Turkey roasting basics for first-time cooks

Years ago my daughter Sharon was preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. She was having her brother Kevin and his family over and wanted to do it right. Her father and I had recently moved to Hawai‘i so all of my kitchen wisdom had to be relayed via phone.

A few days before Thanksgiving she called asking how to thaw the bird? I told her that depends on how big it is — two or three days in the fridge would do the job.

From the day before Thanksgiving right up to the moment of serving, she called to check in on every aspect of food preparation. What follows is a synopsis of our conversation.

Her: “Can I stuff the bird the night before?”

Me: “Heavens no. Make the stuffing, wash the bird in and out and refrigerate both. Stuff the turkey in the morning.”

Her: “Mom, what’s in the stuffing?”

Me: For recipe see below

Her: “Should I roast the bird in a hot oven?”

Me: “Preheat the oven to 350 degrees; after an hour, lower to 325. If browning too quickly, tent with foil.”

Her: “Every cook book says a different length of time. Should I just wait for the pop-up timer to pop up?”

Me: “Some timers don’t work. Put a meat thermometer in the thigh away from the bone for about 15 minutes. It should register 180 degrees.

Her: “Can I carve it right away?”

Me: “Not a good idea; it’s got to sit a half hour to settle the juices.”

Her: “What should I do with the leftovers?”

Me: “Slice off the breast meat, cut off the legs and wings and wrap in foil. Wrap the stuffing in foil. Refrigerate all for the next day or wrap in plastic wrap and freezer bags and freeze for longer storage.”

Casserole Dish Stuffing

1 cup melted butter

2 cups each, diced celery and onions

2 teaspoons each, thyme and ground sage

3 tablespoons dried parsley

1 14 ounce bag of stuffing bread

3 cups or more chicken broth

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional additions:

1 cup dried cranberries, plumped in boiling water for 15 minutes, drain

1 medium cored and diced Fuji apple

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

Apple-cranberry garnish (recipe follows)

Prepare apple garnish first. In same skillet saute celery and onions in butter (also apple if using) until onion is opaque. Stir in herbs and seasoning packet from stuffing mix if it has one. In large bowl toss butter mixture with bread mix and optional ingredients of your choice. Add chicken broth to moisten, but don’t make it too soggy. Stuff turkey cavity and breast. Preferably use a large greased, covered casserole or cover with foil. Roast turkey as directed on packaging or bake casserole in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, covered. Uncover and bake 30 minutes longer or until top is browned and crispy. Serve with turkey gravy and cranberry sauce. You don’t even need turkey to enjoy this dish.

Apple-cranberry Garnish

1 tablespoon butter

1 medium unpeeled Fuji apple, cored and cut in 5 to 6, 1⁄4 inch rounds

A few plumped, dried cranberries

Melt butter in skillet and brown apple slices 5-6 minutes each side until tender. Remove from skillet and set aside on plate. Spoon several cranberries in center of each apple slice. Use remaining cranberries in the stuffing. Apply garnish over top of stuffing with spatula after filling casserole.


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