Friday, November 14, 2014

Thanksgiving Basics: Early Prep Is The Key

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.

Some of that time tends to be eaten up with cookie planning for my usual baking-palooka.  But since we are trying to be healthier, the cookies are going by the wayside for the most part this year.  Which opens up a whole window of time for me to get other things done.

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.  Early preparation is the key to a sane and happy holiday -- trust me on this one.

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 last year and will be doing the same this 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 the cavity of the turkey 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.

Here's what I do for the compound butter:

Allow a stick or two of butter to sit at room temperature until soft.  When it is easily storable, chop some shallots, garlic, fresh parsley (leaves and stems are fine), sage (leaves only), thyme (leaves only) and rosemary (leaves only) in a food processor until minced but not completely pulverized.  Just pulse it lightly a few times.  I start with the shallots and garlic and then add the herbs in separately so they don't turn into a mushy mess.   Fold the chopped herbs and shallots into the butter. I like to pop everything into a ziplock baggie at this point, because I can form the butter into a log and pop it into the fridge to set up.  The key here is to have enough butter that this will set into a solid mass again -- too little butter and too much herb mixture, and the whole thing will be a crumbly mess, so you want to have plenty of butter with this.  Once it sets up into a solid again (I leave it in the fridge overnight), you slice into thin slices that get tucked between the skin and the meat of the turkey breast.  This way, you have a built-in baste for your turkey.  It leaves the most delicious taste behind and the whole bird stays juicy and delicious.  Enjoy!

(Photo via George Williams.  These salt and pepper shakers are adorable.)

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