Nobody should be scared away from Thanksgiving just because it involves a giant bird carcass!
No, the real reason to be scared of Thanksgiving is the stuffing. Once a year I am reminded of that, as the bread cubes are flung willy-nilly and I am franticly flinging chopped bits of food everywhere. And my husband doesn't appreciate stuffing. But what can I say? Stuffing is the best part!
Don't panic! A home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner from scratch isn't all that difficult to make. But it does take some planning and some practice.
If you are intimidated by cooking everything yourself, then don't! It's okay to open a can of cranberry sauce to go with a home-cooked turkey. Boxed stuffing mix can be jazzed up by adding chopped apple or celery. Gravy can come from a mix, or be made with canned chicken stock.
One way to handle Thanksgiving is to invite friends, and have the guests bring some of the dishes. Have the host cook the bird, and the guests cook the other baked dishes, or vice versa.
There is only one safe way to thaw frozen turkey: in the refrigerator. A frozen turkey will need about one day to thaw for every four pounds. So, for example, a 20-pound turkey will need about five days to thaw.
Turkey is just like chicken, but bigger. Bake it exactly the same way as Baked Chicken #. At 350 degrees, expect the turkey to take 15 to 20 minutes per pound to cook. Although you can “wing it” with a chicken, be sure to use a thermometer with turkey, because you will be feeding more people, and you don't want them to get sick, or pretend to enjoy overcooked, dry meat. A probe-style thermometer is preferable. Just as with turkey, set the thermometer to beep when the turkey reaches 160 in the thickest part of the breast. Then move the turkey out of the oven, and the residual heat in the bird will bring the temperature up to 165, at which point it is fully cooked. Let the turkey continue to “rest” for at least another 20 minutes before serving, to keep the moisture in the meat.
Don't cook the turkey with stuffing inside of it – it's unsafe if you don't really know what you are doing. And don't rely on the pop-up timer that comes with the turkey – they are unreliable.
If you plan on baking your stuffing, or baking anything else, and you are already planning to cook the turkey, then you will need to make sure that all of the necessary pans will fit in the oven at once. However, if they don't, you can finish baking the turkey first, and then immediately put the stuffing in the oven. The turkey will stay hot for a good long time even if left uncovered, but you can make sure it stays hot by covering it it first in foil, and then with towels or thick layers of newspaper.
Stuffing #, when made from scratch, is probably the most time-intensive of all the Thanksgiving dishes to make, because it involves so much chopping. However, if you save up chopped stale bread in your freezer for a few weeks in advance, you can save a lot of time and counter space on Thanksgiving day. Or you can save time by chopping up the bread a day or two in advance.
Baked root vegetables # are a good Thanksgiving side dish, as is Baked Squash #. But if the oven is already full, Mashed Root Vegetables # are great, too.
Gravy # can be made while the turkey rests. The easy way to do it is to use butter and chicken stock #. If you are up for a little more work, then while the turkey is still cooking, simmer the giblets and neck in a little water to make a small batch of turkey stock. Strain this and set it aside. When the turkey comes out of the oven, pour the drippings (including as much of the solids as possible) into a bowl. Let this sit in the refrigerator for ten minutes or so. This will allow some of the melted fat to rise to the surface. Spoon the fat off of the top, and use it to make the roux for the gravy. Supplement this with butter if necessary Once the roux is ready, use the rest of the drippings and the turkey stock to finish making the gravy. Use additional chicken stock if necessary.
Don't forget Cranberry Sauce #! This can be made a day or more in advance, and is great served hot or cold.
For dessert, you can't beat Pumpkin Pie #. Or use the same recipe to make squash pie or sweet potato pie. Make this a day in advance, or suggest that a guest bring it. If you feel like being fancy, you can make your pumpkin pie from actual pumpkins, with home-made pie crust. But you can also make a terrific pie using canned ingredients and frozen pie crust.