Chat Leftovers: Let the Thanksgiving Prep Jitters Begin
Based on the leftover questions from yesterday's What's Cooking, it's fair to say that the annual ritual of planning (and often fretting over) Thanksgiving dinner has begun. Feast day is just two weeks from tomorrow, so fire up those ovens, ladies and gents. It's time to start cooking! Today's batch of questions are turkey-centric; I promise a vegetarian equivalent in the coming days, and tomorrow, Thursday, Nov. 5 at 1 ET, I'm hosting my What's Cooking Vegetarian Thanksgiving Special.
Tucson, Ariz.: I have a Thanksgiving juggling dilemma. I have a great simple recipe for roasted root veggies (cubed potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash etc. tossed with rosemary, thyme, olive oil, s&p) that I want to make for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, they need to roast in the oven for about an hour at a much higher temp than the turkey and it takes less than an hour to carve the bird after it comes out of the oven. Do you have any suggestions for how to juggle the veggies with the turkey? I was hoping that I could cook the veggies part way ahead of time and then throw them back in while the turkey was resting and being carved, but I have no idea if that will ruin them.
Tucson, by any chance do you own a gas grill -- or have a neighbor who does? Just the other day, I was on the phone with my kid brother Tim, who lives in sunny Key West, about taking advantage of the warm climate and cooking part of his Thanksgiving feast outdoors as a way to economize indoor kitchen space. Perhaps a similar indoor-outdoor two-ring cooking circus would help you in your juggling act? Set the grill to the same temperature as you would the oven, prep your veg the same way and place in a grill-proof dish. Cover the veggies with foil and keep the grill lid down to create more of a dry heat environment. Holler if this is not an option.
Perryville, Md.: I'll be cooking my first Thanksgiving dinner, for 7. My biggest worry is getting everything done at the same time and serving it hot. And, having enough serving dishes and trivets. How big of a turkey should I get? How long do I cook it? What things (aside from salads, gravy, and cranberry sauce) can be made ahead of time? I want to serve a really fabulous mac and cheese -- can that be made ahead and reheated? Can you recommend a couple good vegetable recipes?
Perryville, you are suffering from what I call a case of the virgin holiday jitters. Before we proceed, the first order of business is to take a big yogic inhale all the way up to the lungs and exhale with a sigh. Let it all out, my dear, because you're going to need to have your wits about you. Do that whenever a panic attack is imminent. A nervous cook does not a tasty holiday feast make.
For the turkey, estimate 1.5 pounds per person if you want leftovers, one pound if you don't. So for your party of seven, you'll probably want a 10-pounder. But before I address how long to cook it, have you decided on a frozen or fresh bird? Should you decide on frozen, estimate 1 thaw day for every five pounds; therefore, a 10-pound bird needs two days of thaw time in the fridge, so plan accordingly!
You may also want to scan the cabinets and do inventory of your kitchen tools; to roast a big bird, you'll need a large enough roasting pan, an instant-read thermometer for reading the turkey's internal temperature (and helping you cook it thoroughly and safely) and an extra cutting board for carving. All of these beginner tips are in my book, A Mighty Appetite for the Holidays.
Cranberry sauce may be made a few days ahead, and yes, so can that mac & cheese, as long as everything is wrapped well and you've got the storage space. Remember, there will be a thawing turkey in your midst!
But what I want to know is this: Who's helping you put on this show? I strongly urge you to seek out a cooking partner, or at the very least, recruit someone who can come a few hours early to help with reheating, serving, setting the table. Don't try to do everything as a first-time cook and host. After all, you want to be able to enjoy all your hard work when it's finally time to sit down and eat.
Pick a few items you want to cook, then ask for contributions from your guests -- be it dessert, wine, the rolls -- to ease your inaugural cooking load. It's quite an undertaking, and I can't emphasize enough how important it is to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Alexandria, Va.: I want to order a fresh turkey for Thanksgiving, but am not sure how to go about it. Help!? You're my go-to, Kim. I so appreciate all the help and support you provide.
For the most part, you'll need to order a fresh turkey in advance. My first stop would be the farmers' market closest to home, and do it this weekend to put your name on a list and reserve with a deposit. I would try Arlington Courthouse, Columbia Pike, Del Ray or Falls Church markets, where you'll find either SmithFresh or Cibola Farms taking turkey orders. (If I've missed a farm, please add to the list in the comments area below.) D.C. shoppers can find turkey order lists at http://www.freshfarmmarkets.org/">Freshfarm markets at Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom and Penn Quarter; Maryland shoppes may want to head over to year-round Takoma Park market.
If farm market shopping is not on your to-do list this weekend, you can give the folks over at My Organic Market a call; they're taking orders for fresh turkeys from Maple Lawn Farm in Fulton, Md. Alternatively, you can order directly from Maple Lawn and pick up your bird the week of Thanksgiving.
This is far from a comprehensive list, but it should get you started; please let me know if you get stuck and need more ideas.
Brining a Turkey..ahhhhh!: I'm terrified to do it, but I'm going to. What equipment do I need? How long should it brine? Is it different for a frozen turkey?
Actually, you've chosen one of the least terrifying turkey prep methods of all, dear. The question you need to ask yourself is: Do I have the refrigerator space for a bucket or pot that will hold the turkey and a few gallons of brine for 24-48 hours? If you can say yes, then you can brine. All the work is in this advance step, which involves making a highly seasoned solution of salt, spices and mirepoix (carrot, celery and onion), giving it time to completely cool and allowing the turkey to sit in the chilled bath for a day or two. The rest is a cakewalk -- seriously. On cooking day, remove the bird out of the brine, pat it dry, and roast it without fuss. No need to baste, truss or do extra seasoning. Because the results are so reliable, brining has been my go-to method for the past five years, and I have no intention of changing my turkey tune anytime soon.
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