thanksgiving turkey recipe

TdayTurkeyThis recipe was fantastic this year! Last year the turkey was a little over done and didn’t have near the amount of spices that we wanted. This year it was just about perfect and moist. I used a combination of two recipes as this has been working out for me pretty well recently. I think it may be a step in the direction of making up your own recipe, but I guess we’ll see about that. The first one was really just guidelines that my mom gave me last year and the second was from McCormick’s website. This and last year we prepared a 17 lb. turkey. This size managed to feed 15 people this year with a meal or two leftover. We had to thaw the turkey for four days, though as it still had ice on it, we probably could have easily thawed it for five days.

Ingredients
* 2 tablespoons Italian Seasoning
* 2 tablespoons Sicilian Sea Salt
* 1 tablespoon Black Pepper, Coarse Grind
* 1 tablespoon Paprika, Smoked
* 2 teaspoons Garlic Powder
* 2 teaspoons Ground Mustard
* 1 whole turkey, fresh or frozen, thawed
* 2 ribs celery
* 1 onion, quartered
* 2 Bay Leaves
* 1 tablespoon olive oil

Preparation
Thaw your turkey in the refrigerator. Typically it takes 24 hours per 5 lbs.
Place oven rack on lowest position and preheat the oven to 330 degrees F. Mix first six ingredients in a small bowl.
Rinse the turkey, take out the giblets (save for turkey stock), and pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Place the turkey breast side up in the roasting pan.
Sprinkle 1 Tbsp of the mixture inside the turkey. Stuff with celery, onion, and bay leaves. Then brush turkey breast with oil. Add 1/2 cup of water to the pan and apply the rest of the mixture to the turkey. Put the lid of the roasting pan on.

Roast for about 3 hours and 20 minutes and then remove the lid of the roasting pan. Baste the turkey. Roast another 30-45 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165 degress F. Remove roasting pan from oven, put lid back on and let sit for 20-30 minutes. Transfer to carving board and slice.

Gravy

Ingredients
* Drippings from turkey
* Flour or cornstarch with water (Shake well or stir to dissolve)
* Chicken bouillon cube (Optional)

Preparation
Add flour (or cornstarch with water) to drippings. Heat under medium high heat stirring constantly. Add stock as needed. Add optional chicken bouillon cube if needed. When it cooks down to gravy consistency, you’re done.

Turkey Stock

Ingredients
* Giblets from Turkey
* Celery
* Onion
* Salt/Pepper
* 1 Bay Leaf
* Dried Parsley

Preparation
Add all ingredients to around 6 cups of water and simmer the length of time you cook the turkey.
You can use this to moisten stuffing or freeze and use later.

choosing a 529 college plan to invest in for your children or family

My latest challenge recently was choosing the best (or one of the best) 529 plans for my son, Elek who is currently 3 years old. I had been putting this off for quite some time because it is very overwhelming. There are more choices than there are states and the ones you would be interested in greatly depend on which state you live in. Some 529s don’t allow you to participate unless you live in the state in which it is offered. Others allow anyone to participate. Some 529 plans that are offered allow you a state income tax deduction up to a certain amount.

Let’s briefly go through most of the advantages and disadvantages of 529s, which you’ll need to know.

Advantages Disadvantages
State income tax deductions (also tax deferred/exempt growth) You are limited to the investment options within the plan
The owner of the account maintains control of the 529 Money withdrawn from the account not used on college expenses is subject to a 10% federal tax, earnings will be taxed as regular income, and possibly past state tax deductions
Low minimum startup requirements and contribution requirements A 529 may affect the beneficiary’s ability to receive grants or scholarships (A workaround to this is if the owner of the account is the grandparent.)
A 529 account can be an easy “automatic” approach to saving for college
Anyone can open a 529 for anyone else (Also anyone can contribute)
These plans are relatively low cost
The plans are very flexible (you can choose to move your 529 to another plan)
The total amount in the account can be substantial (over $300,000 in some plans)

Now we get down to business. Let’s start with the state you’re in. I, for example, am in Tennessee which has no state income tax (offset by their massive sales tax). This means that there’s no financial reason for me to limit my choice to my state. On the other hand, if you live in a state like Ohio, there’s no reason to go outside of your state since you can deduct up to $2,000 per beneficiary, per calendar year off your state income. If you’re lucky enough to live in a state that allows deductions for contributing to a 529 plan, then that greatly narrows your choices. The choice was not so easy for me since this was not a factor in my decision.

I started my research of 529 plans with people that I knew had used a 529 or something similar. My dad used the Tennessee BEST program for me when I went to college. My wife’s boss currently uses a 529 plan from the state of Kansas. I thought that those look OK, but how do they compare with the other states’ offerings? Which one is truly the best for my son? Well to answer those questions I turned to everybody’s pal Google as usual hoping to find a list comparing the multiplicity of available plans.

I relied heavily on four of the best sites that I (or rather Google) found and I weighted them in the following order:

  1. Morningstar’s “The Best and Worst 529 College-Savings Plans”
  2. Consumer Report’s “Some of the best and worst 529 plans”
  3. “Kiplinger Top Plans”
  4. MSN’s “The 5 best college-savings plans”

Essentially I cross referenced the plans on all of these sites hoping to find one that was on all of them. I thought it was odd at the time, but not many were listed on multiple sites. In retrospect, this fact leads me to believe that there is no really “best” 529 plan, but rather each individual needs to choose a plan based on his/her needs. This can be annoying because it adds to the work on the part of the individual looking for the best 529 plan. That being said, I came up with a list of about six 529’s that the articles indicated were the best. I made sure to avoid all of the schools listed in the “worst” category of any of the listed sites. Below is a listing of the best/worst and the ones I narrowed down using my own opinion/needs.

Best Worst Narrowed
Alaska 2* Alaska
Nevada Nevada
Nebraska 2* Nebraska
Ohio (Ohio Tuition Trust Authority) Ohio (Putnam CollegeAdvantage) Ohio (Ohio Tuition Trust Authority)
Virginia 2* Wisconsin Virginia
Indiana Arkansas Indiana
Utah New Jersey
Rhode Island New York
Michigan Montana
Georgia
Iowa
Illinois
Mississippi
Colorado Colorado

* Number of times the plan appeared

Now that I had narrowed my candidates significantly I decided that cost of the plan would be the next deciding factor. You can find the costs per state at collegeanswer.com.

collegeThis is finally how I arrived at my final answer, which was Ohio (Ohio Tuition Trust Authority). Another benefit to this particular plan is that you can get a $25 referral for both you and the person referring you when you sign up and enter their referral code (mine is 2524394). I believe this only goes on until Dec. 15th, 2009 at which point they may cancel the referral program or they may extend it. There’s also another benefit to this plan where you can earn $25 for just setting up recurring monthly electronic fund transfers or payroll deductions for at least 90 days. You can read more about both of these programs at collegeadvantage.com. I’m sure other states’ plans have similar referral programs, though I haven’t seen them.

Those interested in receiving the $25 referral for signing up for this 529 account, follow the steps below:

  1. Enroll online
  2. During the enrollment process it will ask you for a referral code. Enter 2524394.
  3. After you complete your account enrollment, 7-10 business days later you will receive a $25 credit in your 529 account. (I will get a $25 credit as well.)
  4. Also don’t forget to set up your recurring monthly electronic fund transfers or payroll deductions to receive another $25 after 90 days.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

italian chicken and rice recipe

IMG_3172My mom has made this recipe for quite some time and it’s always been delicious. Our family is really lucky that we have such expertise to fall back on when it comes to cooking. Due to us cooking much more, I can safely say I’m starting to understand why recipes are just the base of how to cook. Most of the stuff that makes the recipe so good is picked up by cooking a lot and knowing what to add. This little bit of extra is very hard to document, though I try my best in these recipes that I post. We had this Italian chicken and rice last night and it was so much better than the last time we tried it! Last time I think we followed the typed up instructions letter for letter (and I think I forgot to read the comments from my mom). It more than left something to be desired.

Yield
4 servings

Ingredients
* 1 and 1/2 cups water
* 1 cup long-grain rice, uncooked
* 1/2 cup chopped onion
* 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
* 1 and 1/2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
* 1/2 teaspoon salt-free garlic-and-herb spice blend (Mrs. Dash)
* 1/4 teaspoon pepper (we always use fresh ground pepper)
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 (14 and 1/2oz.) can no-salt-added whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped (we used diced tomatoes with garlic and Italian seasoning)
* Vegetable cooking spray
* 4 (4 oz.) skinned, boned chicken breast halves
* 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
* 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
* 1 and 1/2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning (there is a reason this is on here twice, pay attention to the directions below)
* 2-3 Tbsp of olive oil
* 1/2 cup white wine

Preparation
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Brown chicken breasts in olive oil over medium high heat. About half way through, poor the wine in and mix.
While you are browning the chicken, combine first 9 ingredients in a 2 qt. casserole coated with the vegetable cooking spray and stir well.
Arrange chicken breasts over rice mixture and sprinkle with garlic powder.
Sprinkle with the grated Parmesan cheese and 1 and 1/2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning.
Cover and bake at 375F for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.

Notes
This past time it was amazing! However we didn’t have any Mrs. Dash so we used Adobo. We also added a little bit more Italian seasoning and some basil as well. We went heavy on all the cheese which obviously made it taste better. I hope you enjoy this as much as we did. It’s a simple recipe that you can throw together relatively quickly, then just wait on it to bake. It’s great for when you’re having company so you can prep beforehand then entertain. * I obtained this recipe from my mom and she added some steps to the original recipe to make it really good.

Tags: ,

moonpies and cherry slurpies: a little bit of memphis and my favorite memphibians

Sharona, one of Diana’s best college friends, came to visit us in Memphis recently. She stayed for a few days and had a photo shoot with both Elek and Diana. As she puts it, I “had the good sense to escape for work before this photo shoot”. I hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I do!

You can see the rest of the photos she took on her blog moonpies and cherry slurpies: A little bit of Memphis and my favorite Memphibians.

Tags: , , ,

halloween and fingerpaints 09

IMG_3013Several days before Halloween we carved a jack-o-lantern. Elek attempted to help, however, he thought the pumpkin guts were nasty and wouldn’t touch it much. I think his favorite part was at the end when we got to take it out on the front porch and light it together. He enjoyed lighting it with me last week. I think next year we should carve 3 pumpkins and try to be a little more festive for Halloween. Elek will probably help us get in the spirit. We also managed to let Elek watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”, which is essentially timeless.
IMG_3034
In this picture Elek is dressed as a clown in the clown suit I wore at Halloween when I was three years old. I thought the big bright red nose was a nice touch, though after the first time he wore it, we decided to put red makeup on his nose so he wouldn’t have to keep up with it. Last year unfortunately we didn’t get to trick-or-treat like we wanted to. This year we planned our route much more efficiently and we were able to trick-or-treat around a large block, visit my mom’s house, and make it to the cooper young neighborhood party for a few minutes.
IMG_3047The Friday night before Halloween we were lucky enough to be invited to the Donati’s annual kid friendly Halloween party. Diana dressed as a mobster’s woman who took the fall for him, went to jail, then broke out. I was that mobster. Kristen and Justin followed suit with the police officer and prisoner costumes. The food (and alcohol) was catered by Swanky’s Taco Shop and was very tasty! The next picture is of Elek finger painting with Mama at home.

IMG_3062There’s a few things I’d like to change about Halloween next year which include the following:

  1. Carve more pumpkins
  2. Decorate more with fake spiderwebs, lights, and maybe even fog
  3. Have an even better game plan about when we’re going to start trick-or-treating and where
  4. Maybe even have time to hand out more candy

Tags:

weekend in new orleans, la

CrowdedStreetDiana and I met Mike (my college roommate) and Camie (his wife) in New Orleans for Jared Barcenas and his wife, Ezgi’s, reception/celebration. Elek stayed with my mom (we owe her big) for the weekend and had apparently come down with the flu, though we thought it was a 24 hour virus or something of the sort after Diana took him to the doctor. We almost had to turn around halfway there. We left later than we thought we were going to, but we arrived in New Orleans at exactly the same time as Mike and Camie. No really. EXACTLY. We drove under their plane as it was landing. Sure enough Mike called me 2 minutes later and we went directly to the airport to pick them up.
Group
We had just enough time to drop by Target for a couple of things we needed and to get settled in the Biscuit Palace.

The first night we got ready and wandered around looking for a place to eat. We got some general directions for cajun food from a local shop keeper. Ralph and Kacoo’s was where we ended up eating. It looked just as good as any other place. It turned out to be sub par and I’m really upset we didn’t get a chance to try out Mr. B’s! After the disappointing meal, we walked to the party which was in a luxurious suite with a large balcony and an open bar. As you can see everyone there had a great time. We met some new people and celebrated Jared and Ezgi’s marriage.

AquariumAfter waking up and walking to Cafe du Monde (which we did make it back to), we decided we didn’t want to wait in a line that long. On the other side of Jackson Square there was another recommended restaurant called Stanley’s. Despite the almost equally as long wait, the food was amazing!

After that meal we HAD to walk off the food. With no real agenda, we walked up to the trolley station and hopped on. When the trolley came to the end of the line there was the aquarium, right in front of us. I’ve been before, but it had been a very long time. We decided to go in and luckily both Mike and I had our triple A cards with us for the discount. The aquarium is a must see if you’re ever in New Orleans.

CafeDuMondeAfterward, we got a transfer on another trolley and went back to Cafe du Monde where we ate some wonderful beignets and drank coffee (hot chocolate for me).

After a fun filled, touristy morning most of us took a nap with the exception of Diana who walked about 4 miles to get a sweater. What a great nap! We were all recharged and ready for the reception that night at a beautiful inside courtyard. The food was exactly what I love about New Orleans. Everything was perfect. The guests, the food, the dessert, the location. Later that night we went out on Bourbon Street again, but unfortunately that was the night that Diana woke up shivering. She had gotten the flu from Elek. I was sent out at 5AM in the French Quarter to find some place with Sprite and crackers. Luckily I didn’t come back empty handed. It took Diana about 6 days to recover from the flu thanks to Tamiflu. We drove back after breakfast at a 24 hour diner across the street from our hotel.

It was a wonderful weekend in New Orleans and I wish Jared and Ezgi the best! You can see more pictures from the festivities below.

Tags: , , , , ,