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Turkey basics: How to clean, prep and cook a turkey.

Apple Prune stuffing:

This has to be my favourite stuffing for the holidays.  It’s a little more advanced than the average stuffing but the flavour is so robust.  The chestnuts can take some time so you can always leave them out.  At my house, there’s a riot if I don’t add them.  This stuffing can go in the bird or even be baked in a casserole dish where it should be called a dressing.    

  • 2 large onions, finely sliced
  • 3 Tbsp. butter (45 ml)
  • 1/2 cup pitted, quartered prunes (125 ml)
  • 1/4 lb  chestnuts,  roasted, peeled and chopped (120 gm)
  • 7 grain bread (1/2 small loaf, day old), broken into bite sized bits    
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced 
  • 1/4 cup calvados (or brandy ) (60 ml)
  • 1 cup chicken stock  (250 ml)
  • 3 apples, cored , peeled, diced  
  • 2  Tbsp. freshly chopped  thyme (30 ml) 
  • 1 tsp. freshly chopped  rosemary (5 ml)
  • salt and pepper to taste 

In a large skillet over high heat, melt butter until just golden.  Add the onions and saute on high for about 5 minutes stirring frequently.  Onions should be browned.  Reduce heat to medium and saute for a further 5 minutes until onions are very soft.  Add the sliced garlic and saute for 2 minutes.  Add the apples , Calvados and the herbs and cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat , stirring frequently.  Add the chicken stock and remove from heat.  Cool.  

Add the bread, chestnuts and the prunes and season with salt and  plenty of freshly ground pepper .

Tip:  Always cool your stuffing before putting it in the turkey.  Never stuff a turkey overnight and then bake and always remove stuffing immediately before carving your bird. 

Yield :  enough stuffing for a 15lb young turkey.   

Holiday Survival Guide  

Turkey talk

This is the single subject that gives us the most grief over the holidays.  Here are some helpful hints to make your turkey just right.  

How big?:  count on 1 lb raw turkey weight per guest.  Believe it or not you lost 50 % of turkey weight to bones etc.  I always count 2 kids  as 1 guest.  I try not to stress too much about enough turkey.  I have never run out and we always make a ton of other dishes.   

Fresh vs/ Frozen:  I prefer fresh birds as they are usually ages a couple of days before being shipped.  This will make the bird more flavourful and tender.  I look for things like free range or grain fed on the package.  It’s better to add your own butter than try to buy one that’s already injecting with a variety of unknowns.  

Thawing Time: This one can absolutely mess everything up if you don’t get it right.  If you opt for a frozen bird, count on 1 full day of thawing in the fridge per 5 lbs of bird.  Never thaw at room temperature.   If you’re in a bind a quick fix is to thaw it in a cold water bath,  changing the water every hour.  Keep the bird in the plastic and count on 1 hour / lb.  It’s tedious, but it works .   Bird must be completely thawed before roasting.  Make sure to remove the giblets pack inside the cavity before roasting. 

Temperature :    I’ve had best success at 325D F. Since today’s birds are bred with larger breast weight they usually take about 12- 15 min per lb.  A meat thermometer is the only way to ensure the proper temperature.   If using a heat safe thermometer, insert it into the thickest part of the thigh closest to the body but not touching the bone at the beginning of roasting. An instant read, is just for checking temperature and must be removed.  Internal temperature should read 180 D in the thickest part of the thigh. 

Bird should rest for at least 20 minutes for best carving results.  

To stuff or not to stuff?:  I prefer to cook my stuffing- actually dressing- in a separate vessel in the oven. This ensures safe temperatures and also reduces the roasting time on my bird.  If you must stuff, take the following precautions:

  • Always stuff bird just before roasting
  • Always use fully cooked stuffing not raw ingredients
  • Remove stuffing immediately after roasting bird and serve in side dish  

 Choosing your menu 

It’s best to pick your bird, ham etc. and build your menu around it.  For a change of pace I have made little Cornish game hens instead of turkey.  They cook much faster and look very festive on the plate.  For the purists, turkey can always be enhanced by a little something on the side like a leg of lamb or a lighter side of salmon.  Go to the winter  recipe section for recipes.  


I buy all my staples up to a week in advance , just to get them out of the way.  Fridge space may be an issue , but if you have ample space, buy whatever you can early.  I also try to shop at off hours which is much less stressful.  These days I can find several grocery stores open late in my neighbourhood.  It can take half the time to shop at 9:00 p.m. instead of 6:00.  

Save the specialty markets or cheese shops for the produce, meat and fish  where the quality is superior . I also like to order my turkey in advance to ensure the quality and size I want. Sometimes they will even keep a fresh bird for you in their big fridge until you’re ready to pick it up.     

I will only leave the absolutely precious details until  the day before my gathering.  I absolutely avoid shopping on the day I’m cooking, if I can help it of course.  


I love doing all the baking at least 2 weeks in advance and freezing it.  That includes the cookies, biscuit dough already cut but still raw and any crisp toppings.  Chocolates are a little more challenging to master. You can buy prepared tempered chocolate shells and fill them with your own ganache or fillings and keep them in a cool dark place.  A cool cellar is perfect.  Never refrigerate chocolate.    

Keeping it simple

This is probably the most sage piece of advice I can give you.  It’s easy to get carried away at the holidays and then become overwhelmed.  Keep it simple but buy great quality ingredients.  I chose to make more of a few things then less of a million little things that take too much time.   Stay away from trying new recipes .  This alone will ease your stress level.   

Refrigerator Thawing Times

(Whole turkey)

8 to 12 pounds..........1 to 2 days 

12 to 16 pounds..........2 to 3 days 

16 to 20 pounds..........3 to 4 days 

20 to 24 pounds..........4 to 5 days 

Paderno Roasting Pan



Friday, October 7, 2011