Do not fear the feast of Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the entire year - I love the food, the colors and it all makes me thankful for such a wonderful life. Every year I host an early celebration, dubbed the Prethanksgiving Thanksgiving Feast, for my family of friends as well. While in the past two years I have enlisted people to help me provide all the food and drink, I have always made the turkey, a round of stuffing, green bean casserole, and potatoes, plus a pumpkin and apple pie.
So this year, as I dine on the leftovers of another successful year, I have decided to share some of the tips and knowledge I have gained over the years through experience, numerous magazines/cookbooks and various internet resources.
- If you buy a disposable aluminum pan every year, buy the one with the rack once and then reuse the rack every year with a new pan.
- Chop vegetables, make bread crumbs, bake pies and make stock (if you are going to) all the day or night before. Put on some music you like, pour a glass of wine and have fun. All of this just makes the next day easier.
- Plan your cleaning when you plan your cooking schedule. I have 9 rooms and try to clean 2 per day (one easy, one hard to balance), which then leaves me with the day before the gathering to do all dusting and floor cleaning. I like to dust and do the floors the day before, not only does it leave less to do the day of but it seems to help my friends with allergies as well.
- Buy plain plastic cups for children and leave out stickers for them to decorate their own cups.
- Buy plastic containers at the dollar store so your guests can take some holiday grub home with them.
- Your porch may seem like a great secondary refrigerator, but just make sure that it's unaccessible to your animal neighbors. A screened porch is not going to get in the way of a squirrel and some pie. Trust me.
- 1 pound per person is plenty for a full bird.
- Always unwrap your turkey the night before to check whether it's completely defrosted, or needs to take a water bath for awhile.
- Brining: Seriously, this is just one of those things where everyone has their own firmly held belief. I think that it's just nice to do something with the turkey. If your bird is over 16 pounds, wet brining very annoying. Dry brine by unwrapping your turkey, rub it with a bunch of salt (and I also like to rub some herbs under/over the skin as well) and let it stand uncovered in your fridge. Wet brine under 16 and I just submerge it in a big stockpot and put it on a lower shelf.
- I don't stuff because I like to keep as many of my side dishes vegetarian or vegan as possible.
- I like to prep all the stuff I put in and on the turkey before I mess around with anything on a clean counter. That way it's easy to clean up and cuts down on contamination.
- This is what I do to my turkey: I quarter one or two onions, peel all dry skin and chop off the top of a garlic head, quarter an apple to put in the cavity. I combine dried rosemary, sage, thyme, pepper and oregano together for my rub. I peel 6-8 garlic cloves. Pour about 3-4 T. of olive oil in a ramekin. Then I bring over the turkey, rub the herbs over and under skin, rub oil over/under skin, put 1/2 garlic cloves on one side and then other, fill cavity.
- If my turkey is 18 pounds or lighter, I cook it for the first half with breast down. Any heavier and it's just scary to flip. I always foil for the first half, and take it off for the last. I don't baste and it seems to be fine.
- Always let your meat stand before carving. Full turkeys can stand for 30 minutes.
Okay, that's enough for today. Tomorrow I will add some of my tips for side dishes and dessert.