Had a turkey trauma...now I've lost my mojo.
We had Thanksgiving on lockdown. Everything was timed to the minute, the turkeys were looking beautiful and everybody was having a great time. Then, the wheels came off.
I tried something different this year, roasting the turkeys using Alton Brown's method and cooking the stuffing in a dish. The recipe called for the turkeys to take 2 - 2.5 hours and to pull the birds when the breast reached 161. Ours took 1 hour and 57 minutes to reach temp and as I said, looked gorgeous. I took several readings in the breasts and all temps were a go.
The first problem was that I had allocated 2.5 hours for cooking, so it threw our timeline off. Not a huge issue, but slightly uncomfortable because we had family members arriving later after work. We had to let the turkeys rest longer than we had planned. It was when we decided to finish off the meal and carve that the sky fell. Although the breasts were perfect, the legs and thighs were practically RAW! In fact, I think I heard a "gobble, gobble" in protest when they were cut.
I made the absolute critical error of measuring only in the breast and completely forgot to measure in the thigh. I was utterly embarassed. The timeline and all our plans went out the window as we tried to make sure that the breasts were salvaged and the dark meat was cooked, all the while trying to make sure that we didn't cross-contaminate anything and kill a guest or two in the process.
I keep seeing that damned raw turkey in my sleep and its the first thing I think about when I recall Thanksgiving 2012. And just to add insult to injury, the stuffing cooked outside the bird did not meet my standards. I wiffed on the two biggest parts of the meal.
Now, everything I touch turns to crap. It feels like no matter what I cook, everything is just off. Anybody know where I can go to get my mojo back?
Learn to allow extra time to prepare any roast and other items planned for the meal......using the low and slow approach will give you the confidence you need to get more reliable temperature readings....as the roasts will cook more consistently and evenly.
If I believe a roast will be finished in 3 hours...I allow a total of five to be safe. Once a roast hits temperature, it's easier to hold the roast,,,,,,then to rush it and cook it up faster. My general rule is to hold roasts a minimum of one hour, but two hours is best for most large roasted meats. While the roasts are holding, you can finish your sides. When your sides are completed, you can put the roast back into the oven for a high heat blast that will sufficiently warm the meat for serving.
You just need to cook something you know like the back of your hand. Maybe something you haven't made in awhile but that never fails you. I have a couple of favorites that require a little bit of effort but that always turn out impressive - it's a great way to get you feeling good about your skills again!
We all have had our turkey moments - mine was the bbq fire of 2006... luckily we had a ham as backup. Don't let it frustrate you or scare you off. Just move on to a different recipe next year.
You could also try the turkey again sans family to judge or worry over. Of course, you run the risk of it not turning out again but at least you'll not have the pressure of the holiday looming!
failure happens to the best of us, but it sounds to me like your problem is a crisis of confidence (i can't believe i just quoted Jimmy Carter on CH).
don't force it. take a step back, and breathe. you said "we" a lot in your OP, so i assume this means you have a significant other at home. can he or she take over the cooking duties for a few days? maybe if you don't feel obligated to "perform" you'll be able to relax about it. and when you're ready to give it another shot, ease back in slowly. start with a couple of really simple, no-pressure dishes that you like to cook. once you get those on the table successfully i suspect you'll start to feel better about taking on more challenging dishes again, and you'll regain your stride. just be patient, and don't beat yourself up over it! even great cooks have bad days...or weeks ;)
Hey, as they say, live and learn....that's what life is all about! 161 is too low for me, but I only know because I made that mistake myself in the beginning. I assumed the less cooked, the more tender it would be. Now 165 would be bare mimimum, I aim for just under 170. Sorry but I'm not familiar with the AB method. However since I use the prebrined birds it comes out perfectly.
I do remember Martha Stewart on a Thanksgiving show advising to cook to 195, but I never cared much for her anyway.
Sorry to hear about the frustrating results. Take a step back and make some fabulous soft scrambled eggs with a knob of browned butter, salt and finely ground pepper.....even better serve over a slice of well buttered toast and all will be well.
For your next turkey consider roasting it deconstructed or simpler, just buy a split breast on the bone as well as a couple legs or thighs and cook in the same pan measuring each one separately and pull each when it reaches your target temp. Brine them first and keep notes for your practice round. You can ramp up to larger birds/parts with confidence by checking each piece and rotating the pan and flipping the pieces during your roast.