The Thanksgiving 2020 pivot

This year we won’t have big crowds of family and friends around the Thanksgiving table; but don’t let a change in venue plans take away your Thanksgiving spirit. It would be easy to get mopey and be all Eeyore-ish about it all; but lets not.

Instead, let’s all stay safe, healthy and socially distanced so we will all be here to celebrate in years to come.

With that thought, a few quick guidelines to remember. Even when you make that quick last minute run to the market for pie crust, milk or wine… remember to wear a mask and wash your hands, before you go and when you return. In between be sure to keep your distance as you shop.

In North Carolina, indoor gatherings this year have been restricted to groups of less than 10. If you are Thanksgiving-it with those who all live under the same roof, then not much will be different for you; but for those that have to put aside travel of larger gatherings of family and friends this year, I have a couple of ideas.

Because Thanksgiving Leftovers are the Best Part

You know how everyone always takes home leftovers and how much we all enjoy our Thanksgiving feasting again the next day. Well, this year, if your family is all in the same city or close by, but there are too many of you to gather, why not pack things up and make it a to-go dinner from the get go. It’s what our extended family here in Charlotte is doing. While it’s more of a virtual “gathering”, it can still be a delicious and meaningful way to celebrate.

While, I normally make the turkey stuffing and gravy, generally our extended family in Charlotte all bring something to the table. This year, I am asking everyone to cook ahead and drop their dishes off at our place the day before Thanksgiving.

Then, Tom and I are packing up Thanksgiving-to-go  in hearty portions, for everyone, in cute, fun packaging that will at least take the sting out of us not being able to all be together. My plan is to include the candles and flowers and we’re dressing it all in burlap and white doilies just like I would have set our table. Guests are including notes and Thanksgiving cards for each other that we will tuck in each basket.

Not the Thanksgiving we would have all wished for; but its more important, we think, for all of us to stay safe and healthy and socially distanced, than to force the issue of eating this one meal in the same space.

The Bird is the Word

If you though the photo of Barbie at the top of this post was a flashback in time, take a listen to this! Just a fun little fun musical accompaniment to go with this clever title – click here . No need to stay and listen long, after about a minute in you won’t be able to get it out of your head. You’re welcome 🙂

I’ve cooked turkeys all different sorts of ways over the years, but I keep going back to this easy mix to season. I’ve been fortunate over the years to always have a local turkey from my dear friends at New Town Farms in Waxhaw, NC. The flavor of the pasture raised bird itself is so spot on, there really isn’t much need to do anything else.

This year, I happened across this easy end to insure all over browning… just loosen the skin from the breast and thighs and carefully rub 1 cup of Duke’s Mayo between the meat and the skin before you spice and season – after all if it works for grilled cheese, why wouldn’t it work on poultry?

Grind your own to Spice Up Thanksgiving

I use equal parts Lampong, Tellicherry and Reunion Pink peppercorns all ground together in a coarse grind. I use a coffee grinder for the best results. More often than not, I also add in an equal part of coriander seed for a slightly lemon-pepper sort of taste. Use that lemon pepper and some za’atar seasoning or ground sumac as a dry rub on your naked bird along  with the sea salt, some minced sage and thyme. The result will note only be a burst of citrus spice infused into the meat of the turkey, but the turkey skin will take on a note of citrus as well, as it crisps in the final minutes of roasting.

Or, you can make your own home ground version of the classic Bell’s Seasoning done with a mixed of fresh dried herbs ( parsley, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano) again, from the Savory Spice Shop. In the end I tossed in some of dried ginger and a bit of toasted coriander seeds as well! Delicious on the turkey and you can’t beat that aroma in your kitchen just after grinding!

Perfect Holiday Roast Thanksgiving Turkey

But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. If you don’t have a fresh turkey, you’ll need to defrost before you do anything.

Safest way to defrost a turkey? 

The experts recommend refrigerator thawing.

Thaw the bird still in its original wrapper, breast side up on a tray in the refrigerator. Allow at least one day of thawing for every four pounds of turkey. Thawing turkeys or any other poultry, out on your kitchen counter isn’t a great idea. The change in temperatures  may result in unwanted bacterial growth and is not the recommended way to go.

OMG – I forgot to defrost, now what???

If you are short on time and need a quicker defrosting method, submerge the frozen bird in a big bucket or large cooler of cold water. If you can spare the space, your kitchen sink will also work well. Or, in a pinch, since you won’t be having any out-of-town guests, perhaps the guest room bath tub… seriously.

Thaw the bird breast side down in its unopened wrapper in enough cold water to cover. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep the surface of the bird cold. Estimate minimum thawing time to be 30 minutes per pound.

Stuff or Not, the choice is yours

Once the turkey is defrosted, remove the giblets and neck from inside the neck and body cavities of the bird. Rinse the turkey well with cold water and pat dry inside and out.

You’ll find my favorite stuffing recipe below. If you are not baking your stuffing inside of your bird, you can add one to two quartered oranges, apples or onions to the inside of the bird along with several sprigs of fresh thyme and/or sage or rosemary leaves to add more flavor.

Season the bird inside and out with salt and pepper and the spice blend we talked about earlier.

Once the bird is stuffed, cross the legs of the bird and tie them with a bit of Butcher’s Twine, cotton string or, in a pinch, unflavored dental floss. I know, its a hack, but in a pinch it does work!

Fold the wings back behind the next of the bird. This tying and tucking keeps the bird from looking as if its all spread out and trying to fly away once the roasting has begun.

Pans and Racks

Even if only for the once-a-year roasting-of-the -turkey, I think its  worth investing in a heavy duty, large roasting pan. Once you have it as a part of your culinary collection, you’ll use it more than you think – for large batches of lasagna or chicken Parmesan, for a hefty helping of scalloped potatoes or for holding a dozen or so small ramekins of chocolate or cheese souffle.

As much as I love a great roasting  pan, I could honestly do without the roasting rack, and I suggest you do, too. Instead, I like  slicing 4-5 whole local or organically grown onions into thick slices and line the bottom of  the pan with them.  Drizzle the onions with Olive Crate Kores Estate Olive Oil  to add flavor and make the surface “non stick” and honestly that is all you need.

Place your seasoned (and possibly stuffed) tucked and tied bird, breast side up on the “rack” of thick sliced onions. Cover the pan with heavy duty aluminum foil and roast in a preheated 325 degree oven. Here’s a handy dandy chart to help figure out roasting times.

What’s the turkey without Thanksgiving sides and stuffings?

I’ll start the recipes for holiday sides with the stuffing, which can be baked in or out of the turkey. If you are baking the stuffing inside of your turkey, know that the roasting time will be slightly longer.

Baking the stuffing, or dressing, inside the turkey yields a soft moist stuffing, while baking it in a pan apart from the turkey gives you a drier stuffing with a crisper crust.

No matter which type of stuffing you decide to make for this year’s holiday, remember not to stuff hot, just cooked dressing into a cold turkey.

Remember to let the stuffing cool before you stuff a cold bird. The temperature difference between the hot stuffing and the cold bird makes a breeding ground for bacteria. I know, but the truth must be told.

I’ve found it to  always be a good rule of thumb not to give your family and friends salmonella poisoning for the holidays.

Pro Tip from Heidi Billotto,

Also, don’t keep cooked stuffing in the cavity of a cooked turkey. As soon as the meal is over, remove the stuffing from the turkey and refrigerate it in a separate container from the carcass and the rest of the uncarved bird.

HEIDI’S SAUSAGE AND PEAR  STUFFING For Turkey, pork chops and more

This is really my Aunt Lore’s recipe which originally came to her from Julia Child. Over the years I’ve adapted it to suit what’s available locally. I encourage you to tweak it as well to make it your own.

Here is what you need:

4 1/2 Tbsp. butter

5 ribs of  organic celery, chopped

3  local onions, chopped

1 1/2 pounds of local hot or mild Italian pork or chicken sausage,  packed in bulk or squeezed out of the casings

10 cups crumbled french bread (or try substituting fresh baked corn bread or corn muffins)

10 oz. dried apricots or dried prunes, diced. Or use a cup or so of local peach jam.

5 Bosc or local pears (or local Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, or McIntosh apples), peeled, cored and chopped

2 Tbsp. minced fresh sage leaves (or an equivalent amount of your own spice blend or Bell’s Turkey Seasoning)

salt and pepper to taste

4  local or organic eggs

1 1/2 cups organic or homemade vegetable. chicken or turkey broth

And here is what to do:

Saute the chopped celery and onions in the melted butter. When the vegetables are limp, add the sausage and continue to cook until the sausage has browned. Blend the cooked sausage mixture in a large bowl with the other stuffing ingredients. Blend well. Bake in the turkey or in two 13- by 9-inch buttered baking pans. Cover the pans with foil and bake in a preheated 425-degree oven for 20 minutes, uncover and bake 10 minutes more to brown.

Thanksgiving Turkey TimeTable

Please note that times are for an unstuffed turkey, for stuffed turkeys of the same weight, add to the total cooking time by 15 to 30 minutes.

8-12 lbs –  2 3/4 to 3 hours of roasting time

12-14 lbs –  3 to 3 1/2 hours of roasting time

18-20 lbs –  4 to 4 1/4 hours of roasting time

20 and up –  4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours of roasting time

During the last 15-20 minutes or so of roasting time, uncover the turkey and allow it to brown nicely on the top. To insure that the meat is done, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh away from the bone. The thermometer should register 160 degrees. As you let it stand, the bird will continue to “cook” and will come up to around 165 before you start to slice.

How to carve a Thanksgiving turkey like a real pilgrim:

Allow the hot roasted, fried or smoked bird to rest 15-20 minutes before carving. Then, begin by cutting the band of skin holding the drumsticks. Grasp the end of each drumstick, one a time, Place the knife between the leg quarter (drumstick and thigh) and the body of the bird and cut through the skin to the joint. Remove the entire leg by pulling out and back, using the point of the knife to cut through the joint cartilage. Separate the drumstick and thigh joint in the same way, remembering that a carving knife cannot cut through bones but will easily cut through the cartilage which connects the bones. Slice the dark meat off of the thigh and drumstick bones.

To slice the breast meat, insert a fork in the upper wind to steady the turkey. Make long horizontal cut above the wing joint through to the body frame. The wing may be removed from the body if it makes it easier for you to slice.

Slice straight down with an even stroke, beginning halfway up the breast, When the knife reaches the cut above the wing joint, the slice will fall free.

Continue to slice breast meat starting the cut at a higher point each time. To help make carving easier, use a straight and sharpened knife.

Brenda’s Oatmeal Molasses Rolls

This recipe came to me from my cousin, Brenda Topol. Its one of my favorite roll recipes and for me its just not Thanksgiving without them. I love that the recipe calls for molasses. The original recipe called for Blackstrap molasses which makes for a delicious roll – truly the stuff that dreams are made of; but now I love them even better I think with local Sorghum Syrup Molasses.

Pro Tip – Hang on to this recipe, you’ll want to use it all year round.

2 cups rolled oats . I use the organic steel cut variety

4 cups boiling water

2 Tbsp. yeast

1 cup warm water

1 cup local sorghum syrup molasses

6 Tbsp. butter

1 tsp. salt

11-12 cups organic all Purpose flour

Combine oats and boiling water in a large bowl. Let stand 20 minutes. Proof yeast in warm water. Add to oat mixture.

Add sorghum molasses, salt, butter and flour. Knead until smooth. Let rise until doubled,1 to 1 1/2 hours. Pat dough down, roll out 1 1/2-2 inches thick. Cut into rounds. Place side by side in a 9×13-inch baking pan. Let rise 30 minutes. Bake 20 minutes in a preheated 400-degree oven. For loaves of bread, bake 50 minutes at 350 degrees.

Thanksgiving Turkey giblet (or not) Gravy

4 cups chicken or turkey broth

1 carrot, diced

1 onion, quartered

The turkey neck bone if you have it

3 Tbsp. butter

3 Tbsp. flour

pan drippings from roasted turkey

optional – turkey heart and giblets (also found inside the cavity of the raw bird), sautéed till brown in butter or extra virgin olive oil with salt, pepper and garlic salt, then chopped

Combine the chicken or turkey broth in a saucepan with the carrot, onion and turkey neck bone. Bring the mix to  a boil and then simmer for an hour or so. Strain the vegetables from the broth. Discard the vegetables. Remove the turkey neck from the broth and pick the meat off the neck bone.

Add the meat to the broth. In another saucepan, heat the butter until melted, add the flour and stir a minute or two to cook the flour into the melted butter and form a roux.  You can most easily blend the roux using a flat pan whisk.  As soon as the flour has dissolved in the butter and has started to brown, pour the cooked chicken or turkey broth into the pan with the roux and stir until slightly thickened.

Add pan drippings and cooked giblets and neck meat, if desired. Adjust the seasonings to suit your taste.

Seasonal Local Veggies to serve with your Thanksgiving Turkey

Potatoes are a standard on nearly every Thanksgiving table. Bake them, boil them, mash or whip them to your desired doneness.

Other root vegetables such as carrots, radishes and turnips may be butter poached. Simple wash and trim the veggies, then place them in a shallow saute pan. Add equal parts of water and butter – say a half cup of each. Cover the pan and let the water come to a boil as the butter melts. Remove the lid and let the liquid in the pan continue to simmer until it has all but evaporated. The liquid left in the pan is the cooked down butter. Roll the veggies over and around to coat and then season them to taste with just a little salt and pepper.

And in the end, there was Dessert, of course…

This Chocolate Pecan Tart is another of my favorites best made in a false bottomed French tart pan, but you can use a ceramic or glass pie pan, too. For a fun finish to the crust, use any of the tips and tricks in my recent Eye on the Pie post and enjoy!

If you are planning a Thanksgiving-to-go, make this in disposable baker’s paper or metal individual tart or pie pans so that everyone gets a pie of their very own!

Heidi Billotto’s Chocolate Pecan Tart

3 cups organic sugar 

pinch salt

7 Tbsps. unsweetened cocoa

4 large local farm eggs  

1 Tbsp. vanilla (or 1-2 Tbsp. of Oak City Amaretto)

12 ounces whole organic or local milk

1 stick butter, melted 

2-3 cups local North or South Carolina pecan halves (be generous)

Dough for two pies fitted into two 10-inch French tart pans with removable bottoms

Carefully fit the dough into each of the French tart pans, trimming edges to fit. Place each on a baking sheet. Mix sugar, salt, and cocoa together. Whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and milk; stir into the dry ingredients. Add melted butter and stir until well blended. Fill each pie shell two – thirds full with pecan halves. 

In making Heidi’s Chocolate Pecan Pie Tart, generously fill the pie shell with pecan halves.

Pour filling over the pecans. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. If you are taking your tart to-go, transport them  in the pans and then removed on site for easy serving.
Makes 2 pies.

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