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Turkey Extravaganza

December 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Thanksgiving has always been my absolute favorite holiday. This holiday kicks off the start of the entire holiday season and when done right, the sets the stage and the standard for the next wonderful couple of months.

This Thanksgiving, my family hosted by preparing the star of the show, the turkey, in addition to some essential sides such as mashed potatoes and cranberry relish.

Last year, I had the notion to prepare a free-range organic turkey brined in brown sugar, spices, and the like. No one was a fan but me. The turkey was lean, tender and believe it or not, it actually tasted like turkey! Alas, everyone demanded the staple Butterball turkey this year. I was very disappointed but we did what our family asked: brought back the Butterball.

This turkey day, it was my husband’s sole responsibility to cook the turkey. After days of thawing the frozen bird, my husband seasoned the outside layer of skin with butter, thyme, rosemary, and sage. He also rubbed this concoction under the skin by the breast just to be extra thorough. Then he baked the 22-pound sucker for four and a half hours, letting it rest for about an hour before serving it up with my killer cranberry relish and somewhat dry buttermilk mashed potatoes (very disappointing). Family added to the feast pot-luck style with hearty harvest bread stuffing with pecans and cranberries, to-die-for sweet and tasty bread pudding, candied yams topped with marshmallow, Cheasapeake Bay spiral glazed ham, homemade Philly style cheesecake, and topped it all off with the piece de resistance, a chunky, creamy gravy made by my sister-in-law with the yummy, fatty drippings from our Butterball turkey. YUMMMMM!

So let’s go back to my side dishes. The killer cranberry relish. This was made with fresh cranberries, sugar, water but I added fresh fruit (apple, pear, orange) and a variety of dried fruits as well. It turned out to be sweet, somewhat tart, but not too tart, and full of rich fruity texture. The natural red color looked fabulous in a white serving bowl intermingled with the rest of the spread.

The disappointing mashed potatoes… Well, my only excuse is that they were mashed up too soon. I prepared this dish probably an hour prior to dinner and left them on the range at low heat. I think the moisture just evaporated from the dish and left it dry and wanting. Lesson learned: make the mash just before serving. I made this same dish last year and it was very moist and full of flavor. I used Yukon gold potatoes, boiling them til they fell apart when separated with a knife. Then I mashed with a masher; following up with a ricer to finely mash it to the consistency I liked. I kept the mash on the range at low-med, adding room temp buttermilk and cooled melted butter. As we had lots of it for leftovers, I have been constantly reminded about the poor quality of my mashed potatoes for days afterwards. Ek!

And yet the festivities did not end on Turkey Day because I continued to cook up a storm by roasting prime rib the following day. I got a particularly juicy cut on sale at Safeway for half the usual price. Quite a bargain for a 9 pound rib roast! When it came time to cook, my husband took over with the preparation by seasoning this with olive oil, sage, rosemary and thyme, all finely mixed in the food processor. I came in at this point to make sure it cooked ok. The rib roast was baked for a little under 2 hours at 500 degrees and then I let it rest in the cooling oven for an hour before the whole family dug in for dinner. Although prepared in such a high-temp, quick roasting style (mostly due to lack of time), the rib roast actually came out pretty good. I think most folks tend to slow cook a rib roast so it’s evenly cooked and tender. This fast and lazy approach is not part of my M.O. however my husband and I received rave reviews that this was the best rib roast we’ve made so far. The ends were well done, for those who preferred it that way. The middle was medium rare and just perfect for those who preferred it like that. It was a win-win situation.

And on the final day of our eating marathon, we had plans to eat with friends who spent half a day (12 hours) preparing a turducken (chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey) dinner. It was quite an ordeal! The turducken was prepared with (the discoverer of turducken) Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Cajun recipe. (Quick Side Note: Chef P founded the K Paul Restaurant in New Orleans which I have personally been to and I have to admit, it was definitely quite delicious and worth the wait. I say worth the wait because I swear every time I passed by that restaurant, there was a line outside the door.) At any rate, the turducken was quite yummy although I think I prefer all three fowl prepared and served separately. In my opinion, the best part of a duck and chicken is the crispy, flavorful skin and you just kind of lose all that with the two birds stuffed inside the turkey the way they are. The skin and meat all melded into one moist, spicy Cajun style dish. But I felt the loss of crispiness and the unique duck-like or chicken-like flavor was a huge one. Not that I’m disappointed in the dish at all. Far from it. It was still pretty good don’t get me wrong but I’m not as big a fan as I thought I’d be… Who’d have figure?! At any rate, the sides were outstanding! The mac and cheese was creamy, cheesy and easy to pile on. The side salad with roasted cashews, sliced pears and fresh spinach was nice and light, a perfect accompaniment for the turducken. The natural and fresh minced cranberry relish topped with sweet mandarin oranges was gorgeous and tasted like it looked. And the rest was just a blur at this point because I was stuffed to the gills after days of eating all of my favorite holiday foods done up in all the creative ways folks can think of.

Can you tell that I just love this holiday?! And I really can’t wait until the next eating frenzy, come Christmas! Bring it on!

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