Holiday Survival Kit

I made a little gift to take to our yearly Christmas party with some dear friends on Sunday evening, and I wanted to share it here.  Blame it on Pinterest.

Holiday Survival Kit
Holiday Survival Kit

Here is the list of items that I included, and I also included a separate printout of the legend of the Candy Cane story.  I only buy Bob’s Candy Canes at Christmas, and I did not include any homemade treats, as these friends will soon receive one of my cookies platters, too.

Holiday Survival Kit Text
I made a kit for each of my special friends, and they both loved their little surprise, in addition to their “real” gift.  The total cost, including the gingerbread box, was less than $10, and I used clear snack sized bags to hold each of the items on the list.  If you want to include more items, there are several good ones listed online.  Just search for “holiday survival kit,” and you’ll see some of them.

One friend keeps her little grandchildren after school each day, and they are going to explore the items in order by taking an item out each day in the order listed.  I never even thought of that possibility, but what a cute idea that is.  The kit could certainly include a few more kid-friendly items for that purpose, too.

This was such a fun little project and took less than an hour to put together after purchasing the necessary items.  Let’s just say while it not definitely not diet friendly, it is a fun little gift to make and give! 😉

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Thankful for a Seagull

Today, I count my dear readers among my many blessings. There is so much to be thankful for that it leaves me almost speechless this morning. Today, I will once again start a new year of gratitude tracking, and if you have never done this, list at least three things each day that you are grateful for, I highly recommend giving it a try! With gratitude for your friendship today! – D

Animal Wonder

A lone seagull at Bolivar A lone seagull at Bolivar

On this wonderful Thanksgiving Day, most of us have turkeys in mind when we think of birds, not seagulls. So, what does this unassuming little seagull have to do with Thanksgiving?

There is a story that goes along with this gull sighting, and it is a story that I want to share here sometime. I will just say for now that I am thankful for this little bird that almost made me cry crocodile tears when I saw it a few years ago. This is far from my best bird photo, but it is one that is near and dear to my heart because of the circumstance where I saw this bird.

We will be enjoying another fabulous meal together with family at our home today, and I will most definitely give thanks for my many blessings once again. I wish you all a very…

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Turkey Talk

I follow Food Network on Facebook, and last Friday, they posted something that gave me a bit of concern, especially for younger cooks or even older cooks who are just now looking into the possibility of cooking the big bird for the first time.  I know that feeling all too well.  I’ve been there myself, and I suspect many of you have been there, too.  I just hate to see anyone stress for no reason over something like this, so I would like to share some helpful information about a particular point they attempted to make on Friday.

In what I believe was an honest attempt to help those who are looking to cook a turkey for the first time, or perhaps cook a better turkey for the first time, someone at Food Network posted a “top ten” list of things *not* to do.  Here is a quote of the first item on their list.

Turkey Taboos: 10 things NOT to do this Thanksgiving

1. Use a frozen turkey

While I understand that the taste of a fresh turkey is very likely a fabulous thing, the vast majority of people around this country do not have access to purchase a fresh turkey.  And even if they do have a turkey farm nearby, the cost is often quite expensive, sometimes close to $100 for a fresh bird of any size!  So, for item #1 on this list of things to not do in preparing a turkey, I think this needs to be considered in the real world where most of us live and certainly not list it as a “taboo.”  Good grief! “smh”  By the many comments on their post that basically said the same thing I’ve shared, I’m in the majority of folks that disagree with their take on item #1, too.

There is absolutely nothing wrong or bad in preparing a turkey that was first frozen.  Let’s let one of Food Network’s own explain this little fact further.

One of Food Network’s most popular, long-time personalities and one of their best chefs, in my opinion, is Alton Brown and his long-running show is Good Eats.  I have always enjoyed watching his show over the years because he often shares the science behind his preparation method in an entertaining way.  I have also shared here on a couple of occasions that I only use Alton Brown’s turkey preparation recipe when cooking our bird for the holidays because it produces the best turkey I’ve ever eaten.

Alton is on record in the following video (from about five years ago) about fresh vs. frozen turkeys, and I hope that by sharing his video, perhaps a few cooks this year will not waste their time and money in search of a fresh turkey.  Hubby and I fell into that trap ourselves a few years ago, and we ended up just purchasing a frozen bird anyway.

Perhaps Food Network should have consulted with one of their most popular chefs before posting item #1 on their list?

And while we’re talking turkey today, here is another great video by Alton that is both entertaining and informative.  This is the exact process that I use to prepare our bird.  The turkey sits in the brine overnight prior to cooking the next morning, and we put the bucket either in our spare refrigerator or outside with a cover over it on our patio table, as our overnight temperature is often pretty much perfect for this process in late November and December.  If the temperature outside is warmer where you live, you might just keep it in your refrigerator overnight in a brining bag or keep it in a brining bag in a well iced cooler overnight.  As Alton mentions in the video, the salt concentration will also help to keep bacteria formation down during the brining process, so don’t skimp on the salt that is listed in the recipe.  This is one of his classic videos and a spoof on Mystery (Food) Science Theater.

Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman, also follows this same basic procedure, too.  I watched a rerun of one of her earlier Thanksgiving shows on Saturday morning to see how similar her turkey preparation is to Alton Brown’s method, although she basted her turkey every 30 minutes while cooking.  My experience with Alton’s recipe is that basting really is not necessary because the bird is so moist without it.  No sense making this harder than it needs to be.

Ree’s holiday cookbook is absolutely fabulous, and her Thanksgiving recipes in the book are worth the price of the whole book.  Best. Mashed. Potatoes. Ever!  I received my cookbook as a thank-you gift from a sweet friend last year, and while I cannot eat these types of foods day in and day out, these recipes are truly wonderful for all of the holidays listed in the book.

Pioneer Woman Holidays_sm

Brining is the key, even for a properly thawed frozen turkey.  You may also read elsewhere to not brine anything but a fresh turkey.  Feel free to just ignore those comments.  Just rinse the bird *very well* for several minutes after the brining process.  Ree rinses her turkey, then puts it in a separate bucket of cold water for 15 minutes to help rinse away as much of the salt as possible.  After rinsing, just pat the turkey very dry before putting it in the oven.  The result will be a great entrée that is very moist and flavorful, as long as Alton’s directions are followed according to the recipe at the link below.  Don’t forget the covered rest time of 15 minutes after baking, which is important.  Seriously, this is absolutely the best turkey we’ve ever had.

Alton Brown’s 5 Star Turkey Recipe

There is a good reason why this particular recipe remains one of the top recipes at Food Network’s site year after year.  😉

To see some of my previous detailed posts on preparing a Thanksgiving dinner, just check out the links below.  I’ve noticed that some folks have already been doing just that, and I hope my information is helpful to you!

 Best Thanksgiving Meal Ever
(very detailed prep by day)

Easy Thanksgiving Lunch

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Best Thanksgiving Meal Ever

I can officially say that this year’s meal was the biggest single meal I have ever cooked on my own with no help or contribution from others.  It seems that I have built up to this gradually over the decades, first starting off by bringing a couple of dishes to lunch at my mother’s house, then cooking at home combined with some pre-prepared dishes from the grocery store.  After growing a bit tired of those pre-prepared dishes and realizing that just a bit more effort upfront could save us from that mediocrity, I opted to give this a try.  There were just six of us for lunch, so it was a manageable number to prepare a meal for on my own.

Below is my schedule for Thanksgiving week this year, along with a few progress pictures when I had time to take them, as well as a few from a couple of years ago.  Just having this list saved me, I think.  I am blessed to now have a double oven,  a smaller counter-top convection oven, a roasting oven, a large crock pot, a large griddle and a large microwave at my disposal, so keep this in mind as I  share how I handled the meal preparations.  (I am particularly thankful for the new double oven this year!)  I use the crock pot, roasting oven, convection oven and griddle as needed to help keep food warm before and during our meal, in addition to items that are left on the stove for serving.  I am a stickler for keeping food properly warm for both taste and safety reasons.  We improvise where we must to keep food warm, not only before the meal, but during the meal and afterward until we are ready to store the leftovers.  I also use a food processor for most of the finer vegetable chopping chores, which saves a lot of time.

FYI – I use Alton Brown’s Roast Turkey recipe which can be found here.

Here is my prep schedule.

Sunday (or earlier!)

  • Review recipes and finalize menu and shopping list.  Do this earlier than Sunday, if possible, too.
  • Buy all groceries.  It’s imperative to me to avoid crowds and long, long lines at the grocery store on Tuesday and Wednesday.  No sense wasting time unnecessarily in this cooking project.
  • Place the frozen 14 lb. Turkey on rimmed pan and move it from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw on Sunday.
  • Make Honeycrisp Apple Cranberry Sauce.  Refrigerate.
  • Make pie crusts (2) and freeze them.

Monday

  • Bake cornbread for the dressing and let it sit out, covered with a clean kitchen towel.  This can be made even further in advance, as it will just have more time to dry out on its own, a necessary step to make good dressing.Cornbread Sausage Dressing-6865
  • Brown sausage for the dressing and store in the refrigerator.Cornbread Sausage Dressing-6868
  • Saute onion and celery for the dressing and store in the refrigerator.Cornbread Sausage Dressing-6870
  • Make vegetable broth and turkey brine (includes the vegetable broth).  Store the brine for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.Vege Broth-6863
  • Thaw pie crusts if made ahead of time and frozen.

 

Tuesday

  • Make Pumpkin Pie and Lemon Chess Pie, along with homemade pie crusts if not made ahead of time, and refrigerate after they have cooled.  The homemade crust is so much better than any of the pre-prepared ones.
    Pumpkin Pie-6883
  • Make Fudge.  My family loves the microwave fudge best of all actually, and it is quick and easy.  I make this in keeping with a tradition that my mother started years ago to get a little head start on some Christmas treats, and everyone takes home a few pieces at the end of the day.
  • Make Marinated Pea Salad, as it is best after it sits a day or two in the refrigerator.  This is an absolute must at every holiday meal we serve and has been for years, along with my mom’s mac and cheese, which is made on Thanksgiving morning.
    Marinated English Pea Salad

Wednesday

  • Make Creamy Pea Salad.  Yes, we like two different pea salads with our meal.  Actually, some family members like one and some like the other.  If your family would prefer something else, a tossed salad could also be prepared on this day.  Just dice the individual ingredients, store them separately, then combine them tomorrow just before serving the meal.
  • Make and bake Squash Casserole or Green Bean Casserole.  I opted for a good yellow squash casserole this time.
    Squash Casserole-6881
  • Make and bake Creamy Mashed Potatoes.  This is the recipe from The Pioneer Woman.  It has cream cheese in it.  Yes, we needed a few more calories in this meal.
    PW Mashed Potatoes-6887
  • Make Deviled Eggs.  Homemade deviled eggs are so much better than the ones we buy from the deli at the grocery store, and they are so easy to make.
  • If needed, crumble cornbread for the dressing and bake in a 250 degree oven for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, stirring every 10-15 minutes until crumbs are very dry. Leave the crumbs out again, covered with the towel.  (If the cornbread is already dry, this step can be skipped.)
  • Set table with everything except dishes, silverware and glassware.  I like to keep the table decor simple, leaving room for condiments without crowding the table.
  • Brew a large jug of tea and refrigerate in a sealed container.
  • Just before bedtime, put Turkey in the iced brine mixture and keep in refrigerator overnight (8 – 12 hours), making sure that all of the Turkey is covered in the brine mixture.
    Vegetable Broth-6864

Thursday, Thanksgiving Day

  • Set frozen Yeast Rolls out to rise 5 – 6 hours before lunch.  (I used Rhodes Rolls to save time and not sacrifice quality this year.  They really are good rolls with a great homemade taste.  I recommend baking a batch or two before the big day to test the rising time in your own kitchen, and I also recommend keeping them away from any cool drafts while they are rising.  I put ours in the laundry room and shut the door.)
  • Remove Turkey from brine mixture, rinse well with cold water and discard brine.  Place aeromatics in the center of the bird for baking.
  • 4 hours before lunch, place uncovered Turkey in to bake (bottom oven), starting at 500 degrees for the first 30 minutes, then reduce heat, per recipe instructions.  Will cook for 2 – 3 hours, depending on size, when started at 500 degrees.
  • Begin reheating other dishes in top oven, smaller convection oven and roasting oven.
  • Let Turkey stand for a few minutes prior to carving.  Save the pan drippings, as it makes the best gravy ever!
  • Make Turkey gravy from the pan drippings (strain out any vegetables), adding flour, water and a little milk. No additional salt is needed.  Keep warm on the stove.
  • Make Creamy Mac and Cheese using Velveeta, butter and whole milk.
    Mother's Mac and Cheese
  • Combine Dressing ingredients and bake until just brown on top and done in the center.
  • Saute Portobello or Crimini Mushrooms in butter, using the same skillet as the Turkey Gravy.
    Mushrooms-6899
  • Finish setting the table.
    Table-6893
  • Bake rolls just prior to mealtime, using both top and bottom ovens if needed.
  • Set butter out to soften 15 minutes before mealtime.  This makes it easier to spread on the rolls.
  • As food is warmed, place it in or on an appropriate device to keep it properly warm until mealtime.
  • Gather the family and say a heartfelt prayer of Thanksgiving for so many people and blessings in our lives. This is what it’s all about anyway!  Make lunch a laid-back time and don’t rush.  Turn off the TV and put on some nice dinner music instead.  Football can wait an hour or so.  After going to all this effort to put a spectacular meal on the table, no one should fuss about turning off the TV for a bit.  Savor all of the wonderful homemade goodness and ask for volunteers to do the dishes for you.

Table-6890

  • After dinner, just before everyone is ready for pie, whip the cream so that it can be served fresh, adding sugar to taste.  Fresh whipped cream is so much better than the stuff out of the freezer case at the store.

As far as I’m concerned, this was the best Thanksgiving meal ever for me.  I proved to myself that I could actually do it on my own, and all of the food was so tasty and good!  Everyone just loved it, too, and that made me very happy indeed.  Having this schedule helped to keep me on track in my preparations, and it also kept my stress level down in the process, knowing that I had a workable plan to get it all done in time, while not loading too much up on any single day in the process.

I hope this helps you in your future preparations, too.  Bringing a bit of planning to this project just makes all the difference in the world.  😉

And the leftovers are truly wonderful!

Roast Turkey – Alton Brown’s recipe
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