the skin on the turkey roast to a very dark color.  It’s not burnt, just a deep brown!

This was hands-down the best turkey Scott and I have ever had.  We barely talked to each other during dinner because we were too busy making comments about the tenderness and flavor of the turkey.

It was sweet and succulent.  The juiciest turkey I have made to date.  Even leftovers the next day were amazing.  We declared this a winner and will be the brining choice for the next several Thanksgivings.

The bourbon flavor isn’t super strong.  It’s just enough to give the turkey a smooth buttery flavor and keep it moist through cooking.  Next time when I make this, I’ll add in more peppers to the brine and as I roast it.  I want a little bit of kick at the end just to give it a twist.  I might bump the bourbon up to a full cup as well.

Have fun guys, and remember, always play with your food! Enjoy!

Brining A Whole Turkey

If there’s one thing I hope you know about me, it’s going to have to be my obsession love for brining pork and poultry.  Each year I talk with you and stress the importance of brining your turkey for the big Thanksgiving meal.

Yet I realized that I haven’t really talked with you about the equipment you’ll need or how to go about brining a whole turkey.

Because even a “small”, 12-14lb turkey is still a big thing to brine.

Do you need special equipment?


Is it expensive and can only be purchased at a speciality cooking store?


All you need is a hardware store and you’re good.  No really, I’m serious.

You need a bucket, a large one.  You can purchase a large bucket at your local Home Improvement store for super cheap.

In that picture is a 5 Gallon bucket.

When brining a whole turkey, you need to have a bucket or pot large enough that the whole turkey will easily be able to be submerged in brining liquids.  No part of the turkey should be out of the liquid and exposed to air.

The turkey also needs to be in a vertical position when brining.  It should not be lying flat.

A vertical turkey will ensure that the brining liquid is able to penetrate the entire turkey all the way around.  It also results in an even brine and that the cavity of the turkey also gets filled with brining liquids.

If the turkey is lying flat, then the brine isn’t encompassing the entire turkey. Resulting in a brine that doesn’t fully penetrate the turkey and therefore doesn’t fully work.

A 5 Gallon bucket has worked well for me over the years and has been big enough to handle up to a 14lb turkey.

You need to make sure that you purchase brand new bucket that is clean and has not been used.  You cannot use a bucket that already has seen time doing household chores.

Clean and brand spanking new is what you want.

Also make sure to label it so that you know the bucket is to be used for brining purposes only and not for anything else.  Store in an area where it won’t be confused with garage supplies.

Of course you can purchase a large stainless steel pot or a tall mixing bowl for brining.  The choice is yours.

A 5 gallon stainless steel pot runs you just over $20, while a 5 gallon bucket is under $5.  Personally, if for some reason I need to replace something, I’d rather be out $5 than $20.

You will be able to fit this bucket in your fridge, I promise.  You just have to finagle stuff around a bit to make room.  If you live in a cold area where temps are going to be in the 20s, you can stick the brine out on your porch or deck.  Just make sure measures have been taken to properly cover and secure the brine because you don’t want to risk something getting into your turkey!

Brine for at least a full 24 hours before pulling out the turkey, rinsing it off, and patting it dry.  Season as you normally would and cook as you normally would.

By following this method you’ll have a great brined turkey every time!

Thanksgiving 2011

Thanksgiving 2011 was a huge success this year! There was a lot of experimenting going on and I have to say that everything turned out perfectly.

The day started off with a 2.5 mile run for me while Scotty slept. I tried waking him up but he kind of mumbled, rolled over and went back to sleep.  I was on my own.  The body was a little stiff and sore from all the prep work earlier this week (mostly my back was super achey) so I just did a short run.

Back home to some fantastic coffee and a date and fig coffee cake.  My favorite coffee cake and made with beer! Whoo!

Once Scott got up, I pulled the turkey out of the brine and let it rest on the counter for a bit before setting it in the oven to get roasty and delicious.  I kept the menu simple this year, making a few key items, but experimented along the way.

On the menu we had:

  • Bourbon Brined Turkey
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Collard Greens
  • Stuffing
  • Gravy
  • Rolls
  • Cranberry Sauce

The turkey turned out so flavorful that we could not stop talking about it through dinner.  Both of us declared it the best turkey yet and we’ll probably be having this for years to come.  Tender, juicy, and made you want more and more!

For dessert we had Sweet Potato Pie, made with rum and it had a pecan crumble topping.

We hung out and chatted the day away as the turkey cooked.  Then we hung out some more but with less chatting as we ate because both of us were so focused on the tasty turkey.  When Scott starts gnawing on the bones, I know that things were done right!

Next week I’ll be posting recipes from dinner and talking about what my strategy was this year to keep things simple yet leaving me room to experiment and try different things.

How was your Thanksgiving? Did you try anything new this year? What was your favorite?

Thanksgiving Countdown

It’s Thanksgiving week! We’re getting down to the wire and now is when all the big prep starts to take place. Today is my last “free” day, starting tomorrow I’ll be cooking each day all the way until Thanksgiving day.

After that I’m not cooking again until at least Saturday!

Maybe. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

This year I’m making my own stock.  I use a lot of chicken stock here at the HQ, however we do not eat enough meat for us to keep ourselves supplied with our own stock.  I’ve been saving up bones in my freezer so that I would eventually have enough to make stock.

I finally have enough! Whoo!

Here’s a run down of how I’m spending the week:


  • Work
  • School work


  • Pick up turkey
  • Make stock
  • Chop veggies
  • Get wine in fridge
  • Prep dinner for today and Wednesday
  • Make rolls


  • Make cranberry sauce
  • Make pie
  • Make stuffing
  • Peel and cube potatoes, get them soaking in salted water bath
  • Make coffee cake for breakfast on Thursday
  • Brine Turkey


  • Run
  • Cook turkey
  • Make mashed potatoes
  • Make Collards
  • Heat up stuffing
  • Make gravy
By planning everything out, it makes things run so much smoother! And Thanksgiving becomes stress free and I can relax and enjoy the meal.
If you’re celebrating Thanksgiving this week, are you hosting or going someplace? What’s your strategy for staying stress free?
Be sure to tune in tomorrow, because we’ll be talking about what kinds of beers to have with the big dinner! It’s a very detailed piece that you are going to love!

Weekend Grilling Recipes

Are you grilling this weekend?  Looking for something a little different to the standard hot dogs and burgers?  Want to shake up the summer grilling season for 2011?

Let Food Embrace help!  Here’s a few recipes that you can try out this grilling season:

Chardonnay Chicken Burgers

Cranapple Turkey Burgers

Grilling steaks? Try giving those babies a little rub down.

Rather have pork?  Beer Brined Pork Chops can be grilled.

Get funky with some chicken, yogurt curry chicken or cocoa-chili rubbed chicken will do the trick nicely.

Then you can wash it down with some super special iced tea.

Have fun this summer and get your grill on!

Talking Thanksgiving with Chef Michael Chiarello

OHC is in full Thanksgiving mode!  It is next week but there’s still plenty of time to talk side dishes, wine, and turkey.  Recently I had the great opportunity to submit a few Thanksgiving questions to Chef Michael Chiarello and I have to tell you that I was excited beyond words.

Chef Chiarello was (and still is) by far my favorite Chef that was on the Food Network.  I love his show because he proved how easy it is to get in the kitchen to cook something and also how that simple food can be elegant and sophisticated.  He threw amazing dinner parties that were simple to put together leaving the guests satisfied and the host with time to chat and enjoy themselves.

I asked him three questions and here he is presenting his answers.

I hope you enjoyed it!

A huge thank you to Chef Chiarello for taking the time to answer this food blogger’s questions.  And another big thank you to Jackie for setting all of this up!

Disclaimer: This interview was sponsored by Progresso.

OHC’s Approach to Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Dinner

OHC loves Thanksgiving!  It means that I can spend all week cooking and Scott can spend all weekend eating good food.  I realize that spending a week cooking can be most people’s worst nightmare but when you love cooking as much as I do, then Thanksgiving is a dream come true.

The reason I spend all week cooking is because I plan out Thanksgiving.

If you know anything about me, then you know I love Google web-products.  GCal and Google Docs have saved my life time and time again.  Google can be your best friend during the holidays.

With GCal I plan out the week before Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving week.  Then I print this out and stick it to my fridge so I have in front of me and can stay on task.

The week before I plan out my grocery list.  I have my menu in front of me and I write down every ingredient I need for that recipe.  Off of that I make a master list of things I’ll need from the grocery store.  Then I do a walk-through, looking over each of my fridges (I have two) and my pantry to see what I already have on hand.

Once that’s done, I have my grocery list ready to go.  I keep it on the fridge as well because if I use up something during the week, I make sure to note that I’ll have to pick up more at the store.

Friday before Thanksgiving (yes this means the weekend before Thanksgiving) I go to the grocery store and do my BIG shopping.  Sales typically have already started by this point and the stores stay relatively empty.  A lot of people wait till the last minute to buy stuff but not me!

If you think about it, the staples will stay fresh and you will still be able to use them the following week.  Carrots, onions, celery, and potatoes will all be fine the following week.  Herbs, if treated properly will be fine too!

The week of Thanksgiving is when I start all the prep work.

Monday I check over my menu and double check that I have all the necessary ingredients.

Tuesday of that week is when I pick up my turkey from the butcher.  I place the order for my turkey at the beginning of the month and then all I have to do is pick it up the week of Thanksgiving! This saves time and I’m not fighting people in the grocery store over turkeys.

You can chop the veggies for stuffing, brining, and for the turkey ahead of time.  I do veggie prep either on Tuesday or on Wednesday.

Despite what the experts say, you CAN make pumpkin pie ahead of time.  You CAN also freeze it and then thaw it out the day of.  Yes it might pull away from the crust a bit but who cares?  Slap some whipped cream over the edge and no one can see anything.  Besides, most people just want  eat, they aren’t really focusing on if your pie is perfect looking.  I make my pies either on Tuesday or Wednesday.

I also make the cranberry sauce and try to keep Scott away from it till Thursday.

Wednesday I prep the brine for the turkey.  You know how I love brining!  If I am doing a whole turkey, it goes in the brine Wednesday evening.  If I’m doing just a breast, I put it in a brine super early in the morning.

Sweet potato casserole and green bean casserole get made and assembled on Wednesday.  This means on Thursday all I have to do is heat them up.

Those can be heating up while I make the stuffing.  I make mashed potatoes ahead of time on Thursday because they can be kept warm on the stove.  You can use Ina’s method of a double boiler to keep them warm or you can just keep them on the stove with a very low heat.  Stirring occasionally so they don’t stick to the bottom.  I start the potatoes when the turkey is about halfway through cooking.

The gravy is the very last thing I make while the turkey is resting and the stuffing is finishing off in the oven.  I use some of the roasting juices and some boxed stock that I jazzed up for the gravy.

Once the gravy is done then it’s time to eat!  Scott slices the turkey and dishes it up on our plates.  Then we get to down eating a fab meal that I didn’t stress over because it was all planned out.

Sticking to a plan makes life easier and makes the idea of a huge Thanksgiving dinner seem approachable and not intimidating.

What’s Thanksgiving like at your place? Do you cook or do you travel?