Dear Barbara: My Thanksgiving turkey was a bit dry last year. I have heard so many positive things about brining a turkey, that I decided that this year I would try it. Straight out of the box, I have a problem. I don’t have a kettle big enough to hold the turkey. Do you think that it would work if I used a new garbage bag and rubber-banded the top of the bag? — Julian from Turlock
Dear Julian: When I decided to try brining, your method was my first try.
I used a new garbage bag and put it in the sink in the garage. The wing tip poked a hole in the bag and my brine went down the drain.
OK, attempt No. 2 was to put it in a new garbage bag and set it in a large roasting pan, but the brine should cover the bird completely, and it didn’t, so that also did not work.
Here is what worked for me, and it can also work for you.
Many people now deep fry their turkeys. If you have a friend or neighbor that does fry their turkey, borrow the pot. It is the perfect size to hold the turkey.
Line it with a new, large garbage bag, place your turkey in it, and make enough brine to totally cover the bird. Add lots of ice to keep the turkey very cold.
You may have to weigh the bird down with a plate and a heavy can of something to keep it totally immersed. Place the lid on the pot and set it in the garage or cool place.
Very important: Keep plenty of ice in the brining pot. You must keep the turkey below 40 degrees to keep it from breeding bacteria!
Keep checking on it every few hours to make sure the ice has not melted.
Once you brine your turkey, you will not want it any other way. It absolutely guarantees that your turkey will be moist and succulent.
Dear Barbara: My husband and I love roasted butternut squash, and we have it frequently. They have always been hard to cut, but as I get older (I am 79), it is just almost impossible for me to cut a fresh butternut squash. Do you have any tips that would make the cutting easier? I don’t like the frozen stuff because I like to quarter it and roast it. Thank you. — Irene from Lodi
Dear Irene: That is a very good question, because you definitely are not alone, and it has nothing to do your age. You can buy them already cut in the fresh produce section, but you only get half or a quarter of a squash, so it isn’t very economical.
My husband and I also enjoy the squash, so I bought one to experiment with to see if I could come up with an easier way. I thought maybe an electric knife was the answer, but it isn’t. It is very slow, and I was afraid I would burn the motor up.
So, here is what I came up with. Place the squash on a paper plate, and put it in the microwave. Since most microwaves cook very differently, I would suggest five minutes at a time. Then try the electric knife. If it is very resistant, turn it over and microwave the squash for another five minutes. At that point it should yield to pressure of the electric knife. Cut it in quarters, clean out the seeds, and proceed to roast the squash in the usual manner. I hope this helps.
Dear Barbara: Rosemary is absolutely my favorite herb. I grow and dry my own. The problem I have with it is the texture. They are like little dry Christmas tree needles. When I try to chop them, they go flying all over my kitchen. I tried grinding them in a coffee grinder that I use for herbs, but I didn’t like that either; the flavor seemed weak. Is there an answer or do I just have to get over it? — Mike from Lodi
Dear Mike: When you dry rosemary, or any herb, and then grind it, there is a loss of essential oils, which is why the flavor seems weak. It is also very annoying when the dried rosemary goes flying about the room when you want to chop it!
I think you would have much more success if you cut fresh rosemary and then chop it. It is soft and pliable, and you can chop it as fine as you like and still retain the full flavor of the herb. The fragrance it gives off when chopped fresh is just amazing!
Barbara Spitzer is a Lodi home cook who also develops recipes for specific consumer products.
Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name and city.