advice from a fake consultant

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On Cooking That Turkey, Or, What To Do After The Sarah Palin Press Conference November 26, 2008

So it’s more or less 30 hours until Americans enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, and you’re asking yourself the annual question: “Isn’t there a simple way to cook a turkey?”

Well, America, there is…and it does not involve bags, or injections, or even stuffing. No fancy preparations and no fancy equipment are required (with the exception of a large flat pan with metal handles, a carving fork or large tongs, and a food thermometer).

Here’s the cool part: this method for cooking turkeys isn’t just a method for cooking turkeys…and if you follow the directions, you’ll soon discover that not only have you learned a new way to cook a turkey, you’ve learned a new way to cook almost anything that can walk or fly.

We only have 30 hours, so we better get right to it…

Now before we go any farther, let’s relieve some of the Thanksgiving cooking stress with a video that is as topical as it gets.

Some of you may not know about the most unfortunate aftermath of Sarah Palin’s recent effort to pardon a Thanksgiving turkey…and I won’t spoil the fun if you have not yet seen it…but I will tell you that what is attached to the next link may the single funniest—and most disturbing—piece of political video I have ever seen; and somehow Palin remains blithely unaware of the events occurring just over her shoulder the entire time.

Take three minutes, watch the video, have a sip of the first glass of wine of the day…and when that’s done, we’ll get back to work.

So, are you laughing now?
OK then, let’s have some fun.

You may recall my telling you that what we are about to do can be used to cook any number of things; and to make for a better explanation I’m actually going to discuss cooking a boneless chicken breast first, and then we’ll move up to turkeys, using essentially the same technique.

So here’s what we do: turn the oven to 375 F. (190 C.), and turn the stove to either medium high (electric stoves) or nearly as big a flame as the burner will make, if you’re using a gas stove.

Grab the pan and toss it in the oven to heat.

Now what we are going to do is brown the chicken breast on top of the stove, flip it, and then cook it the rest of the way in the oven. The reason we are going to do this is because when you cook on top of the stove, you cook from bottom to top, creating a breast that’s “done” at the bottom but still “rare” at the top (you compensate for this by flipping the breast in the pan, but I have a better plan).

Cooking in the oven exposes the chicken to heat from all sides, creating an item that’s cooked on the outside and into the middle evenly (for a steak: done on the outside, perfectly pink in the middle…yummm).

So now that the pan’s hot, let’s try it: pull out the pan, put it on the hot burner, pour in just a bit of oil…and lay the breast in the pan by putting it in the part of the pan that’s closest to you first, then letting it fall away from you. (This prevents the hot oil from spattering on you…which is always a good thing.)

After a minute or so, you should see the breast browning, and that’s when we flip it over and then just put the pan right in the oven, then shut off the stove.

If you are a fancy high-falutin’ cook, you can tell when it’s done because it will feel like a well-done steak—and if you are a cooking mortal, it’s done when the thermometer tells you the temperature at the thickest part of the breast is 165 F. (75 C.).

The reward for your experimental effort should be an especially juicy breast that is not dried-out and tough. Pretty cool, eh?

“My cooking is so bad my kids thought Thanksgiving was to commemorate Pearl Harbor”

Phyllis Diller

So how do we scale this process up to a turkey?

It’s actually really simple.

We need a substantially larger pan (I have a 14” restaurant-style sauté pan that I use for this application), and any metal pan with a reasonably thick bottom, relatively shallow sides (no saucepans or kettles), and heat-resistant handle(s) should do just nicely.

We also need to make a temperature adjustment.

As we move into larger items, we lower the oven’s temperature. We do this because we don’t want to overcook the outside before the inside is done. Instead of 375 F. (which is great for chicken breasts and steaks), we would lower the oven to 350 F. (175 C.) for something like a boneless pork loin or a small roast of beef or a whole chicken, and we would go down to 325 F. (165 C.) for something as large as our turkey.

For food safety reasons, we don’t want to use lower temperatures.

It is imperative that you raise the internal temperature of anything you cook from 40 F. (4 C.) to 140 F. (60 C.) in under two hours to avoid foodborne illness…and cooking turkeys at 275 F. (135 C.), as some suggest, is just a bit too risky for my taste.

Now a few words about measuring temperature in a bird.

Unlike “walking” meats, birds have hollow bones that do not transmit heat well. Therefore you do not want the tip of your thermometer touching—or very close to—bone when checking your turkey. (Beef, and the other “walking” animals, are the exact opposite. Their heavier bones transmit heat quite well, and the meat closest to the bone will often be the first meat below the surface to be fully cooked on a large roast of beef.)

Instead, use a location deep into the breast, away from bones…and as with all birds, a 165 F. (75 C.) internal temperature is the goal. And as with all birds, that temperature will give you a juicy, not-dried-out, result.

We are not going to stuff our bird.

This is also for food safety reasons.
The stuffing makes it take even longer to raise that turkey’s internal temperature (not to mention the stuffing’s)…and that’s a bad thing.

Bake the stuffing in its own pan…do not cook it in the bird.
Trust me on this.

There is no need to “prepare” the turkey—no rubs, no flouring the skin, nothing.
As an experiment I did a sea salt “rub” about 10 days ago on a turkey breast…and to be honest, all it did was make the skin salty.

OK, so our big pan is in the oven, getting hot…and the stove is on that same setting we used for the chicken breast…and now we take the pan, put it on the stove—and in goes the turkey, breast side down (remember, place it in the pan moving away from you to avoid splashing oil, just as with anything else you put in a pan with oil…).

You’ll have to brown one side at a time…and your fork or tongs (BBQ tools work if you don’t have big kitchen tongs or a carving fork…) can support the turkey so you don’t have to hold on to it.

It’s gonna splatter a bit (the less water, the better), but don’t be scared…and after a minute or so one side will be nicely browning, so do the other side next, and then flip the whole thing breast side up, and put the pan in the oven.

Except for taking the bird’s temperature from time to time (again, 165 F., or 75 C. internal temperature) and taking it out when it’s done, you are completely finished with the work on this project.

In fact, it’s probably about time for that second glass of wine.

So let’s take a moment and summarize.

Hot oven, hot stove, hot pan, put object to be cooked face down in pan on the stove, don’t splatter yourself, get it brown, flip it, put it in the oven, have a second glass of wine, remove from oven when done.

And just like they always tell you at the Fair: “It’s just that easy”.

So have a great day, don’t stress over the cooking…and remember, this technique works great on anything from a partridge to a steamship round.

 

On Mae West, Or, The Second Annual Disaster Planning Story December 11, 2007

So you’re sitting at home, riding out the big storm, and the next thing you know the power goes out.

It’s not just you, either. Tens of thousands of your neighbors are out as well, and you immediately know power won’t be restored for days.

This can be an utter disaster…or not that big a deal…depending on the things you did before the storm.

Because I’m watching Mae West movies as I write this, we have today a most unusual story: serious tips that can help improve the disaster experience greatly; and Mae West’s snappiest quotes to add just a spoonful of sugar to the medicine those tips represent.

“I’ve changed my mind.”
“Yeah, does it work better?”

–Mae West and Edward Arnold, in “I’m No Angel” (1933)

First things first: your friendly Department of Homeland Security tells you to be ready for three days of isolation-and I’m here to tell you that three days is nowhere nearly enough.

Be prepared for at least seven days.

Don’t believe me?
Check this out:

–The BBC reported 350,000 or more were without water for up to 14 days in the UK following flooding in July of ’07.

–Over 100,000 of the 600,000 households knocked off the power grid in St. Louis were still dark a week later after storms a year earlier.

–Residents of Eastern Maine learn to survive blackouts caused by events as disparate as high winds, ice storms-and even squirrels. In January 1998 power was out “for weeks” in parts of the State.

“Young lady, are you showing your contempt for this court?”
“No, I’m doing my best to hide it.”

–Mae West to Addison Richards in “My Little Chickadee” (1940)

A growing number of us are deciding that the generator is the perfect solution for disasters, but there I’m here today to offer other options.

Why?

Consider that in the worst of power outages, the gasoline your generator requires might not be available-gas stations also need power. Some states have tried to address this, notably Florida, but there is little consistency to the effort.

Then there’s the cost.

The larger propane-fueled generators consume about .9 gallon of propane per hour at half load, and propane is currently priced at $2.46/gallon. That’s about $50/day for electricity.

Gasoline generators?

This Briggs and Stratton 11hp, 6000 running watts unit is fairly typical: 13 hour running time at half load. That’s somewhere around $40 a day.

If your generator’s providing more than half load, it’s more expensive.

And don’t forget…if the power fails, the ATMs do too.
Getting cash to pay for that fuel may be a problem.

“Goodness, what beautiful diamonds”
“Goodness had nothin’ to do with it, dearie.”

–Mae West to Patricia Farley in “Night After Night

So how do we replace the lost services if we have no generator?

Let’s start with heat:

Kerosene heaters are an effective option when the power goes out. When it’s in the 20s-and even lower-one of these heaters can keep three rooms very cozy for about $10 a day. Put up a blanket and close off the hall, bring in the sleeping bags, and it’s “campout in the family room” time.

Cooking?

Who doesn’t have one of those Weber grills out in the yard? Get a couple of bags of charcoal now and put ‘em away, because you can cook everything in the fridge and freezer on a Weber.

I have personally made cornbread, corned beef and cabbage, and even meatloaf during times of no power-just make darn good and sure you do not ever do this indoors….or out in the garage.

As for the food: frozen food will survive for a day or two-maybe even three-if the door is kept closed; but if it’s constantly below 40 F. (4 C.)….well, the world is your refrigerator. You just load up a cooler, and all is good.

Entertainment?

Here’s where your car’s ability to charge things will come in handy. Use rechargeable things (iPod, portable DVD player, CD player); throw ‘em in the car as you go about your daily business, and recharge like crazy.

As a backup, go out right this minute and buy all the AA and D batteries you can lay your hands on….you’ll need them.

“Where is that man, that.…that officer?”
“Why he left….he had to leave sometime.”
“Oh, you sent him away?”
“No….he left under his own power.”

–Mae West and Jack La Rue in “Go West Young Man” (1936)

Of course, if all else fails….you’ll be doing some reading.
This logically brings us to how will you provide…

Lighting?

Two basic choices are available: the old-fashioned oil lamp, and the newfangled battery operated lamp. For reasons of fire safety, I prefer battery, and we have a lovely “camping lantern” with two fluorescent lamps (the thing requires eight D batteries, however), and numerous smaller LED lamps.

However, just this weekend, at Costco, I purchased the handheld millions of candlepower rechargeable lamp (it reports 20 hours of operation per charge); and I am here to tell you that the thing is not only extremely bright, but at a range of three feet or less, it makes an excellent personal heater.

That said, beware of rechargeable. You can only charge so much in a car in a day, and you need backups. If power is out for more than a few days, it may be time for oil lamps. (Just so you know, the larger the bottle of lamp oil you buy the cheaper….and there is a significant difference in price here, so look for large bottles or cans.)

Two more pieces of advice:

–You might want to leave a trickle of water flowing from your outside faucets…or head to the hardware store and get insulating covers, and if power fails you might want to do the same indoors (all of this is intended to keep from freezing your plumbing and splitting a pipe somewhere).

–It’s going to be easier to keep everyone warm if everyone has clothes for cold weather. Consider hitting the thrift shops now and getting yourself and the kids snow and ski clothing that you can keep in the attic until you need it. I have two ski coveralls, purchased at thrift shops in the middle of summer, for which I was truly grateful last December when we lost power for a week.

Bad weather is coming, and if you do some of this today it will make life so very much better if the power should vanish for a few days. And you’ll save a ton of money, too.

Best of luck; be ready, and most important of all-have some fun with it.
It’s not: “Damn, the power’s out!”
Instead, think of it as “camping out in the living room”.

To complete the effect, you can even go outside and make s’mores on the grill over the charcoal.