Saturday, November 26, 2016

happy belated thanksgiving!

I haven't had a chance to post since I've been winding down after the whirlwind that is Thanksgiving. All that preparation--cleaning, shopping, chopping--and it's over in a couple hours. Not even. It's a lot of work, but it's nice to spend time with family.

This year I made a huge turkey, even though I had a small crowd. When I bought the turkey I wasn't yet sure how many people were coming, so I bought a very large one--28 lbs! (I have a big family.) Actually I bought two turkeys, because the price was so good and on my first shopping trip they didn't have anything bigger than 15 pounds. Although I would likely need something bigger, I got one anyway since it was only about $8.00 and I figured I'd keep it in the freezer for Christmas or something. Then on my second trip a few nights later I found a 28-pounder. I didn't set out to get something that big.  It just happened to be the first one I picked up and I went with it.  After we took the turkey out to defrost, we found out that we would have a small crowd. Rather than put it back in the freezer we decided to cook it. At least we'd have a ton of leftovers!

I'm glad we decided to check to make sure the turkey would fit in one of my roasting pans. It fit in my biggest pan, but the rack that comes with that pan is pretty flimsy, so I set off to find a new roasting rack. I could have used my rack, but the turkey would have been sitting directly on the pan due to sagging of the rack. I also thought about using very thick slices of onions, carrots and celery as a makeshift rack (thank you, Google!), but those would eventually disintegrate and leave the turkey in contact with the pan. The idea of a roasting rack is to have airflow under whatever you're roasting and to have the juices drip off away from the meat. Another reason I really wanted a new rack is because I wanted one with handles that would allow me to lift the turkey. A 28 lb. turkey is very heavy, and I just didn't feel confident that I wouldn't drop it on the journey from pan to cutting board. I stopped off at Bed Bath and Beyond earlier this week and found a rack with handles.  It was under $20.00, plus I had a 20% off coupon to boot.

As usual, I scoured the Interwebs for turkey cooking times and temperatures, different ways to cook it, recipes, etc. (I really don't know why I do that. I trust I can cook a turkey and all it does is suck me in and waste time.) But in the end I went with the old standby of salt and pepper to season it, bagged stuffing mix with onions, celery and sausage added, and cooked it at 350 degrees for a little over six hours (13 minutes per pound of turkey).  It came out great. (In honor of my late mother, I ate the neck. She always raved about the neck meat and usually ate it while cooking the gravy.  I always scoffed at it, but it really has delicious meat on it. MIL had a couple bites, too.)  Something I did differently was to add the bag of giblets to the bottom of the pan, along with celery, carrots and onions, plus a healthy dose of water to start the gravy. To finish the gravy I added a can of turkey stock, skimmed out all the solids from the bottom of the pan, and added the cornstarch and water mixture to thicken. I liked the way the gravy came out, but I neglected to add salt and pepper, which I'll have to remember next time. It still tasted good, though.

I also made an apple pie and made the crust from scratch. It came out pretty good. I'm getting better at making crust. I just have to remember to not overwork it, as that is what makes it tough. Something I differently here was to cook the filling first, let it cool down and then fill the crust. That allowed the apples to cook down a bit, which eliminated a soggy bottom crust since the juice was already cooked out. It also helped the pie keep its shape. Rather than having a big dome of crust about 3 inches above the filling, the shape it was in when it went into the oven is the way it came out. See below.

Along with the turkey I had corn, mashed potatoes, carrots, stuffing, cranberry sauce, homemade cinnamon applesauce, and dinner rolls. Dessert was the apple pie, a store-bought pumpkin pie, which wasn't very good, and store-bought cookies.

Oh, I almost Instant Pot came to the rescue. I forgot to start the carrots and since I always make fresh, they would take a while to cook. I decided to throw them in the Instant Pot with about 1.5 cups of water and set it to pressure cook for 4 minutes. Viola! In about 25 minutes I had perfectly cooked fresh carrots. (It takes some time to get up to pressure and then depressurize after cooking. But it was all hands-off time and it freed up the stove top for other things.)

I also tried something else this year:  I made the mashed potatoes around 11 am and then put them in the slow cooker on the low setting. When it was dinner time, around 2:30 pm, I just stirred them up and served them. They thinned out a bit, but it wasn't terrible. Just not quite as thick is when they were first made. I also put the finished gravy into my small slow cooker on Keep Warm. For some reason I had a timing issue this year, which I don't usually have. It seemed like things finished up quickly, when usually I'm scrambling around trying to pull it all together. Maybe I was too prepared?  I don't know.

And here's the turkey coma in effect. Well, not really. Only one cat got any turkey at all and that was because he looked about ready to jump onto the table during dinner. I figured giving him a little turkey would stop him from embarrassing us in front of everyone. I normally locked them all up in the upstairs bedrooms, but this time I thought I'd try and trust them. They did well, I have to say.

Now that the big day is over, I have to figure out what to do with all those leftovers. I have a lot of mashed potatoes, so I'm thinking either a shepherd's pie or cheesy potato pancakes. Maybe I can combine them with the turkey to make croquettes. And the stuffing. Well, I'm not sure what to do with that. And there's SO much of it!! If I decide to get creative I'll be sure to post it here.

Now it's on to getting ready for Christmas....

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