Tips for a flavorful turkey day

November 26, 2008|By Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley | Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley,Sun-Sentinel

Whether you are a novice or accomplished cook, here are some helpful last-minute ideas for preparing your dinner on Thanksgiving Day, as well as tips for using leftovers.

* Dry out: If your fresh bread cubes aren't yet dry enough to make your stuffing, spread them in a baking pan with sides and dry in a 300-degree oven 10 to 15 minutes, stirring twice. Let cool. They'll crisp as they come to room temperature.

* Add flavor: Instead of filling the turkey cavities with stuffing, add flavor to the bird by filling them with apples, onions studded with whole cloves, cloves of garlic, oranges, lemons and/or fresh herbs.

* Keep them hot: When making mashed potatoes, be sure to add warm milk, cream or broth when whipping them. Otherwise you'll chill the potatoes. Making a flavored mash is easy. Just saute the flavoring ingredient you desire - garlic, onions, bacon - and add as you whip.

* Take temperature: If your turkey is equipped with a pop-up timer, ignore it. The turkey is likely to be overcooked by the time the pop-up, well, pops up, according to the editors at Cook's Illustrated. Instead, use an instant-read thermometer to be sure the breast or thigh registers 165 degrees.

* Pack leftovers: The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service suggests you discard any turkey, stuffing and gravy left at room temperature longer than two hours; one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees (you know, if you are serving by the pool). Be sure to put those goodies away right after the meal. Divide leftovers into smaller portions. Refrigerate or freeze in covered shallow containers for quicker cooling. Use refrigerated turkey and stuffing within three to four days. Use gravy within one to two days. If freezing leftovers, use within two to six months for best results.

* Dressed up: A simple steamed veggie can be dressed up at the last minute with a sprinkling of citrus zest, a few chopped fresh herbs, some toasted chopped nuts or a dash of dried spices.

* Good gravy: To make gravy, you can use the turkey roasting pan juices once you remove excess fat. Pour the juice into a glass bowl or measuring cup. Let it settle so the fat rises to the top. Tip the bowl or cup gently and then skim off the clear yellow liquid or fat accumulated at the top. You now can use the defatted broth to make gravy.

* Be safe: It's safest to cook the dressing in a baking dish instead of using it to stuff the turkey. Bake it, covered, alongside the turkey at 325 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, until heated through. If you like it crisp and crusty on top, uncover it for the last 15 to 20 minutes of baking.

* Cut above: For easy carving once your turkey is roasted, put it on the counter and tent it with foil. Let sit 20 minutes to allow juices to settle. The turkey will carve more easily, and the meat will be juicier.

* Not ready: If your frozen turkey isn't yet thawed, place it still in its original wrapping in a sink or large bowl of cold water. Allow about 30 minutes thawing time for every pound of poultry, changing the cold water every 30 minutes. For safety, roast the bird as soon as it is completely thawed.

* Don't forget: Remove the paper packet of giblets from the turkey-neck cavity before roasting the bird. You can use the neck to make stock for gravy. Just add it to a pot with celery, onions and carrots as well as water to cover. Simmer until it's time to make the gravy.

* Flavorful turkey: For a last-minute preparation, use this idea adapted from cookbook author Mark Bittman. Brush the turkey with butter or olive oil. Then lift up the breast skin and rub the butter or oil directly on the meat. Also rub the meat with a spice mixture of 1 tablespoon allspice, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper, 2 teaspoons dried thyme, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon salt, 2 teaspoons minced garlic and 2 teaspoons ground ginger. Then roast that bird.

For questions: If you have questions about cooking or storing your turkey on Thanksgiving Day, call the USDA's meat and poultry hot line, open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., at 888-674-6854.

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