Thanksgiving Dinner Hints and Helpers

As promised, here is the 

Thanksgiving Dinner Hints and Helpers

Let me start with this: Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful. And to have fun. Don't make it into something stressful and crazy because that is what your neighbor, church elder, PTA leader or anyone else is. Be joyful and your food will be all the better for it. I promise! 

Some of these are partial recipes, but mostly hints and tips to help make this the best turkey dinner ever. Because it takes the longest "prep" time, I'm starting with the turkey.

Turkey - start this outside on your deck or patio 4 days ahead of cooking day.
Bring 2 cups Kosher or sea salt to a simmer with 6 cups of water. Simmer until it is completely dissolved and let cool.

Get out your big cooler, wash and dry it on the inside. Personally, I've also lined mine with a clean garbage can liner but only because my cooler has a small hole. Holes don't help keep the water inside.
Place a layer of ice cubes down on the bottom of the cooler. Place your frozen bird on top of the ice cubes. Fill around your bird with more ice cubes. I typically make our own ice, but I'm going to say 1  bag of ice would do for this. Now pour your cooled salt water in the cooler. We're going to use the same pot and fill it up with cold water and pour around as it will help get those little salt particles off the side of the pot. To all this we're going to add: 1 cup maple syrup (I would love to do this with the good stuff, but with what it costs, I just use the cheaper syrup), 1/4 cup parsley, 1/4 cup sage, 1/4 cup thyme and 1/4 cup rosemary. Optional - rind from one orange. Stir! That's it! You've got an amazing brine in which to let your turkey very slowly defrost, pick up wonderful flavor and keep the bird so moist during cooking. Check the water temp at least once a day. You want it somewhere around 36 - 42 degrees - same as your refer. Adjust accordingly - we don't want any food poisoning here. 

Cookin' the Bird

Here's another hint: I use the Reynolds Oven Bags for cooking the turkey. It not only cuts down on the amount of time in the oven, it helps keep that meat moist. Even the white meat comes out JUICY!  Read the directions for time, but it's less time in the oven.

Carving hint: do not take the turkey out of the oven and start carving away. Grab a large piece of foil and make a "tent" to cover the turkey and keep the heat in. Let it sit for 10 minutes and instead of the juices running all over your serving platter, the juice will re-distribute into the meat and keep it totally moist.

NOTE: You can use this also with fresh, organic, pasture raised, etc. It will only make it better!

Stuffing - yep, I call it stuffing although I've never stuffed a bird with it. Interesting, huh?

I've never used store bought bread cubes, but I have bought store bought bread and so I make my own. You have to start with a good sour dough bread. Cut it up into cubes. Lay it out on a couple cookie sheets and put it out on an un-used counter or in the oven and lightly toast it. We want them dry, not hard, OK?

Once dry, put them in the largest bowl you have. I cook for 16-22 people every year so my "big bowl" holds about 2 1/2 gallons. Anyway, I put all the dry cubes in the bowl and then cut up my celery, onions and put them in either a small bowl with plastic wrap over or in a plastic bag. 

I use butter NOT margarine or oil. Organic is better. It gives for a better flavor in my opinion and Thanksgiving is not the day I'm watching calories. Heat the butter in a saucepan to melt it. Mix the onions, celery and herbs in with 1-2 beaten eggs. Then we're going to take that mixture, along with any herbs I want, and saute in real, melted butter in the . Stir constantly for the first couple minutes while the egg cooks.  Commonly used are celery salt, parsley - try the fresh stuff, sage, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Add in a couple cups of chicken broth and simmer. Did you notice I didn't give exact measurements? That's on purpose as my amounts vary each year depending on how many folks we're feeding. Here's my hint for herbs and seasonings: start off with a little, you can always add more. As things simmer along, do some tasting and see what you think. Your taste buds are your best gauge. The egg is fully cooked, so no worries here.

Take the sauteed mixture and then pour it over the cubed bread and stir. You want this fairly moist. If it's too dry just pour a little of the chicken broth over it. Some additions I will add in from year to year are, toasted or candied walnuts or pecans as well as dried, sweetened cranberries. LOVE the cranberries. Sausage is also a nice addition. A touch of orange zest gives for a little "lightness" to the flavor. 

 Gravy. Use the drippings from the pan once the turkey is cooked. It will only take a few minutes and I promise you, it's so much better and healthier than anything you'll buy from a can. Start with a cooled pan and add 1/2 cup broth and a couple tablespoons flour. Stir and it will thicken to a paste. Add in some more broth and then turn the heat up. You want to keep stirring to make sure there aren't any lumps Don't like lumpy gravy. Once it's smooth add in more broth until you have the consistency you want. Season with a little salt and pepper AFTER you have tasted it. Let it simmer and know that it will thicken up a bit as it cools in your serving dish. 

And speaking of serving dishes ... while we have fantasies of a Martha Stewart Thanksgiving table, know that your family and friends are there to join with you in celebration. Not to judge what you are or aren't using for your table. On a number of years, I've used a large measuring cup for my gravy. I'm OK with it. It still tastes amazing. 

I think that is it for now. Would absolutely love your tips and tricks and I'll post more if I think of them in the comments section. 

I wish you and your family a very blessed Thanksgiving. I am thankful for YOU!

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