Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How I Cook A Turkey Dinner

I promised Sydney that I would write down how I cook a whole turkey dinner. Before the holidays are too distant I better keep my promise! Those of you older experienced cooks bear with me, I am no master chef or anything just a Mom with my own way of doing things over the years. Actually turkey is probably one of the easiest meals to cook, its just time consuming.


Three days before I plan to cook the turkey I buy the biggest (usually about 20-22lbs) turkey I can find and thaw him in the fridge for three days. I used to always buy a Butterball but after getting two in a row that were beaten up, I have been buying the Honeysuckle brand and like them.  I like to send leftovers home with the kids for sandwiches etc. so I get a big one.

Two days before a holiday, I clean my house and scrub my floors. The next day, one before a holiday, I spend it running my dinnerware through the dishwasher and dry them by hand. I also set my table, write and print my prayer and put it under my plate where I sit. Because I have a cat, I cover the whole table with a sheet. I also run a check list in my head or on paper, to see what I have forgotten and make a trip to the nearest store for Cool Whip or something, it never fails, that’s almost a given for me! I pull out a cooler and put bottles of water, soda and ice in it. I refrigerate my sparkling cider, which is a tradition at our house, or put that in the cooler as well. I bake my pies and make any salads that can be done ahead of time.

That evening ( the night before the holiday ) I peel a crock pot full of potatoes, and cover them completely with cold water and add a teas of salt. While I’m doing that I also sauté two onions and about four cups of celery in a stick and a half of butter on the stove top. When ingredients are translucent I turn it off, cover it and let it cool. I go to bed and toss and turn worrying about the alarm not going off.

About three AM or so, (allowing a half hour per pound cooking time plus I add a couple hours because I like my food overcooked rather than undercooked. Besides I like to have things ready when the company comes. I mix my stuffing in the roaster I am going to use to cook my turkey. I use about four boxes of Mrs. Cubbisons seasoned bread cubes, the onion and celery mixture I made the night before, and a box and a half or there about of heated (in the microwave) chicken broth ( I prefer Rachel Ray’s chicken broth). I add some salt, pepper and lots and lots of sage until it tastes good. Then I transfer it to a big bowl.

To the clean roaster I add some olive oil to the bottom. Then I wash my turkey in cool water rinsing the neck cavity and the body cavity really well. I throw away the giblets myself but a lot of people I know cook them for gravy stock. I one time I tried it I found little neck bones all over so I throw them. Next I pat the turkey dry with paper towels and plunk him (although its usually a her) in the roaster. I carefully stuff the turkey with dressing, using a big spoon. Just pack him full of dressing in his body and neck cavity. Wash your hand really well with soap and water when handling raw turkey so as not to cross contaminate anything when your finished, and in between as well! Then I butter his breast and legs with a paper towel, and salt and pepper him, before covering the whole bird with 2 big sheets of tin foil. I cook him on the center rack at 325 degrees until his legs move easily as if they’d come off without much effort, and he the timer has popped. You can also use a meat thermometer. Next I TURN ON MY CROCKPOT with the potatoes, setting it to high. DON’T FORGET! Last, I clean up my mess, and wipe the counter down with hilex water and go back to bed knowing I can sleep late because everything is cooking, the table is done etc. I get my best sleep then.

The morning of the holiday, I get up, get myself ready, put an apron over my clothes, turn on the holiday parade or football game and remove the sheet from the table. I check my crock pot of potatoes and turn it to low if they are done, or almost anyway. Then I make the relish tray, butter the lefse etc… or ask someone else to J .

Toward the end of the cooking time (like the last hour or so), I turn up the oven to 375 degrees or more and remove the foil so the breast of the turkey gets nice and brown. At that time I put the stuffing in the oven that didn’t fit in the turkey as well , and a big can of sweet potatoes with a cup of brown sugar over it. Because I don’t like to have chaos at the last minute… while the turkey is browning and it’s about an hour before company comes, I pour the water off the potatoes into a Dutch oven ( I will use the salted vitamin packed potato water for my gravy). I then mash the potatoes with cream, butter and a little salt. Once mashed, I return them to the crock pot, make a well in them and put in a pat of butter and leave them on warm until serving.

To the potato water in the Dutch oven I drain the juice from the turkey. You need help with this usually, as its heavy and HOT! Have someone hold the turkey from falling forward with a clean cloth, while you drain the drippings. I have a shaker that I add half and half and flour to. Like probably three or four table spoons of flour to a 1 1/2 cups of half and half. Stirring constantly, I add the thickening. When the gravy begins to boil you will know if its thick enough or not...if not make and add more thickening with half and half and flour. When gravy is at the desired thickness, I add salt and pepper to taste ( be careful with pepper as it sinks to the bottom). If it needs flavor you can use chicken bouillon, turkey gravy seasoning or more turkey drippings if its not too greasy. I then transfer my gravy to a smaller crock pot (yes, I am a crock pot queen) and keep it covered on warm or low.

Next, I take Mrs. Turkey out of the oven and scoop out the dressing, covering with tinfoil and put in the oven on low. I open a can or pkg of vegetables and get them cooking. I also top my sweet potatoes with marshmellows. Guests should be arriving about now asking what they can do. They can get drinks, get salads out of the fridge etc.

I always cut my turkey with an electric knife, only because that’s what my Mom did and its part of the holiday aire. It makes nice neat looking slices. Be careful with it though, being sure its unplugged etc. when messing with the blades.

Finally, as everyone gets seated, and the food is all on the table, I take off my apron, happy that everything is cooked and ready! I thank God silently and breathe a sigh of relief that I have loved ones to cook for near me, that we all get along and are close, and love each other so much.

I hope you can use this as a guideline and add your own touches to making your holiday meal. My Mom always wore an apron until it was time to eat therefore so I do, she used the electric knife therefore so do I! The crock pots I use are my own shortcut and I’m sure you will have your own ideas too, after you have forty years of cooking under your belt (in more ways than one haha), which is what your family will remember. Feel free to share ideas, as we can all learn from each other! Here’s to lots more great holiday dinners!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Bicycle Built For Two

      Here it is, the first day of 2013. I remember when the year 2000 sounded like something out of Star Trek! My first blog of the year! I am dedicating this one to my daughter Sydney. Don’t let her beautiful face fool you …she has been through a lot in life! Last year she found herself in a state of shock and panic when she found out she was pregnant. Not ready for a baby, but not a believer in abortion and scared out of her mind, she pushed through a difficult pregnancy. She stopped smoking and drinking the day the test showed positive. She even monitored how much caffeine she was drinking from that point on. With every paycheck she bought bottles, breast pumps, toys and clothes in anticipation of the big day.

    I suffered with post partum depression back in 1979 and now Sydney has inherited some of the same tendencies. Being a single Mom the fears and responsibility for Easton are different and even worse for her than they were for me. While she was on maternity leave, she was made manager of the hair salon where she works. She will be great at it, but it’s all change and more on her plate that’s adding to her anxiety that you try not to treat when you breastfeed. To top it all off Easton is a colicky baby and keeps us all trying to find some way to help unwind him at night when he has his unhappy streak.

    Sydney, as you go back to your work full time tomorrow, this is what I want you to know. I am so proud of all the decisions you have made, even before Easton but especially since. I am keeping an eye on you and how you are feeling so things don’t get out of hand like they did with me. I will do what I can to help you as this new chapter writes itself. I will remind you that I have been through this and things got better. I will help you even when you don’t ask for it, and insist that you get your rest. I will spend as much time with Easton as I can. I will stay close to you because I know you need that reassurance right now. I can tolerate your fears and anxiety because I understand it. I’m not going to leave you alone in this no matter what! If we get snappy at each other which is bound to happen, it’s better than not communicating at all. Things don’t have to be perfect all the time. You are such a good Mom with a loving supportive family, who all love that little guy! We’re going to be fine.

     Easton has been such a little unforeseen blessing for all of us. It’s been said that, “all things worth having are worth fighting for”. Nothing could be more evident of that than my own grown children. The work, the worry, the pain when others mistreat them or they mistreat themselves is almost unbearable…but the joy, the love, the gratitude they give you back from a hard fought fight for them, is like no other blessing it this world. Yes raising kids takes work, it’s never perfect, you will make mistakes, but kids know if your authentic or not, if they are on the front burner or the back and respond accordingly. Picture a bicycle built for two. It’s you and Easton. Does he ride in the back or the front (this is not actually riding because that depends on how old he is, but just picture it for the sake of this analogy). Some would picture him behind you… you steering and him along for the ride. I prefer him in front of you trying to steer, but you secretly guiding, doing most of the peddling and keeping it between the lines. Put him ahead of yourself ( which you have already done by not smoking or not taking in anything that would harm him) so you can watch over him to the best of your ability, give him the best shot at life and do your best to keep him between the lines of life. When you hit a rough spot just keep peddling, you build up endurance that way! There will always be kids with more stuff, more opportunities etc than what you can provide, but not more love. Look at the bike again, this time picture me and you on the bike Syd. You are ahead of me, this time your doing all the peddling and I’m enjoying the ride, kicking in a few peddles here and there and coasting when I’m tired. Sound familar?  I love you Sydney.

    I am very happy to be a Grandmother, something that seemed a little out of place for me somehow at least right now. I expected it far in the future at the beginning of 2012. That was until I saw his little face, that was a game changer. Now if I am gone for a day, I miss that little guy.

     My hope for 2013 is more of what makes us all happy, less of what makes us stressed and sad, and to build on my relationship with my heavenly Father. Life is forever changing and evolving and it’s a wonderful ride! Happy New Year!

*bicycle picture above was from: