Traditional foods are expected on Thanksgiving day

By , Food editor of The Christian Science Monitor

It's that time of the year when thoughts occur about the time-honored, traditional Thanksgiving menu. The question arises -- why can't we have somthing different this year?

Why do we always have the same big roasted bird with cranberry sauce, the same lineup of vegetables, creamed onions, and mashed potatoes, and the choice of apple, pumpkin, or mince pies for dessert?

Since I am one who has strayed from the path with roast pork garnished handsomely with fruit on one holiday, and on another occasion, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, I can honestly admit that these dinners, although eaten with great relish be several adults, were practically shattering to others.

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There is no question that the traditional, expected foods are comforting and reassuring and that the sights, smells, and sounds of Thanksgiving morning, or even the week before, are all part of the pleasant, nostalgic reality.

Traditional foods should be eaten on traditional days, for both children and adults, and although it is acceptable to have the usual foods cooked in a slightly different manner, this is not the time for innovations and substitutions.

Cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving time is a link with generations and with our history. It's a necessary part of the holiday.

So if you have cooked the same Thanksgiving dinner over and over, and you long for a change but have members of the family who look forward to the traditional meal, start your menu with the basics -- turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, creamed onions, sweet or mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

If you want to add something new, try it in the first course, or with an extra dessert. Begin with oysters, clams, or shrimps, if they're traditional in your area, or serve a light mushrooms, pumpkin, or squash soup.

Fruit is traditional as a first course in a fresh fruit cup or simple cranberry juice, but if you want to have something more elegant, serve a cranberry sorbet at the beginning.

Stuffing is a good place for a change, since it's easy to add something to the basic bread stuffing recipe, or you can make two types of dressings. Sausages, apples, prunes, nuts, cranberries, raisins, even cooked zucchini, will add new flavor.

Then there's chestnut, corn bread, or oyster stuffing or wild rice -- all good traditional ingredients, but perhaps a change from what you had last year.

cutting vegetables such as carrots, turnips, squash, or parsnips into julienne strips or cubes is a pleasant change. On the other hand, mashing or making a puree of green beans, lima beans, or even broccoli may prove a departure for your table.

Serve mashed or pureed carrots or squash in an acorn squash or pumpkin shell. Stuff onions with spinach or chard, mixed with a few crumbs and seasonings. Add red cabbage if it's new on your holiday table. It's seasonal, and it goes well with turkey and other poultry.

When it comes to planning the turkey, keep in mind the fact that whole turkeys range in size from 6 to more than 30 pounds, are available fresh or frozen, and may be prebasted. Allow 1 pound of turkey per person and there will be plenty for the dinner and some for your leftover favorites.

For small families and those who have been eating turkey often this year and won't miss all the leftovers, fresh turkey parts are a good choice. They make it easier to buy the amount you'll need for only one or two meals.

If turkey is frozen, leave it in the original bag and thaw in refrigerator for 3 to 4 days, or 24 hours for each 5 pounds of turkey. Or cover with cold water, changing water frequently, every half hour per pound of turkey. Refrigerate or cook turkey as soon as thawed.

It takes only 6 minutes to get a turkey out of the wrap and into the oven. Remove plastic wrap from the thawed bird, remove giblets and neck from body cavities, rinse turkey inside and out, pat dry with a paper towel, return legs to hock lock or band of skin, tuck tips of wings back to turkey, and skewer neck skin to the back.

Place turkey breast side up on rack in foil-lined pan. Place a tent of aluminum foil loosely over turkey to prevent overbrowning. Place in oven and roast according to chart. Foil tent may be removed the last half hour of final browning.

Approximate roasting time in 325-degree F. oven Weight Unstuffed Stuffed 8 to 12 lbs. 3 to 4 hours 4 to 5 hours 12 to 16 lbs. 3 1/2 to 5 hours4 1/2 to 6 hours 16 to 20 lbs. 4 1/2 to 6 hours5 1/2 to 7 hours 20 to 24 lbs. 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 hours6 1/2 to 7 hours

Turkey is done when meat thermometer registers 180 to 185 degrees F., and when the thick part of the drumstick feels soft when pressed with the fingers, or when drumstick moves easily. Stuffing needs to reach 165 degrees F. to be sufficiently cooked.

Let turkey stand at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes for easier carving.

Some of the factors affecting roasting times are variations in ovens, shapes of turkeys, and degree of thawing. These variations make it important to begin checking for doneness 1 hour before the end of the recommended roasting time.

Unstuffed turkeys require much less roasting time, of course. If, however, your family wants the turkey dressing, it can be prepared more easily and quickly in another container such as a slow cooker, casserole, foil packet, or muffin tins.

Flavor your dressing with turkey broth from the giblets and neck. If you cook the dressing separately, you'll have much more control over its flavor.

Have ready a boat of thick brown gravy mixed with tender giblets to serve with your turkey. The giblets are the heart, liver, and gizzard of a bird. If they're from a frozen turkey, cook them within a few hours after thawing.

Finish the holiday meal with a fresh cranberry-apple pie seved with a scoop of ice cream or a pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Or any of the other traditional desserts that are favorites of your family for the holidays.

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