Sunday, February 6, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday...lots of family time, my favorite meals and food comas that seem to last for days with no mention of diets or exercise.  All my life my grandmother, Nannie, has cooked the turkey and made the gravy for Thanksgiving dinner...two of the most important staples on the table!  Last year she said that she was ready to pass the torch to someone else to do the turkey and gravy and I immediately jumped at the opportunity!!!  I love to cook turkeys and most importantly I love the challenge of mastering a family favorite.  After weeks of research on how to cook the best, most juicy turkey, and still get plenty of drippings for the gravy I combined portions of my grandmother's recipe with some others I had found.

For years the Wednesday before Thanksgiving has been filled with cooking at my parents house with my mom and dad.  I call it a tradition but in all reality we spend most Sundays doing the same thing in preparation for Sunday Dinner.  Regardless, it is something I look forward to every year.  Here is the check list of what we were making this year:

Sausage Pinwheels
Pumpkin Pies
Pumpkin Cheesecake
Cornbread Dressing

We started with an old family recipes for Cornbread Dressing

First we boiled onions and celery in chicken broth

Then we combine the vegetables in a bread mixture of white bread and cornbread along with sage and more chicken broth

After getting the dressing to the correct consistency (still pretty liquidy) it was time to put them in buttered casserole dishes

Now we are ready to start on the TURKEY!!!
The turkey needs to brine in 2 cups of kosher salt and cold water for several hours....doing this with a 21 lb. bird is a little challenging!

After the turkey sat in the brine long enough we took the bird out of the water and rinsed it thoroughly, inside and out, and patted it dry.

The turkey was then ready to be stuffed and dressed with vegetable, herbs, butter and wine...can you think of any better combination???  In the turkey, we stuffed celery (including the leafy parts because that is where all the flavor is), onions, carrots, 1 sprig of thyme and a bay leaf in both cavities.  Next the turkey was coated with melted unsalted butter (otherwise the gravy made from the drippings will be too salty) and placed breast side down on the rack.  In the bottom of the pan we placed more vegetables and herbs and covered them in a dry white wine.  About 2/3 through cooking, the bird was flipped breast side up on the rack.  After the turkey has been flipped and the internal temperature in the breast gets to 160 degrees the bird is ready to come out of the oven!!
Like any meat, the turkey needs to rest for around 30 minutes after it comes out of the oven before carving.
Since the carving of the bird is my least favorite part of the whole process, Mom said she would do that part....I think she really just likes the challenge of getting every single morsel of meat from the turkey!

After the turkey is taken out of the roasting pan it is time to tend to the drippings....the cornerstone of good gravy!  First, I strain the drippings getting out all the vegetables and making sure that the liquid is all that is left.  Then I pour the drippings in glass jars (my grandmother used to use old mayonnaise jars) and place them in the freezer for an hour.  This causes all the fat to rise to the top and freeze just enough to the point that the fat can be scraped out.  Gravy shouldn't be greasy so this is a vital step!  After the fat is scraped out and the remaining drippings are measured, chicken broth should be added to bring the total liquid amount to 9 cups.  This is then placed in a pot and brought to a boil over medium high heat.  In order to thicken the gravy, I add 2 tablespoon of flour per cup of liquid and then one more tablespoon for good measure.  For 9 cups of liquid, this means I add 19 tablespoons of flour.  The flour is then added slowly being whisked in gradually. 

While the gravy mixture is being whisked, I saute 3 packages of sliced fresh mushrooms in butter and water.  Once the  mushrooms are ready and the gravy is to the desired temperature, I add the mushrooms to the gravy.  It is just about ready except for the color.  One and a half teaspoons of kitchen bouquet are added to gravy to bring it to the desired color. 

At this point my portion of Thanksgiving Dinner is on to the appetizers and desserts!

Sausage pinwheels are simple.  Just roll out crescent rolls and spread hot Jimmy Dean sausage on top.  Roll it up like a jelly roll, wrap it in plastic wrap and place in the freezer.  If the log is frozen it tends to be easier to slice when you are ready to cook the pinwheels.  Once they are sliced, bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until the sausage is done and the crescent rolls are brown.

After the pinwheels are ready I move on to the desserts.
Pumpkin Cheesecake was an addition to the normal pumpkin pie we have every year....It was incredible!

Most of what I love about this whole process is spending time with my doesn't hurt when the food turns out edible and delicious!  My first Thanksgiving cooking the turkey was a success and by the time I cooked the turkey for Christmas dinner I was pretty confident that the bird was going to be pretty good!

Here is the family recipe for the Cornbread Dressing:
Love the recipes that have stains and spots all over them!
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