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Wednesday, November 21, 2012
’Tis the day before Thanksgiving, and all through the land, new cooks look at turkeys and think, “I need a hand.”
The giblets are nestled all snug in their bag, and new cooks are thinking, “Please, don’t let them gag.
“Don’t let the gravy be lumpy or the ’taters be cold, or the stuffing be dry or the pie taste like mold.”
In the holiday spirit I offer this guide, because you are my readers and I’m on your side.
Now STUFFING! Now BERRIES! Now WHITE TURKEY MEAT!
You’ll get it all done and say “Bon appetit!”
Q: I don’t have time to thaw the turkey the standard way — in the refrigerator. Is there a safe way for me to do a last-minute thaw?
A: Turkey can also be thawed in cold water or in the microwave. To thaw in cold water, allow 30 minutes per pound. Keep the turkey in its plastic wrapping and submerge in cold tap water (the sink, a five-gallon bucket or a cooler works well). Change the cold water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook immediately after it is thawed to prevent foodborne illness.
Because microwave cooking times vary, you will need to check your owner’s manual to determine what power level to use and how long per pound to nuke the bird. It is important to cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.
Q: What are giblets and what do I do with them?
A: The giblet packet usually contains the turkey’s heart, gizzard, liver and neck, and may include other edible parts. Some folks like to cook and eat the giblets themselves while others use them to make gravy. They can also be frozen for later use. Whatever you do, don’t leave the giblet packet inside the bird.
Q: What’s the biggest gravy mistake I could make?
A: A lot of beginners wait to the last minute to start their gravy. Homemade gravy takes a while to make and you can always warm it up if it cools down.
Q: How do I make fresh bread crumbs for dressing?
A: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cut bread into cubes or process into crumbs using a food processor. Spread into an even layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until dry and lightly browned.
Q: Should I stuff my bird or make dressing in a casserole dish?
A: I vote for the casserole dish, because by the time the stuffing has cooked to a safe temperature, the turkey will likely be overcooked. If you want to stuff your bird, fill the cavity with onions, apples, oranges or lemons, garlic cloves or herbs.
Q: How do you ensure a moist turkey?
A: There are a couple of different options here:
n If you are a beginner, an oven bag is a great option. Buy turkey-sized oven bags and follow the directions on the package. The bird may cook faster in an oven bag. You can still dump all the juices from the bag into your roasting pan to make gravy.
n Brine the bird. I’ve had the best success by brining the bird AND cooking it in an oven bag. If you’re going to brine overnight, you’d better get started on that now. For an easy brine recipe, go to Roanoke.com/food.
n Do not rely on a pop-up thermometer. Always use a real meat thermometer! Insert your meat thermometer in the deepest part of the thigh, but don’t let it touch the bone or else you will get an inaccurate reading. Remove the bird when the thermometer reaches 165 degrees, then tent with foil and let it rest for about 20 minutes. It will continue to cook a little as it rests.
n To season the bird, try mixing fresh herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme) and freshly ground pepper with two to three tablespoons of softened butter. Gently separate the skin of the breast from the flesh using your fingers, then rub about half of the butter mixture under the skin. Rub the remainder over the top of the skin.
Q: How do I keep from serving cold food?
A: Warm plates by filling a clean sink with hot water and submerging the plates. Remove and dry plates just before plating food.
Another trick is to heat the milk, cream or broth before adding it to potatoes when mashing. Don’t boil it, but make sure it’s warm so it doesn’t cool down the potatoes.
Finally, make sure your gravy is nice and hot. Even if the dressing, turkey and potatoes have cooled, the hot gravy will warm them up.
Q: What are the best ways to save time and energy?
A: First of all, don’t be afraid to ask friends and family to bring a dish.
Some other options: Buy canned cranberry sauce. Purchase high-quality frozen dinner rolls, such as Sister Schubert’s brand. Keep the vegetable sides simple by topping basic steamed veggies (green beans, carrots, peas) with butter, lemon or lime zest, fresh herbs, toasted nuts or freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Buy a frozen pie.
For stuffing, skip the instant stuff but still save time with a product like Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix. Dress it up with a can of white-meat chicken or extra poultry seasoning, if you like a lot of sage flavor.
Q: How can I dress up the beverage selection?
A: Serve champagne or sparkling apple cider, with or without a splash of cranberry juice. Try the cranberry-flavored sodas that are usually on shelves around the holidays or make your own by mixing cranberry juice with lemon-lime soda (or club soda). Offer liqueur with coffee.
Make warm cider by bringing to a boil 8 cups cider, one sliced apple, one sliced orange, two cinnamon sticks, a 1-inch piece of peeled, sliced ginger and two cups dark rum (optional) to a boil, then reducing heat to a low simmer.
Q: What are some tricks to making a good homemade pumpkin pie?
A: Cut the butter in small cubes and place in the freezer for 15 minutes to chill it down. Don’t dawdle when it’s time to cut in the fat — work as quickly as possible.
When you remove the dough from the refrigerator after chilling, roll it out between two sheets of wax paper and then transfer it to the pan from the wax paper (that keeps it from crumbling badly).
If making a pumpkin pie, blind bake the crust before adding the filling so it doesn’t turn out soggy. To do that, chill crust for 10 minutes after putting it in the pan. Cover the bottom with clean dried beans spread on top of a sheet of parchment or foil to keep it from puffing up. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then remove the paper or foil and beans, reduce heat to 375 and bake a few minutes more, or until it turns lightly golden. If you are afraid the crust edges are getting too brown, wrap them in tin foil.
Q: How can I set a nice table if I don’t have nice dishes and napkins?
A: Don’t worry too much about a fancy table — it’s the food they really want. Nevertheless, you can buy paper napkins in a pretty color, then position one on each dinner plate and place a smaller salad or dessert plate on top. Forks go to the left of the plate, knife to the right with the sharp side closest to the plate. Spoons go to the right of the knife. Put a bouquet of flowers or an arrangement of greenery in the center.
Even if guests are primarily drinking coffee or wine, I like to set out water glasses and place a pitcher of ice water on the table. It’s great when you don’t have to jump up and refill water glasses. Above all, enjoy your company and have a happy Thanksgiving.
Share your tried and true tips at blogs.roanoke.com/fridgemagnet.
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