About nine years ago I had the honor of roasting the turkey for my family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Until that dinner my father was always the main chef during this holiday meal, but that year I had learned a turkey tip from a friend that I really wanted to try, so I took the responsibility from him. I remember his taking a bite of my bird and formally announcing he was passing the turkey scepter on to me; he could not make a better turkey.
This was, of course, before Alton Brown made famous the technique of brining a turkey. Now my father claims it’s the only decent way to prepare a Thanksgiving feast. I tried brining once, but it was too much effort for me. I don’t even like turkey!
So this year my parents are arriving home from Mexico on Thanksgiving Day. What with their being old and tired (no offense mom and dad!) I don’t want them to have to cook anything, so I’m taking on the entire meal, fixings and all. I’m even going to try to decorate — but we’ll see how it goes.
I thought I would share my plans for next week in case you are feeling completely uninspired (which I am currently feeling).
Recently a local TV news station asked me to brainstorm for them some budget decorating ideas for Thanksgiving Day. I don’t normally decorate. I’m too dang tired after preparing food; but I was up for the challenge. I stopped by a thrift shop after work and picked up a large vase, some pine cones, dried eucalyptus branches and tea candles. I went to the grocery store and picked up some fresh cranberries. I rummaged around my house for the rest. Here’s what I came up with:
Cheap Thanksgiving Centerpiece
3 fresh evergreen boughs (spruce is abundant in my yard)
4 mandarin oranges
4 dried eucalyptus branches
6 large pine cones
1 large vase
1 cup fresh cranberries
2 candle votives
1 floating tea candle
Start by cutting up one of the spruce boughs and putting the pieces in the bottom of the vase. Fill the vase two-thirds full with water then pour in the cranberries. Add the floating candle to the middle. You could stop here and have a lovely centerpiece.
Place your vase in the center of your dining table. Place a spruce bough on either side. Place a eucalyptus branch on either side of the spruce boughs. Surround the vase with mandarins and pine cones. Nestle a votive candle in each spruce bough. Ta-da! A gorgeous centerpiece and it only cost me around $10.
Spruce bough napkin ring
Fresh evergreen boughs, about 8 inches long
Trim the spruce boughs so that only a few tiny branches remain. Form into a loop and secure with a twist tie. Cover the twist tie with a piece of ribbon and tie into a bow. Easy-peasy. Cheap as heck.
Pine cone place card holder
Take a pine cone and stick a place card in it. That’s it! I took it a little further and painted the tips of the pinecone with metallic paint, but only because I had it lying around. You could get really fancy and dip half the cone into white paint and let it dry. That’s really trendy right now.
The Thanksgiving Feast
I’m a traditionalist when it comes to Thanksgiving. There are no big surprises with my meal plan for next week, but I offer up a couple of twists here and there. I will be serving:
Roast turkey (about a 13 pounder)
Cranberry marmalade (I made this in the fall when we harvested cranberries. Click here for the recipe)
Pumpkin pie (you can’t beat Costco’s pumpkin pie. It’s huge, delicious, and there’s no way you could bake your own for less money.)
Be sure to transfer the turkey to the fridge three days in advance. The day of, I remove the turkey from the fridge and let it sit on the kitchen counter.
How I’ll map out my day:
- Wake up. Don’t bother changing out of pajamas. Don’t brush hair or teeth either, for that matter.
- Take the turkey out of the fridge and remove the wrapping. Take out all the stuff inside the cavity of the bird. Keep the heart, giblets, and other inside parts and put into a large roasting pan. Set turkey in the roasting pan and deal with it later.
- Prepare the dinner rolls. These can be refrigerated after the first rise so I might as well get it out of the way now. I’ll be turning to my trusted hostess, Martha Stewart, for the recipe.
- Start preparing the stuffing. I use my trusty slow cooker recipe, which can be found here. The secret ingredient is love! Just kidding, it’s breakfast sausage. That’s why I start making it in the morning and why the recipe calls for 1.5 containers of breakfast sausage. The rest of the sausage I eat for breakfast. Prepare the rest of the recipe four hours before dinner and let it cook real slow-like in your slow cooker. That’s one thing that’s out of the way. Hurray!
- Four hours before dinner prepare the turkey for his big day. Let’s call him Jeff. Pat Jeff dry with paper towels and rub him all over with vegetable oil. Get real personal and oil his insides. Massage Jeff all over. This will make him tender. Season liberally inside and out with salt and pepper. *SPOILER ALERT* — I don’t plan on stuffing Jeff. Why? Because stuffing slows down the cooking time and causes the bird to cook less evenly. If you want to boost Jeff’s flavor, toss into his cavity a lemon, garlic and some fresh rosemary sprigs. Pour two cups of chicken stock, a quartered onion, one chopped carrot, and one chopped celery stalk into the bottom of the pan, which already contains the turkey’s organs (graphic, I know, but I couldn’t think of a nicer way to type that.)
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. I’m planning on Jeff weighing about 13 pounds and unstuffed he should only take about 2.5-3 hours to roast. Here’s the BIG THANKSGIVING TWIST: Place Jeff the Turkey UPSIDE-DOWN in the roasting pan. This protects the breast meat from being overcooked and makes sure the thigh meat is cooked enough. It also makes the juices of the bird go into the breast meat making for a juicy Jeff. This only works easily for a small to medium-sized turkey. I’ve tried turning over a hot 24-pound bird and it’s too difficult.
- Another spoiler alert — I don’t baste my turkey. Opening the oven every 30 minutes makes the bird cook more slowly and leads to dry Jeff. It might make your turkey look prettier and the skin might taste better, but it’s not going to do much to make the meat tasty.
- After 30 minutes of roasting the turkey upside-down, turn oven down to 350 degrees. Roast for an hour then get a helper to flip the bird breast-side up. This can be tricky. I’ve used spoons, or potholders covered in plastic wrap – whatever seems best. At this point, stick an oven-proof meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast. Continue to cook till breast meat is 160-165 degrees. If you prefer dark meat, it should be 175 degrees. *Note: it is recommended by the FDA to cook your turkey to this temperature. I’ll probably remove Jeff when he’s at 155 degrees as he will warm up while resting.
- After you turn down the oven to 350, remove the dinner roll dough from fridge, form into balls and let rise for two hours.
- Set the table and arrange the centerpiece. Take a shower, get dressed, brush hair and teeth. Put on an apron.
- An hour before dinner, start on the mashed potatoes. I boil my potatoes whole and unpeeled. Cutting up the potatoes causes them to get waterlogged and they don’t turn out as fluffy. Boil the potatoes for 30 minutes or so. I use my Kitchen Aid mixer to mash my potatoes. It does all the work for me. Just be sure not to over mix as the potatoes can get gummy and gross. I season with butter, warmed milk, salt and pepper. No big secrets here. Cover potatoes and set on an electric heating pad if you’d like.
- While the potatoes are boiling prepare the carrots and green beans for roasting. Set these aside until the oven is available.
- When Jeff is cooked perfectly (the juices should run clear when turkey is poked with a knife), remove him from the oven, cover with a foil tent and let sit while everything else is put together.
- Since my parents only have one oven, I’ll be attempting to roast the beans and carrots on their gas grill. When covered it’s basically like an oven. Preheat the grill to 450 degrees and roast the veggies according to recipe times. Remove, cover and set aside for dinner time.
- Bake the dinner rolls in the oven.
- Gravy time! Remove most of the accumulated fat in the bottom of the roasting pan. Remove the giblets and veggies and puree in a blender. Place back into the pan. Create a slurry of 3 tablespoons flour with 1/4 cup of chicken stock. Place roasting pan on the stove over medium high heat. Pour in the slurry and 2 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Whisk till thickened. Place into a thermos to keep gravy from gelling over before dinner starts.
- Set out the cranberry sauce (I always forget to do this!)
- Sit down and let everyone else do the rest of the work. Hope you didn’t do anything wrong, then stop caring because you just did all the things on this damn list. Be thankful.