Author Topic: How sensible is it to practice for Thanksgiving?  (Read 13065 times)

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TootsNYC

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How sensible is it to practice for Thanksgiving?
« on: November 01, 2013, 03:52:17 PM »
I think I'm going to get to host the family holiday again this year. Last year I undercooked the turkey and didn't make gravy.

Big mistake!

I've been thinking that maybe I should try both again before the big day.

But how silly is that? Should I just try to make gravy, or find a make-ahead gravy so I have it as backup?

Or would roasting a small chicken help me at all? It seems like it wouldn't.

I've never worried about roasts before--my experience with them is that there's not that much technique to it, except for not overcooking it. They've always come out fine.

But the turkey was weirder--and I had more conflicting advice, and chose the wrong one. Plus I didn't know how much it weighed bcs the butcher didn't tell me and I didn't realize until I was home and had no way to measure it.


And, any general tips for how to handle the big meal, multiple stuff, etc., would be welcome. I've already realized that I need to prep all the plates, platters, linens, etc., at least 2 days before so it's not in the way.

And of course, some foods can be done a day or more ahead.

GlitterIsMyDrug

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Re: How sensible is it to practice for Thanksgiving?
« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2013, 03:56:51 PM »
I wouldn't think a dress rehearsal would be a bad idea at all. Though a large turkey twice would be costly.

I know the year my mom and I hosted we did as much the night before as humanly possible. Including things like chopping veggies and making some dishes before hand. So day of we warmed up a lot of stuff, and cooked the turkey. Mom handled the bird so I'm unhelpful there. I just lifted it out of the oven. We really did it so we could spend more time socializing with our guests and less time slaving away over the food.

DavidH

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Re: How sensible is it to practice for Thanksgiving?
« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2013, 03:58:52 PM »
I like turkey and it's not particularly expensive, so I don't see a reason not to practice before hand.  You just need to plan the leftovers.  Knowing the oven, and having a good thermometer is a great help. The pop up ones in certain turkeys are not that reliable. 

MorgnsGrl

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Re: How sensible is it to practice for Thanksgiving?
« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2013, 04:00:58 PM »
I don't see anything wrong with practicing. Maybe in advance you should come up with half a dozen recipes, including a good soup, you can make with all that turkey! And obviously you can freeze some of it for future use.

GlitterIsMyDrug

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Re: How sensible is it to practice for Thanksgiving?
« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2013, 04:02:16 PM »
I like turkey and it's not particularly expensive, so I don't see a reason not to practice before hand.  You just need to plan the leftovers.  Knowing the oven, and having a good thermometer is a great help. The pop up ones in certain turkeys are not that reliable.

The first year my mom did a thanksgiving dinner (I was 5-ish), the pop-up never popped-up! The bird was well done. Of course I was five, so I covered it in gravy and thought it was great!

Mom owns a meat thermometer now.

Outdoor Girl

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Re: How sensible is it to practice for Thanksgiving?
« Reply #5 on: November 01, 2013, 04:05:02 PM »
I've goofed on the doneness of the turkey before because of a change in roasting pan.  We have a lovely, stainless steel roasting pan.  But for some reason, you have to add about an hour to the cooking time when you use it.  It just doesn't seem to transfer the heat as well as the old pan.  So for your cooking time, keep that in mind.  It is about 20 minutes to the pound for roasting, reducing to 15 minutes to the pound if the bird is over about 18 pounds.

If you are concerned about timing, put the bird in earlier.  You can always turn the oven down or worse comes to worse, let the meat be a bit cold.  The gravy will warm it up.

What roasting a chicken might help with, though, is practicing the gravy on a smaller scale.  I use the drippings and some water off the potatoes and carrots, if I have it.  I mix up cornstarch in water to use as a thickener.  I also use a product called Bisto for the gravy but it does add a fair amount of salt.  If you are concerned, you could always buy a premade gravy to have, just in case.

I pour the drippings into a glass measuring cup or bowl and let everything settle.  I skim off most of the fat, return the drippings to the pan, add in 2 to 1 ratio of potato to carrot water (the carrot water adds some sweetness but it isn't crucial if you don't have it).  Then the cornstarch and water mixture is added, along with the Bisto if you are going to use it.  The gravy shouldn't be boiling yet when you add the cornstarch; otherwise you'll get lumps.  I just boil everything until it gets to the consistency I want and pour it in the gravy boat.  We like having some of the bits in it but if you don't, just strain it to remove those.

As for getting the weight of the bird, do you have bathroom scales?  Weigh yourself holding the turkey and without the turkey and subtract.   :)
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cicero

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Re: How sensible is it to practice for Thanksgiving?
« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2013, 04:05:47 PM »
definitely buy a fool proof/package gravy to have as a backup.

as for the turkey - it sounds like what went wrong was that you didn't have the correct weight. So make sure you do this time. Personally i'm not wild about turkey (i'll eat it but wouldn't want a freezer full of lefteovers) but if you guys do like it, then why not? (just write everything down as you go along, so you can replicate the success).

Do aheads - mainly the shopping (drinks? ice? dessert? ), setting the table, taking out the big platters, matching serving utensils to serving bowls. I think probably on BH&G or Epicurious you can find a "countdown to t-giving" chart that will help you organize.


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alice

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Re: How sensible is it to practice for Thanksgiving?
« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2013, 04:11:03 PM »
If you have to practice, great.  If not, start a list and keep on top of it.  That is how we handle thanksgiving every year, and we have been hosting it since 1992 with upwards of 36 people.  Lists keep us on track.

Vall

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Re: How sensible is it to practice for Thanksgiving?
« Reply #8 on: November 01, 2013, 04:15:01 PM »
I had the same thought about the bathroom scales as Outdoor Girl.

I think practicing sounds like a fun thing to do as long as you like turkey.

jedikaiti

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Re: How sensible is it to practice for Thanksgiving?
« Reply #9 on: November 01, 2013, 04:24:23 PM »
I think a trial run sounds like a great idea, so long as you like turkey (or know someone you can feed it to). :-)

I'm also going to POD making sure you have the correct weight, and a meat thermometer. You can get a decent probe thermometer (where the end you stick in the bird has a cable linking it to the read-out outside the oven) for maybe $15 - $20. Just make sure you read the directions on how to position it.
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camlan

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Re: How sensible is it to practice for Thanksgiving?
« Reply #10 on: November 01, 2013, 04:29:29 PM »
My mom always made the gravy--two kinds, with and without giblets. But she also always had a can or two of gravy on hand. It was useful if we ran out of the homemade gravy, and if we didn't need it on Thanksgiving, it came in handy a few days later for the leftovers.
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AvidReader

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Re: How sensible is it to practice for Thanksgiving?
« Reply #11 on: November 01, 2013, 04:30:34 PM »
A dress rehearsal is not a bad thing and there are a few tricks that can save you some time on T-day.  I've given up roasting the whole bird.  I buy a breast, thighs, and legs.  Roast the breast for the recommended amount of time for its weight, then for the last hour, toss in the thighs and legs.
 
If you intend to make gravy on T-day, here's a super tip.  Take the drippings from your dress rehearsal bird and either make enough gravy for both events (and freeze half), or take half the drippings and freeze them to be used on T-day.  If you find so much cooking on T-day to be stressful, opt for making the gravy in advance and freezing it to re-heat when needed.  Either way, this will get you away from waiting for the bird to be done before you can start preparing the gravy.  My little secret....I will use last year's frozen drippings to make this year's gravy, then I will freeze this year's drippings for use next year.

Since I don't have a bird to stuff, I do dressing in the crockpot.  Prepare a preferred dressing, put it in the crockpot 1 hour on high and 6 hours on low.   This will get you away from too many things competing for oven space. 

Since many dishes seem to taste better "the next day," I make cranberry relish and pumpkin dessert (it varies year to year) the day before. 

I keep the meal itself rather simple.  If I do mashed potatoes, I won't do sweet potatoes.  I do add a steamed green vegetable.  If I'm having a crowd and plan a soup course, I'll make that ahead and freeze.

TootsNYC

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Re: How sensible is it to practice for Thanksgiving?
« Reply #12 on: November 01, 2013, 04:34:26 PM »
Following cicero's advice, I went looking for "countdown to..." links. And found a recipe for "Deconstructed Turkey"--basically, buying turkey parts and roasting them in their own pans. (typed this while AvidReader was typing, apparently!)

That's sort of interesting--it would mean you could have more turkey legs, and you could cook the breast differently from the thighs, etc.

My problem last year was I didn't get the oven hot enough. I was following some weird recipe. (the "too many sources of advice" problem)

Alice, I forget sometimes about lists--or about starting them this early. Thanks for that reminder.

Not sure I can used canned gravy, since it needs to be gluten free--that exists, but I'm not sure I can find it easily. (I'm willing to have some things be stuff I can't eat, but not gravy.)

I like AvidReader's tip about gravy; I've found a few make-ahead gravy recipes and thought about doing that.

And the crockpot sounds good for moist stuffing!

Missy2U

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Re: How sensible is it to practice for Thanksgiving?
« Reply #13 on: November 01, 2013, 04:54:54 PM »
Do you have a Boston Market anywhere near you?  They apparently do have gluten free gravy.  You could always buy some ahead of time.

Amara

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Re: How sensible is it to practice for Thanksgiving?
« Reply #14 on: November 01, 2013, 05:08:44 PM »
I make everything but the turkey ahead of time.

As soon as you can buy fresh cranberries do. Do not freeze them, but make the sauce and then freeze that in glass jars (about 3/4 full).

Either about one week before or the weekend before, make and cook the dressing and refrigerate that, tightly wrapped.

Make the gravy by buying turkey or chicken stock, good wine, some herbs, and turkey parts bought separately like necks, wings, etc. and simmering them until you get thick stock. Refrigerate, then skim the fat off. Use that to make your gravy. Bring to a boil, turn to simmer, add 1 cup of milk that has been shaken in a glass jar with four tablespoons of flour to remove flour granules, and pour slowly into the hot broth, stirring with a wire whisk. Add minced fresh herbs (basil, sage, thyme) and stir to mix those in. Add freshly ground pepper, kosher salt, and either freshly ground nutmeg or mace. Let simmer a minimum of 10 minutes. Cool, store in glass jars, and refrigerate.

Buy and wash all salad ingredients and vegetables the weekend before. Prep what you can, including tearing the greens into bite-size pieces, and store in individual glass jars in the refrigerator. Make herb butter if you want for the vegetables.

If you want rolls or such make them and freeze them. I buy my pie from a local pie specialty shop and refrigerate that; if I use whipped cream I buy that and whip it while the turkey is in the oven.

The day of, if you have done all this up to a week ahead of time, will be so easy. The night before take the turkey out of its wrapping--make sure it is thawed!--and pat it dry. Let it sit on a platter or dish in the refrigerator to dry it out. Do whatever you like to the breast and skin. Roast.

Last year was the first time I followed this to a "T" and it worked so wonderfully I spent most of the day playing because I had nothing to do!

ETA: I always make my gravy from the previous year's turkey by taking the drippings, adding plenty of wine and stock, simmering the carcass in it for a couple of hours, and then refrigerating and de-fatting it before putting it into individual glass jars and freezing it. I do this the day after T-Day. That way I always have the necessary stock for the gravy without having to deal with hot drippings. You can also make this any time over the year by buying the turkey parts and making, then freezing it.






« Last Edit: November 01, 2013, 05:15:32 PM by Amara »