Shall we talk “turkey”

This past week has been one of those that I seemed to meet myself coming and going! Since it was the first week of the month, it was a week of meetings, beginning on Sunday evening with our Sons of Hermann meeting, followed by Pokeno and our Catholic Daughters of the Americas on Monday afternoon and evening, and that was followed by our Pink Ladies meeting on Tuesday morning, then on to the museum to decorate our “Angel Tree” that is on display. We had our Altar Society meeting on Wednesday afternoon, and earlier in the day I helped sell raffle tickets for the quilt that is the main prize in our Fall Fundraiser. And, since I was one of the hostesses on Wednesday, I also made a couple of cakes for our dessert! It has not been bad at all since Thursday other than a trip to Victoria with my sister and helping out at bingo that evening, and on Friday, a session in the gift shop. Saturday one of my nieces got married and it was a beautiful wedding with an awesome reception at a very nice restaurant, with great people and wonderful food. Sunday afternoon, my daughter, her husband and my youngest (at this time), great-granddaughter came down and brought me a used refrigerator to replace the spare one I had that decided to quit working. We had a great time visiting and I had not seen the baby in about six weeks and could not get over how well she is talking and how generous she is with her hugs. It was a truly wonderful weekend.
Monday was Veteran’s Day and hopefully everyone had a great time with friends and family. So far, this Veteran’s Day weekend has been beautiful, it’s a little cloudy, but we’ve had no rain and the weather was just chilly enough early in the day for a light jacket when I went to Mass. There are lots of different celebrations in my area honoring Veterans, and, since I’m writing this on Sunday evening, I’m not sure where I will go. In case you haven’t looked at a calendar, the 28th is Thanksgiving Day, and this week is the time to start thinking about what you are going to cook and how much you are going to cook!
The pilgrims first observed Thanksgiving Day in the fall of 1621, when Gov. William Bradford of Plymouth Colony appointed a time for feasting and thanksgiving, which lasted three days. These early settlers feasted on venison, wild turkey and various vegetables the natives had taught them to grow.
The turkey is the largest of the game birds native to North America and it was domesticated and bred by the Aztec and Zuni Indians, and they were used not only for food, but also for sacrifice. These Indians used the feathers for adornment and for charms.
The Spanish conquerors first saw the turkey around 1492, and by 1530, the Mexican species was introduced to Europe. Any and all of the varieties bred today are descendants of the original North American wild turkey, Meleagris gallopava. There are several subspecies of wild turkey that have been recognized, and their range is from Mexico to northern New England.
When the colonists arrived in New England, they discovered an abundant supply of food in the form of the wild turkey. Since the first American Thanksgiving, the turkey has become the traditional symbol of this holiday.
Now, let’s talk about how to prepare our turkey for the upcoming holiday! If you are having the dinner at your home and are in charge of the turkey, the first and most important thing to do is to decide how many people you have to feed and the second is how much turkey you want left over. This is important in determining how large a bird you are going to need. One pound of meat should be ample for one person unless you want leftovers, then you will have to allow 1½ pounds per person. Next you need to know that a 12 to 15 pound turkey will take no less than three (3) whole days to thaw completely. You should estimate one full day (24 hours) for each five pounds of turkey. If your refrigerator is really cold, you will need more time. ALL defrosting should be done in the refrigerator and NEVER at room temperature. Once the turkey is thawed, be sure to remove the neck and giblets from the body cavity.
It was formerly believed that a Tom turkey was not as tender as a hen, but now, it really doesn’t matter, as they are all raised the same way. A Tom will usually be a heavier weight than a hen. (And, don’t forget, Butterball brand of turkey has a hotline that you can call, their 1-800 number is usually printed in their ads and in many articles at this time of year).
One of the better inventions of the past few years has been the built-in time. This surely does help novice and older cooks as well. The years have also brought another great invention, the pre-basted turkey. This type of turkey has oil or butter injected into it, so that no basting is required while it is baking. If you do not care for the idea of the extra fat this brings to a turkey, you can compensate by saturating a clean piece of cloth (muslin, a large square of old sheeting, ½ of a t-shirt) with melted margarine, and after placing your turkey in a pan, cover it with the cloth. You will still have to baste with pan juices occasionally, but not as frequently as would be necessary otherwise. Another method of cooking a turkey, and the one which I use most often, is the box of Reynolds® cooking bags and follow the directions on the box. They come in different sizes, so buy the one that your turkey will fit into. This is a simple, clean and easy way to bake your turkey.
Thoroughly rinse the inside and outside of the turkey. Drain well and pat the outside dry. Season the inside with salt and pepper (or anything else you would like to use) and stuff with dressing if this is what you are going to do. If you elect not to stuff the bird, several slices of onion and a rib of celery, or an apple cut into quarters will help season your turkey. If you opt to stuff the bird, pack the cavity lightly with the dressing, as it will expand while it bakes.
Bake at 325ºF until a meat thermometer registers 170-175ºF. The inside juices should be clear when you pierce the skin and the joints should move freely. The average cooking time for a 10 to 15 pound un-stuffed turkey is 3 to 3½ hours.
Do not roast a too low temperature, and do not partially cook, intending to finish cooking later, as this will allow bacteria to grow. When baking a turkey with the timer/thermometer, follow the instructions on the wrapper from the turkey, and if you would feel safer, still test the turkey with a meat thermometer to be sure it is done.
Now, here is my favorite recipe for cornbread to use in dressing. Next week, I will give you recipes for both cornbread dressing and bread dressing as well as some side dishes.
1½ cups cornmeal
½ cup flour
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk
¼ cup oil or melted shortening
Mix dry ingredients together in bowl. Mix together egg, milk and shortening, add to dry ingredients and mix well. Pour into lightly greased 8×8 or 9×9-inch pan and bake until golden brown. Cool before using.
You can make this several days ahead of time, and when it is cook break it up and store it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Here are two versions of Broccoli Rice Casserole, which is always a favorite at any Thanksgiving table. The first one, as you will notice uses frozen chopped broccoli, and the second one uses fresh broccoli. My family likes either one equally, but I know lots of people don’t care for the texture of the frozen type.
Easy Broccoli Rice Casserole
1¾ cups uncooked rice
¾ cup chopped onion
¾ cup chopped bell pepper
½ cup chopped celery
4 tbs. butter or margarine
2 pkgs. (10-oz. ea.) frozen chopped broccoli
1 jar Cheese Whiz (8-oz)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can mushroom stems and pieces (optional)
Preheat oven to 350º. Place rice in a saucepan and cover with water, bring to a boil and parboil about 5 minutes, drain well and set aside. Sauté the onion, bell pepper and celery in a skillet with the margarine or butter until the onion is transparent, stir in the broccoli. Stir the Cheese Whiz and mushroom soup together and add to the broccoli mixture. Pour into 9×13-in. pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes.
Broccoli Rice Casserole
2 or 3 bunches fresh broccoli
1 tsp. salt
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped green pepper
¼ cup butter or margarine
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cheddar cheese soup
2 cups cooked rice
Preheat oven to 350º. Wash broccoli and cut into flowerets, cutting stems into small pieces, place in pot with small amount of water and salt. Parboil 5 to 7 minutes, drain well and rinse with cold water. Drain again and set aside. Sauté onion, celery and pepper until onion is transparent; stir soups together and mix into vegetables, stir in broccoli and rice. Place in 9×12-inch baking dish and bake at 350º for 35 to 40 minutes, top with a small amount of shredded cheese if desired.