Make Thanksgiving Easy Again: Easy Turkey

Easy Turkey | Cook it Pretty

Two years ago I hosted my first Thanksgiving without parental supervision, and I did a lot of research on turkey roasting techniques. The combination of all the tips and tricks I found resulted in a successful approach that I’m ready to confidently share with you.

Easy Turkey | Cook it Pretty

You’ve probably seen blogs and magazine articles telling you to do everything from turning the turkey upside down to cooking it straight out of the freezer. Cover it! Don’t cover it! Baste it! Basting is over! Stuffing will kill you! Flip it! Change the temperature 10 times! Buy a million gadgets you’ll only use once a year! Hosting a big meal is stressful enough without all this conflicting information. I’ve boiled everything down to one tip for you: DO LESS.

Easy Turkey | Cook it Pretty

The only thing that is difficult about being in charge of the turkey is that you have to do some pre-planning. If you’re hosting Thanksgiving, my guess is you already know that you have some planning in your (very near) future. In Dubai I only have access to frozen turkeys so I do not get a lot of choice in the matter and the following tips and techniques are for frozen turkey. Some thoughts to get you started:

  • Buy your turkey as early as possible. If your turkey is frozen, you’ll need to allow for 3 days of defrosting in the fridge. But people, this isn’t hard! All it does is sit there and take up all your fridge space for a few days.
  • Don’t double-brine. Did you know that most frozen turkeys are already in brine? Check the labels and you’ll likely see something about the ingredients including salt or salt water – that means it’s been in brine. So lucky you, you do not need to brine it again.
  • No special equipment required. As long as you have a roasting pan that is big enough for your turkey, you’re good to go. While things like roasting racks can be nice, you don’t have to have one. My method doesn’t require a baster either. One thing that’s nice to have is a meat thermometer, in case you’re anxious about things like serving your loved ones undercooked meat (raises hand).
  • Plan around oven space. Turkeys take a long time to cook and will dominate your oven on Thanksgiving day. Plan any other dishes you’re making around the idea that your oven will be in use most of the time. Things like pie can be easily made the day before to avoid conflicting oven time. Stuffing can be prepped the day before and baked after the turkey comes out. Consider vegetables cooked on the stove top, such as sauteed green beans, rather than a roasted dish that requires oven time. Or farm out your other oven dishes to guests, potluck style.

So you have your turkey defrosted and your suitably sized pan, your other holiday dishes under control, and you’re ready to go. Where to begin? Read on!

Easy Herb Roasted Turkey

Defrosted Turkey
2 Onions, halved then quartered (you want big pieces)
3 Celery stalks, chopped into 2-3 inch sections
Butter, softened
S&P
Herbs of choice (I like rosemary, sage & thyme)
1/2 Orange, quartered

Calculate your cook time
Cook time = 15 mins x #lbs. For example, a 15lb turkey will take 225 mins or 3 hours 45 mins. Preheat your oven to 325F.

Prep the pan
Place the onion and celery chunks in the bottom of the roasting pan, reserving some onion to be later placed inside the turkey. These will serve as your roasting rack, raising the bird off the bottom of the pan. They also provide a nice flavor to your drippings, which you can later use for gravy.

Prep the bird
Check the neck cavity and main cavity for little bags of gizzards, removing everything. Keep them if you like to include them in your stuffing or stock or if you’re like my mom and cook it up for the dogs. Toss them if you’re like me and get grossed out by everything I just said (it’s hard for me to even type the word gizzards). Place the turkey in the roasting pan on top of the chopped onion and celery. Fold the wings underneath the body of the turkey – this prevents them from getting dried out or burned, and it just looks better.

Give it a rub
Take the softened butter in your fingers and rub it all over your turkey, including the legs. Sprinkle everywhere with generous amounts of salt and pepper, including some inside the cavity. Add your herbs, like rosemary, sage, and thyme everywhere as well.

Easy Turkey | Cook it Pretty
Get aromatic
Put remaining onion and orange pieces inside the cavity. I’ve seen this called “aromatics” – you won’t be eating them, but they add juice and flavor to the meat from the inside. Don’t stuff it too full or it may affect your cook time, a few pieces of each will do.

Tie the legs, or don’t
This is a purely aesthetic choice. If you want a pretty picture, there’s something that makes the tied up legs just look better. But if you don’t care and just want it easy, skip this because you’ll just be removing the tie later. I skipped it last time and it looked a little awkward, but who really cares because it tastes the same!

The do-nothing part
Now put it in the oven and set your timer according to the cook time above. THEN DO NOTHING. Don’t baste it or change the temperature or use tin foil on anything. Just ignore the turkey for the next 3 hours or so. Do your other prep and stove top cooking. Have a glass of wine. Study up on making gravy so you can put the pan drippings to use. (I can vouch for this method from The Kitchn).

Check the temp
Many frozen turkeys have a pop-up plastic thingie that tells you it’s ready. I’ve heard it’s best to double check this with a meat thermometer inserted into the thigh. Make sure it’s in the 165-180F range. The skin should be browned and crispy. Then it’s done! You roasted a whole turkey all by yourself!

Let it rest
Let the turkey rest at room temp for at least 30 minutes before carving. This is a good time to make your gravy, in which case you’ll need to remove the turkey from the roasting pan and transfer it to a cutting board. Put gallon-sized ziplock bags over oven mitts in order to safely grab the hot turkey without ruining your mitts. Be careful, turkeys are heavy and hot!

Carve it up
I’m lucky because my husband is amazing at breaking down the bird. I have never attempted this myself. But here’s the video from NYT that he watched before doing it the first time, and he knocked it out of the park. I like this method because it’s much easier to serve than carving it at the table, and you can break it up into dark and light meat platters.

You did it! Wishing you a juicy and delicious turkey to share with loved ones this Thanksgiving.

© Cook it Pretty 2016

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#TBT: Remember When Thanksgiving Happened?

It’s 2015! While most people have already received that memo, I need to do a throwback to reflect on Thanksgiving 2014. It was a unique holiday – our first time celebrating in our new Dubai home, our first time hosting as a couple, and our first International Friendsgiving. It was so memorable to share an American holiday with friends from all over the world. For me it was the perfect mix of old traditions and new twists.

International Friendsgiving | Cook it PrettyI focused on the mains like turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pie and we went potluck style for the rest, menu as follows:

Roast Turkey with Herb Butter rub
Spiced Cranberry Sauce
Classic Herb Stuffing
Gravy 2 ways
Mama’s Pumpkin Pie
Spiced Fig Sangria
Aussie Green Bean Casserole with Bacon
Southern Sweet Potato Casserole
Southern Mac n Cheese
Belgian Truffle Mashed Potatoes
Belgian Potatoes au Gratin
New Zealand Glazed Fruit Cake

Highlights: (1) Our turkey was beautiful. Juicy and delicious! Watch this 5 minute video next time you roast a turkey. Don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be. (1a) One of the best things I learned while hosting this year is that my soon-to-be-husband is a turkey breakdown master. (Look at those butchering skills in the first photo!)

Roast it Pretty(2) This cranberry sauce from The Kitchn is a winner. I was worried about straying from my Mom’s classic cranberry relish, but I opted for a cooked version because I don’t have a food processor here. I doubled the recipe and added a granny smith apple. Bomb. Also, great to make a day or two ahead.

Spiced Cranberry Sauce(3) I officially love stuffing, and while I will still call it stuffing, Paula Deen tells me it’s actually dressing since I don’t cook it inside the bird. My European friend called it a savory bread pudding, which I may also start using because it sounds so much fancier. I combined tips from two recipes which were both of the traditional onion/celery/sage variety. Made it mostly ahead and did a final bake the day-of.

Planning and Stuffing | Cook it Pretty(4) Pie. Our Moms are amazing. This being in charge and cooking all week thing isn’t easy (you can do it, but it’s work). The man learned a few things about making a smooth gravy, number one being it wasn’t as easy as his Mom makes it look. Same goes for me with the pie crust. I’ve made pie alongside my Mom countless times, but the magic of her ease with it just isn’t there when I do it on my own! There were nearly tears, and many texts and emails were exchanged with Mom along the way, but two pumpkin pies happened. The crusts didn’t look perfectly manicured by a longshot, but they were GOOD. Some of our guests said they’ve always heard so much about pumpkin pie but had never actually tasted it. How fun that their idea of pumpkin pie will be shaped by my Mom’s family recipe.

Mama's Pumpkin Pie | Cook it Pretty

I loved tasting what everyone else made and sharing some American traditions with them. I was thankful for the day, for our friends, and for the leftovers for many days to follow. Shame we only have one day a year dedicated to gratitude, I’m ready for another feast with loved ones already!

Call them Capsicums

Santa Fe Stuffed Peppers

Pinterest vs. Reality: Santa Fe Stuffed Peppers

Oh the joys of little differences living abroad. In Dubai, most produce is called by its British name. Therefore, bell pepper is capsicum, zucchini is courgette, and eggplant is aubergine. I can never remember to call cilantro coriander. My spellcheck doesn’t even understand courgette or aubergine.

So I suppose I’ve made Santa Fe Stuffed Capsicums, recipe from Skinnytaste. Skinnytaste is a fantastic source of inspiring recipes! This is a good one when you’re craving Mexican flavors but want to keep it lighter. It also yields a lot, and makes great leftovers.

Santa Fe Stuffed Capsicums

Capsicums and Coriander

I used to complain about how hard it is to cook for one, because I always had so much left over and felt like I was often wasting ingredients when they went bad before I could consume them all. I was missing the upside, which was that after I invested all the time in making a big meal, I was set with leftovers for a bit. Not so much now that I live with a hungry man. Now I hardly ever have leftovers and I feel like the food just goes so quickly!

Santa Fe Stuffed Capsicum

As long as there’s avocado…I shall be happy.

So I appreciate that this large batch recipe holds up well for leftovers and it’s super satisfying and healthy. I’ve already whined about the lack of black beans here, so I subbed another type of bean and added more corn. The other modification I made this round was that I used chicken instead of turkey. I haven’t found ground turkey here yet, but I did find “minced chicken”. Worked just as well!

This recipe is easy to modify, so try it with different proteins or go all-veg! It will always look cute when served in the pepper. Er, capsicum.