Caramels in an Autumn Leaf Bowl

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Normally I am not a crafter, many times when I do try a craft project, it looks like someone tried really hard, and this isn’t a blog about crafting, but cooking. But I saw this, and I thought that would be the perfect thing to display wrapped caramels or other candies for Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday. I love fall leaves, so this really appeals to me, and I think I can talk one of my craft savvy daughters into help me make it so it looks good. So, this will be a two-for-one blog post with directions for making the leaf bowl and a link to my favorite caramel recipe. But, it doesn’t have to be caramels, maybe I could just use it for almond roca and get a head start on eating it this year, and yes, almond roca is perhaps my favorite candy. Perhaps one day I will attempt to make it myself. Does anyone have a tried and true recipe? In any case, here are the directions to make a leaf-based decorative bowl.

 

Materials:

Craft store leaf garland, Mod Podge (matte finish), Foam Brush, Balloon, Scissors, Mixing bowl

*Tip: try to find thin, paper-like leaves for your garland. The thinner the leaves, the better they will mold to the shape of your balloon. Also, avoid any plastic-coated leaves.

How To:

  1. Begin by snipping the leaves off the strand of garland. Leave about 1/8″ at the base.
  1. Carefully rip the entire plastic stem (and all the veins!) off of the faux leaves. This will help the leaves mold to the shape of the balloon.
  1. Fill up your balloon to size. We stuck ours inside a mixing bowl to keep it in place.
  1. With your mod podge in a cup nearby, gently apply a thin layer on top of your balloon, starting in the middle and working your way out.
  1. Lay a leaf on top of the wet mod podge and smooth with your fingers or foam brush. Once it’s stuck in place, apply another thin layer of mod podge on top of that leaf. 
  1. Repeat, covering any empty spaces with smaller leaves.
  1. When you reach about a quarter of the way down the balloon, add one or two leaves to the bottom of the bowl for extra weight and support. Allow to dry for several hours. 
  1. When the mod podge is completely dry, carefully pop your balloon with a pin at the tied end, slowly letting the air out. Don’t be alarmed if the leaves shrink down when the balloon deflates, it will return to its original shape after a minute or so. You may find that some of the mod podge will stick to the edges of your leaves, but you can just pick or cut it off.  

9. Fill with wrapped caramels or other wrapped candies.

 

Follow this link for my favorite caramel recipe  which is quick, easy, and tastes amazing.

 

 

 

Turkey, Turkey,Turkey, Dessert

 

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Kelly carving the Thanksgiving turkey, about 1995, note the holiday dishes. I worked hard selling Tupperware to get those dishes as a sales bonus. We still use them thirty-some years later.  The turkey looks good, too!

 

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that it is all about gratitude and family. The other thing I love about Thanksgiving is that it’s not commercialized. It’s about food, family, and fun, and being grateful. (And yes, I do insist we go around the table and share something we’re thankful for, but not before we start eating!)  I love to have my family get together, to laugh, to talk, and to eat. A bonus of being an empty nester is that now when they come for Thanksgiving dinner, they come bearing side dishes, or they even cook the turkey, or they host the dinner. (In fact, I haven’t cooked the Thanksgiving Turkey in years, thanks guys. But I do make pumpkin-based desserts!)  However, I can make a tasty turkey, and in the spirit of helping aspiring cooks out, I thought I’d put together some resources for preparing turkey, beginning with how to thaw a turkey, and followed by several methods of cooking the bird. Brined turkey, my family’s favorite in recent years, is first on the list. I also found this infographic from Food Network that gives provides a timeline for T-day preparation including  shopping, prepping, cooking, and planning the guest list. Now  let’s talk turkey.

Thawing a Turkey

First things first, which means figure out how long it will take to thaw the bird. Thawing times are determined by weight, so plan in advance (or pay more for a fresh turkey).

Thawing  Turkey Safely

  • Thaw the turkey in its original wrapping, by placing it on a tray in the bottom of the refrigerator. Plan on about 24  hours of thawing time for every 5 pounds of turkey. For example, if your turkey weighs 20 pounds, it will take four or five days to thaw. Plan accordingly.
  • Do not thaw on the counter (there won’t be room anyway, what with pumpkin pies, and other prep taking up space). But seriously, thawing a turkey at room temperature increases the risk of bacteria growth, and we don’t want that kind of bacteria.
  • However, if you are in a rush, you can safely thaw a turkey in cold water. Do so by submerging the bird, in its wrapper, in a deep sink filled with cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes. This method takes about 30 minutes per pound. Do not use warm or hot water. (That pesky bacteria would like that.)
  • You can thaw in the microwave too, follow your manufacturer’s directions for defrosting meat. If you do use the microwave method, be sure to cook the turkey immediately afterward. (This is not a method I favor, because this type of thawing is irregular and creates hot spots, and sometimes even partially cooks the smaller parts of the turkey.)

 

Brined Turkey

Our family has settled on brining as the perfect way to make turkey, the featured fowl for  this occasion. Brining is a tried and true method used to create a moist, flavorful bird.  Directions (complete with pictures) for brining a turkey can be found on The Pioneer Woman Cooks blog. Brining is followed by roasting the turkey; we favor the roasting bag method (below). 

Traditional Roasted Turkey

Roasting is a traditional way to cook a turkey. A properly roasted turkey is golden brown, juicy, and delicious, and your house will smell wonderful during the process. Here are two ways to roast a turkey.

Oven Method – Aluminium Tent

Pre-heat the oven to 325° F

Prepare the turkey.

Unwrap and discard wrappings, remove the neck and the giblets from the turkey. Coat the turkey (reach under the skin) with oil or butter, including the cavity; this also helps with browning.  Add salt & pepper, and any other seasonings  you desire. 

Suggested Seasonings

  • 1 tablespoon dried sage
  • 1 teaspoon each dried thyme, basil, rosemary, paprika and seasoned salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Place the turkey in a roasting pan, deep enough to catch the drippings, breast side up. (Use a wire rack to keep the turkey from sticking to the pan. Roast until a meat thermometer inserted into the innermost part of the thigh or breast reads a minimum of 165° F, meaning the turkey is safe to eat. The juices should run clear when the turkey is pierced with a fork.  

An aluminum foil tent may be placed over the turkey to prevent over browning and keep the turkey moist. Leave on the turkey for the first few hours, remove for the last hour to allow the turkey to brown.

This USDA Roasting Timetable for Fresh or Thawed Turkey,  will give you the correct times based on roasting the turkey at 325° F. (Remember that these times are approximate, so be sure to use a properly placed food thermometer — inside the thigh, not touching bone to determine doneness; turkey is safe to eat when it has reached 165°.)

Turkey Baked in a Roasting Bag

I like to use a roasting bag and a throw-away aluminum roasting pan for easy clean up; be sure to place the pan on a baking sheet for support. If using a roasting bag, preheat the oven to 350° F rather than 325° and follow these directions:

 Preparing the Turkey

Thaw the turkey; remove the neck and giblets. Coat the turkey (reach under the skin) with butter or oil, add salt, pepper, and any other seasonings you desire.

Suggested Seasonings

  • 1 tablespoon dried sage
  • 1 teaspoon each dried thyme, basil, rosemary, paprika and seasoned salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Put 2 tablespoons of flour into a turkey-sized roasting bag, shake to evenly coat the inside of the bag.  Cut up two onions into quarters and a bunch of celery ribs into chunks. Place the onions and celery into the bottom of the bag; add the turkey, placing it breast-side up into the bag, on top of the vegetables. Secure the opening with the provided zip tie. Place the turkey in a roasting pan that is at least 2″ deep (so it will hold the juices easily). Cut six slits into the top of the bag. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. Place turkey in the oven and roast according to the weight.

Cooking Times for Roasting in Oven Bag

1 1/2 to 2 hours for 8-12 pound turkeys; 2 to 2 1/2 hours for 12-16 pound turkeys; 2 1/2 to 3 hours for 16-20 pound turkeys; 3 to 3 1/2 hours for 20-24 pound turkeys.

Deep Fried Turkey

The Butterball website provides complete directions for preparing a deep-fried turkey. This method results in a tender and delicious turkey. Just make sure the turkey is completely thawed before cooking!  

Gravy 

Turkey with potatoes and gravy make up the key parts of Thanksgiving dinner for my family, so I will share how to make gravy here. I do believe I’ve taught all of my children how to make gravy (if not let me know, and I will teach you), because homemade gravy is so much better than gravy from a mix; and really, it’s quite simple to make.  Because it’s easier to show, and to save time in trying to explain, I found this video  that shows and tells how to make gravy.

The key things to remember are to separate the fat from the juice, the ratio of fat/flour  is 1:1; keep whisking, to prevent lumps from forming, use the juices from the turkey (or whatever meat you’ve cooked, or if you don’t have juices, you can use chicken or beef broth to make gravy); and most importantly, homemade gravy tastes soooo much better than instant gravy packets, and it really doesn’t take that much effort.

Desserts

Of course, Thanksgiving would be incomplete without a pumpkin-spiced dessert. Try one of these great pumpkin-based recipes. I make at least one of them every Thanksgiving:  Turtle Pumpkin Pie,  Pumpkin Pie Cake  or Pumpkin Roll.

There are a few people who don’t care for pumpkin — surprising but true —  and this Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake  recipe is a decadent dessert worthy of Thanksgiving.

Creamy Potato Soup and Other Meanderings about Potatoes

 

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Dad taught me how to work, and work hard. This was taken on an afternoon when I stopped by his work to say hello. I was nineteen and boy was my hair curly!

 

Growing up in Idaho in the heart of potato country means not only did I eat potatoes nearly every day of my life, and sometimes twice a day, but they were a part of the landscape, literally. Acres and acres of potato fields were everywhere, and each fall, school would be recessed for a two-week potato harvest, vacation. But, let me tell you, for many of us, it wasn’t a vacation, but it was the opportunity to work. I worked every year from the time I was thirteen. First, babysitting — six kids for .35 cents an  hour, for 10-hour days. It doesn’t sound like much, does it? But for a thirteen-year old in the 70s, it was a tidy sum, enough to buy some new school clothes, and have money to eat, uptown, instead of eating school lunch.

When I was a little older, I graduated to working on the digger. The potato digger, does just what the name implies, it digs up the potatoes, shakes the dirt off through a series of rollers, and dumps them into a truck. However, vines come with potatoes, and my job was to pull the vines out of the potatoes so they didn’t end up in the truck. It was hot, boring work, and in some cases, rocks, sticks, and clods of dirt made their way across the rollers, and had to be removed, too. The worst though was when we got into a patch of quack grass. It was heavy, dense, and bogged things down. Removing quack grass was hard work. We worked long

We worked long days and I earned what I thought was a decent wage. I remember the first fellow I worked for, Arden Klinger — a tough old farmer; who was sometimes rather gruff with his teenaged crew. He paid us what was owed at the end of the harvest, and I was thrilled with a check for over $100. A few weeks later, my dad handed me another check for $100, with regards from Mr. Klinger, who told him I was, “the best damn worker I’ve ever had.”   That wasn’t the end of my potato harvest days, but it was where I learned the rewards of working hard. I think I was more excited about my father’s pleasure in the compliment than I was in receiving the extra money (though, upon reflection, that may have been a toss up).

The year after the flood (when the Teton Dam collapsed),  there was no harvest, in the valley; the following year, though, there were any number of random things coming across the rollers with the potatoes.  Baby shoes, kitchen utensils, bits of clothing,  broken glass, all kinds of random things.

I also worked cutting spuds during the spring; cutting spuds is what creates seed potatoes which are then planted for the new year’s crop. Each piece of potato has two have at least two “eyes” on it. We’d sit around in a potato quanset hut, and work for eight hours a day, cutting potatoes up. It was tedious work, but hey, I was earning my own money.

Later on, after graduating from high school, I got my first “real job” in a potato factory — and after working there, I determined that I would stay away from dehydrated potato products. Don’t ask why. In fact, after working there, and going on to college,  didn’t even make potato dishes for several years after I was married. But, a growing family, and the realization that potatoes are an inexpensive, nutritionally complete food, changed my mind, and I too, relied on potatoes for many a meal.

Potatoes are a versatile vegetable, and there are many ways to use them. I think I’ve probably had them just about every way imaginable. I guess it’s one of those things that happens when you grow up in Idaho in the middle of potato country. We ate potatoes nearly every day. Sometimes twice a day. Boiled, fried, mashed, baked, in a salad, or deep fried, hashed, scalloped, or in a funeral potato casserole. . .. potatoes are delicious.

Creamy Potato Soup

Ingredients

1 onion – chopped

3-4 stalks (ribs) of celery, chopped

5 – 6 medium sized potatoes peeled, rinsed,  and cubed

1 carrot, peeled and shredded (set aside)

1 cube butter (divided into 1/4 and 3/4 of a cube)

flour

milk or half-n-half or a mixture (about 3 cups)

4-8 oz mild cheddar cheese cubed (optional)

Salt and Pepper (I like sea salt and freshly ground pepper) to taste

Directions

Cook potatoes in a large pot of salted (about a tsp.) water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a brisk simmer. Cook until they are nearly tender and can be pierced by a fork (about 20 minutes). While the potatoes are cooking, saute onions and celery in the 1/4 cube of butter , set aside.

Drain potatoes in colander. Set aside.

To make the sauce melt 3/4 cube of butter in heavy pan over medium heat being careful not to let it burn. When butter is melted, add flour about 1/3 c. all at once and use a whisk to mix until smooth, adding a bit of milk at a time to create a sauce. (Whisk the entire time, or it will become lumpy.) Let sauce thicken, add more milk, continue this process until you’ve added about two cups of milk.  Reduce heat to low. Add vegetables to white sauce, add cheese and stir until melted. Add additional milk/half-half to cover vegetables. (If soup is too thin, whisk an additional 1/4 cup of flour into 1/2 c of milk, and add to hot soup. Add the reserved carrots the last few mintues of simmering for a splash of flavor and color. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with cornbread, crackers, toast, or muffins.