This was my first time cooking turkey dinner at home since...I can't remember, and I got off to a terrible start. Do these things happen just to me? Read on.
Normally I am a big planner; life with two babies is just much more negotiable when I am organized and able to plan ahead for event such as holidays. However, when plans to dine elsewhere for our Thanksgiving dinner went awry, I decided to host it here--with five days to go.
I managed to hunt down a fresh turkey and get some Sweet Onion Dinner Rolls in the freezer, but that was the full extent of my dinner prep, due to an especially jam-packed weekend.
With Thanksgiving dinner planned for 3 PM Monday afternoon, I found myself in my kitchen around 10:30 PM on Sunday with every intention of getting started on the preparations.
My ears were still ringing from a lively and thoroughly enjoyable Indian engagement party we had just returned from and my shoulders ached from that wedding I photographed on Saturday (who knew that six hours of continuous shooting could take their toll?). I should have listened to my body and hit the sack, but as many of you know, I can be rather hard-headed, and it seemed perfectly logical to start cooking at that time of night. I at least wanted to get my cranberry sauce made so it could set all night in the fridge, so I juiced a few oranges, tossed the ingredients in a small pot, cranked my stove and went to check my blog feeds. (Can you see where this is going?)
A minute or two later I was squealing with excitement upon discovering that I had won a giveaway from the fabulous Michele over at Fine Furious Life. You would be excited too! All thoughts of cranberry sauce evaporated rapidly from my brain as I lost myself in the fun of discovering what I had won. It turns out the cranberry sauce evaporated too.
I didn't smell the smoke, and I really don't know what ejected me from my chair with a smothered shriek, but as I skidded into the kitchen I could see the smoke billowing from the pot.
I yanked the pot from the stove and like a true die-hard, thrust my finger into the molten mass and tasted it. That motion was enough to confirm what I feared, this wasn't just a first-degree burn, where the top can be scraped off and used, this was scorched through and through. I'd be lucky if the pot survived.
Update: It didn't.
Time to talk turkey! I had so much fun cooking this dinner and the burnt cranberry sauce--which I blame entirely on Michele--was the only bad part of the menu. As you can see from the photo at the top of the post, I had some cranberries reserved and was able to use them for a second batch of sauce.
Now, recipes you want and recipes you shall have. I am giving you this menu in three parts: 1) Turkey & Co, 2) Les à'côtés (or sides) and 3) Desserts, to give myself a chance to write up the recipes and remember what I did for each dish.
OK, the turkey is obviously the star of the show, although I admit, mine looks a bit like a washed-up has-been. How do they get them to look so great on those magazine covers?
In the past I've done it all to try and keep the turkey moist: the 24 hour brine bath, the wine-soaked cheese cloth wrap, and the heavy butter basting. This time I just kept in simple and was happy with the results. This isn't a recipe, per-se, but here's the method I used.
Basic Roast Turkey
Note: this is for an unstuffed, 10-12 Lb fresh turkey.
Remove turkey from it's wrap and rinse under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels and place on a wire rack in a roasting pan. Allow to sit for about 2 hours to come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350F. Season the bird inside and out with plenty of salt and pepper and place in the oven. Roast for about 2 hours, turning as needed to allow for even coloring.
In a small heat-proof bowl, melt 1/4 cup of butter and combine with 1/4 cup of maple syrup. Brush over turkey to coat completely and continue to roast another half an hour or so until an instant-read thermometer reads 165F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. Remove from oven and let stand, covered loosely with foil for a half an hour before carving.
Reserve the drippings in the pan for your gravy.
Ah, la farce or stuffing. I was drooling over different recipes featuring chestnuts, fennel, sausages and other tantalizing ingredients, but didn't have time to get out shopping and so this one came together at the last minute out of items I already hand on hand. Surprisingly it was fabulous and a lovely balance between old-fashioned heavy-on-the-savory stuffing and an updated, fruity stuffing. Fresh thyme, sage and parsley from the garden certainly worked their magic in this dish, while several apples from our apple picking outing sweetened up this stuffing.
Aimée's Fruit & Herb Stuffing
1 cup butter
1-1/2 cups celery, chopped
2 cups sweet onions, chopped
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 large loaf of crusty Italian-style bread, cubed
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons, chopped fresh sage, loosely packed
1/2 teaspoon dried savory, ground
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups chopped apple
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
In a large skillet, melt 3/4 of a cup of butter over medium heat. Add onions and celery, stirring often to sweat. Add thyme, sage, savory, salt and pepper and continue to cook until vegetables are tender. Add apples and cook gently for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with bread cubes. Plump cranberries and raisins in hot water for about ten minutes. Drain and add to bread mixture. Add parsley and toss well. Melt remaining 1/4 cup of butter and pour over stuffing. Mix well to combine. Butter an ovenproof dish and pack stuffing into it. Bake at 350F for about 45 minutes of until golden brown on top. Serve hot. Stuffing can be assembled the day before and baked off with the turkey.
The last item to be included in Part One of this series is my favorite: the cranberry sauce. You already know how the first batch turned out, but the second fared a little better! Of course you don't have to make it in a mold and I even wonder why I did... AsI was serving dinner I made the mistake of setting the pretty cranberry sauce, pink plate and all, in front of Noah. I turned my back to get something and--chop, chop, chop--with three swift motions of his spoon, he had flattened the entire thing. Oh well, I had to laugh.
Orange-Anise Cranberry Sauce
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 orange, in suprêmes
1 whole star anise
3/4 cup sugar
1 leaf of gelatin
Roughly chop orange suprêmes and combine in a small pot with cranberries, star anise, sugar and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring often (do not leave the stove and go check your email!). Reduce heat and simmer gently for about 10 minutes until berries have 'popped'. In a small bowl of cold water, soften gelatin until limp. Whisk into hot cranberry sauce. Line a small bowl with plastic wrap and fill to the brim with sauce. Allow to chill thoroughly in the fridge. Just before serving, place plate on top of the bowl and swiftly invert. Remove bowl from on top of the cranberry sauce and peel away the plastic wrap. Garnish with another star anise, fresh cranberries or whatever you desire.
Stay tuned for Thanksgiving Part 2 and see some wonderful recipes for side dishes!