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

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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

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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 PieCreamy Turkey and Wild Rice Soup
Turkey BogEnchiladas
Turkey SoupPilau
Turkey SaladJambalaya

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

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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!

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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: One Week Out

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Heather says:

Today is supposedly -I have my doubts here- National Refrigerator Clean-out Day. That sounds silly, but it makes a little sense. You need room for all the leftovers you’ll have post-Turkey Day. You need room to thaw your turkey, if you’re having frozen.

If you have a small fridge and your expecting to have a lot of food, find a cooler. You can keep your hardier perishables (yeah um about that conflicting description, Heather) in the cooler with ice.

Tomorrow we’re going to talk about creating your Thanksgiving Timetable. Keep in mind, we’re in the home stretch. For those of you who have been playing along, there’s not that much left to do except cook. Don’t get smug, that draws the attention of the Fates¹.

Unless of course your serving ware has been stored for a year and you actually have good silver to use (do those people exist?). In that case, go ahead and start pulling it out and cleaning it up for the big day.

You’ve also kept up on your daily chores, right. If not, no worries there is still time before the invasive parasites extended family arrives. Pick one room a day and give it a little extra love.

If you’re lucky enough that family and friends live in town, who won’t be spending the night, you can limit your deep cleaning to public areas and close the doors to the rest. There is a caveat to this plan, if your home has more than one bathroom all of them -and the paths to them- should be clean. Make sure there are clean towels, soap, and plenty of toilet paper available. Don’t question, just do it.

When you invite people into your home, there’s always potential for humiliation of some kind or another. Let’s take a moment to reduce that.

If you don’t have kids and there will be children, not baby goats -although baby goats are possibly more fun and slightly less destructive- visiting, plan for their entertainment, unless you WANT them juggling your breakables, pestering the dog, and digging through your nightstand -anyone remember the movie Parenthood with Steve Martin? Keep any potentially embarrassing personal items under lock and key. The list of embarrassing personal items includes dirty underwear, as you KNOW this will be the time the dog decides to drag those out to the living room and I guarantee it won’t be a nice pair. Who’s a good boy? Not you, puppy, not you. On that note, remember to empty the bathroom trash daily now, too.

What other suggestions do you have to reduce the chance for embarrassment while hosting company?

If you’re just joining in on the annual Turkey Day Countdown here at Home Ec 101, you may want to read back through the other posts and play catch up.

So far, including today, we have:


A note about thawing your frozen turkeys:

Frozen turkeys need a full 24 hours per 4lbs to thaw in a 40°F refrigerator. Once thawed the turkey can be held for up to 72 hours.

For example, an 18lb turkey will take 4 days to thaw and should be used by the 7th day. Thanksgiving is 1 week away, so it’s time to start thawing those 20 plus pound turkeys. Don’t forget to keep that turkey in the very bottom of the refrigerator and in a pot or pan to prevent any cross-contamination through drips  and spills.

If you are picking up a fresh turkey, it should be cooked within 3 days of pick-up, so play it safe and pick it up on Tuesday or Wednesday.

For more tips on getting ready for Thanksgiving check out Butterball’s Thanksgiving Blog <—I wrote stuff over there, too.

What are you looking forward to most this Thanksgiving?

¹Calm down, I don’t actually believe that, it’s just fun to write. Call it dramatic license or warped sense of humor.