Thursday is like the Super Bowl for cooks – the one day of the year when everybody who likes to cook is doing pretty much the same things at pretty much the same times. (If you don’t like to cook, we suggest that you spend the day being really, really nice to someone who does. It isn’t too late to score one of those little bits of crispy skin right after they take the turkey out of the oven.)
Those of us who love to cook have been training all year. We’ve honed our menus and our knives for weeks. We’re pumped, people. We may go into the kitchen hours before we need to turn on the oven, just so we can sit there and enjoy the moment.
The rest of you? Well, you may be a little more hesitant. You may be trying to remember the cooking times, the temperatures, that recipe you had last year that made such great sweet potatoes. For the lost recipes, try The Observer’s recipe database. You’ll find a link at the top of our online food page, www.charlotteobserver.com/food-drink.
For the rest of the things that might worry you, here are a few quick lists that might help.
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Once the meal is over, you need a good way to use leftovers. Try a cool twist, Turkey Crumb Pot Pies, from the new book “Dinner Pies,” by Wilmington-based cookbook author Ken Haedrich.
Or as those of us who like to cook call them: Instant replays.
Thawing frozen turkeys: Expect 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds in the refrigerator, or 3 days for a 15-pound turkey. Or you can submerge a wrapped frozen turkey in cold water for 30 minutes per pound, or 7 1/2 hours for 15 pounds.
Keep clean: Wash your hands, utensils and work surfaces with hot, soapy water after coming in contact with uncooked turkeys. Never put cooked food on the same surface that held raw food.
Don’t wash: Washing raw poultry can splash bacteria around the sink area. Instead of washing the turkey before you cook it, it’s safer to pat it dry with paper towels, then discard the towels.
Stuffing and dressing: Don’t stuff in advance, and don’t mix dry and wet ingredients, especially raw eggs, until just before cooking. If you stuff your turkey, stuff it loosely and use a thermometer to make sure the center reaches 165 degrees. Remove the stuffing as soon as possible.
Thermometers: Place it in the thickest part of the inner thigh, pointing toward the breast but not hitting bone. Cook until the turkey is 180 degrees in the thigh and 165 degrees in the breast. Pop-up thermometers can be unreliable.
Leftovers: Turkey and other cooked foods shouldn’t be between 40 degrees and 140 degrees longer than 2 hours. To chill leftovers efficiently, cut turkey into smaller pieces and transfer other leftovers into shallow containers. Refrigerate cooked turkey up to four days, dressing and gravy one to two days, other cooked dishes three to four days.
Turkey done too soon: Take it out, wrap in heavy-duty foil and cover with a towel or put in an empty cooler. It will keep hot about an hour.
Heating takeout turkeys: Cut off the bone, slice and arrange in a roasting pan. Use the skin to cover the meat to keep it moist. Cover the pan with foil and heat 35 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees.
Call for help: The USDA’s Meat & Poultry Hotline, 1-888-674-6854, is available from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday, or access a live chat line at askkaren.gov.
Cooking and handling
Which method you follow to cook your turkey is your choice. But here are the recommended times from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a basic roast turkey at 325 degrees:
8 to 12 pounds: 3 to 3 1/2 hours stuffed, 3 hours unstuffed.
12 to 14 pounds: 4 hours stuffed, 3 1/2 hours unstuffed.
14 to 18 pounds: 4 to 4 1/2 hours stuffed, 3 to 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours unstuffed.
18 to 20 pounds: 4 1/4 hours stuffed, 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours unstuffed.
Turkey Crumb Pot Pies
From “Dinner Pies,” by Ken Haedrich (Harvard Common Press, 2015). You’ll need four small ramekins.
1 batch unbaked pie dough (homemade or refrigerated)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 large onion, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery or 1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 cups chopped cooked turkey
2 cups cooked vegetables (such as corn, peas, carrots, broccoli and/or Brussels sprouts; see note)
1/2 teaspoon each dried sage and dried thyme
1 cup packaged stuffing mix
1 cup crispy French fried onions
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Divide the dough into 4 equal balls. Flatten each, wrap and chill. Working with one piece at a time (keep the rest refrigerated), roll out a circle about 8 inches across and line one of four pot pie dishes (about 1 to 1 1/4 cups). Pinch the edge into a high rim. Repeat with remaining dough; refrigerate lined cups about 30 minutes.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute onion and celery about 8 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook about a minute. Whisk in the broth. Bring to a simmer and let thicken, then stir in the cream, turkey, vegetables, herbs, 1/4 teaspoon salt and ground black pepper to taste. Return to a simmer and cook gently about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Cool completely.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Divide filling between the four dishes, making sure there’s about 1/2 inch of room below the top edge of the pastry. Bake 30 minutes. (Place dishes on a baking sheet to make it easier to move them.)
Combine the stuffing mix and fried onions in a food processor and pulse several times, until well chopped but still a little coarse. Transfer to a mixing bowl and stir in melted butter. Open the oven and carefully divide the topping among the four pies, using a fork to spread it and press it in. Continue baking 10 to 15 minutes, until topping is brown and filling is bubbly. Cool 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
NOTE: You could also add a few tablespoons of leftover mashed sweet potatoes. If the filling gets too thick, thin it with a little extra broth.
Yield: 4 servings.