Wishbone U. | Thanksgiving Cooking Boot Camp

Wishbone U.: Love birds learn tips for making great Thanksgiving dinner

Tampa — We expect the relationships of newlywed couples to be hot. In the early bloom of marriage, the nuptial bliss is incendiary and just a sideways glance or crooked smile can make the sparks fly. • But the heat shouldn't come from pans left on the stove too long or flambe gone badly awry.

Take, for example, Kimberly Ditman's attempt to make breakfast-in-bed for new hubby Travis. Her fledgling go at banana pancakes ended up a smoldering mess with Travis waking to the acrid smell of burned sugar rather than the aroma of good cooking.

It's not just Kimberly who has trouble in the kitchen. The primary ingredient of Travis' "Chicken Crunch Surprise" is uncooked rice.

"I'm not sure how much longer our poor stomachs can handle our bland meals or how well our kitchen can survive being burned up on a daily basis," Kimberly Ditman wrote in her application for the St. Petersburg Times' seventh annual Wishbone U. Thanksgiving cooking boot camp.

Take a deep, cleansing breath Kimberly. Help is on the way.

Last month, we invited cooking-challenged newlyweds to Publix Super Markets' Apron's Cooking School in Citrus Park to learn the basics of preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Chefs Rich Norris and Scot Hill shared their expertise and contemporary recipes in the three-hour class that ended with the group sampling their hard work around a long table set with white tablecloth and cloth napkins. Just like the real deal, but this table of diners was buzzing with confidence that they could make a meal to impress the in-laws.

The Wishbone U. Class of 2011 included five just-married couples and one that will say "I do" on March 20. Bride-to-be Sarah Torrens was so shameless in her plea for help we bent the rules a bit.

Torrens told the tale of a special Valentine's Day dinner for fiance Marcelo Garcia where the flames of love were to be fanned by a dinner of filet mignon splashed with brandy and set afire. Any amorous intentions were doused by the prospect of a 911 fire call. That night, they learned a lesson about fire, brandy and closed spaces.

Dixie Brady, who attended with husband Nicholas, told us her kitchen skills are so poor that she can "burn cereal." More hot stuff. One time, Shake 'n Bake pork chops with mashed potatoes resulted in an explosion of flaky detritus all over the cabinets. And while she says that he is a better cook, she is more dramatic.

"At least a third of my cooking/baking excursions end with me pouting and eating Doritos for dinner," she wrote.

The Ditmans, the Bradys, Torrens and Garcia, and the other couples had remarkable tales of things gone wrong in the kitchen (Cooking pasta without boiling the water? Mistaking powdered sugar for flour in a cookie recipe?), but they all shared a desire to start their journey as husband and wife by mastering the most American of holiday feasts. They know the kitchen is the source of many memories, and they don't want theirs to be tainted by recollections of undercooked turkey and gluelike mashed potatoes.

Kristin and Colin Byrnes are recent transplants to the Sunshine State from Rochester, N.Y., and look forward to a snow-free Thanksgiving. So do their families, who are heading south for the feast. Kristin knows the good weather is a draw, but she still wants to give the experienced moms a break by tackling Turkey Day meal preparation.

She's had her turn napping on the couch while the turkey is roasting; now it's theirs.

Amanda Forsman has the skills to be a spokeswoman for the American Frozen Foods Institute, if there is such a thing (and there is). If a melange of ingredients come in an icy block, she can transform them into dinner. A pair of scissors and a microwave and she's good to go.

"I secretly dislike and am unsure about how to handle uncooked/raw meat (hence the frozen dinner enjoyment)," she wrote. So, that big, raw turkey is going to be a problem. Husband Scott Forsman has more confidence but wants to elevate his skills and master the turkey.

His "sous chef and life partner," he wrote, is getting tired of his limited dinnertime repertoire.

By the way, the Forsmans take the prize for being most lovey-dovey during the cooking class. She couldn't stop smiling at him, and he had his arms draped slyly around her waist for most of the class. Very sweet.

The letter from Montse Alonso-Garcia and husband Ruben Diez-Fernandez tugged at our apron strings most strongly. The couple moved from Spain to St. Petersburg earlier this year for her post-doctoral fellowship at USFSP's College of Marine Science. They both know how to cook their native dishes, but the rituals of the Thanksgiving meal are foreign to them.

"So here we are, in a new country for our first year of marriage and facing unfamiliar holidays," Montse wrote. Luckily, a neighbor has invited them to Thanksgiving dinner, she said, but they don't want to go empty-handed.

At the end of the class, Montse said she felt confident they could bring something for the holiday table. Perhaps the Goat Cheese Cranberry Bruschetta, an appetizer that blends tradition with global cuisine. Very American indeed.

Now, they just need to understand the tradition of too much turkey, the couch and American football.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8586.

>>MODERATE

Goat Cheese Cranberry Bruschetta

½ cup water

½ cup sugar

2 cups fresh cranberries

1 sprig thyme

Pinch salt

1 baguette, sliced into one-inch-thick pieces

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped

1 pear, diced

4 ounces goat cheese

Balsamic glaze (see note)

In a small saucepan, heat ½ cup water and sugar until water is simmering and sugar is dissolved. Add cranberries and thyme and cover, allowing to simmer. Stir occasionally until most cranberries are popped and the sauce consistency is slightly chunky. Remove from heat, add salt and allow to cool; set aside. May be stored in a covered container in the fridge for a few days. Be sure to bring to room temperature before serving on bruschetta.

Drizzle baguette slices with olive oil and toast at 325 for 8 to 10 minutes until lightly browned. Spread a little bit of goat cheese on each slice. Spoon cranberry sauce over cheese. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios and diced pears. To finish, drizzle each piece with balsamic glaze. Arrange on a plate and serve.

Serves about 10.

Note: Balsamic glaze, which is a vinegar reduction sauce, can be purchased in many grocery stores in squeeze bottles. Look for it near the vinegars.

Source: Apron's Cooking School, Publix

>>EASY

Herb Roasted Root Vegetables

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks or slices

1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks or slices

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks or slices

1 pound fingerling potatoes, cut in half lengthwise

4 shallots, peeled

6 garlic cloves, peeled

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

1 teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped for garnish

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In large bowl, combine root vegetables, shallots and garlic. Add remaining ingredients, except parsley, and toss to evenly coat.

Place vegetables in a roasting pan in a single layer and roast until vegetables are caramelized and tender, about one hour. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

Serves 8 to 10.

Source: Apron's Cooking School, Publix

>>MODERATE

Oven Roasted Turkey

10- to 12-pound whole turkey

1 bunch sage, divided

2 large onions, halved

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

2 cups unsalted chicken broth

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Remove neck and bag of organs from turkey cavities. Set aside for another use (such as Turkey Pan Gravy recipe) or discard. Pat turkey dry inside and out. Place turkey on small rack (or make a rack of carrots and celery stalks) and set in large roasting pan. Fill main cavity with ½ bunch sage and onions. Mix oil, pepper, chopped thyme and 1 tablespoon chopped sage (save remaining sage for garnish) in small bowl to form a paste; smear all over the turkey. Tuck wing tips under, and tie legs together loosely to hold shape. Add 1 cup of stock to pan.

Roast turkey for 1 hour, tenting breast loosely with foil if browning too quickly. Turn pan around; roast another 90 minutes. The turkey is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part of thigh registers 180 degrees.

Transfer turkey to platter. Remove vegetables and herbs from main cavity and discard. Spoon any juices from cavity into roasting pan. Let turkey rest 30 minutes before carving.

Serves 10 to 12.

Source: Apron's Cooking School, Publix

>>EASY

Turkey Gravy

1 cup pan drippings from turkey, divided

2 cups chicken broth

¼ cup cornstarch

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

½ cup chopped turkey neck meat

Chill pan drippings; once they are chilled, discard top layer of fat. If necessary, add chicken broth to equal 1 cup drippings.

Combine cornstarch and ½ cup chicken broth in a bowl. In a 2-quart saucepan, add pan drippings, remaining 1 ½ cups chicken broth, seasonings and turkey neck meat.

Bring mixture to a boil, add cornstarch mixture and simmer 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Makes 3 cups.

Source: Apron's Cooking School, Publix

>>MODERATE

Warm Apple Compote in Puff Pastry Shells

2 cups water

⅓ cup sugar

½ vanilla bean, split in half

1 tablespoon dark rum (optional)

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

⅛ teaspoon ground cloves

⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg

Pinch salt

8 large Honeycrisp apples, cored and cubed

1 (6-count) box puff pastry shells

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large saucepan, combine water, sugar, vanilla bean, rum, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and salt and bring to a boil. Boil gently until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the apples and return a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the apples are very tender and the mixture thickens, about 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat and remove the vanilla bean pod. Let cool to room temperature before serving in puff pastry cups.

Bake puff pastry shells according to package directions; let cool. Spoon apple compote into shells and serve.

Note: Shells can be sprinkled with powdered sugar or served with a dollop of whipped cream.

Serves 6.

Source: Apron's Cooking School, Publix

>>MODERATE

Pumpkin

Panna Cotta

1 ½ cups milk, divided

2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup pureed pumpkin, squash or sweet potato

½ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Place ½ cup of milk in an 8-cup saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over the milk. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Combine the remaining milk, cream, pumpkin, sugar and cinnamon in a blender. Blend the mixture until perfectly smooth.

Heat the milk and gelatin over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the gelatin dissolves. Pour in the cream mixture and turn the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until steam rises. Turn off the heat and ladle the mixture into 8 (4-ounce) ramekins.

Chill the panna cotta until firm.

Serves 8.

Source: Apron's Cooking School, Publix

.our cooks

Wishbone U.

Class of 2011

Travis, 23, and Kimberly

Ditman, 23, Largo

Married: Sept. 10

Ruben Diez-Fernandez, 30, and Montse Alonso-Garcia, 29, St. Petersburg

Married: Feb. 4

Marcelo Garcia, 26, and Sarah Torrens, 24, Tampa

To be married (they promise): March 20, 2012

Scott, 26, and Amanda

Forsman, 27, Seminole

Married: April 9

Colin, 31, and Kristin Byrnes, 29, Clearwater Beach

Married: June 4

Nicholas, 27, and Dixie Brady, 27, Seffner

Married: Sept. 10

Instructors

Rich Norris, head chef, Apron's Cooking School, Publix

Scot Hill, sous chef, Apron's Cooking School, Publix

>>tips

What the chefs say

Apron's Cooking School head chef Rich Norris and sous chef Scot Hill shared their expertise with Wishbone U. newlyweds during a three-hour class Oct. 16. The following suggestions are helpful for novice and veteran cooks:

Cooking and equipment

• Your hands are great kitchen tools. Keep them clean and use them.

• Trust your nose. When food begins to smell good, it's time to check. Act quickly if you smell something burning.

• Use parchment paper when baking on a sheet pan. The barrier between pan and food discourages burning, plus the paper makes cleanup easier.

• When cooking different ingredients together, make sure they are all similar size so they cook at the same rate. The accompanying recipe for the roasted root vegetables is an example of this.

• Store fresh herbs in glasses of water (like flowers!) after trimming the ends. They'll stay fresher longer.

• Use unsalted stock and butter, which allows you to control seasoning.

• When using the blender, heavier ingredients go in first to avoid big splash when machine is turned on.

About the turkey

• Figure on 1 to 1 ½ pounds per person when buying a turkey. The larger amount will give you plenty of leftovers.

• Always let the turkey rest for at least 15 minutes (30 would be better) after removing it from the oven to let the juices redistribute inside the meat. It can rest easily for 1 hour tented loosely with foil and still be hot when carved. This allows time for last-minute preparation, plus frees up oven space.

• Any kinds of aromatics —

onions, celery and carrots —

and herbs stuffed inside the turkey benefit the flavor.

• Don't have a rack? Make one out of celery stalks and carrots. The rack keeps the bird off the bottom of the pan, where it can stew in its own juices. You don't want that.

• Don't stuff the bird, which tends to lead to an overcooked turkey.

• If you're roasting the turkey in an aluminum pan, double up for sturdy's sake.

• Salt turkey before adding herbs. The salt draws out moisture and lets the herbs and other flavors penetrate.

• Pat the turkey dry, inside and out, with paper towels before seasoning. This facilitates even browning on the outside and allows seasonings to permeate better from the inside. Make sure you remove packets of giblets.

• Buy an instant-read thermometer, available in the kitchen gadget aisle of most grocery stores. These are more reliable than the plastic pop-up thermometer imbedded in many turkeys. They can malfunction.

• The turkey is done when the internal temperature of the breast is 165 degrees and the legs and thighs are 180. Tent the breast with foil to keep it from overbrowning while the dark meat finishes cooking.

• Carve the turkey in the kitchen, then bring it to the table. If you want everyone to see your lovely burnished bird, parade it around, then return to the kitchen. Carving isn't always a delicate proposition.

Wishbone U.: Love birds learn tips for making great Thanksgiving dinner 11/15/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 3:30am]

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