Getting ready for Thanksgiving

Edith Lovett Pulaski County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences

For many families, Thanksgiving luncheon or dinner is the largest meal prepared all year. So much time and effort go into planning the meal and getting the house ready for company. There are decorations to get out, place settings, the side dishes, the guest list, and the big turkey! It's easy to see how one could feel overwhelmed with preparing the turkey with so many other things to think about and get completed.

Holiday meals are typically known for their overindulgent foods; however, turkey remains a nutritious holiday staple. Turkey is low-fat, high in protein, rich in iron, zinc, and several B Vitamins, and really one of the cheaper meats to buy.

When purchasing a Turkey shop around for the best buy. You should allow 1 pound of turkey for each adult person that will be enjoying the meal. Most of our turkeys in our area are frozen, so you must allow time in your refrigerator for thawing the turkey. Turkey's must be kept at a safe temperature during the thawing process. Turkeys should never be left out at room temperature on the counter, in the basement or outside on a cool day. It is not acceptable to thaw a turkey in the dishwasher, using a blow dryer, or any place where the temperature is above 40 degrees F. When a frozen turkey begins to thaw, any bacteria that may have been present on the meat before freezing will begin to grow. If the turkey stays in the danger zone between 40 to 140 degrees F for more than two hours, bacteria can grow rapidly. The USDA recommends three ways to safely thaw a turkey: in the refrigerator, in the sink using the cold-water method or in the microwave.

Thawing a frozen turkey in the refrigerator is the safest method because the temperature never rises about the 40 degrees F. Inside the refrigerator the turkey thaws gradually at a consistent safe temperature. Place the turkey in a large pan to collect any juices that may drip and contaminate other foods. Don't worry if your turkey is still a little frozen before you cook it. The turkey is still safe to cook; it will just take longer.

A turkey thawed in the refrigerator can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days before cooking. If necessary, the bird can be frozen again without cooking, but there will be some loss in quality. This method also requires the most thawing time: 4 to 12 pounds 1 to 3 days; 12 to 16 pounds 3 to 4 days; 16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days; 20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days. If you purchase a frozen turkey today, you should begin planning on how you are going to thaw the turkey.

The cold-water method is simply thawing the turkey in a sink of cold water, where the water is changed every 30 minutes. Do not use warm or hot water with this method as this will put the turkey in the danger zone for longer than is recommended. You should allow about 30 minutes for each pound of turkey. Be sure to use cold water and make sure the bird is wrapped securely in a leak proof bag to prevent cross contamination and a watery bird. A turkey thawed using the cold-water method must be cooked immediately. Using the cold-water method 4 to 12 pounds allow 2 to 6 hours; 12 to 16 pounds allow 6 to 8 hours; 16 to 20 pounds allow 8 to 10 hours, and 20 to 24 pounds allow 10 to 12 hours.

When thawing in the microwave, follow the microwave owner's manual for defrosting a turkey. Use the recommendation for the cook level and time according to the size of the turkey. Most microwaves cannot accommodate a turkey larger than 12 to 14 pounds. Plan on cooking the turkey immediately after thawing as some areas of the bird warm up quickly and begin to cook during the microwave thaw. Turkey should not be held for later cooking after thawing in the microwave as this increases the chance for bacterial growth.

Before you start the cooking preparations, wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. Don't wash or rinse the turkey. This can spread bacteria onto kitchen surfaces. All raw meat contains bacteria. Washing the meat will not remove the bacteria. The only way to remove the bacteria is to cook the turkey properly. Keep the turkey away from all other foods during the thawing process and before cooking to avoid cross contamination. Don't prepare any other foods until you have the turkey in the oven and have properly cleaned and sanitized the area.

It's never too early to start thinking about all those wonderful turkey leftovers. Be sure to follow good food safety practices when preparing your turkey and storing it for those favorite recipes over the next several days. After the meal, don't let food sit out on the table. Leftovers should be refrigerated or frozen within two hours. It is best to go ahead and remove all the meat from the turkey. Do not store stuffing inside the turkey. Remove the stuffing from the bird and refrigerate in a separate container. Legs and wings may be left whole, if desired. Sliced meat should be stored in shallow containers or small zipper bags and eaten within 3-4 days. If you aren't sure the meat can be eaten in that time frame, it is best to freeze the leftover turkey. If the freezer stays below 0ºF, the turkey is safe to eat indefinitely. For best quality, sliced turkey stored in the freezer in freezer-safe zipper bags should be eaten within 6 months.

Use your leftover turkey to make Kentucky Hot brown, turkey salad, turkey noodle soup, turkey pot pie, turkey casserole or sliced turkey sandwich.

Turkey Noodle Soup

6 cups homemade turkey stock (or low-sodium canned turkey or chicken broth)

1 bay leaf

1 cup diced carrot

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup diced celery

2 garlic cloves, minced

Salt to taste

Ground black pepper

¼ cup chopped parsley

3 ounces egg noodles

2 cups leftover turkey, shredded

Fill a large pot with 6 cups homemade (or canned) stock. Add bay leaf, carrots, onions, celery, garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 10-15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Add parsley, noodles, and shredded turkey. Cook according to packaging for noodles. Remove bay leaf and serve. Will make 7 cups.

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The Pulaski County Homemakers will be decoupaging on Monday, November 22 at 1:00 o'clock. Bring your item to be decorated (jar, plate, etc.) and material to cover it with. This is free to homemakers and $3 to others.

Just in time for the holiday make an 18-inch Christmas Wreath for $20.00. This class will be held on Monday, November 29, at 10:00 o'clock. You must pay at the time you register; the class is limited to 10.

A Painting Class with the Christmas Theme (A Swirling Night Sky with Mary and Joseph) will be held on Wednesday, December 1, starting at 5:30 in the afternoon. A 11 by 14 size is $30 or a larger 16 by 20 is $40. You will complete the painting and take it home with you. Register and pay at the Extension Office.

The Pulaski County Extension Office will be closed Thursday and Friday, November 25 and 26 for the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Join in with the Pulaski County Extension Homemakers to go to the Derby Dinner Theater on Thursday, December 9. You will have a delicious buffet and enjoy the play "A Christmas Story." Call the office for more information.

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