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Made a practice Thanksgiving turkey-- help me reflect/refine

Hi all,
I really want to host Thanksgiving this year but the cooking of the turkey inspires great fear in me. My mom suggested trying a trial run to alleviate the pressure and so I did just that.
The one I made was the smallest I could find, 11 pounds, a fresh (not frozen) one from Whole Foods. I've made 5 or 6 pound chickens before so it didn't look that daunting once out of the package.
I chose a combination of a family friend's recipe and a little bit of a Martha Stewart recipe. I went stuffingless for my practice run, so after removing the neck and liver etc. from inside, I rubbed peppercorns and coarse salt in the cavity, and I put in some rosemary, thyme, and sage. I rubbed the outside with salt, pepper, and paprika, and then soaked cheesecloth in OJ and butter, and draped that over the breast and part of the legs.
Cooking was pretty uneventful. I cooked it at 350, basting every 30 minutes. I took the cheesecloth off at 90 minutes and and took the turkey out after a little less than 2 hours when the thigh registered about 160 degrees. Then I covered it with foil and let it rest for 30 minutes while I made the gravy.
The verdict-
The skin wasn't crispy enough. I guess I left the cheesecloth on too long. I could see when it reached temperature the skin probably wasn't crispy enough but I had to make a game time decision about undercooked skin versus overcooked chicken. I guess next time I would take off the cheesecloth earlier and if I saw it getting too well done put some foil over the breast. COuld I have stuck it under the broiler a minute or is that risky?
The breast meat was really, really good. Very moist and really tasty, which I was pleasantly surprised about, after reading a lot about overcooked, dried out breast meat. But I really didn't like the drumstick. I realized I don't think I have ever actually eaten a turkey drumstick so I don't have anything to compare it to. It was flavorful, but dry and kind of sad looking and tasted overcooked, which I don't understand since the breast meat was so perfectly cooked, and usually isn't the other way around with under/overcooking? Maybe I just don't like drumsticks. The thighs and wings were great.
In retrospect, the cheesecloth didn't really cover the drumsticks so much, so maybe that's why they tasted dried out?
My gravy tasted fine with store bought chicken stock, but I am planning on making turkey stock with the dregs of this one. Is it worth it?
Anyway, for someone like me so terrified of cooking a turkey, it's not a cheap experiment, but it definitely bolstered my confidence and I think I'm ready to take on a slightly bigger bird on the big day. Any other tips for a novice turkey maker?

Oh, and because I'm a novice, I hope you won't laugh at me about my big faux pas: I was so annoyed that they didn't include the giblets, muttering and cursing about it, and I felt so so stupid when I found them...... AFTER we had eaten the turkey........... attached to the non-neck side of the turkey in a bag, that, thankfully, was made of some heat-proof paper type substance that can withstand heat... OOPS!

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  1. Don't baste. Introducing moisture to the outside of the turkey does nothing to keep the meat moist - all it does is make the skin flabby.

    7 Replies
    1. re: biondanonima

      Interesting, thank you. That would be another explanation for why the skin wasn't crispy.

      1. re: biondanonima

        I agree completely about not basting. And I'd skip the cheesecloth too. I've never understood the point of cheesecloth.

        The reason basting works against you is that you're opening the oven door and allowing heat out all the time. That means the coils having to rev up instead of having a nice even heat.

        If you're concerned about moisture -- tho it sounds like you were happy with your results -- a dry cure a couple days before roasting can add flavor and preserve moisture. Here's mine:

        • ½ cup kosher salt
        • ¼ cup sugar
        • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
        • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne
        • ½ teaspoon allspice
        • ½ teaspoon ground sage

        Use about 1 tbs per 5 lb of turkey sprinkled on the skin and inside the cavity. Rub it on to make good contact. Put in a big plastic bag and store it in the fridge for 3 days before roasting. About 3 or 4 hours before roasting remove from the bag, Wipe dry return it to the fridge uncover for the skin to dry. Roast.

        1. re: rainey

          Thanks. Our family has gone to this one family friend's house for Thanksgiving for practically my entire life and she is the most amazing cook. We are all partial to her turkey especially. The cheesecloth is part of her recipe, and since I saw it other places, I figured I'd go for it, even though, like you, I"m not quite sure of the point.

          That totally makes sense about basting. The oven door ended up being open a couple minutes each time we basted and I felt like that couldn't be good for the oven temp.

          The turkey was quite moist and I thought it had great flavor... except the drumsticks were dry. Maybe I just don't like drumsticks. But thanks for the dry cure recipe.

          1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

            The problem about drumsticks is that they simply take more time than breast meat. No way around that. If you cook until the drumstick are fully done your breast meat has already dried out.

            The solution is when you take your turkey out to rest, cut the drumsticks off, and let them do their resting in the warm oven.

            The whole Norman Rockwell thing of the gorgeous bird going to the table for carving as performance just sets us up.

            1. re: rainey

              Butterflying/spatchcocking, or roasting turkey parts, pretty much eliminates the uneven cooking time issue. But it's true, we have that Rockwell image in our minds and feel like we're cheating if we use another method, no matter how much better the results might be.

            2. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

              I second the dry cure, though I just use salt, and put some fresh herbs under the skin.

          2. re: biondanonima

            I concur about skipping basting--don't think it's necessary. One more step you can skip: that foil while it's resting--you're trapping in steam, which will de-crisp the skin. I'd skip the cheesecloth, too--simple is better. I just butter the heck out of the skin and get good crispy skin every time.

            Absolutely worth it to make turkey stock from this trial run--much better, IMHO, than boxed chicken stock.

            Think of turkey as just a big chicken--nothing to be intimidated about.

            LOL about those giblets inside. I'm sure you're not the first person to do that!

            Congrats on a good-tasting bird (I don't care for drumsticks, either).

          3. I think you should get a turkey 14 lbs or LESS; that way you're getting a hen, not a tom. (I cover all of turkey with cheesecloth and tuck inside of pan.)

            I posted this in 2011, take a look:


            7 Replies
            1. re: walker

              Thank you. I don't think the turkey I buy for Thanksgiving will be much bigger than this one. Probably around 14 pounds sounds about right for our small group. I'll definitely be more liberal with the cheesecloth draping next time.

              That link is helpful, especially the gravy recipe. Things got a little dicey during the gravy making process today so it would be good to make the base ahead of time.

              1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                I don't brine the turkey; it ruins the gravy because it's too salty.

                Here's my recipe for turkey stock:
                5 organic (if possible) turkey wings (about 5 lbs) cut at joints
                2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
                a few carrots, large chunks
                6 parsley sprigs + few sprigs of thyme, tied in a bundle
                3 Bay leaves
                1/4 tsp. whole black peppercorns
                (Make stock up to 3 months ahead and freeze in airtight containers. Refrigerate 2 days to thaw) Otherwise, stock can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled, spoon off fat before using. Some chefs say celery turns stock sour so I don't use it.
                Arrange wings in a large roasting pan and place in 400 oven. After 45 minutes, turn wings over and add onions. After 45 minutes more, add carrots. Roast until deep brown, about 1/2 hour more, total of 2 hours. (I reserve one wing at this point to bake on top of extra stuffing pan.)
                Transfer wings, onions, carrots, herbs to a large stock pot. Add 2 cups of water to roasting pan, place over 2 burners and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits .. add all to the stock pot.
                Add enough cold water to cover by 1 inch, bring water to a boil then reduce the heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered until the stock is very flavorful and reduced to about 8 cups, about 2 1/2 hours.
                Strain stock into a large container. Cool 1 hour then refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours. When wings are cool you can pick off the meat and use for whatever.
                Then, you can follow recipe for Stress Free Gravy from Whole Foods. This stock makes a terrific gravy.
                Good luck.

                1. re: walker

                  Brining does NOT ruin gravy.

                  I am gravy goddess, so says my family.

                  Just use unsalted stock.

                  1. re: C. Hamster

                    On time I draped a couple of strips of bacon as suggested by someone. That for sure ruined the gravy, at least for me! I'm very cautious since then.

                    1. re: C. Hamster

                      I concur. Brining does not ruin gravy. Walker is about the third or fourth person I've seen on these boards say that and I have to wonder if the people saying this are skipping a step or using other sodium laden ingredients. Back when I made full turkeys I brined them every single year and my gravy was never salty.

                      Also, to avoid posting twice, C. Hamster's method below is almost identical to what I did every year and had a perfect turkey every time. The only difference is I used Alton Brown's method and did 500 for the first thirty and then covered the breast in foil to avoid it getting too dark and for my aromatics in the bird I used an apple, orange, couple sticks of celery, an onion, a couple of cinnamon sticks, and lots of thyme and sage. The nice thing for me about brining is that I live in a cool enough environment that I could keep the turkey in the bucket in the garage or on the deck and I didn't have to give up fridge space for it (or in the years when I had neither a garage or deck I kept it in my car parked outside...it even came to work with me several years in a row).

                      Skip the cheesecloth and basting. It's fussy and a waste of time when there are so many more ways to impart flavor that don't involve opening your oven every 30 minutes.

                      1. re: amishangst

                        Thanks. I am getting excited about the big day. I ordered my turkey yesterday.

                  2. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                    In that Petrini's recipe, you pour slightly heated up brandy and dry white wine over the turkey half way thru baking .. they say it's the secret to the gravy and I really agree with that. I deglaze the turkey roasting pan with the same white wine.

                2. I also do the make ahead gravy. I first make the broth by roasting turkey wings. This year I'm going to make the broth a couple weeks ahead and freeze it so I'm not racing around the week of T-Day and this will leave me more room in fridge.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: walker

                    This is what I'm planning. Do you have a stock recipe you like? I froze the neck and stuff from today and I have a ton of leftovers from the turkey so I was thinking I could pre-make (and freeze) my stock for Thanksgiving in the next few days. Thoughts?

                    1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                      It's definitely worth making the stock.

                      I don't have a recipe - but I dump the turkey carcass into a big pot with an onion, a celery stick, and a small carrot cut into chunks, cover with cold water, slowly bring it up to a simmer, simmer for a few hours, cool a bit, strain, refrigerate and then remove the fat.

                      1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                        I just buy assorted parts at the good butcher in town. Roast 'em, make stock.

                        1. re: JudiAU

                          +1 on roasting whatever goes into the stock. I make stock often from whatever carcasses and bones I have as well as vegetable stock from whatever trimmings I have. Roast until whatever you are using is nicely browned. Also, I find gravy from a hodge podge of innards is heavy. I prefer dried mushrooms reconstituted with Sherry.

                        2. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                          Also garlic clove, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper.

                          1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                            Thanks. I saved the carcass so I will be making the stock this week and I'll freeze it for my Thanksgiving gravy making.

                      2. I am wondering abount the cheese cloth. Do you apply it without buttering or seasoning the bird first? My luck I'd remove it and it would stick, taking the skin and seasoning with it.
                        Oh I just saw you applied your seasonings, so I guess the seasoning stays put.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: chef chicklet

                          Oh, this reminds me, I forgot to mention one thing. Yes, salt, pepper, paprika went on before the cheesecloth. What I forgot to write was that also before the cheesecloth was a really liberal slathering of olive oil.

                          It stuck in one place but came off fine otherwise. The seasoning did stay put.

                        2. I don't do cheesecloth. Don't want to throw you off track, but I make a compound butter with various herbs (don't worry, you just do it in the food processor) pull the skin up a bit on the breast and legs and squish it in. Hasn't failed me yet. Crispy, tasty, everything you've dreamed of. I make turkeys all year round, but only the big holiday meal gets this treatment; don't know why, because it's not that hard.

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: coll

                            Sounds delicious!!! The more butter the better in my opinion! :)

                            1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                              So simple, I will post the basic recipe before the big day.

                              1. re: coll

                                OK here is what I do. First, I don't think anyone has mentioned this yet, but if the turkey is wrapped in plastic, take it out of it a day or two before and let sit in fridge uncovered so it dries out a bit. Then the morning of, make the compound butter: mix in processor two sticks of softened butter, a dash of maple syrup, a spoonful of Sherry and any spices you like, dried or fresh. Thyme, parsley, poultry seasoning, garlic, salt and pepper, paprika, the skies the limit! You can also add a sprinkling of almond meal or the like to keep in all in place, if you like.

                                Then put on a pair of plastic gloves and gently stick your hand under the skin, pushing forward to separate it from the meat. Go as high as you can without tearing too much. Also do the skin on the legs this way. Then spread half the butter mix between the skin and the meat, and the rest on top of the skin. People will be fighting over the skin when it comes out of the oven, if they're like my family!

                                Other tips: instead of a rack, cook the turkey on a bed of carrots, onions and celery, to add to the flavor of the drippings. In addition to stock, I defat the drippings when the turkey comes out (using a Pyrex pourer made for that purpose) deglaze the roasting pan with some white wine, and add the stock AND the drippings, bring to a boil and thicken with browned flour (as below).

                                I have started to stuff mine with lemons, limes and oranges, makes it very juicy but not in a fruity way. I do the stuffing in its own separate pan, drenched with broth that I make the night before with the giblets, or have waiting in the freezer.

                                Oh another tip on the gravy, which I got here. Toast the flour in a cast iron pan until it browns, SO much better than adding raw flour. If I don't do that, I prefer cornstarch, thinned with wine.

                                1. re: coll

                                  Coll: Thank you for all the advice! Do you think it's worth it to buy one of those de-fatting Pyrex implements?

                                  1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                    Yes, even if for the one day a year. I don't know how I'd do it otherwise.

                                    1. re: coll

                                      Thanks. It was really annoying trying to skim the fat off with a spoon for my gravy. I'll have to put this on my list for turkey-related items at Bed Bath and Beyond. What kind of thermometer do you use?

                                      1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                        The kind that there is a wire running to an outside thermometer, I can't recommend it highly enough. I get mine at restaurant supplies but I bet BB&B might have it. I have a $5 off coupon if you want!

                                      1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                        My 2 cents: I love this one from Amazon and have given many as gifts and no one has ever had any problems with it .. best of its type (I have a beautiful glass one I never use anymore).


                              2. Forget the cheesecloth and basting. Start the bird breast-side down and half-way through your projected roasting time, turn it breast-side up.

                                Crispy skin is a function of both temp and enough time to render the fat out. Broiling won't give you crisp skin unless the subcutaneous fat has already melted and drained off. It will help to loosen at much of the skin as possible before roasting. Use your fingers or a wooden spoon to loosen the skin on breast and back, and try to reach down into the thigh to loosen there, too.

                                Drumstick meat IS generally not that great. Not to mention the tendons. If you have a cleaver, hack the tips off the end of the drumsticks before roasting. The meat will contract and expose the ends of the tendons, which will easily pull away as you ready the roasted bird for serving.

                                I once read that you'll get the best meat-to-bone ration with birds over 16#, because turkey skeletons do not grow much larger than that. Every pound over 16 is almost entirely meat. So I aim for larger birds, and I always stuff the cavity in addition to making a separate dish of it, since I think the stuffing/dressing is the best part. It also contributes to, and gets flavor from, the meat. Next time put the neck and giblets in the bottom of the roasting pan along with a chunked carrot, onion, and stalk of celery. I use an apple too. You'll have wonderfully-flavored drippings as a base for the gravy.
                                I dice and saute the raw liver, which I then include in the stuffing mixture.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: greygarious

                                  I did read on various websites about flipping the bird. However, I am probably the klutziest person in the world and the thought of flipping a burning hot turkey is pretty daunting.

                                  Good tip on loosening the skin to help the fat melt and drain for crisping it up.

                                  I'm glad other people are saying that drumstick meat isn't that great. I guess I was thinking it would be more like a chicken drumstick.

                                  There will only be six of us at Thanksgiving, and none of us are huge turkey eaters, which is why I was going to stick to a smaller bird.

                                  Definitely doing stuffing in the bird. That's one of my favorite parts too!

                                  1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                    Stuffing the bird can be tricky.

                                    It absolutely has to come to `160 degrees to be safe to eat.

                                    Sometimes it wont be hot enough when the turkey is done. If so, take it out and finish it in a casserole dish in the oven.

                                    1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                      Flipping is very effective but also tough to master when you consider that you're working with probably 15+ pounds of HOT dripping turkey and stuffing. ...and quite possibly in good clothes and being watched. =o

                                      We courted disaster doing it for several years before I bought a second roasting rack. I have 2 that are completely stable (no hinging of any sort) and V-shaped. Now I place the cold one on the bottom (non-breast side) and flip as I would a cake on (or onto) a rack.

                                  2. Turkey is super easy.

                                    Dump Martha and her cheesecloth.

                                    Don't baste.

                                    Brine your bird.

                                    Stuff with herbs,chopped lemon, apple, onion, garlic etc.

                                    Rub the exterior well with butter or evoo.

                                    Start in a hot 450 oven for 20-30 min and then turn down to 350.

                                    You know how to use the thermometer.

                                    Seriously, don't worry about it.

                                    But a 14 pounder is pretty small.....

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: C. Hamster

                                      This is great advice. This is almost exactly how I approach my Thanksgiving turkey and it works and every one loves it. I cook 2 12lbs turkeys instead of a 25 or 30 lbs turkey. My MiL always made the huge bird but it was also so dry ugh. I like to brine and go smaller and it works out.

                                      1. re: C. Hamster

                                        Thank you. The no basting seems almost unanimous. I'll also reconsider the cheesecloth. People seem very divided on it. If the top got too brown with no cheescloth, would I just tent foil over it?

                                        1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                          Yes. You're going to need a good bit of foil anyway when you rest your turkey prior to slicing it.

                                      2. I did a 12 lber for my first time last year, and it turned out great using this recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/rosemary... I used the regular grocery store turkey, no brine, nothing else, just followed the recipe.

                                        Turkeys start going on sale at the beginning of November. So, you can do a trial run again and have it cost a lot less a week or two before Thanksgiving.

                                        And PS, thankfully, my mom was here, otherwise I would have left the giblets in too :)

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: juliejulez

                                          Thank you! I have a tendency to make things more complicated than they have to be. Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday so I want to make sure everything turns out well.

                                          Haha, I was just so happy they weren't in plastic or something that could melt and ruin the whole bird.

                                          1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                            I think, if this is your first T-day, you're doing a very very wise thing doing a dry run!

                                            I made my first T-day dinner completely unprepared when my m-i-l died quire suddenly. I was on the phone constantly to a neighbor making sure of what I was doing as everyone waited for a feast. Happily, turkey is much easier than we imagine. I know you're going to do great!

                                        2. This is the best way to cook a turkey with awesome skin and evenly cooked delicious meat. http://www.marthastewart.com/355976/r...

                                          No cheesecloth. No basting. Super fast. Treat it like a big Zuni chicken and salt in advance.

                                          Turkey stock is absolutely worth the effort. And I rec making the gravy in advance and then using that in your drippings. Flour gravy is best with a good solid hour of cooking.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: JudiAU

                                            Thanks for the tips. I am excited to make turkey stock for my gravy.

                                          2. Congrats on your successful turkey cooking. I'm not sure basting is the reason for the skin not being crispy, I always baste my T-day turkey and the skin achieves a nice mahogany sheen and crisp finish. Perhaps when you covered the bird in foil you wrapped it too tightly? I just drape a v-shaped piece of foil over the bird, loosely (like a pup tent!). Maybe next time omit the cheesecloth, keep basting, and tent loosely with foil.

                                            As for your finding the turkey drumstick dry and lacking flavor, that is the nature of the cut. IMO drumsticks are suitable only as cat food, they are not intended for human consumption. Too many tendons that are big and tough, and meat that is stringy and lacking in moisture and flavor. Everything else on the turkey is good but feeding anyone a turkey leg is cruel and unusual punishment.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: janniecooks

                                              I definitely covered the turkey pretty well with foil while it was resting, so that would be another explanation. The steam had nowhere to escape and there was probably a lot of moisture then which may have made the skin soggy.

                                              Ha!! No cat to feed here, but my husband was content with it, so he will have it all to himself, no complaints from me. :)

                                              1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                                Well, some people are gluttons for punishment!

                                            2. 1. One standard kitchen truc for poultry: remove the wishbone before roasting. It makes it much easier to carve the breast.


                                              2. Make your gravy base before Thanksgiving; roast up vegetables and turkey parts (necks/drumsticks; maybe some chicken giblets/hearts too) and deglaze the pan drippings; strain and freeze. That way, you can make the gravy *while* the turkey is roasting on the day (you can use the pan drippings of the day for supplementing the gravy for leftovers).

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Karl S

                                                Thank you!! I didn't know that about the wishbone. I wasn't the carver, my husband was, and it wasn't that pretty. :)

                                              2. You are asking our input, so here it goes.

                                                You did a great job the first time. Unless you want to invest in some more birds, don't mess with success. Although I agree with those who say leave the oven door closed.

                                                You forgot the giblets?? On your first time?? On my worst day I never did such a thing. But I have done it on much better days. :-)

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                  Thanks! That is my general sense. It was not a disaster, so I don't see having to change too much. But all the little tips I have gathered on this thread (especially about the basting) are so, so helpful.


                                                  1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                                    This is my all time favorite thread on Thanksgiving cooking, it reappears every year. Might as well give it a head start.


                                                    1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                                      Just remember to roast the neck next time, too... as the cook, that tasty bit (along with the oysters) belongs to you!

                                                  2. I use the turkey roasting bags, and I stuff the bird. No complaints.

                                                    1. I haven't roasted a turkey in the decade I've been in Asia, but when I was in Canada, I did them every year and everyone loved my turkey. I generally did 25 pounders or so.

                                                      Here's how I did it then: dry the outside of the turkey and smear butter everywhere on the skin, and I mean really get it sticking good. Stuff with whatever your stuffing is.

                                                      If I were going to tackle it now, I would brine it, then let the skin dry, put compound butter under the skin as described elsewhere in this thread, and then smear butter on the outside like I used to. And of course stuff it. And, because in our family, we fight over stuffing, I make even more and put it in a tinfoil pack along with the neck and giblets, which give it more flavour.

                                                      If parts of the chicken are getting too dry or brown, cover with foil until the rest of the turkey is done.

                                                      This cheesecloth thing? Never heard of it before. Weird.

                                                      1. I made my stock last night using the tips from this thread. The smell was just amazing and it tastes so, so much better than store bought.

                                                        I'm trying to streamline my menu ideas. I feel like there should be a green vegetable on the table and that's stumping me. Does anyone have good green bean or Brussels sprouts recipes?

                                                        Also, do you all serve appetizers? I am a huge cheese person but don't want people to fill up on it. Soup?

                                                        5 Replies
                                                          1. re: C. Hamster

                                                            Second the roasted Brussels. Broccoli is a seasonal veg, you could roast that too (or serve it as I am forced to do, in a cheesy casserole).

                                                            Apps, I find healthy dips (black bean, fig, tapenade, hummus) go over well, with crackers. A couple of cheeses too. Otherwise I like something with shrimp, when I can afford it! Mom used to insist on pickled herring too.

                                                          2. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                                            Thanksgiving is full of hot and gooey foods, which are best complemented with cool and crispy foods.

                                                            For example, here's my variation on a classic Claremont Salad (what became known as a health salad), which has the virtue that it must be made ahead. Perfect for Thanksgiving.

                                                            This is a marinated salad; make 12-24 hours in advance.

                                                            • Roughly 3 pounds cabbage*, chopped coarse or medium, or shredded.
                                                            • 2 carrots, peeled and halved and sliced thinly into half-moons
                                                            • 2 green bell or Italian cubanelle peppers, chopped medium or fine (no red peppers; too sweet and they bleed color when raw; the original recipe calls for green bell peppers, but Italian cubanelle peppers are thinner skinned and a bit less bitter without being sweet)
                                                            • 1-2 English-style unwaxed cucumbers (seeded as needed), halved and sliced very thin
                                                            • 2 large Vidalia or sweet (that is, not storage) onions, peeled and halved sliced thinly (if you have to use storage onions, rinse them a few times in cold water after slicing to reduce the sulfurous compounds)
                                                            • 1.5 - 2 tablespoons white sugar dissolved in 1-2 oz warm water
                                                            • 3/4 cup of white vinegar (it’s supposed to be a neutral vinegar; rice vinegar would be the only other option – not cider or sherry or wine vinegars)
                                                            • 1/2 cup of neutral vegetable oil (you can include some olive oil, but if you use too much it will congeal when refrigerated due to its fat structure)
                                                            • About 1-1/2 teaspoons salt/celery salt (or use celery seed in addition to the salt), and ground black pepper to taste – salt is essential to draw out the water from the vegetables to both make them crisper and to make the marinade and thus dilute the amount of fat in each forkful, so don’t skimp on it)

                                                            Marinate the above ingredients for 2-3 hours at room temperature, then the rest of the time in the refrigerator.

                                                            * I love Savoy cabbage for its lovely green, yellow and white shades; green cabbage, Napa cabbage and Asian cabbages would also work well. Do not use red cabbage, though; red cabbage is much better cooked than raw (uncooked, it’s more bitter than other cabbages; also, when raw, it has a tendency to bleed unpleasantly over time if left marinated).

                                                            * * *

                                                            For roasted brussels sprouts, you can pan roast on the stove top or in the oven. A bit of sugar helps with caramelization, btw.

                                                            Sprouts should be trimmed and halved. Preheat oven to 500F (won't work well if not well preheated). For each pound of sprouts, you need to toss them with about 1.5-2 tablespoons of olive or walnut oil and half teaspoon salt and a quarter teaspoon freshly ground black pepper; add few pinches of sugar and or onion/garlic powder (the powder won't scorch...which is why it's better in this case than using fresh) if you like. Roast for 10 mins covered with foil; uncover, toss around, and roast for another 10 mins uncovered. Adjust seasonings to taste. (You can add toasted pecans or walnuts as a garnish before serving.)

                                                            1. re: Karl S

                                                              I dump the frozen sprouts from the bag into a bowl. Add a little oilive oil and garlic that I've mashed into a paste with the side of my knife and some salt and then dump onto a cookie sheet and into a 450 oven until browned.

                                                            2. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                                              So much is going on that I just do baby frozen peas at the last minute. I also love this recipe for roasted carrots; they are delicious and look gorgeous on the plate. Instead of balsamic vinegar OR pom molasses, I use a little of both:


                                                              A day or so ahead I make an Asian Cucumber Salad; it's so refreshing with the rich dinner:

                                                              1/4 cup rice vinegar (not seasoned) or white vinegar
                                                              1 Tbl fresh lime juice
                                                              3 Tbls water
                                                              3 Tbls sugar
                                                              1/2 teaspoon salt
                                                              6 pickling cucumbers, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
                                                              about 2 1/2 cups (I much prefer Japanese cukes OR
                                                              Persian cukes, no need to cut in half. If you can only find
                                                              English, cut in half and scrape out seeds
                                                              )2 shallots, thinly sliced
                                                              1/2 Serrano or other fresh chile, sliced (optional)
                                                              6 sprigs cilantro, chopped (I omit this)

                                                              Combine vinegar, lime juice, water, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Stir well and add the rest. Refrigerate.

                                                            3. I make a small stuffed turkey which is roasted in parchment paper. The stuffing is a sweet potato,bacon, bread. I can post if you are interested.

                                                              1. Two words: Heston Blumenthal.
                                                                He's been awarded the best restaurant in the WORLD! Go to Youtube. Type in Heston Blumenthal. The perfect chicken. Apply what he says to roasting a turkey..........no difference except time needed to reach perfect temperature. Remove turkey. Mystery solved for all time.
                                                                I can't for the life of me figure out why people don't want to follow what a culinary genius does.

                                                                4 Replies
                                                                1. re: Puffin3

                                                                  Actually, I can understand why, even though slow-baked turkeys can be quite delicious, they aren't the only thing going on at an American Thanksgiving table: cooking a large turkey at 195F will take a long time (about 45-50 minutes per pound) and completely hog the oven where you might need to multi-task the oven for other dishes for the Thanksgiving feast (you can multitask at more typically 350-375F temps in the oven).

                                                                  1. re: Karl S

                                                                    But you will not get the same results. Simply start the turkey earlier. Imo/experience it does not take 450-500 minutes (eight hours) to roast a ten pound turkey at 195F. More like half that time. That I can guarantee.
                                                                    Also the old 'so many minutes per pound' has no relevance anymore with modern ovens. A good meat thermometer is all that's needed.
                                                                    Once the turkey has been properly roasted and 'lightly tented' there is lots of time to do a lot of things in the oven.

                                                                    1. re: Puffin3

                                                                      A 10 pound turkey is much smaller than most people use on Thanksgiving in the US. Average is probably 15 and many go well into 20s. Still monopolizing the oven. An hour is not a lot of time to do lots of things in the oven while its resting. Et cet. Obviously, you prefer this approach, but I am merely responding to your incredulity why others would not be inclined to agree.

                                                                      The results, such as they are, are probably best experienced on a day where not so many dishes are being prepared.

                                                                      1. re: Puffin3

                                                                        As I end up saying here every year, for once it's not about the food. There is so much it is total overload. As long as everything is safe and edible and plentiful, please don't sweat it, nobody is going to notice. I promise! It is the easiest holiday meal as far as I'm concerned.

                                                                  2. I thought I'd revive this thread since I have a few more questions and Thanksgiving is fast approaching.

                                                                    First of all, I'd love to make a special fall cocktail to serve before dinner. I make coquito for Christmas and we all enjoy having a special drink for the holiday. I was thinking for Thanksgiving maybe a warm spiked cider? Any other ideas?

                                                                    Also, I am going to spend some time this weekend planning out a timetable and shopping lists. I am not able to take off the day before Thanksgiving so I need to be very organized and use the weekend before Thanksgiving to do things that can be done in advance. Can anyone share some ideas for what can be done ahead one to five days in advance? I will have Wednesday night and a good part of Thursday to cook and prep. We will serve dinner not before 4 PM.

                                                                    We are tentatively serving the following:
                                                                    wine, beer, and cocktail
                                                                    one special cheese with accoutrements
                                                                    olives and nuts
                                                                    butternut squash soup (this I know I can make ahead, even several weeks ahead, and freeze)
                                                                    assorted rolls (mom's bringing these)
                                                                    inside bird stuffing
                                                                    cornbread stuffing
                                                                    sweet potato casserole (my sister is making this)
                                                                    corn pudding (mom)
                                                                    cranberry sauce (mom)
                                                                    mashed potatoes
                                                                    brussels sprouts
                                                                    black bottom pecan pie (sister)
                                                                    pumpkin pie (mom)
                                                                    apple pie
                                                                    vanilla ice cream

                                                                    So my cooking/baking responsibilities are the soup, turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, brussels sprouts, apple pie, and vanilla ice cream. The soup, apple pie, vanilla ice cream can all be made in advance. Any ideas how to streamline the rest? We are working with a single oven, a microwave, a toaster oven, and an electric roasting pan (not big enough for a turkey).

                                                                    Thanks in advance. And please, feel free to state the seemingly-obvious!

                                                                    5 Replies
                                                                    1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                                                      My thoughts:

                                                                      You might consider buying a batch of turkey wings, and use them to make a batch of gravy a day in advance. They could then be recycled into a turkey stock, if that is useful for you for other dishes such as your butternut soup, stuffing, sprouts. I find that having plenty of time around making gravy takes some real pressure off.

                                                                      Microwave will obviously be useful for warming premade dishes... also does surprisingly good duty crisping up pieces of turkey skin. (Place between layers of paper towel)

                                                                      Brussel sprouts could be roasted in your toaster oven pretty easily, depending on the size of the batch.

                                                                      Do you have a cooktop as well as an oven?

                                                                      1. re: Booklegger451

                                                                        Thanks for your ideas. I have about 3 quarts of turkey stock from my practice turkey in the freezer, but I'm sure I could use extra, so the turkey wing gravy is a good idea. Is that the kind of thing stores have on hand, or would I need to order those in advance? I've never looked.

                                                                        Our toaster oven is so finicky that I barely trust it with bread. We do have a four burner stovetop too, which will have the potatoes going on one.

                                                                        1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                                                          Re: turkey wings .. I try to get the organic ones from WF; last year they were the same price as the regular ones from Safeway. You could give them a call and ask if and when they are going on sale. This year I'm going to make the stock ahead and freeze in quart size FREEZER SAFE wide mouth Ball glass jars -- OSH, for one, carries them.

                                                                          I do a make ahead gravy starter (recipe was from WF) that I've posted on here before and it's incredibly helpful .. later, I put in the drippings with a Swing-Away fat separator that is great!

                                                                          I'm also going to freeze a half cooked wing to place on my extra casserole of dressing .. to finish cooking wing and heating up dressing.

                                                                          1. re: walker

                                                                            Thank you for reminding me about your make ahead gravy recipe. I have to make a binder this weekend with all my recipes. I got my fat separator recently and I'm very excited to use it for the first time. :)

                                                                          2. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                                                            If you already have plenty of turkey stock, I can think of a better use for the cooked turkey wings after they've given up their gravy making bits... Om nom crunch nom nom.

                                                                      2. As you discovered, stock is worth the effort.

                                                                        Skip the soup. Yes, it can be made ahead but an extra course is another burner, another plating, another pile of dishes, and a course you will miss. It doesn't sound like you have the space. It will be feat enough to give everything on the table at once, hot. It is LIE that hot gravy fixes everything, mom, I am looking at you.

                                                                        The gravy can be made a few days advance, remembering it needs a good 45 minutes to get rid of the flour taste.

                                                                        I love a spatchcoked coked turkey which produces the best skin. Super fast too.

                                                                        Consider dropping one of the stuffings too.

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: JudiAU

                                                                          I was thinking the same thing about the soup, but my mom has her heart set on it. I can make it all in advance, minus a bit of half and half, and then freeze it, so I will see if I have the stovetop room for it. Alternatively, I do have a slow cooker, so I could keep it warm in that and not have to sacrifice a burner.

                                                                          My husband is on dish duty, thank goodness! That's my least favorite part of cooking.

                                                                          I'm going to attempt the make-ahead gravy. I want to make a bit more stock so I have to go get some turkey parts this week.

                                                                          We are stuffing fiends and I think I would face a riot if I dropped one of the stuffings.

                                                                          My husband helped me make an amazing spreadsheet last night to help me make a shopping list. We inputted all the ingredients from all the recipes and put in a formula to add up the different things that are common across two or more recipes (for example, butter) to get a total that I need to buy. Tonight I'm working on the spreadsheet with timing and baking dish & method. Based on that, I may have to adjust my menu accordingly.

                                                                          Thanks for all the input!

                                                                          1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                                                            Good luck. Next year try spatcocking with a dry Zuni brine. Air dry for a few days. Glorious.