First-time Thanksgiving cooks have no reason for pre-Turkey Day jitters. There are more help lines, live, interactive stand-by chefs and Internet sites to walk you through every twist and turn from sighting the bird to dropping the picked-over carcass into the soup pot.
Herald readers submitted their questions, mostly by email, so that I, too, could blather on and on about brining, basting and coaxing the holiday turkey to the table.
I have but one question for this collective of neurotics about preparing a turkey: When did this hysteria grip the nation?
Here are the answers to a selection of questions received in the last week:
Q. Can I do a turkey in the microwave? Kenny A.
A. Depends on if you want to eat that turkey, Kenny.
I know folks who still practice that 70s travesty of poaching salmon in the dishwasher, but Im not a fan of using appliances for tricks you shouldnt try at home.
Im getting a vibe, Kenny, that you may have forgotten to set the frozen turkey in the fridge three days ago to defrost slowly. Now its time to do your guests a favor and leave the turkey in all its stiffness where it belongs in the freezer. Eat it next month.
Theres no rule that says turkeys have to be a holiday meal. Virtually any recipe that calls for chicken will accept a bigger bird, namely a turkey, as a good substitute.
If you still intend to serve turkey less than 24 hours from now, you have two choices: Buy a fresh bird and follow the directions on the label, or start the cold water thaw method in which you emerge the rock solid chunk into water long enough for you to go numb to the elbows. Then, drain the sink. Repeat 18 times, suffering until youve paid penance for your sin. Youll probably still need a meat saw to quarter the half-thawed bird. Place these quartered pieces in a casserole dish, season well with salt and freshly ground pepper and roast until the internal temperature on the thickest part of the thigh or drumstick reaches 165 F.
Finally, grab your 2012 calendar. Flip to November and circle the third Sunday in the month. If you havent learned your lesson of when to start the slow thaw of your turkey, get a standing invitation to Moms for Thanksgiving dinner. Youll be expected to do the dishes. Now and forever.
Q. Will you share your traditional Thanksgiving stuffing recipe? Joann
A. Sure. Stuffing recipes often are family favorites reflecting the tastes and food products of geographic regions. My family prepared a traditional sage, sausage and bread dressing passed down from my mothers New Hampshire roots. Theres also a traditional Southern corn bread, the recipe for which follows this story.
Q. Hi, Karen. Ive heard about a turkey cooking method involving extremely low temperatures, around 200 F, extended over several hours. Online, some say the method yields the most succulent bird theyve ever had, while others warn of health concerns because of the possibility of bacteria development. Should I try the low temp method? Emmy
A. Dear Emmy, the three-word answer is dont do it. Most recipes call for poultry to be cooked at a minimum temperature of 325 F. You dont want a turkey to be held too long in the oven at lower temperatures. Despite what Grandma did, you dont cook a stuffed turkey overnight. Unconventional methods, such as cooking a turkey in a Crockpot, are not a good idea.
Some say the secret to a succulent turkey is frequent basting. Others say brining seals in juices. A third method involves a dry salt rub and leaving the turkey to dry out in the refrigerator for 24 hours before roasting the bird at moderately high temperatures to seal in juices. My favorite recipe is Alton Browns Good Eats Roast Turkey, which can be found online at Foodnetwork.com.
Finally, if you cant commit to babysitting the bird, you can buy the commercial roasting bags and cut small slits through which steam can escape. Follow the directions on the label. These bags are failure proof and practically guarantee a juicy outcome. While the culinary snobs around your table might not approve of this lazy tactic, it works.
Q. How do you bake a pecan pie at 8,000 feet altitude and have it not be runny? My high-altitude recipe includes flour, but it does not seem to work. They come out soupy, no matter what. Any suggestions? Carol
A. Im assuming you are referring to adding flour to the pecan pie filling. One to 2 tablespoons should help thicken it. Pecan pies seem to need more time in the oven at altitude than at sea level, but why they wont set at 8,000 feet could be because of any or all of the following: underbaking, eggs not being beaten sufficiently, incorrect proportion of eggs to fat, ingredients not being at room temperature or failure to bake the pie low and slow. This means baking at lower-than-average pie baking temperatures (300 to 325 F) for 50 to 60 minutes.
An Internet search indicated most failure to set issues for pie fillings have to do with ingredients not being at room temperature.
Finally, just for you, Carol, a chocolate pecan pie recipe, guaranteed to set up at the top of Colorados highest peaks, is included with this article.
Q. Whats the most popular Thanksgiving dessert? Leslie
A. Im not sure whats the most popular dessert, but probably the most recognizable Thanksgiving dessert ingredient is pumpkin pie, with apple pie trailing closely behind. Tradition holds that pumpkin pie is as much a staple to the Thanksgiving table as turkey, but we know folks who serve ham at this uniquely American holiday feast, too.
The bad news is that pumpkin shortages for two consecutive years created by rainy weather in the Midwest and Northeast have resulted in canned pumpkin profiteering and hoarding of canned pumpkin, although there does not appear to be a shortage locally. The price of a 15-ounce can has seen nearly a 25 percent jump at the grocery store, some say because pumpkin is the newest super food to aid digestion, not just for people, but for cats and dogs, too.
At the peak of the 2010 season, canned pumpkin went for $5 to $6 a can on eBay, but depending on what you read, the shortage is on its way out, despite the industry figure that claims 75 percent of all pumpkin sales are in the last three months of the year.
Another bit of pumpkin trivia: Nearly 85 percent of all canned pumpkin is sold under one label (Libby) and grown on a superfarm in central Illinois.
If a homemade pumpkin pie sounds like too much of a challenge, you can do what more than 2,000 followers of Food Network star Paula Dean did. They baked and raved over her recipe for pumpkin gooey butter bars, a 30-minute, no-crust version of the traditional treat, made with cream cheese and yellow cake mix.
With Thanksgiving less than 24 hours away, take comfort, novice and nervous cooks. Realize that all of Durangos turkey feasts the good, the bad and the ugly will converge in 72 hours or so, meeting just east of Santa Rita Park at the sewage treatment plant.
So relax. Practice the F word as in forgiveness. No matter what disasters befall you in the kitchen, forgive yourself and have fun. Its Thanksgiving, a day to show thanks.
Especially for football.