It’s tradition around here that my mother-in-law cooks Thanksgiving dinner. She loves to do it, and she’s very good at it. It’s always bountiful and delicious. She also sends us home with some leftovers, which we love.
But there is nothing like the heady aroma of a turkey roasting in the oven to make the whole house feel warm and comforting in a way turning up the heat and putting on a sweater cannot match. So, it’s become a tradition that sometime after the “official” holidays are over, I take the locally-raised, 25-pound turkey I picked up in November out of the chest freezer, and lug it into the refrigerator to thaw for a week, in preparation for our mid-winter turkey feast.
Except this year, the family was not craving the usual turkey-stuffing-gravy gig. So I was left to my own devices to reimagine the turkey feast. It all started with the aromatics and herbs.
I chopped all this up and divided it between the cavity of the turkey and the bottom of the roasting pan. Why, yes, since you asked, that is a blood orange you see there. That went into the turkey as well. I stuffed a goodly portion of butter up under the breast skin, to keep it moist and well-seasoned. I rubbed salt and pepper all over the bird, and it was ready to go into the oven. I added two cups of water to the roasting pan to prevent the aromatics from burning; a 25-pound turkey cooks for a long time. Also, the giblets went into a saucepan with water to make a light broth, and I poured about two cups of this broth into the roasting pan about halfway through the cooking time, again to prevent burning.
In case you wondered, this is how big a 25-pound turkey is.
It is also a tradition that I forget how big a 25-pound turkey is until after the oven is preheated.
This is the only possible solution for disposal of the screaming hot extra oven rack.
Instead of the sweet potato component of the turkey feast, I went with a family favorite – Roasted Root Vegetables. Here they are, all chopped, seasoned, and tossed in oil, waiting for the turkey to emerge and make room in the oven.
Roasted Root Vegetables – adapted from Cooking Light Magazine – serves 6-8 as a side
The original recipe was for carrots and parsnips. I probably changed it up at some point because I had all these root vegetables in the house and wanted to use them up. You can take or leave any of the veg, and choose the herbs and spices you like. I used fresh thyme and sage because I had them, and I left out the cinnamon and nutmeg because they were not the direction I wanted this dish to go this time around. I garnished with freshly minced parsley after they came out of the oven; parsley is far too delicate to survive roasting.
2 cups peeled, coarsely chopped sweet potatoes
1 1/2 cups peeled, coarsely chopped rutabaga
1 1/2 cups peeled, coarsely chopped carrots
1 1/2 cups peeled, coarsely chopped celery root
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 shallots, peeled and halved
herbs and spices to taste, dried or fresh, – thyme, rosemary, nutmeg, cinnamon, sage – minced finely if fresh
1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
2. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine and coat with oil. Place mixture on an oiled, rimmed baking sheet.
3. Bake at 450 deg. F for 35-45 minutes, or till the vegetables are tender and beginning to brown, stirring every 15 minutes.
The vegetables all begin to caramelize and sweeten, and the shallot and herbs add just the right touch of earthy, savory flavor to balance them. I will sometimes salt and pepper them after they come out of the oven, if they need it.
Wanting a green-vegetable-salad-like dish, but not wanting to settle for simply steaming some broccoli or green beans, I went with the more seasonal choice of a slaw of red and green cabbage, carrots, and apple, dressed simply with olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper.
The aromatics had given up all their flavor (and, well, aroma; the house smelled absolutely divine while the turkey roasted), and the drippings combined with them to create this rather unappetizing mess,
but they also created the most amazing base liquid for a pan sauce. A little turkey fat, a little flour, some of the base mixture, some of the giblet broth,
and the juice of one blood orange later, I had a pan sauce that was smooth, rich, and tasted of wine, though there was no wine in it.
I am chalking that up to the blood orange. Exactly what I was looking for as far as “gravy” was concerned.
The soup took the mashed potatoes position in the meal; I have blogged about it before. Julia Child’s Potage Parmentier, Leek and Potato Soup, added a bit of lightness to the meal, but still brought all the earthy potato-y goodness you’d get from a mouthful of mashed spuds. Man, I love that soup. I think I could live on it. That and chocolate, and I think I’d be all set.
Our mid-winter turkey feast had all the textures and flavors of Thanksgiving, as well as a seasonal freshness from the slaw and the blood orange pan sauce, and the leek-potato soup was the perfect savory counterpoint to the sweetness of the vegetables. I’m sorry I don’t have a photo of the roasted turkey; after smelling those voluptuous, herby aromas all afternoon, we just wanted to carve and eat. By the time I realized I hadn’t photographed the bird, The Husband was already breaking it down into dark meat, light meat, bones, and skin, to be put to further use this week, and well into the future. You may ask, what does a 3-member family do with 25 pounds of turkey meat, skin, and bones?
Plenty. Stay tuned. I’ll see you again soon, somewhere on down the Road.