let’s talk turkey about thanksgiving

Today Rachael Ray announced it was (as per Butterball which may or may not have a trademark on the day) National Thaw Day.  She said:

“No matter what size bird you are dealing with, if you are cooking a frozen turkey it needs to get out of the freezer and get into the fridge today,” Rachael suggests. “Store it in the lowest part of the refrigerator, and take it out [of the freezer] today and it will be perfect by Thanksgiving day!”

Ok so it is funny, as I was staring at my frozen turkey this morning, I was wondering the same thing.  Some years I have gotten a fresh turkey, but this year economizing is the name of the game so I took advantage of my free turkey from the grocery store. I actually have the points for two free turkeys, but have only picked up one at this point.  Maybe I will donate the second one.

Anyway, apparently every four pounds of turkey is equal to one day of refrigerator thaw.  And once defrosted a turkey can hang out in the fridge another four days. My turkey is in a plastic shopping bag and resting in a shallow pan.  I don’t want anything to leak if possible.  After all, who wants to scrub the refrigerator on Thanksgiving Day?

A week ahead of time is also when I start to think about how the table will look.  I collect vintage linens so I can change my table out from year to year.  And no, I never pay a lot for old and vintage linens.  Garage sales, church sales, flea markets, thrift shops.  I look for lots of things in numbers I can deal with, tablecloths that can be tea stained or dyed if need be.  I only look for natural fibers, so polyester will not be found on my table – I don’t like the sheen, feel, and texture.  I generally hand wash my linens, so a week ahead gives me time to do that and get them ironed up if need be.

I also love vintage dishes, so you might find those on my table as well. I have some cool goblets also gathered courtesy of garage and church tag sales.  I don’t do paper plates, plastic cups, and aluminum foil containers as serving dishes.

In my former life with my former in-laws (for lack of a better description of what to call these people), one of the ex factor’s sisters not only had the darkest living room I had ever been in (dark green walls and all her own art work – some was decent, some of it looked like paint-by-numbers), but she wouldn’t know how to set a buffet without aluminum foil containers and cheap paper napkins.

I wouldn’t comment except she made such fuss about how fabulous a table she set, and all I ever saw every Thanksgiving were those aluminum foil containers on the sideboard and table (and the bottles of salad dressing on the table, paper napkins and really bad  as well as warm white wine choices.)  She was also one of those people who would ask you to bring something and then make something in the category of what she requested like it was a competition instead of a holiday meal. And if you arrived five minutes past her decreed holiday start time, chances were she was eating without you which I always found rude to guests who traveled a distance to be with her.  I think one of my favorite Thanksgivings with this woman was when her dog stole the leftover turkey right off the counter.

Anyway, when you have had a few painful Thanksgivings like that, you learn how to craft one you can be proud of, but a holiday that won’t drive you bonkers either.  The key is simplicity.  The KISS theory, or keep it simple stupid. I believe even if you aren’t doing a more formal dinner, you should take the time to set the table well to complement your meal preparation.  It is a holiday, not pizza night.

If you are doing all the cooking, realize it doesn’t have to be the proverbial last supper.  The world will not end if you don’t have multiple kinds of potatoes, every Thanksgiving veggie known to man including that disgusting green bean casserole made with those deep-fried dried onion things. If you are doing a communal Thanksgiving and you are the host or hostess, lay out your menu and be clear about your assignments to other people.

Don’t forget the salad.  It can be simple or seasonal, but take the time to make your own vinaigrette.  So much better than the bottle.

Let’s talk stuffing.  Know what I discovered yesterday when I was thinking of buying a Thanksgiving stuffing mix to cut out a step?  High fructose corn syrup is an ingredient. I saw it on the ingredients list in Peppridge Farm and Arnold’s pre-bagged dried stuffing cubes. Bleck.

I won’t be taking that stuffing short cut.  I am going traditional and have plenty of fabulous herbs left alive, so my turkey and stuffing will definitely include fresh sage and rosemary. And a combination of garlic,  shallots and onion. Baby Bella mushrooms are a must.  Maybe minced apples and raisins, not sure.  I won’t know until Thanksgiving morning.  (Nothing better than the smell of stuffing ingredients sautéing away in the pan!)

And yes, I make my own cranberry sauce.  It is so easy a caveman can do it.  My base recipe is 2 bags fresh cranberries, 2 cups sugar, 1 cup orange juice, 1 cup water, cinnamon, a little fresh ginger. Sometimes I add diced apricots or a persimmon or two.  Sometimes I turn it chutney and add funky ingredients like diced green tomatoes.

As for other sides? Well this year it will be yams done somehow (I like them better than sweet potatoes) – I am thinking of roasting them with a couple of carrots and then mashing them somehow – a puree then warmed up in the oven with maybe little marshmallows on top to appeal to the kid factor. Maybe a yam-pumpkin puree. And a simple salad.  Gravy.

Dessert?  Undecided.  Looking like an apple pie.  Haven’t decided.  Saw a double crust apple apricot pie on page 126 of the November 2012 Food & Wine that looks promising.  Or I might do my own apple with streusal topping. I haven’t finished checking out my favorite magazines yet.

As for the big bird itself, it is helpful to remember a couple of simple tricks to keep turkey-lurky from drying out. I pre-heat my oven to 450 degrees for twenty minutes before putting turkey in the oven.  When I put the bird in the oven, I leave it at 450 degrees for the first half hour, and then I reduce the temperature to 350 degrees for the duration.

Most people say 15 minutes per pound is a good rule of thumb. So my turkey is 15 pounds.  So that is 15 x 15 = 225 minutes or 3.75 hours. Sometimes my gass oven is a little pokey on the roasting, so it could be longer.  But I have a thermometer :<}

I cook my turkey covered for almost half of its cooking time. I do put a couple of cups of water or broth in the bottom of my pan along with bay leaves and onion.  I baste around every 45 minutes.  When you baste, haul big bird out of the oven and shut the oven door so you don’t lose the heat.

And yes, I do indeed rub my turkey down with butter before I herb and salt and garlic the skin and put it in the oven.  I do not brine my turkey.  I have thought about it, but never done it.  I have no desire to deep fry my turkey so I can’t comment on that.

Check out this blog link for a KISS method of turkey cooking. Whole Foods also covers the basics, Southern Food does too, and when all else fails there is Butterball and they have a turkey hotline too. While Martha Stewart has a LOT of recipes, I find her recipes may be confusing and overly complicated for the beginner home chef. There are a LOT of turkey recipes out there.  I like to consult web sites that I know test the recipes Food TV and Epicurious are the websites I haunt the most.

I like to entertain for friends and family.  I like to cook, so you may find cheeses and whatnots mixed in from DiBruno Brothers and Carlinos, but for the most part you find what I serve I actually prepared.  Maybe I am old-fashioned, but it is something I just like to do.  I also believe in adopting Thanksgiving orphans.  I have been one a couple of times over the years when family and friends were scattered to the four winds for the holiday. I actually have an article on easy entertaining featuring Chef Angela Carlino in the fall issue of Main Line Parent Magazine (which I haven’t seen yet in print because I keep spacing on picking up a copy).

Do you have a Thanksgiving tip or recipe or tradition you would like to share? Feel free to post a comment!

Now for the last word: if you don’t feel like cooking, might I suggest Thanksgiving at The Yellow Springs Inn?  Check this out  from Exton Dish! (Yes, click HERE)

A place to SKIP is Farmhouse Bistro at People’s Light. We did that last year because family and friends were all scattered and it is something we would not do again, or recommend.  We’ll leave it at that.

This post must now come to an end.  I have recipes to read.

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