My five year old's Montessori class held its annual Thanksgiving celebration feast this morning. I signed up to bring the turkey, stuffing, gravy and vegetables. Did I start cooking yesterday? No. I started cooking at 6:15am and delivered everything to the school by 10am. No sweat.

Preparing Thanksgiving dinner does not need to be stressful. I've outlined, below, a simple menu that can be thrown together very easily in a matter of a few hours.

The Perfect Turkey

Cooking a turkey is not hard, but for some reason, people have heart palpitations about it. Maybe it's because the only time each year that they make one is on Thanksgiving Day. Or maybe it's because they haven't discovered the secret to it all: A THERMOMETER.

  1. Start with a really great thawed turkey (we enjoy Mary's Free Range Organic Turkey - delicious!). Preheat oven to 325F.
  2. Remove the turkey from its wrappings. Unclasp the legs and remove the neck from the "abdominal cavity" (anyone else think of mobsters when you see something's neck shoved up its abdominal cavity?). Remove the giblets from the neck cavity. Rinse the entire turkey, including both cavities, then pat dry (cavities, too) with a paper towel.
  3. Re-clasp the legs. Place the turkey breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan. Rub the turkey with olive oil. Pour 3-4 cups of water into the roasting pan (until the water almost touches the turkey).
  4. Place the turkey into the oven. Rinse the neck and giblets, place them in a pot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil, add a bit of olive oil and some salt and pepper, then simmer the entire time the turkey is cooking and you'll have great additional stock for the gravy.
  5. 1 hour later, check the fluid level in the pan - add some water if it gets low. Baste the turkey with the juices in the roasting pan. A baster is really key here.
  6. 30 minutes later, baste the turkey again.
  7. Once the top of the turkey turns golden brown, tent some aluminum foil over it. Don't wrap the aluminum foil over the pan - the point is just to keep the top from burning, not to restrict air circulation.
  8. Start checking the turkey's temperature and basting it every 15 minutes. Use a meat thermometer and check the breast at its thickest point. The turkey is done when it is 165F. Also check the temperature at the thickest point on the thigh. DO NOT COOK THE TURKEY PAST THIS TEMPERATURE OR YOU WILL DRY IT OUT.
  9. Once the turkey has reached 165F, remove it and let it rest for 30 minutes. The purpose of letting it rest is to let the juices settle into it. If you cut it too soon, the juices will run out, leaving it dry. While it's resting, you can make your stuffing, green beans and gravy.
  10. Serve.
Notes:
  • I don't recommend cooking a turkey with stuffing inside. It takes 30 minutes longer to cook and it's harder to get it to cook evenly. Better to prepare your stuffing on the stove top, then bake it in the oven for a crispy top.
  • A convection oven can cook your turkey 25-40% faster than a conventional oven. So check that temperature often! Using a convection oven this morning, my unstuffed 16 pound turkey took 2.5 hours to cook.
Stuffing

Arrowhead Mills makes an awesome organic stuffing. Add mild italian pork sausage (remove the casing, crumble and sautee), crumbled chestnuts and sauteed minced onion to make it extra special.

Gravy

Strain the neck/giblet stock into a pan and add the drippings from the roasting pan. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Add a quarter of a stick of butter and whisk in flour until it's thickened to your desired consistency. To eliminate lumps, you may want to put it in the food processor for 30 seconds.

Green beans

Rinse green beans and pinch off one end to facilitate cooking. Put in a covered Pyrex dish and add an inch of water. Microwave on high 4 minutes. Strain and toss in a bit of butter. If you want to get fancy, add some slivered almonds.

Dessert

Check out my favorite pumpkin pie recipe. You can make this the day before and refrigerate it until you're ready to eat it.

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Tags: Dinner, Thanksgiving, cooking

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