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Don’t stress over the turkey

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TURKEY TIPS Despite common misconceptions, there’s no need to stress over the turkey. Keep patience – and these suggestions – in mind and the turkey will be a success.

Cooking Buzz is produced in partnership with the Junior League of Houston, a women’s charitable and education organization founded in 1925.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and if TV and the movies were true to life, a turkey disaster would be in our future.

In National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Clark Griswold’s sister-in-law overcooked the turkey to such a degree it deflated like a football when carved. In The Santa Clause, Scott Calvin somehow managed to set one on fire, sending him and his son to eat dinner at Denny’s. How do you catch a turkey on fire? I have no idea, but it happens all the time in the movies.

We’re all psyching ourselves out. Making a moist, delicious turkey can be easy, but there are four keys to success, besides following a great recipe like Favorite Turkey in Peace Meals.

First, do not attempt to cook a turkey that is not completely thawed. It will cook unevenly, take forever and will be tough as rubber. Second, brine the bird for one to three days in either the refrigerator or a well-insulated cooler with ice. This will ensure your turkey retains moisture. Third, use a meat thermometer, preferably a digital one that alerts you when the desired temperature is reached. Fourth, let the turkey rest for about 30 minutes so it can reabsorb its juices. 

While just a suggestion, I like to use turkey bags to retain moisture. You will cut back the bag and baste the skin with a cooking fat (like olive oil) when about an hour remains to allow the skin to crisp. 

Patience is always key when cooking a turkey. Time estimates are not always accurate, and it seems like Thanksgiving dinner is never on time. Avoid “hangry” guests by providing an array of snacks so nobody cares that dinner is late.

If you want to make appetizers ahead of time, Spicy Rosemary Cashews, Crab Cream Cheese Dip and Crunchy Sour Cream Spread can all be made in advance. Baked Chevre with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Basil, Crawfish Phyllo Triangles and Sausage Squares are excellent choices for hot appetizers.

Favorite Turkey 

From Peace Meals

10- to 12-pound fresh turkey
3 teaspoons dry mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1⁄3 cup olive oil, plus additional
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large white onion, peeled and cut into wedges
3 stalks celery, strings removed and cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 slices bacon
½ cup (1 stick) butter, cut into pieces
2 cups chicken broth
1 thin linen towel (to be discarded after cooking)

This recipe requires advance preparation. Remove and discard the giblets and neck from inside the turkey; rinse the turkey and pat dry. Combine the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Coat the turkey with the mixture on both the inside and outside of the bird. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Place onion, celery and parsley inside the cavity of the turkey. Lay the bacon slices across the breast. Place pieces of butter in the crevices between the drumstick and the breast, and behind the wings. Place the turkey in a roasting pan and add the broth. Soak the linen towel in olive oil and lay it over the entire turkey. Roast the turkey for 3 to 3½ hours or until a meat thermometer registers 180-185°F in the thigh and 170-175°F in the thickest part of the breast. Baste turkey and turn the roasting pan several times during cooking. Remove from the oven and allow the turkey to rest for 30 minutes before carving.

Spicy Rosemary Cashews

Spicy Rosemary Cashews

SPICED CASHEWS These Spicy Rosemary Cashews from Peace Meals can be prepared ahead of time and be served either warm or at room temperature. (Photo courtesy of the Junior League of Houston)

From Peace Meals

1 pound whole unsalted roasted cashews
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the cashews on a rimmed baking sheet and heat in the oven for 4 to 5 minutes. Combine the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl to form a paste. Add the warm cashews and mix gently until evenly coated. May be served warm or at room temperature. Makes 1½ cups.

Crab Cream Cheese Dip

From The Star of Texas Cookbook

1 pound fresh lump crab meat
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese
1 cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
1 bottle (12 ounces) chili sauce
2 teaspoons Worcestershire

Pick shell from crab; wash and drain well. Toss gently with lemon juice. Soften cream cheese and add sour cream and mayonnaise. Combine chili sauce and Worcestershire. Place cream cheese mixture in a serving dish. Top with crab meat. Pour chili sauce over all. Chill. Serve with crackers. Serves 8 to 10.

Crunchy Sour Cream Spread

From The Star of Texas Cookbook

Crunchy Sour Cream Spread

APPETIZING This Crunchy Sour Cream Spread from The Star of Texas Cookbook is refrigerated overnight. It’s easy to pull out for guests to snack on before dinner. (Photo courtesy of the Junior League of Houston)

1 cup sour cream
¼ cup finely chopped bell pepper
¼ cup finely chopped celery
2 Tablespoons chopped onion
2 Tablespoons chopped pimiento-stuffed green olives
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
2 to 3 drops of hot sauce
12 Cheese Ritz Crackers, crumbled

Combine all ingredients except crackers. Line a small mold or bowl with plastic wrap. Spread 1⁄3 cup of sour cream mixture into bowl. Sprinkle with 1⁄3 of crackers. Repeat layers. Top with remaining sour cream mixture and refrigerate overnight. Turn out on to serving plate. Remove plastic wrap and top with remaining cracker crumbs. Serve with Ritz crackers. Serves 4 to 6.

Baked Chevre with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Basil

From Stop and Smell the Rosemary

8 ounces chevre
4 ounces sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and minced
½ teaspoon minced garlic
½ cup minced fresh basil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly coat a small ovenproof serving dish with olive oil. Place chevre in dish and bake until melted, 15 to 20 minutes. Combine the sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and basil in a small bowl. Spoon tomato mixture over cheese. Serve with crackers or fresh vegetables. Serves 4 to 6.

Crawfish Phyllo Triangles

From Stop and Smell the Rosemary

2 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
1 pound fresh Louisiana crawfish tails, cooked, peeled, coarsely chopped (frozen is okay too)
3 green onions, chopped
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 pound frozen phyllo dough, thawed
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup fine bread crumbs (like panko)

Combine cream cheese, crawfish, green onions, cilantro, tarragon, garlic, curry, red pepper flakes, salt and lime juice in a large bowl. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place 1 sheet of phyllo on a lightly floured surface. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Repeat with 2 more sheets of phyllo. With a sharp knife, cut across horizontally to make 3 rectangles. (Cover remaining phyllo with a damp towel while working on the first). Place 1 rounded teaspoon of crawfish mixture on a corner of each rectangle and fold up “flag style” to form triangular packages. Repeat with remaining crawfish and phyllo. Place triangles on a greased baking sheet and brush lightly with butter. Bake 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve immediately. Yields 24 triangles.

Sausage Squares

From Houston Junior League Cookbook

1 pound bulk sausage (hot if preferred)
½ cup chopped onion
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
¼ cup grated Swiss cheese
1 egg, beaten
¼ teaspoon hot sauce
1½ teaspoons salt
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
2 cups Bisquick
2⁄3 cup milk
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 egg yolk

Cook sausage and onion over low heat until meat is browned. Drain off excess fat. Add cheese, whole egg, hot sauce, salt and parsley. Make Bisquick dough by mixing it with milk and mayonnaise. Spread half of dough over bottom of well-greased 8-inch square pan. Cover with sausage mixture. Spread remaining dough over sausage mixture. Brush with beaten egg yolk. Bake 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees. Cut in squares and serve hot. May also be served for a brunch or a coffee. Yields 12 squares.

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