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To brine or not to brine, and other turkey talk

Need some help here: it is my first Thanksgiving (as in, the first I am hosting), and it is going to be trial by fire. The invite list got away from us--especially since I hate to see someone with nowhere to go for the holiday--and we are holding at about 17 people. In a one-bedroom apartment.

I ordered a turkey AND a ham from these guys:

http://www.heritagefoodsusa.com/

which I would highly recommend. They were $$$ but also incredibly easy to deal with and lovely people (I had them on the phone trying to figure out how much we would need to feed 17 people). That aside, they recommend "a light hand" in dealing with the turkey. I was planning on brining. First of all, I thought this would make my turkey more fool-proof and less inclined to dry out.

Second of all, what do you think? What are the good recipes for brining?

I have a zillion other questions too...maybe too many for one thread:

What is a good homemade stuffing recipe for the kind of stuffing that comes from a box, as in, how can I make Stoffers stuffing but make a HOMEMADE one?

What are your thoughts on fancy paper plates?

Other than a super-prepared game plan (I am doing much of the prep and all the pies the night before, having friends cook certain dishes at their homes, and having a play by play printed out so nothing gets left behind, what are your turkey day for 17 tricks?

Much obliged!

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  1. Do you have the space?? to the brine the bird? If so, Alton Brown's recipe works well. There is a very recent thread still running re his roast turkey.
    Fanny Farmer CB has good traditional stuffing recipes.
    In lieu of fancy paper plates, why not rent 2 dozen simple white china plates from a party rental store? They should cost no more than 50 cents each and are so much nicer. It is The Holy Grail of foodie American holidays after all. If not in the budget, Smart and Final (ick, I know) has a nice clear hard plastic disposable plate that would do well.

    Sounds like you are well on your way to a good time for all 17 guests. Only other advice is " clean as you go! don't let the dirty stuff get ahead of you"
    I once cooked NY's Eve dinner for 12 in a 400 sq ft apt in NYC. We used the table as a counter for prep and service and ate "picnic style" on the floor! It can be done!
    Good luck.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jdm

      I'm hitting up my Fanny Farmer! I can't believe I didn't think to look there. I have a circa-1980 edition that was my Mom's.

    2. Folks, please keep the responses here focused on the home cooking aspects of the OP's query.

      tmd218 - for discussion about the use of paper plates, please post on the Not About Food board. Good luck with your dinner and, by the way, there are currently a number of recent posts about Thanksgiving dinners, including by first time hosts, that might be of use to you.

      Thanks!

      1. I vote don't bother with the brining. It sounds like you got a quality bird.

        1. RELAX! Keep it simple, good and no fuss. This is your first host and you have alot of guests and are aiming high. Trust me, you will be the first person to fall asleep after the meal with the pace you are planning. I know this, I fell asleep standing at midnight services my first overplanned Christmas. It was funny. Good food, shared with good friends, spending the time together is what the holiday is about. Start doing the impress with food at later dates, with fewer people. You will enjoy it more and so will they.

          Listen to your experts! Your turkey folks say go "light handed"; they do know best. Brining a turkey is not easy. It is simple in theory and in practise, it can be a real bumpy road. WHat would you brine it in; as in container? WIll you have room in your refrig for it; will the shelf support the weight?

          Try using a commercial bread stuffing, the dried seasoned cubes of bread (I sorta like the cornbread ones). Make it homemade by adding chopped and sauted carrots, celery, onion, try some apples and raisins. Add a good hit of lime juice, that really brings freshness alive.

          Great idea to have some guests bring food cooked by them. Share the pleasure of cooking!

          Really, the "KISS" method really works best. Enjoy your holiday as well!

          3 Replies
          1. re: Quine

            I agree 100% with Quine.

            Cooking a meal for four at Thanksgiving can be a challenge, let alone 17.

            it all boils down to the gravy.

            Turkey is dry by nature.

            hit it with some good gravy made from sweet butter, flour, home made, rich turkey stock, you got a winner!

            The challenge is securing the turkey bones. Not easy, even for me and I work in the industry.

            Good luck. call the nice people who helped you with the turkey and ask them for bones.

            1. re: Quine

              One important bit of information if you're going to use dried bread cubes for your dressing: It takes A LOT of broth to moisten them sufficiently. My ex-MIL didn't use enough broth the one and only year I had thanksgiving at her house, and the dressing was pretty much over-browned croutons.

              Personally, I prefer to use fresh (not brand-new fresh; I think dressing started out as a way to dispatch stale bread) bread, some white, some wheat, and some corn bread. But my dressing is VERY moist; my rule of thumb is that if you can recognize discrete cubes of bread, it's too dry.

              1. re: revsharkie

                Can't second this enough - buy or make way more broth than you think you need. It keeps for other purposes, or you can make more gravy. A too-dry dressing is quite unpleasant...I'm with revsharkie on the moist dressing.

                OP, you can make your own dried bread cubes easily enough, and in advance. They tend not to be as hard and thirsty as those in packages in the supermarket, so you might not be using more broth than the Middle East has oil. Just cube up the bread of choice and spread on baking sheets in a low slow oven - I do mine at 200 degrees and check regularly, then turn the oven off when dry and let cool. I also season with the herbs I want in the stuffing. Through the whole mess in a paper bag and close up until you make the stuffing (I do mine a day or two in advance).

            2. I agree -- being prepared is good (and not forgetting anything) but don't stress too much!
              I do a simple stuffing with dried bread cubes (homemade or "plain" packaged); onion, celery, and carrots sauteed in a little butter; and chicken or turkey broth. I never add eggs or cream. I do use plenty of fresh herbs -- it makes all the difference -- think Simon and Garfunkel (dating myself, I know) -- parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. You can cook the veggies the night before, but I like to mix it fresh in the morning -- just until moist, not drenched.

              If you're baking the stuffing separately in a casserole, butter the inside well and add a little extra broth before you bake it.

              Also, for prepping, make plenty of extra turkey stock the day/night before with the gizzards, neck, and an extra package of turkey parts (wings, legs, etc.). I learned the hard way one year how easy it is to come up short on stock for gravy!

              Relax, enjoy, and share the fun -- the cooking and the cleanup! It's all more fun with friends and family to pitch in.