Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season. It’s a chance to bring family and friends together, the day when we take a little extra time to give thanks, and for many, a day devoted to cooking and eating—plus a little football!
When I was growing up, my mom always made the exact same side dishes every year. There’s something comforting in that, and I must say I never got my fill of her stuffing. As I’ve grown older, though, I enjoy mixing up the menu a bit—a roasted root vegetable medley stars alongside my basic mashed potatoes; roasted cranberry relish replaces the jellied stuff out of the can; and I’ve kicked up the flavors in my dressing by adding many more vegetables plus a little cream.
But perhaps the most significant change I’ve made to my mom’s meal is that I now buy exclusively heritage breed turkeys from a local Colorado farmer (see source info below). “Heritage breed” refer to those old and original breeds of birds that were native to our country before we started breeding the larger-breasted birds you might be used to. No doubt heritage breed turkeys are more flavorful, but they require a bit of special attention to ensure they cook properly. Brining the bird keeps it moist and juicy and adds tremendous flavor to both the bird and the gravy you make from the drippings.
Here’s my Thanksgiving timetable:
Make sure the turkey is thawed by Monday. If not, place entire bird in cold water until it’s defrosted, changing the water frequently.
Prepare brine (recipe follows) and place turkey in brine in the refrigerator. (Make sure you plan for a space that’s large enough.) I brine in the large plastic bags made just for this purpose and place the whole bag with turkey inside on a roasting pan in the refrigerator. If your refrigerator isn’t large enough, place the whole bag into a cooler and cover with ice; check twice a day to ensure the ice is keeping it cold.
Prepare side dishes and desserts and refrigerate. I like to do the bulk of my cooking the day before so I can spend Thanksgiving relaxing and socializing with my family and friends. I usually set the table the day before too, so that it looks pretty when guests arrive.
Remove turkey from brine and roast. Chill wines and other beverages in plenty of time. Cook side dishes that you prepped the day before. Give thanks, eat and enjoy!
This season, mix up your typical Thanksgiving spread with these delicious recipes:
Sources for Heritage Breed Turkeys—make sure to order ahead!
Eastern Plains Natural Food Coop, (303) 644-4079, easternplains.com
Marczyk’s Fine Foods, (303) 894-9499, marczykfinefoods.com
Whole Foods Market, (303) 488-2000, wholefoodsmarket.com
About the author: Michele Morris leads cooking dinner parties and teaches private and group cooking classes for both kids and adults. For more great recipes, cooking tips, and resources, visit her website cookingwithmichele.com.