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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

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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!

 

{Giveaway} Junior League of Northern Virginia’s The Enchanted Forest – 2 Tix

Junior League of Northern Virginia The Enchanted ForestThe holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day makes me positively giddy. There’s an extra bounce in my step, a holiday tune in my head, and a usually a goofy grin plastered on my face. I make an extra effort to remember what I’m thankful for, to spread some holiday cheer, and to reflect upon what to improve upon in the upcoming year.

A big part of my “getting in the spirit” tradition is attending the Junior League of Northern Virginia’s annual The Enchanted Forest. This event is so incredible, so magical, it is nearly impossible to describe in mere words. One simply has to experience it to really grasp it, but I will do my best. Mark you calendar right now for November 23 from 10 am – 5 pm and Nov 24 10 am – 1pm and read on!

One lucky CaffeineandaPrayer.com reader will win a two-pack of general admission tickets, so be sure to enter! Full disclosure here — I am a member of the Junior League of Northern Virginia. But if you’re a regular reader here, you already knew that…

The Junior League of Northern Virginia’s 13th Annual The Enchanted Forest

November 23-24
Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday: 10 am – 1 pm
Westin Tyson’s Corner (7801 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22043)
Tickets and schedule informationhttp://www.jlnv.org/the-enchanted-forest

The Enchanted Forest

trees 1-lightenedFirst and foremost, there is the forest itself. This event is a fundraiser to support the mission of the Junior League of Northern Virginia (JLNV), an organization of  women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women, and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.  The center of the event is a ballroom filled with pre-lit artificial Christmas trees that have been creatively decorated by theme with items and are up for bid via silent auction.  For example, there are trees filled with items for pets, or a tree that is all Barbie items, or everything needed to make martinis. Trees range from about 3 feet to 7 feet tall.  You can ooh-and-aah at row after row of creativity and generosity in the ballroom while performers such as Reston Conservatory Ballet, Pirate Magic and others are in the room. (See the TEF page for the schedule of performances.) Get your photo taken with Santa (see schedule) — and no, you don’t have to be a kid to do so! General admission tickets ($13) grant you access to the forest.

photo-kharris2More Family Fun

In addition to the forest itself, there are more activities at The Enchanted Forest event. The JLNV has brought part of their community work in-house for the public to see firsthand. The Kids in the Holiday Kitchen room allows the children an opportunity to learn about healthy food and exercise habits and prepare some food themselves. Family members of all ages can have fun with hands-on science experiments and learn more about the JLNV’s partnership with the Children’s Science Center in our exploration room.

What’s a holiday event without a model train? Marvel at the National Capital Trackers Model Train Display — popular not just with the kids, but with those who are still children at heart!

Get a jump on our holiday shopping at the Marketplace filled with a variety of vendors. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of “What Can I Bring?” – the JLNV’s coveted cookbook. (Hint: It makes a great gift for teachers.)

Premium Ticket Events

Extend your experience with these premium ticket events. See the Junior League of Northern Virginia’s The Enchanted Forest page for schedule and to purchase tickets.

Cookies with Santa: $25

Enjoy holiday cookies and some very special time with Santa. Event includes a photo with Santa, milk and holiday cookies, story time, a craft activity, and a General Admission ticket. Children under 18 months of age are not required to purchase a separate ticket, and all adults must purchase a ticket. When ordering, please indicate if you require gluten-free cookies.

Cocoa and Georgetown Cupcakes with Snow Fairy Princess: $25

JLNV The Enchanted Forest Snow Fairy

The Snow Fairy Princess is on her way to Town! Enjoy decorating Georgetown Cupcakes while visiting with the Snow Fairy Princess. Event includes a photo with the Princess, Georgetown Cupcakes and cocoa, story time, a craft activity, and a General Admission ticket. Children under 18 months of age are not required to purchase a separate ticket, and all adults must purchase a ticket. When ordering, please indicate if you require gluten-free cupcakes.

Breakfast with Santa: $30

Ever wonder what Santa eats for breakfast? If so, join Santa for a full breakfast of eggs, bacon, pancakes, assorted pastries, freshly baked bagels, assorted cream cheeses and jams and jellies, fresh fruit, assorted fresh juices, coffee, hot tea, and much more. Event includes a visit, story time, and photo with Santa, as well as a craft activity and a General Admission ticket. Children under 18 months of age are not required to purchase a separate ticket and all adults must purchase a ticket. When ordering, please indicate if you require gluten-free pastries and bagels.

Gingerbread Workshop: $35 per house

This is always one of my favorites! Attend a Gingerbread Workshop where you will decorate your own edible gingerbread house with royal icing and an assortment of candy.  Your completed house, covered in candy trim with a cookie roof, will be yours to take home that day.  Event includes a General Admission ticket. Children under 18 months of age are not required to purchase a separate ticket.

Mistletoe Masquerade Ball (Gala): $90 – Saturday, November 23, 7 pm – 11:30 pm

Need a night out? Indulge in an evening of dancing and merrymaking at the Mistletoe Masquerade Ball, featuring an open bar, hors d’oeuvres, DJ, live and silent auctions and casino events.

Giveaway Details:

The Junior League of Northern Virginia has generously provided me with two general admission tickets (a value of $13 each) to give to one lucky reader. These tickets are good for either day of the event and will be available at Will Call. My family has also been provided with two tickets.

To enter:

  • The giveaway runs between now and 9 am Eastern, Wednesday, November 20, 2013.
  • I am using the Rafflecopter widget for the first time — please let me know if you have any problems.
  • Winner will be notified via email Wednesday and you must respond by Wednesday 7 pm ET or I will have to move on to the next winner as this is a quick turnaround and tickets are only good Saturday or Sunday.  At that time I will need your name and phone number so I may add you to the Will Call list.
  • You can use this shortened link to share the giveaway with friends: http://bit.ly/1j7H49i

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What you will win:

  • Two general admission tickets valid for one day only either November 23 10 am – 5 pm OR November 24 10 am – 1 pm.  A general admission ticket includes access to The Enchanted Forest of Trees, Marketplace, Holiday Entertainment on Center Stage, Kids in the Holiday Kitchen, National Capital Trackers Model Trains Display, Pictures with Santa, and the Children’s Science Center exhibits.
  • Tickets will be made available through Will Call.
  • Ticket recipients should bring valid picture ID.
  • Premium events and gala tickets are available for separate purchase.
  • Event information and additional ticket purchase: http://www.jlnv.org/the-enchanted-forest

Whether you win the tickets or not, I highly recommend going, it’s a fun, fun time and a great cause!

My Funny Valentine

Valentine’s Day has a habit of going awry in the Java household. I won’t go into the gory details, but there have been incidents with smoke alarms in our home, restaurants burning down, reservations getting double-booked by the restaurant and then cancelled at the last minute, waiters breaking out in fights over our table, snowstorms, and my personal favorite, a meat-switching/money-skimming scandal that ended up in the local paper.

I’ve been reading Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home, and though I wasn’t quite “feeling it,” Wednesday night, I decided to embrace her tenant about making an occasion of special days. JavaDad very kindly made a late-night run to the store to get a Valentine-themed table cloth and some pink paper plates and voila — we had a “Valentine’s breakfast” with the kids Thursday morning and they opened their cards from us.

Amazingly, that put me in more of the spirit, and I ran out to the store that morning, before I was due at JavaGirl’s school for her class party, and picked up some last minute Valentine’s decorations for the dining room. JavaDad and I had never made plans for dinner, and we had loosely discussed getting take-out. I decided to spruce up the dining room a little more and make it feel like more of an event. JavaGirl loves to decorate, so I decided I’d pick up the supplies and rope her into the act so we could surprise “the boys” since JavaDad was picking up JavaBoy (and dinner) up on his way home from work.

I fell in love with these brightly colored, fuzzy wool heart garlands at Target and draped one on the chandelier and one on the mirror.

Usually, I have the kids collect sticks and branches from the woods and we decorate it with hearts for a Valentine’s tree. This year we didn’t quite get enough sticks and Ididn’t get around to making the tree, then I found this lovely lit cherry blossom tree at Kirkland’s and decided it would make a wonderful Valentine’s tree and possibly even double as our Easter tree.

I had meant to move the lovely roses JavaDad gave me to the table, but the guys came home earlier than I expected and surprised me — still I have to show them off because JavaDad is not a “flowers” guy. Not bad, eh?

Not the most elegant table I’ve set, but with paper plates, take-out food, our heart-themed tablecloth, and our various Valentine’s Day loot, we had a festive and low-stress event. And what the kids loved is I told them to put on pajamas. I even put on my heart-themed pajamas,  you know, the ones I usually reserve for going out to see the space shuttle.

 

Perhaps next year JavaDad and I will try again to go the more traditional date night route, but our pajama and fuzzy hearts night was just perfect for this year. I hope however you chose to celebrate (or not celebrate) it was equally perfect for you!

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Disclosure: This post includes an Amazon Associates link — clicking on it and shopping on Amazon.com helps support this site without costing you an extra penny!

 

 

March 1: Sign Up for White House Egg Roll, VBS

It’s a busy day this first day of March!  Three fun things you may want to be aware of:

  • The White House Easter Egg Roll lottery goes live at 10 am.
  • Vacation bible school (VBS) registration season starts:
    • Pender UMC (Fairfax, VA) is starting earlier than usual this year, registration is now open. Suggested donation is $20 per camper,  July 9-13, 9 am – noon. (Note, their Music Camp registration will be later.)
    • Floris UMC (Herndon, VA) has also opened registration, $40 per camper, June 25-29).  They also have other camps such as a preschool camp, drama camp and service camp.

And in case you don’t know it — tomorrow is Dr. Seuss’s birthday… break out your favorites for some breakfast reading tomorrow!

 

Sesame Place Opens for Winter: A Very Furry Christmas

Sesame Place show

Nothing like Sesame Street characters doing jazz hands!

Motherhood is an endless “To Do” list and taking my kids to Sesame Place has been on my list. Summer 2011, however, became The Summer That Swim Team Took Over Our Lives, so we never made it. Luckily, Sesame Place has opened its doors with a winter offering, “A Very Furry Christmas.”

Sesame Place Vapor Trail

Riding the Vapor Trail with JavaBoy -- just the right-sized thrill for him at this age.

The theme park has a holiday-themed makeover and while water rides are shut down, there are still many popular rides open including Elmo’s Flyin’ Fish, Blast Off, the Vapor Trail, Peek a Bug, Grover’s World Twirl and more.  There is an entire jungle gym type of area with climbing challenges for kids of all ages from the very small to much older kids (think cargo nets and a slippery Cookie Monster’s Mountain).

Sesame Place climbing sectionThere are multiple shows throughout the day that emphasize the values of sharing and giving in the holiday spirit (Christmas is the holiday that is most emphasized, though mostly in a secular sense).  You can find a description of the shows here

Sesame Place dancing with Cookie Monster

JavaBoy got called up on stage to join in the fun!

Having never been in the summertime, I cannot compare the experience to a summer visit.  What I can tell you is that the JavaKids thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  I worried whether JavaBoy, age 7, would be too old for the experience, but he enjoyed the rides, especially Blast Off.  Ever the ham, he got called up on stage to dance with Cookie Monster in one of the shows, which also made his day.  The climbing area was a huge hit and let them burn off a lot of steam.  JavaGirl is at the perfect age to take in the wonder of it all.  Our children are not theme park veterans, so if your kids have graduated to serious thrill rides this park may not be for them.  But what made Sesame Place and in particular, A Very Furry Christmas, nice for us as a family was that it was a miniaturized version of a Disney experience — you had characters, shows, rides, a parade and a big tree lighting, but weren’t completely overwhelmed.  We went on opening day and the lines were quick.  Everyone we encountered was polite.

For my children, seeing the characters in the shows was enough of an up-close experience, they didn’t even feel the need to wait in line to see hug them and get a photo.  However, if you choose, there is a character dining experience option available.  I peeked into the restaurant where it occurs and it isn’t particularly glamorous, though the kids looked happy.  Think of a large elementary school cafeteria with Abby Cadabby running around.

There is, of course, an option to get a photo with Santa and this was one of the few places we encountered a line.  Given that we were in jeans, we decided not to get a photo, but it had a lovely set to do so.

Sesame Place swings

We enjoyed the park from the moment it opened until closing.

The drive to get to Sesame Place was not bad from Northern Virginia and while it is possible to get there and back in a day, given the late hour of finishing up, we opted to get a hotel room and then check something else off my list — visit the Please Touch Museum.  If you haven’t been to Sesame Place before, be forewarned that though there are signs marking the highway exit, the last turn is not well marked, we nearly missed it!

Another hint — line up early for the parade, look for the dots on the edge of main street and that is where you are allowed to line up.  It may be worthwhile to pack a small towel or blanket to sit on while you wait, though the gift shop will be more than willing to sell you one!  Seating for most shows begin half an hour before showtime and it is worth it to get a good seat.  Lockers are available to store the various gear families invariably bring, no outside food allowed in.  Lesson learned the hard way — they do not sell camcorder supplies in their gift shops (oops) and I don’t remember seeing SD cards either.

My final take:  Definitely worth the trip if you live in the Metro DC area or closer, a family fun experience that will probably be one of those “remember when” memories forever, and it makes me even more determined to return in Summer 2012 to see what it’s like to visit in shorts!  For more information on ticket prices and other questions, visit this site.

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Disclosure: My family was invited to attend as media for opening day and received complimentary tickets.  I was not required to write about it nor did this impact my opinion of the event.