Thursday, December 3, 2009

Something to be Thankful For: Part 1, the Turkey

I had a really great Thanksgiving holiday and I hope you all had just as enjoyable a time as I did. My best friend, Josh, came to visit and I cooked a nice big Thanksgiving dinner, even though it was just the two of us eating. I think I am pretty much incapable of making a tiny holiday meal. As a kid, my family holiday meals were true feasts, always plentiful with an array of delicious side dishes and desserts, homemade bread, and of course a huge juicy turkey and gravy. Since we couldn't possibly eat everything, I did cut out a few of the usual dishes I might typically make, but it was still a pretty hearty table of food once it was all prepared.

I was very happy that for once in my life the turkey was actually almost fully thawed by the time I was ready to prepare it for the oven. I can't even count how many times I have stood around in the past changing out water in a metal sink every 30 minutes, trying to quick thaw a bird at the last minute. Luckily, this year I had remembered to allow for an extra thawing day and it made all the difference in the world. 4 full nights for my nearly 13 pound turkey did the trick.

As luck would have it, despite having a very accomodating thawed bird ready to go, my turkey preparation was still heavily delayed by two rather unfortunate events. The first was forgetting to make the special maple butter in advance, which I use to rub all over the turkey, giving it a a gorgeous shiny skin and a delicious flavor. I was supposed to prepare the butter mixture the night before, so that it could be chilled and spreadable the next day. But...I...forgot.

So...early in the morning I had to stand around reducing apple cider and maple syrup for what always seems like ages, and then mix it with the herbs and butter... and then once that rather time consuming step is finished, let the butter mixture chill enough to be able to gob it all over the skin of the bird and rub some under the skin too. Pant pant gasp gasp. Every year while making this butter I have sworn I will have to find another recipe next year that does not make me slave away just to make a butter rub... and every year after tasting my turkey and its wonderful herbally, slightly sweet and buttery gravy I remember exactly why I keep returning to this recipe year after year after year.

The second issue arose from the same procedure. While I was waiting for the cider-syrup mixture to reduce, I got some phone calls and well... talking on the phone while I am cooking always seems to get me into trouble. I do it all the time and really should have learned my lesson by now, but alas, such was not the case this time. While chattering away, I failed to notice the mixture boiling and oozing over the edges of the saucepan, leaving a bubbling sticky caramelized :cough: burnt mess all over my stovetop. I was actually able to salvage what remained in the pan, which had remarkably not burned at all and was finally at the exact 1/2 cup mark I had been waiting for so anxiously. I cleaned up the mess, buttered up my Tom Turkey and finally Thanksgiving dinner was underway.

Now wouldn't you know it, my silly turkey was done early this year. I stared at my digital thermometer with great distrust when my timer went off at the 2 hour mark. I glared at the pop up turkey button that had also decided to point out to me that, yes, somehow my turkey was already done before I had even peeled a single potato or heated up my freshly cut corn. I gave the legs a wiggle and poked at a thigh with a knife, using a spoon to catch the drippings to detect any hint of pink juices. I wasn't quite sure the juices were clear enough, and so I let Tom roast another 30 minutes longer while I quickly threw my side dishes together. I felt much better after the extra 30 minutes of cooking time and at this point, the legs were not just wiggly, they pried free easily. I covered the whole bird in foil and let it rest for another 30 minutes while I made some gravy from the pan drippings and a small amount of the maple butter mixture I had set aside before rubbing the skin earlier.

To accompany the Maple Roast Turkey and Gravy, I served corn scraped fresh from the cob and sauteed in butter and some cornstarch, freshly boiled and mashed potatoes, crock pot stuffing, and some chunks of butternut squash tossed in a little butter, oil and cinnamon and roasted for about 30 minutes while the turkey was resting and the gravy was bubbling away. I also made some delicious whole wheat honey rolls (more about those later). Everything turned out very tasty and we had a great time.

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