Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's The Stuff That Counts

Yes, of course, there's heart-warming good will and togetherness and spiritual enrichment at the holidays. And there's shopping! Much as I wish I wasn't, I'm a shopper. And Thanksgiving - or Easter or Arbor Day or whatever - is a great time to pick up a few things for a special dinner.

Cooking the Big Dinner for the first time? There are a few absolutely critical items, some nice-to-haves, and some culinary equivalents of a chia pet.

Really Important and Helpful

Every year - seriously, every year - there are TV news reports and magazine articles and door-to-door missionaries preaching the word about the deadly cavalcade of bacteria hiding out in the turkey, preparing their attack on the half-wit who leaves the bird on the counter for six hours before feeding it to her family. The fever! The chills! The delirium! Um, happy holidays? And what are you grateful for, little Timmy?

You need to thoroughly cook the turkey and, if it has stuffing, that can be hard to do. And the standards are high - you want it fully, safely cooked and you want it not dehydrated. Dear God, what next? A federal turkey bailout?

This little wonder will get you where you're going as far as done-ness of the turkey. Kitchen respect is yours - all yours! - when you use the term "cooked to temperature." That means you confidently tossed aside the recipe directions to cook for X.Y hours and, savvy as you are, you knew that when the internal temp of the bird reaches 165 degrees, you're done even if you're "supposed" to have Z minutes left. If you've stuffed the turkey, the stuffing must also reach 165 degrees.

And by the way, you can use this baby all year long. I always, always, always use mine for roasted chicken - it can be perfectly well done and still be pinkish (who knew?). I also use mine to test the water temp for yeast when I make pizza crust.

For more info on safely thawing and cooking a turkey, click here.

You've seen those foil roasting pans in the supermarket, right? Thinking about buying one for your feast? Do this - while at the store, put a 5-pound bag of sugar in the foil pan and see how stable it feels. Then realize that, between a roasting rack and a 10-pound turkey, you've got at least 7 more pounds to add to that. And when you take the pan out of the oven and the turkey slides and the foil buckles and the broth and grease slosh out, you're standing in a puddle of shoe gravy.

So I see you've decided that a roasting pan is a really good idea. Excellent choice! The picture above is a fancy-schmancy from Crate & Barrel. Do you need a fancy-schmancy? No. My own roasting pan is a piece of my grandmother's speckleware. She turned out wonderful dinners in it for 50 years or more, which is good enough for me. If you're only going to use your roasting pan once or twice a year, I wouldn't bother with a Calphalon or All-Clad version.

As long as your roasting pan has well-attached handles and is big enough to allow plenty of air to circulate around your bird, it's fine. I prefer one with a lid - I think it's more versatile that way - but it's not a hard and fast rule.

Oh, and that magazine rack in the picture? It's called a roasting rack - and yes, I really did use mine as a magazine rack when I had my first Big-Girl apartment. It lifts the bird off the bottom of the pan, allowing the grease and broth to run off and the skin to crisp.

I know, I know - I'm breaking my "no gadgets that have only one purpose" rule. I'm sure you can use these to, ummmmm, string up loops and make potholders or something, right?

The first time I made a turkey I couldn't get it out of the pan. Wading cautiously into the waters of entertainment cooking, the bird was a 16-pounder for, I don't know, a dozen people or so. You know, starting slow. I fuzzily recall there was a lot of wine.

Anyway, my plan of impaling the bird on a wooden spoon didn't work out anything like I envisioned it. And three people with two forks each, trying to lift from the bottom, didn't balance so well. Neither did the "helpers" after all that Beaujolais Nouveau.

They're worth the ten bucks.


I really wavered about whether this was imperative or nice to have... Here's the deal. When you carve a turkey there's a LOT of juice that runs off. It's just what you need after you've trashed your kitchen for the past 2 days of preparation, right? You can, if you have to, make a little fortress of rolled-up paper towels around your regular cutting board. I guess.

But if you're going out to buy a cutting board anyway, something like this is the way to go. Never cut on a glass surface - it ruins knives. You can chop your veggies on this, then carve your turkey before serving. The broth collects in in the ridge, which is soooo much easier to work with.

I'm SO intrigued by this "shower head baster" business! A regular baster is fine - squeeze the bulb, place the wand in the broth, release the bulb, then squeeze the broth over the turkey. Done. I've had a plain, regular baster for years and when it finally wears out someday, I'll consider replacing it with this one. Note - if you're buying a regular baster, get one with a metal tube. They clean up much better and they don't melt.

Gosh, this shower head baster just sounds like a little spa day for the turkey, doesn't it? The dry heat of the sauna. The blast from the shower head. Wow. Kinda deceiving, actually...

One of the best kitchen inventions ever. Pre-separator the intructions were to wave an ice cube over the hot broth to solidify the fat so it could be skimmed off. Think about it - steaming hot broth, ice cube. Besides having your own little weather system in the roasting pan, the ice didn't stay ice very long. Ugh. Blotting with paper towels, which took off a fair amount of hard-wrought broth, was another method. But no more!

When you've removed the turkey from the roasting pan and you're ready to make gravy, pour the broth into the separator and wait a few minutes. No need for ice or tribal dances or whatever, just let physics do its thing. The fat will rise to the top and, since the spout is connected at the bottom, you'll pour out plain, de-fatted broth. Stop pouring when all you see is fat.

This is actually a "triple pour" measuring cup. Why someone can't turn their wrist a little to pour from a regular spouted cup is an unknown here in Nostinkycheese Labs, but whatever. The point is this - a large measuring cup can double as a bowl. If you're mixing up herb butter, or the water/cider/mustard for gravy, you can easily use this to both measure AND mix. I have a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup that I use all the time.


I come from good people, and we do not embroider our turkey. I don't know anyone who does. Can someone please tell me what the hell this stuff is for? I see this Turkey String Art kit every year. Is it one of those trashy lace-up turkeys? Like I said, I come from solid folk and we wouldn't know of such a thing. Truly, I'm lost.

Man, I effin' hate these things. They seemed so happy-bouncy-sproingy in the store! And sure, they're cute and kinda squeaky. But I use them only as trivets now - I just can't get a good grip with them, and if I'm moving 8 pounds of something at 400 degrees, I want to really know that I've got it firmly in hand. Fabric only, please.

On Crate & Barrel's webite, they say this piece of engineering times "three dishes simultaneously... features beep and light signals, clock and countdown functions, and the familiar touchpad controls of handheld electronics. Pre-programmed with cook times for beef, lamb, chicken, and more."


I just wouldn't know where to start with this thing. There's only one probe, yet it times 3 dishes? If they're going that far with it, why not have it yell out "Green bean casserole - done!" instead of giving some sort of Morse code? I think by #3 I'd be trying to remember what on earth was still in the oven and there must be something else for me to remember... do I need to call someone? Is it their birthday? Maybe it's the day for the dogs to get their heartworm meds?... before finally clipping it onto my waistband as a pedometer or something.

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