Monday, November 24, 2014

Beginners Guide to Cooking a Turkey Dinner #Thanksgiving

141018-Thanksgiving Turkey thumbnailRemember the first time that you cooked a turkey. The frustration at forgetting to turn on the oven, finding out that after five days of defrosting in the fridge the turkey was still partially frozen. Or, my personal favourite, losing internet and not being able to remember how long to cook the thing for but pretty sure that it was one hour for every pound?

Yes, I remember my first time very well. I can’t remember what I had for dinner yesterday but I can remember Saturday night. No, not Saturday night 10 years ago or even last Saturday night because that would have been Thanksgiving and who cooks turkey on Thanksgiving? I was talking about this past Saturday night. Several weekends after Canadian Thanksgiving. That’s when you cook a turkey. Given our Christmas traditions, are you really that surprised?

Truth be told, I’ve never cooked a turkey before because I thought that it was so difficult. I mean, I don’t cook so how could I ever bake a turkey!? Turns out that I can. Make that I did. And, that it’s really easy. Like one step easy.

Read on if you, a) think that you can’t do it, b) want to find out how you can or c) want a good laugh.

The Turkey

When buying a turkey, apparently you can get ones to cook from frozen (Butterball I believe) but I just bought the one that was on sale (that darned sale that started it all) and it had to be thawed before cooking. I gave it 5 days in the fridge and it was (almost) totally thawed. I tried to get the smallest one possible and it ended up being 15lbs (7kg). It ended up being a good size, although smaller would have been okay too. Turns out that it was also a “utility turkey”. If it was labelled as such, I didn’t see it and/or wouldn’t have known what it meant. Turns out it was short a wing. What’s an appendage amongst friends.

141018-Thanksgiving Turkey

Getting it ready was easy. Really easy. So easy that it was only one step. One step, well besides removing the plastic wrapping (never can tell with beginners like me) and putting it into a 17″ x 13″ and 4″ deep roasting pan. All I did was sprinkle it liberally with salt inside and out. When I say liberally, I mean LIBERALLY. Technically, I’m not sure that sprinkling would even apply because I poured salt all over it. Looks like I’ll finally have to buy another box of Windsor Salt. Once every 10 years isn’t so bad.

Then, I put it into a (preheated oven) at 325. Note that I used the “Roast Convection” setting on my oven so I set mine to 300. The roasting pan fit no problem. I was kind of worried because I didn’t measure before hand and thought WHAT IF IT DOESN’T FIT!? It did. Then, I went and read a book for four hours. Well, I didn’t read for the entire time but I didn’t do another thing to the turkey until I removed it from the oven. Yes, it was that easy.

When the timer went off, I took the Turkey out of the oven, covered it with tin foil and then put a heavy towel (doubled) over it. I had a top for the roaster and will just use it next time instead of the tin foil (so as not to waste) and still use the towel. It ended up “sitting” for an hour but 30 minutes is the minimum. Now for the fixins…

The Fixins

I didn’t do any food prep until after the turkey was out of the oven. Not because I didn’t have time but because I wanted things to be ready at the same time and hot. A short order cook I will never be. Looking back now, I could have done the stuffing, gravy and beets beforehand leaving just the potatoes and carrots for the end. Once all was said and done, it took me one hour from start to finish for the fixins. Which is fine because the turkey needed to sit anyways.

Boiled Mashed Potatoes

I had Uncle Eric peel six medium sized potatoes (I used yellow flesh ones) and then I cut them in thirds. I then boiled them until I could easily pierce them with a fork. That took about 10 minutes and then I drained them and removed a few for me (I don’t like mashed potatoes). I don’t know what Uncle Eric then did to them but I think he added some milk, butter and salt and pepper.

As for the stuffing, I cooked it in the oven. I didn’t stuff the turkey. Who knew? Apparently it cuts down on the turkey cooking time, minimizes the chance of the meat drying out and a little something called salmonella.

I started out by finely chopping up two celery stalks and ½ a red onion (I’m sure that any kind would do) and a slice of peameal bacon* and sauteed them in a big pat of butter. As for the amount of butter, as far as I’m concerned, you can’t use too much. In the end, I added another pat (of equal size). I didn’t add any salt (because of the peameal) and a bunch of poultry seasoning. I fried everything until it was a dark brown (around 10 minutes).

(Pretend there’s a picture of stuffing here)

Then, I transferred the contents to a large bowl and added ½ a loaf of Italian Bread, a handful of finely chopped apricots (my creative addition) and about a cup of store bought, low sodium chicken stock. I mixed it all around and made sure that everything was coated and a bit damp. If you like your stuffing soggier than add more stock.

After the turkey came out of the oven, I put the stuffing in the oven, uncovered for about 30 minutes. Since everything is already cooked, you just need to warm it up. The stuffing was crusty (but not burnt) on the top and perfect as far as I was concerned.

141018-Thanksgiving Turkey Gravy Clubhouse

For gravy, I bought a package of Clubhouse Turkey Gravy (it was even on sale!). The instructions said to add 1 cup of water but I used 1.5 cup of chicken stock instead. Then, I removed all the oil from the roasting pan and added the remaining turkey goop. It didn’t amount to much, maybe 4 Tbsp but it was so rich in taste. I simmered everything in a small pot on the stove for about 5 minutes and then turned it off and put a lid on it. It stayed hot until we were ready to eat. When it’s time to put it on the table, put it in a gravy boat or mug (if you don’t have one) and add a spoon.

As for the cranberry sauce, I bought a can of jellied or whole berries which I transferred into a pretty bowl.

For dessert, we had an already cooked pumpkin pie served with stored bought whipped cream and ice cream.

141018-Thanksgiving Turkey Pumpkin Pie

Setting the Table

With all the spare time you have while the turkey is cooking, head outside and pick some pinecones and coloured leaves. Put them in a bowl or vase on the table. Pull out any holiday themed paper napkins (you’ll have enough dishes, might as well save on laundry) and voila! Or, do what I did and have The Kids set the table. It made for an interesting set-up but they loved being involved and learned which side the fork and knife go on.

And there you have it. All along, I thought that the Turkey was the toughest part but it turned out to be the easiest. Remember that cooking a dinner doesn’t have to be fancy. It’s all about having fun, enjoying the company and in the case of Thanksgiving, giving thanks.

141018-Thanksgiving Turkey Table

Have any Tips for Cooking a Turkey Dinner?

Disclosure: Journeys of The Zoo did not receive any compensation for this post.

* My friend recommended I add pork sausage to the stuffing but I didn’t have any. I was going to use ground beef but then I realized that I had peameal. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to add it for some reason other than taste but Uncle Eric asked me what meat I’d put in the stuffing (he didn’t know that I had added anything) so it was noticed.

P.S. Always have a calculator handy for times when online conversion tools are not available.

Note that I hardly had time to take any pictures because I was too busy cooking so you’ll need to pretend. Some pictures may have even been taken days later but I’ll never tell…

25 thoughts on “Beginners Guide to Cooking a Turkey Dinner #Thanksgiving

  1. AlwaysARedhead

    We have cooked our turkey many different ways. I have baked it from frozen because hubby put the darn turkey in the freezer instead of the fridge when I bought it. The last few years though, we have cooked our turkey in a garbage can and each time it has been delicious.

    By the way, you made me giggle when you said imagine a picture of the stuffing, lol.
    AlwaysARedhead recently posted…He promised to Skype with me, instead he met me in the drivewayMy Profile

    1. Sarah Post author

      Dear AlwaysaRedhead,

      If a condom on your toe is blog-worthy, clearly a turkey in a garbage can is as well. Please don’t hold out on me. I’m on the edge of my seat as it is.

      P.S. Fortunately for both of us, you’re creative enough that you can imagine what a picture of stuffing cooked to perfection looks like. Ya, whatever.

      Besos Sarah.
      Sarah recently posted…WIN at the Weekly #Giveaway Linky, WW, 12/4My Profile

  2. Jo-Anne Pfoh

    omg that is so awesome. now i think you might need a little bit more practice. so i will send you my address and you can come here and prepare christmas dinner okay? we are friends right? and i am really just trying to do what is best for you practice makes perfect (and this vegetarian does not want to shove her hand up a turkey’s butt!!!)

  3. Margaret MacKenzie

    Great post…this was my first year cooking a turkey as well. I always made chicken instead, because I, too, thought it would be difficult. I learned from your post that you are supposed to let the turkey rest for a half hour…I let it rest, maybe 5 minutes. I did have autumn leaves in a glass on the table…made it look all festive, til the cats(I have 8) decided they should munch on them. Thanks for the great post.

    1. Sarah Post author

      Dear Margaret,

      Glad to hear that my post helped. I thought that I was the only person in the world that hadn’t cooked a turkey. Apparently letting it sit is a really important step. Who knew.

      One year my cat ate the poinsettia (supposed to be poisonous). She lived until 18 so clearly it had no effect on her lifespan.

      Besos Sarah
      Sarah recently posted…WIN $99 in Coupons and BOGOs Giveaway, CAN, 12/10My Profile

  4. Tara Gauthier

    I will never forget the first time I cooked a turkey. I was 18 or 19 and my husband and I were on our own. Little did we know but someone we knew nominated us to get a food hamper that year. When they came over it was with a 25 pound turkey, that thing was huge! And way more than the two of us could eat. So, we invited lots of friends over and I cooked a turkey for the first time ever!

    Typically now we don’t bother with one while it is not too much work, we prefer chicken. So I just throw a chicken in the crock pot (tip put balls of tinfoil underneath to keep away from liquid so it is like rotisserie chicken) and then have plenty of oven room for sides. I cook my potatoes for mashed potatoes in another crock pot at same time!

    1. Sarah Post author

      Dear Tara,

      How kind that your community came together to support you and your husband and that you paid it forward.

      I never knew what to put underneath my crockpot chicken so thanks for the tinfoil tip! I also didn’t think about using my crockpot for mashed potatoes. I will be making baked beans for the first time in Mexico this winter.

      Besos Sarah.
      Sarah recently posted…Adoption Does Not Define Me #AdoptionAwarenessMy Profile

  5. Brenda A

    What a lovely bird! I am (secretly) so thankful that I am the youngest of three girls and that my mom still does the holiday cooking. Also that I live 6 hours from everyone else helps in avoiding preparing a huge turkey dinner!

  6. Elizabeth Matthiesen

    It’s been a while since I read this the first time and I had another good laugh just now, loved the (Pretend there’s a picture of stuffing here). 🙂

  7. Clare

    My biggest challenge is coming up with main dishes for the vegetarians in our family. Always fun trying them out. So far Cauliflower casserole and patties are number one in my book. They are both yummy and I don’t even like cauliflower 😉 Peace and Love xoxo


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