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For some of you, feeding the family at Thanksgiving is as easy as pie. But for those who are uncertain about tackling a turkey dinner, don't panic. We've presented tips for making dishes ahead, garnishing, and selecting the best of seasonal produce to help turn your holiday meal into a memorable feast.Stuffing the Bird
1. To stuff the neck cavity, place the bird breast side down. Lightly spoon stuffing into the cavity. Pull the neck skin over the opening, then secure to the back of the bird with a skewer.
2. After lightly stuffing the body cavity, tuck the legs under the band of skin crossing the tail, or reset the legs into the leg clamp.
Temperature should be your guide to doneness. To assure that the turkey and stuffing have reached a safe temperature, always use a thermometer when you roast turkey. Because there is no visual test for stuffing doneness, the USDA recommends that you not stuff a turkey if you don't have a thermometer.
A meat thermometer measures the internal temperature of foods as they cook. These thermometers can be used for larger cuts of poultry, beef, pork, and other meats. Insert a meat thermometer into the food at the beginning of the cooking time, making sure it is not touching bone. When buying a meat thermometer, look for an easy-to-read dial with a stainless-steel face and shatterproof lens. A meat thermometer can be checked for accuracy by submerging at least 2 inches of the stem in boiling water. It should read 212 degrees F. Some thermometers have "test" marks on them at 212 degrees F.
Instant-read thermometers, also known as rapid-response thermometers, measure a wide range of temperatures, typically from 0 degrees F to 220 degrees F. These thermometers are not designed to stay in food during cooking. Pull the food out of the oven, then insert the thermometer into the thickest portion of the food, not touching bone or the pan. The temperature should register in about 15 seconds. Instant-read thermometers can also be checked for accuracy with the boiling water test.
Potatoes are classified as mealy, waxy, or all-purpose. The type you should choose depends on how you plan to cook them.
Mealy potatoes have a dry texture and tend to crumble when cooked, making them perfect for mashing. The most common variety of mealy potatoes is the russet. Purple potatoes, which are becoming more widely available, are also mealy.
Some potatoes, such as the round white and long white potato, and the yellow varieties (Yukon Gold, Finnish Yellow, and Yellow Rose), are considered all-purpose. This means they are suitable for just about any dish.
Sweet potatoes also come in moist and dry varieties. Dry-texture sweet potatoes usually have a yellowish tan skin and cream-color to yellow meat. They are much like the russet potato in texture and are only mildly sweet. They are ideal for baking or mashing.
Moist-texture sweet potatoes have copper-color skins with a bright orange flesh that is very sweet. Because they hold their shape better than drier varieties, they are best for casseroles or soups. This type of sweet potato is sometimes labeled as a yam in the supermarket.Gravy
Skimming the fat from the drippings, tilt the cup and spoon off the oily layer into a measuring cup.
Gradually whisk the reserved pan drippings into the flour mixture, cooking and stirring constantly.
Start with fresh cranberries (as they thaw, frozen cranberries tend to dissolve the sugar coating). Beat together 2 tablespoons water and 1 tablespoon thawed frozen egg substitute or egg white until combined but not foamy. Brush cranberries with egg mixture, then roll in granulated sugar or extra-fine sugar. Sugar the cranberries up to 2 hours ahead of time and keep at room temperature. Note: Though they may look tempting, do not eat the garnish if they are made with egg white; uncooked eggs sometimes carry salmonella bacteria.Orange Peel Curls
Curly citrus peels add a twist of color to holiday dishes. Using a zester with a large hole, remove the colored part of an orange or grapefruit in long, thin strips. Wrap the strips tightly around a chopstick or pencil, and let them stand at room temperature about 30 minutes or until they hold the curled shape. Push peel off the chopstick or pencil and cut into desired lengths.
The best apples for pie have a firm texture and tart flavor. Choose Granny Smith, Jonathan, Rome Beauty, Winesap, Northern Spy, or McIntosh. If you're not sure which variety to buy, as your produce manager for an all-purpose or baking apple. One pound of apples is equivalent to 3 medium apples or 4 small apples. Pared, cored, and sliced, 1 pound of apples will equal about 2-3/4 cups of sliced apples.
Roast Turkey Glistening and golden brown, this classic roast turkey needs only a simple herb garnish. It is pictured here stuffed with Giblet Stuffing.
Giblet Stuffing Dry the bread overnight or in oven; add cooked vegetables, giblets, and broth.
Classic Mashed Potatoes These savory white mashed potatoes await their crowning touch -- a spoonful of creamy gravy.
Honeyed Sweet Potatoes Sweet potatoes glazed with honey, brown sugar, and ginger add a touch of sweetness to your meal.
Fresh Cranberry Relish Traditional cranberry and orange relish takes only minutes to prepare.
Cranberry-Raspberry Salad Raspberry and lemon gelatin add sweetness to your meal.