Sunday, November 25, 2012

Winging It

This year I made the most beautiful Thanksgiving turkey I have ever cooked.  I swear you could have put that bird on the cover of a magazine.  Of course, there's no evidence of this, because even though I packed the camera, I didn't exactly manage to get it out of the suitcase.

You're used to taking my word on how things taste though, so maybe you'll believe me when I claim that not only was the turkey gorgeous, it was delicious.  Nice crispy skin, juicy meat, I couldn't have been more thrilled with the outcome.

Because here is my Thanksgiving truth:  I always wing it.

I have no tried and true Turkey recipe.  I don't swear by Alton and his brining or the siren lure of the deep fryer.  I just kind of make it up as I go along.  Which is usually something I'm pretty comfortable with, but Thanksgiving is different.  First of all, it comes right after the most stressful week in my entire working year, a week of meetings and professional reviews and long hours.  This means I am effectively brain dead by the time I have to cook Thanksgiving dinner.  Secondly, (and most of you know this) I make Thanksgiving dinner at my mother-in-law's house which means I am not responsible for the equipment available or the exact ingredients purchased.  And then there's the fact that it's pretty hard to properly wing a recipe that you only use once a year.

So in the interest of my sanity more than anything else, here's a rough guide to winging your Thanksgiving turkey.

1 turkey (not 2, unless of course you have 2 ovens) defrosted (seriously, if you haven't defrosted it, I am not your girl)
poultry seasoning
an obscene amount of butter
kosher salt
maybe one of those packs of fresh herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme
chicken stock (1 box)

1 poultry lacing kit, preferably one that comes with directions printed on it
1 roasting pan large enough to fit your turkey
a turkey baster
a roasting rack
something to lift the turkey out of the pan with later (old oven mitts, actual forks designed for this, be creative if necessary)
a pot on your stove (medium sized)

Before you turn on your oven, check out your rack situation.  You may need to remove a rack to fit the turkey in the oven and not have it squished against the top.  It is SO much better to remove this rack before the oven is hot.  Ask me how I know.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Stare at your turkey.  Remove the plastic covering.  Poke at it a bit.  Decide what is what.  Turkeys have 2 cavities.  There are generally things shoved in these cavities.  One of ours had the neck, the other had a paper packet of other turkey innards.  So, toss the neck into that pot on your stove.   Open the paper packet of innards.  The big thing is the liver.  Toss it, unless you actually know what to do with a turkey liver and want to eat it.  Toss the other junk in with the neck.  Poke at the turkey again.  If it has any weird plastic-y things, cut them off (ours had both a stupid pop-up thermometer and a weird thing holding the legs together like some type of twisted turkey chastity belt).

Debate rinsing your turkey.  Pros: You can feel like you rinsed your turkey.  Cons:  You can coat your sink in salmonella.  Which means that really, you should probably use some bleach to clean the sink once you've rinsed the turkey in it.

Definitely pour off any weird liquid lurking in the turkey.

Pop that puppy on top of your roasting rack in your roasting pan.  Commence project stuff things into the turkey holes.  NB: Stuffing is not an acceptable option.  It is a total pain to have to monitor whether or not it's cooked and whether or not the turkey is bleeding raw poultry juices into it thereby turning one of the best parts of dinner into a veritable breeding ground for all things causing food-bourne illness.

Right.  So.  You are going to put things in the holes.  Start with salt and pepper.  Be generous.  Then a healthy dose of poultry seasoning (a few tablespoons, don't skimp).  Have someone else hold up the turkey because it is really hard to lift it and drop things in it simultaneously.  Once you've seasoned the insides, wash your hands.  Prepare your veggies.  You don't need to peel carrots or onions, but at least rinse the carrots.  Chop them into bits that will fit into a turkey cavity.  So, maybe quarter the onions, halve the lemon, chop the carrots and celery in fourths.  Cut the garlic clove so you can see all the little cloves.  Shove this into the bigger cavity, use the onions, carrots celery, half of the lemon, the garlic  Then head to the smaller cavity and shove some of the stuff in there.  Take some of those fresh herbs and pop them in the larger cavity.  Cut a few tablespoons off your log of butter and pop those in too.  (If you weren't washing your hands between each journey into the turkey you should have been).

So he's stuffed.  It's time to do the poultry lacing.  Follow the directions on the package.  Save them for next year if you're that type.  I close the big cavity but not the little one.

Once the bird is stuffed, it's time for his butter massage.  I rub the whole critter down with butter, even getting some under the breast skin.  Then wash your hands and sprinkle it with salt and pepper.  Then it's time for some more poultry seasoning, a few tablespoons probably.  Sprinkle that over the bird too.

Finally it can go in the oven.  I cooked mine at 350, basting and rotating every 20 minutes. Rotating just means that if his feet face right, you turn the whole pan and face the feet left.  Basting also goes easier if you have someone to tip the pan so you can get enough juice.  If you don't have enough liquid to baste with, sub in some chicken stock.  There's no shame in it.  If it gets brown, cover with foil.

Ina Garten claimed a 10-12 lb bird needs to cook for 2 - 2 1/2 hours.  Something else said to add 15 minutes for each additional pound.  So, for an 18 lb bird (which is what I had) it should have taken 2 1/2 plus 6 x 15 minutes.  Which according to my resident math-smart person is 4 hours total. We put the bird in at 10:30 and pulled it at 1:45 which is 3 hours and 15 minutes. Which just goes to show you that there is no percentage in planning a dinner time.  Just get people over early enough, feed them apps and alcohol and go with the flow.

Your bird should be close to 170 when you pull it (it will increase a bit as it sits).  Let it rest for 20-30 minutes before carving.  If anything is still too rare, pop it back in the pan and serve what is cooked.

Most of all, try not to worry too much.  Everyone else should just be grateful that they didn't cook.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

How to Save the Pudding (and also, maybe New York and New Jersey)

In the hours right before Sandy made its direct hit, I was in the kitchen, working at a whirlwind pace trying to make things ready.  I had the eggs on to hard boil at the exact same time as I was mixing up pudding.  Now if you've ever tried to make pudding before, you know there's a slightly dicey step where you have to heat the eggs and milk enough to cook/kill it, but not so much that you make scrambled eggs.  I'd substituted low fat milk (it was all I had on hand) for cream and was in the process of panicking that it would never thicken when the egg timer went off.  I grabbed the eggs, drained them and turned back to a lovely pot full of chocolate flavored scrambled eggs.  I know.  SO gross.  After a few desperate phone calls (to my mother and Stella Carolyn) I had a plan.  With nothing left to lose, I threw the whole mess into my food processor (a blender would be superior, but I don't own one).  And I processed the heck out of it.  And sure enough, smooth creamy pudding!!  So don't despair if you have a lumpy pudding. It can be easily saved.

I wish I could say the same for the areas hit by Hurricane Sandy.  Over the past week I've tried very hard to get comfortable with the idea of having electricity and heat and normal access to things like food and gas.  I'm still a bit on edge.  Until today I couldn't even bring myself to purchase more groceries, I was so scared it would all go out again.  But we've been extremely lucky.  Despite a midweek snowstorm with high winds, we've been safe, dry and well-fed.  But we are absolutely without a doubt, some of the luckiest of the affected.

Last week I asked you to consider donating to relief efforts if you are able.

Charity Navigator is a service that rates the effectiveness of different relief organizations and they have a list up of their ratings for those working in the areas devastated by Sandy.

You can see their list here.

As a teacher and book lover, I am heartbroken at the loss of libraries in both New York and New Jersey.  The Queens Library Foundation is not only working hard to help residents in their area, but suffered damage to five branches, two of which will need to replace their whole collections.

The New Jersey Libraries Association is working to help all affected libraries in New Jersey.

While it will take a lot more work to fix the damage wrought by the hurricane than it would to save a curdled pudding, it can still be done.  Especially if they have some help.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Day the Lights Went Out

Monday afternoon at 4:30 Hurricane Sandy turned out the lights in our part of New Jersey.  A power outage in our current home means there is no light, no heat, no phone and no way to cook food.  The first night, with the storm raging around us and the rain falling in sheets, was undeniably the easiest.  Out of our fast failing fridge we rescued some vegetables, the hard-boiled eggs and two chocolate puddings I'd mixed up before we were hard hit.  We ate our salads by candlelight then moved to the sofa for a game of scrabble.  On Monday, it was not yet freezing cold, so we enjoyed our quiet game before retiring for the night.


For the rest of the week, we moved around in the darkness, guided alternately by candles and flashlights.  We sat in our car, listening to the radio and charging our nearly useless cell phones (evidently the generators powering the towers went, cutting off all communications except text messaging).  Each night we brought something from our fridge or freezer to my mother's house where a gas stove and grill made cooking hot food an actuality.  Upon returning home, we would immediately take to the bed, the down comforter I'd bought to survive Boston winters saving us from turning into little blocks of ice.  A fleet of out-of-state power company trucks hunkered down in the local mall's parking lot, assembling a make-shift home base complete with stacks of poles and rolls of wire and finally grey transformer boxes.  I am beyond grateful to those who came to assist us in this time of need.    Our power was restored yesterday, nearly a week sooner than the estimates originally provided.  

For those of you not in the affected area, please know that the devastation is much worse than what you imagine.  The images you are seeing are completely real, but they also focus on the most dramatic and hardest hit areas.  The truth is, New Jersey is crippled not only along the shore, but from Mercer county northward.  While much of the state was spared the visually arresting destruction that you see on the news, the impact was still great.  Many are still without power.  Gas rationing has begun in many counties.  So many roads are blocked that only a knowledge of the area will allow you to navigate.  A GPS will give up and start insisting you turn around.  Anyone who has been out and around to affected areas will not be at all shocked by the power restoration estimates because the sheer scope of the outages and damages is so extensive.  

If you have it in your means to make donations or volunteer time to help those affected by the hurricane, please consider it.  With only 4 days in the cold and dark we were among the luckiest people in the state.  


Related Posts with Thumbnails