The time has come to loosen the belt and wear the pants with a little extra room in the waist. Thanksgiving is here. That glorious day when the vice of gluttony reigns supreme and all worries are cast aside, save wondering where you stashed the Pepto.
This year alone it is estimated that the United States will produce 270 million turkeys, 572 million pounds of cranberries, 1.4 billion pounds of sweet potatoes and more than 800 pounds of pumpkins, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agriculture Statistics Service. That same service stated that the average American ate 13.6 pounds of turkey in 2000, no doubt most of that consumption took place at Thanksgiving.
By anyone's estimates, that's a lot of turkey. But for those who are growing a little weary of the same old bird year after year, the following is a little twist on some of the Thanksgiving table's staples provided by chefs and owners of some of Columbia County's eating establishments.
"Frying turkeys originated in Louisiana," said Jim Beck, the general manager and chef of French Market Grille West, 368 Furys Ferry Road. "However, what makes it Cajun isn't how it's cooked, but the spices you use on it."
Begin the thawing process Wednesday morning by putting the turkey in a Cajun marinade you can buy at any grocery store. Beck said some chefs will inject their turkeys with a syringe full of a spicy sauce, but his method is to simply dust the outside and inside of the turkey with a creole seasoning,, garlic salt and pepper. Beck will also puree cloved garlic and mix it with a little white pepper and rub it on the turkey and in the cavity.
To fry the turkey, Beck says for a 15-pound turkey, you will need a three-gallon pot half filled with cooking oil. He says that it is important to keep a cooking thermometer handy to make sure the oil stays a constant 350 degrees. Then he suggests you let the turkey fry three minutes for every pound that the turkey weighs.
Westlake Country Club Chef Wendell Brewster suggests turkey lovers buy a 28-pound bird, prepare a marinade of one gallon of Italian dressing mixed with 1 1/2 cupsof balsamic vinegar and marinate the turkey for 72 hours. Then place the turkey in a roaster pan and pour the marinade over it. He suggests surrounding the bird with rough cut carrots, celery and onion, and slowly cooking it at 275 degrees for about 4 1/2 hours.
Once the turkey is ready, pour the reserve juices into a separate bowl and add one part flour and one part butter in equal amounts to make a blonde roux.
Mot's Pit Cooked Barbeque co-owner Trisha Laughery suggested a favorite recipe of her's taken from a cookbook titled, Smoking Slow and Low. Laughery said that this turkey recipe is very complicated and will take a lot of work, but swears it will be worth the effort.
The recipe was created with a 10- to 11-pound turkey in mind. First you will need a 1/2 cup of garlic-flavored oil, 4 ounces of beer and 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper to make an injection liquid. Next you will need 4 garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon of coarse-ground black pepper, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, pinch of cayenne pepper and 1 tablespoon of garlic-flavored oil to create a paste.
The night before you plan to barbecue the turkey, mix together the injection liquid ingredients. Using a syringe, inject the mixture into the turkey in a half-dozen different places. Inject the greatest amount into the breast.
Create the paste by adding the ingredients in a food processor. Massage the turkey with the paste inside and out. Place the turkey in a plastic bag and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, remove the turkey from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 45 minutes. Wrap the turkey in a 4-by-5-foot dampened cheesecloth and tie off at both ends.
Set the temperature on a smoker for 200 to 220 degrees. Place the turkey in the smoker breast side down and cook for 1 1/2 hours per pound. Wet the cheesecloth with more water at 30-minute intervals.
Prepare a basting sauce by combining 2 cups of turkey stock, 1 cup of water, 8 ounces of beer and a 1/4 cup of cooking oil. Warm the mixture over low heat.
After six hours of cooking, remove the cheesecloth and baste the turkey every 30 minutes. Laughery said it is important to keep the smoker at a constant temperature, so baste quickly.
When the turkey is done, allow it to sit for 15 minutes before carving. Serve with barbecue sauce.
On the Side
DRESSING AND GIBLET GRAVY
The famed cooking crew of the Columbia County Detention Center - who serves inmates, Columbia County Sheriff's Office personnel and 160 meals daily for the local Meals on Wheels program - served their Thanksgiving meal Friday. Charity Johnson, the supervising cook at the detention center, is passing along two of the dishes she served Friday: Dressing and Giblet Gravy.
Johnson begins her dressing by making cornbread. She then breaks the bread into pieces and adds celery and onions sauteed in margarine. She then combines black pepper, boiled eggs and turkey broth and adds it to the cornbread base. Put the mixture in an oven heated to 400 degrees, until the top is brown.
Johnson's giblet gravy is a mixture of cooked turkey drippings, chopped giblets, chopped onion and boiled eggs. She uses flour, water and black pepper to thicken.
Johnson said that everybody's taste is different, so the ingredient amounts can vary.
If you're planning on serving a really big family, or you want to do something special for your co-workers and have got some time on your hands, you might want to try Judy Bridges' recipe for pumpkin bread. Bridges, the cafeteria manager for North Harlem Elementary School, prepared this dish last week for the school's Thanksgiving lunch. The portions will seem odd, but Bridges says that she only knows how to make it for 200 children.
The recipe calls for 4 pounds of butter, 1 1/2 gallons of sugar, 32 eggs, 1 gallon of pumpkin, 4 tablespoons of vanilla, 1 1/2 pounds of flour, 4 tablespoons of salt, 4 tablespoons of baking powder, 4 tablespoons of cinnamon, 1 quart of shortening, a 1/2 gallon of buttermilk along with cloves and nutmeg to taste. Cream the butter and sugar, add the vanilla and eggs, add the pumpkin mix and then add all the dry ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes. Let the bread cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar and top with whipped topping.
SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE
"Our sweet potato casserole is consistently our most popular side item," said Bob Smith, the owner of Good to Go carry-out dining restaurant located at 3937 Washington Road.
Although Smith didn't want to reveal too much about the recipe, he did say that it calls for sweet potatoes, white sugar, eggs, butter, milk, vanilla and salt. Then it is baked for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.
Have fun trying to figure out the right dose of each ingredient.
Leave Room for Dessert
Good to Go's other Smith, Bob's wife Darla, was a little more forthcoming with the take-out restaurant's pecan pie.
"We use a lot of pecans in our pie," Darla revealed. "I think people are using too much sugar and drowning the natural flavor."
Without giving any specifics on quantities, Darla said that her recipe calls for eggs, corn syrup, sugar, salt, vanilla and whole pecans. Mix it all together and bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes.
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