Turkey Day Cooking Tips

It's almost Thanksgiving so I figured I should, at least, post a blog with some cooking tips. I mean, I did graduate from culinary school before I started this whole author thing. Might as well spread the love, right? Need help with your turkey? Gravy? Can't ever seem to get smooth mashed potatoes? Deviled eggs a bit bland? Blasse rolls? Read on!

But first, the author update stuff. I'm gonna be honest, folks. It took me six years to write the first two books, even though I released them only a year and a half apart. I still haven't finished writing the last book for the Hope Trilogy. I'm working on it, albeit slowly since my computer time is pretty limited. I'm still working overtime every week, as I'll continue to do for years to come, I'm sure.

I'm also a housewife and a research freak. Don't seem like they'd go hand-in-hand, right? But they do since I have to make all of our major decisions like furniture/appliance purchases and where we're going to move. Oh, yeah, we also have to move at the end of August--just a week before Show Me Your Books KC and about a month after my return from ThrillerFest. My in-laws are coming to visit for six months and we need more space. I get the fun job of finding a neighborhood we can afford in an area we can agree on since our jobs are an hour apart on opposite sides of the heart of the city. Yay!

With the bigger place, we'll also need some new furniture, though that's a whole other rabbit hole to get sucked down. I read reviews, I search for better prices. It took me weeks to pick out our last couch. I really wish I could sleep less, but my doctor already says I don't sleep enough. 

But now...

On to the food!

Turkey tips

First things first. If you use a frozen turkey, make sure you thaw it for at least three days. On the second day, I'll usually rinse out the cavity to get rid of ice chunks, then stick it back in the fridge. Once it is thawed, I soak it in brine for a day. To make sure it is fully immersed, I use a roasting bag inside of my largest stockpot. It keeps my pot from getting a crusty, slimy, raw turkey/salt film, and makes sure there is no evaporation to leave the skin exposed. This also leaves me more space in the fridge so it's not fully occupied by a huge roasting pan.

Before I cook my turkey, I mix smoked paprika with softened butter and rub it under the skin. I loosely stuff the cavity with quartered fruit and herbs. This year I'm using oranges and rosemary. Last year I used apples, sage, and thyme. For the skin, I keep it simple with some freshly ground pepper and sea salt.

I don't cook my turkey in the oven because then I have no room for sides. I use a countertop turkey roaster. Combine that with another roasting bag to eliminate the need to baste, the butter rubbed under the skin, and a full day of soaking in brine and I get a super juicy bird. Of course, the turkey isn't the only thing that goes in the bag. I've also got to throw in some new potatoes--I like red, blue, and gold--and some carrots. This year, I'm trying the rainbow carrots. To add some flavor to the broth that will be created, I also throw in an onion cut into wedges and a few sticks of celery. After it's all in there, I carefully situate the bag on the rack so that it doesn't touch the sides. I learned the hard way that if the bag touches the side of the roaster, it melts and all the juices leak out into the pan. That totally defeats the self-basting and easy clean-up that should come along with using a bag.

I cook my turkey using math. You should, too. After it's spent its recommended time cooking, I open up the bag and check temps using my digital probe thermometer. 170 in the breast. 180 in the thigh. If it is close, or there, I fold back the bag to let the skin brown for another 20-30 minutes. I also use this time to fish out the potatoes and carrots. They go into a pre-warmed Corningware dish and get to sit in the warming drawer until everything else is ready.

Once the turkey is finished, it needs to rest for 20 minutes before cutting into it, so it's time for gravy.

Good Gravy!

I remove all of the broth because I don't cook my gravy right in the roaster. I move to the stovetop. I also use my grandma's old fat separator to keep the gravy from being too greasy. My exact recipe is kind of a secret, but I'll tell you a few tricks. If the gravy is too thin, add more slurry. Oh, right... A slurry is your thickener of choice mixed with water so that it doesn't clump when added to the broth. I use flour, but some people use cornstarch or arrowroot for gluten-free. If your gravy is too thick, add more broth, water, juice, or whiskey. If the gravy is too salty, cut up a small potato and mix it into the gravy. After 15 minutes, pick out the potato that has absorbed the extra salt.

Tater time!

Do you boil your spuds to make your mashed potatoes? I don't. I bake 'em. Then I gut them, mix in my special blend of ingredients, and use an electric beater to mix it all together. My 5-cheese twice baked potatoes are always a hit, but my methods work for simpler mashed potatoes, too, by just adding butter, sour cream, milk, salt, and pepper. I've just found that baking them tends to ensure they're fully cooked, whereas boiled potatoes can still have some hard centers that leave lumps. I prefer the lumps in my taters to be chopped up turkey bacon.

Die Eier Von Satan

Okay, no. The eggs aren't really for Satan. But how can I resist making a TOOL reference? Deviled eggs are another much-requested holiday dish in my family. Most people keep it pretty boring. Mayo, yellow mustard, salt, pepper, paprika. Blah. I use olive oil mayo, dijon mustard, roasted garlic, chopped dill pickles, chopped turkey bacon, pink salt, white pepper, and I top it all with smoked paprika. Subtle changes, but they make a big impact on the flavor.

Roll with it now...

Is your bread boring? I got you. A few different ways, actually. Do you buy the canned biscuits or crescent rolls? Try an egg wash. Beat an egg with a splash of milk. If you're feeling frisky, you can even squeeze in a tablespoon of honey. Brush the tops of your rolls with the egg wash and avoid getting any of those unbeaten bits of egg white on there. Bake as directed.

Do you buy those brown and serve rolls instead? Want to jazz up that boring bread? Brush those bad boys with some simple syrup before you pop them in the oven. They'll brown to a crispy, sweet crust and taste freaking fantastic. Never heard of simple syrup? No problem! It's just equal parts sugar and water. Bring it to a boil without stirring, check that all of the sugar is dissolved, turn it off, and let it cool. I always have some on hand because I use it to sweeten my iced coffee. Those flavored syrups at the coffeehouse? Yeah...they're just simple syrup with flavor added.


Need a quick side dish that everyone will love? How about some Watergate salad? It's so freaking easy. Dump together and fold to blend in a large bowl: half a container of thawed Cool Whip, one package of pistachio pudding mix, one 20 oz can of crushed pineapple with its juice, one cup of miniature marshmallows, and one cup of chopped pecans. The recipe For Watergate salad on the Jell-O pudding box calls for less Cool Whip, but I find that leaves it a bit runny. I also toast my pecans before I chop them and I use the fruity miniature marshmallows for a little more zip.


What do you do to make your holiday dishes extra special? Any tips you love to share? Leave a comment below!