Giving Thanks Thanksgiving feast can be made ahead of time

November 14, 1990|By Andrew Schloss | Andrew Schloss,Special to The Evening Sun

COOKING YOUR FIRST Thanksgiving feast need not be a trial by fire, provided that you turn down the heat by choosing a menu which allows you to do most of the work ahead. Seasoned cooks learn this lesson the hard way, through hours missed with guests, whipping egg whites and delumping the gravy. Eventually they come up with dishes which work for them -- a casserole which freezes well, a roast which cooks itself in the privacy of the oven, and a dessert guaranteed to stay moist through a nuclear meltdown.

We have developed just such an arsenal for you. It is an impressive holiday menu for eight, which sounds elaborate, but requires neither expert technique nor unusual equipment. Any of these dishes, except for the turkey, can be prepared several weeks ahead and frozen. If freezer space is tight, the majority will last for up to a week under refrigeration. All that's left is to warm them up and enjoy the evening like a seasoned pro.

For the turkey we've chosen a traditional, but little used roasting technique which is simplicity itself. It is called slow roasting and though it takes time, it requires no attention. Once you have tried it, you will never roast turkey any other way.

To slow roast, the bird is placed unadorned on a rack in a roasting pan. It is then cooked at 450 degrees for one hour. This initial period of high temperature is important to kill any bacteria present on the roast's surface. Then the oven is turned down to 170 degrees, which corresponds to the internal temperature of the turkey when it is done. Theoretically, at this temperature no matter how long the bird roasts it can not overcook.

At higher temperatures the exterior of a roast has to exceed the optimum internal temperature in order for the center to get done, but in slow roasting the whole bird slowly warms to the proper degree of doneness, and no part ever overcooks.

The results will be perfect provided that your oven is calibrated correctly. Since this roast cooks for so long, even ten degrees discrepancy between the reading on the thermostat and the temperature in the oven can cause problems. It is best to use an oven thermometer to insure accuracy.

The one drawback to slow roasting is that you can not stuff this turkey until after it is cooked. Because ovens cook foods through a circulation of hot air, filling up the interior cavity of the turkey with stuffing can cut down air flow enough to stop heat from getting to the interior walls of the turkey for hours, during which time bacteria could grow unabated.

Slow Roasted Turkey

1 12- to 15-pound turkey, washed and dried inside and out

Salt and pepper to taste

Season the turkey inside and out with salt and pepper and place on a rack in a roasting pan. Roast in a preheated 450 degree oven for one hour. Turn the oven down to 170 and roast for at least 15 hours more. Since a longer roasting period will not cause overcooking, you might find it convenient to start this turkey the night before and let it roast until serving time.

Remove from the oven and rest for ten to 20 minutes before carving.

The following stuffing can be prepared and served separately from the turkey, or it can be spooned in and around the turkey for presentation, but do not slow roast a turkey with stuffing inside it.

Brown Rice Fruit Stuffing

12 ounces mixed dried fruit, chopped

1 1/2 cups boiling water

1 1/2 cups diced onion

1 tablespoon minced ginger root

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

2 minced cloves garlic

3 tablespoons butter

2 cups uncooked brown rice

4 1/4 cups chicken stock, boiling

Salt and pepper to taste

Soak the dried fruit in the boiling water until it has absorbed the water and is fully rehydrated. Set aside.

In a large sauce pan soften the onion, ginger, coriander, thyme and garlic in the butter. Add the brown rice and toss well. Add three cups boiling chicken stock, stir once, cover and simmer gently for 40 minutes until all of the stock has been absorbed. Season with salt and pepper and mix in the dried fruit.

This stuffing can be held for a week in the refrigerator or for several weeks in the freezer. Defrost completely before reheating and rewarm in a covered pan in a moderate oven for 45 minutes, over low heat in a heavy saucepan on a stove top or in a microwave before serving.

Butternut Squash Soup

2 leeks (white part only), finely chopped

1 parsnip, chopped

1/2 pound carrots

2 teaspoons grated ginger root

2 tablespoons butter

2 pounds peeled, seeded and stemmed butternut squash

1 teaspoon dried thyme

A pinch of mace

1 1/2 quarts chicken broth

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup light cream

1 recipe red pepper puree (recipe follows)

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