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For no other American holiday is the food as central to the celebration as for Thanksgiving. The basics are a turkey and all the trimmings, i.e. a turkey with many dishes of vegetables reflecting bounty. Each region has its specialties and each family its favorites. Following are recipes for some of the basics so your family can start its own traditions.
Although more people are seeking fresh turkeys for their Thanksgiving meals, most American buy a frozen turkey. Figure 1 pound of turkey per person. After bones and scraps this should allow enough meat with some left over for sandwiches and to make soup. Be sure to follow the directions when thawing. Do not leave the bird to thaw on a counter top. Thaw it in the refrigerator allowing several days, or in an emergency, in a sink of cold water changing the water to keep it cold. Allowing the flesh to sit at room temperature gives disease causing bacteria a chance to grow.
Turkey is inherently difficult to cook. Roasting until the breast meat is done will leave the darker meat undercooked. Leaving it in the oven until the dark meat is cooked through till result in dry white meat. There are many methods which include everything from turning the bird on its side, to cutting and roasting the pieces separately, then reassembling. Basting does little to keep the meat moist as the juices just run off the skin like water off a raincoat. The important thing to remember is to make sure the meat is cooked through to avoid any disease.
Most turkeys will come with cooking directions on the wrapping. Be sure to remove the giblets which will have been wrapped an placed in a package in the body cavity. The turkey is done when if you prick it with a knife all the juices run clear, or when the leg is loose in its socket. Be sure to let the turkey sit for 10-15 minutes after you take it out of the oven to make it easier to carve.
Many people like to put stuffing or dressing in the turkey before cooking. The simplest is to cook chopped celery and onions in butter, add bread chopped in cubes seasoned with sage, salt and pepper, and some stock or egg. Many people add other things. Popular additions include chestnuts, suasage, oysters, pecans and apples and variations include using rye bread, corn bread or rice instead of white bread. Some people prefer the stuffing cooked separately in a dish in the same oven with the turkey. If you are going to put the stuffing in the turkey, wait until just before you are going to put the turkey into the oven.
The traditional accompanyment for a Thanksgiving turkey is cranberry sauce.
Canned cranberry sauce is readily available, but it is easy to make your own.
Put 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water in a heavy sauce pan. Add 1 bag (12 oz.) fresh cranberries washed and picked over. Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes until the skins of the cranberries pop. Add the grated zest of 1 orange. Serve chilled with the roast turkey.
Traditional side dishes include:
Homemade mashed potatoes
Sweet potatoes baked with pineapple juice and marshmallows
Mashe carrots and turnips
The best Thanksgiving recipes do not come from a cook book, but are passed from generation to generation and from friend to friend.
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