So I had my Mom over for Christmas this year. It's usually just the two of us, since my parents are split up, and Dad wants nothing to do with her (ever again), and Matt still isn't on speaking terms with me. So yeah, it's just the two of us. An added note is that Dad isn't even in town at the moment anyways (I spent time with him on the 20th). He left before Christmas to go spend the holidays with Grandma and our French side of the family up in Lac Mégantic (I wasn't planning to go, but I didn't get an invite either).
That said, I usually go to Mom's place for Xmas dinner, but last year she mentioned that it's so much work that she might not bother next year, so I offered to do it this year (and probably again next year, honestly, since I love to cook for people).
She and I had bought turkeys on sale around Thanksgiving time (10Lb turkey for under 9$), and I decided to brine this one. Mom had done a brined turkey a few years ago, and it was salty (she hadn't rinsed it) but AMAZING. This was both my first brining experience, as well as my first turkey cooking attempt (I've cooked chicken, but never a whole turkey). This meant that I had to borrow Mom's roasting pan, and she lent me a cooler to soak/defrost the turkey.
I looked up LOTS of information and recipes on brining, regarding concentration ratios, soak times, etc. There seems to be no clear consensus. Some people suggest only soaking the turkey for 4-5 hours while some people soak it for 2-3 days. This depends (to a certain degree) on the concentration of salt-to-water, but most places recommend a 5% ratio (I worked this out to 3 Tbsp salt to 4 cups water, and it worked just fine for me). I soaked the turkey from 8pm (on the 24th) to around 10am the next morning, so roughly 12 hours. I had added about a Tbsp of peppercorns and a few bay leaves in with the brine water. I don't know if this made much difference.
After brining, you MUST rinse the bird. Mom forgot this step when she had done it the first time, and it ends up too salty. If it's rinsed it will be just perfect.
After rinsing, several people suggest patting it dry, and letting the bird "air dry" for up to 2 days (which seems RIDICULOUS) and others say to pat it dry and put it directly into the oven. I went in the middle, and just patted it dry, and got it ready in the roasting pan*, and stuck it in the fridge for a few hours (roughly 10am - 1:30pm).
Cooking time. This pissed me off. Obviously for perfect doneness, you need to use a meat thermometer, but I don't have one, and I usually eyeball these things, so I was relying instead on established cooking times. According to web sources, a 10Lb turkey should have taken between 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 hours to be perfectly cooked (at 325F). I made SURE my oven wasn't too hot by using an oven thermometer, and put it in the oven at 1:30 (at exactly 325F), planning for it to be perfectly cooked by 5pm.
This, of course, didn't work out. I checked the turkey at 4:00pm, and it was perfectly done (1 hour EARLY!). Lots of clear juices in the bottom of the pan and the legs had spread open, with the top skin nicely crisped (but not super golden or dark - since this is a brined bird). It was completely clear just by looking at it that it was fully cooked.
So I called Mom and she came over just after 4:00 while I got the rest of the side dishes ready. I told her everything should be ready for 5pm**.
*I'll just quickly note that I had lined the bottom of the roasting pan with a layer of halved potatoes, and a slivered onion. This worked out WONDERFULLY to keep the bird up off the bottom of the pan, and we also ended up with some wonderful roasted potatoes soaked in turkey drippings.
For the other side dishes, I made stuffing from scratch (for the first time - having only seen my aunt do it once, and having only vaguely looked up a few basic recipes). I used something like 8 chopped, and oven dried panini buns as my bread base, then roughly 1 cup diced onion, with 1 cup diced celery. Roasted that in butter, and added Rosemary, Thyme, and Sage (I had no Parsley left). Once that was 90% cooked, I soaked it with boxed chicken broth and cooked it a bit more, then tossed that into my bread crumbs.
Then, I cooked a double box of sliced mushrooms, and added those to the bread crumbs, along with more boxed broth and a bit of the turkey drippings until I had the consistency I wanted. Most stuffing recipes then add eggs, and bake it in the oven, but Mom has an egg allergy, and I left it "done" at that point (and it was just fine, and damned good).
I also made mashed potatoes. Nothing fancy here, just sliced red potatoes with the skins on, cooked in salted water, drained, mashed, with butter, milk/cream, and a dash of garlic powder.
Another quick side dish was frozen sweet corn, and of course gravy made with the turkey drippings + rue. I also had small dinner rolls left from my party.
**Everything was ready by something like 4:57pm since we were joking around about the time, and I ended up with a few spare minutes.
To drink I had 7-Up on hand, and I also made Sangria from the leftover wine from the party (using orange slices, grapefruit slices, a pear, an apple, a few raspberries, a splash of Rum, and a splash of Triple Sec, and a bit of sugar). I forgot to also add a cinnamon stick. It turned out okay, but I thought the grapefruit gave it a rather bitter taste, so I added a bit more sugar.
Eventually (later that night), I ended up removing all the fruits (except the pear pieces and raspberries), adding the juice from the other half of the orange, a bit more sugar, and a splash of Fragoli Straberry liqueur. It's not too bad now, and I'm slowly drinking the rest of it.
For dessert, I got a store bought pumpkin pie (sadly without whipped cream or ice cream). I planned for coffee with the pie, too, but we were pretty full and I didn't end up making any.
So yeah, the turkey was awesome (moist and delicious, and "pre-salted" without being overly salty). I was also very happy with how the stuffing turned out. I almost made cranberry sauce from scratch, but the store had none left (and we didn't really need it), and I also thought about making carrots, but we had more than enough food, especially for just 2 people.
This isn't the most glamorous photo, but it's the only one I took, and it gives you an idea of what I made, and how it turned out. The round piece in the bottom centre is one of those potatoes from under the turkey (since it looks a bit odd in the photo).
Side note: The photo is actually today's leftovers, since I didn't take any photos during the actual "fancy" dinner with the good china, so it looks a bit more sloppy since it all came out of a pan off the stove top.