Food & Drink

Time to talk turkey

Eight days to T-Day.

Let’s have a quick refresher course on cooking the Thanksgiving meal. Is anyone stressed yet?

Last week, I shared some ideas for preparing side dishes in advance or ones that can be done in the slow cooker, which is a cook’s best friend for the holidays.

Remember to write down the menu and make a countdown checklist of when each item needs to be done. Be sure to check it twice. Also, check the stores for sales. This is the week to buy the turkey, and side items may be on sale, too.

Turkey talk

But today is turkey talk.

Guests are coming, and you are chosen to do the turkey. Is this the first turkey you have fixed or are you a pro?

My late husband thought browning bags were the best way to cook a turkey. The turkey stayed moist and the skin was nice and golden. The turkey was always good. While the turkey was cooking, he was making cornbread dressing, and we always disagreed about giblets and livers in the dressing. I voted “no” and still do. Adding some chicken and boiled eggs, onions and even celery is fine, but I don’t do giblets and neither does my daughter.

Mammy, my late grandmother, never touched a browning bag. She nurtured that turkey with butter and basting juices the whole time it cooked in her large blue spotted roaster. She never stuffed the turkey, but, like my husband, preferred to make her dressing on the side. Yes, I said “dressing;” after all I’m from Texas, y’all, and we don’t call it stuffing.

Coast friends like to make oyster dressing, which is tasty, but I am more traditional about my dressing, sticking to the above-mentioned ingredients, plus a few more.

T-Day timetable

Back to the T-Day timetable, dressing or stuffing, if you prefer, can be prepared the day before Thanksgiving, so Wednesday, Nov. 23, wrapped tightly, refrigerated overnight and baked on Thanksgiving Day for an hour or so until most of the liquid is absorbed. I like my dressing to be a little crusty on top.

If making bread dressing, cut up the bread the day before, so it has time to dry out. Dried bread makes for a better dressing. I even add a few pieces of dried out bread to my cornbread dressing.

Best flavor tips

To get the best flavor, the turkey, unless it is smoked, is the juiciest about 15 minutes after removing from the oven. Some friends prefer to fry the turkey Thanksgiving morning, too. They enjoy the camaraderie of fixing the main event.

What size turkey do you need? It depends on the number of guests. If the turkey weighs more than 15 pounds, plan on 1-1/2 pounds of turkey per person. If buying a smaller bird, then plan on 2 pounds per person. Bigger turkeys are meatier turkeys.

Thaw time

Don’t forget to thaw the turkey if using a frozen one. The best way to thaw is to leave the turkey in its packaging breast side up on a tray in the refrigerator. Allow 1 day for every 4 pounds the turkey weighs. Do the math: A 20-pound turkey takes 5 days to thaw.

Roasting a turkey is not a big deal; in fact, it is easy. The folks at Butterball, who always offer a helpline for home chefs, have a few great tips for turning out the perfect turkey. Big suggestion: Tent the turkey with aluminum foil when the turkey is about two-thirds done. This keeps the turkey from drying out.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Drain juices and pat dry with clean paper towels.

Turkey tips from Butterball:

Place turkey breast side up on a flat rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2 1/2 inches deep.

Turn the wings back to hold the neck skin in place. (Tucking the wings will help stabilize the turkey in the pan and when carving) Brush or spray skin lightly with vegetable or cooking oil for best appearance.

Insert an oven-safe meat thermometer deep into the lower part of the thigh without touching the bone. When the thigh is up to temperature, and if the turkey is stuffed, move the thermometer to the center of the stuffing.

Place your turkey in the oven.

When the turkey is about 2/3 done, loosely cover breast and top of drumsticks with a piece of foil to prevent overcooking.

Your turkey is done when the temperature with a meat thermometer is 180 degrees in thigh and 165 degrees in breast or stuffing.

Lift turkey onto platter, and let stand for 15 minutes before carving.

A 7- to 9-pound turkey, unstuffed, takes about 2 to 2 1/2 hours to cook in a 325-degree oven. An 18- to 22-pound unstuffed bird takes about 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Foil for a rack

Another helpful hint from Butterball: If you don’t have a rack, crunch aluminum foil into a coil or use vegetables like carrots to keep your turkey off the bottom of the pan.

Still need help? Call 1-800-Butterball, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Thanksgiving Day, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Side dishes

Enough turkey talk, here are a few Thanksgiving side dish and dessert recipes from a reader, a cookbook author and me. Kathy Dooley offers a low-carb chocolate fudge. Author of the new “Sweetness” cookbook, Christy Jordan shares a family favorite, cranberry crunch. Her new book is published by Workman. I offer up a corn casserole that I tried out at a church lunch last week. Very little was left in a 13-by-9 baking dish. I prepared the dish the night before and baked it on Sunday morning; worked great to do in advance. I found the recipe at www.allrecipes.com/ but changed it to my taste. Feel free to do the same.

If you have any last-minute questions or recipes to share, zip me an e-mail at ayeager51@cableone.net. I always love to hear from you.

Andrea Yeager can be reached at ayeager51@cableone.net and Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.

LOW-CARB CHOCOLATE FUDGE

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons butter

4 ounces cream cheese

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons Splenda

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Add heavy cream and cream cheese and whisk until smooth. Add Splenda and adjust to taste (use a little more if you need to). Heat until bubbling, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and stir in cocoa and vanilla. Blend well. Pour into a small buttered dish. Place in the refrigerator 3 to 4 hours to set. Cut into 8 pieces.

Submitted by Kathy Dooley

CRANBERRY CRUNCH

1 cup oats (I use old fashioned but quick will work)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 (16-ounce) can whole berry cranberry sauce

1 cup brown sugar (I use dark, but light is fine)

1/2 cup butter or margarine

Mix the oats, flour and brown sugar together. Cut in butter.

Pack 1/2 in bottom of greased pie plate or 8-by-8 dish.

Spread sauce over crust. Top with remaining crumbs.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until lightly browned. Excellent served with whipped cream or ice cream.

Recipe by Christy Jordan at www.southernplate.com/

THANKSGIVING CORN CASSEROLE

1 1/2 cups cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking soda

4 eggs

1 (15.25-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained

1 (14.75-ounce) can cream-style corn

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

1 cup margarine, melted

2 (4-ounce) cans chopped green chilies

1 large onion, chopped

3 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Whisk together the cornmeal and baking soda in a small bowl; set aside. Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl; stir in the whole kernel corn, cream-style corn, buttermilk, melted margarine, green chilies and onion. Stir in the cornmeal mixture and 2 cups of sharp Cheddar cheese until only slight lumps of cornmeal remain; pour into the prepared baking dish.

Bake uncovered in the preheated oven until firmed and lightly browned, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with remaining cheese; let stand 15 minutes before serving.

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