Years ago, my aunt hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people. She prepared a turkey feast from scratch and it was delicious. The next day, 18 of us had a date with the toilet bowl and were queasy for days. The only two who weren’t impacted were the vegetarians.
We were all stymied and started asking questions trying to deduce the source of our illness. Remember the board game “Clue”? Well, Mrs. Peacock poisoned Mr. Boddy with a contaminated turkey leg in the dining room. Turns out that Auntie left the unwrapped, partially frozen turkey on the counter to thaw overnight, so the vegetarians were unscathed by her “fowl” deed.
Here are some cautions to help keep your dinner guests healthy, happy and free from harm:
• Let’s Talk Turkey: Never put a frozen Thanksgiving turkey in the oven unless you plan on serving it for Christmas Day. Rule of thumb: thaw the bird in the refrigerator, breast side up in a shallow pan in its original wrapper, allowing 24 hours for every four pounds. So a 12-pounder will take roughly three days to defrost.
For roasting a stuffed turkey, allow 30 minutes per pound, while for an unstuffed bird shave off 10 minutes per pound at no lower than 325 degrees F. To check for doneness, stick a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone. At 180 degrees the bird is done.
If you must deep-fry your turkey, then do the dirty work outside. Still, make sure your smoke detectors are functioning, and keep a fire extinguisher and cholesterol test at hand.
• Cavity Protection: Many of us have inadvertently left the plastic giblet bag in the bird while roasting. Just toss before any of your guests get wind of it, but next time do a cavity search.
• No Kid’s Stuff: To stuff or not to stuff the holiday bird has been a raging debate among cooks across the land. It’s no coincidence that most food-borne illnesses (and broken teeth) occur during November and December holidays as a result of improperly cooked ingredients and handling, bolstering the popularity of casserole-style stuffings. For both modes of preparation, standing advice:
• Don’t prepare stuffings in advance, even if properly refrigerated, whether in a casserole or a cavity.
• Precook all eggs, meats, fish and seafood — such as sausages, oysters and shrimp — along with grains and pastas, including Israeli couscous, wild rice, farro, and barley. You should sauté tough or chewy vegetables and fruits — especially roots, fennel, peppers, chestnuts, apples and celery — until tender.
• For cavity stuffing, use a meat thermometer to ensure internal temperature reaches a safe 165 degrees. Remove every morsel once cooked. Lining the cavity with a cheesecloth bag makes this task easier and safer.
• Bread stuffings are best with day-olds.
• Stab Wounds: The vibrant bay leaf that adds an earthy essence to soups, stews and sauces, but has a piercing-sharp stem that can scratch or cut the mouth, throat or other parts. Always remove the leaves from the dish before serving.
• Green Around the Gills: Green spots on spuds indicate over exposure to light and high temps, forming a concentration of solanine and chlorophyll in the root. Solanine poisoning can cause gastrointestinal problems of all manners, so carve away green spots or discard the potato completely.
• Seedy Side: Apples, along with stone fruits like cherries and peaches, harbor cyanide in their seeds and pits. The tropical cherimoya with a creamy sweet pulp is laced with glossy black seeds containing a dangerous neurotoxin. Enjoy the fruits, but steer clear of their hazards.
• The Shell Game: Chestnuts, the darling fruit of the holiday season, are downright unpalatable when eaten raw. This can be quickly remedied by following Nat King Cole’s suggestion of roasting them on an open fire. Still, remove all brown shells that are laced with bitter acidic tannins.
Recipe: Rustic Bread Stuffing
• Ingredients: 1 crusty baguette cut in 1-inch cubes; 1 pound assorted mushrooms (crimini, button, Portobello), sliced; 2 celery stalks, diced; 1 sweet onion, diced; 1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced; 1 cup dried cranberries or cherries; 1/3 cup toasted pepitas; 1 cup mushroom or vegetable broth; 2 tablespoons fresh herbs (Italian parsley, rosemary, sage), chopped; 3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
• Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a large, oven-safe casserole dish with butter or oil. Set aside. In a large skillet on medium heat, melt butter or heat oil, and sauté vegetables until tender. Blend bread cubes, cranberries, pepitas, herbs, spices and broth. Mix well. Transfer to casserole and bake until golden, about 30 minutes.
— Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and see more recipes at freerangeclub.com