I don’t remember when my women’s club started the tradition of assembling and donating Thanksgiving baskets to needy families in our town, just that each year as the need has grown we donate more baskets. We partner with our town’s Youth Services director, who identifies the families along with delivering the baskets. We never know who among our neighbors receives our baskets although sometimes with extreme gratitude a recipient reaches out to us to thank us for our generously. No thanks are ever needed or expected as we are the ones that are filled with joy knowing that we have helped families just like ours enjoy a holiday celebration.
Preparation of our Thanksgiving Baskets beginnings in October as our members start donating all the items needed for a Thanksgiving dinner. Along with the traditional fixings for dinner and dessert, we add holiday items including plates, napkins, tablecloths, and candles, all artfully arranged by one of our members who designs gift baskets. Right before the baskets are delivered, we add fresh produce along with a gift card to a local grocery store for the families to purchase turkeys.
I can’t think of a better start to my holiday season than with this tradition reminding me of the true meaning of Thanksgiving not only to give thanks for all that we have but to share with family, friends, and neighbors just like the first Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving morning finds me at a hot yoga class, two hours practicing with gratitude for all that I have been blessed with in my life. Then home to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Each year I alter side dishes but the main star of the dinner is the turkey. I learned at a young age how to handle and prepare poultry from my mother, an outstanding cook – her turkey is far superior to any that I have tasted. My mother taught me to soak turkey overnight in a bath of salt to tender and remove harmful bacteria. First, my mother would freeze a fresh turkey, she believes it seals in the flavor. Then time to soak the frozen turkey overnight. Next through rinsing, draining and patting dry of the bird. I love my mother’s ritual which I continue with my turkey preparation. I’ve bought fresh high price turkey from the farm, and frozen from a lower-end grocery store. I am not a turkey snob. My only hard fast rule is all-natural. How you dress and cook the turkey plays an import part in how good your turkey taste.
Below I’ve shared a family favorite that we enjoy for our Thanksgiving dinner.
This is a great recipe for a first-time cook, simple, perfect, just like my mother served us for Thanksgiving dinner.
A Simply Perfect Roast Turkey
1 (18 pound) whole turkey
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 quarts turkey stock, recipe below or store-purchased stock
8 cups prepared stuffing, recipe below
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Place rack in the lowest position of the oven.
Remove from the turkey neck and giblets. Fill the cavity with kosher salt- about 2 tablespoons. Place turkey in the sink, filling with enough cold water to cover the turkey. Soak for about one hour. Drain water from the sink and thoroughly rinse turkey then pat dry with paper towels. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in the roasting pan. Loosely fill the body cavity with stuffing. Rub the skin with the softened butter, and season with salt, pepper, and dry sage.
Place turkey in the oven, and pour 2 cups turkey stock into the bottom of the roasting pan. Baste all over every 30 minutes with the juices on the bottom of the pan. Whenever the drippings evaporate, add stock to moisten them, about 1 to 2 cups at a time. Remove aluminum foil after 2 1/2 hours. Roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the meaty part of the thigh reads 165 degrees F (75 degrees C), about 4 hours. If turkey becomes too brown tent with aluminum foil.
Transfer the turkey to a large serving platter, and let it stand for at least 20 to 30 minutes before carving.
For the broth:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion or leek, or 2 shallots, sliced
Neck and giblets from your turkey (discard the liver)
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 sprigs thyme, parsley, rosemary and/or sage
1 bay leaf
Turkey drippings from your roasting pan
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons cold Flavored Butter, recipe follows (optional)
When your turkey goes into the oven, start the broth: Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and turkey neck and giblets; cook, stirring, until the giblets are browned, about 15 minutes. Add the chicken broth, herb sprigs, and bay leaf; cover and simmer while the turkey roasts, about 2 hours. Strain the broth and keep warm; reserve the neck and giblets, if desired.
When your turkey is done, transfer it to a cutting board and pour all the pan drippings into a degreasing cup. Add 1/2 cup of the prepared broth to the roasting pan and scrape up the browned bits with a wooden spoon. (If the bits are stuck, put the pan over a low burner to loosen them.) Add the bits and liquid to the degreasing cup.
Let the fat rise to the top of the degreasing cup, then spoon off 1/2 cup fat and transfer to a large saucepan over medium heat. Make a roux: Sprinkle the flour into the pan and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the flour browns slightly, about 4 minutes.
Gradually add the hot broth to the roux, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Pour the dark roasting juices from the degreasing cup into the gravy, discarding any remaining fat. If desired, chop the giblets and shred the neck meat; add to the gravy. Simmer, whisking occasionally, until the gravy thickens, about 10 minutes. Add the Worcestershire sauce and season with salt and pepper.
I love to add fall fruits to my holiday stuffing to capture the smells and flavor of the season. My Savory Fruit and Nut stuffing marry the fruits apples, pears, and cranberries with toasty pecans. You can either stuff the turkey or bake to serve.
Savory Fruit and Nut Stuffing
1/4 cup butter
2 cups chopped onions
1/4 cup celery
1cup fresh cranberries
12 cups dried bread cubes
2/3 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh snipped thyme
2 teaspoon dried sage or 2 teaspoons fresh snipped sage
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2/3 cup pecans, chopped and toasted
In a large skillet melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and celery; cook about 5 minutes until tender but not browned. Add apples, pears, and cranberries; cook for 5 minutes more until apples are tender. Remove from heat.
In an extra-large bowl toss together onion mixture and bread cubes. Let stand 10 minutes.
In a small bowl stir together eggs, broth, salt, thyme sage, and pepper. Drizzle egg mixture over bread, tossing lightly to combine. Fold in pecans.
Use to stuff turkey or you can bake uncovered at 375 for 20 minutes.
To make ahead: Prepare as directed and can be refrigerated for 1 day. Let stand a room temperature then bake as directed.