Countdown to Turkey Day 2013: Have You Ever Cooked a Turkey?

Heather says:

Have you ever cooked a turkey? No? Well hosting your first ever Thanksgiving dinner should probably not be your first attempt to cook a turkey. Thanksgiving is a busy enough holiday and even if you’re super organized, there’ll probably be a little self-induced stress, even with a timetable, all of your recipes organized, and knowing your pantry has everything you need. I really don’t want you to stress about the bird, too.


Cooking a Turkey for Thanksgiving

Don’t get too worked up about cooking turkey, really it’s not any different than a really big chicken. If you are feeling any trepidation about cooking your first turkey, and you have never roasted a chicken, I highly recommend you start there.

Why not? You get the benefit of a great roast chicken dinner and you’ll feel more confident on Thanksgiving day.

Here’s a simple how to roast a chicken tutorial.  And yes, I seriously need to redo the pictures, as that’s from 2007, well before I learned anything about photography.

So, once you have mastered roasting a chicken, it’s time to look over its slightly bigger cousin, the turkey.

Yes, I have a tutorial for that, too: How to Roast a Turkey. Keep in mind that you don’t have to truss your turkey, I just like the way it turns out. When I went to the Butterball University event last year, they recommend tucking the wings under the shoulders to give a the turkey more of a flat bottom which makes carving easier, but it’s completely a matter of personal choice. Butterball also recommends the more simple basic roast at 325°F for the entire time, instead of the initial high heat blast that I prefer. Again, it’s an each to your own kind of situation. If you prefer that method, Butterball has a great how to roast a turkey video.

Either way, you may need to tent the turkey with foil.

Now, if you are thinking of frying a turkey this year, I have a full tutorial on that, too: how to fry turkey. In this case, skip the chicken. Frying a whole chicken would be possible, but you’d displace a different amount of oil so the experience isn’t exactly the same. If you plan on taking the fried turkey route, buy a practice turkey and just enjoy that thing well before the holiday. You can certainly reuse the peanut oil, unless you burn it. As long as you’re careful you’ll actually be getting more out of your oil investment than if you only used it to fry the Thanksgiving turkey.

If you want to ramp up the flavor even more, consider brining your turkey. Rachel has a fantastic turkey brine recipe that I use as a basis for my own brines. I tend to vary the seasoning to match the rest of the meal. Now keep in mind if you choose to brine and fry your turkey, you’re going to have a very, very dark, probably unattractively so, turkey. That said, once you get under the skin, it’s amazing. If you roast your turkey after brining, your turkey will be darker brown and I suggest using the 325°F roasting temperature suggested by Butterball.

So there we go, an introduction to two basic methods of cooking turkey. How do you cook your turkey or is this your first year? If so, what cooking method are you considering?

Today on the company and cleaning front? Just make sure you’re keeping up with the daily chores -yeah the ones on the post-it note up there ↑. If you have overnight guests coming, you may want to figure out where they’re going to sleep and if you have enough sheets and bedding.

Are you Counting Down to Turkey Day with us?

Countdown to Turkey Day 2012: The Great Thanksgiving Day Post Mortem and Leftover Tips

Heather says:

Well, for better or worse, we made it. I apologize for being scarce the last few days, but I’ve been taking a small sanity break, thankfully I already had most of the turkey day countdown pre-written.

I’ve gotten a little  lot of desperately needed sleep. I’ve spent much needed time with family. And most importantly, I spent a little time doing nothing productive at all. I can’t tell you the last time I did that.

How was your Thanksgiving weekend?

After big events or projects, a lot of companies like to get together and do what they call the postmortem. It’s a way to figure out what went well, what didn’t, and what you should do differently next time.  Tips Tricks and Ideas of Thanksgiving Leftovers

You could do this privately and save it for yourself, but what’s the fun in that?

I and other home eccers would like to know:

What was your favorite part of the meal? Will you make it again?

What will you never make again?

How were your estimates, did you have the right amount of food or was there too much or little of an item?

And of course,

Were there any disasters?

Here’s a table of recipes to use up your Thanksgiving turkey leftovers:

Leftover Turkey Recipes
Turkey Pot Pie Creamy Turkey and Wild Rice Soup
Turkey Bog Enchiladas
Turkey Soup Pilau
Turkey Salad Jambalaya

Leftover Guidelines

    • Turkey should be frozen or used within 2 – 6 days.
    • Frozen cooked turkey should be used within 2 months and should be cooked thoroughly, immediately after thawing.
    • If you have gravy or leftover mashed potatoes they should have been used within 1 – 2 days after Thanksgiving.
    • Leftover gravy is an excellent addition to “Mustgo Soup,” mashed potatoes are, too. Both thicken and add flavor.
    • Cranberry sauce can be stirred into yogurt, served over ice cream, or it makes a nice accompaniment to pork chops, ham, chicken, or fish. It should be used within 7 days. (The sugar acts as a preservative.)

So, there you go. We’ve started our planning for Turkey day 2013. Let’s file this somewhere we won’t forget and maybe take a week before we start thinking too hard about Christmas. (If you feel the need to overachieve, have at it, my friends, have at it)

Countdown to Turkey Day 2012: The Day Before Thanksgiving 2012

Heather says:

Thanksgiving is tomorrow.

Are you ready?

Have you been playing along with this year’s Countdown to Turkey Day 2012. What did you think? Was it thorough enough? What needs to be improved?

I keep getting requests for a Countdown to Christmas, but I look at all the various Christmas traditions and I am completely. and. totally. overwhelmed. by the mere thought of trying to figure out how to make you (general you, the specific you is a pleasant and wonderful addition to my life) happy.

Just for fun, here are some pics from last year’s pre-Turkey Day event. My pal Philip and I never got around to publishing all of the pics for this year, they are still sitting in a Dropbox folder -do you use Dropbox? They are an amazing way to share large files that won’t fit in email.

As per usual, I’ll be adding a few more recipes to the site for Christmas and next year.  I also want to thank Butterball for giving me the opportunity to work with them (again!). The people running their Turkey Talkline (1-800-BUTTERBALL) are amazing and I had a wonderful time participating in their turkey training in Naperville, IL last year. Feel free to call them if you have ANY questions.

They are happy to help.

Seriously, I’d go as far as chipper.

For many families today is for baking and food prep.

Here are few last minute tips to help everything go smoothly.

Check the turkey now. Has it completely thawed?
Use the water bath method to finish defrosting the turkey.

Are your knives sharp? No? Read this tutorial How to Sharpen a Knife, it’ll help you get through tomorrow safely. Did you really just ask why? Sharp knives are safer than dull knives.

If you have several recipes calling for diced onions, bell pepper, and/or celery, go ahead and chop it all today. Cover tightly before refrigerating.

Do not pre-cut your potatoes and toss them in the fridge, it’s a bad idea. If you must know they turn a horrid shade of dark grey.

If you want a head start on mashed potatoes, you can make them today and then bake in a covered, oven-safe dish to reheat (with lots of butter, please). Alternately, tomorrow morning, peel and dice the potatoes, then hold them in a bowl of cold water. Rinse the potatoes before cooking in salted water. The same goes for sweet potatoes and apples, exposure to air makes them oxidize. Oxidation doesn’t hurt anything, it’s just quite unattractive.

If you are pre-cooking your side dishes, don’t forget to check your Thanksgiving Day Timetable to ensure everything will be hot and ready to serve at the same time.

If you’re using your own bread for dressing, go ahead and tear / cut that up today, too.
Still looking for a traditional sage dressing? Try this apple, cranberry sage dressing. It’s wonderful. If you need a vegetarian dressing recipe, just follow that one and replace the chicken / turkey stock with vegetables stock, easy peasy.

Cornbread for the dressing? Make that today, too. Remember cornbread dressing is gluten free dressing, provided you use plain cornmeal and NOT cornmeal mix for your cornbread. Do you need a sweet cornbread recipe or a plain cornbread recipe for your dressing?

If you don’t have young children or pets and you have a formal dining room vs the every day table, you can even go as far as setting the table. Put the plates and glasses on the table upside down or cover them with a large -clean!- sheet so they don’t catch any dust. Tomorrow, just before the guests arrive, flip or uncover everything. Do not pre-set the table if you have young children or pets. Somehow or another they’ll just make more work for you or create an embarrassing fur or sticky fingerprint situation.

If you’re playing host to friends and family, please check the guest bathroom. Make sure there’s enough TP, soap, and something with which to dry their hands. Please make sure that the guest towel doesn’t look like its only purpose is decorative. I can’t be the only person who worries about messing up someone’s starchy, frilly towel arranged over sea shells. Make sure the towel for hand drying is in an obvious, convenient spot. It’s better than having guests forced to wipe their hands on their pants.

If you have room, go ahead and chill any beverages that will be served.

If you choose to truss your turkey for roasting, it can be trussed today. Need a tutorial? See How to Truss a Turkey. Just don’t forget to take the turkey out of the refrigerator about an hour before cooking.

Do you have any last minute tips?

Please remember even if nothing comes out right, your mom, sister, and drunk uncle Roy are driving you nuts, or if it’s just not turning out as planned, Thanksgiving is a celebration in the spirit of gratitude. The fact that we have friends and family willing to even begrudgingly come together is a sign we are truly blessed. If you know someone, perhaps a serviceman or woman far from home, set an extra place and welcome them and invite them to your table. It doesn’t matter how simple the meal, the intention is what matters.

We have two families in this life, the one we are given and the one we create; embrace them both this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you from

Countdown to Turkey Day 2012: Two Days to Go!

Heather says:

Tick. Tock. Your time is running out. However, you’ve been following along with this year’s Countdown to Turkey Day and aren’t stressing, right?

  • Grab your Thanksgiving Shopping List and buy your produce and other perishables.
  • If you went the fresh route, pick up your turkey.
  • Before you head to the grocery store -you don’t want to go tomorrow, trust me- do the second half of that Great Thanksgiving Pantry Double Check
  • If your turkey is thawing, take a moment to get rid of the condensation that may be pooling under your thawing turkey. (You don’t have your turkey sitting on a shelf where it can drip its icky goo on your produce do you?) Your turkey should be in the lowest possible portion of your refrigerator. I generally take out the meat drawer to make for my Thanksgiving turkey.
    You don’t want to have your turkey resting in a bacterial swimming pool.
  • If your turkey is still in the deep freeze, pull it out, right now -do not pass go- and put it in the refrigerator. Give it as much of a head start on a water bath thaw as possible.  If you need tips, check out: How to Quickly Thaw a Turkey in a Water Bath.
  • Take some time today and get the house as close to company ready as possible.
  • Find your meat thermometer, roasting pan, the blades for the food processor, and any other kitchen gadgets that don’t often see the light of day.

Don’t worry, it looks like more than it is. Finally take a moment and confirm that you have enough servingware, silverware, plates, etc for your guests.

Are you ready?

Let’s do this.

Countdown to Turkey Day 2012: The Great Pantry Check and REcheck

Heather says:
Thanksgiving is nearly here, all of the work you’ve done over the past few weeks will help ensure your event runs smoothly. Today it’s time for the Thanksgiving Pantry double check. Did you see that. I said DOUBLE check. You not only need to do this today, but again before Thanksgiving. Why? Teenagers. Household gnomes. The Movers. The Spouse. The Roommates. The kid going through a growth spurt. The surprise guests. Whatever or whoever it was, someone may grab the last of something you need for Thanksgiving Dinner.

Do you need to catch up on the entire Countdown to Turkey Day Series? Don’t worry, we’ll be here when you get back.

What’s on today’s agenda?

It’s time to pull out your Thanksgiving menu and grocery list again. Today you will use your grocery list to do a pantry double check. Did someone swipe your mini-marshmallows or use all of the evaporated milk when the milk ran out?

It’s worth looking again.

Is your frozen turkey thawing safely in the bottom-most section of your refrigerator? It should be. If your turkey is still in the freezer you may want to check out this post on thawing a turkey safely using a water-bath.

Make your list of perishable goods and buy them tomorrow or Wednesday.

If you’ve been keeping up with housework, spend a little extra time today making sure the place is presentable.

Do yourself a huge favor and make sure you aren’t down to the last roll of toilet paper. I’m serious, running out of TP with a houseful of guests would be awkward. For you, for them, sure it’s funny ten years down the road w

Are you serving wine on Thanksgiving?

There is a handy, free smartphone app created by  The Wine Sisterhood to help calculate how much wine you’ll need for your Thanksgiving dinner. It’s called Drink-U-Lator and is available for both iPhone and Android (yay!).  The app calculates a responsible amount of alcohol to have available for your guests.

That’s pretty much it for today, provided you have all of serving dishes clean and ready to go. The rest is optional.

Are you doing a Thanksgiving centerpiece?

Do you need a centerpiece?

Not really.

However, here are directions to make a simple Thanksgiving centerpiece like the one pictured. Don’t forget to see what I’ve been up to over at the Butterball Blog and help make sure your Thanksgiving is successful.

Are you ready for Thanksgiving?