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Archive for November, 2010

Taming Your Turkey: A Thanksgiving Guide

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

My head is swimming with turkeys. Every magazine I open, every talk show…it’s all about the big T-day.  If turkey has become the all-American symbol for sustenance and gratitude, family times and comfort, then serving up a good turkey sure piles on the pressure!  Dried out, crusty white meat covered in gloppy, viscous gravy is not what warm and fuzzy Thanksgiving imagery is made of.    So much time and planning is spent on what often ends up being a meal you’d rather forget.  Don’t despair (or make reservations)!  Here’s a little Turkey 101, or more specifically Kosher Turkey 101 to ensure the kind of Thanksgiving you’re hoping to remember.   So grab a cup of tea, sit back and read on.

The Challenge

Thanksgiving guides are replete with Do’s and Don’ts, fancy equipment and paraphernalia, and charts (I love charts!) all dedicated to the noble task of producing a)an attractive bird with b)crispy skin and most importantly c)tender moist meat that is flavorful and juicy.  That is the goal, and not always an easily achievable one, as preparing a good turkey poses many challenges: First, it can have a bland flavor, often requiring a boost.  Second, there’s the technical issue that the white meat cooks faster than the dark meat, often resulting in a bird that is either dried out or raw. And finally, turkey roasts for a long time, so you’d better time it right — in time for dinner.

Planning Ahead (…Thanksgiving is in a week, so that means NOW!)

  • Get outfitted.  Don’t waste precious time trying to find the right equipment that will make your cooking go more smoothly on the day of (and running out to the market on Thanksgiving Day is never a good use of time or energy).  Here are a few items to consider using/purchasing/borrowing:
  • Heavy-duty roasting pan. While it’s true that a disposable roasting pan provides an easy clean-up, the benefits of a good heavy-duty roasting pan include better and more even conduction of heat as well as a terrifically easy way to deglaze the wonderful pan juices to make gravy (since the pan can go right on the fire).
  • U- or V-shaped roasting rack. This promotes an even circulation of heat around the meat and prevents the turkey from getting soggy after sitting in the pan juices.
  • Carving set. A good sharp carving knife will yield thin turkey slices (without shredding it to pieces) with ease.  A 2-pronged carving fork will hold that baby in place without slippage during carving.
  • Meat Thermometer. Cooking a turkey is not rocket science…but it is science.  Remove the guesswork by properly gauging temperature.  Your bird will give you a big, juicy “thank you”!  
  • Twine.  A sturdy cotton twine is useful to tie the legs together before roasting. Don’t forget to remove the string before serving.
  • Baster (optional).  A good baster enables you to quickly draw large quantities of liquid from the bottom of the roasting pan and release them on top of the bird before too much heat escapes from the oven; plus, it gives you a longer reach than a spoon, so you won’t burn yourself.
  • Fat Separator (Optional).  When making gravy, you’ll need to separate the fat from the pan juices. You can do this with a ladle, but this specially designed cup makes the process quick and easy with a low spout that allows you to pour off the liquid, leaving the fat behind.
  • Make a menu and cooking plan. It pays to be a little organized and spend 10 minutes now to save hours later.   First, make your menu and shopping lists.  Then spend another 5 minutes to organize the cooking tasks, starting from the day of Thanksgiving and then working backwards, breaking down and assigning tasks that can be done 1, 2, or more days in advance (….since most people can’t quit their jobs to prepare for a 3-hour meal).    If using a frozen bird, allow ample time for defrosting in the schedule (see below).

Preparing the bird

  • How big is big enough? As a general rule, purchase a turkey that is approximately 1 pound per person.  If leftovers are desired, then 1½ pounds per person (for example, a 12-14 lb. will feed 8).
  • Defrosting. If using a frozen bird, allow about 24 hours per 4-5 lbs. defrosting in your refrigerator (the USDA tells you not to leave it out on the counter to defrost), which means you’ll need 3-5 days depending on the size of the bird.  A cold water bath is a quicker method, but ice or new cold water must be added/replaced to maintain the cold temperature.
  • Cleaning the bird. The turkey should be washed inside and out, taking care to remove the neck/giblets from inside the cavity (and reserved for later use).  A sharp knife or tweezers is helpful in removing any leftover pinfeathers or quills.  Wash and pat dry with paper toweling.

Roasting with Flavor

There are many ways to boost moisture and flavor when roasting a turkey, but not all of them are necessarily applicable when roasting a kosher turkey.  Brining is a very popular method that uses a saltwater solution to ensure a full distribution of flavor…but the koshering process takes care of that for us, so we’re one step ahead.  Slathering butter all over the turkey skin (or underneath) is a great way of boosting moisture…but that’s not kosher.  Moving right along…

Some people inject their turkeys with some kind of fat, be it butter (not in our case), or olive oil.  I’m content with a good old spice or herb rub, which if applied in advance can act like a marinade.  In addition, I recommend stuffing the cavity not with stuffing (more on that in a minute), but rather with aromatics (like onion, herbs, lemon, etc.) that will help infuse flavor through circulation from the cavity while cooking.  You can try some or all of these methods and decide which suits you…or your turkey.

Stuffing and Trussing

There is nothing quite as good as stuffing made inside the bird, all soaked up with the turkey juices and fatty deliciousness. But the verdict has been out for some time now that stuffing cooked in the bird can present food safety issues as the stuffing is often not done when the meat is.  Additionally, the stuffing can throw off how evenly the meat is cooked, as it can restrict proper air circulation in the bird during the cooking process.    Bottom line recommendation: stuff your turkey with aromatics and make your stuffing separately, but do add in extra stock/rendered turkey fat to make up for the turkey juices it would have absorbed inside.

Once your bird is prepared, place on a rack in your roasting pan.  It is a good idea to tie the turkey’s legs together with kitchen twine, both for a nice neat appearance and also to keep inside whatever was intended to stay that way.

Roasting temperatures and times

Says the old adage “there are many ways to skin a cat”…or in this case – to roast a turkey.  To avoid having dried out white meat, many favor starting the cooking breast side down and then flipping it in the last hour or so to brown the breast.  If you have a very large Turkey, this may be somewhat impractical as it is cumbersome to accomplish.  In this case, tent foil over the turkey to protect the breast from the heat.  Then uncover for the last 30-60 minutes to brown and crisp the skin.  Some brown their skin at the start with a blast of high heat (say 450-500°) for about 30 minutes, and then lower the oven temperature to 325-350° for a slow and tender roasting.  Either way you choose, don’t be afraid to tent foil if the skin is browning to fast.  The turkey is done, according to the USDA, when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degree Fahrenheit – take temperature in the thigh or under the wing.  Don’t forget: once the turkey is out of the oven, the internal temperature will continue to rise an additional 10-15 degrees when resting (so people who like a very juicy turkey might remove it a few degrees lower).

Size of Turkey: Roast Time: Temperature:
If your turkey weighs 12 to 14 pounds,
roast it for:
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours
2 1/2 to 2 3/4 hours
2 3/4 to 3 hours
3 to 3 3/4 hours
If your turkey weighs 15 to 16 pounds,
roast it for:
3 to 3 1/4 hours
3 1/4 to 3 1/2 hours
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 hours
3 3/4 to 4 hours
If your turkey weighs 18 to 20 pounds,
roast it for:
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 hours
3 3/4 to 4 hours
4 to 4 1/4 hours
4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
If your turkey weighs 21 to 22 pounds,
roast it for:
4 to 4 1/4 hours
4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
4 1/2 to 4 3/4
4 3/4 to 5 hours
If your turkey weighs 24 pounds,
roast it for:
4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
4 1/2 to 4 3/4 hours
4 3/4 to 5 hours
5 to 5 1/4 hours

To Baste or Not to Baste?

This has become quite a dispute, as traditional recipes always called for basting, a simple step of opening the oven to squirt the pan juices over the turkey.  The goal of basting is to help the browning and improve moisture.  Many argue that it is not necessary to baste a turkey that has been brined or injected with fat, especially since opening the oven door lowers the temperature and requires the bird to roast longer.   Since you probably aren’t doing these things anyway, basting can be helpful in replacing moisture to the skin, perhaps every 45 minutes throughout cooking.


Even if you’ve cooked your turkey to perfection, it would be a shame to needlessly dry out your turkey by carving before the bird has ample time to rest.  Give at least 20 minutes resting time to allow juices to settle back and reabsorb into the meat (turkey will stay hot while resting for up to 40 minutes, tented with foil).  Carving immediately will let the juices out…and they won’t come back!  In the meantime, you can make your gravy.

Gravy…The Finishing Touch

I never grew up eating thick turkey gravy.  My mother served the turkey with the delicious pan juices on the side. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.  But if your thanksgiving dreams are those made of thick, luscious gravy that blankets your turkey, read on.  Let’s break down basic pan gravy into steps:

  1. Pour off the pan juices into a measuring cup or fat separator.  Allow the juices to settle and spoon fat off the top (reserving fat)
  2. Pour the juices back into the pan and place the roasting pan over the burners on medium heat.  Add wine or stock (or both) and scrape up browned bits, dissolving them into the liquid.
  3. Thicken it.  Sprinkling flour or cornstarch will make lumpy, bumpy gravy.  How do you thicken without lumps? A roux is the most common method (although not the only one!): cook a little flour with an equal amount of fat until a paste forms and begins to brown.  Then pour in the wine/stock mixture and whisk until the roux dissolves and thickens the gravy.
  4. Season to taste with salt, pepper or other seasonings.

Once you know the basic steps, you can change the flavorings and get creative.

Armed with all this knowledge, it’s time to carve your turkey and serve it up with confidence and joy, knowing that we live in a country that actually has a holiday dedicated to the purpose of expressing gratitude for that which we have.  You have much to be grateful for, among them that your turkey is finally done and done well.

Herb-Roasted Turkey with Cider Gravy

Serves 8-10

12-14 lb. whole turkey

3 tbsp. fresh chopped sage, plus 2 sprigs for cavity

2 tbsp. fresh chopped thyme, plus 2 springs for cavity

2 tsp. dried crumbled rosemary

¼ cup minced parsley

1 ½ tsp. black pepper

¾ tsp. allspice

1/3 cup olive oil

2 apples, quartered

2 small onions, quartered

½ fennel bulb, cut in chunks

1 ½ cups apple cider

Cider Gravy

4 cups chicken or turkey stock

2 cups apple cider

1 shallot, minced

1/3 cup reserved turkey fat

1/3 cup flour

2 tbsp. apple liqueur

1 tsp. fresh minced thyme

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the Turkey:

Preheat oven to 350°.

Remove neck from cavity and reserve.  Rinse turkey inside and out.  Pat dry with paper towels.  Combine 3 tbsp. sage, 2 tbsp. thyme, rosemary, parsley, pepper, allspice and olive oil in a small bowl.  Mix to blend.  Rub herb paste all over turkey.  Stuff cavity with apples, onions, fennel and herb sprigs.  Tie legs together with twine.  Transfer to V- or U- rack in roasting pan, breast-side down.  Pour ½ cup apple cider into the bottom of the pan, add reserved neck and place in the oven for 45 minutes.  Pour additional ½ cup apple cider over turkey, basting all over.

Roast for another 1 ½ hours, basting every 45 minutes (tent with foil if getting too brown).  Carefully turn turkey over so that breast side is up.  Baste with pan juices (add additional ½ cup cider if pan is getting dry).   Continue to roast, basting occasionally, until internal temperature reaches 165° (tent with foil if getting too brown).   Remove from oven.  Tilt turkey downward so that the juices from the cavity run out into the pan. Transfer rack with turkey to a cutting board and allow to rest until serving time.

For the Gravy:

DO AHEAD: this can be started while turkey is cooking. 🙂

Place stock and 2 cups cider in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer until mixture is reduced by almost half, about 20 minutes.

This next part has to wait for the turkey to be finished. 🙁

Pour pan juices into a measuring cup or fat separator (discard neck).  Allow to settle, then spoon off fat into a separate cup.  Place roasting pan over 2 burners on medium heat.  Add 1/3 cup reserved fat back into the pan, add shallot and sauté for about 3-4 minutes.  Sprinkle flour into the pan.  Whisk until roux is light brown, about 2 minutes. Pour reserved pan juices, reduced cider-stock mixture, and liqueur into the pan, scraping up browned bits and whisking to blend until mixture is smooth.  Add thyme, salt and pepper, and continue to simmer until gravy is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 8-10 minutes. Season to taste and serve alongside turkey.

No thanksgiving menu is complete without a good recipe for yams to serve with your turkey – this one is my family’s favorite.

Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Serves 4-6.

½ cup pure maple syrup

¼ cup dark brown sugar

¼ tsp. cinnamon

1 tbsp. dark rum

½ tsp. vanilla

3 large yams, scrubbed (not peeled), and thinly sliced about ¼ inch thick into disks.

1/3 cup olive oil

Kosher salt to taste (about 2-3 tsp.)

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425°.  Prepare two baking sheets, lined with tin foil.  Arrange racks in the upper third of the oven (closest to the heating element).

In a small bowl, combine maple syrup, brown sugar, cinnamon, rum, and vanilla.  Whisk to blend. Set aside.

Place sliced sweet potatoes on the baking sheets and spread evenly in a single layer.  Drizzle olive oil over the potatoes, then season liberally with salt and pepper.  Toss to coat.  Drizzle maple mixture over sweet potatoes and toss to coat. Spread out evenly again in a single layer and place in preheated oven.  Roast for about 20 minutes, tossing and turning to coat about every 6 or 7 minutes.  The sweet potatoes are done when they are tender, well glazed and slightly shriveled.  Remove from oven, transfer to a serving bowl and enjoy!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!
-Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher Family

By Naomi Ross


In Search of a Kosher Philly Cheese Steak…Hold the cheese!

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Perched on my kitchen stool, I hunched ever so slightly over the latest issue of Bon Appetit. I could not help but salivate over a recipe that would soon be brimming on my stovetop. But as my eyes glanced down the ingredient list, I winced with disappointment while the mental debate ensued as to whether the dish could be made kosher. I mean, really, what can you substitute for clam juice? And of course the real underlying question: after all of the necessary substitutions are made, would it even be worth it after distorting the intended taste with so many replacement ingredients? Jewish cooks of yesteryear did not have such conflicts of interest. Many of the products we so commonly use today, like margarine or soymilk, either did not exist or were not readily available. But more than that, Jewish cooks were comfortable with their cuisine and cooking traditions, no matter what their nationality. Their food might have been Persian or Italian, but what defined their food as “Jewish” was that it was cooked in a kosher way – it was guided more by mitzvot than ethnicity. Modern kosher cooking has changed drastically over the past quarter century. With more exotic kosher foods available than ever before and the massively popular cooking shows and print media, it is easy to become a “foodie.” It is exciting to experience new tastes and aromas and to explore different flavors.  But for a purist like myself, I have to wonder if having the faux-cheese on my burrito is actually satisfying or just a sad attempt to feel as though we can eat anything we want and still remain within the bounds of Torah law.  As a general rule, I try to stay away from such compromises, especially since substitutions often involve artificial ingredients and unhealthy fats. The fresher and more natural the ingredients, the better your food will taste.  And though I suppose we all make concessions now and then, when in search of a kosher Philly Cheese Steak sandwich, I opted for a Philly Cheese-less Steak sandwich without hesitation.  A different animal, but kosher and delicious all the same. 

The key to kosher “substitutions” or just plain doing without, is in knowing how to sufficiently build and intensify flavors in other ways.  In this particular case, it is essential to use a tender well-marbled meat (I used shell steak, but rib-eye is also a great choice).  Caramelizing sweet onions and peppers with additional spices also boosts flavor.  The natural juices are fantastic to savor…even without the cheese whiz.

Kosher Philly Steak Sandwiches

Paper-thin slices can be prepared in advance by Park East Kosher upon request.  If slicing your own, simply freeze the meat, thaw halfway and then shave off slices with a sharp carving knife – works like a charm!

 Serves 4-6.

3 tbsp. olive oil

1 large Vidalia onion, quartered and thinly sliced

1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 2” thin strips

1 sweet red pepper, seeded and cut into 2” thin strips

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. coriander

½ tsp. cumin

Plenty of freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil

1 ½ lbs. shell steak (or rib eye steak), sliced paper thin and seasoned lightly with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 crusty Italian sub or hoagie rolls

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.   Add the sliced onion and peppers and sauté for about 5-6 minutes, until onion becomes translucent.   Add all the spices, stir to blend and continue to sauté for another 6-7 minutes, or until onions become a golden brown color.    Transfer mixture to a bowl and add 1 tbsp. canola oil to the hot pan.   Place pieces of shaved steak in a single layer on the bottom of the pan.  Sear for 1 minute, turn over and sear for another minute.  Transfer to a separate bowl and repeat with remaining steak.    Slice hoagie rolls almost in half (leaving the two halves connected) and toast lightly, if desired.  Fill with pieces of seared steak slices and top with caramelized onion-pepper mixture.

*If making in advance of serving time, the steak sandwich can be reheated – assembled and wrapped in foil in a hot oven.


By Naomi Ross





Beyond Fish Sticks

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

No matter how good a cook you are, how apt you may be in the kitchen or how successfully you entertain, there is nothing quite as challenging (or humbling!) as getting your kids to eat new things.   I may be able to flambé, puree, and poach with ease, but get my five-year old, with raised eyebrows and arms crossed, to consider a dinner other than grilled cheese: that, my friends, is tough.

Surely, the exhaustion that follows the nightly struggles with a “picky eater” can leave a parent frustrated and dejected.  For if the job of a parent is to care about what your child eats, then it’s the job of a child to wear a parent down until you find yourself wondering “would it be so bad if I just gave in and made my kids macaroni every night?  C’mon, what would be so wrong with that?!”  Such were the thoughts that went through my mind the other night when defending a delicious chicken dinner.  Then my sanity returned.   With renewed conviction, I reminded myself that balanced nutrition and a healthy exposure to different foods were things worth fighting for.    

Food Neophobia, a reluctance to try new foods, is common in young children.  Up until age 2, most toddlers are open to trying new foods; but as children begin to become more independent, with greater control over what they put in their mouths, most kids experience some neophobia.  Some aversions may be attributed to sensory issues (as a child, I hated tomatoes because they were “slimy”), but new research has found that other taste preferences may be hardwired genetically.  “How much a person prefers sweet and dislikes bitter,” writes Cynthia Sass, M.P.H., R.D, “depends partly upon the number of taste buds and the type of taste receptors he or she inherits….Some people inherit genes for taste receptors that are acutely sensitive to bitterness” (EatingWell Magazine, Feb. 2007).  And that sensitivity might get in the way of consuming some of the healthiest foods associated with cancer and cardiovascular disease prevention, such as Brussels sprouts or kale or even grapefruit.  

Research scientists and nutritionists stress that there are a number of strategies parents can employ to overcome neophobic behavior.

  • DON’T GIVE UP!  It can take 10-15 tastes before a child can learn to appreciate a new flavor (case in point – by the end of a year in Israel exposed to a barrage of Israeli salad, I had become a tomato fan).   Start introducing tastes early – the younger, the better.
  • Try turning tasting sessions into a game as encouragement to try new foods.  Punishing for not eating green beans may be effective in the short term, but will not produce a vegetable lover! 
  • When introducing new or “challenging” foods with your kids, prepare them with sweet or intense flavors.  For example, baked fish is much more appetizing with teriyaki sauce; sauté spinach with something sweet like raisins and pine nuts or sweet roasted red peppers in order to make it less bitter to their palates.
  • Get your kids involved!  A trip to the supermarket to pick a “new” vegetable or ingredient will rouse their interest and might be just what’s needed to inspire more open eating, as well as empower them to feel that they too are a part of meal-time decisions.  If they can’t shop with you, then find ways of involving them in the preparation.  Cooking together is a great way of getting kids excited about what they are going to eat. 
  • Start small and work your way up! If your children won’t eat vegies, then it would be unrealistic to expect them to get excited over Brussels sprouts the first time around.  Start by introducing unfamiliar foods in a familiar way.  If pasta is a staple, try introducing sweet (less bitter) vegetables into the background.  Reintroduce it again in other subtle ways until it is no longer foreign.   If they develop an appreciation of the food, move on to something bigger.
  • When all else fails, the cardinal rule of feeding kids applies: if you fry it, they will eat it!  Kids love the crunchy feel of fried foods, however unhealthy they may be.  As a general rule though, I save this as a last resort or as a treat.


Even with these suggestions, some of my children would still be thrilled if they could have a diet of nothing but noodles.  And frankly, if I really discovered the secret to getting kids to eat, I’d be awarded the Nobel Prize.   That there is no magic pill may be true, but by encouraging a diverse diet and exposing them to new tastes, I have to believe that they will one day reap the rewards of both good health and an appreciation of the wonderful world of food that G-d created for them.  At the very least, it’s positive for them to see their parents trying new and interesting things – after all, the best way to teach is by example.

The following recipe was created with my “anti-meat” children in mind.  Many thanks to Mordechai, Sasha and her friend Shani for being taste-testers – it must have been good if she asked for some to take home!

Oven-Fried “Lollipop” Chicken

A little less caloric than classic fried chicken, this oven-fried recipe still yields a flavorful crispy crust.


Yield: 12 “lollipops”

12 chicken drumsticks

5 slices rye bread or French bread, crusts removed (makes about 3 cups crumbs)

1 large clove garlic

½ cup fresh parsley leaves, packed

½ tsp. kosher salt

½ tsp. ground black pepper

¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

1/3 cup Dijon mustard

¼ cup honey (scant)

1 tbsp. margarine, melted

1-2 tbsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 425°.  Prepare a rimmed baking sheet with foil and grease with non-stick spray. 

Push the skin and flesh up to the nub of each drumstick, leaving the bone exposed (a natural handle) – a sharp paring knife may be helpful for this or you can ask your butcher to prepare them for you.

Place bread in bowl of food processor and pulse a few times to break up the bread slices.  Add the garlic, parsley, salt and peppers.  Pulse until coarse crumbs are formed, and the garlic and parsley are processed and distributed.  Transfer to mixing bowl.  Toss with melted margarine. 

In a separate small bowl, mix together mustard and honey until well blended.  Dip each drumstick in the honey-mustard mixture, and roll in breadcrumb mixture, pressing the breading onto the drumstick to adhere.   Place each drumstick in the prepared pan.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, turning drumsticks over halfway through baking time.

Serve hot and enjoy!
Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross