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Thanksgiving Dinner: Roasting a Perfect Turkey and Other Tips

photo of turkey with words superimposed: Thanksgiving Dinner: How to Roast a Perfect Turkey and Other TipsI happened to be in the grocery section of Target the other night when a wild-eyed woman looked at me and said, “I don’t see the cabbage! Do you see any cabbage?”

Me, (bewildered as to why one would think Target would have cabbage): “Um, no. I guess they don’t carry any.”

Crazy lady: “How I got stuck with all the cooking and cleaning I don’t know. Dammit, I’m going to have to go to another store now to buy all this food.”

Suddenly it all became clear — she is a reluctant Thanksgiving hostess. Personally, I love cooking for Thanksgiving, but for many, it is a burdensome task. There are some who are afraid of cooking the big bird, or are overwhelmed by the timing of the many side dishes.

Do you find yourself in the same position as the poor lady I found muttering in the aisles? If so, fear not! This is really so much easier than you would think!

Roasting the Perfect Turkey

Let’s start with the star of the show — the turkey! I believe there are two keys to success here: starting with a good brand you trust and picking a cooking method you are comfortable with. I watch all those cooking shows and think, “Ooh, I’m going to try to brine my turkey this year!” But when it comes right down to it, I’ve honed my roasting to such perfection that I just can’t bear to mess with it. (Okay, one year I tried a turducken, and regretted it.) Everyone who has eaten a turkey I have cooked has said it is the juiciest, most tender, and flavorful turkey they ever had, and though I have cooked it, I almost feel like I can’t take credit because it is due to such a foolproof method that everyone else I have shared it with has been able to reproduce identical results.

I posted this method way back in 2008, so without further ado, here is my Foolproof Way to Roast a Turkey and in the same post is my mother’s wonderful homemade cornbread stuffing recipe. Here are a few small changes since then:

  • When I use my covered roaster in the oven, I don’t necessarily have to baste every 30 minutes. But some habits die hard. Note that it does cook faster in the covered roaster, so adjust your timing accordingly.
  • I have since bought an electric roaster, and I have been able to replicate this process in it (with the limitation of the size of bird that the electric roaster can handle). I really like to cook birds in the 22-24 pound range and I can barely close the cover on a 22-pound bird on my electric roaster. These directions are similar, but not identical to my process (again, I stuff my turkey.)
  • You may have noticed that a smart commenter on that post decided to cream together his spices with his butter instead of doing it in two steps; sometimes I now cream together my butter and poultry seasoning.
  • For the stuffing recipe, some years I “cheat” and buy the pre-chopped “stuffing mix” vegetables in the produce section that has onions, celery and usually some herbs in them. It still works and tastes yummy. I buy the largest bowl, estimate what I need for my recipe and then keep the rest to use for my turkey carcass soup!
  • For timing, use the directions that came with your turkey, they generally will give you guidelines for a stuffed and unstuffed turkey. But remember, since you started out with the higher temperature for the first 30 minutes, you turkey will usually cook faster. And remember, TEMPERATURE, not time, is the ruling guideline.

The Side Dishes

Ready for my dirty little secret? I’m actually not a huge turkey fan! I prefer it as a leftover, in things (sandwiches, soups, or cut up with a dip of mayo and mustard mixed together). So for me, the Thanksgiving dinner is really all about the sides. And I’m very much a traditionalist, I stick to pretty much the same recipes my family has eaten for decades. I keep clipping new recipes, saying I’ll try something new, and then when the big day comes, I go to the tried and true. Why? Because I love them! They bring back fond memories and connect me to times spent with families members who are no longer with us.

But in the kitchen, side dishes are what often trip up the reluctant Thanksgiving hostess. It can be challenging to get the timing right when there are multiple dishes with different temperatures and requiring different lengths of cooking time. Here are a few tips:

  • Cook things ahead of time and then reheat. Some ideal candidates for this are candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole.
  • Prep the night before. Chop and measure anything you can ahead of time and put into small, sealed containers. There is no reason you can’t go ahead and mix together dry ingredients for recipes and put them into a sealed container. If you are going to have to open cans of things, put those on the kitchen counter with the can opener next to them. Gather anything that needs to be gathered, make sure your workspace is clear, your dishwasher is empty, your sink is clean — you want to be ready to dive in and clean as you go!
  • Make adjustments. If the variance in temperature is not significant and the food is not too delicate, choose the higher temperature and adjust the timing accordingly. For example, I have two casseroles I cook together but they have temperatures that are 25 degrees apart. I use the higher temperature and then just cook the one that has the lower temperature on the recipe for a shorter time.
  • Use a different appliance. Most recipes can be adapted to use a different appliance. Cook your turkey in an electric roaster to free up the oven. Mashed potatoes can be made in a slow cooker (otherwise known by the brand name: CrockPot). Perhaps something can be made in a pressure cooker. I’ve been known to cook candied sweet potatoes on the stove and in the microwave.
  • Post your menu on the fridge with a cooking time table. If I don’t list out a menu for myself, I invariably forget something, even if it is something small, like putting out the black olives. Work backwards from your planned serving time and run through when everything needs to go in and out of the oven/stove/other appliance, what might be need to be reheated. Leave yourself some time for replating (moving things from their cooking vessel into your pretty serving dishes). Go ahead and set out all of pretty serving dishes WITH serving silverware out on your table or buffet ahead of time so it is all accounted for.

This year I am going to try one new side dish. Doesn’t this look yummy? It has been years since I have cooked turnips and that time I pickled them! At least I’m trying to break free from my this Thanksgiving and trying something new! I’m curious if JavaDad will give them a try!

Glazed Carrots and Turnips from FoodNetwork.com

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4-6 servings

Serving Size: Not listed, meant to be a side dish.

Calories per serving: 70

Fat per serving: 2 g (Saturated 1 g)

Glazed Carrots and Turnips from FoodNetwork.com

Copyright 2001 Television Food Network, G.P. All rights reserved. Relisted on caffeineandaprayer with permission courtesy of FoodNetwork.com. Image courtesy of FoodNetwork.com.

Ingredients

  •    3/4 pound turnips, cut into 1-inch pieces
  •    3/4 pound carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
  •    2 teaspoons unsalted butter
  •    1/2 teaspoon sugar
  •    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Put the vegetables in a skillet just large enough to hold them in a single layer.
  2. Add enough water so that it comes halfway up their sides along with the butter and sugar.
  3. Bring to a boil over high heat, then adjust the heat to maintain a simmer.
  4. Cover the vegetables with a round of parchment paper just large enough to fit the inside diameter of the pan, or with a lid set ajar.
  5. Simmer the vegetables until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  6. Remove the cover and raise the heat to high.
  7. Toss the vegetables frequently in the pan, as the liquid evaporates to a shiny smooth glaze.
  8. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.
  9. Link to original recipe: http://bit.ly/GlazedCarrots_Turnips

Notes

SERVES: 4 (SIDE); Calories: 70; Total Fat: 2 grams; Saturated Fat: 1 gram; Protein: 1 gram; Total carbohydrates: 12 grams; Sugar: 7 grams; Fiber: 3 grams; Cholesterol: 5 milligrams; Sodium: 219 milligrams

http://caffeineandaprayer.com/2013/11/26/thanksgiving-dinner/

My Pumpkin Pie Confession

I have made pumpkin pie many ways. I have made it from the famous Libby’s recipe. I have made it from my dear mother’s recipe (which uses bourbon!) I have made it using fresh pumpkin. I have even made a pumpkin flan. I have eaten many, many, many pumpkin pies in my life. And I have to tell you, one of the consistently best pumpkin pies comes from… Costco. There are times when the wisest hostess knows when to streamline (in business it is called “outsourcing”) and goes with the best. After all, I don’t make my own wine, do I? So for the past few years, I’ve stopped making my own pumpkin pies and have run by and picked up a pie. There is no shame in playing to your strengths (mine is making delicious turkey) and then taking a few shortcuts where the end result is going to be the same or better (my pumpkin pie is just fine, but why bother when Costco’s is a bit better? No more dashing up in the middle of dinner to pull a pie out of the oven! I’d love to hear what you do for your dessert!

Incidentally, you may be interested in this recent article by Forbes about why canned pumpkin produces superior pies.

Fun Food For the Kids

We’ve been making these Ritz Cracker Turkeys and Pilgrim Hat Cookies with the kids for years. I didn’t manage to get them made in time to send to school this year, but we’ll probably make them with visiting grandparents this Thanksgiving. It’s a fun way to keep the kids busy while Mom is in the kitchen. If you have trouble finding candy corn (it is often considered a Halloween candy — go figure!), check your drug store — for some reason they tend to keep it in stock for a longer period of time or even year-round, especially Walgreens.

The Most Important Tip: Go With the Flow

My top tip is this: Relax! Go with the flow! We’ve had all kinds of Thanksgivings… more formal ones with several family members and then a very memorable one that felt pretty disastrous as my husband was suffering from swine flu. Another year, I recall having to call the plumber when our garbage disposal backed up one Thanksgiving and washing some dishes in the bathroom sink while we waited. One year, the turkey we had ordered (as I like fresh turkeys of a large size) somehow never got ordered, and when my husband (then fiancé) went to pick it up, not only was it not there, there wasn’t a single fresh turkey to be had, only frozen. He was rushing to bring it home, got pulled over for speeding, then his car battery died. Imagine how mortified I was when my mother looked out the window and said, “There’s a police car in your driveway… and (JavaDad) is in the back of it!” They had given him (and the frozen turkey) a ride home. It is now just one of our many funny Thanksgiving stories… though it didn’t feel like it at the time! If you oven breaks, or you accidentally cook the bag of giblets, you won’t be the first hostess to have that happen. If you forget something, there is sure to be plenty of other food and drink on the table. If the house doesn’t look perfect, so be it. Step outside (or in your closet, garage or anywhere else) if you need a moment to yourself, and then remind yourself that it’s not about the food, and it’s not about being perfect. Thanksgiving is about being together, remembering our nation’s great history, and then counting our blessings and reminding ourselves how much we have to be thankful for.

One of the many things I am thankful for is YOU! Thank you for being a Caffeine and a Prayer reader! I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving! If you get a chance, I’d love for you to share a comment about your Thanksgiving traditions — whether it is food-related or something else!

 

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