By Tina Albo:
Those who know me well will tell you that the month of October is my absolute favorite month of the year. It’s not because of my birthday (my birthday is in November), and I'm not one to become a Griswold during the month of December. October has two of my favorite days of the year: Halloween and Thanksgiving.
Being a born-and-bred Canadian, I have always celebrated Thanksgiving during the third week of the month. As a child, I enjoyed the long weekend and the feast that came with the celebration. Now that I'm an adult, I’ve come to enjoy the interaction with friends and family as we share delicious food and give thanks for all that is good in our lives.
I have decided to play host to family members and friends this year at my house, so I'd also like to invite you, dear reader, for a peek inside my kitchen as I prepare for the feast. I warn you, some things may seem scary . . . but I assure you that a big meal like this will not be the horror story it has been made out to be.
Turkey: Not as Daunting as One Might Think
To many people, roasting a turkey is one of the scariest things you can do in your kitchen. I won’t lie, there is a fair amount of prep work involved in cooking the perfect bird. However, the end result is always worth it, and I’m sure that you’ll come away from this experience feeling more confident in poultry than ever before.
First of all, you need to think of the logistics. You want to select the right size bird to accommodate the guests at your table. Before you go to the farm, the farmer’s market, or your local supermarket, I would suggest that you confirm the number of guests on your list. That way, you won't select a bird that will leave everyone else unsatisfied.
When it comes to selecting the right size, you must factor in about 1 ½ pounds to 2 pounds per guest. This has been my mother’s rule of thumb for years, and I abide by it as well. So, if you have 8 guests joining you, it would be best to select a turkey that is around 15 to 16 pounds. For 10 guests, I would suggest a turkey that weighs 18 to 20 lbs. Please keep in mind that the smaller birds have a smaller meat-to-bone ratio, so please be choosy. I assure you this math will be worth it in the long run when it comes to satisfied guests and minimal leftovers.
There is no shame in selecting a frozen turkey, as it’s an economical choice and will still taste delicious when fully cooked. But there is an extra step you will have to take, and that is to take it out at least 48 hours in advance to thaw. What I usually do is remove the turkey from my deep freeze and place it in the refrigerator to thaw so that it will be ready in time for when I need to begin my preparations.
If you're going for a fresh turkey this year, please keep in mind that you must use it within 2–3 days of refrigeration if there is no best before date on the packaging. If there is, be sure to factor this in. It's also best to remember that one processor's cooling and refrigeration methods vary from another's, so please be mindful. All in all, it’s best to purchase or make arrangements to pick up the turkey as close to Thanksgiving as possible so that you don't have to worry about a spoiled bird.
Thanksgiving Monday: October 14th, 2019
The day has arrived. and now it's time to start preparing the turkey. Before you do anything else, factor in the time everyone will be arriving and sitting down to eat. To cook a turkey properly, it takes roughly around 20 minutes per pound. So, if you have a 15 pound bird, it would take roughly around 4–5 hours for it to be perfectly cooked. Therefore, if your guests are arriving around 5:00 p.m., your turkey will need to be placed in the preheated oven by noon at the absolute latest.
Once you have your timing down pat, you will need to begin preparations:
1 15 lb frozen turkey, thawed
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp tuxedo pepper seasoning
1 tsp savory
1 tsp sage
2 cups water
8 cups prepared dressing (please see below for my recipe)
1. Preheat your oven to 325° Fahrenheit.
2. Take the covering off your turkey. Remove the turkey neck and giblets from inside and place in small a bowl. Rinse your turkey and pat dry with paper towels.
3. Place the turkey, breast side up, on the roasting pan.
4. Loosely fill the body cavity with the prepared dressing.
5. Rub the skin with the softened butter.
6. Season the turkey with the salt, pepper, savory, and sage.
7. Pour the 2 cups of water into the roasting pan.
8. Using aluminum foil, make a tent and place on top of the turkey.
9. Place the prepared turkey into the preheated oven.
10. Baste the turkey every 30 minutes with the mixture of water and turkey drippings at the bottom. Should the drippings evaporate, pour in another cup of water and continue basting.
11. Remove tin foil tent after 2 ½ hours and continue basting every 30 minutes.
12. Roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the meaty part of the thigh reads 165° F (75° C).
13. Remove the turkey from the oven and transfer to a large serving platter. Let stand 20–30 minutes before carving.
That wasn't so scary now, was it? You don't need to be a Michelin-star chef to make this mouthwatering poultry. Like everything else, it just takes time and patience. Pat yourself on the back for completing such a task!
Don’t worry if your bird doesn’t come out looking like the ones you see on television and in the magazines. The only thing that matters is how it tastes, and you will find that all your hard work will not have been in vain when everyone is enjoying their meal.
You Can't Have Turkey Without the Proper Dressing
When I was growing up, my mother was never a fan of stuffing her turkey with dressing, so we always enjoyed ours prepared on the side on the stovetop. My oldest brother and I were big fans of dressing and would gobble it up as soon as it landed on our plates.
However, when I took over my own household, I learned the tasty benefits of stuffing a bird with dressing made from scratch. There’s something about the flavor of this style that stovetop-made dressings cannot compare with.
It's an incredibly simple process and consists of very few ingredients. Once you enjoy this dressing, you will wonder how you lived without it.
6 cups of coarse breadcrumbs
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
2 tsp savory
1 ½ tsp sage
1 tsp salt
½ tsp tuxedo pepper seasoning
1 tbsp butter
1. Place breadcrumbs in a metal bowl and set aside.
2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
3. Add in the celery and onion. Slowly cook until tender.
4. Remove saucepan from heat. Pour mixture into the bowl of breadcrumbs.
5. Add in the savory, sage, salt, and tuxedo pepper.
6. Mix dressing until evenly coated.
7. Scoop out dressing and stuff loosely into the body cavity of the turkey.
8. Once turkey is fully cooked, set aside for 20–30 minutes. Remove as much dressing from the body cavity as you can before carving and place in a serving bowl.
This dressing comes out nice and moist—not sticky and goopy. The flavor tantalizes your taste buds and keeps you wanting more until the last morsel is gone. Don't believe me? Try it for yourself!
Cranberry Sauce Makes Everything Better
I'm not the biggest fan of cranberries as a fruit, but when it's made into a delicious sauce, my opinion changes drastically.
While the canned cranberry jellies and sauces do serve an excellent purpose, a freshly made sauce adds the perfect touch to a turkey feast from scratch. Much like my dressing, it's incredibly easy to make and will keep your guests wanting more.
12 oz cranberries
1 cup white sugar
1 cup orange juice
¼ tsp cinnamon
1. Place a saucepan over medium heat.
2. Pour in orange juice.
3. Pour in sugar. Stir to dissolve into orange juice.
4. Add in cinnamon. Stir to mix in evenly.
5. Stir in cranberries and cook until they pop (around 10 minutes or so).
6. Remove mixture from heat and place in a bowl.
7. Once cooled down a bit, place in refrigerator. The sauce will thicken as it cools.
When it comes to this cranberry sauce, your guests will think they are being spoiled. The cinnamon unlocks a hidden facet of flavor that melds well with your savory turkey and tantalizing dressing. Don’t be surprised if they ask for the recipe!
Last minute Vegetable dish? No problem!
One of my guests had an emergency and wasn't able to bring in the vegetable dish she was thinking of bringing, so I went back to the drawing board and looked through what I had in my refrigerator and freezer.
Lo and behold, I spied a full bag of frozen Brussel sprouts in my freezer. A cursory sweep of my refrigerator produced some smoked bacon that would make a great addition. With my spices out and about, I set to work and created a dish that even the fussiest of my guests enjoyed.
Granted, I do not cook Brussel sprouts very often, but I was thankful that they were around when I needed them!
1 lb bag of frozen Brussels sprouts
4 slices of bacon, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 tsp salt
1 tsp tuxedo pepper
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp onion powder
1. Place a frying pan over medium-high heat and put in the chopped bacon. Stir until bacon is nicely browned.
2. Place Brussel sprouts in skillet and stir until it is evenly mixed with the cooked bacon.
3. Add in salt, tuxedo pepper, garlic salt, and onion powder. Stir until evenly mixed.
4. Add in ½ cup of water to deglaze the bacon from the pan. Stir until pan is deglazed and everything is evenly incorporated.
5. Cover and cook over low heat for 45 minutes or until sprouts are nice and tender.
6. Remove sprouts from heat and serve.
Despite the time constraint, I was able to have this dish ready in time for everyone to eat. My guests arrived at different times, so I set the sprouts to low heat when they were fully cooked. This ensured that they wouldn't go cold or lose moisture while everyone finally assembled.
Sometimes the gems hidden in your freezer turn out to be the lifesaver you were looking for, so don’t feel bad about keeping frozen vegetables on hand. They have their uses and can become a delicious side dish when you need it most.
Now that I've revealed my tips for a less-frightening Thanksgiving feast, I urge you to step out of your comfort zone and put your own spin on it. This is one of the few times a year that you can let your creativity come out in the kitchen without being scoffed at as being pretentious.
For my dear readers from the United States, I hope you will heed my advice in preparation for your celebrations in November. October is the perfect time to plan your menu and get everything you need to make your feast.
I also want to take this time to show appreciation for everyone involved in my work. Without you, my entertaining culinary quips would not be shared with the world, so I thank you humbly from the bottom of my foodie heart.