Friday 9 November 2012

Curse of the Turkey: How to Prepare a Thanksgiving Dinner

My first turkey: a whole other story.
American Thanksgiving is coming soon and I'm sure you're all brushing up on your turkey know-how.  And since we Canadians have already celebrated our Thanksgiving I thought I would be neighbourly and share with you how I cooked my turkey this year.

But before you continue reading you should be warned:

My family is turkey-cursed.

Every time anyone in my family tries to cook a turkey there is some minor disaster that threatens to ruin the turkey dinner but then, miraculously, doesn't.  In fact the women in my family are well-known for cooking perfect turkeys.

It's become something of a legend, really.  I like to think that Great Gran MacCrappy pissed off some Evil Turkey Demon with her succulent turkeys and he cursed her so that she, and her daughters, and her daughters' daughters would have to endure great pain, suffering and anxiety when cooking our delicious turkeys.

For example, there was the time the oven rack had been put in the oven backwards and when my mother went to check, somewhat carelessly, on the turkey it came sliding right out.  And without thinking Mummy idiotically heroically saved Thanksgiving by catching the piping hot bird with her bare hands! as the pan went crashing to the floor.  ("It's delicious!" she declared, hands in ice water, as my aunt spoon-fed her.)

Or the time Great Gran MacCrappy turned the oven down way too low ("Ye hufftae cuik th'brrrrrrd rrreeeeel slew") without telling my mother and halfway through the cook time it was still raw.  And even though dinner was served many, many hours later than expected it was well worth the wait.

Or the time it was my aunt's turn to cook the turkey and she was so worried about making it absolutely perfect (stuffing, basting, putting those little turkey frill thingies on the legs) that she forgot to cook anything else.  Turkey may have been the only thing served that night but at least it was absolutely perfect.

So now that I'm about to tell you how I cook a turkey dinner, believe me when I say to proceed with extreme caution lest you draw the attention of the Evil Turkey Demon.  Some scary, evil shit may go down but at the end of it you will have a perfect turkey.

Thanksgiving Menu:  Roast turkey and gravy, sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, lemon garlic carrots, crescent rolls and guacamole dip as a starter.

About three days before Thanksgiving get the frozen turkey you bought because it was only $1.29/lb. (and fresh, free-range turkeys are too damned expensive) out of the freezer.  I picked a small bird.  If you're serving a large number of people it is better to cook two small birds than one very big one.  Usually I would like to take the trouble to brine the turkey but because I bought this cheap-ass frozen bird kind of at the last minute there isn't going to be any time for that.

To safely thaw a turkey it is best to thaw it in the fridge.  They say that you need to allow 24 hours for every five pounds.  Ours was a twelve pound turkey so, naturally, three days later it is still frozen solid in the middle.

Place the turkey in the sink and run cold water into it to finish the thawing process.  In the meantime get out your stuffing.  I'm not going to get into a fancy recipe here.  Just throw some loose sausage meat, chopped onions and celery into a pan and fry it.  Let it cool and then toss it in with your stale bread, some mashed potato, a little chicken stock and a mess of herbs.  This year I chopped up some sage and thyme I had in the garden and that was good.  Usually I go with powdered sage and that's good, too.  Really just throw whatever you like in there. (*Note*:  This is pretty much how I cook everything.)

When the turkey is finally thawed, pat it dry and loosely stuff the cavity.  Trussing it is probably a good idea but I didn't bother and it didn't hurt the bird at all.  You can do other fancy things like stuff butter and herbs under the skin but it's a pain in the ass.  I just smeared some butter on the outside and sprinkled whatever seasoning on top.  After that put about a 1/2 inch to an inch of stock in the bottom, cover the turkey in foil and then bake at 325F for 3-4 hours (depending on the size of your bird) removing the foil for the last hour to brown the skin.

Unless, of course, your oven is a decrepit POS like mine.

In which case you will set the oven to about 275F (because the temperature guage is broken) and then pound on the top of the oven with your fist, a la Arthur Fonzarelli, until the element turns on.  Be careful how you close the oven door or you will have to do this all over again.

While the bird is cooking prep your potatoes and carrots.  I won't get into details about mashed potatoes because we don't do anything special.  Boil 'em.  Add milk and butter.  Mash 'em.  The end.  If I have a secret it's that I get my husband to mash the potatoes.  For some reason they actually taste better when he does it.

I usually cook the carrots while the turkey is resting, just before carving.  Steam, then simmer for a while in butter, garlic and parsley and squeeze a lemon on top.  My kids are guaranteed to eat carrots prepared this way.

So far so good, right?  No disasters happening here, right?  Not even a partially frozen turkey or POS oven has fucked anything up yet, right?  Good.  Now that we have developed a false sense of security let's move on to our starter.

This year's starter is guacamole and chips.  Why?  Because avocados were cheap, my kids are willing to eat guacamole and also, I fucking love guacamole!!!

You will need:

5 ripe avocados (we are making a shit load of guac here people)
3 plum tomatoes
1 small onion
3 cloves garlic
1 lime
1-2 jalapeno peppers
salt and pepper

Toss everything but the avocados, spices and lime in a food processor and make a chunky salsa.  Then add avocados and spices.  Then get a citrus reamer to squeeze out some lime juice.  Now, while you're doing this be sure to accidentally get a few drops of lime juice in your eye.

Run screaming into the bathroom and flush your eye out with water.

Surprise!  There was more than a little jalapeno juice in there, too!

Run around the house for a while shouting, "It burns!  It burns!"  Splash more water in your eye even though this defies all logic.  The increasing intensity and spreading of the burning sensation should eradicate any lingering doubts you may have entertained re. the jalapeno juice.

Pray for death.

Whatever you do don't seek medical attention.  Go on twitter instead.

Once the burning finally subsides Jenn at Something Clever 2.0 will tweet back something useful (MILK!) but by then you will have stopped being desperate enough to try it.  Your eye will now be puffy, red and streaming tears.  Cover your eye and remember to finish blending the guacamole.

Serve with tortilla chips.

Suddenly remember that you forgot all about the turkey which now has only 20 minutes left to cook and you haven't yet taken off the foil.  When you check, it has roughly the same complexion as Conan O'Brien.  Remove the foil and hope like hell it has enough time to brown properly and look more appetizing than an Irish late night talk show host.

But when it's done it's golden brown and moist because of that accidental extra self-basting time.

While the turkey rests, cook your carrots and gravy and get the kids to make some Pillsbury crescent rolls because you can no longer read the instructions.  Bake at least 50 degrees cooler than what your kid says is on the label and with any luck they will be buttery golden on top and burned black on the bottom.

Well, at least the turkey is perfect.

Also some valuable lessons learned through each disaster.  Check your oven rack before putting in the turkey.  Have a peek at the temperature from time to time.  It's better to have vegetables than little paper hats on your turkey legs and NEVER make guacamole when there are Evil Turkey Demons lurking.

Have a Happy Turkey Day!