Ask most people what they look forward to in November and they probably won't say elections. They'll tell you it's that eagerly anticipated Thanksgiving dinner. Or Black Friday.
For those of us who would rather eat than shop, let's talk turkey.
Take a few extra moments when planning your holiday meal this year. You won't regret that short pause to reflect, even if you've prepared turkey a million times before, because change is the one constant in life. Sometimes the size of the group we're feeding changes. Someone we love may have new doctor-ordered dietary changes we need to respect. Once in a while new research shows us that there are healthier or safer ways to prepare foods. And some of us may simply want to try something new. You need to make time for a little internal check as you plan your meal this year to be sure you'll have enough, but not too much, turkey and that you're cooking it correctly to keep your friends and family safe.
Set the table and pre-heat the oven — Thanksgiving is right around the corner.
When selecting your turkey you first have to decide how big your bird should be. Base that on the number of people you plan to serve, how much room you have to store the unprepared turkey and leftovers, as well as how much turkey you want to have left after the holiday meal is over. You may want to overestimate the space you'll need because, after all, those leftovers can be as enjoyable as the original meal.
If you're not planning on having any leftovers and are making a whole bird, plan on one pound per person. However, if you've selected a pre-stuffed frozen turkey, make that one and a quarter pound per person. If everyone at your celebration prefers white meat you may decide a boneless or bone-in breast of turkey is the way to go. In that case, plan on three-fourths of a pound per person for the bone-in and half a pound for the boneless breast.
Then you have to decide if you'll buy it frozen or fresh, but whatever you decide, just don't buy a pre-stuffed fresh turkey. That's just asking for tummy trouble.
If you plan to purchase a fresh turkey buy it only one or, at most, two days before you'll be cooking it. You can buy a frozen turkey well in advance, if you have space to store it. While that choice will probably make your life easier during the holiday countdown, you also need a plan to make sure it's thawed in time. There's nothing worse than waking up on Thanksgiving morning to an enormous rock hard turkey, unless it's forgetting to take the neck and the giblets out before roasting it.
You can easily thaw your frozen turkey in the refrigerator. Leave it in its original wrapper and expect the process to take approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. Once thawed, your turkey can remain in the refrigerator for one to two days, just like a fresh bird.
There's no need to panic if you forget to thaw your frozen turkey until the day before Thanksgiving or if, like many of us, you just don't have room in your fridge to store a frozen turkey for very long. You can defrost your turkey faster by submerging it in cold water, but you have to remember to change the water every thirty minutes. You also have to plan on it taking about 30 minutes per pound of turkey. That means a 12-pound bird will take six hours while a 24 pound turkey will likely take a half a day. That's a lot of time spent changing water.
You can also safely thaw a frozen turkey in your microwave, if the turkey isn't too large. Check your microwave manufacturer's instructions to learn what size turkey will fit into your oven, how many minutes it will take per pound, and what power level you'll need to use to thaw it.
Whatever way you decide to thaw, just be sure you cook the bird immediately after it's fully defrosted.
There are so many options out there for preparing and serving turkey that some people just can't settle on one. If the crowd they're feeding is large enough and they have the cooking equipment necessary, some decide to make more than one turkey, or they'll make an additional turkey breast.
The day before you'll be serving dinner, get together the equipment you'll need, including a roasting pan large enough to hold your bird and a food thermometer.
You can prepare your wet or dry stuffing ingredients ahead of time, if you refrigerate them separately, or you can make stuffing the day it will be served. Your stuffing will be just as tasty and your turkey will cook more quickly if you bake it alongside your bird in a casserole dish. However, if you must stuff your turkey, wait to mix those stuffing ingredients together until you're ready to put them in your turkey's cavity. Then put the stuffing in loosely so it stays moist, not dry. Why? Not only is it tastier, it's safer. Heat destroys bacteria more quickly in a moist environment. Then roast that turkey at 325 degrees F as soon as you finish stuffing it.
You need to use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of any turkey before declaring it done. A whole turkey has to reach a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F throughout. Check the innermost part of the thigh and the wing and the thickest part of the breast. Turkey, including any meat that remains pink, is safe to eat as soon as all parts of the bird reach 165 degrees F. Stuffing, cooked inside the turkey or in a separate dish, also needs to reach 165 degrees F.
Let your turkey rest for 20 minutes after you remove it from your oven. Then remove the stuffing, carve the turkey and enjoy it, but don't fall into a food coma too quickly. You need to refrigerate your leftovers within two hours after you take your turkey out of the oven. Cut what's left of your turkey into small pieces. Refrigerate leftover stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers to speed cooling.
It shouldn't be hard to use up all those delicious leftovers within 3-4 days, but if there's so much you don't think it will all be gone by then, freeze them.
When you do enjoy round two, or three, of you holiday feast, make sure to reheat everything thoroughly, again to a temperature of 165 degrees F, or until your food is hot and steaming.
If you need more help with you holiday food preparations, you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline toll free at 1-888-MPHotline or 1-888-674-6854, TTY: 1-800-256-7072. The hotline is open year-round from Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 pm. EST (English or Spanish). You can also visit the Food Safety and Inspection Service Web site at www.fsis.usda.gov.
Looking for a yummy way to use up some of those turkey leftovers? Try:
Turkey Noodle Casserole
3 cups uncooked noodles
1 10-ounce bag frozen broccoli spears
2 tablespoons margarine
2 tablespoons all-purpose white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups skim milk
4 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese- fat free
1 pound turkey or chicken, cooked and cubed
1. Cook noodles and broccoli (separately) as directed on packages, drain.
2. Melt margarine, stir in flour, salt and pepper.
3. Add milk slowly. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until thickened.
4. Remove from heat, add cheese and stir until melted.
5. Place noodles, broccoli and turkey in an 8 inch square baking dish. Pour cheese sauce over ingredients in baking dish.
6. Bake, uncovered at 350 for about 25 minutes or until bubbly.
Yields about 6 servings.
Source: Eat Smart New York! Recipe Book
Nutrition Facts: Serving Size 1/6 recipe (10.0 ounces), 380 Calories, 60 Calories from Fat, 6g Total Fat, 17.5% Calories from Fat, 1.5 g Saturated Fat, 0g Trans Fat, 35mg Cholesterol, 1120mg Sodium, 51g Total Carbohydrate, 3g Dietary Fiber, 7g Sugars, 30g Protein, 20% Vitamin A, 40% Calcium, 60% Vitamin C, 15% Iron (Nutrition facts based on standard recipe using unsalted margarine, fat free cheddar cheese, uncooked macaroni pasta, and roasted, skinless, turkey breast meat.)