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Sara’s Weeknight Meals: Season 2

Episode 208: Thanksgiving 101

sara_and_turkey-280x210Thanksgiving is everyone’s favorite food holiday but it can be so stressful. For many of us, this is the only time of year when you attempt to throw a huge dinner party. And let’s face it, cooking a turkey so it comes out moist and delicious is slightly daunting, as is making multiple dishes and having them all be done and hot at the same time. I have come up with a few little tricks to make your life easier on this big cooking day. But the most important thing to remember is this is just a big family meal, it does not have to be perfect, – the point is to get everyone around the table and share some food and good conversation.

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GETTING READY FOR THANKSGIVING

How much food should you buy?

How much turkey?
1 to 1 1/2 pounds turkey per person (depending on whether you want leftovers). Keep in mind that smaller birds have less meat so you might want to go with that higher ratio.

How much stuffing should you make?
About ¾ cup per person or per pound of turkey. Note: Not all of that stuffing will fit in the cavity if you are planning on stuffing the bird. You will have to cook some of it in a casserole separately from the bird.

How much gravy?
About ½ cup per person which allows for leftovers.
You will need about 1 ½ tablespoons fat and 1 ½ tablespoons flour per cup of stock if you are making the gravy on Thanksgiving. If you are making it ahead (the day before- see recipe below) you will need more butter and flour, 2 tablespoons per cup of stock, because you will be thinning it down on Thanksgiving day with turkey juices.

How much cranberry sauce?
About 1/3 cup per person

What equipment will you need?
If you are cooking the traditional turkey dinner you will need:

  • A large heavy roasting pan with handles
  • A large V-rack to put inside the roasting pan
  • A meat thermometer (a small instant read thermometer will do)* see tip below
  • Aluminum foil to cover the turkey if it gets too dark during roasting as well as to keep it warm while it is resting
  • A fat separator
  • A brush to brush on the butter
  • A good carving or chef’s knife
  • A carving fork
  • A large metal spatula (I move the turkey from the roasting pan to the platter by sticking a carving fork in the cavity and putting a large spatula under the other end of the turkey which makes it easy to lift)
  • Whisk for making gravy (preferably a flat whisk which can get into the corners)
  • Food mill, ricer or potato masher for making mashed potatoes

Testing Your Meat Thermometer: How do you know if your meat thermometer still works? Dip it into a pan of boiling water and if it registers 212°F, you know you are good to go.

Thanksgiving Tips
Set up an ice chest with plenty of ice to chill the beverages on Thanksgiving day so that you can free up the fridge for all the dishes you will be cooking.

Several days before the big meal, pull out all the platters and plates that you will need for the dinner and label them. The last thing you need to do when you are trying to get dinner on the table is to be thinking about what dish goes on what plate.

Roll out your pie dough between lightly floured sheets of wax or parchment paper. It is much easier to roll out the dough this way and so much easier to transport it to the pie plate when you have it rolled out between two sheets of paper. You just peel off the top sheet and invert the dough into the pie plate. Also, if the dough gets too warm you can just lift it up, wrapped in the paper, and pop it in the fridge. Glass pie plates promote more even browning of the crust and you can check to make sure that the crust is nicely browned before you take it out of the oven just by looking at the bottom of the pie plate.

If you are planning on making either winter squash soup or puree, don’t peel and cut up the whole raw squash. That is way too much work. Instead, cut it in half (lengthwise, if it is a butternut squash), arrange it cut side down on a lightly oiled baking sheet and roast it in a 400 °F oven until it is tender or a knife goes through the flesh with no resistance (about 30 minutes). Then scoop out the seeds and puree the flesh. Add butter and whatever flavorings for a puree or combine the puree with some onions, vegetables and stock for your soup. Roasting concentrates the natural sugars in a winter squash.

Those cute little decorative pumpkins with names like Jack B. Little, We B. Little, are actually the tastiest pumpkin/winter squash I have ever eaten. And they make beautiful containers for pumpkin soup, rice, stuffing, other vegetables and vegetarian entrees. I start cutting them in half through the middle (be very careful, they are hard and the knife can slip easily) and roasting them in the oven (see tip above on cooking winter squashes).

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