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It’s Turkey Time!

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With Thanksgiving less than a week away, are you ready?!?  A key part to being ready is knowing what your role is: if you can cook well, do it up! If you can’t, just bring napkins to the party!   One year I visited a friend’s house, who swore on their mac and cheese, which happens to be my favorite Turkey Day dish.  As a chef, I look to not be very judgmental of others, but uh……mac and cheese shouldn’t have cottage cheese in it……at all…..ever… life.  Anyhow, here are a few quick tips to help get you through the big day (followed by a sweet potato dish and a turkey breast recipe):

* START SHOPPING NOW!!! Don’t wait until next Wednesday, and DEFINITELY not Thursday. And if you are not having a lot of people over, shoot for cooking just a turkey breast or smaller poultry (Cornish hens, capons, duck breast, etc.).

* The most common reason of people getting sick on Thanksgiving isn’t that they ate too much food, but rather that the food has been sitting out all day (temperature unregulated), allowing bacteria to rapidly multiply. Keep cooked food in warm oven (around 165 degrees); if you don’t have enough space, create a warm water bath on top of the oven and place the cooked dish (in its container) in it to keep it warm.

* If you’ll be frying turkey, DO NOT PUT FROZEN TURKEY IN HOT OIL (unless you want to have the brightest outdoor fireworks show that your neighborhood has EVER seen)!!

* When cooking turkey, truss it (tie up the legs/wings with string) so it will cook as evenly as possible. When done, let it rest 15 minutes before cutting.

* Make a cooking schedule for everything. If you can prepare cold dishes, some hot dishes the night before, do so.

* Properly thaw frozen turkey in the refrigerator for at least one day. If you don’t have the time, thaw it in a bowl in the sink over cold running water, or change the water every 30 minutes.

* When using the oven for multiple dishes, and you’re done cooking some of them, DO NOT put the dishes directly in the refrigerator while they’re still hot. Let them rest until they come to room temperature.

* Do not overcrowd the oven by cooking multiple things at once. It will adversely affect the cooking temperature and time of each dish.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pineapples and Almonds

c = cup

t = teaspoon

T = tablespoon

4 c sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 c fresh pineapple, cut into chunks
¾ – 1 c almonds, chopped coarsely
2 T maple syrup (the real stuff, not “pancake syrup”)

2 T cinnamon

1 T nutmeg

Zest of 1 orange

1 T juice from 1 lemon

½ t mustard
2 t Kosher salt

2 T olive oil

Parchment paper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Scrub, peel, and dice the potatoes into ½” squares.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper foil (spray with a little non-stick spray).  In a bowl, combine the potatoes with the oil, pineapples, cinnamon, nutmeg and 1 t salt; mix well.  Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Add the almonds and roast 10-15 more minutes; when fork tender, transfer to a large bowl.

In a different bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, lemon juice, orange zest, mustard and 1 t salt.  Pour over sweet potato mixture and GENTLY toss; serve immediately.

Turkey Breast with Pan Gravy

5 lbs turkey breast, skin on

1 onion, peeled, roughly chopped

12 fresh sage leaves

¼ c rosemary, minced

4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

2 T thyme, dried

2 T lemon zest

3 bay leaves

4 T butter

4 T olive oil, and as needed

3 T whole wheat flour

1/3 c Cointreau

2 c chicken broth (low sodium)

Kosher salt, as needed

Black pepper, as needed

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the onion and lemon zest in a food processor, and chop finely. Add the sage, thyme, garlic, olive oil, 2 t salt to the blender, and carefully pulse it until it reaches the consistency of a paste.

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium heat; add the bay leaves. When it starts to bubble, remove the pan from the heat.

Rinse and drain the turkey breasts in a colander. When dry, place on a cutting board, gently insert your fingers between the flesh and skin of the breast (don’t pull off).  Generously salt and pepper the entire breast, especially in between the skin and flesh.  Rub about half of the paste between the skin and the flesh.  Place the turkey in the oven and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees, and continue to roast for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, baste the turkey breasts with the remaining butter, and roast for an additional 20-25 minutes. Using a thermometer, place in the thickest part of the breast (WITHOUT TOUCHING THE BONE!!!) to determine the desired temperature of 165 degrees.

Remove from the oven, transfer to a cool plate/platter, cover, and let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing.

Heat the roasting pan over medium heat on the range top.  Mix the flour in the pan and cook, while stirring, for a few minutes. Add the Cointreau, and scrape the pan to lift the fond that is stuck to the bottom. Cook for 1 minute. Stir in, the chicken broth. Bring this to a simmer, and stir until thickened. Taste, and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.  Carve the turkey breast and serve with warm gravy.

Your Turn: What is your favorite Turkey Day dish? Let us know in the comments!