Category Archives: Thanksgiving

Roast Turkey (From the Frozen State)

When we lived in Albania putting together a Thanksgiving meal was always a production. Ironically enough, the hardest part of the the holiday was actually buying the food. Turkeys and to be procured from the commissary in neighboring Kosovo, the highly coveted sweet potatoes were bought in Italy months in advance and stashed in the coolest place in the house and pecans were imported from the United States. Once I had all of my ingredients I had two full kitchens and several refrigerators and freezers in which I could prepare and store the meal. Our dinners were epic in scale as well; one year our guests totaled 26 people around three tables. I prepared all of the food myself and slow roasted my birds in shifts. It worked because I had the space.

Fast forward to Belgium where space–both in the refrigerator and in the oven–are at a premium. As in I have European scaled appliances that don’t allow for any extras. Dishes are selected based on what does or doesn’t need to be cooked in an oven or can be served at room temperature. And defrosting the turkey? Its a nightmare. But last year I took a new approach to cooking my bird and it is one that I’m now adopting as the only way to cook my turkey.

In Albania my friend Anne always insisted on cooking her turkey from the frozen state. Yes that is right. She would plunk her fully frozen turkey in the oven and let it cook. I laughed when I first heard about this method since it flew in the face of everything I had ever heard of. But she sent me articles to attest to its legitimacy and assured me that this was an easier and safer method that allowed you to skip the lengthy defrosting process and resulted in a juicy and flavorful bird. For three years I resisted this method, not only because I was skeptical but because I had plenty of refrigerator space to safely defrost the bird and ovens to cook it in. But times change……..

So with a bit of trepidation and an assurance that I could contact Anne during the cooking process if needed, I attempted to roast my first frozen turkey. Because the bird is completely frozen it does take more time to cook than a defrosted one. There was also the somewhat humorous removing of the partially defrosted bag containing the neck and organ meats from the hot bird and the subsequent stuffing of the carcass. (Honestly, none of which is easy when using oven mitts). But the results? So worth it. The bird was juicy, flavorful and perfectly cooked. And getting to skip the arduous defrosting process? Now that was priceless. So tomorrow I’ll be taking the same approach which will allow me to focus on the other dishes that will complete the meal. It will be stress free……..but that can also be chalked up to hosting a mere 11 guests this year.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

turkey

 

ROAST TURKEY (from the frozen state)

1 12-13 pound frozen turkey

  • About 5 to 5 1/2 hours before you plan on serving, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. (This allows your turkey to rest for about 1/2 an hour before carving. Adjust your timing for a smaller or larger bird).
  • Remove the turkey from any wrapping and place it on a rack in a large yet shallow rimmed roasting pan.
  • Place the turkey in the oven and allow it to cook.
  • After about 2 to 2 1/2 hours the legs will be at approximately 100 degrees but the breasts will only be about 25 degrees. Insert an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of the breast to monitor the temperature of the bird.
  • Ater about 3 1/2 hours you should be able very carefully remove the bag containing the neck and internal organs. Use oven mitts and tongs to do this. At this point you may also fill the cavity with your favorite dressing.
  • Continue to monitor the temperature of the breast which must reach an internal temperature of 175 to 185 degrees to be considered done.
  • Remove the turkey from the oven, tent with aluminum foil and several dish towels and allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving.

Enjoy!

 

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Chestnut, Pear, Cherry and Sage Dressing

For some Thanksgiving is all about the turkey; for me, it is all about the side dishes.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love a nice juicy slice of turkey but it is everything that gets piled on the plate along with the meat that gets me the most excited.  The hardest part about living in Albania is my inability to access some of my traditional Thanksgiving (and Christmas) standbys- fresh cranberries and sweet potatoes are not available here and due to their perishability, it is not possible to get them shipped in through the pouch.  (I’m sure at some point someone has tried this but I haven’t done it yet. Maybe next year……..).

There are still plenty of delicious side dishes that I can make and this recipe for Chestnut, Pear, and Sage Dressing based on a recipe from Williams-Sonoma is just the first of several that I will highlight over the coming weeks.  Not only does this dish bring together some of the tasty and plentiful ingredients that are found here in Albania but it also makes good use of the roasted chestnuts I prepared earlier this week.  The original recipe calls for the inclusion of breakfast sausage.  I omit this since many of our guests do not eat pork.  I also double the recipe since leftover dressing is a vital part of any post-Thanksgiving Day turkey sandwich.

CHESTNUT, PEAR, CHERRY, AND SAGE DRESSING
 
1-pound loaf of rustic bread, torn into 1/2 inch pieces
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2 inch dice
3 celery stalks, cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 small pears, cored and cut int 1/2 inch dice
1 cup peeled and chopped roasted chestnuts
1 cup dried sour cherries, chopped
1/3 cup finely chapped fresh sage
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 cups turkey or chicken stock
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1)  Spread the bread out on a baking sheet and let dry overnight.  Alternatively, toast in a 300 degree F
oven for 30 minutes making sure the cubes do not burn.
2)  Preheat an oven to 375 degrees.  Butter a large, shallow baking dish.
3)  In a large saute pan over medium heat, melt 1 Tablespoon butter and add the onion, carrot, celery
and pear.
Ready for the pan

4)  Saute, stirring occasionally, until tender, 7 to 8 minutes.  Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Melding flavors
Yummy additions

5)   Add the chestnuts, dried cherries, sage, melted butter, stock and salt and pepper and stir to mix.
Add the bread and stir to combine.

Before the addition of the bread
4)  Transfer the dressing to the prepared baking dish and dot with butter.  Bake until golden and crispy,
about 1 hour.
Into the oven it goes
Serves 10-12 people.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of the finished dressing in all of its golden goodness.  Our guests dug into the dish immediately and there weren’t any leftovers. I guess this is a sign of a good dish.  I’ll have to make it again and remember to get a picture next time.

Roasted Chestnuts

Chestnuts roasting in Ljubljana

Chestnuts are a perennial autumn nut.  Wander through any European city during the fall or winter months and you can see roasting on just about every street corner.  You can easily follow their distinctive sweet fragrance to the closest vendor.  There is nothing better than eating hot roasted chestnuts from a paper cone as you roam the streets.  This time of year chestnuts are also abundant in the markets.  From chain grocery stores to neighborhood shops and the grand vegetable markets, bins of the nuts are everywhere.  Not only are chestnuts good to eat “as is” they add body and complexity to other foods.  Whether combined with roasted vegetables and bread dressing or as a main ingredient in a  soup, they add rich complexity to any dish.

Roasting chestnuts at home isn’t hard but it is time consuming.  Last November in a fit of over ambitious insanity, we hosted a lunch for twelve two days before our sit down Thanksgiving dinner for twenty-four.  Thinking I could multi-task with my ingredients, I planned a chestnut apple soup for the lunch and a chestnut sage dressing for Thanksgiving dinner. Even with the able hands of my visiting parents (who for some reason haven’t visited since) Glenn and I spent hours trying to pry the roasted chestnuts from their shells.  I couldn’t figure out why they were being so stubborn and at that time I vowed that until we had access to shelled chestnuts I would not be including this tasty ingredient in any of my dishes.

Fast forward a year………….we are heading into Thanksgiving week and chestnuts are once again on my menu.  This year, however, my menu and guest list are saner and I have a plan.  I also did more research and I think I may have found an easier roasting and shelling method.  Chestnuts must be cooked before being eaten.  Various methods call for boiling, broiling, roasting, or grilling the nuts before shelling them.  In pure experimental mode, I used three methods for cooking my chestnuts:  grilling on the gas fired grill, broiling in the oven, and roasting in the oven.

X marks the spot
ROASTED CHESTNUTS

Regardless of which method you chose, it is necessary wash and score the nuts before cooking.  I used a small paring knife to cut a large “X” on the flat side of each nut.  Given the large quantity of nuts I had, this was a time consuming, and if one isn’t careful, dangerous task.  Fortunately I only stabbed my thumb once on this go around.



Oven Roasted Method:  Place the scored chestnuts on a piece of tinfoil, add a small amount of water, and wrap to form a packet.  Place the packet on a baking sheet and roast in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Chestnuts ready to roast

Grilled Method:  Place the scored chestnuts in a grill basket and grill over a 400 degree grill for 20 minutes.  Shake the basket every five minutes to ensure that the nuts cook evenly and none of them scorch.  You can also place the nuts directly on the grill but you will then need to use tongs to turn the nuts.

Chestnuts on the grill

Broiled Method:  Place the scored chestnuts on a baking sheet and broil under high heat for 10 minutes.

You will know the chestnuts are cooked when the nuts are fragrant and the shells split open.  Once they are cool enough to handle, peel the shells and the inner skin from the nut.

So which method did I prefer?  By far, the broiled nuts were the easiest to shell.  The grilled method worked well too but for some reason I found the roasted nuts to be extremely difficult to shell.  From now on if I can’t buy my chestnuts from a street vendor I’ll be cooking mine at home under the broiler.

The payoff

Try your chestnuts in the following recipes:

Fine Cooking’s Chestnut Soup with Crisp Prosciutto
Saveur’s Chestnut Pound Cake
Williams-Sonoma’s Pear, Chestnut, and Sage Dressing 
Williams-Sonoma’s Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Chestnuts

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