Cook's Corner

Published 1:13 am Wednesday, November 23, 2005

By Staff
OK, if you haven't figured out how you're going to prepare your turkey for the feast tomorrow, here's a tip: forget it.
By now, you should have your bird thawed, marinating and the roasting pan ready. If you haven't taken these steps (or at least called the caterer), you're better off going with a roast for the holiday meal. At least that won't require any thawing and you can put it in the oven just an hour or so ahead of mealtime. We all know that deciding to prepare an 18-pound turkey for Thanksgiving requires a little more planning so deciding on Wednesday afternoon is probably a bad idea.
At any rate, I'll give you a few quick tips on roasting that bird if you haven't decided yet. If you haven't purchased your turkey yet, either race to the store Right Now and purchase a fresh one (not frozen), or pick up that roast I told you about.
1. Thaw the turkey. Trying to bake/roast/smoke/fry a frozen turkey is a definite recipe for disaster. It simply won't turn out right.
2. Choose the method of cooking. Roasting or baking will take a few hours depending on the weight of the bird. Frying takes a little less time, and you need a professional to get a great smoked turkey, so my advice is to go with one of the first two methods I mentioned.
3. To stuff or not to stuff: decide now. The cooking time for any bird will take longer if it is stuffed. You'd probably be better off to cook the dressing outside the bird. It gets a better crust anyway (just the way I like it) if cooked separately.
4. Carve in the kitchen. Carving the bird before it reaches the table will allow you to serve a pretty platter of the finished product while taking care of any problems. If you didn't take the giblet packet out of the neck area (don't ask) before cooking, carving in the kitchen will let you hide your mistake without embarrassment. Your mother-in-law would never let you forget the error (nor the rest of the family, for that matter!).
5. Take care of the leftovers as soon as possible. An important part of the turkey is what is left at the end of the meal. We all know you've got to make a little turkey sandwich out of Aunt Ida's yeast rolls and left-over turkey. How are you going to get through the endless afternoon of parades, ballgames and old photos without it? Not possible. Also, you're going to need something in the house for the men to eat while you're out shopping with the masses on Friday. Yep, I plan ahead for that one (don't forget to get a loaf of bread while you're picking up the cranberry sauce you forgot).
6. Enjoy. Make your meal a simple one. Prepare three or maybe four side dishes that you know your family will enjoy and plan to scale back a little. I know I'm guilty of using a five-pound bag of potatoes for potato salad when there will only be about eight or nine people at the table. I also usually prepare a gallon of dumplings, a 9×13 pan of dressing, gotta have a carrot-raisin salad and of course what Thanksgiving meal would be complete without a two-quart broccoli casserole. Yep, leftovers are inevitable. If you want to cut down on the amount of plastic dishes you have in the fridge on Saturday, make a little less on Thursday. Makes sense, huh?
If you have your act together (lucky you!), then what you may be looking for today are some ideas on how to use up that leftover turkey.
I've got a few tips and a recipe idea that might help you get through those weekend ballgames and shopping excursions without tossing out too much uneaten food.
Wrap turkey slices and stuffing separately, and refrigerate and use within three days. If you have leftover gravy, use it within three days. If you think you've had your fill of turkey, freeze the extras for a quick meal sometime in the future.
If you choose to freeze your leftovers, of course some things freeze better than others. Don't try to freeze gravy, it just gets watery. Turkey or ham keeps well when frozen. Wrap the meat in heavy foil or use a freezer-safe bag. The meat will keep well for about two months in the freezer. If you choose to freeze your dressing, freeze it separate from the meat and use it within a month.
Just think, if you freeze your turkey now, you'll have some on hand to make a batch of turkey salad for the Christmas get-together at work or church.
I hope that these recipes will help you to make great meals using the leftovers from the Thanksgiving meal.
Ranch Turkey and Pasta Salad
2 cups dry penne pasta
2 cups leftover turkey, chopped
2 cups fresh broccoli florets
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
8 green onions, chopped (optional)
6 slices bacon, fried and crumbled
Three-fourths cup ranch-style dressing
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water. Combine the pasta, turkey, broccoli, tomatoes, cheese, onions and bacon in a large bowl. Toss with dressing, salt and pepper. Cover and chill before serving.
Mexican Turkey Filling
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 pound shredded, cooked turkey
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 large fresh tomato, chopped
One-half cup water
1 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat, and cook the onion until tender. Mix in turkey, and season with garlic powder. Stir in the tomato. Pour in water, sprinkle with cilantro, and season with salt and pepper. Cover skillet, and simmer five minutes, or until heated through. Use the filling for tacos, tortilla wraps, etc. Add your favorite salsa to give the meal a kick.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the whole year. No gifts to exchange, no elaborate decorations and no eggs to hide. Just a wonderful meal shared with people you love. I hope that your holiday is filled with wonderful aromas, flavors and lots of warmth and happiness for those you love.
Happy Thanksgiving, from me to you!

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