Thanksgiving cooking tips to ease holiday stress

From Staff ReportsNovember 25, 2013 

  • Turkey SOS! At Thanksgiving, more than any other holiday, help is just a click or phone call away. Here are hot line numbers and websites to help get your bird on the table:

    www.butterball.com or 800-BUTTERBALL (800-288-8372).

    www.honeysucklewhite.com or 800-810-6325 for pre-recorded info; at 800-532-5756 to speak with a consumer specialist. Live help is not available on Thanksgiving Day.

    http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/poultry-preparation/lets-talk-turkey

    USDA Meat and Poultry hot line – 888-MPHotline (888-674-6854).

Here are tips from cutlery to cooking to ease the stress for your Thanksgiving holiday cooking:

Keep knives in tip-top shape

No matter how good a knife starts out, it won’t cut well or last unless it is well-maintained.

Sascha Lyon, the chef at Delphine in Hollywood, Calif., sharpens his knives every day, adding, “I’d never let anyone else touch them.” He makes an exception for the Manhattan shop Korin. He takes some knives there when he goes to New York.

Of course, the stakes are a little higher for Lyon than for home cooks. He recalls how important sharp knives were when he worked at one of New York’s top restaurants, Daniel Boulud’s Restaurant Daniel.

“The fear was that if chef picked up your knife and it wasn’t sharp,” he might toss it in the trash or even break it, Lyon says. “Either way, you were done. You had to have the sharpest knife in the kitchen.”

He says he’s not quite so demanding at Delphine: “I try to be a little softer than I what I grew up with.”

At home, cooks can learn to sharpen their knives on a stone. Or, take them to a professional at least once a year.

Custom knife maker Laurence Segal says a steel can double the time a knife stays sharp. That’s a tool that has a wooden handle and a long, skewer-shaped top. Each time a knife is used, the cook can hone the blade by stroking it along the steel at a 20-degree angle.

Knives should be used only on cutting boards, not on granite or glass; and they should not be washed in the dishwasher, John Pitblado of the store Surfas says.

Store knives on a magnetic strip, either hanging on the wall or in a drawer, or in a flat wood block. A standing wood block also works, though dropping the blades into the slots can wear on the tips.


Turkey

BASIC GUIDELINES FOR COOKING YOUR TURKEY

Here are food safety tips from McClatchy News Service and the USDA:

• Thaw the turkey if frozen. If you haven’t yet taken it out of the freezer, do it today. Thaw it in its original package on a tray. Allow almost 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey. A 12- to 16-pound turkey will take 3 to 4 days to thaw in the refrigerator.

• If you forgot to thaw your turkey in advance, place it in a sink in its original wrapper and fill with cold water. Change water every 30 minutes. A 12- to 16-pound turkey will take 6 to 8 hours.

• Never thaw a turkey at room temperature.

• Once the turkey is thawed, unwrap it and remove the neck and giblets from inside, rinse it and pat it dry with paper towels. Save the neck and giblets for making broth for gravy.

• Several years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture lowered the safe cooking temperature for the overall turkey to 165 degrees.

• Invest in an instant-read thermometer. Make sure the thermometer you have is working properly.

To roast your turkey, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the turkey in a shallow roasting pan. Below are the USDA’s recommended roasting times for a stuffed or unstuffed turkey.

Unstuffed:

4 to 8 pounds (breast), 1 1/2 to 3 1/4 hours 8 to 12 pounds, 2 ¾ to 3 hours 12 to 14 pounds, 3 to 3 ¾ hours 14 to 18 pounds, 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours 18 to 20 pounds, 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours 20 to 24 pounds, 4 1/2 to 5 hours

Stuffed:

6 to 8 pounds (breast), 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours 8 to 12 pounds, 3 to 3 1/2 hours 12 to 14 pounds, 3 1/2 to 4 hours 14 to 18 pounds, 4 to 4 1/4 hours 18 to 20 pounds, 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours 20 to 24 pounds, 4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours

When the turkey is done, remove it from the oven and place it on the countertop, loosely covered with foil. Let it rest for about 20 minutes. Remove trussing and all stuffing from cavity before carving.


Brining

Brining is essentially soaking the bird in a salt water solution. The turkey pulls in the liquid, which will help keep it moist while it cooks. Be forewarned: Brined turkeys can have a pinkish cast to the meat after roasting, even when cooked properly.

For a basic brine, “How to Cook a Turkey” (by the editors of Fine Cooking, Taunton, 2007) recommends this method: 2 quarts of cold water, 1 cup of kosher salt and 1/4 cup of sugar. Simmer over high heat until salt and sugar dissolve. Cool. Stir in another 2 quarts of water and chill in refrigerator. At this point, you can add herbs, spices or other flavor enhancers like maple syrup. Soak the turkey in the brine in the refrigerator for 12 to 18 hours. Turkey roasting bags work well for this, and you may want to double-bag for security. Place turkey in the bags in a roasting pan in the refrigerator. When it’s time to cook, drain and discard the brine, rinse the turkey and dry with paper towels, and it’s ready for the oven.

To dry-brine or salt a turkey, simply salt the bird all over, inside and out, and let stand in the refrigerator overnight. Drain any liquid that has accumulated in the cavity and pat dry before roasting.


ORANGE JUICE BRINED TURKEY

Serves: 10 to 12 / Preparation time: 30 minutes (plus overnight brining) Total time: 3 hours

BRINE

4 cups orange juice

3 quarts water

2 cups kosher salt

1 cup sugar

Herb sprigs (rosemary, thyme, parsley), optional

TURKEY

1 fresh or frozen turkey (12 to 15 pounds), thawed

4 to 6 cups reduced sodium chicken broth

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter

Salt and pepper to taste

To brine the turkey, start with a large, clean bucket. Make room for the bucket in your refrigerator – adjusting shelves if necessary.

Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey, and reserve them for another use.

In the large bucket, stir together the orange juice, water, salt and sugar. Continue stirring until the salt and sugar dissolve. Add herb sprigs, if using. Place the turkey in the brine, breast side down. Add more water if the turkey isn’t completely submerged in the liquid. Place the bucket in the refrigerator for at least 10 to 12 hours or overnight.

Two hours before you plan to roast it, remove the turkey from brine and discard the brine. Rinse the turkey well, inside and out, under cold water for several minutes. Place the turkey on a tray and pat it dry well with paper towels. Let it sit out for 1 hour so the skin dries further, which helps crisp the skin.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a V-rack in a roasting pan.

Add about 2 cups of the chicken broth. Place the turkey breast side up on the rack. Brush the turkey with the vegetable oil or rub with softened butter. Season the turkey with salt and pepper or favorite seasoning.

Place it in the oven and roast for 30 minutes. Baste the turkey with the pan juices, and add more chicken broth to the pan if needed. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Continue roasting another 2 to 2 { hours, basting with the pan juices every 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.

If the breast seems to be browning too quickly, cover it with foil.

Remove the turkey from the oven and transfer it to a platter. Cover it with foil and let it rest at least 15 to 30 minutes before carving.


Gravy

There’s no perfect recipe for Thanksgiving gravy. Too many giblet lovers and sage haters complicate the issue. But there’s an easy way to make a pan gravy that will take the holiday meal to another level of deliciousness.

A good gravy should have a deep flavor, be silky smooth, not too thin, not too greasy. Terrific turkey pan gravy needs some fat (butter, pan drippings, etc.), a thickener (usually flour), liquid (turkey broth, more pan drippings) and these five steps:

1. Remove the roasted turkey from its roasting pan; place on a serving platter and cover with foil. Drain pan drippings into a heat-proof bowl or fat separator. Add 1/2-cup or so of warm water to the roasting pan; heat, stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape up browned bits. Set aside to use in the gravy.

2. For about 2 cups of gravy, heat 4 tablespoons of fat (butter or fat from pan drippings) in a skillet over medium-low heat; stir in 4 tablespoons of flour. (For a thin gravy, use 2 tablespoons of fat and 2 tablespoons of flour.) Continue cooking, stirring constantly until mixture (the roux) is smooth and begins to turn golden. Do not burn.

3. Gradually stir in 2 cups of warm liquid (turkey broth or canned broth, and liquid from the roasting pan. Some cooks use a portion of milk.). Cook until gravy begins to bubble, 1 minute.

4. Too many lumps? Pour gravy through fine mesh sieve, pressing any lumps out with the back of a spoon.

5. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add herbs (sage, thyme, parsley), chopped cooked giblets or lightly sauteed mushrooms, if you like.


Here are more gravy tips:

The turkey stock can be made days or even months ahead (just freeze until needed). You can use the turkey neck, heart and giblets that come inside the turkey (not the liver, which would make the stock bitter). Or buy turkey necks or wings in advance.

A roasting pan with a heavy bottom is best for deglazing, which is done over two burners. If using a disposable foil pan, skip that step and strain and defat the pan drippings before adding to the gravy in the saucepan.

Don’t let the turkey drippings burn. You won’t have a problem if you use a heavy-based roasting pan that’s just large enough to hold the turkey. If your pan is lightweight or oversized, coarsely chop an onion or two and sprinkle it around the turkey in the pan to act as a heat absorber. (Leave the onion out of the giblet broth.)

A little fat in the pan drippings adds flavor, but remove the excess, which floats to the top, with a spoon. A fat separator (it looks like a measuring cup with a spout that pours from the bottom) simplifies this step.

Gravy, by definition, is thickened. Use no more than 1 or 2 tablespoons of flour to every cup of liquid. The gravy will thicken a bit when taken off the heat.

Lumps result when you introduce the flour too quickly into the hot liquid or neglect to stir sufficiently. Make a classic roux by stirring flour into hot butter to form a paste, then whisk in the stock.

Use an instant flour like Wondra or Shake and Blend. These dissolve more readily than all-purpose flour in hot or cold liquids.

If you still end up with lumps, zap them with an immersion blender right in the pan.


RICH TURKEY GRAVY

Makes 6 cups

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Reserved turkey giblets, neck and tail

1 unpeeled onion, rinsed and chopped (the skin gives the broth a golden color)

1 quart low-sodium chicken broth plus 2 cups water

2 thyme branches

8 parsley sprigs

10 black peppercorns

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 tablespoons instant flour (such as Wondra)

1 cup dry white wine

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the giblets, neck and tail; saute until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the onion; saute until softened, 4 to 5 minutes longer.

Add the broth and water, scraping up browned bits from the pan bottom. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Add herbs and peppercorns. Simmer, uncovered, skimming off scum now and then, for about 30 minutes.

Strain the broth. When cool enough to handle, shred the neck meat and dice the heart and gizzard (discard skin and bones). Refrigerate giblets and broth separately. Remove any fat congealed on the top.

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour. Cook roux, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Add all but 1 cup of the turkey broth in a stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, until gravy is lightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

When the turkey has been transferred to a carving board to rest, pour the drippings through a strainer set over a measuring cup or fat separator. Let liquid settle until fat rises to top (discard fat – but not down the drain).

Place the roasting pan over two burners at medium-high heat. Return the gravy in its saucepan to a simmer.

Add wine and reserved 1 cup of broth to the roasting pan, scraping up browned bits with a wooden spoon. Boil until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

Strain the roasting pan juices into the gravy. Stir the giblets into the gravy; return to a boil. Adjust the seasonings if necessary with salt and pepper.


Stuffing

This is the cook’s preference. Some argue that unstuffed turkeys cook more evenly. Others believe the stuffing tastes better when cooked inside the bird and imparts its flavors to the bird. A stuffed turkey will take longer to roast and it is crucial that the stuffing reach 165 degrees when tested on a cooking thermometer. Stuffing can be cooked in a casserole or foil pouches outside of the bird. Remember to stuff the cavity loosely; you don’t want to pack in as much as you can. If you don’t stuff, you can fill the cavity with chunks of celery, carrot, onion and herbs or even citrus fruits to add more flavor.


CRANBERRY-CITRUS-PECAN STUFFING

Serves 6

1 box stuffing mix

Chicken broth

2 oranges

1/2 small onion

4 tablespoons butter

2/3 cup pecans

2/3 cup Craisins

1/4 cup orange juice

Orange zest

Prepare the boxed stuffing per instructions, substituting chicken broth for the water. Set aside

Saute onions, butter, pecans, Craisins and orange juice until the onions are opaque. Add the zest of one orange and squeeze the orange for more juice. Combine with the stuffing and place in serving bowl. Garnish with slices of orange.


Side dishing

GREEN BEANS WITH ALMONDS

Serves 6 to 8

Green beans, frozen, steam-in-bag, family-size (about 1 1/4 pounds)

1/2 cube butter

3-4 garlic cloves

1 cup blanched slivered or sliced almonds

1 lemon

Salt to taste

For garnish: green onions, slivers of red bell pepper or dried cranberries

Place the steam-in-bag frozen green beans in the microwave and cook according to package directions. Melt the butter with the garlic cloves. Once the garlic infuses the butter (let your nose be your guide), scoop out the garlic and add the almonds and cook until toasted.

Toss the beans, almonds and butter in a serving bowl and salt to taste.

Squeeze lemon juice over the top. Garnish as desired.


Desserts

Troubleshooting pie

PROBLEM: Shrunken crust

Next time, make sure you roll your dough into a large circle, at least 13 inches in diameter. If your edge is skimpy, it will disappear as the pie bakes. When you transfer your dough to the pan, take care not to stretch it to fit. If you do, it will just shrink back in the oven.

PROBLEM: Soggy bottom

Baking your fruit pie in the bottom third of the oven will help crisp up the bottom of your pie without over-browning the top. If you are pre-baking your pie shell before adding a wet pecan filling, brush the bottom of the shell with some egg white as soon as it comes out of the oven and before you add the filling. The egg will create a moisture barrier.

PROBLEM: Disappearing fruit

A lot of apple pie recipes will instruct you to toss together raw apples and sugar and load them into the pan. This is a mistake. Uncooked apples piled high shrink to nothing as they bake. Worse, they give off a lot of juices, making the pie watery. Pre-cook your apples for a well-filled pie with a crisp crust.

PROBLEM: Lumpy custard

If your pumpkin pie is lumpy, chances are you over baked it, allowing the eggs in the filling to curdle. Pull your pie out of the oven when the center still jiggles a little. If you are making a pumpkin cheesecake pie: Cold cream cheese will not blend smoothly with eggs and other filling ingredients. Let your cream cheese come to room temperature before beating it with the sugar for a smooth result.


CLASSIC PUMPKIN PIE

8 Servings

Crust

1 1/2 cups flour, plus more for rolling

1 tablespoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled butter, cut in pieces

1 egg yolk

4 tablespoons ice water

Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl and stir. Add the butter and blend it in with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Lightly beat the egg yolk and add the ice water. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture in the bowl and stir with a fork just until the dough comes together into a ball. (To make using a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar and salt to combine. Add the butter and pulse 4 or 5 times until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg yolk. Add the water, a tablespoon at a time, pulsing briefly until the dough forms a ball.) Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm, about 1 hour, or overnight.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and roll into a 13-inch circle. Fold the dough in quarters and center on the pie plate; unfold and gently pat the dough onto the bottom and sides of the plate. Trim and flute the edges.

Filling and assembly

1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons milk

2 tablespoons butter

2 eggs

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin

1/2 cup plus 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 tablespoon milk for brushing on pie crust

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Heat the milk just until hot but not simmering. Remove from heat and add the butter. Set aside.

Lightly beat the eggs. Add the pumpkin, sugar, salt and spices. Stir until completely blended. Stir in the hot milk mixture.

Brush the fluted edge of the pie crust with milk. Pour the filling into the pie shell.

Bake 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake an additional 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Serve with whipped cream.


Leftovers

OPEN-FACE TURKEY SANDWICH

1 sandwich

1 slice crusty country bread or 1 dinner roll, halved

Some leftover turkey, warmed

Cranberry sauce or relish

Turkey gravy, warmed (or make our turkey mushroom gravy)

Fresh parsley sprigs

Place bread or split roll on a plate; top with turkey as you like, interspersing pieces or slices with cranberry sauce or relish. Pour a generous amount of gravy over all. Top with parsley. Enjoy hot, with a knife and fork.

Turkey mushroom gravy: Heat 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet; add 2 finely chopped shallots. Season with a pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots soften, 5 minutes. Add 8 ounces sliced mushrooms. Stir to coat; season with salt. Cook until mushrooms have given up their water and are browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer mushroom-shallot mixture to a bowl. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons flour, stirring to combine and prevent lumps; cook over low heat until golden brown. Add 2 cups hot turkey broth, stirring to blend; heat to a gentle boil to thicken. Stir in mushroom-shallot mixture and freshly ground pepper to taste; heat through. Taste for seasonings.

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