Bringing Europe Home

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Confounded by the Bird

Hello again, dear fellow bloggers! I took a break in order to write articles, and I’ve been true to my word.  I’ve been published in my local newspaper, the  Dunwoody/DeKalb Neighbor, and its affiliates around metro Atlanta, so I’m smiling about that. The column below was published yesterday. As my way of wishing Happy Thanksgiving to all those who celebrate it (and as just saying “Hey!” to everyone else), I’ve tweaked this article a bit and am posting it here.

It has nothing to do with Europe.

To Roast a Turkey

More often than not, I’ve been the two-sides-and-dessert purveyor when it comes to family Thanksgivings.  But this year, the grandparents are spending Thanksgiving in Florida and we’re forgoing the large extended-family gathering and opting to have a quiet family feast.

I’m thrilled by the prospect of cozying up with my kids while we watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in our pajamas, yet I’m confounded by the bird.  Now I will tell you that I have roasted my share of turkeys; it’s just that I haven’t done it often enough to be married to a method.  Suffice it to say that I haven’t gone there enough to have a go-to recipe.

A few years ago, I decided it was time to chart my own course, to claim my own technique, as it were, and I launched an investigative approach to finding the ideal turkey-roasting technique. Once I started my indirect polling of my friends and their recipes, I learned that cooking a turkey is as personal as a finger print.  And like snowflakes, no two methods are exactly alike.

For starters, the bird can be bagged or brined, tented or basted, fried or smoked.   Some of these methods, I eliminated immediately.  I have to schedule time to file my nails, so I am not one to brine a turkey—I know that about myself.  Likewise, I will happily pot a plant, but I have no desire to bag a twenty pound bird—it’s just not my style.

There is considerable cave-manly appeal to smoking a turkey or frying it in a vat full of boiling oil, but I am not a cave man.  Yet the benefits of these methods cannot be extolled enough:  enticed by the primitive allure of fire, the menfolk take over the turkey cooking, and the womenfolk have time to take a shower on Thanksgiving Day.  Sadly, there are no cauldrons or Big Green Eggs at my house.

So I am left with tenting and basting.  My mother uses the tenting method.  To be honest, I really can’t tell you more than that about how she roasts her turkey.  She uses all the basics—salt, pepper, butter, onions, celery, carrots— then covers the bird with foil and bastes it occasionally, and it comes out tender, juicy, and absolutely delectable every time.  I decided it was futile to try to replicate her recipe; my mother’s buttered toast still comes out better than mine, so who am I to think that my tented turkey will turn out as wonderful as hers?

I then discovered the Martha Stewart Cheesecloth Method.  I chose this recipe because it calls for a bottle of white wine.  You simmer the wine with a cup and a half of melted butter and then soak the cheesecloth in that mixture, so the house smells ridiculously fantastic at 8:00 in the morning.  I have used this recipe for a few years, and I admit that during those years the prospect of that aroma was all that had been getting me out of bed at dawn on the fourth Thursday of November.

But I will also admit that, although the bird would come out of the oven looking positively Norman Rockwellian, it still didn’t approach the flavor that my mother manages to conjure with some foil and a thirty year old basting brush.

It was back to the internet with me.  I decided to explore the intriguing yet unorthodox method of upside down turkey roasting.  I happened upon a website called “Serious Eats,” and that title alone should have been sufficient warning to me.  I scrolled through the community conversation until I started reading words like “spatchcocking”–at first glance, thinking that they were typos but then realizing, unfortunately not.  These cooks are clearly over my head, and perhaps the upside down is over my head, too.

Now, here I am surrounded by links, print-outs, and recipe books, each method promising perfection.  I am still confounded by the bird.

I don’t know which recipe I’ll end up trying this year, but there is one thing I can promise you: come 8:00 on Thanksgiving morning, I am opening a bottle of wine.

55 Comments

  1. I’m a brine girl. I have been known to spatchcock a chicken on occasion when I’m not organized enough to have enough time for it to cook without doing so. :-) But I have never done that to a turkey, and it sounds like a lot of work! Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. What did you end up doing?

    • I ended up upside down–not pretty, but very moist and tasty. Thanks for aksing! And thanks for your Thanksgiving wishes, too, Arnel. I hope that yours was grand, as well.

      • It was good! Thanks! Hope your writing is going well.

        • Thank you, Arnel, and yes the writing is going well. I’m working on a column now about the Christmas Elf. ;-)
          Best to you and all your boys!

          • Hope you post it–would love to read it! Best to you and yours as well!

            • Why thank you, Arnel! I have to wait until it’s published before posting it, so I’ll proabably make it a post-Christmas post. ;-)

  2. I am so glad to have you back! I have nominated you for the “Blog of the Year 2012 Award. Congratulations for your wonderful blog. Please pick up your award at http://www.grandmothermusings.com Blessings…Jamie :)

  3. I lived on the edge this year and had the men grill the turkey outside on the gas grill. It was wonderful because I had no mess, and they had the challenge of creating the perfect turkey while enjoying that male bonding moment on the patio, drinks in hand. The turkey was delicious and the day (as you know with our mild Atlanta weather) amazing!!

    It was great to see you back for a day!

    Elisa

    • That’s what I’m talking about! Thanks for stopping by, Elisa, and I’m glad you had a stress-free day with a well cooked turkey.

  4. Welcome back, and congratulations on the publications! I love the line about your mother’s buttered toast. :) I’ve roasted my share of turkeys over the years with various recipes. And while they’ve all turned out fine, I think the only thing keeping my blood pressure in check was that bottle of wine. ;)

    • Oh, thanks, JM, and I’m glad to know that we are–um–kindred spirits. (sorry, couldn’t help myself!)

  5. You’re an inspiration…

    • I’m not sure in what way I’m inspiring, Rosemary, but I do appreciate the kind comment, however it was intended!

  6. A lovely piece, no wonder it’s been published…. I’m nearly 75, and I’ve never cooked a turkey! I’ve either eaten other people’s, or found substitutes like goose, pheasant or free range chickens two at a time!!! I’m too chicken to cook a turkey!!!!

    • Well, I feel better now, Valerie. Glad to know that I’m not alone in my turkey inexperience.
      Thanks for stopping by and for your kind comments.
      (But I think I’d be too chicken to cook a goose!)

  7. Congratulations, and welcome back (or is it just ‘good to see you’?) :)

    • Oh, you’re on to me, Gene. Yes, it’s just a quick hello on my end–maybe one day I’ll be back in fuller force–but thank you, and it’s good to see you, too.

  8. Welcome back!!!! So happy to see you posting!

    The Art of the Turkey is a tricky one. So many variables, and some people just seem to be gifted with the ability to cook a great turkey no matter what, just like some people have a green thumb. It took me a while to find my own turkey-cooking style, after watching my mother for years and listening to the advice of others. I hope your turkey, and your day, turned out great!

    • Oh, you’re a kind one, Weebles, (no matter how grouchy you profess to be). Yes, the turkey and the day were quite wonderful, thank you. I hope yours was, as well. And thank you for stopping by! I’ll pop over for a visit soon–balancing the blogging these days is trickier than cooking the turkey.

  9. Welcome back Robin Jean Marie!!!! You my friend have been missed! :D Happy Thanksgiving and that turkey is perfection! Wishing you and your family a wonderful day of giving thanks and remembering. Hugs, Sharon

    • Oh thank you, Sharon, and it’s so nice to have you stop by. I hope all is well with you in Finland, and must admit that I think of you practically every night when the clock strikes 10! (You have presented that late-night challenge, and I keep trying to meet it. ;-) )

  10. Diana

    And most importantly, congrats on your published articles!!

  11. Diana

    That turkey looks divine! So I guess whatever you did worked. I’m a tenting, basting, butter the skin, carrots, onions, celery, herbs in the cavity kinda turkey cooker, as was my mom, but simply because I know no other way. Happy Thanksgiving my dear friend!

    • Well, that was last year’s bird. This year’s was upside down and ugly, but good…very good.

  12. TBM

    Nice to have you back! Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy the wine.

  13. Happy Thanksgiving!! And it is so good to hear from you! Glad that the writing has proven fruitful! We brine our turkeys which isn’t really a “day of” type of experience but when I haven’t done that technique I have found that melted butter and chopped rosemary under the skin does a lot for the flavor. :-)
    Kenley

    • Thank you, Kenley. I’m inspired to cook another turkey just to try another method–yours sounds great.
      Thanks for stopping by, and I hope your day was terrific.

  14. petit4chocolatier

    Beautiful turkey!! Happy Thanksgiving : )

    • Thank you! Happy Day, Happy December, Happy Chocolate to you, too. ;-)

  15. Good article! It’s great to hear from you and Happy Thanksgiving :)

    • Thanks so much, Meg. Hope you had a lovely lasagna on the fourth Thursday of November this year.

  16. Good to read another of your posts. I have just added you to my links page, which you might find interesting.:-)
    Happy Thanksgiving! Sue

    • Thank you kindly, Sue, and I appreciate that you added me to your links page.

  17. Hooray, you’re back! Wonderful to have another post from you, and especially one that has graced the pages of your local paper – many congratulations on that! I have absolutely no idea about roasting turkeys and would feel very imtimated if I had to do it, but despite being a vegetarian I have to admit that your photo at the top of this page looks divine. Like you, I have a mother who makes things taste amazing, and even if I copy her methods I don’t end up with the same results. I hope your Thanksgiving will be wonderful, have a lovely day with your kiddies and the big bird. :-)

    • Hello, Lorna! Thank you for your very lovely comments. (But maybe you can tell from the time it took me to finally reply that I’m not all that back…! It’ll take me a while, I think before I’m in full-on blogger mode again.) Yes, our day was wonderful indeed, on all counts. Hope all is well in your world…I’ll be popping by from time to time to check out your delightful tearooms and posts.
      Thanks also for leaving the comment on the newspaper website–that was very thoughtful and much appreciated.

  18. Lovely to hear from you Robin! I hope the turkey turns out well whatever you end up doing with it! Glad to hear the writing has been fruitful. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

    • Oh, thank you, Cathy. It’s always lovely to hear from you, too. The turkey turned out surprisingly great, and the day was a joy.
      I appreciate your kind wishes, and I continue to enjoy visiting your site and reading all about your enchanting life in Bavaria.

  19. Congrats my friend and welcome back :)
    Your turkey looks wonderful!

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

    • Why thank you! I was pretty proud of how that one turned out. ;-)
      All the best to you and your sweet creations.

  20. It’s so great to “hear” your voice again, Robin! Congratulations on your columns, and on your beautiful turkey! I hope you have a wonderful holiday.

    • Thank you, Sugar. It was a great day and wonderful holiday. The only way it could have been improved was if we finished the meal with one of your desserts.

  21. Mary

    I really enjoyed your article.

    Happy Thanksgiving!!

    Mary

    ________________________________

  22. Theodora

    Remember those turkeys in Venice? They were quite good. I’ve never cooked a bad one. My rules? Buy fresh, never frozen. Buy big if you can. A 12 pound turkey doesn’t have a lot of meat. Get the bird ( who has always been named Claude in our family) out of the fridge early and let him come to room temperature before he goes in the oven. If you have to spend time cooking him from 35 degrees straight from the fridge up too room temperature, that is going to throw your timing off. Make sure Claude is dry, not wet. Rub him all over with soft butter. Now here is the sad part. Cook him unstuffed. Cook the stuffing or dressing separately. If you stuff the bird, by the time you have cooked the turkey long enough to heat up that stuffing, you have overcooked that bird. I put one peeled onion, one carrot broken in half, a handful of herbs, and sometimes a half an orange inside Claude’s body cavity. Oh, and I used a tsp of salt and a handful of cracked pepper to rub his innards befor I put that stuff inside him. I have turkey broth made ahead of time, and I keep a little saucepan of broth and malted butter handy for basting. Sometimes I tent after Claude browns. Sometimes I use cheesecloth. I like both. The times I have brined my turkey I have not regretted it. It really works but you have to remember to drain and dry him out a bit before he goes in the oven. This year I am trying a first, a pre-brined bird from Whole Wallet. I bet it won’t be as good as my own but I am old and tired! Happy Thanksgiving Robin! Good article.I can hear you laughing as you say some of those things!

    • Actually, I don’t remember those turkeys in Venice. Did we call them Claude, too? But…was there a massive Thanksgiving meal that you masterminded? Or am I getting it confused with chicken parmesan for thirty? Your turkey cooking methods are quite similar to mine, Theo–maybe it was all that time rooming together.
      Thanks so much for your fun and informative comments–it’s great to have you stop by.
      Hope all is well in your world, and I hope your Claude was tender and tasty.

  23. I find that simpler is better. I cover the turkey in melted butter, salt and pepper it inside and out, and then roast it in the oven, basting once or twice during cooking. I haven’t found more elaborate preparations to yield better tasting turkeys. Good luck! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    • Less is more. I like that! Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, too, Laurie.

  24. cristinasandru

    HAPPY THANKSGIVING! HAVE A GREAT DAY! :)

    • Thank you so much, and to you, too. :-)

      • cristinasandru

        You welcome! Thank you, too :)

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