How Do I Pick Out My Thanksgiving Turkey?

Whether this is your first time hosting Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving, the turkey situation can be scary and daunting. As soon as you enter the grocery store, you are hit with multiple options like fresh, frozen, organic, heritage, free-range…and Butterball. I mean, what does it all mean? How big of a turkey do I need?

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A Beautiful Turkey Cooked by Williams & Sonoma

Today, I will try to help with the decision of picking out the turkey. I have researched several types of turkeys so that you are armed when you enter the store. This does not have to be hard.

How BIG of a Turkey Do I Buy?
To make sure you feed all your guest well, your biggest decision should be the size of turkey. An easy rule is 1 pound for every person at your table. If you want leftovers, 2 pounds per person will be perfect. IF you want lots of leftovers, well, you get the idea.

Where is this Bird Going to Cook?
Now, you need to consider where you are cooking this turkey! In your oven, in a roaster oven, and the neighbor’s. You need to size-up the area you have to work with. You can see the problem on Thanksgiving day when your turkey is TOO BIG and you have nowhere to cook it. Big Fail!

Do you have a Pan to Cook your Turkey in?
This is like a dress rehearsal. I like to (days before) establish what pans and dishes I will be using for Thanksgiving. Go ahead and pull out the pan you will be cooking your turkey in. You might need to purchase one or borrow from a friend. If you are using a roaster oven, make sure your bird fits before the big day.

Heritage, Free-Range, Organic, Oh My!
When you arrive to the grocery store, you will be hit with several choices. I consulted my friends over at Food & Wine to break it down for us.
Heritage: One of the most popular birds in the past few years because of their superior flavor, heritage turkeys are purebred and generally older than other turkeys you may find at the store. They tend to be smaller, have more bone and darker leg meat. Life outdoors gives these turkeys a gamier taste than the regular store-bought varieties.

Organic: Certified organic by the USDA, these turkeys are now more easily found in grocery stores, and are Weening’s top choice. They are fed an all-organic vegetarian diet, never given antibiotics and are raised on organic pastures. They tend to be a little more expensive because the feed the birds eat is more expensive.

Free Range: No antibiotics or hormones are given to these turkeys and they have access to the outdoors (at least part of the time, according to the USDA).

Pastured Turkey: This type of turkey is raised outdoors and is pretty much free to do and eat what it wants, although they are also given feed to ensure they get the proper levels of nutrients.

Kosher: Kosher turkeys are raised and processed according to strict rabbinical guidelines. Before they are packaged they are rubbed with Kosher salt, which also acts as a brine.

Brine: Some turkeys are one step ahead of you and have been brined already. Various juices, oils, seasonings, sugar and/or salt are injected into the turkey. Brining is beneficial because it can provide extra moisture and flavor to the turkey in addition to saving you some prep time, but it can dictate the flavor of your turkey and take the seasoning out of your hands. Butterball turkeys are usually brined.

Fresh vs. Frozen: Basically fresh turkeys are kept at a temperature of 27 degrees. When the temperature drops below that, the meat begins to freeze. If you’re buying a fresh turkey, buy it NO more than two days before you plan to cook it; you can usually reserve one at markets and farmers’ markets way in advance.

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Check Out Local Restaurants and Grocery Stores For Cooked

Many local restaurants offer Thanksgiving Turkeys for your convenience. This is a great option and one I have used before. You usually need to order a week before. Your turkey is prepped and cooked by a professional. Then when you pick up, you are given specific directions of how to cook your turkey. This is a great option to take some pressure off the big day.

It Will All Be Fine….
In the end it comes down to what you want to pay. Turkeys can get pricey, so know how many you are buying for and be sure to take into account the leftovers you want to eat for days to come. Otherwise you got this. Feel confident in the purchase of your turkey. Your guest will LOVE it.
Looking Forward,
Amanda

Roasted Butternut Squash

It’s the week of Thanksgiving and you might be looking for one last side dish.  Pick up a butternut squash and I bet you have the rest in your pantry.  Roasting butternut squash is super easy and completely tasty.  I love the balsamic vinegar in this recipe.

You can prep your butternut squash in the morning and throw it in the oven thirty minutes before dinner.

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Roasted Butternut Squash

2 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed

3 T olive oil

2 T balsamic vinegar

2 T unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Mix together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and butter.  Toss the butternut squash in mixture.  Pile squash into a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Then season well with salt and pepper. Roast, stirring once about halfway through, until fork-tender and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven.  Serve warm.

Sweet Potato Casserole

And at most Thanksgiving tables, we find some sort of sweet potatoes.

There are so many ways to make sweet potatoes.  Some are great and some are just yuck! This little sweet potato casserole is like dessert.  The first time I had this dish, we were sharing Thanksgiving at my parents house.  My sister made this side dish and we all went crazy.

If you believe sweet potatoes must be served with marshmallows, I will not judge. You probably like Peeps too, again, not judging.   You can add them to the top.  But you honestly do not need them.  The sugars and pecans make this dish come to life.

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Sweet Potato Casserole

3 cups cooked, sweet potatoes

1/2 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 cup butter, divided (1/2 cup melted & 1/2 cup softened)

1 T Vanilla

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

1 cup chopped pecans

1/3 cup white flour

Peel and mash potatoes.  In a large bowl add eggs, white sugar, 1/2 cup melted butter, and vanilla.  Mix with an electric mixer.  Place in a 13X9 buttered baking dish.

Mix brown sugar, pecans, and flour.  Then add 1/2 cup softened butter.  Sprinkle on top of potato mixture.   Optional:  top with  1 1/2 cup of  mini marshmallows.  I don’t do this but some like it.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Serve warm. And leftovers are yummy too!

Bourbon Vanilla Cranberry Sauce

We are on the official countdown to Turkey Day!  I will be sharing some of our favorite Thanksgiving recipes over the next few days.  For several years I made this Cranberry Sauce.  This sauce is yummy and has all the ingredients you want on your Thanksgiving table.  But then I discovered the beauty of mixing bourbon and vanilla to cranberries. And now this is our favorite!  Enjoy!
Bourbon Vanilla Cranberry Sauce

14 oz fresh cranberries

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

2 T Bourbon

1 T Mexican Vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a large sauce pan.  Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until cranberries burst and begin to break down, about 10-15 minutes.

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Stir well and remove from heat. Refrigerate the cranberry sauce for up to 3 hours before serving. But feel free to get ahead and make it the day before.

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Broccoli Quinoa Casserole

We all know the dish.  It is a staple at church potlucks, in cookbooks, and family gatherings.  Let’s change it up a little.  Add in quinoa instead of rice.  You still get the same creamy-yummy texture without all those carbs.  This is a perfect side dish to all to your upcoming festivities.

Broccoli Quinoa Casserole

1- 10 oz can condensed Cream of Broccoli soup
1/3 cup light mayonnaise
2 T milk
1 1/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 t Splenda
1/4 t black pepper
2 cups cooked broccoli
1 1/2 cups  COOKED quinoa (below)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

To cook quinoa:
3/4 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
1/3 t salt

Rinse quinoa in a fine sieve until water runs clear.  In a small saucepan combine the quinoa, water, and salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to low and cover.  Cook for 18-20 minutes, or until fluffy and the white ring/tail is visible.  Fluff with a fork.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat a shallow (8×8 in or 5-6 cups) casserole dish – or individual ramekins – with vegetable cooking spray.

In a large bowl combine the soup, mayonnaise, milk, shredded cheese, Splenda, and pepper until well mixed. Stir in the quinoa and broccoli.
Spoon mixture into prepared casserole.  Sprinkle on a couple tablespoons of Parmesan and bake for 35-40 minutes (20-25 minutes for ramekins) or until bubbly on the edges and golden.  Makes 8 generous 1/2-cup servings.