Monday, December 11, 2006

The Trials of Turkey

My sister and I have shared a feeling of dread for about five years now--it's not pervasive mind you, and it's not always with us (we tend to repress it entirely from sometime in June until early November), but beginning in early November it's there, front and center, unable to be shaken or lost.

Here's the thing: Neither one of us has had to cook a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, evah, and our family holiday dinners come with a very high expectation for culinary perfection.

Because my mother, God love her 70-year-old self, can whip up a holiday meal like nobody's business. And my sister and I know that this cannot last forever. One fall in the future, my mother will announce that she's just too old and tired to do this anymore and one of us can just take over. Oh. Crap. This thought is so scary that my sister and I can only usually summon the courage to discuss it after a glass of wine and then only about once a year.

The menu isn't fancy , but it never changes and it is always delicious. The turkey is never dry. The gravy is homemade and lump-free. Same with the mashed potatoes--not one lump in about 20 pounds of spuds. The stuffing is moist but not wet. It's perfectly seasoned.

And the corn. Well, that's to die for. For as long as I can remember, my mom and her closest friend have been freezing corn. It's an all weekend affair, starting on a Friday morning in late August. All available kids (now grandkids) from both families are rounded up and hauled out to the corn fields to pick as much sweet corn as possible. The kids also have to shuck it. All of it.

Then comes the boiling on the cob, waiting for the corn to be cool enough to handle, then the cutting off the cob, the stuffing into freezer baggies and finally, the hauling the baggies down to the jumbo sized freezer, to be stored next to the side of beef (given to us by one of the nice dairy farmers in my dad's congregation). This process was repeated until late in the night on Friday, started again very early Saturday morning, took a break for church on Sunday morning, then ended sometime mid-afternoon on the Lord's Day.

At first first my mom froze corn because it was cheaper than buying the frozen corn in the grocery store and then later it was because we kids refused to eat the stuff from the store. It just didn't taste nearly as good as that creamy, smashed kernel, wonderfully fresh sweet corn from our freezer.

But back to this turkey thing. I've perfected the lump free mashed potatoes and the gravy and I'm pretty close to getting the stuffing right. I can bake a mean pumpkin pie and there's not a thing I can do about the corn, so I'm not going to sweat that. I'm planning to substitute and nice whipped butternut squash instead.

However, my turkey is always horrible, horrible, horrible--try, tasteless, disappointing. Something has to be done. I've tried kosher turkeys, fresh turkeys, Butterball self-basters, it doesn't matter. It's not the turkey, it's me.

Lately, I've been experimenting with different turkey cooking methods and yesterday, I finally made a turkey that was juicy, delicious and edible.

I found it over at my favorite site for recipes (Simply Recipes) and you can find the turkey recipe here. There are two things that seem to make the difference: 1) instead of cooking the stuffing in the turkey, this recipe calls for stuffing the body cavity with an onion, parsley, carrots and celery; and 2) cooking the turkey breast side down.

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