Tis the season to cook, bake, and brine

origami turkey
Photo by Brian Chan

One of the biggest cooking days of the year is just around the corner. What are you making?

Last year, my husband and I were in charge of the turkey – daunting to say the least. Before this, I had always safely brought a pie, or a veggie, or heck, the cranberry sauce. I was nervous but determined to pull it off.

And I’m happy to say that the turkey rocked. It really was so good. The meat was juicy, not overcooked, and flavored just so.  The secret?  Brining. It was the key to the meat being moist – a first for me with turkey.

Here’s the recipe we used for spiced apple cider brined turkey, adapted from The University of Illinois Extension.  They also have some really useful cooking facts and techniques for turkey.  If you use this – or if you have any other great turkey recipe – let me know!

The Food Network is calling all Simple Mom readers

Have you heard of the Food Network? On TV? I thought so.

Well, they’d like Simple Mom readers to contribute cooking questions and dilemmas to Aida Mollenkamp. She’s got a cooking show on Food Network, Ask Aida, and she’s an editor on CHOW.

I’ve already watched a ton of her videos, and I’ve really enjoyed them – my favorite is watching her make pie crust. That’s usually my holiday arch nemesis.

So… What are your cooking challenges? Your baking dilemmas? The things you just can’t seem to figure out in the kitchen? Have anything that’s particularly frustrating for you, especially during the holiday cooking season?

Submit any and all cooking conundrums in the comments section below, and they’ll select three to feature on the show.

Here’s my submission:

I’ve never been great at making sugar cookies, but my daughter loves making them – especially during the holidays. What’s a good way to roll out the dough and use cookie cutters without them falling apart and making a big mess?

The Simple Mom community is great at conversation, so I have no doubt you’ll participate. Food Network needs to submit the questions to Aida by November 26 – that’s this Wednesday – so don’t delay!

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. I love chicken marsala, and have a bottle of good marsala to make it with (i.e. not “cooking wine”), but I can only make it so often before my kids and husband revolt against me! What else can I make with marsala?

  2. We are doing the traditional turkey with most of the traditional sides. We briefly considered deep frying a turkey for the first time but nixed that idea after realizing we’d miss the heavenly aromas from the roasting bird (along with all the pan drippings for gravy.)

    This is MY day to cook (we have several cooks in the family) and I LOVE it!

    Mary´s last blog post…Consider adding a taste of Savannah to your Thanksgiving menu …

  3. My question is about timing it all: how do you time cooking everything in your holiday spread so that it’s all at the right temperature when it’s time to serve it?

    heather´s last blog post…Listen to the Story of My First Zine on Hello Craft Podcast

  4. My question is:
    Do I always have to pre-heat the oven? I understand the importance for it when baking, but for regular cooking (a lasagna, a roast, etc.) can I skip this step for the sake of saving energy and saving a bit of money?

  5. As for me and my house…we will always brine!!! :0 Hubs started this a few years ago and we won’t ever go back! Brining is the way to go!!! I have no idea the recipe he uses, but it is slammin’!!!
    Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

    Lori´s last blog post…Holiday Traditions

  6. We like the traditional menu, roast turkey and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, however the spiced apple cider brined turkey sounds great.

    Sorry, I don’t have any questions…

    Melody´s last blog post…Anise Christmas Cookies

  7. Oh, brining is incredible. I have a recipe for apple cider pork loin that’s amazing. Thanks for the link!

    Angie (from over at http://www.HalfAssedKitchen.com)

    Half Assed Kitchen´s last blog post…Cocktail sausages in honey-sesame glaze

  8. Cooking meat is seriously what I am worst at, hands down. I always overcook! The turkey recipe sounds amazing though . . .

    I would piggyback off your question. My boys love sugar cookies, but where as I have no problem with keeping them together, it seems like the taste of the cookie suffers. I would love a recipe for making holiday cookies with the kids that tastes great and makes great shapes that stay together! I have been searching for this for YEARS.

    Lucie @ Unconventional Origins´s last blog post…Reflections: An Unconventional Tradition? My Path to the Altar…

  9. I love the question about how to time all the elements of your holiday meal. Naturally, I have difficulty with this on any given evening, let alone the holidays!

    Also, I made cookies last night and they spread like crazy and were thin as paper. I used the same recipe that I always use and the same pan. They usually turn out beautifully. What happened??

  10. No matter how many times I make pastry for pies or butter tarts, it always ends up cracking and splitting. How can I prevent this and make perfect pastry?

  11. I have a VITAL question for all of you who have BRINED turkeys: Can you make gravy as usual and if so, does it taste the same? I am considering trying this brining concept, but honestly, I am all about the GRAVY and mashed potatoes, and don’t want to risk ruining the precious precious gravy! =)

  12. My hubby deep fries our turkey and it is SOOOOO good! He injects it with apple juice and puts a rub on it (sorry – the turkey is his job so I don’t know the ingredients). It’s always moist and the mess from the turkey is all outside – not in my kitchen. 🙂 We don’t miss the smell of the roasting turkey, because our house smells like homemade apple pie on Thanksgiving morning. With no turkey roasting in the oven I have room to make my pie Thanksgiving morning instead of the night before. Yum! I can’t wait!

  13. I don’t have any questions…but, this is my daughter’s first Thanksgiving, and I can’t believe how much it has changed my outlook on cooking and the day in general. I realize I want to know more about cooking so I can share it with her, and we can do it together!

    Joy (from Just Plain Joy)´s last blog post…10 Ways to Avoid Overpaying – and How I Did It!

  14. my holiday baking issue is also about cookies. my son and i love making gingerbread cookies – but for some reason when i roll them out they are always a bit floppy and get out of shape when i’m transferring them to the baking sheet. how can i prevent this from happening? there is nothing worse than a wonky-looking gingerbread man!!

    Krista´s last blog post…fun with kids – Cinnamon Christmas Tree Ornaments

  15. I think it’s hard to find a cutout cookie recipe that has a lot of flavor and won’t fall apart. Keeping the dough cold is important.

    As for Thanksgiving, I would love to try brining the turkey, but I’m not on turkey duty this year. My most important job (every year) is pecan pie – and mine is awesome, if I do say so myself! The crust can be tricky; I make it in the Cuisinart now and it’s usually pretty good.

    I’d like to find some nice appetizer recipes that are relatively healthy!

    Vintage Mommy´s last blog post…Mommy Moment or Senior Moment II

  16. I usually bake my turkey in an oven bag with just some salt and olive oil. It always turns out juicy and delicious!! At our house, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and giblet gravy, sparkling cider and of course, pumpkin pie, apple pie and some type of candy!!

    Deb´s last blog post…A Week of Thankfulness

  17. Sherri Ireson says:

    I have a cookie press and would really love to make all of those cookies. However, every recipe that I have tried doesn’t work. The dough is too sticky, too runny, or too hard. Please help! I want to be able to whip out some for Christmas!

  18. For sugar cookies go to allrecipes.com and look for the best sugar cookie recipe. I’ve had great luck with this. Roll your dough out on Parchment paper. Cut out your cookies, then take away the scraps. transfer the parchment paper to your baking sheet and your shapes will hold. I like the cookies to be thin and this way works the best. Also if your dough is sticky use confectioners sugar to “flour ” the rolling pin when rolling out the dough. Happy baking!

  19. My best luck with sugar cookies (and I use egg free recipes due to my son’s allergy, so they don’t have the egg to bind them, so really prone to falling apart) has been to roll the dough out between sheets of parchment paper that has been lightly dusted with powdered sugar (or flour, if you prefer) and then I put the whole thing – rolled dough with parchment paper and all – on a cookie sheet in the freezer and continue til all the dough is rolled out. When it’s hard and frozen, I take it out and cut it while it’s still nice and cold but before it gets so soft that it’s impossible to work with. Then I repeat the process to reroll and use the extra. A little time consuming, you have to plan ahead a little, but it’s been SO worth it for me!

  20. I’ve brined the turkey before, and while the bird was moist, the drippings ended up too salty for the gravy (I probably didn’t rinse the bird sufficiently). The Apple Cider Brine sounds wonderful, though.

    The best turkey I’ve done was last year when I got my hands on my father-in-law’s grill and prepared it on the rotisserie. It turned out heavenly – moist on the inside and crisp on the outside. The best part of doing it on the grill is that you then have the oven available for other dishes.

    As far as cookies go, I always make gingerbread cookies for Christmas (as well as for Halloween) and my family recipe never fails. I usually make the dough two days in advance and it makes it easy to work with and the cookies keep their shape nicely.

  21. M question is about oven temperatures. I have often heard that you should calibrate your oven. How do you do this? How often should it be done?

  22. We found out my son has Celiac Disease and my daughter has a gluten allergy this past year. So my major dilemma is going to Thanksgiving at our Aunt’s house and I am going to have to bring practically every side dish but Gluten free. Any good recipes for desserts or stuffing?

    Keilah´s last blog post…December 3 is Giveaway Day!!

  23. Question for Aida: is there a secret to cooking tofu? Our family went organic on meat this year, which means due to cost we eat meat less often. Hubby hates it when tofu is on his supper plate. Help! I need some flavorful ideas and fresh ways to use tofu that he’ll gobble up.

    What i’m making for thanksgiving: I don’t get to make any of the main meal, mother-in-law won’t allow contributors. I do get to bring pies, made from scratch: pecan, pumpkin and cherry with fresh whipped cream (not the stuff in the tub-did you know there is not one single dairy product in those tubs?). This year to add some nutrition to our pre-meal snacking I’m going to make some spiced pumpkin seeds from a recipe I got on What’s Cooking. I’m betting kids and adults love them and all their carotenoids and omega 3 brain boosting goodness. Food With Kid Appeal

    jenna @ foodwithkidappeal´s last blog post…My Favorite Organic brands

  24. My question is probably as old as Thanksgiving itself. How do you make perfect gravy? I’ve loved cooking all my life, but my gravy results are always hit and miss. Is there a secret to really great gravy?

  25. i’m going to piggyback on the tofu question. my family is vegetarian, but i refuse to cook tofu b/cs it NEVER turns out correctly. i love whole food’s marinated versions at the deli section… how does one get tofu to turn out like that at home? (firm, chewy texture but not rubbery, but not slimy either) i press and press my tofu (and buy extra extra firm) and have tried both silken and chinese. it’s always too crumbly or slimy. help!

    misty´s last blog post…Blahging….

  26. I need help with making pie crusts. I’m currently resorting to the folded, refrigerated type of crusts, but the flavor just isn’t like homemade. How can I make the perfect pie crust?

    Sandy´s last blog post…Thanksgiving to God

  27. I never have trouble with my sugar cookies as long as I refrigerate the dough before I roll it out.

  28. I like to bake, but add yeast and I flunk. Are there any good tips for making yummy rolls that don’t taste like cardboard ones from the store? Mine never rise right. Or alternatively, maybe I’m just not buying the right ones?

    Gabriel´s last blog post…New Blog

  29. My bread machine recently gave up the ghost and I want rolls for Thanksgiving. Problem is, I can not PAY yeast to rise on it’s own. It seems to know it’s me trying to get it to do it’s magic, and I never have ANY success.

    My question is: What is a fool-proof homemade dinner roll recipe? And, I mean, fool-proof!!!!!!

    Holli T.

    • you can proof the yeast in a little warm (not hot) water with some sugar mixed in – when you see that it’s gotten quite frothy, throw it in with the rest of your ingredients. when it comes to letting the dough rise, i do it in my oven with the light turned on. since we keep our house at a lower temp to save money, the oven with the light on is just over 70F, a nice warm spot for the dough to do it’s thing 🙂

      Krista´s last blog post…For Krista

  30. As a southern woman, I feel compelled to learn to cook with cast iron, but don’t have a clue how to use it. I think my husband is getting me some cast iron pieces as a Christmas gift. I know it needs to be seasoned, but don’t know what this means. Any tips for cooking with cast iron? A friend of mine made a cake in a cast iron skillet with blueberries and pineapple on the bottom, but we’ve lost touch. Have a recipe like that? Thanks!!

    • hi Julie! i love cooking with cast iron. i’ve never made a cake in mine, but i love to bake cornbread in it. i have a recipe for cornbread in cast iron on the kid appeal blog. i love the crisp edges you get in the cast iron. i also like to saute veggies in it, it caramelizes carrots, onions brussels sprouts very well. hope this helps!

      jenna @ foodwithkidappeal´s last blog post…My Favorite Organic brands

  31. my question is about baking cheesecake. I have tried making it several times but just can’t seem to get it right. I’ve tried using a water bath… and without. I’ve even tried baking mini cheesecakes. What is the best way?

  32. I like to bake cookies with my kids for their great aunts–those who remember them all year long but whom we don’t exchange gifts with…but I don’t have the time or energy to bake all these cookies from scratch the two days or so leading up to Christmas…I want them fresh…Can I bake them earlier? Can I freeze them?

  33. Cookie longevity depends on the recipe and how you store them. Anything with lots of butter won’t last forever, but you can extend this by keeping them sealed and in the fridge.

    But frankly, most cookies will easily stay fresh for a week or more. Heck, we found some gingerbread cookies we baked and misplaced before Christmas around following Easter and they were still crunchy and delicious. I imagine the honey in them helped preserve them.

  34. I have always been somewhat daunted by turkey, and have tended to go with a nice ham! But this recipe sounds great, I may have to give it a try. Maybe I can persuade my husband that it would be a good idea to do a practice turkey in advance 😉

    And I love the origami turkey. I was waiting for that pic to load, and it was quite a surprise!
    .-= Valerie@CookingSharp´s last blog ..Grape Nut Bread Vintage Recipe =-.

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