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Foolproof Way to Roast a Turkey (and Cornbread Stuffing, Too!)

This is not really a foodie blog, but apparently that is where my mind is at during the holidays!

When I made my first Thanksgiving turkey nearly 15 years ago, my mother sent me a sage, yet humorous email, with instructions.  I printed that email out and pulled it out year after year and managed to keep it despite moving cross-country twice since then.  I’ve also picked up a few tricks of my own along the way and have written them in the margins and finally got wise last year and wrote up my own version for future generations on our family blog (and also because I was terrified of losing all those precious notes!

So for anyone who may not have the benefit of such notes, I share with you, a time-tested way to roast a (usually extremely large) holiday turkey, complete with humorous asides and a to-die for cornbread stuffing recipe from my mother!

Turkey Prep (notes written for myself and future generations)

We buy a local brand of turkey, Shady Brook Farm, rather than Butterball and I think it makes a difference.  But my second choice would be a Butterball.  I prefer fresh to frozen.  If you have to buy frozen, remember to give it several days to thaw in the fridge.  If it is still not thawed, you will have to let it thawed in a bucket or sink filled with cold water and make sure the turkey is fully submerged.

I also prefer a covered roasting pan (you’ll need a really, really big one if you follow my tradition of cooking 20+ pound birds).

Ready… this is the part JavaDad and I always forget.  BEFORE YOU PREHEAT THE OVEN… remove the second rack and make sure to put the remaining one at the lowest level.  Should you forget to do this, say every year for 9 straight years, you can always put the rack out in the cold on the deck.

Oh yeah, now is a good time to make sure that your roasting pan is on the counter, ready for the big bird.  Not, say, down in the basement.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees.  Nope, not a typo, you are going to cook it for 30 minutes at 500 degrees to give the bird a beautiful tan and seal the juices in.  It takes a while to get up that high, so turn that oven on now.

Always check the neck and chest cavities for a plastic bag with the gizzards and liver, and also for the neck itself.

Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water and put it in your rack.  Make sure you rinse out the sink and anything else you may have touched (faucet handles, etc.) and Clorox them as well afterward.

Stuff the turkey (some of your relatives are anti-stuffed turkey — they don’t realize that the turkey is merely a gigantic cooking/flavoring hole for the stuffing, why else would I cook a turkey?)  You need to not pack the stuffing very tightly, it needs to go in loosely.  I make sort of small loose balls to put it in.  Don’t forget you can put stuffing in the neck cavity as well.  You will remove the stuffing before carving the turkey — do not let stuffing sit in the turkey after it has been cooked!  And remember, your stuffed turkey will take longer to cook than a non-stuffed turkey.

Oh, and I leave the “pope’s nose” (fatty bit just under the chest cavity) on the turkey, but Grandma E always cut it off.  It adds good flavoring to the drippings.

After you’ve stuffed the turkey, rub some poultry seasoning all over the skin — everywhere.  Then rub softened butter all over the skin (I find it easier to do the poultry seasoning first, then the butter).  I tend to put a few bits of butter on the top of the exposed stuffing as well.

Pour some water (about 1/2 cup) into the bottom of the pan.  Don’t worry about any stuffing or butter that has dropped into the pan.

Put tin foil over the wing tips and ends of the drumsticks to protect them from burning.

Put the bird in the oven with no lid for 30 minutes at 500 degrees.  I put about half a stick of butter into a bowl and put that on top of the middle part of the stove so it softens during that 30 minutes of time.  When the time goes off, baste with the melted butter and also the pan drippings, then put the cover on, turn down the temperature to 350 degrees, and set timer for another 30 minutes, repeat butter softening trick.  I baste every 30 minutes to 1 hour (depending on how frantic the other food prep is).

Do not rely on the “pop-up” device in the turkey to tell you when the turkey is done.  Use a thermometer.  Or if something terrible has happened to your thermometer that year, you will know your turkey is done when the legs move freely at the joint and the juices run clear.  When using the roaster, my turkey usually cooks about an hour faster than the timetable says it should.  Make sure you check both the turkey itself and the stuffing when you use a thermometer.

Because you have browned and sealed the turkey at the beginning of the cooking, you will not have to worry about removing the lid/tin foil at the end of the process to get that golden color, so if you are looking at other cooking instructions, ignore that part.

The turkey carves better after it has been allowed to “rest” — I usually let JavaDad take the pictures when it is right out of the oven, then I have him make one cut at the breast to ensure the turkey is cooked through.  Then I put the lid back on and let it rest and stay warm while we put the casseroles in the oven.  (Note:  At this point I usually announce to everyone in the house that I am about to go into “crazy mode” because I am going to assemble 3-5 casseroles at once so I want no one walking into the kitchen or talking to me for the next 10 minutes, please because I am trying to keep measurements and times in my head and am criss-crossing the kitchen.  Regardless which side of the family is visiting, they will take this as their cue to come in and fix drinks at that exact time and ask me lots of questions.  Even JavaDad, who should know better because I have threatened his very life if he does that yet again this year.  If you ever figure out a better plan, let me know.  I still love them all – I just have never figured the mystery of this out.)    You can cook the squash, green beans, and sweet potatoes at the same time, even if the recipes contradict each other as to temperature.  I usually go with whatever is the highest temp and then reduce the cooking time for the other dishes accordingly.

Remember to remove that stuffing from both cavities!

By the way, it is apparently a weird Newby family tradition to ask each other what size bird you are cooking.  I didn’t realize other families didn’t do this until I got married and had married friends.  Keep up the tradition, for my sake.  : )

Grandma’s Cornbread Stuffing
You may want to make the cornbread the night before.

Cornbread
(Makes 7 cups, I usually double the recipe)

  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1.5 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 425F.  Sift dry ingredients together.  Combine with well-beaten eggs and milk.  Blend well.  Stir in butter.  Pour into well-buttered shallow baking pan.  Bake at 425F for 15-20 minutes.

Stuffing
(make twice the recipe, then stuff the turkey with as much as you can and bake the extra stuffing in a pan.  NEVER stuff a turkey and leave it to sit – stuff JUST BEFORE cooking and empty the stuffing from the turkey as soon as dinner is over.)

  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery with leaves, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • dash black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons parsley
  • 5 cups cornbread crumbs
  • water to moisten the stuffing

Sautee vegetables in butter until tender, but not browned.  Combine seasonings and crumbs.  Toss with vegetable mixture until well mixed.  Add enough water to moisten crumbs.  When you have a separate pan of extra stuffing, make sure to add even more water to that batch b/c it will not benefit from the juices of the turkey.  Put some water in it at prep time, then sprinkle a little more just before it goes into the oven.

What’s YOUR favorite recipe for the holidays? Post it on your blog and link here or post your recipe in the comments section!

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Comments

  1. yum! i am now craving turkey.

  2. smilesºÜº says:

    Dear JavaMom,
    I have to write a quick note to you regarding your “Foolproof Way to Roast a Turkey”. Every year my husband’s family gathers at his mother’s house for Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. This year we have changed tradition and everyone planned the dinner at our house. Delighted as we were, it left the Turkey roasting to us and it is a daunting task. We have done this in the past but because it is just us and our two young daughters, we did not feel the intense pressure of getting it just right.
    I read your blog last week and promptly sent the link to the head Turkey Roaster in our house. He really never acknowledged his receipt of my email. Then on Christmas Eve morning, I found him at his computer and I knew we had to get started pretty soon on preparing our bird for the oven. He then, very excitedly told me that he was rereading your directions and was going to follow them to a T.
    From the time we turned the oven on at 500º, we were committed. He did do two things on his own, first, he stuffed the bird with celery, carrots and oranges. The he creamed the first butter stick with his own herbs and covered the bird with that mixture.
    Four hours later, we had the most beautiful, moist turkey we have ever had. I cannot believe how unbelievable this turkey turned out to be. Everyone has clearly decided that this is a wonderful new tradition and I want to thank you for these timely tips. We are all still grinning about how wonderful that turkey is.
    Robin

  3. Oh Robin, I’m so excited it turned out great for you — I have to say, that first half hour at 500 degrees seems to really make a difference! Now I want to know more about his special herbs! Creaming the first butter stick is a brilliant idea, it’s similar to how I do the poultry seasoning and then rub with a softened batch of butter, but creaming it together would simplify the process, I will try that next year and am open to trying new herbs!

    Thanks for reporting back!!! We are just about to sit down to enjoy our own bird and I have to say it looks and smells as yummy as usual! : )

  4. domino-checkers says:

    My advice about going into crazy mode concerning side dishes is to allow your guests to bring their version of sides. In our family, we always share in a family meal preparation. That way it really is a family meal and you get to enjoy some great dishes you don’t have to worry about. Over the years we have determined whose sides really hit the spot and generally suggest they bring that dish. There is something very satisfying with everyone having some role in the meal preparation. Of course, it helps if the family is in town and not coming across country. In that case, once you have your glorious turkey done, go have a glass of wine and some “nibbles” while others go nuts in the kitchen. HAPPY THANKSGIVING AND HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO CAFFINE AND A PRAYER.