As we make our way out of September and into October, many of us are pre-planning and thinking about “Thanksgiving weekend.” I’m a very passionate cook and I’ve made ‘The Traditional Turkey Dinner’ dozens of times. I feel very confident making it I could do it with my eyes closed. 😛 Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks when it comes to the delicious meal that brings family and friends together.

The Turkey: How big a turkey do I really need?

The rule of thumb that I go by is, 1-2 lbs. per person that will be at the table. If you want leftovers for turkey soup, or my favorite turkey sandwiches, I go by 2 lbs. per person. Cooking times for a turkey is based on if you stuff it or not. I have not stuffed my turkeys for many years as there are mixed theories about what is healthy and what is not. I know a lot of people who do. I prefer not, so I don’t have to worry about possible salmonella or E.coli. I cook my turkey 20 mins per pound unstuffed. Once the turkey is done cooking or ‘should’ be done cooking I use a meat thermometer to check the inside temp by sticking the thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey breast. A key part in making sure you have a delicious juicy turkey is to allow the turkey to rest for a minimum of 1 hour, I say 2 hours. I leave it covered in tin foil and with a warm damp tea towel covering it on top of the foil. If you cut into the turkey within 20 mins or less of it coming out of the oven all the juices will come out and you’ll be left with a very dry turkey, 🙁

Another tip I LOVE to do with my turkey is:
I run my hands under the skin of the turkey and rub either Extra Virgin Olive Oil mixed with herbs under the skin, or I use butter with the herbs (if my mom isn’t going to be enjoying this, she is lactose intolerant). I also cut a lemon in half and squeeze that under the skin (it’ll look like the turkey has human breasts and that is a good laugh, which also gives a slight lemon flavor to the turkey breasts :D! If you are not into lemon, then a nice orange will provide the citrus flavor accent to the meat and herbs.

Side Dishes: No dinner is complete without the sides!

Mashed Potatoes:

What would a turkey lunch or dinner be without a few good side dishes?! Pretty Boring! I generally make a traditional mashed potato side. I pick up 5 lbs. of Yukon Gold potatoes, wash them, and cut them into quarters. Bring a big pot of water up to boil, toss the potatoes in and boil for 40 mins. Then I always have to include a TON of butter and homo milk to ensure they are super rich and creamy and I also include some mashed potatoes made with margarine for my mother who is lactose intolerant and cannot enjoy butter. I would recommend using a potato higher in starch for mashed potatoes. This will yield a fluffier and richer in flavor side. A potato high in starch is Russet potatoes or Yukon Golds! Waxy potatoes are harder to mash and you will often end up with “potato paste”. 🙁

Cranberry Sauce:

I’ll be honest. Some years I’m organized enough to make my own cranberry sauce and some years I’m not and I opt to buy the pre-made stuff in the can. 😛 If I make it, it’s super simple. 🙂 My homemade cranberry sauce is made from:
1 bag of cranberries
1 cup of white sugar
1 cup of orange juice
½ tbsp. of lemon zest

First, I dissolve the sugar in a medium saucepan (in the juice). Then I add the bag of cranberries, cook over medium heat for 10 minutes (until the cranberries pop) and then remove from heat and place contents in a dish, and mix in lemon zest. The sauce will thicken as it cools. 🙂

Brussel Sprouts & Asparagus (That everyone will LOVE):

This brussel sprout & asparagus recipe is unlike any other! I never have any leftovers of this dish! I wash my veggies, chop off the ends of the asparagus and the bottom cm of the brussel sprout and finish by cutting the brussel sprouts in half lengthwise. I place the veggies on a baking tray that has tin foil on it, drizzle Extra Virgin Olive Oil on them and sprinkle a TON of freshly shaved parmesan cheese. I would say I put on roughly 1.5 cups. I’ve never actually measured it. I make sure I have baked some ‘Red Barn Bacon’ (hands down the BEST bacon I have ever tried !) I will bake 10 pieces or so. I used to cook my bacon in a pan but I’ve recently found that baking it off for 30 minutes at 350 degrees is MUCH easier and allows me to do other things, (flipping it over at 15 mins mark). I chop up the bacon and sprinkle it on top. I finish it off by sprinkling a 2 tbsp of brown sugar and cook it all at 375 for about 35 – 40 minutes or until the cheese is beautifully browned and looks like parmesan chips.

Gravy:

The gravy is essential in ‘Turkey Dinner.’ After the turkey is done cooking and is cooling this is when I tackle the gravy. I ladle into a medium size pot as much turkey drippings I can while having skimmed the top of fat off, or as best as I can. Whisk in a few tbsp of flour, add salt and pepper whisk and cook over medium heat for 8-10 mins and then VOILA you’ve got a delicious gravy 😀

Stuffing:

Last but not Least is the stuffing! I cut up 2 cups of the following: carrots, celery, and onions. Get a bag of dried and diced bread. Mix all together. I also like to fry up some sausages and cut them up into inch pieces and mix them in as well. Mix all ingredients together then mix in chicken stock until all the bread is moist, but not soggy. Place into baking dishes and bake at the same time as the brussel sprouts and asparagus. 😀 Once all that is said and done. PRESTO ! Turkey Dinner is Served ! I really hoped this helped you prepare for Your Turkey lunch/dinner. 😀