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Turkey Talk 🦃

Thanksgiving is just about a week away and that means we need to talk about turkey! Thanksgiving dinner is one of my favorite meals, and one I’ve been making at home for my family for the last few years. Everybody certainly has their favorite ways of doing things, but here I’ll share my turkey tricks that are simple, easy and result in a super tasty bird.

Step 1: DEFROST SAFELY
First and foremost, if your turkey is still hanging out in your freezer, now is a good time to check its weight and refer to the chart below (from the USDA) to ensure that you move it to the fridge in enough time for it to be fully defrosted in time for the big day. A basic rule of thumb I follow for defrosting is FRIDGE DEFROST ONLY! According to multiple reliable resources (the USDA, Butterball, and The NY Times to name a few), defrosting in the refrigerator is the safest way to go, simply because the consistent cold limits the amount of sickness-causing bacteria than can form versus leaving it in a sink of water.

Refrigerator thaw rule = Allow 24 hours for every 5 pounds

So if your turkey is…
4–12 pounds: 1 to 3 days in fridge
12–16 pounds: 3 to 4 days in fridge
16–20 pounds: 4 to 5 days in fridge
20–24 pounds: 5 to 6 days in fridge

Step 2: PREP YOUR BIRD
I’m a turkey purist – I don’t deep fry, and I’m not one for injecting my turkey with bottled marinades and flavors. Instead, I roast my turkey covered in butter and herbs! This easy method has not failed me yet, and results in moist and juicy meat and a crispy skin. See my Compound Butter recipe below!

Use your hands! Rub the entire bird with compound butter and get under the skin with it for moist and juicy meat and crispy skin!

Compound Butter (enough for a 12-14lb turkey – double for larger birds)

◾ 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
◾ Handful of fresh parsley, stems removed and coarsely chopped
◾ 2 Tablespoons of fresh or dried thyme leaves
◾ Pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix until combined. Once turkey is in your roasting pan, spread butter mixture all over the outside of your turkey, taking special care to gently get mixture under the skin without tearing. Inside the bird, I typically just throw in a raw onion, cut in half for some extra flavor. Loosely cover the bird with foil and begin your cooking. Uncover for the last hour of cooking to crisp up skin.


Step 3: HOW LONG DO I COOK IT?
The most useful resource I have ever found online was Butterball’s Turkey Calculator. I referred to this when I first started cooking my own Thanksgivings and found it to be an invaluable tool, particularly for first timers. It’s a simple fill-in-the-blanks page that automatically calculates how much turkey and stuffing you’ll need to feed your number of guests (including estimates if you want leftovers!) – you can find that free calculator HERE.

Cooking times will of course vary depending on the size of your turkey, whether it’s stuffed or unstuffed, and even how well your oven works – but at 325 degrees F, here’s the guide that I’ve always gone by. Just remember to ALWAYS use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature when you think your turkey’s ready – 165 degrees F is the magic number, and you want to hit that temp in the thickest part of the breast, the inner thigh and under the wing. If you’re stuffing your bird, be sure to check that the stuffing temp hits 165 in the middle as well.

Regular Oven
Weight —– Cook Time (Unstuffed/Stuffed)
6-7 lbs. —-— 2-2½ hrs. / 2¼-2¾ hrs.
7-10 lbs. —– 2½-3 hrs. / 2¾-3½ hrs.
10-18 lbs. —– 3-3½ hrs. / 3¾-4½ hrs.
18-22 lbs. —- 3½-4 hrs. / 4½-5 hrs.
22-24 lbs. —– 4-4½ hrs. / 5-5½ hrs.
24-30 lbs. —– 4½-5 hrs. / 5½-6¼ hrs.

Let rest 15-20 mins before carving and you end up with a beauty like this:

When in doubt… there are excellent resources online and by phone provided for free by the USDA (and they’re updated often)! You can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time.

You can also visit FoodSafety.gov to learn more about how to safely select, thaw, and prepare a turkey. For more Thanksgiving food safety tips, follow FSIS on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety or on Facebook at Facebook.com/FoodSafety.gov.

Feel free to drop your best turkey tips in the comments!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Recipes

Make-Ahead Breakfast Burritos

Weekday breakfasts have always been a struggle in my house. I can meal plan dinners for days on end – and have leftovers packed and ready for lunches – but when it comes to breakfast during the week, I admit, I fall short. It’s so easy to stop off at a Starbucks on the way to work, or grab a bagel or muffin somewhere, but last weekend, I decided to try something different: BREAKFAST BURRITOS!

Weekends by us are for big breakfasts – usually waffles or pancakes. But this time, I mixed it up a bit and made us breakfast burritos. They’re as simple as you’d expect: scrambled eggs, toppings and cheese, wrapped up in a soft tortilla. As we ate them, I thought ‘why not make more of these and freeze them for breakfast during the week?’, and I did.

Depending on the size of your family and how many burritos you have room for in your freezer, my recipe made about 8 burritos, but you can easily half or double to make less or more. These burritos are great for for the car when you’re rushing to school, or bringing to the office to heat up when you want a healthier-than-pastries option. Browse my little visual how-to, and get my full recipe below!

Breakfast Burritos
Makes about 8 (soft taco size burritos)

INGREDIENTS:
• 8 large eggs
• 4 frozen Brown ‘N Serve Sausages (I used Turkey)
• 1/2 bag frozen Hash Browns (I used Ore-Ida’s Potatoes O’Brien, which already includes chopped potatoes, chopped onion and peppers)
• 8 soft flour tortillas
• Toppings: any shredded cheese you like, fresh spinach, cooked mushrooms, sriracha, ketchup – whatever you prefer!

VARIATION TIPS:
Try one of these great combos with your eggs and mix up your flavors a bit!
• Sausage + Cheese
• Spinach + Mushroom + Swiss
• Ham + Cheddar + Potato
• Sundried Tomato + Proscuitto + Mozzarella
• Bacon + Spinach + Bleu Cheese

HOW TO:
1. Heat up a large griddle or fry pan, add the potatoes and begin to cook per package directions. While the potatoes are cooking, carefully slice the frozen sausages and add to the potatoes. Cook thoroughly and set aside.
2. Crack your eggs in a bowl and add salt and pepper if desired. Beat up and prepare a skillet with cooking spray or butter. Cook and scramble eggs as you normally do, then remove from heat.
3. Lay out a tortilla on your cutting board and begin the build! I started with cheese, then topped with my eggs then my potato/sausage mixture.
4. Make your burrito by bringing two opposite edges of the tortilla in, then start rolling onto itself from one side, being careful to keep those ends tucked in. If you’re having trouble rolling, you could have too much filling inside. Try removing some and roll again. Once you get the hang of it, it gets easy!
5. Wrap each burrito in waxed paper (or plastic wrap) to keep fresh. Place all of your wrapped burritos in a plastic resealable bag and place in freezer. Tip: if you’re making different varieties, write on each wrapper what they are before freezing so you’re not surprised!
6. When ready to take your burrito out for breakfast, remove wax paper/plastic wrapping and wrap lightly in a paper towel. Microwave for 1 min 30 seconds and enjoy!

General, Product Reviews

Limoncello Love 🍋

It all started in 2011 when my (now) husband Chris and I took at trip to Walt Disney World. We’re both super into food and drinks and he and I aimlessly spent our first real trip together wandering around the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, tasting and sipping our days away. One night, we stopped to kill some time in Epcot’s Italy Pavilion before dinner, and that’s where it happened. Chris went into this little bar/wine spot and emerged with two shot glasses of a neon yellow-looking icy cold beverage. “It’s limoncello”, he said, “you’ll like it” (because I’m known to gravitate toward sweet and citrusy flavors). Well I did, and every year since then, we stop at that spot and now buy 4 shots (2 each!) and sip away as if we’re really in Italy.

A few years ago, we started buying bottles during each trip to bring home with us – we’re “Disney people” and typically go once a year. It was pricey at Epcot, but we had grown to love it so much, that we didn’t want to wait for our next trip to have it again, since we couldn’t find it locally until recently. Well, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, our trip that was scheduled for 2020 has now been rescheduled for 2022, but more importantly, WE RAN OUT OF OUR BELOVED LIMONCELLO! And to make matters worse, (another ‘due to the pandemic’ thing), the local wine shop we’ve been relying on lately has been unable to get it for us. Enter actor/writer/foodie Stanley Tucci…

Stanley Tucci starred in a wonderful documentary series on CNN called Searching for Italy. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a link to watch on Apple TV. If you don’t have Apple TV, I’m pretty sure you can find it through your cable’s On Demand feature on CNN.

In each episode, Stanley brought you to different regions – from the tiniest of towns to the sprawling cities, focusing on the food and history of each area. One that caught our eye was the episode featuring the Amalfi Coast. During that episode, he visited a limoncello producer that we literally paused and rewound and watched over and over to try and see the label on the bottle. We finally got it and started Googling. We came up with La Valle dei Mulini, an iconic brand from Italy that identifies the products of the historic Aceto Family, five generations of PGI Amalfi Coast Lemon farmers. Since 1825 they have preserved this passion keeping intact the craftsmanship handed down over time and using only the organic-certified lemons that they grow, harvest and select on their own. From producer to consumer, their products are authentic Amalfi.

We ordered a few bottles (how bad could it be, am I right?), and got our order confirmation. We were definitely a little nervous about ordering from outside the country, but we gave it a shot and waited for a tracking number. We checked email almost every day (impatient much??), and didn’t see one, but were happily surprised a couple of short weeks later to find a box at our door FROM ITALY!

We unwrapped and immediately put a bottle in the freezer to chill it up. The colder it gets, the more syrupy it becomes and it goes down smooth! There is definitely a different taste compared to what we’ve become used to – this is just the right amount of sweet and tart with bright citrus flavor, which I imagine can only happen if you get the good stuff direct from the source. So everyone, say a quick prayer for my husband, who will now be ordering limoncello from Italy a few times a year 😂

Next stop, making a plan to take that trip to Italy to drink this under the lemon trees! I found the perfect spot…

Photo Credit: Amazing Architecture – @Archi_Mondo Twitter

Recipes

Gruyere/Swiss Grilled Cheese

Yes, it’s another grilled sandwich post, but I just tried a new cheese blend from Trader Joe’s and feel the need to tell everyone how great it is 😂

This cheese is amazing! Sharp, creamy, and great for grilled cheese or melting into your homemade macaroni and cheese. The best part: it’s only $4.99 at my Trader Joe’s!

The how-to is as simple as just making grilled cheese how your normally make it, but some of my suggestions for success are below:

• Prepare your pan – either with butter or your favorite oil non-stick spray
• Use good bread: I used the Trader Joe’s Tuscan Italian bread – works perfectly!
• Prepare your bread: always butter the outside of your bread! It makes for a nice, golden brown crust
• Let the cheese start melting on the bottom halves before adding the tops and flipping (otherwise you’ll have shredded cheese everywhere!

Enjoy! 🧀

Recipes

Quick Cuban Sandwich-Inspired Grilled Sandwiches

I say ‘inspired’ because usually, a lot of time goes into a true Cuban sandwich. With tender slow-roasted pork typically as the main ingredient, a good Cuban basically consists of meats, cheese, pickles and mustard on a nice, crusty bread.

My variation, let’s call it a ‘deli-improvised’ version, is quick, easy and full of flavor. And, it makes a great dinner option when you’ve run out of ideas! Bonus: it only uses one pan (easy clean up!). The best tip I can offer is to work quickly, since your pan is heating up as you start piling up your sandwich.

Add these items to your grocery shopping list (amounts will vary depending on how many people you’re feeding) and watch the slide show below for the step by step how-to!

  • Good bread: I used what my supermarket calls “Italian Panne”. It’s a round, crusty Italian bread that’s ideal for panini, avocado toast and grilled cheese.
  • Deli Sliced Boiled Ham – sliced thin
  • Deli Sliced Roasted Turkey – sliced thin
  • Deli Sliced Swiss Cheese – sliced thin (I used Jarlsberg)
  • Sliced Pickles – I used Vlasik Stackers Kosher Dill (they’re sliced lengthwise and fit perfectly on these sandwiches!)
  • Yellow Mustard – up for debate – we only had Spicy Brown in the house at the time and it worked just fine, however I think if you’re a yellow mustard lover, go with that!
  • Olive Oil Cooking Spray – to coat pan and bread tops

Recipes

Summer Black Bean Salad

This refreshing salad makes a great side for any summer meal – from sandwiches and burgers to tacos and fish – this recipe can be completely customized to your liking and it never disappoints!

Things to keep in mind: if using avocado, always add it just before serving to avoid browning. Also, this salad is great when made ahead and chilled, so make it the night before (or a few hours before) your meal and the flavors will really pop when it has time to sit and marinate.

The basics: black beans, avocado, tomatoes, peppers, red onion, limes, and garlic.

Summer Black Bean Salad (serves 4-6)

  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tomatoes (I used Roma), chopped
  • 2 ears fresh corn, removed from cob – feel free to replace with frozen corn or canned (drained)
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1 large avocado
  • 2 fresh peppers (I used a combo of red and orange, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon if you’re using pre-minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • fresh cilantro, to taste
Chop and dump!

How to – the easy chop and dump method!

  • Rinse and drain black beans, put in a large bowl.
  • Remove corn from cob and add to bowl.
  • Chop all vegetables and add to beans.
  • Add garlic, olive oil, lime juice, and cilantro if using, and stir to combine.
  • When ready to serve, chop avocado and add to salad. Mix again and serve. Store leftovers in a sealed container.
The delicious end result!
Recipes

Bakin’ Bacon

If you’re in the market for flat, crispy bacon – you’ve found the right post!

Baking bacon in the oven is quick, easy, and surprisingly mess-free! I was terrified that I’d set my oven on fire, imagining bacon grease splattering everywhere, but I’m happy to report that didn’t happen at all.

Crispy, and flat! Great for piling on sandwiches 🥓

How to: simply preheat your oven to 400°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Line bacon on top of foil (slightly overlapping is ok) and bake for 20-25 mins (or until done to your desired crispness).

Clean up is easy: remove bacon slices and drain on a paper towel. Allow sheet pan to cool and remove foil with drippings.

Recipes

30 Minute Main: Instant Pot Chicken Legs

Got 30 minutes? Then you can make some really great chicken legs for dinner! These easy chicken legs start out in your Instant Pot and finish off under the broiler (or in a super hot oven) for an end result that’s moist and tender inside, and crispy outside. Starting off in the Instant Pot simply speeds up the cooking process (and retains those juices!), so you’ll have dinner on the table in no time at all. Tip: at the 15-minute mark, make your sides so that your complete meal is done all at once!

This recipe is just three easy steps:

  1. Season your chicken legs
  2. Place into your Instant Pot (on top of the trivet to prevent burning)
  3. When done, finish off in a hot oven or broiler to crisp up the skin

My all-time favorite flavor booster is Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasoning. I literally use it every day! From chicken to steak to roasted veggies and eggs, it adds that perfect little bit of flavor and tastes great on everything. In this recipe, I mixed up my dry rub and ground a hefty amount of this into the mix.


Instant Pot Chicken Legs
Serves 4
Total Time 30 mins


You’ll Need:

  • 3-4lbs Chicken Legs
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: paprika, chili powder, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper (and if using, Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasoning)
  • 1 Cup water or chicken broth
  • Your favorite BBQ Sauce (I love Sweet Baby Ray’s)

How to:

  1. Combine all of your spices in a bowl and rub all over chicken legs.
  2. Place trivet inside the Instant Pot and add 1 Cup of water (or broth) to the pot.
  3. Pile up your chicken legs on top of the trivet.
  4. Close lid and cook on high pressure for 15 minutes (turn off Keep Warm feature).
  5. While cooking, preheat oven to 500 degrees F and make your sides.
  6. When done, quick release your pot and allow the steam to fully exit. Once pressure sensor drops and all steam has been released, set a timer for 5 minutes and let it sit.
  7. Once finished, your chicken legs are cooked! You can eat them as is, or if you prefer a crispy skin, line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick spray. Then, coat legs with your favorite barbecue sauce and place in the 500 degree oven for 10-15 mins.

Recipes

Baby Back Ribs (in the oven!)

Happy 4th of July! 🇺🇸

Nothing quite says American BBQ than baby back ribs. Mine are fall-off-the-bone delicious and super easy to make in the oven. Start with a dry rub first for the most flavor, then finish them off with your favorite barbecue sauce.

Before, during and after! Approx 3-4 hour cook time plus 15 mins under the broiler.

You’ll need:

  • 1/4 cup sea salt
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 3-4 pounds baby back pork ribs (2 to 3 slabs)
  • 2 cups your favorite BBQ sauce (I use Sweet Baby Ray’s)

How to:

  • Preheat oven to 275° and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  • Mix up dry ingredients and rub each rib slab with mix. Wrap slabs in heavy-duty aluminum foil; place on sheet pan.
  • Bake 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove from oven, and unwrap ribs and discard foil and drippings. Place ribs directly on sheet pan and brush with barbecue sauce on top of each slab. Return to oven; bake at 275°F until ribs are tender and meat is pulling away from bones, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  • After cooking, brush with barbecue sauce again and raise oven temperature to 450° F. Cook an additional 10-15 mins. Cut up ribs and serve!

General

My Year with Anosmia

an·os·mi·a / aˈnäzmēə, aˈnäsmēə / noun MEDICINE

  1. the loss of the sense of smell, either total or partial. It may be caused by head injury, infection, or blockage of the nose.

It took me a year to talk about this on here, but I figured it might shed some light as to why I haven’t completely dived in to sharing my fabulous recipes as I originally wanted to. While most of the world was smack in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, I decided to spice things up a bit.

On June 28, 2020, I had an accident. One that was incredibly preventable and in retrospect, one of those “what was I thinking” moments as an almost 48 year old person. I was outside with my teenager who had just gotten a new skateboard (yep, it’s exactly what you think happened). I was telling her stories of how in my younger days, I (kind of) skated and was able to do (easy) tricks, etc. I thought it would be a great idea to hop on and at least show her how to balance, and roll around – nothing fancy. Putting on a helmet didn’t even cross my mind since I was being “careful” and not doing anything fast/scary/risky. Or so I thought.

To make a really long and traumatic story short, I fell. And I fell hard. After a CT scan and x-ray at the emergency room, I was diagnosed with a bad concussion and a closed fracture of the occipital bone – which is that bone in the back of your head, just above your neck and apparently a hard one to actually break (so HUGE SHOUT OUT to that low bun I decided to wear in my hair that day that softened the blow and protected me). The headache was incredible. I was dizzy, nauseated, off-balance, all of the typical concussion “things” but I feel like I felt them times ten after having pretty easily recovered from a very mild concussion the year before (and a cooking related one! – a roasting pan fell from a shelf onto my head). Anyway, on the way home, we stopped to pick up McDonald’s since we had missed dinner earlier and despite everything that was going on – I was starving. I was handed a bag of fries and chicken nuggets and I noticed something weird right after my first bite. My Mickey D’s was super salty (way more than usual). I kept eating just to eat ‘something’ to mesh with all the Tylenol in my stomach, and chalked it up to the fact that I was crying heavily for the last few hours, and as a result, my nose was really congested (it was almost like when you’re sick, and things don’t taste right), so I let it go for the night.

The next couple of days went by and I was still loaded with congestion and bad headaches. My nose alternated between running and clogged. Having a sinus headache + a back of the head, head injury headache was definitely no fun. After a week of televists with my doctor and my complaining about the headaches and the lack of smell and taste (and a Covid infection ruled out), I was passed on to a great neurosurgeon who took one look at me through the screen and noticed that I had a black eye. I noticed it too, but assumed I had bumped it on the water bottle I was holding when I fell. Not the case. In a nutshell, here’s what happened:

When you hit the back of your head, the brain is forced back then bounces foward, basically smashing into the front of your face, and in my case, causing the black eye and the shearing of my olfactory nerves (those little things you need to smell). I was happy to finally hear that “this happens” and much more often with an injury like mine. The headaches would go away they said, but the Anosmia was another story. No time frame, no ‘cure’, no magic pill. Not what I wanted to hear.

So, what now?

After being told there was nothing to do but wait, I was directed to an ENT for one final opinion. He literally saw me for 15 minutes and handed me a printed sheet about smell training with scented oils and instructions to do regular sinus rinses. I did both of those things diligently for the first three months with little progress. The most smell I got was being able to kind of ‘feel’ a cold sensation in my nose, (but not really smell) peppermint oil. I dove deep into the internet, reading article after article – even 16-page scientific documents – all while trying to just be patient. I read about other people’s experiences with anosmia recovery and it’s hit or miss. But those stories also sparked a whole new level of panic (thanks, internet) – I worried all the time about what I couldn’t smell… what if there was a fire? A gas leak? Did I put deodorant on? Is the raw chicken good? Does the trash need to go out? All of that. It’s unreal how something like scent is so taken for granted. Regardless, I was on a mission to heal myself and had to succumb to relying on the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms to do their jobs. My husband and daughter are now the sniffers for me when it comes to food, trash, etc…

My takeaway from all of the articles I read had me come up with this supplement “therapy” that I’ve been using for the last few months. Please don’t assume that my list is a cure and always ask your doctor before you start taking anything, but this regimen has been safe for me and the only thing that’s given me any improvement in a year:

– Regular multivitamin + extra vitamin C and D
– 600mg Alpha Lipoic Acid
– MegaRed Advanced 600mg Omega3 Algae Oil
-15-30mg Zinc Picolinate
– I drink a lot of turmeric and ginger tea (anti-inflammatory)
– And today, I’m adding CoQ10 because I started “researching” again, and read some good things about it

The current list of things I CAN smell is:

Oranges, cut grass, my shampoo, Ellia Blended Oils in “Let it Go” and “Fight It” (each definitely smells different), lemons, and most recently garlic and onion (but they kind of smell the same). I’m also getting some smells from things like the Febreeze in the work bathroom, but can’t pinpoint a scent – it just smells sweet. Another point too is that I have not smelled anything gross, so that’s been a huge plus, I guess? I am trying now to focus on smelling everything I can that’s a fresh, not a manufactured scent. So flowers, or any fruit or veggie I cut up, you can bet I’m sticking my nose in them.

What I really miss now are things I loved to smell, like clean laundry from the dryer, brownies baking in the oven, summer, Yankee Candles (!), or my Grandma’s house; and tasting real food. Everything I’ve eaten for the last year has gone from being all about flavor to all about texture. Crunchy, creamy, spicy, salty… I was never one for a lot of spice, but now I add red pepper flakes or Trader Joe’s Bagel Seasoning on just about everything because I can get that little bit of flavor through, which makes me feel like there’s still some hope. Burgers, which I used to love, just taste like metal to me right now. And the big question – CILANTRO – yep, it tastes like soap to me now (it didn’t before)!!

If you’re reading this, and you or someone you know is going through the same thing, just remember that you’re not alone. In my “research”, I found so many posts like this from real people and many have recovered, it just took a lot of time and patience. I’m still suffering with some mild, post-concussion headaches, but the loss of smell is truly one that’s debilitating. I’d also love to compare notes if you’ve gone through this and gotten your smell back – contact me and share your secrets! Meanwhile, I’ll keep cooking my best and sharing my tried-and-true recipes with you!