Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Time flies when your having fun?

WOW, I cannot believe it has been this long since my last entry, close to 2 months.  I so look forward to the holidays every year, and then just as quickly as I was looking forward to them beginning, I begin to wait anxiously for them to be over. This year, in particular, was more eventful then usual but completely self imposed!
We begin with Thanksgiving. Every year for as long as I can remember, we head to a sleepy little town called Bass Lake, California.  There we are eventually met up with the rest of my husband's brothers, wives, kids, friends, and parents.  We typically have around 20 or so total, so it is active and fun.  I elected myself chief cook in charge of the Thanksgiving meal.  I am getting quite organized, which is some times worse then being scattered, because I constantly do not trust that I am on top of everything.  Needless to say, I have lists, time tables, and do my best to prep ahead of time.  Here are some of my examples.
This shows my mise en place(basically prepped foods), all ready for their prospective applications.  I do this prep work the day before, label and place in the ziplock bags and use as needed. I make my mac and cheese the day before and the cranberry sauce ahead of time too. I like to unwrap, clean and leave my turkey open in the refrigerator the night before to dry the skin out abit (makes for a crispier skin).You can use fresh bread as well for stuffing, cut up and leave out overnight in roasting pan to dry out a bit, perfect for stuffing the bird.

The day of I like to use fresh veggies as the base for the bird rather then using a rack.  It keeps the bird from sitting in the fat and drippings, and adds such fabulous flavor to the drippings to make a really terrific gravy.  My vegetable base consists of carrots, celery, onion, garlic clove, a couple of shallots, bay leaves, and the crowning touch, fennel, which adds such a great sweetness and full flavor. I stuff my bird ALWAYS! I find this is a very midwestern thing, and being from Illinois I fit the bill. Stuffing is best in the bird because of the internal juices just add so much flavor. I do season the inside of the bird first before adding the stuffing, which is very a very traditional sage, butter, celery, chicken stock, onion and bread crumb stuffing  I chop fresh sage and blend with softened butter to put between the skin and flesh of the turkey then get ready to prepare the bird.
The actual recipe for the bird is a take off of a Martha recipe. Preheat the oven to 450F. You melt a stick of butter and about a half to full bottle of white wine and warm in a sauce pan till butter is melted.  Take cheesecloth and fully soak in the liquid. then cover the turkey with the cheesecloth, trying your best to cover the drumsticks and thighs.You roast the bird for a half an hour at the high heat and then lower to 350F for another 2 1/2 hours then remove the cheesecloth.  Cook for another hour or so, looking for 165F internal temperature. While cooking I do baste maybe every 45 minutes or so, and if I am short on liquid I use a bit of chicken stock.  I also use the neck of the turkey and usually purchase addtional necks, wings or turkey legs and place in a pot with onion, garlic, celery, carrot and water to let simmer for the day to make a flavorful stock for the gravy.

Once the turkey is done, I try to get out the stuffing right away and put into a oven safe dish. Cover the turkey lightly with foil to rest for about a half and hour and while that is happening use some of the pan drippings to moisten the stuffing and then put in a 350 oven for about 20 minutes to heat thru completely. As soon as possible I move the turkey to a cutting surface and cover and then I strain off the pan drippings so I can make the gravy, which I do in a seperate skillet.  I draw a couple of tablespoons off the top of the pan drippings, which is the fat and use that with a couple of tablespoons of flour and heat in a pan till blended and just coloring. Whisk in the  rest of the pan drippings, less as much of that fat as possible, the stock that you have been simmering all day- to total about 2 cups and bring to a boil which will cause it to thicken. Salt and pepper to taste, you will be pleased with that extra something special that fennel adds.

I feel after all these years I have the turkey thing down ok,  I have all sorts of things to try, brining, low temp cooking, frying, the usual suspects, but this method seems to do ok and produce a moist turkey.  HOWEVER, if you find your turkey to be a bit dry(it is very difficult to get cooked dark meat without drying out the white meat) then take your roasting pan, now empty and put enough chicken stock or remaining turkey stock to cover the bottom of the pan.  Place the cut turkey in the roasting pan and cover with foil.  If you are worried that it is getting to cold, the oven should be off but still warm , put the roasting pan in there, keep the door cracked.  You don't want to cook the meat more, but you do want to keep it warm. The addtional moisture really does help to plump up a turkey that may have gone a bit past, and no one is the wiser. 

The best advice I can give is don't give up.  Every year you learn more, you see what worked and what didn't.  AND I feel more important then the turkey is the cranberry sauce, gravy and mashed potatoes, because no matter how dry or flavorless your turkey may or may not be, if you succeeded with the sides, no one will be the wiser.  TRUST ME!