It never fails. Get a large extended family together, from different generations and with varying viewpoints and tastes, add a large bird and chaos is bound to happen.”It’s not Thanksgiving if there’s not a mishap,” my coworker Sean said.Judging from my own experience and from hearing others’ turkey tales, I have to agree. I remember one year when my mom made butterscotch pie that turned out to be soup. Another year, she and my aunt argued over how to make gravy, resulting in harsh words and even harsher gravy.The Thanksgiving mishaps I have experienced can’t compare to some of the other anecdotes I have heard. Kay, my office pod-mate, told me of a time when her brother-in-law left a fresh turkey on the counter – for several days. They actually called the hospital on Thanksgiving to ask if they could still cook the turkey. Of course, the hospital staff told Kay not to even touch the Salmonella breeding ground. “My brother-in-law could’ve put the friggin turkey in the refrigerator before he went skiing, but no,” Kay lamented.Sean said his dog once got to the turkey before the family did. They caught it early enough, however. “You just brush it off and no one’s the wiser,” he said.Other fowl-ups I’ve heard include dropping the turkey when taking it out of the oven, forgetting to turn the oven on and creating a bird-fire in the oven. And there’s always the family arguments, uncle Joe drinking a little too much wine, the lumpy potatoes and that disgusting green bean casserole to round out the evening.But, in the words of one wise man, “It’s about the company, not the food.”And you can always do what my dad did one year: order pizza.Gabrielle Devenish is the food editor at the Post Independent. She’s thankful she’s never had to host the annual Thanksgiving dinner. Contact her at 945-8515, ext. 535, or email@example.comTurkey tips– Defrosting a turkey in the refrigerator takes about 24 hours for every 4 pounds. Do not leave the turkey to defrost at room temperature because bacteria can multiply. To speed up thawing, turkey can be defrosted in its original leakproof wrapper submerged in cold water, as long as the water is changed every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed (figure 30 minutes for every 4 pounds). — How big a turkey should you buy? Allow 1 to 112 pounds per serving. — The turkey is done when the breast meat registers 170 degrees on an instant-read meat thermometer and the inner thigh meat is 180. Food safetyWash your hands and your cutting boards. Do not allow raw turkey juices to cross-contaminate other food through utensils or cutting boards. Keep raw food away from cooked food. Use a thermometer to be sure food is cooked to a safe temperature. Chill cooked food promptly when everyone’s done eating. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and others prefer unstuffed turkeys because of the bacterial risk. If you do stuff, wait until just before placing the bird in the oven. Don’t pack stuffing tightly; it will expand.Brining to avoid dry turkeyFor a 12- to 14-pound turkey, dissolve 112 cups kosher salt (do not substitute regular salt) and 1 cup of sugar in 112 gallons of water. Put the turkey and the solution into a stockpot, brining bag or a clean plastic bucket (a 12-pound turkey will need a container of at least 3 gallons) and refrigerate for 10 to 12 hours or overnight. Before roasting, rinse the turkey in cold water and pat it dry with paper towels. Do not brine a kosher or self-basting turkey. Both varieties have already been salted. No more lumpy gravyLumps are the scourge of gravy makers. As long as you whisk the turkey fat and flour (with a pinch of salt) to a uniform texture and add the warm stock gradually, you should be home free. (If the gravy is still lumpy, use an immersion blender or a hand-held mixer. If worse comes to worst, you can always strain it.) Get a jump on the gravy by preparing the turkey stock up to 3 days ahead. Not only does that save time on Thanksgiving Day but it also will infuse your kitchen with a satisfying turkey aroma. HotlinesToll-free telephone services offer a variety of specialist answers to cooking and food-safety questions during holiday preparation times.– U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline: (888) 674-6854 or (888) MPHotline. Food safety specialists answer calls about meat and poultry preparation and cooking questions, year-round Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST, except Nov. 24, Thanksgiving Day, when hours will be from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST. Recorded information is available 24 hours a day at the same number. Also available in Spanish.– Butterball Turkey Talk-Line: (800) 288-8372 or (800) BUTTERBALL. Home economists and nutritionists answer holiday cooks’ questions, in both English and Spanish, for callers in the United States and Canada. Callers can request a free pamphlet with safety and cooking tips and recipes.Live assistance: Nov. 21 to Nov. 23, Mon.-Wed. before Thanksgiving, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Nov. 24, Thanksgiving Day, 5 a.m. to 5 p.m..Automated assistance is available outside the above hours and all year long.– Foster Farms Turkey Helpline: (800) 255-7227. Turkey-cooking questions are answered and information given by live operators 24 hours a day Nov. 16 through Nov. 28 (including Thanksgiving Day).
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