Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Let's Talk Turkey

Last year my husband and I hosted our first Thanksgiving. Since Andy and I have been together as a couple Thanksgiving has been a time to go see family. We went to Park City, Utah for our first Thanksgiving to see Andy's mother. Then for the next few Thanksgivings we went to Palm Springs in California to spend it with Andy's father and stepmother. However, last year everything changed because we had a six month old baby. It was decided, without any need of discussion, that attempting the holiday travel gauntlet with a child who was still working on sitting up without assistance was not a good idea. So, Andy's mother flew in from Utah and we began to plan our first Thanksgiving dinner.

Now I like to cook, so I saw this as more of an exciting challenge rather than something to get stressed about. I started watching the Food Network Thanksgiving specials, searching the Internet for the best recipes, and even bought an Everyday Food Magazine with some recipes in it. When Andy's mom arrived she also brought some recipes with her.

We ended up cooking an insane amount of food. Bacon wrapped and goat cheese stuffed pears for an appetizer (insanely good btw), all the fixings for the main course including: stuffing (my MIL was in charge of this and it was amazing, made with Ciabatta bread), mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, rolls, turkey, gravy, and roasted squash. As if this wasn't enough we also had TWO desserts. I made an apple pie (my husband says it is the best apple pie he ever tasted, but I was a bit disappointed with how my crust turned out. Those lattice tops are harder to make then they look) and my MIL made pumpkin bread pudding. As you may imagine this was wwwaaaayyyy more food than three adults could consume in one sitting, it was however, the perfect amount for three adults to consume over the course of a long weekend.

This Thanksgiving we will once again be away from home. We're flying up to Minnesota to spend the holiday with Andy's grandmother and his mom is meeting us there as well. However, even though I am not cooking a turkey I thought I would share three simple tips that I learned while cooking my first one.

1. Brining.

We decided to use Alton Brown's turkey recipe that involves brining the turkey the night before. Our refrigerator is pretty small, so we decided to use a little cooler that we have, and this way we could leave the turkey out on our porch. The next day we brought the turkey in, dumped the leftover brine down the sink, and then put the cooler back on the porch to clean later. Much later. That is where the cooler sat for days, weeks, and then months. Finally when the warm spring weather came around it could be put off no longer. Andy took the cooler to the car washing area to see if a high power hose could remove the kind of mold that grows from whatever it is that raw poultry leaves behind. Unfortunately, in the end the cooler could not be saved, and it was trashed.

The lesson: be careful what you decide to brine in, and if it is something you wish to use again, clean it sooner, rather than later.

2. Turkeys are not chickens.

I've roasted many whole chickens, using this great garlic and citrus recipe I got from Giada on the Food Network. So, I figured a turkey is really nothing more than a really big chicken. In some ways this is true, but in one important way it is not. Whole chickens only have one plastic wrapped bag of innards that you need to pull out before cooking, but turkeys have two such bags. I didn't find bag number two until we were carving the turkey. It wasn't a huge disaster - the bad didn't explode or melt or do anything terrible. Still it was kind of gross and really takes several points away for presentation.

The lesson: don't be shy about frisking your turkey before putting him in the oven.

3. Timing.

Our turkey took a little longer to cook than we had expected... at least according to our meat thermometer, whose accuracy has always been in doubt since it always seems to give readings that are much lower what they should be. Since my mother instilled in me a lifelong fear of ingesting undercooked meat (especially poultry products), so we decided to let the turkey cook a little longer. In the meantime we cracked open another bottle of wine. When we finally took the turkey out it was delicious and juicy, but not in a way that might give us Salmonella poisoning.

Lesson: Have lots of wine on hand and no one will care how long it takes to get dinner on the table. Also, some things are worth waiting for!

Hope these tips help someone and most importantly I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. Wow! I know where we should have been last year. To help, of course. :)

  2. Kate! Utah! Man, I'm in Utah...if you came here for Thanksgiving one year, we could meet IRL...that would be freaky. I love, love, love your lessons on cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Especially the frisking turkey part. LOL