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Pear-Glazed Roast Turkey

Thanksgiving Dinner Primer

Getting Started

Thanksgiving is really about the joy of gathering with loved ones and good friends. That said, you and your guests will enjoy the day all the more if you remember two basic truths about holiday meals.

First: People tend to like their food tried, true, and familiar. So if you're eager to experiment, tweak a recipe or two, move beloved ingredients from one dish to another, but don't spring an entirely unfamiliar menu on an unsuspecting crowd.

Second: For your own sanity, keep everything simple. Save your difficult recipes for wowing a smaller group for some time other than Thanksgiving.

Buying the Turkey

Figure on about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person. It sounds like a lot, but remember, there are bones involved — and for each pound of bird you put in the oven, you get just under a half-pound of meat (all of those drippings that wind up in the bottom of the pan make great gravy!). Fresh or frozen turkeys are about equal in quality. Keep in mind that a frozen turkey must spend up to a week thawing in the refrigerator. Thawed birds keep two days in the refrigerator, and a fresh turkey is safe to use up to two days after the sell-by date on the wrapper.

Getting Equipped

If you're serious about making a perfect turkey, invest in a meat thermometer. Turkey gets dry when it's overcooked, and, for $10 to $20, you can be sure your turkey will be thoroughly cooked and still juicy. Most cooks opt for either an instant-read or conventional meat thermometer. Conventionals stay in the bird; the smaller instant-reads can't be left in the oven. For the ultimate in convenience, spring for a digital remote-reading thermometer. The probe goes into the bird, and connects to a read-out device that stays on your stovetop. With this type of thermometer, you can track the progress of the turkey without opening the door.

The only other major piece of equipment you need (other than some small metal skewers) is a roasting pan and rack. If you've purchased a roasting pan in the last few years, you may have noticed they're getting deeper. If your pan is deeper than 3 inches, it can increase your roasting time by up to an hour (see “Stuffed Turkey Roasting Times” chart on the next page).

Thawing the Turkey

You don't want to wake up on Thanksgiving morning — no matter how early — with a half-frozen turkey. If you have purchased a frozen turkey, allow plenty of time for it to thaw. Plan on 24 hours for every 5 pounds and don't count the day you'll be cooking it. Leave the bird in its wrapping and place it on a tray or platter in the refrigerator. The bird is ready for roasting if the gi****s can be removed easily and there are no ice crystals in the body cavity.

If your bird is not completely thawed on the day you plan to roast it, place it in a clean sink full of cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. Don't be tempted to thaw at room temperature, in warm water, or in the microwave — these methods can cause bacteria to grow. After the turkey is thawed, remove the gi****s and neck from the body cavity.

Stuffing and Roasting

Stuffing

Make the stuffing just before you put the bird in the oven. Figure on about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of bird that will actually go into the bird. Spoon some loosely into the neck cavity. Pull the neck skin over the stuffing and fasten with a short skewer.

The drumsticks are usually held in place by a plastic or metal clamp. Unhook the legs and loosely spoon stuffing into the body cavity. Don't pack it in or the stuffing may not be fully cooked and safe to eat by the time the turkey is done. Spoon any remaining stuffing into a baking dish or casserole; cover and chill until you're ready to bake it (about an hour before the turkey is scheduled to come out of the oven).

After stuffing, tuck the drumsticks under the band of skin that crosses the tail, or reset into the leg clamp. If there isn't a band or if you've remove the clamp, tie the drumsticks to the tail using clean cotton kitchen string. Twist the wing tips under the back.

Roasting

Place your oven rack in its lowest position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow pan. Brush the turkey with cooking oil. Push a meat thermometer into the center of an inside thigh muscle without touching bone (unless it's an instant-read thermometer, which can't stay in the oven). Cover the bird loosely with foil, pressing it over the drumsticks and neck. Roast, using our timing chart (see below) as a guide. You don't have to baste (brushing the bird with its own drippings, butter, or a combination of melted butter and dry white wine), but it will add flavor.

When the bird has been in the oven for two-thirds of the suggested time, cut the string between the drumsticks. Remove the foil for the last 30 to 45 minutes. A meat thermometer inserted deep into the thigh should register 180 degrees F and the stuffing should be at least 165 degrees F.

When the turkey is done, the drumsticks should move very easily in their sockets. Juices from the thigh will run clear when pierced with a long-tined fork. Remove from the oven and cover loosely with foil. Let the turkey stand for 20 to 30 minutes before carving so it retains as much of its juice as possible and slices rather than shreds. (The standing time also gives you an opportunity to make the gravy.) Release the legs from the leg clamp, if present. Remove the stuffing, carve, and serve.

Leftovers

The turkey can remain at room temperature for two hours after it comes out of the oven; after that, into the fridge. Stuffing and turkey should be tightly covered and stored separately in the refrigerator.

Stuffed Turkey Roasting Times

Set your oven to 325 degrees F 8 to 12 lbs, roast 3 to 3 3/4 hours 12 to 14 lbs, roast 3 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours 14 to 18 lbs. roast 4 to 5 hours 18 to 20 lbs, roast 4 1/2 to 5 1/4 hours 20 to 24 lbs, roast 4 3/4 to 5 3/4 hours

Note: For unstuffed turkeys of the same weight, reduce the total cooking time by 15 to 45 minutes. The turkey is done when the thigh temperature reaches 180 degrees F and the stuffing is 165 degrees F.

On the Side

While Uncle Joe may be content with just the drumsticks, most of us don't want to celebrate with turkey alone. Thanksgiving is the holiday of the groaning sideboard — courtesy of a bounty of side dishes.

When you're planning your menu, keep in mind a balance of hot and cold foods (warm turkey with cool cranberry relish or sauce, for instance); sweet and savory (sweet potatoes and mashed white potatoes with gravy); and crunchy and creamy (crisp-tender green beans and mashed potatoes).

No matter what sides you're serving, keep the number of servings each recipe makes not only adequate to feed your crowd, but also consistent. You don't want to run out of stuffing but have a mountain of leftover mashed potatoes.

Timing Is Everything

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of making Thanksgiving dinner (or any big meal, for that matter) is timing everything to be ready to go on the table at the same time. This is where a little strategic planning and a lot of making things ahead can yield a big payoff.

Comb through your recipes and pick out anything you can make ahead. Make the piecrust two days ahead of time, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it. Bake the pie one day ahead of time and, if it's pumpkin, refrigerate it. Make the sweet-potato casserole two days ahead and reheat it on feast day. Make and freeze the bread or rolls a week or more ahead of time.

If you can't make an entire dish ahead, make what elements of it you can ahead of time: chop the ingredients for the fresh cranberry relish a day or two ahead and keep them in separate sealable plastic bags in the refrigerator; toast the hazelnuts for the green beans; cube the bread for the stuffing — even whipping the cream for the pie and chilling it in the refrigerator a few hours ahead of serving time is a tremendous help.

Final Touches

Something as simple as having your coffeemaker set up with fresh-ground coffee and fresh, cold water — just waiting for a switch to be flipped to start brewing — can be a small but significant plan-ahead when Aunt Mary is getting anxious for her post-dinner cup of coffee. Talk to any experienced host and they'll also tell you it's crucial to start any big party (such as Thanksgiving) with an empty dishwasher to expedite and streamline cleanup.

Accept Offers of Help

When someone asks to bring a dish, keep in mind that this is not to cast doubt on your meal planning skills. So take them up on it (especially if it's your in-laws!). Think about the culinary gifts of each guest who asks to bring something. In any crowd there are those who always seem to wow everyone their hors d'oeuvres, cooks who cause tussles over who gets the last bite of their salad, and latent pastry chefs who seem to have a real touch with desserts. Ask your guests to bring the course that plays to their strength. If they offer to bring something but don't cook, ask them to bring a specific beverage or some beautiful bakery bread. Be sure contributors know how many people will need to be served with their offering.

After dinner is done and cleanup has commenced, ask your guests if they'd like to take any leftovers home. If everything has been devoured, just wash their dish and give it back empty except for your gratitude.

When Things Go Wrong

It happens to the best cooks and most experienced hosts: the turkey skin gets scorched; you forget to put in the sweet potatoes, the electricity fails. Make light of it and move on. If you don't let it ruin your meal, neither will your guests. Thanksgiving is about getting together with people you love and experiencing a sense of gratitude for a great meal and for each other; it's not about perfection! Most people are happy simply to be there.

Rodyk draugams

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