It’s that time of year once again. The leaves are beginning to change colors, the kids are in school and have adjusted, and Thanksgiving is just around the corner.
Creating a traditional Thanksgiving meal is easy, even for a novice cook.
Start with a shopping list. For a family of four, a smaller turkey will fit the bill, take less time to cook and still provide plenty of left overs for those delicious cold turkey sandwiches the next day. A basic list will include the turkey, of course, cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and for some families – green beans and French fried onions for a casserole. Biscuits or crescent rolls with butter are a great addition as well. Don’t forget the pumpkin pie and the whipped cream!
Purchase the items on your list 3-4 days before the big day. This will give your turkey plenty of time to defrost if it is frozen. Always allow the turkey to defrost over the course of a few days in the freezer, rather than sitting it out on the counter for hours. This will prevent bacteria from developing, which can cause food poisoning. No one wants food poisoning. If the turkey is still slightly frozen on Thanksgiving, place the plastic wrapped turkey in the sink and run cold water over it for a while. This will help speed defrosting.
After the turkey is defrosted it is time to prep it for cooking. Preheat the oven to the manufacturers recommended temperature. Remove the plastic wrapper from the bird and discard it. Remove the wrapped package that is in the turkey and place it to the side. This is the innards and the neck and can be used later to make other things. Rinse the turkey in cold water and remove any remaining feathers by pulling them out. If they are hard to get out, grab a pair of pliers to remove them. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels and throw them out. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a deep roasting pan. For a crispy and delicious skin, melt a half stick of butter and brush it on the turkey, making sure to get all of the parts including the wings and legs. After coating the turkey with the butter, sprinkle garlic powder and black pepper all over the bird, again getting the wings and legs.
After seasoning the turkey, place it in the preheated oven. Checking it frequently, allow the turkey to bake for the correct amount of time as indicated by the label. Once the skin begins to brown, pull the turkey out for a minute and baste it with 2 cups of turkey broth. Cover the turkey with foil at this time and return it to the oven. Baste it every 30 to 40 minutes with the juices from the pan, recover and return it to the oven. You may be wondering about the stuffing. Well, for safeties sake, and because crispy stuffing just tastes better, this guide calls for the stuffing to be prepared separately in a baking dish. Stuffed turkeys can be havens for bacteria and can cause both the stuffing and the turkey to not cook thoroughly.
Approximately 1 hour before the turkey is scheduled to be done, begin preparing the other dishes. The stuffing can be made using chicken or turkey broth to add additional flavor. After preparing the stuffing on the stove top, spread it out evenly in a baking dish and place it in the oven below the turkey. This will give the stuffing a crispy top layer, with a softer layer underneath.
A delicious alternative to plain cranberry sauce is to mix whole berry cranberry sauce with a can of drained pineapple tidbits. The pineapple adds a unique flavor to the sauce and goes well with the turkey and stuffing. Another great side dish is a string bean casserole, made with fresh string beans, cream of mushroom soup and topped with crunchy fried onion strings.
For the sweet potatoes, a casserole is another great way to go. After cleaning and taking off any bad parts, take your sweet potatoes, cut them up into 1-2 inch chunks and place in a microwave safe bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of butter, also in chunks, to the bowl. Microwave on high for 4 minutes, then stir or mash the potatoes and butter together in the bowl. Return it to the microwave for an additional 4 minutes, then remove and stir again. To the sweet potato and butter mash, add cinnamon and sugar to taste, stirring to mix it thoroughly. Once it is mixed, place the mixture into an oven safe baking dish. Top with granola and miniature marshmallows and bake for 15 minutes, or until the marshmallows are melted and browned.
By now, the turkey should be done. Most turkeys come with a pop-up timer. If it has not popped yet, keep checking every 5 minutes until it does. Once the timer is popped, remove the turkey from the oven and put in the green bean casserole and biscuits. Place the turkey on a safe surface and keep it covered for at least 20 minutes with aluminum foil. This allows the turkey to rest, reach its maximum cooking temperature and gives the juices a chance to settle back into the meat. Cutting into a turkey as soon as it is removed from the oven is a sure way to lose all of the juices and get a dry turkey.
After the turkey has rested, and the rest of the dishes have come out of the oven, it is time to carve the bird. Start by removing the legs and wings. After slicing with a sharp knife in the joint of each piece, using a bit of force, bend it backward until you hear a crack. You can then slice through the rest of the way, creating clean cut pieces. Once the parts are removed, you can begin slicing the breast meat. Using a sharp knife, slice the meat into thin layers and stack onto a serving dish. Surround the white meat with the legs and wings and serve.
Everyone has different variations on their traditional Thanksgiving meal. Any of the above recipes and ideas can be modified for your family’s preferences and dietary needs. The most important part of preparing for any Holiday meal is not that you enjoy the prep work, the cooking and the eating but that you enjoy spending this important time with your family and friends.