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A FABULOUS FEAST IN 10 EASY STEPS.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Food Editor

IT'S down to the wire. Just one day to go until Thanksgiving diners will be ringing the doorbell if they are gathering at your place. If you have yet to hit the market, relax. There's still time to orchestrate this most American of feasts with all the trimmings and make it delicious.

Organization is the key. Jot down the menu if you haven't done so already. Check to see what ingredients you have on hand, along with those that still need to be purchased. Dig out the serving dishes for specific recipes today or tonight, ready the buffet table and set the dinner table. And don't forget the decorations (including fresh flowers) and candles.

While cooking a turkey may seem intimidating - especially if you're a novice - it's really easier than you think. Use the primer here as a guide. Also included are some simple recipes and hints for preparing the stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy - and other trimmings. If you're running short on time, don't be embarrassed to buy a few prepared items from the market, takeout establishments or even restaurants. Or let guests bring a dish, if they've offered (be sure to specify what's needed most) or request a bottle or two of wine.

1. FRESH OR FROZEN

Opinions vary on the flavor of fresh vs. frozen birds. Some cooks prefer using fresh birds (they have never been chilled below 26 degrees F and have a short shelf life) while others opt for frozen, noting that diners can't tell the difference. Suit yourself.

A fresh turkey is best purchased a day or two before roasting, while a frozen turkey should be kept frozen until ready to defrost.

2. HOW MUCH TO BUY

Just in case you haven't purchased a turkey yet, figure on 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person - more if you have hearty eaters or desire leftovers or sandwiches. If you know more guests will prefer dark meat than white, consider buying extra parts and roasting them in a separate pan. Be sure your oven is large enough to accommodate the size turkey you'll be cooking. In some instances, it may be best to buy two smaller birds and roast them side by side. When buying, avoid any packaging that has rips or tears.

3. THAWING

Thaw a frozen turkey using one of these three options. Remember, it is unsafe to defrost a turkey at room temperature. (Also, just in case you purchased a stuffed and frozen turkey - make sure it has the USDA or state mark of inspection - it should NOT be thawed before cooking).

If your turkey is still frozen solid at this point, it's too late to use the first method this Thanksgiving, but you can try it anytime during the holiday season.

REFRIGERATOR: Place the wrapped frozen turkey on a tray or in a pan lined with paper towels (to catch any juices that drip during thawing), allowing 24 hours in the fridge for every 5 pounds of turkey. A 12-pound turkey, for example, would take 2 to 2 1/2 days to thaw, while an 18-pound bird would take about 3 1/2 days. The thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator up to two days prior to cooking.

COLD WATER: This thawing method is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention. Place wrapped turkey (if there are any leaks in packaging, place in a clean plastic food bag and secure) in a sink of cold tap water (you can also use a large pot or pail), changing the water often (some suggest every 30 minutes) so it remains cold until the turkey is pliable. Allow about 30 minutes per pound of turkey for complete thawing. A 12-pound turkey, for instance, would take about six hours to thaw. Turkeys thawed this way should be cooked immediately.

MICROWAVE OVEN: It's feasible to thaw a turkey of 12 pounds or less in the microwave oven on the defrost cycle, turning often (follow manufacturer's instructions). However, it's necessary to cook the turkey, unstuffed, immediately after thawing, either in the microwave or a conventional oven because some areas of the turkey may become warm and begin to cook.

NEVER thaw a turkey at room temperature or in warm water. Bacteria multiply rapidly at room temperature, and in the hours it takes for a turkey to thaw, the surface bacteria could multiply to dangerous levels.

If you forgot to thaw the turkey, come Thanksgiving Day, you can start cooking the unwrapped frozen (unstuffed) turkey in a preheated 325-degree F oven, but you'll need to add 50 percent more cooking time to the original times on the roasting chart. Also, once the turkey is thawed enough, you'll need to very carefully (without burning yourself) remove the giblets and neck piece from the turkey cavities.

4. PREPPING THE BIRD

To prepare the turkey for roasting, unwrap the fresh or defrosted bird and remove the giblets and neck piece from the body and/or neck cavities (use all but the liver to make gravy, if desired.) Pull off or remove any globs of yellow fat inside turkey cavities and discard. Rinse turkey inside and out a couple of times with cold running water; drain well. Pat dry with paper towels. (At this point, immediately before roasting, stuff turkey, if desired.)

5. STUFFING STUFF

Food professionals advise against stuffing the turkey for safety reasons. The safest way to cook the stuffing is to bake it separately in a casserole dish. Keep in mind, though, that an unstuffed turkey requires less cooking time than a stuffed one.

If you choose to stuff the turkey, prepare the stuffing, also known as dressing (and usually made with a variety of breads or corn bread and sometimes rice), and stuff the turkey just before it goes into the oven. Never stuff a turkey in advance. Allow about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. Bake any extra stuffing separately.

It's feasible to prepare and cook the wet and dry ingredients ahead of time and keep refrigerated (if necessary) separately. Combine and mix them just before placing inside the turkey or in a casserole dish.

Loosely spoon stuffing into body and neck cavities (don't overstuff as the stuffing will expand as it is moistened by the turkey juices) and truss as directed below. Keep in mind that stuffing cooked inside the turkey is more moist than that cooked outside.

If you opt to bake the stuffing separately, place in a greased dish (you may want to add a little additional broth for a more moist stuffing), cover with foil and bake 45 to 60 minutes (the last hour the turkey roasts) at 325 degrees F. Remove foil the last 20 minutes or so of baking time to allow the top to brown, if desired.

6. TRUSSING THE TURKEY

To keep the stuffing in the turkey or to close the neck and body cavities in an unstuffed bird (season inside cavities with seasoned salt and pepper, pieces of onions and celery, if desired), fold the neck skin over the back skin and fasten with a skewer, trussing pins or toothpicks; then twist the wing tips under the back of the turkey to rest against the neck skin. Close the body cavity by tying the legs together with a clean string or tucking the ends of the drumsticks into the hook or metal clamps that come with many birds nowadays.

7. OVEN ROASTING THE BIRD

Place the prepped (and stuffed) and trussed turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan, 2 to 2 1/2 inches deep. Do not add water. Brush turkey lightly with olive oil (or melted butter).

Cover loosely with foil, leaving a little space between bird and foil and pressing foil over drumsticks either the first or last (it doesn't matter) 1 to 1 1/2 hours of roasting time (or you can skip this step entirely). Some cooks like to baste the bird with chicken broth or melted butter (using a bulb baster) every 45 minutes during roasting, but others skip it.

Roast in a preheated 325-degree F oven, using the chart here as a guideline. Remove turkey when the thigh meat reaches 175 degrees on a meat thermometer inserted into the thigh before roasting or on a digital instant- read thermometer inserted at the end of cooking (the temperature will rise another 5 degrees while standing, increasing it to 180 degrees F - juices should be clear at this point). The center of the stuffing should reach 165 degrees F, while a perfectly cooked breast should be 170 degrees F. If the turkey is done before the stuffing registers 165 degrees F, remove the stuffing from the bird and finish baking in a dish. The USDA emphasizes always using a meat thermometer for safety reasons.

Once the turkey is removed from the oven, remove the stuffing immediately and allow the turkey to stand 20 to 30 minutes before carving.

NEVER partially roast a stuffed or unstuffed turkey one day and complete roasting the next. Interrupted cooking increases the possibility of bacterial growth.

8. OTHER COOKING METHODS

You can grill, brine, smoke, microwave or deep-fry a turkey, but if you do, it should not be stuffed. Many cooks have turned to brining the last couple of years as a way to ensure a moist and tender turkey. The bird is submerged in a saltwater bath (in the refrigerator) for eight to 12 hours, turning a couple of times, and the absorption of the water keeps the meat moist while the mixture (plain salt, some sugar and seasonings) flavors it. Some even air-dry the turkey (after removing it from the brine and patting it dry), uncovered in the fridge, 6 hours or overnight to air-dry the skin. If you plan to brine, use a fresh turkey only. Selasting, frozen and kosher turkeys have already been salted.

Deep-frying is another cooking method you may have heard about, but it requires special equipment and can be messy and dangerous. For information on these and other cooking methods, see the USDA Web site, www.fsis.usda.gov.

The December issue of Cook's Illustrated includes details on roasting an 18- to 22-pound bird for a crowd at 425 degrees F for an hour and then reducing the temperature to 325 degrees F for about 2 hours longer.

9. FEARLESS GRAVY

Many cooks fear making homemade gravy. It's the lumps that cause the problem.

The safest method is to mix flour (use a wire whisk for best results) directly into hot fat (melted butter, oil, etc.), stirring to form a paste or roux. Then slowly whisk in the pan drippings (use a fat separator, if desired, to remove as much fat as possible) and chicken broth or stock to the fat mixture over medium heat, creating a silken gravy. A simple recipe for success is on the next page.

10. DOING THE MASHED POTATOES

Opinions vary about the best way to prepare mashed potatoes. Some cooks prefer the russets (also called Idaho or baking potatoes) with their white color, while others favor Yukon Gold with their buttery color. (Both have a dry, fluffy texture, which makes them the best potatoes for mashing.)

To ensure light, fluffy results, use a potato ricer (available at kitchenware shops) or food mill. The ricer is easier and faster to use than a food mill. It's also feasible to use an electric mixer, but you must keep mixing to a minimum to avoid ending up with gluey mashed potatoes that have lost their fluffiness. A potato masher can also be used but does not yield fluffy results. To avoid a gluey mess, never use a food processor or blender.

Cover potatoes (either peeled or unpeeled) in an inch of water; heat to boiling and then simmer until tender.

For the smoothest mashed potatoes, add the butter first, then warm half- and-half or cream. Hot liquid is recommended to keep the potatoes warm; however, using cold liquid won't affect the texture.

While mashed potatoes are best prepared at the last minute and served immediately, it's feasible (even though they'll lose some of their fluffiness) to make them a few hours ahead and reheat, covered, in a 300- degree oven or in the microwave.

FOOD SAFETY

--Within two hours of removing the turkey from the oven, refrigerate or freeze the leftovers separately - the turkey, stuffing and gravy. Cut the turkey into smaller pieces (leg, wing, half breast) or remove the meat from the bones to speed cooling in the fridge. (Reheating a whole turkey is not recommended.) Refrigerated turkey is best used within two to three days; stuffing and gravy within one to two days. Frozen cooked turkey should be used within two months, while frozen stuffing and gravy should be used within a month.

--To reduce the risks of food-borne illness, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Don't leave perishable foods at room temperature for more than two hours on the big day. Two hours is considered the bacteria danger zone in which harmful bacteria can grow rapidly in temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees F.

--Wash your hands with soap and hot water before and after handling any food. To prevent cross contamination, use two cutting boards: one for meat, one for other foods. Wash utensils with soap and hot water after using. And use paper towels, not dishcloths, to clean up any spilled meat juices and to dry the turkey after rinsing.

Most families have their own Thanksgiving traditions and serve dishes that bring back fond memories of holidays past. No doubt the majority of us will be eating variations on the turkey, stuffing, potato, cranberry, vegetable and pumpkin themes.

Just in case you're looking to fill in some accompaniment gaps at the last minute, here are some tried-and-true favorites (many that I've used over the years) that might come in handy. All of the recipes are easy - and should round out the feast with flavor and style.

FAVORITE SAVORY STUFFING

1 pound fully cooked chicken sausage links (such as Chef Bruce Aidells chicken with sun-dried tomato sausage OR Southwestern flavored sausage) OR Polish kielbasa sausage, removed from casings, if desired, and chopped

2 cups chopped celery

1 cup chopped onions

2 (6-ounce) bags (a 12-ounce box) seasoned dressing OR stuffing mix (Mrs. Cubbison's preferred)

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

3/4 to 1 cup chicken broth

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Pepper OR garlic pepper to taste

In a large skillet, cook sausage, breaking into small pieces, along with celery and onions, until sausage is browned. Drain off excess fat (you can keep a small amount for added flavor).

Turn dry stuffing into a large bowl. Add sausage mixture, butter, chicken broth, parsley and pepper to taste, tossing together until well mixed. Stuffing mixture should not be too moist or wet. Use to loosely stuff a large turkey. OR bake stuffing separately in a casserole dish, covered, in preheated 350-degree oven 30 to 35 minutes or 325-degree oven 45 to 50 minutes or until hot. Uncover last 10 to 20 minutes, if desired. Makes about 10 servings.

NOTE: Try different additions like dried cherries, apricots, sauteed leeks, fresh corn, mushrooms, nuts, etc., if desired. You can even substitute different breads (cut into small cubes and toasted) like sourdough, herb bread, onion bread, raisin bread, rye bread, walnut bread, corn bread, etc. for seasoned dressing. You can also delete the sausage completely or use cooked chopped ham, cooked bacon or pancetta pieces instead.

FIRST LADY LAURA BUSH'S CORN BREAD DRESSING

CORN BREAD:

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 cups stone-ground cornmeal

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons baking powder

4 teaspoons sugar

Salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon)

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups whole milk

DRESSING:

3 cups chopped onion

3 cups chopped celery

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 to 1 cup fresh sage, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (about 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper)

3 cups turkey stock (OR canned chicken broth)

To make Corn Bread: Heat oven to 450 degrees F. Pour oil into 13x9x2- inch metal baking pan. Heat oil in oven until very hot, about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Stir in eggs and milk. Carefully pour hot oil into cornmeal mixture; mix. Pour into heated pan. Bake at 450 degrees F 20 to 25 minutes, until golden. Remove and reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Let corn bread stand 10 minutes; crumble.

To make Dressing: In a large skillet, saute onion and celery in 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter and olive oil until vegetables are softened, about 7 minutes. In a bowl, mix onion mixture, sage, salt, pepper and crumbled corn bread. Spoon into a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, drizzle over top, with stock. Cover with foil. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven 20 minutes. Remove foil; bake 10 minutes longer, until browned. Makes 12 to 14 servings.

From Family Circle magazine, Nov. 19 issue.

MAKE-AHEAD MASHED POTATO CASSEROLE

5 pounds baking potatoes (such as russet, Idaho, Burbank OR Eastern)

Salt

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, cut into chunks, at room temperature

1 cup dairy sour cream

1/2 cup milk, heated

1/2 teaspoon freshly milled white pepper

Chopped fresh chives OR parsley (optional)

Fill a large pot (at least 5 quarts) halfway with cold water. Peel potatoes, cut into chunks about 1 1/2 inches square and drop into pot. Add more cold water to cover potatoes by 1 to 2 inches. (The potatoes can be prepared to this point up to 4 hours ahead and stored at cool room temperature.)

Stir in enough salt until water tastes mildly salted. Cover tightly and bring to a full boil over high heat, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and set lid askew. Cook at a moderate boil until potatoes are tender when pierced with tip of a small sharp knife, 15 to 20 minutes; add more boiling water, if needed, to keep potatoes covered. Do not overcook potatoes.

Drain potatoes well and return to warm pot. Add cream cheese. Using a hand-held electric mixer, mash potatoes until cream cheese melts. Beat in sour cream and milk. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Transfer to a buttered 9x13-inch baking dish. Cool completely. (The potatoes can be prepared up to 4 hours ahead, covered loosely with plastic wrap, and stored at cool room temperature; or, cool, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to 1 day.)

Bake casserole in a preheated 375-degree oven, 30 to 40 minutes, or until potatoes are heated through. Serve hot, sprinkled with chives. Makes 8 to 12 servings.

From ``Thanksgiving 101,'' by Rick Rodgers.

QUICK TURKEY GRAVY

6 tablespoons butter

6 tablespoons flour

3 cups canned chicken broth (OR use a combination of broth and turkey pan drippings for best flavor - 1/3 to 1/2 cup dry white wine can also be used as part of the liquid, if desired)

Seasoned salt and pepper to taste

Worcestershire sauce to taste

Liquid gravy brown OR browning sauce (such as Kitchen Bouquet or Gravy Master, if available)

In a large saucepan, melt butter and, using a wire whisk, stir in flour. Cook, whisking, at least a couple of minutes or until light golden. Remove from heat. Gradually, whisk in chicken broth until smooth. Return to heat and bring to a boil, whisking, until slightly thickened. Reduce heat and simmer about 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce to taste. Add gravy browner (start with a few drops) to color as desired. Makes about 3 cups.

NOTE: Add more broth if a thinner gravy is desired. Also add fresh chopped herbs (or dried) such as a mixture of rosemary and sage or thyme and parsley or tarragon and chives to butter before blending in flour, if desired. Recipe can be doubled or tripled, if desired.

CRANBERRY RELISH

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons cider OR raspberry vinegar

1 (12-ounce) package fresh cranberries (3 cups), rinsed, any foreign pieces discarded and drained

Grated peel of 1 large orange

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup chopped dried apricots

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

In a large saucepan, combine brown sugar, orange juice and vinegar; heat to boiling. Add cranberries and cook over moderately high heat until skins pop, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in orange peel, raisins, apricots and walnuts.

Cool, then transfer to a covered container and refrigerate up to 1 week. Freeze for longer storage. Serve alongside turkey, chicken or pork. Makes 3 cups.

YUMMY YAM CASSEROLE

4 large or 6 smaller yams (about 4 pounds total)

7 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Dash salt

2 tablespoons brandy OR Grand Marnier

1 large orange, peel grated and then juice squeezed into yam mixture

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Rinse yams off well with water and pierce all over with a sharp knife into middle of yams. Cook in microwave oven on high power 12 to 16 minutes or until soft when pierced with a fork. Check often during cooking. Cooking time will depend on number of yams and size.

Allow yams to cool 5 minutes so you can handle. Peel off skin and mash with a dinner fork (don't use mixer - it's not necessary). Mix in 4 tablespoons butter and 4 tablespoons brown sugar. Stir in cinnamon, salt and brandy. Add grated orange peel and juice from orange. Mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings. Turn into a casserole dish, smoothing top.

For praline topping, melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter, then stir in remaining 1/3 cup brown sugar and pecans. Mix well. Sprinkle evenly over top of yam mixture. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven about 30 to 35 minutes or until heated through and topping is bubbly. Makes about 8 servings.

SOUR CREAM PINEAPPLE MOLD

1 (6-ounce) package raspberry-flavored gelatin

1 cup boiling water

1 pint dairy sour cream

1 (1-pound 4-ounce) can crushed pineapple

1/2 cup chopped walnuts OR pecans

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water; cool slightly. Add sour cream and whisk with a wire whisk until well dissolved and blended. Stir in undrained pineapple and nuts. Pour into a 1 1/2-quart mold. Chill firm. Unmold and serve on red or butter lettuce leaves, garnished with additional sour cream if desired. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

VINEYARD HOLIDAY PIE

2 cups canned 100% pure pumpkin (puree)

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated)

1 egg

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup sherry

1/2 cup hot water

1 (9-inch) unbaked pastry shell

Sweetened whipped cream

In a large bowl, combine pumpkin, condensed milk, egg, salt, spices, sherry and water. Beat with an electric mixer on slow speed or whisk until well blended (mixture will be thin). Pour into unbaked pastry shell.

Bake in preheated 375-degree oven 50 to 55 minutes. Cool. (Refrigerate if making the night before serving.) Serve topped with sweetened whipped cream. Keep any leftover pie refrigerated. Makes 1 (9-inch) pie.

CAPTION(S):

6 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) dinner & a movie

Thanksgiving Day traditions

(2 -- cover -- color) `Personal Velocity'

(3 -- cover -- color) `Treasure Planet'

(4 -- cover -- color) `Solaris'

(5 -- cover -- color) `Adam Sandler's 8 Crazy Nights

(6 -- color) no caption (Turkey)

Box:

(1) TURKEY ROASTING GUIDE

(2) FOOD SAFETY (see text)
COPYRIGHT 2002 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Date:Nov 27, 2002
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