For 21st century meal mavens juggling a full plate of activities—jobs and multigenerational family tasks, the countdown to Thanksgiving is swift and can lead to menu mayhem. No worries, take a deep breath and use the following guidelines to help avoid holiday cooking drama.
1. Turkey Still Frozen? “Yes, they do take longer than folks think to thaw.” As a turkey expert on the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, this is one of the questions that comes up most often challenging the best laid plans of Thanksgiving cooks.
I respond calmly to cooks hovering on the edge of panic. “For the quickest thaw, place the turkey breast side down in its original packaging in a sink or cooler of cold water. Allow about 30 minutes per lb. for the turkey to thaw—a 12 lb. turkey will thaw in about 6 hours in cold water.”
2. Forgot to Thaw the Frozen Turkey? You can cook the turkey from frozen, but the cooking time is longer. Preheat the oven to 325oF. Remove the turkey from the bag. Place the turkey breast up on a flat rack in a shallow roasting pan. Spray the turkey skin with oven cooking spray or brush the skin lightly with vegetable oil. Place in preheated oven. After about 3 hours, insert an oven-safe meat thermometer into the turkey thigh. When skin is light brown, loosely cover the breast and top of drumsticks with aluminum foil to prevent overbrowning. Check for doneness–the thermometer should register 180 of when turkey is done. Remove turkey from oven and let stand 20 minutes before carving.
3. Sides Keep It Simple
Supermarkets have plenty of products at every budget level to aid the cook. Sides range from ready-to-eat from the take-out counter, to semi-homemade or from scratch. Mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts, or kale are options that are easy to cook.
Brussels Sprouts with Lemon Zest
2 lbs. fresh Brussels sprouts
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine, softened
1 tablespoon lemon zest
Cut stem from each Brussels sprout and remove outer leaves; slice sprout in half. Rinse sprouts in cold water; drain. Combine chives, butter, and lemon zest in medium bowl, mixing to blend. Bring approx. 6 cups water to a boil in 4-qt. Dutch oven, stir in sprouts; reduce heat to simmer and cook 8 to 10 minutes or until sprouts are bright green and tender. Drain well. Return sprouts to Dutch oven and toss gently with butter mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately. YIELD: 8 servings
Make-Ahead Tip: After cooking 8 to 10 minutes, drain sprouts and immediately place fresh sprouts in bowl of ice water. Drain well. Cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours. Heat sprouts over medium low heat. Stir in butter mixture and season to taste.
NOTE: For best results use fresh sprouts if planning to make ahead.
4. Salad on the Menu?
Look for salad greens at the prepared food counter or pick-up a package of assorted salad greens in the produce section of your favorite supermarket. Add fresh apple or orange slices, raisins, craisins or pomegranate seeds. Toss with a bottled poppy seed or raspberry vinaigrette and the salad is good to go.
People do love cakes and pound cakes are great choices for busy folks. They can be purchased or made in advance. Dust them with powdered sugar, or drizzle with a simple vanilla glaze.
Orange Pound Cake
1 lb. powdered sugar
1 lb. butter
6 large eggs
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon orange juice
2 teaspoons orange zest
Preheat oven to 3250F.
In large bowl with electric mixer (preferably a standing electric mixer) beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating until yellow disappears after each addition. Gradually add sifted flour; mix well. Blend in vanilla, orange juice, and orange zest. Spoon cake batter into greased and floured 10-inch Bundt pan. Bake at 325oF, 1 hour and 20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in cake come s out clean and cake starts to pull away from sides of pan. Cool 10 to 15 minutes, remove from pan. Cool completely.
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 to 2 Tbsp. orange juice
In small bowl, add orange juice, 1 tablespoon at a time to powdered sugar, mixing until smooth and desired consistency. Drizzle glaze over cooled cake.
YIELD: Approx. 16 servings
Don’t let a turkey tie you up—these stress-free tips will help holiday cooks enjoy the meal with time to spare.
Editorial note: In addition to stirring a few pots as a former food editor of Ebony and Southern Living magazines and editor of Special Fork, I‘m also an expert on the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line®, 1-800-Butterball.