Rounding out your Roast Turkey Dinner

21 Sep

Each family has its own traditions when it comes to big festive meals. Roast turkey . . . done the traditional way in the Savvy maternal household always includes mashed potatoes, gravy, ‘dressing’ and cranberries. There was a time part of the tradition (my paternal grandmother’s) involved serving a jellied ‘salad’. An oxymoron from 1950’s home cooking repretoire! (It just recently came to my attention the more common term for dressing is ‘stuffing’. I use the terms interchangeably here.)

Then there are vegetable side dishes — usually a green vegetable and an orange/yellow one as well as a salad and rolls. Since I was not putting on a full-fledged feast, I went pretty basic with the sides and cut corners on the salad, stuffing and cranberries.

I prepared the vegetables before I began roasting the turkey, because we were going to be eating after one of my guests finished a class at 7:00 p.m. and I was picking the lads up at a critical time in my work plan.

Cabbage Salad (Serves 4 – 6):

This I made ahead, then covered and refrigerated until just before dinner. This was one of the dishes that I took short cuts with . . . using Farm Boy’s pre-packaged, pre-grated cabbage and carrots as a base. There were not enough carrots in the mixture for my taste (or eyes), so I used a hand grater and shredded another whole carrot into about 3 cups of the shredded cabbage.

Thinly slice 1½ celery stalks. Slice in half a combination of about 20 green and red seedless grapes (although one or the other would be fine). If you like a bit of onion in your cabbage salad, I would recommend using one green onion, thinly sliced. But I left the onion out. I lightly dressed this combination with President Choice’s Creamy Cole Slaw Dressing. Chopped nuts would be a nice addition to this salad (walnuts or hazelnuts, perhaps).

Cranberry Sauce:

I prefer the vastly superior taste of fresh, whole-berry, home-made cranberry sauce but I didn’t have time to make some before this meal. And I didn’t think the lads would complain if they were served canned, whole-berry sauce. Turned out one never touches the stuff and the other ate lots of the canned stuff.

Lemony Steamed Green Beans (approx. 6 servings):

 Wash and trim off the pointy ends and any rough looking ends of market-fresh green beans (haricots). Eight to ten strings per person should give you lots for seconds or left-overs. I wrapped the trimmed beans in a length of paper towelling and placed the bunch loosely in a plastic bag (you could use a clean dish towel) and put them back into the vegetable crisper.

They were cooked in a steamer insert that fits into my largest saucepan, in which the carrot coins were boiled. I find a med-high boil produces the nicest steaming for green beans and I like mine crisp. A nephew calls them ‘squeakers’ because cooked just tender crisp, that’s the sound they make in your mouth.

Remove the insert (careful of the steam) when beans are cooked to your liking. Shake moisture from them and place in a serving dish. Drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil and squeeze lemon juice over top (about half a lemon for 4 – 6 servings), tossing to coat the beans.
Ginger-Glazed Carrot Coins (approx 6 servings):

Peel and trim the ends from approximately 1 ½ large carrots per person. Slice carrot coins on the diagonal, about 1/4″ thick. When making ahead, cover the cut carrots with cold water in a large sauce pan. Put the lid on the pot until ready to cook.

When I had to rush out to pick up the lads, I placed the carrot pot over the burner on my stove where the heat rises out of the oven. When I returned, the water was quite warm and came to a boil in very little time. It took about another ten minutes for the carrots to cook until tender but still firm.

Drain the carrots and return them to the pot. Add a dollop of butter, two big pinches of brown sugar and two shakes of ground ginger. Stir to coat. Taste and adjust seasonings to your taste. For a special meal, I like to jazz veggies up a bit, but not so much that you lose the  essential flavour of the food.

Creamy Mashed Potatoes (serves 8 – 10):

Someplace I read that yellow-fleshed potatoes (called Yukon Golds© here in Canada) make great mashed potatoes so I tried them. And I agree. The rule of thumb is one potato per person/serving plus one for the pot. But I wanted a larger quantity, so I used about 8 medium sized yellow-fleshed potatotes In the early fall, the skins on these potatoes are quite thin, so I just gave them a good scrubbing with a vegetable brush and trimmed out any potato eyes or blemishes.

Potatoes will cook faster if you cut them into smaller chunks. In my case, the timing on cooking the potatoes was wonky. They should be boiling about the time I was out picking up the lads for dinner. So I decided to cut them into rather large chunks and placed them in my smaller Dutch oven. Cover the potatoes with cold water plus an inch more. Cover & set aside until ready to cook. Then drain that water if it has become room temperature and cover again with cold water. Many swear you need to add salt to the potato water (probably an internet search could tell you why), but I never have. I let people add whatever salt they want once things are cooked.

Ideally the potatoes should be cooked when you are ready to make the gravy, because you want to use some of the starchy potato cooking water in the gravy. To get around the complication of having to run out to pick up my guests, I brought the covered potato pot to a boil, then turned it down to low. When I returned to the house, the potatoes were fully cooked. If you truly dislike the skins in your mashed, you could literally fish them out now as they had pulled away from the flesh. But a lot of the nutrition is in the skins, so I kept them.

After adding potato water to your gravy making process, drain the potatoes and roughly mash them with a potato masher. I then add 2 – 3 tablespoons of butter and 2 – 4 tablespoons of sour cream. Continue mashing until they are smooth and creamy in texture, adding more sour cream if necessary. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Turkey Stuffing (Makes 8 servings @ 1/2 cup):                                                  

After announcing to the world, I didn’t use boxed, processed foods, I am here to tell you — in this instance — I used the boxed Stove-top Stuffing mix, but amended to taste more like my Mom’s. I made 2 boxes (made in a large bowl in my microwave) according to the manufacturer’s directions, but added1 cup diced onions and 1 cup of diced celery before cooking it. The mix didn’t smell much like mom’s dressing either, so I added quite a bit of black pepper and about 2 tablespoons of dried sage, stirring to combine. This comes together in about 20 minutes, enough time to let your rinsed turkey drain and have the cavities seasoned and ready to be stuffed.
Turkey Gravy:

The only way that I use giblets in my gravy, is if I have roasted them in the bottom of the pan and their flavours have mingled with the pan juices. I remove them before making the gravy.

Once your turkey is resting on the carving board, place the roasting pan on the stove top. My roaster needs to span 2 burners which I turn onto Med-High. When the pan juices start to boil, add some potato water and whisk them together. In a 1 Cup canning jar, add 2 tablespoons of all purpose flour and fill jar with cold tap water. Screw the lid on tightly and shake very well.  Add to the pan and whisk immediately to blend and to avoid the formation of lumps.

Whisking, tasting and watching for the gravy to thicken is a great job for one of your guests while you quarterback the rest of the dishes. Continue to boil. If the mixture does not thicken, add another jar of the flour-water mixture. If it thickens too much, add some more potato water or cooking water from the other vegetables.

Season the pan with pepper, a bit of sea salt and some more dried Savoury to your taste. I believe turkey gravy should be fairly mild in flavour, seasoned with a light hand, but far from bland. If the pan starts to burn or the gravy reaches the desired thickness, turn the heat under the burners to low. You can quickly reheat it before serving if need be. I serve my gravy in a nice small pitcher and pass it on a small plate to catch any greasy drips before they hit your table cloth.

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