Going Straight for the Heart and the Stomach...

The holiday season is almost here with oh so many possibilities for dining, cocktailing and cheer. If you're one of the many not heading home for the Thanksgiving holiday, this is the perfect opportunity to round up your mutually out-in-the-cold single friends and invite them over for a tasty turkey dinner. Who's not going to be delighted?

Don't know how to cook a turkey? Then try this super easy-to-fix mouthwatering roast turkey recipe from Thanksgiving and Other Holiday Recipes by Alexa Meisler. Ask your guests to bring a dish, a bottle of red, and another single friend, and you've got yourself a holiday party.

If you're feeling extra spirited, why not stir up some sweet cranberry cocktails for your guests? Like these easy-to-make Cosmopolitans:

Cosmopolitan

2 parts Cranberry juice
4 parts Absolut Citron
2 parts Cointreau or Triple Sec
1 part lime juice
lemon twists

Mix in a shaker over ice and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Roasted Turkey with Herb Butter Rub

12-16 servings (depending on weight of turkey)

Basic Ingredients

  • Herb Butter
    • ¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs of your choice (or 3 teaspoons dried herbs), such as sage, thyme, marjoram, rosemary or any other spice
    • Salt, pepper
  • Turkey
    • 1 16-22 pound turkey, neck and giblets reserved for making stock or stuffing
    • 1 to 2 14 ½-ounce cans chicken broth
    • 7 cups prepared stuffing (optional) - or - 5-6 fresh herb sprigs of your choice, such as sage, thyme, marjoram, rosemary or any other herb
    • Salt, pepper
    • Cheesecloth (optional)
    • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • Gravy
    • 3 cups chicken broth
    • 6 tablespoons all purpose flour
    • Salt, pepper

Basic Cooking Accessories

  • Turkey baster
  • Roasting pan and rack
  • Carving knife and fork or electric carving knife
  • Meat thermometer
  • Brush for butter or glaze
  • Plate for serving the turkey
  • Cheesecloth
  • Kitchen string
  • Pot holders
  • Skewers
  • Strainer

Herb Butter

Combine butter and herbs in medium bowl. Season lightly with salt and pepper. (Herb butter can be made two days ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before using.)


Turkey

Place oven rack in lowest position and preheat oven to 425 degrees. Set roasting rack in large roasting pan and set aside. Rinse turkey inside and out. Pat dry. Season main cavity lightly with salt and pepper. Slide hand under skin of turkey breast to loosen skin. Spread one-third cup of herbed butter over breast meat and under skin.*

If stuffing the turkey, spoon seven cups of stuffing loosely into cavity. When stuffing a turkey, never stuff it ahead of time because it can allow the bacteria that cause food poisoning to multiply. If not stuffing turkey, place herb sprigs in cavity.

Fold neck skin under body and fasten with a small skewer. Secure wings to body with small skewers. Tie legs loosely together with kitchen string. Place turkey on rack set in large roasting pan. Rub two tablespoons of herb butter over outside of turkey. Set aside the remainder of herb butter for gravy.

Pour a half-cup of chicken broth over turkey and place in oven to roast. Reduce heat to 325 degrees. Baste turkey every 30 minutes, alternating between pan drippings and additional chicken broth. Continue to roast until the bird is browned and the juices in the inner thigh run clear when pricked and an instant-read thermometer reads between 160 F° and 180°. Start checking for doneness approximately 30 minutes before you expect the turkey to be done.

When done, transfer turkey to a carving board and keep juices in pan. Remove skewers and string. If turkey is stuffed, transfer stuffing from cavity to a serving dish and cover to keep warm. Cover turkey loosely with foil and let rest for at least 15 minutes and up to 30 minutes before carving.

* Instead of putting herb butter under the skin, you can drape the turkey with a cheesecloth: In a medium saucepan, melt one stick of butter. Dampen and wring out a piece of cheesecloth large enough to drape over the turkey. Soak cloth in butter until all of the butter has been absorbed. Drape cheesecloth over turkey breast. (Cheesecloth helps to ensure a moist breast). If using cheesecloth, about 45 minutes before the turkey is finished cooking, remove it so turkey can brown.


Gravy

Remove rack from pan. Pour contents of roasting pan into strainer set over large bowl or measuring cup. Spoon fat from pan juices in bowl reserving six tablespoons for rue. Set roasting pan over two burners on medium-high heat and pour strained juices back into pan. Add two cups of broth. Boil until reduced to three cups (about ten to fifteen minutes) and scrape up brown bits. Make rue by combining six tablespoons flour with reserved turkey fat and whisk to make a smooth paste. Whisk into pan. Reduce heat to medium and add remainder of herb butter, continuing to whisk until gravy thickens. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer gravy to bowl.


Helpful Hints

I usually cover the wings of the turkey with foil if not using a cheesecloth or if the cheesecloth does not cover the wings as they tend to brown quickly and can burn if not watched.

If you are cooking a fresh turkey, remove it from the refrigerator one to two hours before roasting. If you buy a frozen turkey, you will need approximately two to four days for it to defrost sitting in the refrigerator. You can also use the quick thaw method: leave your turkey in its original wrapping and place it in a large kettle or pan and cover it with cold water until thawed. Change the water frequently to speed thawing. Do not let a completely thawed turkey sit in the refrigerator for more than two days before roasting, and never freeze an uncooked turkey after it has been thawed.

REFRIGERATOR THAW: QUICK THAW:
Turkey Weight Thaw Time Turkey Weight Thaw Time
4 - 12 pounds 1 - 2 days 4 - 12 pounds 4 - 6 hours
12 - 20 pounds 2 - 3 days 12 - 20 pounds 6 - 8 hours
20 - 24 pounds 3 - 4 days 20 - 24 pounds 8 - 10 hours
24 - 29 pounds 4 - 5 days 24 - 29 pounds 10 - 12 hours

Carving and Serving Your Turkey

Let the bird stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes and up to 30 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to set and the meat to firm. Whether you choose to carve the turkey in the kitchen and serve it on a platter or carve it at the dinner table is your choice.

  1. Carve Legs and Thighs. Use a chef's knife or sharp carving knife to remove the legs and thighs. Press the leg away from the body. The joint connecting the leg to the backbone will often snap free, but if it doesn't, it may be severed with the point of a knife. Cut the thigh from the body by following the contour carefully with a knife. Place on a separate plate, then cut through the connecting joint between the leg and thigh. Tilt the leg to a convenient angle and slice the meat away in a downward motion toward the plate. Hold the thigh firmly on the plate with the fork and cut it into even slices parallel to the bone.
  2. Carve Breast. Wings are usually left in place to keep the bird stable while breast meat is carved. Use a sharp carving knife or electric knife (not serrated) for slicing breast meat. Breast meat is carved in downward slices, across the grain. Begin each new slice slightly higher up on the breast, keeping the slices thin and even. The sharper the knife, the easier the meat will carve and the more attractive the slices will look.
  3. Arrange sliced turkey on platter for serving.


If your inner chef is ready for more, check out Thanksgiving and Other Holiday Recipes (Greer Publishing 2001) for step-by-step how to's, appetizers, side dishes, desserts and more. The book is available by contacting Alexa Meisler at alexaw@ix.netcom.com