Food for Thought: Turkey Tips

Food for Thought

By Jean Hecker

A Columnist for the Grapevine Newspaper

Our columnist shares tips for preparing the holiday bird, plus a stuffing recipe.
Many years ago at the family home, I took over as the cook. Mom gladly handed over the torch and off I went on my incredible run as the holiday chef and baker. I just loved the whole experience and couldn’t wait until Thanksgiving for the big feast!
I learned how to cook the turkey from watching my mom and dad over the years. So I had no problem with that, but I did experiment with various seasonings, and my favorite was always the herb butter rub under the skin. I’d make up the compound butter the day before from fresh herbs and unsalted butter and then let it meld together overnight in the refrigerator. By the next day, all of the flavors were infused, and a golden brown roasted turkey with savory herbs floating just under the skin on a skid of butter was a sight to behold!
Once the turkey was done, then I would make up the sides. My favorite mashed-potato mix is “Red Mill” potato flakes. I found them one year at ShopRite, and they are the best! Just heat up the milk, butter, and seasonings and then pour in the flakes and stir. Instant fabulous mashed potatoes without the mess.
I always make the stuffing the night before, refrigerate it, and then pop it into the oven after the turkey is done to warm through with a cup of turkey stock poured over the top and then by the time the turkey has rested and is ready to carve, the stuffing is ready. My Swiss-cream peas and roasted maple carrots round out the sides, along with cranberry sauce and a pickle tray and “Bob’s your uncle.”
Here is a great little side to incorporate into your Thanksgiving repertoire! It can serve as a stuffing mix or a vegetarian casserole. Either way, it uses the best of autumn’s bounty! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Mushroom and Butternut Squash Bread Pudding
3 cups cubed butternut squash, cut into 3/4-in. chunks
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt, divided
1 tsp pepper, divided
About 4 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
3 leeks, white and light-green parts only, thinly sliced and rinsed well
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 pound mixed mushrooms, sliced( I use baby portobellos)
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
pinch of nutmeg
6 cups cubed rustic white bread, cut into 1-in. cubes, lightly toasted (I use "Bread City" rustic white Italian loaf from ShopRite)
3 cups half-and-half
4 large eggs
1 tbsp flour
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded Gruyère cheese
1. Preheat oven to 375°. Heap squash on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with oil and 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Bake, until tender and golden brown, about 35 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
2. Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add leeks with 1/4 tsp. salt; cook until softened. Add garlic, cook 2 minutes, and add mixture to squash.
3. Melt remaining 2 tbsp. butter in same pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms and 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring, until mushrooms have released their liquid and are beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in thyme and add a pinch of nutmeg
4. Add mushrooms to squash-leek mixture. Stir in bread. Pile mixture into a buttered 9x13-inch baking dish.
5. Whisk together half-and-half, eggs, remaining 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper, the flour, and parmesan in a medium bowl. Pour custard over bread mixture and let stand 10 minutes. Top with Gruyère, then bake, uncovered, until cheese is melted and beginning to brown and custard is just set (poke with a knife to check), 30 to 35 minutes.
Jean Hecker is a full-time travel agent at Magic Carpet Travels and a part-time foodie. She has a BA in Home Economics Education from Rowan University and enjoys exploring all facets of the food and restaurant industry.

SNJ Today is a Southern New Jersey news and information source based in Millville, New Jersey that is dedicated to providing current stories related specifically to South Jersey.