Thanksgiving was a big success this year. Good food, good people, and a good time. There was a total of eight of us for dinner, it was a perfect number.

I did most of the cooking, and I wasn’t as flustered or crazy as I usually feel during the holidays. I tried to remain calm and relaxed and it was actually fun to prepare and cook the meal.

I was super organized, and that helped a lot. I made a list of all the meal items, and specified an approximate time that I needed to start to prepare. Turkey was scheduled for 9am, turkey breast was set for 10am, slow cooker stuffing was started at 8am. Keeping a detailed schedule reduced a lot of the stress for sure!

And of course, I had the help of a wonderful husband, and as usual, he’s my patient rockstar!!!

Turkey

We purchased a local free range 8 pound turkey from a nearby small farm. I was excited to try a truly natural bird. I knew it might not be the choice for all my guests, so I also purchased a 4 pound boneless turkey breast for those that enjoyed more white meat.

The taste of the free range turkey was definitely not conventional. I could taste the difference, and unfortunately, it was definitely a tougher, chewier texture. There was more connective tissue. More research on roasting methods are probably needed. I think it would have been better if braised, but how can anyone easily braise a big ole turkey! I might try lowering the oven temp and slow cook for a longer time.

The experience has not turned me off. I am definitely going to keep purchasing local humanely raised poultry, but I don’t know if I’ll purchase from the same farm again. It was disappointing to not receive a packet of giblets with my bird, and it seemed to be “processed” in haste.

One of its legs was broken, so the end of the leg was sagging, and there was a bit of gauze-like substance still attached to the broken leg. Plus, a few feathers remained, which really wasn’t a big deal. They were easy to pull off.

ETA: I just realized that my turkey was also missing the wing tips. Something didn’t seem right. All the Food Network chefs suggested folding the wings back under the back, but we couldn’t figure out how to do that with our bird. I think it was because the wing tips were gone. hmm, I wonder why they didn’t include the giblets and wing tips. Keeping them for their own turkey broth/stock? Strange and disappointing.

I don’t know if all locally raised fresh birds are like this; I realize that it’s going to be more rustic, and it could be that I’m just not used to the primitiveness… and it certainly hasn’t turned me off from trying other local farms! I just don’t know that this particular farm would be my choice in the future.

Brining the Bird

I went back and forth with my decision to brine (or not to brine) the turkey, but in the end, I decided to do it.

I purchased a Regency Brining Bag from Whole Foods for about $4. It’s a thick high quality bag with a flat bottom and zipper top.

It was quite the ordeal, and I, the nervous nelly that I am, was anxious about the whole process!

I boiled about 4 cups of water on the stove with 2 cups sugar and 2 cups of Kosher salt. Once the salt and sugar dissolved, I added ice cubes to cool it down.

We rinsed the turkey in the sink thoroughly beforehand, and then placed it into the Regency Brining Bag (which was in a medium-sized cooler), then added filtered cool water and the salt/sugar mixture. Total liquid was about 4 gallons.

I quartered two lemons and squeezed the juice into the bag, then threw the whole lemons in.

brined turkey with salt, sugar and lemon

We sealed the bag, and threw a big bag of ice on top of the turkey. It was a tight fit when we put on the cooler cover.

closed brining bag
adding ice on top

So, the big question is did brining make a difference in turkey taste or texture?

I have no idea. Since the turkey was not commercially raised, it’s difficult to gauge what it would have been like without the brining process. The dark meat was still a bit tough, since true free range birds are free to build muscle, unlike commercially raised birds.

Also, I have to admit that Thursday AM, the brining water looked very pink from the turkey “liquids”, and since the bird was sitting in that water all night, did it defeat the purpose? I dunno. It’s sort of gross to me. I think it would be more sensible to maybe change the brining water at least once, but that is way too time-consuming for me…

so no, I probably will not brine again.

Cooking the Bird

We carefully removed the turkey from the brining bag and rinsed it thoroughly in the sink. Transferred it to a large roasting pan, and I rubbed in some olive oil on the skin.

It’s quite a scrawny bird, LOL, but that is to be expected with truly natural birds; I would rather a smaller bigger boned bird that was treated with respect, than a huge breasted bird that had a miserable short life.

raw farm fresh local free range turkey

DH inserted a BBQ thermometer probe into the breast meat, but I think it was inserted incorrectly, because the temp went up way too quickly. More on that later.

We ran the thermometer cable out of the oven to the remote/stand on the counter.

I had planned on following Alton Brown’s suggestion of cooking the bird uncovered for 30 minutes at 500° but chickened out (no pun intended). I put the roaster cover on, and it roasted at 350°

I kept checking the digital remote for the BBQ thermometer. It was puzzling because the temperature was rising quickly. DH had put the metal probe sideways instead of straight in, and I think that was what was causing the false reading. It reached 161° in under an hour and half!

DH ended up repositioning the metal probe to the BBQ thermometer but I still didn’t know if I could trust it.

And because the bird was covered, it sort of “steamed” itself in the roasting pan. I removed the cover and crossed my fingers hoping that the skin would start to crisp.

It didn’t crisp perfectly, but it did alright. Next time, I’ll try following Alton Brown’s suggestion of first roasting at 500° for the initial 30 minutes.

roasted farm fresh local free range turkey

So, both our turkies finished. I left them to rest on the counter for about 20-30 minutes. DH carved.

As I said above, the taste and texture was definitely different, especially the darker meat. But all in all, it was delicious. I have one large leg/thigh and I plan on trying to simmer it in some chicken broth to maybe soften it up some. We’ll see.

Stuffing/Dressing

My main oven and my counter top oven were both full, where was I going to bake the stuffing/dressing. Bingo! I remembered that crock pot stuffing was very popular. Googled and found a highly rated slow cooker recipe on allrecipes.com.

During the last few weeks, I saved and froze fresh baked leftover whole-wheat loaves. Wednesday morning, I started defrosting, and Wednesday night, I slow toasted cubes and crumbs of bread. My mom hates onions, so I sauteed the baby bok choy I had in the fridge. Added a stick of butter to the pan and melted.

I poured the mixture on top of the dried bread and added about 2 cups of chicken broth, then I stored the stuffing in a large bowl in the fridge overnight. (I didn’t add the eggs at this point and I didn’t use the slow cooker crock, as I didn’t know how the chilled ceramic crock would react being placed in the heated cooker.)

Thursday morning, at around 8am, I transferred the stuffing into the crock and then added the two eggs and more stock. I used a total of approximately 5 cups of broth. I set the cooker on high for 45 minutes, and then reduced to low for about 2 hours. It was definitely warming up quickly, and I didn’t want to overcook, so I reduced to the warm setting until it was time to eat around 1ish.

The stuffing was moist and very flavorful. We had guests with restricted diets, so I didn’t add much salt. It was a bit blander, but still very good. The texture was soft, which is how I like it. Left overs tasted great as well!

I will definitely cook stuffing like this again, but next time I won’t start it so early, as it didn’t take quite as long as the recipe directions specified.

Potatoes

Easy peasy. I baked a mixture of sweet and yukon gold potatoes. Everyone could make their own version of mashed potatoes with gravy and/or butter.

Gravy

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much for drippings from the turkey. I think it was due to the roasting pan being over sized. I opened up two jars of “Boston Market” chicken gravy, and it was a hit. Boston Market is the only brand of processed gravy that I’d buy before I gave up most processed foods. Unfortunately, 2 jars was barely enough for 8 people. There was nothing left over.

Cranberry

Worked on perfecting a low sugar cranberry sauce/compote recipe during the last few weeks, but was unsuccessful. I had to resort to adding refined sugar to reduce the cranberry bitterness.

1 package of fresh cranberries
1 cup or so of orange juice (probably not necessary, since it was initially used to try to reduce refined sugar, which didn’t work. Still needed more sugar anyway)
1 Granny Smith apple
1 cup or so of raisins

Cooked for about 5 minutes until cranberries popped, then took the pan off the heat, covered, and let sit for about 15 minutes.

Tasted, and it was still quite bitter, so I slowly kept adding refined sugar. Probably almost a cup by the time I finished. I love the sourness, but the bitterness is not very tasty.

It turned out pretty good. I bought 3 extra bags of fresh cranberries, and threw them in the freezer (transferred to large freezer bag). I am looking forward to making yummy cranberry apple compote all through the winter!

Veggies

Green beans, blanched and frozen from the summer CSA share.

Cooked a quick sauce using Pomi chopped tomatoes and some dried herbs and spices, and dropped in the green beans.

Dessert

Other guests brought pies and cake; I made some deliciously quick and easy chocolate pistachio fudge. I followed Nigella’s Chocolate Pistachio Fudge recipe from Food Network and after reading the reader comments, I made a few adjustments.

  • 1 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
  • 12 oz good quality 70% dark chocolate broken into smaller pieces – I used Green & Black’s Organic 70%
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract (optional)
  • 1 tsp Almond Extract (optional)
  • 1 cup shelled pistachios – Whole Foods offers shelled pistachios in their bulk isle.

Nigella’s original instructions suggest using a regular pan on low heat to melt the fudge, but I figured I would use a large pan with a stainless bowl as a double boiler.

  1. Melt butter.
  2. Add chocolate, condensed milk, salt, and extracts and melt, stirring frequently.
  3. Once completely melted, stir in pistachio nuts. The whole process took less than 10 minutes.
  4. Pour the fudge into a lightly buttered disposable 8″ aluminum pan and smooth until it’s even.
  5. Allow to cool and then refrigerate.
  6. Once chilled, remove from pan and slice into small bite sized pieces. I used a pastry scraper
  7. You can refrigerate or freeze.

Delicious!

All in all, I think the meal turned out very well, and there were no complaints. I know no one would really complain, but my DH enjoyed it, and I know he’d tell me the truth!

Happy Thanksgiving! Now to plan our Christmas feast!