Preparing Thanksgiving Dinner

In order to accomplish this traditional meal, you’ll need to start on Tuesday (or earlier if you get a frozen turkey).  The actual preparation can wait until Wednesday (but you can always get the pumpkin pies, sweet potatoes, and salad dressing done earlier…it’s your call). The menu includes:

I’ve been cooking the Thanksgiving Dinners for the last 10 years, and have tried many different approaches to getting this meal done on time without having to spend all Thanksgiving in the kitchen, except for the 30 minutes eating my dinner.  I’m feeling pretty good about my handle on the occasion.  Of course it took 8 years of turkeys being undercooked, overcooked, or some mix thereof to get me to where I am now.  I’ve laid out a plan of attack that spans several days prior to Thanksgiving, but enables me to tackle it piece by piece without being overwhelmed on Thanksgiving Day.

I’ve abandoned the standard oven bake, and am too chicken (pun intended) to fry, and am totally overwhelmed at the prospect of brining.  I’ve found that an Oven Bag consistently gives me the moistest turkey I’ve ever made or eaten.  I’ve also learned the hard way that this method will get an 18 lb. turkey out of the oven in about 2 hours (as opposed to the traditional 3-4 hours required).

Read on to find out what you need to do in order to have the complete Turkey Day meal served to a family of 10 on time.  And maybe it can help some poor sap out there who finds himself having to come up with a memorable Thanksgiving Dinner that both sides of the family will remember.

Preparing the Turkey Stuffing (Start Wednesday)

Saute 1 lb of Italian Sausage (sweet or regular).  Remove the meat from the link membranes and ground with a spoon or spatula.

  • Add ~1/4 cup of Maple Syrup
  • Add 1 t or T of chopped fresh Sage
  • When cooked, place in a bowl (and cover) and refrigerate until Thursday
  • Now for the vegetables; Saute the following in the order listed:
  • Cut 2-3 cups of white onion (or whatever onions you prefer)
  • Cut up 2 cups of celery
  • Slice 1-2 cups of Mushrooms (I prefer baby criminis…brown)

Once the onions are starting to cook, I add the celery; then I add the mushrooms just before the onions look translucent (it’s nothing to worry about too much).  When the mushrooms are just cooked through, place this in a bowl (and cover) in the refrigerator for Thursday.  You’ll start the final preparation about 15 mins before the Turkey comes out of the oven on Thursday.

Finishing the Stuffing (Thursday…15 mins before Turkey comes out)

In a medium bowl, mix 1-2 cups of chopped dry cherries (or raisins, cranberries, or none at all depending on your taste)

  • Add 1/2 t of Allspice
  • Add 1/4 cup of Maple Syrup
  • Add 2 cups of Turkey Broth (or chicken broth)

In a large bowl, Combine Sausage Mixture and Vegetable Mixture

  • Add 1/2 cup of melted butter
  • Add 2 T of fresh chopped Thyme
  • Add 1 T of fresh chopped Sage
  • Add 6 cups of seasoned stuffing croutons (12 oz bag will do)
  • Add liquid mixture from medium bowl until moist (NOT SOGGY)
  • Add more broth if necessary

Place in a baking dish, and bake at 350° for 1 hour Covered in Foil.  Remove Foil and bake 20 more mins.

This timing will work out fine because the turkey will need to sit for at least 30 mins before you cut it. You can start preparing the stuffing earlier if you’re overly concerned.

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Mashed Potatoes

(Tuesday or Wednesday Nite)

  • Boil a bunch of peeled Yukon Gold Potatoes (Whatever amount your comfortable with…I do about 3-5 lbs).  I’ll add a few tablespoons of kosher salt and a bunch of Rosemary swigs tied with cooking string to the water.
  • Use a ricer/potato masher to mash the potatoes.
  • Place in a stove top pot on low to medium and add 1/4 cup of lowfat milk (1 or 2%).  You don’t need to add cream to Yukons to make it creamy.  You can add butter if you feel you have to; but remember you’ll have gravy also.
  • Just add milk until you have a nice consistency.  I use 1% and it still turns out creamy.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Place in a big bowl (and cover) and put in Fridge until Thursday.

On Thursday once the Turkey is out, just heat it on the stove top again and add more milk and mix to the right consistency.  Keep them warm in the pot until you’re ready to serve the meal.  Place in a nice serving platter, and top with rosemary sprigs for garnish.

If you Prefer Roasted Potatoes:

For the fingerlings or baby reds, just get 3 to 5 lbs of potatoes, clean them, put them in a baking dish.  Add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil, a few tablespoons of kosher salt, a bunch of cut up fresh rosemary leaves ; and mix it all up.  Bake at 350°-400° for about an hour until the outside of the potatoes are starting to wrinkle.  The outside part  (a few mms) of the potatoes will be cooked to a french fry feel, while the inside is moist.

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Sweet Potatoes (This can actually be prepared over the weekend)

 

  • Place 6 Cups cooked mashed yams into a big bowl
  • 2 eggs, beat into yams
  • 3/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter (melted)
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1-2 T orange juice
  • Top with pecan halves

Place in the refrigerator until ready to bake.  Remove from fridge, top with pecans and brown sugar.

Bake for 20-30 mins at 375°.  Since the oven will be at 350° for everything else, cook it for up to 45 mins.

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Mixed Greens w/ Dijon and Thyme Dressing

(Prepare the Dressing Tuesday or Wednesday Nite)

  • Mix 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 T of Dijon Mustard
  • 1 T of chopped fresh Thyme
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Whisk and place in a covered bowl in the frig.

For the candied pecans, you can buy them or: in a pan put 4T of sugar with 1T of Orange Juice.  Once it kind of melts, throw the pecans in and mix to coat with sugar.  You can also sprinkle cinnamon/sugar mixture on top.  Then place on a non-stick cookie sheet in an oven at 350° for about for 10-15 minutes.  Take out and let cool.  I wing it and sometimes add cinnamon, etc.

(Mix the Salad right before serving)

 

  • Add 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries (about 7 oz)
  • Add 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • Add the pecans
  • Add some broken up goat cheese (~5.5 oz log soft fresh)

Mix in enough dressing to coat, and it’s ready.

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Turkey and Gravy

(Start Preparation on Wednesday Nite or Thursday morning)

Clean Turkey and Pat Dry.  Remove the turkey neck and giblets from the bag inside turkey (rinse these off also; you can throw out the liver and heart).

Preparing the Broth for the Gravy (and for the turkey)

  • 2 T Olive Oil
  • Turkey Neck
  • Uncut Giblets
  • 8 Cups Water
  • 1 Onion (quartered)
  • 2-3 Carrots (cut in big slices)
  • Add 2-3 celery sticks cut into big slices (use the celery heart with the leaves)
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1/2 t Thyme (dry)
  • 1/4 t Peppercorns
  • 1 t Salt

Put a pot on medium-high heat and add the olive oil.  Add the turkey neck, giblets, a piece of the turkey fat (from the cavity) and saute for about 5 minutes.  I also cut off the wing tips (about an inch) and throw these in.

Throw in the onion, carrots, and celery and saute for another 5 minutes.

Add the water, bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns, and salt.  Skim of the foam after the initial boil.  Cook (Simmer) for Several Hours until giblets are tender with a fork.

Set aside liquid, giblets, and neck for gravy and Turkey.

Preparing the Turkey (Wednesday Night)

  • Melt 4T of Butter
  • Add 4T of Herbes de Provence
  • Add 2T of Olive Oil
  • Add 3t of salt
  • Add 3t of pepper.

Rub mixture all over turkey and between breast meat and skin.  You can make the gravy anytime.  You can double the recipe for the rub if you want.

Inside the turkey, put:

  • 1 Orange Quartered
  • 1 Lemon Quartered
  • 1 Onion Quartered
  • 2 Sprigs of Rosemary
  • 2 Sprigs of Sage
  • 2 Sprigs of Oregano and/or Thyme
  • I also place more fresh sprigs on the outside of the turkey.

Tie the Turkey legs up.  You can also tie string around the turkey to keep the wings against the body.  Follow directions of the Reynolds oven bag and shake the recommended flour amount in the bag.  Then put the turkey in the bag, but don’t cut any holes in the bag now.  Tie up the bag, place it in the roasting pan, and place in the refrigerator.  Remove it from the refrigerator 30-60 minutes before placing it in the oven..

Turkey Preparation for the Oven (Thursday)

  1. 30-60 mins before cook start time, remove turkey from refrigerator
  2. Put 3-4 cups of the prepared turkey broth (you can use canned chicken broth) into the bag in bottom of pan
  3. Add some cut carrots and celery into the bag (bottom of roasting pan)
  4. Preheat oven to 350°

Place Turkey in oven (follow cooking instructions on Reynolds Oven Bags) and cook until 165° (with thermometer inserted into thickest part of turkey thigh, not touching the bone).  One year, I put an 18lb turkey in at 2:45 and it was done at 4:45.  I let it rest for 30-40 minutes before slicing. Dinner was served at 5:45/6:00 timeframe.  I’ve also done a 28lb turkey in the oven bag (this was pushing the 24lb limit listed on the Reynolds box), and the turkey was cooked in 2 1/2 hours.

Remember to put the stuffing in the oven when the Turkey comes out.  Get the mashed potatoes on the stove top to start heating. And place the Sweet Potatoes in the oven.  You can also place some good rosemary bread (wrapped in foil) into the oven.

Finishing the Gravy
Once the turkey comes out, I take 6T of the Turkey drippings/broth and mix it with 6T of flour in a pan/pot over medium heat.  Whisk until bubbly and brown (3-5 mins)

  • Add 4 cups of prepared broth from earlier (you can also use broth from baked turkey)
  • Add the Giblets (chopped up)
  • Add 2+ cups of sliced brown mushrooms (I like alot more)
  • Add about 1T of Gravy Master
  • Add about 1T of Soy Sauce
  • Add about 1T of Worcestershire Sauce
  • Add Salt and Pepper to taste

Boil rapidly to desired thickness.  Add more flour, mixed with water, to thicken further.

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