Category Archives: for the meatatarians

Maple-Orange Glazed Turkey Breast, plus brine

For some people (like my husband), turkey isn’t a meat they particularly care to eat at any time of year, much less Christmas.  Let’s face it, turkey gets top billing at most holiday tables, and because so much tends to be consumed, rarely is it made and eaten again during the year.  Personally, I’m a fan of turkey because it’s generally pretty lean and can be flavored many different ways, like chicken.  So I’m down to eat turkey whenever, wherever.

I decided we’d have fancy Christmas dinner at home on Christmas Eve (which didn’t materialize–long story) and that we’d have turkey breast.  Since there are only two of us with a very small freezer whose space is at a premium, it makes no sense to buy an entire bird for two.   The grocery store where we shop sells bone-in split turkey breast, so I bought two of those and decided to go from there.

Back in 2007, I’d made a maple glazed bird for a family Christmas gathering at my mom’s that was very well received.  I’d bought the bird, pre-brined by the butcher and then coated it with a maple herb butter concoction I’d made, basting it once it began cooking so that it would all seep into the bird evenly.  This time, I didn’t have a whole bird, and I didn’t want just a maple flavor.  I also didn’t have brined turkey to work with since I’d bought fresh split breasts.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Brine?  Isn’t that just salt water?”  Yeah it is, but I gotta tell you:  It’s all about the brine, baby.  If the only turkey you’ve ever eaten said “Butterball” on it, you’ve had a somewhat brined bird–you just didn’t realize it.  Next time you buy one of those, look at the label for the part that says “injected with __% saline solution.”  That’s a type of brine.

The brine is what helps keep the bird moist during the cooking time by relaxing the proteins of the muscle fibers somewhat.  For a more thorough explanation, read more here.  The great thing about brining a bird (it also works for lean pork too) is that it can help impart great flavor, dependent on what is in the brine mixture.  Because I wanted my bird to have a maple-orange flavor throughout and not just on the skin, I crafted my brine with those flavors too.

After I brined my turkey breasts for almost 2 days, then I roasted them off in the oven and oh my word…

When there are only two people eating, bone-in turkey breast is a great way to still have turkey for the holidays. The key to cooking the breast here is the brine.

I’m not gonna lie, this was the best turkey breast I have ever eaten:  juicy, full of flavor and absolutely gorgeous coming out of the oven.  So without further ado, here’s how you can make your own.  I’ll warn you, this is a several-day process, so don’t read this expecting to get it on your dinner table tonight or even tomorrow night.  It took me 3 days to get the above result.  Also, you will have to adjust your quantities for the amount of bird you are cooking.  The brine recipe was for 2 split bone-in breasts that were about 7 pounds total.

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

For the brine:

  • 4 quarts of water
  • 6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup dark maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • peel of one orange (I used a vegetable peeler to remove just the peel, taking care not to get any of the white pith underneath)
  • 2 tablespoons peppercorns

In a large stockpot, dissolve the salt and sugar in the water.  Add the syrup, thyme, garlic, peppercorns and orange peel, stirring to mix.  Allow this mixture to come to a slight boil.  Once the flavors have had a chance to marry, remove this from the heat and cool completely in the refrigerator (overnight is best).  NOTE:  some people like to cool their brines immediately with ice, and then plunge their birds into the diluted brine.  I elected not to do this, since it would dilute the mixture and thus dilute the flavor.  This is one reason this process took a long time.  Also, note that this brine recipe is not terribly salty, so your bird will not take on a salty flavor if you are worried about such things.  It won’t be sweet either, even though there is a lot of sweet going on here.

To prepare the turkey for brining the next day, you will need:

  • 2 fresh split bone-in turkey breasts, about 7 pounds total

You have a couple of options here.  You can either plunge the turkey directly into the cold brine, and let it sit in the pot you cooked the brine in, or you can do what I did.  I got a large 3-quart baking dish and a couple of gallon ziplock bags.  I placed a turkey breast in each bag, and set the bags into the baking dish.  I then used a ladle to cover the meat with the brine, sealed the bags tightly, making sure much of the air was pushed out (so that room could be made for liquid) and set them flat in the refrigerator so that the meat was submerged in the brine.  I allowed this to sit for roughly 36 hours.

You can also make the Maple-Orange Herb Butter ahead of time so that when it is time to finally cook the bird, everything is ready.  Here’s how I made it.  You will need:

  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • salt to taste

In a saucepan, heat the orange juice to a boil, cooking until its volume is reduced by half.  Add the maple syrup and butter, melting the butter.  Whisk in the thyme, whisking the mixture so the butter incorporates with the reduced juice and syrup.  Pour the mixture into a container and refrigerate until slightly solid.  You will smear this onto the turkey before and during cooking.

After the breasts were sufficiently brined, here is how I cooked them.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.  Remove the breasts from the brine and give them a quick rinse.  Set them on a jelly roll pan covered in parchment paper (easy cleanup, for the win!) and coat the tops of the breasts with the maple-orange herb butter you prepared earlier.  If you can, slide some of the butter mixture under the skin as well, since this will give the bird more flavor (and who doesn’t like that?).  Roast the breasts for about 2 hours, drizzling the butter mixture over the top about every 45 minutes.  The turkey will be done when a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 170-180 degrees.

Let the meat sit for about 15 minutes before cutting into it, or you risk releasing all that lovely juiciness of the meat onto your serving plate, and then you’ll be sad that you worked so hard to make a juicy bird only to have the juices on the plate and not in your mouth.

Since I cooked two breasts, this recipe served 2 adults for 2 meals.  I will seriously make turkey breast this way from now on.  Labor intensive?  Yes.  Flavor intensive?  Oh yeah.



Feij-what? you’re probably wondering.

I got the latest issue of Cooking Light in my mailbox this week and Friday night finally had a chance to read it.  In this issue, there was a collection of recipes for the slow cooker and among them was one that stuck out at me:  Brazilian Feijoada.

Traditional Brazilian feijoada (pronounced fay-ZWAH-dah) is a meaty stew cooked with a variety of pork and beef products and is usually served over rice with orange wedges.  It is a dish that usually cooks all day long and is usually cooked in stages with varying techniques:  stewing, braising, roasting.  Because the cooking process for this dish is so involved, it is usually not something the average home cook makes often and is usually reserved for special occasions.   The Cooking Light version of this recipe made it seem like making it was no big feat, so I decided to give it a try, with a few modifications.  The original recipe called for both pork shoulder (a bit fatty, I thought) and onion, both of which I left out.  In place of the shoulder, I used a pork tenderloin that cut down the fat content but did not change the flavor.  Leaving out the onions of course changes the flavor, but I think next time I make this (and I do plan on making it again), I will use a bouquet garni and just take it out prior to serving.  I also used canned, rinsed black beans in place of the dried beans the original recipe calls for in order to save time.

This is a heavy dish, so we ate it with a bit of steamed rice, lime wedges and whole wheat tortillas.  You really don’t need anything else!

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 5 slices bacon
  • 1 pound pork tenderloin
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 4 very meaty beef short ribs, trimmed of their fat (about 2-2 1/2 pounds)
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cans black beans, drained of their liquid and rinsed
  • Special equipment:  a 6 quart slow cooker

Cook the bacon until crisp in a large skillet.  While the bacon cooks, cut your tenderloin into 1″ chunks.  Remove the bacon from the skillet, and saute the tenderloin in the pan drippings along with the garlic until brown on all sides, about 6-7 minutes.

Once the tenderloin chunks have browned, remove them to the slow cooker.  Brown your short ribs on all sides in the remaining drippings.  Once the ribs are brown, place them into the slow cooker with the broth, beans, bacon, water, and ham hock.  Sprinkle the salt and pepper over everything, give it a good stir to mix everything and cook on low for 8 hours.

When the dish is completely cooked, remove the ham hock and bones from the short ribs.  Shred the rib meat with a couple of forks and serve over steamed rice.

This dish makes 8 1 1/4  cup servings.  It should be noted that this dish is not meant to be spicy, hence the absence of anything that might add fire to the flavor.  It is rather heavy, so it is best served as a standalone dish with rice or a salad.

This recipe was modified from its original form, found in the March 2011 issue of Cooking Light here.

The $100 Dinner: Beef Tenderloin

I never said that meals I posted here would be of the frugal variety, yet this one ended up being so, as far as special occasion meals go.  Sweet Baboo and I decided we’d stay in this Valentine’s Day, as money was a bit tight this go round and we didn’t feel like being subject to restaurant specials and all that stuff that goes along with the holiday.

So yesterday while we were doing our usual weekly grocery shopping at Central Market, I decided to pick up something special for a Valentine’s Day dinner to treat SB and myself to.  Central Market just so happened to have beef tenderloin on sale, which I elected over ribeye for its lower fat content.  While I love a good ribeye (and truly, who doesn’t?), I was aiming for a cut of beef with less fat but that would still have fantastic flavor.  Mind you, I only fed two of us, so that is one factor that kept the cost down, but honestly, if we had gone out to eat at our usual favorite fancy steakhouse for the same cut of meat, we would have easily spent $40+ each for the steak alone.  After we ate, SB said, “You should call this the Hundred Dollar Dinner, because that’s probably how much it all would have cost if we’d have gone out.”

We estimated that had we gone out to eat for this meal, we would have easily paid over $100 for both of us to eat! Would you believe this dinner for two was less than $30?

And would you believe it was less than $30, including the sides?  Here is the centerpiece of our Valentine’s dinner:

The most prized part of a cow, the tenderloin is best cooked by searing it first in a hot skillet, then rubbed with spices and then roasted briefly at high heat.

I ended up buying a tenderloin that was a little over 1 pound, figuring roughly 8 ounces of beef per person, once cooking had taken place.  It ended up being the perfect size for both of us, and was rather easy to cook.  I’d always been afraid to cook a tenderloin, as cooking beef is not my forte.  I did a bit of research before heading into the kitchen to try and make this lovely piece of meat taste like it had come out of a restaurant kitchen.  Once I’d actually gone through the motions and cooked it, it turned out to be so much easier than I’d imagined.  You can do it too!  Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 1-1 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided into 2 and 1
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Additional spices of your choosing

If you buy your tenderloin from a meat counter, do yourself a favor and get the meatcutter/butcher to remove the silvery membrane on the outside.  If this is left on, it will cause your tenderloin to curl up, and is tough to cut and chew.  Where I purchased mine, the tenderloin was already trimmed, so I did not have to worry about this.

Allow the meat to sit at room temperature for approximately 30-45 minutes before beginning to cook.  Once the meat has reached room temperature, blot it dry with a paper towel to remove excess moisture as any moisture on the outside will interfere with the browning process when you sear it.  Sprinkle the outside liberally with salt and pepper.  Remember, you are only seasoning the outside so it is okay to overseason the meat.

In a skillet heated to medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil until they just reach smoking.  Using a set of tongs, place the tenderloin in the pan and allow it to brown for 6 or 7 minutes on each side so a nice brown crust develops.  This part takes about 20-25 minutes, but is well worth the investment.

Once you’re done searing the loin, allow it to rest on a rack set inside a baking sheet for about 10 minutes.  During this time, preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.

After the meat has rested for 8-10 minutes, sprinkle more salt, pepper and whatever other spices you like on it.  Brush with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and put it in the oven.  For a rare tenderloin roast, cook for 15-20 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into the meatiest portion reaches 120 degrees.   Remove the tenderloin from the oven and let it rest under foil, where it will continue cooking, for about 10 minutes.  Don’t cut into it as soon as you remove it from the oven, or you run the risk of a dry piece of meat as all the juices will run out.

As expensive a piece of meat as this is, you don’t want to mess it up by being anxious to cut into it right away!  Let it rest, and allow it to finish cooking and you will be richly rewarded.

Tomorrow, I’ll post the recipe for the bourbon cream mushroom sauce that accompanied Sweet Baboo’s dinner, which he said was outstanding.  I’ll take him at his word, since I’m not a fan of fungi.

Easy Meat Sauce

The good thing about being winter causing you to be cooped up in your home for 4 days is that you’re constantly eating at home, which is a good thing.  In a normal week, we go out to eat at least 2 or 3 times, partially because my schedule is so harried.  In addition to teaching full time, I also have a part-time job (that Master’s degree isn’t going to pay for itself) and work in time to get in about 30 minutes to an hour of activity each day.  As I am the chief cook in the house and do the majority of the cooking, some days there simply isn’t time or inclination to do it.

This week has been the exception rather than the rule, and so I’ve cooked every single day.  Last night, I cooked up a pot of pasta sauce that we froze a good chunk of, which we will probably eat next week once things return to their normal, crazy busy state.

Now, I am a meat eater.  Always have been, and always will be.  I crave protein, and prefer it to carbohydrate.  Funny how that works out, being diabetic and all.  So when I make pasta sauce, it always has a meat base.  This sauce uses ground sirloin (quite lean) and ground pork (also pretty lean) rather than my standby hot Italian sausage (which I had none of).  With the addition of herbs and spices, though, it tasted as though I’d made it with my usual sausage suspect.  It’s a thick, meaty sauce that’s good over any type of pasta, and could be used in a lasagna, if one were inclined to make it.


An easy, meaty sauce for all kinds of pasta.

Today I served it up over some farfalle, with a bit of shredded mozzarella.  It was even better today!  Here is how I did it.  You will need:


  • 1 pound ground sirloin
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 28 ounce can tomato puree (I used Muir Glen)
  • 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons red pepper flakes (we like ours with a bit of bite; reduce this if you like)
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper

In a large Dutch oven, brown both the sirloin and pork, breaking them up as the meat cooks.  You want the meat to be crumbly.  Add in a tablespoon of the pepper flakes.  Once the meat has cooked, drain off the excess fat and pour in the tomato puree, water and tomato paste.  Add the remaining spices and stir completely to combine.  Cook over medium heat until the sauce bubbles, and then reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes.

Serve over hot pasta, polenta or whatever you like.   This recipe made about 10 cups of sauce.

NOTE:  If I had had bell peppers, I would have added them to the sauce to up the veggie factor.  Also, onions would be superb in this recipe, and if I could add a diced onion, I would have done that.

Bourbon-braised Short Ribs with Savory Cheddar-Thyme Polenta

If you aren’t fully aware (or living in a cave), the majority of the country is buried under some form of frozen precipitation, our part of Texas included.  Needless to say, with a couple of inches of solid ice on the ground, neither I or Sweet Baboo had to go off to school today.  I was supposed to be off work today anyhow, as I had scheduled a doctor’s appointment, but the weather closed her office down too.   I’d decided over the weekend that since I was going to be home today anyhow, that I’d make the short ribs I bought a couple of weeks ago that were sitting in the freezer.  Since we were iced in today and travel was going to be damned near impossible, it was a good opportunity to get some cooking done that I don’t normally get to do during the week when school is in session.

Enter the bourbon-braised short ribs:

These bourbon braised short ribs made for a perfect cold weather dinner. The bourbon adds a nice flavor to the pot liquor that warms you to your toes.

I’d been wanting to make short ribs for quite some time, especially since I saw this recipe over at Pioneer Woman’s blog.  However, I didn’t have any red wine in the house, nor did I have shallots (not that it matters; can’t use them anyway).  So I did a bit of research to get a general idea of how braised short ribs should be made, and came up with my own version.  And the verdict:  they were absolutely luscious, rich and oh so good!  I served my ribs atop a bed of cheddar-thyme polenta, which was an excellent accompaniment.  Mashed potatoes would also be good here.

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 6 meaty beef short ribs (the meatier, the better); about 2 pounds
  • 6 cups beef stock
  • 1 cup good bourbon (I used Knob Creek)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups diced celery
  • 1 cup diced carrots, plus 2 cups whole baby-cut carrots
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme (chopped), plus 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons coarse grind black pepper (or use freshly ground)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic

Before you begin cooking, set the short ribs out on the countertop to allow them to come to room temperature.  This helps them to cook more evenly when you are browning them.

Once your ribs have come to room temperature, pat them dry with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture.  This aids in the browning process (thanks Julia Child!).  Sprinkle them with the salt and pepper.

In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil.  Once it is hot, carefully add the ribs to the pot, but do not crowd them.  You want to brown them on the meaty sides of the ribs, about 2 or 3 minutes or so on each side, until they have a lovely brown color.  If your ribs do not fit, then perform this step in batches so that the meat does not crowd the pan.  Remove the ribs from the pan to a bowl for the time being.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Once you have browned the meat, deglaze the pot with the cup of bourbon.  If you have a gas stove, be careful at this step!  You will be met with a cloud of bourbony goodness.  Stir the browned bits on the bottom of the pot, and then add the garlic, chopped thyme, celery and carrots to the pot.  Give them a quick saute, about 3 minutes or so, enough to coat the veggies with the little sauce you’ve just made.

Add the ribs back to the pot, standing them up in the vegetables.  Pour the beef broth over the contents of the pot.  Toss the sprigs of thyme on top and carefully stir in the granulated garlic.  Cover the pot tightly with the lid, and place in the oven for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.

The greatest thing about this is that you put it in the oven, and walk away.

As for the polenta, that was easy to make too.  You need:

  • 1 cup polenta (or cornmeal)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon shredded Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

In a large saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to a boil.  Add the salt, and slowly pour the polenta into the boiling water in a steady stream, whisking it in.  Once all the polenta has been added and incorporated into the water, turn the heat down to low.  Allow this to cook over low heat, stirring frequently for 15-20 minutes.  When the polenta is cooked, stir in the butter until it melts, and then stir in the cheeses and thyme until evenly distributed and melted through.

The short ribs recipe makes enough for 3 people to have two short ribs apiece, plus veggies.  The polenta recipe makes about 6 cups, so there may be leftovers.