Friday, November 27, 2009

My New Turkey Recipe

Last year was the first time I ever heard of such a thing as brined turkey. Yes, I am behind the times. Let me explain.

It has been about 12 years since I've cooked a turkey for any reason, including holidays. We have been potlucking Thanksgiving for years now, and my usual contribution has been Crown Roast of Lamb and my mom's giblet stuffing. And pies, of course.

For many different reasons we ended up celebrating Thanksgiving this year by ourselves. It was a nice change of pace - no place to rush off to, no food to try to keep warm or cook elsewhere, etc. We even stayed in our pajamas for about half the day.

Years ago, when I did attempt a turkey, it always ended up dry. This seems to be a common failing, as many of the turkeys we've eaten at various houses over the years were dry, as well. Smoking or barbecuing seems to help somewhat, but still not my favorite dish.

So, if I had my choice, I would have opted out of turkey this year, too - but Jim really wanted one. He didn't think it would seem like Thanksgiving without it.

Last year I saw Emeril demonstrate a brined turkey on Emeril Live. It sounded so interested I copied down the recipe. This was the perfect opportunity to try it out - no guests to be embarrassed if it failed (I love opportunities to experiment, and fortunately my family doesn't mind them either).

I brined the turkey for approximately 20 hours, using my large stockpot. This is what it looked like when I took it out of the fridge:

Per Emeril's recipe, I roasted it breast side down for one hour, then breast side up for 1 1/2 hours. I thought it would take much longer as this turkey was almost 13 pounds, but the thermometer was already registering 170F at 2 1/2 hours total. This is how it looked when I took it out of the oven:

I covered it with foil while I cooked the remaining dishes, which took approximately one hour. We carved it at the table, and it was still very warm. Jim remarked on how juicy it was when he carved it.

It was delicious! We all remarked that it tasted similar to those delicious rotisserie chickens from Costco that we love. It was definite the most juicy and tasty turkey I've ever had.

This recipe is definitely a keeper. I think at our next holiday potluck I'll be volunteering to bring the turkey!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

$100 Grocery Challenge

Several ladies on the TOG Loose Threads yahoo group are working on trying to lower their food bills. We have decided to challenge ourselves to spend only $100 per week on groceries.

I used to have a much better handle on my food budget. Lately I haven't been paying much attention to the amount I spend. I believe I spend less than most, especially after conversations among this group. I think what helps is menu planning and organization. I have to admit that I have an advantage over most in that I can shop at military commissaries. Since they sell food at cost, plus 5% to cover administrative costs, all the food is generally cheaper than any grocery store.

Menu planning is a great way of keeping control over your food budget. I do it a little differently than most. I look at my calendar each pay period, see how many meals to plan, and make a list, but I do not strictly assign certain meals to certain days. I like flexibility. Most days I will not decide what to make until that morning; sometimes I don't decide until 5 pm. Of course I do make some meals that require more advance planning, and some meals I plan need to be eaten early in the pay period because certain foods go bad more quickly than others.

I also stock up on some things that I call "pantry meals." These are meals where all of the ingredients can be kept for a long period in the pantry and freezer, and can be made anytime, in case I don't plan enough meals on my menu, or something puts my plans in a fritz. These are things like chili and cornbread, spaghetti, and frozen pizza. I keep track of these items and keep them stocked and ready.

I've added back in some of the things that help keep my budget under control while menu planning. One is perusing the sales lists. I keep all the sale flyers from the local stores, so I will know about any great deals that come up. I must admit that most of the deep sales prices at regular stores still don't beat the commissary, but sometimes I'll get lucky. If you don't have the flyers handy, many stores post them online. The commissary has a list of sale items on their website. It helps reduce the budget when I can plan my meals around what's on sale.

I also get out my coupons while doing this planning. Now, I have some major cautions with coupon use - only use coupons for products you would buy already. I made this mistake as a young mom and ended up spending far more in groceries because I bought all these unnecessary items. Sometimes the coupon inserts won't have any coupons for me; other times there will be several. Another source for coupons is in the stores themselves. Have you ever seen those shelf coupons right next to the items? There is no rule that says you have to buy that item right now to use that coupon; many times that coupon has an expiration date months down the line. I'll grab several copies of these coupons for use later.

Sometimes I get very lucky and find that an item I have a coupon for is also on sale. This is a great time to stock up on nonperishable or freezable goods. I'm hoping to get a chest freezer soon to take even greater advantage of these deals.

Going back to these methods really paid off this payday. For 15 days worth of groceries I spent $186.59. I saved $8.35 in coupons. This also leaves me room later in the payday to get more milk and bananas.

This amount includes several items that I stocked up on for later, such as Cheez It crackers for $1.50/box, chicken breasts on sale for $1.19/pound, and canned chicken broth for $.50/can. This will work into greater savings down the line when I plan meals using these items that I already have.

So, will you join me in this challenge? How do you save on your grocery bill?