Centering your holiday meal around a turkey cooked to golden perfection is the ideal way to serve a feast. Without the right preparation and execution, however, your bird could fall short. To ensure your holiday dinner centerpiece lives up to expectations, follow these simple tips, from purchase to plate:
Buy the right bird. Finding a turkey that’s just the right size for your expected party is the start to a successful gathering. One common rule of thumb is to buy 1 pound of turkey per person — so for a 10-person meal, purchase a 10-pound turkey. Don’t forget that nearly everyone loves leftovers, so you may consider buying a few pounds more than necessary.
Be patient. If you opt for a frozen turkey, don’t rush the thawing process. For larger turkeys, it can take days to defrost properly. Timing is everything. Finding the right amount of time for your turkey to spend in the oven is crucial but not always the easiest thing to do. For an 8- to 12-pound bird, aim for 2.5 to 3.5 hours; 12 to 16 pounds for 3.5 to 4 hours; 16 to 20 pounds for 4 to 4.5 hours, and so on. The key is bringing the turkey to a temperature reading of 170 F.
Let it rest. Instead of pulling the turkey out of the oven and immediately carving it, give it a chance to rest for 20 to 30 minutes, which allows the juices to soak into the meat and moisten it up. While the turkey typically receives all the attention at holiday gatherings, rounding out your meal with the perfect sides and desserts is the key to a successful feast.
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows
YIELD: Serves 8
5 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1/2 cup Kitchen Basics Original Chicken Stock
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
2 teaspoons McCormick Ground Cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon McCormick Ground Nutmeg
2 cups miniature marshmallows
DIRECTIONS: Spray inside of 6-quart slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Add sweet potatoes, stock and brown sugar. Cover.Cook 4 hours on high or until potatoes are tender, stirring after each hour. Stir in butter, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Cover. Let stand 5 minutes. Beat potatoes with electric mixer on medium-high speed until smooth. Top with marshmallows. Cover. Cook 10 minutes on high or until marshmallows are slightly melted.
YIELD: Serves 4
6 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced
3 medium zucchini, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 medium peeled carrots, shredded
1 can cream of chicken soup (10 3/4 ounces)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 bag (8 ounces) herb seasoned stuffing mix, coarsely crushed
DIRECTIONS: In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the onion, cook until tender. Add zucchini and carrots and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Stir in cream of chicken soup and sour cream, mix well. Sprinkle half of stuffing into a 13- by 9-inch greased glass baking dish. Spoon zucchini mixture on top, then remaining stuffing. Bake at 350 F for 25 to 30 minutes, until hot and bubbly.
INGREDIENTS: 20 fresh unpeeled chestnuts
DIRECTIONS: Using a small sharp knife or a chestnut knife, carve an “X” in the flat side of each chestnut. Place chestnuts in an even layer, “X”-side down, in a chestnut-roasting pan. Cook chestnuts over low heat until opened, 20 to 25 minutes. Peel immediately, using a towel if chestnuts are too hot to touch.
Next week: Holiday desserts