Friday, November 15, 2013

Thanksgiving Basics: Turkey Stock, Cranberry Salad and More

Every year at our house, I go into a bit of a frenzy trying to wrangle the entire house into shape, get Christmas decorations up and prep for the holiday food-palooza that is Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Part of that prep time generally gets eaten up in cookie planning, but not this year:  we are going to be out of town and on a desperately needed vacation during part of December, and so no cookies will be made in giant abundance for gift trays or otherwise.  While I will miss their deliciousness, I have to say that it is incredibly freeing to think about life as being free from the insanity of cookie-o-rama this year.

It also leaves a bit more mental thought process for Thanksgiving planning, and I'm finding that wonderful.  A couple of years ago, I posted a scheduling routine that I've been using for years to prep for Thanksgiving dinner.

Last year, I finally tried a fresh turkey instead of getting a frozen one that had to thaw for an eternity, and you know what?  It was awesome.  Especially only having to pick it up the day before Thanksgiving, so I had time and room in my fridge for a couple of days prior to prep everything else.  That completely rocked and I am doing it again this year as a result.  You can order a fresh turkey at the butcher counter at most nicer grocery stores -- I managed to get a free range, no hormones or antibiotics one just like last year, and I won't have to pick it up until Wednesday afternoon.  Boo yah!

By then, I'll already have the cranberry salad made, the stuffing put together up to the baking time, the mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes mostly ready to go, the cranberry salad chilling, and at least one loaf of bread already made.

The joy really is in advance planning with this.  I learned that lesson the hard way the year I had melanoma surgery, but it has served me so well ever since:  plan ahead and Thanksgiving morning is so much better for it.

Here are some tips on turkey prep and baking.  One thing that I tried last year and loved was a dry brine from Williams-Sonoma:  I put it on my turkey the night before, rinsed it off a bit the next morning, placed sliced compound butter under the skin of the breast really gently and then stuffed it with cut-up lemons and onions and herbs just like I always do.  I use a covered roaster and I swear last year's turkey was the best one I have ever tasted.

I'll be repeating that again this year.  Yummy.

Make-ahead recipes are also a life saver.  I do my stuffing ahead, so all I have to do is pop it in the over to bake along with the turkey.

An essential part of that stuffing?  Rich turkey stock:  I make mine in my crockpot a day ahead, and it is delicious and perfect for stuffing and gravy.  Make enough for both and you'll be hooked, too.

My Granny's cranberry salad recipe?  An absolute must.  No holiday meal is complete without it.

That's a start on Thanksgiving help anyway.  There will be more to come.

(Photo via St0rmz.)

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