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!

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