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Turkey


Thirty-nine years ago I said I DO quite forgetting that getting married meant I was inheriting the turkey duties from parents who were suspiciously too happy to be relinquishing them. You never know, if I'd thought about it, I might have kissed the stud muffin goodbye and found someone who owned a restaurant. Since I couldn't cook to save my life (luckily the stud muffin could...still can for that matter...saved it for me, since I'm pretty sure you can probably get scurvy on a diet of hot dogs and hamburgers), I had to do a whole lot of learning really fast. One thing I was certain of...there had to be a better way of toasting Tom than dragging my comatose body out of bed in the middle of the night for a slow roast and baste. I mean, I am really not a morning person, and did getting married mean I was doomed to never enjoy another holiday? Ever see a woman kerplop head first into the mashed potatoes from exhaustion? Honestly, it could happen. So what's to enjoy about a holiday like that? Luckily, before that first experience happened, an article appeared in a woman's magazine on how to cook a foil-wrapped turkey. It's been my modus operandi ever since for turkey and also for chicken (although I reduce the oven temp to 400 to 425°F for a roasting size chicken).

If you've never cooked a turkey before and you're buying a frozen one (actually the best buy), you'll need to let it thaw out in the refrigerator for several days (for 12 to 14 lbs - more for larger birds). Don't put it on the counter and expect it to thaw...it will eventually, but not without courting food poisoning. Look inside the cavities of the bird. You'll find either bags of giblets and/or the neck of the bird. Get them out of there. I hate to mention how many times a new cook has cooked plastic bags full of giblets. Trust me, this is not an experience you want to have with your mother-in-law standing by your side and giving you the hairy eyeball. Wash out those cavities with cold running water until the water runs clear and also wash the outside of the bird and pat it dry with a paper towel. Now you can place it in your pan and stuff it. You can make your stuffing up the night before, but never, never, never actually stuff the bird the night before because you and your guests could take an unexpected trip to the hospital. Unless of course you've decided that entertaining dinner guests is too much work. No sweat. They'll never come back. Nothing like a little food poisoning to take the fest out of feast, leaving the 'a..', and you know what that stands for. When you stuff the bird ahead of time like that, all manner of nasty bacteria have a chance to grow. So play it safe. Make your stuffing up ahead, but store it in a bowl or plastic container in the fridge separate from the bird, and then after cleaning the bird, stuff it and pop it into the oven.

The real trick to cooking this bird in quick fashion is to FOIL WRAP it and use a HIGH OVEN HEAT. Foil wrapping also ensures a moist bird every time since it steams in its own juices. After your bird is in the pan and stuffed and/or basted to your satisfaction (everyone has favorite tricks in this regard), then create a tent out of aluminum foil and seal it around the edges of the pan. Place your turkey in the oven and cook at 450°F for the times and weights indicated. For stuffed turkeys add 30 minutes more to the cooking time upto a 12 lb turkey; 40 minutes more upto a 16 lb turkey and 50 minutes more upto a 20 lb turkey. Remove foil during the last 30 minutes of cooking time to allow the skin to brown.

WeightCooking Time (unstuffed)
8 to 10 lbs2¼ to 2½ hrs
10 to 12 lbs2½ to 3 hrs
14 to 16 lbs3 to 3¼ hrs
18 to 20 lbs3¼ to 3 hrs

For larger birds (20 to 24 lbs) you'll need to plan for at least 4 hours or more of cooking time if they're stuffed. You can still see how this cuts down enormously on the number of hours needed to cook the turkey as well as not having to baste it. Foil wrapping eliminates the need for basting, and means you can actually sit down with your guests instead of feeling like 'kitchen-maid-for-the-day'.



Here's our favorite stuffing recipes to go along with the turkey cooking directions.

Bread Stuffing
For a 12-14 lb turkey
(for a 20-lb turkey use 16 cups bread)

Ingredients
12 cups bread cubes (about 1 loaf)
9 tbsp chopped onion
2 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
¾ tsp poultry seasoning
dash sage
½ cup melted butter or chicken broth (as needed for moisture)
2 cups chopped celery

Leave bread out overnight to get stale; cut bread into cubes. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Moisten ingredients slightly (you do not want this to get too wet) with the butter or chicken broth. This can be made the night before and stored in a bowl or plastic food storage bag. REMEMBER do NOT stuff the turkey the night before!



Real Cornbread Stuffing
From our friend Gretchen Ellis down in TX. Catch Gretchen's latest take on what TV has to offer the public these days over at TV-Now. Gretchen says this is the real southern way to make cornbread stuffing.

First the Cornbread

NOTE: This cornbread can be made 1 to 2 days ahead or more. In fact, it's better slightly "dried out". Do NOT mix any of the wet ingredients until just before stuffing the turkey. This recipe does NOT use white flour!

Oven: Preheat to 375°F
Ingredients
2 cups yellow cornmeal
3 tbsp baking powder
3 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 large eggs
1 scant cup of whole milk or buttermilk
(Oh, puleeze don't use canned or skim milk!)
.

  1. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl; slowly add the milk until the cornmeal mixture has the appearance of a stiff cooked cereal. Then add both eggs and mix thoroughly. Mixture should look silky and be soft but not runny. If runny, add a touch more cornmeal.
  2. Butter (yes, butter) two regular cake pans. Add equal amounts of the mixture to each cake pan, which should fill each pan to about 1/3 of its depth. This cornbread is going to Rise like good souls on final day! A pat of butter may be placed on top of each mix, or better still, a bit of melted butter may be poured over each pan's contents. Not necessary, but makes the cornbread brown nicely.
  3. Bake until the top begins to crack a bit and look dark gold and a touch tan. There is no optimum time, since ovens vary as does elevation. It takes me 20 minutes, but I live at sea level. Baked cornbread should be almost at the top of the cake pan.
  4. Remove from oven and set on baker's rack to cool. Don't be amazed if family members arrive in the kitchen and want to know what you're baking. I usually make three pans; one to feed - a slice at a time - to People Under My Feet. (For three pans, which would stuff a 12-pound turkey with a bowl of cornbread dressing left over, just add another half of each above ingredient. Good luck halving an egg. I just use a whole 'nuther one and watch that cornbread rise even more.)

On Turkey Day

  1. Put the turkey's neck, heart, bits of trimmed skin or fat, etc, into a deep pot half-filled with water. Add chunks of yellow onion, an "egg" of butter (okay, about 2 tbsp), a dash of poultry seasoning (don't stint and don't use last year's poultry seasoning or sage....get new tins each year) and about 2 tsp of salt.
  2. Bring this to a simmer. If you can, drain off a bit of "blood" from inside of the turkey as you're cleaning it and put this in.
  3. Now bring to a boil and then cut it down fast. Simmer on very, very low for an hour or more. Now your dog and cat will come into the kitchen and get under your feet.

Assemble
Ingredients
One large yellow onion roughly chopped
(this should be a mounded 1 cup or more)
1½ cups celery, roughly chopped
Poultry seasoning
dry sage
salt
2 large eggs
2 bowls: one should be ovenware and the other deep

  1. Butter the ovenware bowl.
  2. Mix the dried ingredients in the large bowl, but stint on the sage, poultry seasoning and a bit of the salt 'til you've added the boiled conserve. You're going to season to taste. You know whether your family likes savory, peppery or sage'y stuffing. If you haven't figured this one out - or they haven't - go with savory: more onion and less celery, less poultry seasoning.
  3. Break up the cornbread (which has been drying out, remember) into a deep bowl. Add the following: 2 pieces of bread, toasted and cubed. Put in some of the seasoings, most of the onion and all of the celery.
  4. Stir, then pour VERY hot (look out, now!) conserve slowly in until the dry mixture is just moist. No visible conserve showing in the bowl. Toss with a spoon or a large fork as you pour. Stir all for a few minutes. Now taste it. What do you want to add? The taste at this point is a mild version of the ultimate flavor. You can add melted butter, more onion (savory), more sage (getting spicy), more poultry seasoning (snappy). You can even make half the stuffing mild and savory, the other half "N'Awlins style"
  5. Now add one of the eggs an stir again.

By now you have wrestled the turkey and won 2 falls out of 3. The cavity is washed nicely and you have salted the inside. The skin has been buttered. It is almost trussed, save for the legs. If you find that you are almost trussed call for help (this happened to me once, no kidding!)

Using a large spoon or your nice, clean hand, stuff about half of the big bowl's contents inside that bird. Put some in the neck skin, too, to fill it out. This first half or so of the stuffing is dryer because the turkey is going to "baste it while cooking.

Truss the turkey and put it into the roaster, on the rack or however you're going to cook it. I cheat; I use a brown-in bag. Great skin, cooks faster, stays moist.

Get that second bowl ready. Mix more of the conserve into the mixture now, and adjust the seasoning to your taste. This really ought to be your zippy or sage-y batch. Add that second egg and mix. Put this in the buttered bowl and then put the whole thing in the fridge until about 1 hour before the turkey is ready. Remove from fridge, warm the bowl BEFORE putting it in the oven now (A very short microwaving on low will do this, but I prefer to set it in a pan of hot water for a few minutes).

If you have a turkey baster that won't squirt you, withdraw some of the juice from your roaster or the pan under the rack and mix this into the bowl. Bake this in the 350°F oven for 45 minutes to an hour. Watch the top; it will brown slightly and the mix will rise a bit.

STUFF you can put into the bowl of STUFFING

Oysters (from the grocers' cold case, in jars, with date)
Giblets
Chestnuts or pecans. (In the South and Southwest, we like pecans.)

This isn't anything LIKE as much work as it looks. It was more work typing this up than making the stuffing. That dried, ready-to-mix junk is full of chemicals and has no flavor when compared to this. Plus, the major difference is that you're going to bake your own cornbread. Big deal! It takes about 20 minutes to make 2 pans of fresh corn bread.

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!!!
G.E.




© 1999 by Ernestina Parziale

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