Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Turkey Days

‘Tis the Season when a middle-aged woman’s fancy turns to thoughts of Christmas.

But before then, there is… Thanksgiving! yes, of course I know we don’t do Turkey Day in the UK. But as well as being thankful for all the blessings we have, which we always should, Thanksgiving gives us something else (aside from three back-to-back NFL games on TV, making my husband a very happy camper) …

An excuse to roast a turkey!

I’m looking forward to Christmas, notwithstanding the fiasco of last year, all three of us down with some vile, unspecified ‘lurgi’…. mine was doubtless brought on by my Dickensian struggle through snow and ice, back from the fishmonger’s on Christmas Eve, sweating like a pig despite the -20C temps during the coldest winter we’ve had for many years, with a giant capon in a box on my shoulder.

The capon was ordered because my mother-in-law, who will be our only guest, hates  turkey. In an attempt to get round this and still get our fix, we ate out on Christmas for a few years at supposedly classy restaurants; Tom and I chowing down unhappily on slices cut from a ‘log’ purporting to be made of turkey, in a pool of congealing brown gravy made from the finest plastic catering-sized keg, along with soggy roast spuds and sprouts deliberately microwaved to shrivelled bitterness by an aggrieved chef whom I’d annoyed by asking him not to put butter on anything. Eventually, our souls cried out ‘enough!’

Turkey has happy associations for me. Although my late mother was brought up on a farm in Aberdeenshire and got to know the turkeys (or ‘bubbly-jocks’ as they are known in those parts), and so shrank from eating them, she always cooked one for the rest of us. For herself, she ordered salt beef from the butcher a month in advance. That was the only time of year the whole family sat round the same table for a meal, such a modern family we were. The scene resembled one of those old-fashioned gimmick photos, showing a dog, a cat, a mouse etc. all in the one cage, labelled ‘Happy Families’, but still. My two older brothers would sit at table, plainly gunning their engines ready to get out the door to their girlfriends’ families, barely as soon as it could be decently said that the meal was finished; my Dad (Polish, depressive and very emotional), bent silently and sadly over his sprouts; my Mum, wielding her big spoon, warning him sharply to cheer up or else…

Ah yes, it was the whole works… opening presents at four in the morning… the smell of linseed oil to this day reminds me of the mandatory oil painting-by-numbers set I would find in my stocking. I would help to prepare the meal during the morning (I was the lowly menial who peeled spuds, prepped sprouts, stirred the soup, set the table, etc. We finally sat down just in time to eat as the Queen’s speech began. Then I would spend the afternoon washing the dishes while my parents napped. I loved it being alone in the kitchen sneaking the odd extra spoonful of trifle out of the fridge as I washed and dried. Then it would be an evening of TV, the highlight of which would be the Morecambe and Wise Christmas special. You can’t buy memories like that.

So what do we have to be thankful for? We are a middle-aged couple with a collective age of 111, living in an 106 year-old tenement flat, now described by estate agents (realtors) as ‘an ideal starter flat’ (i.e. tiny). We have had ill health on and off for a few years now. Two of our ancient plaster ceilings have caved in within two years, resulting in many months of dirt and struggle and inconvenience and haggling with the insurance people; a massively heavy kitchen cabinet fell off the wall without warning, causing unbelievable damage. My illustration business has all but gone down the pan. We now only know one set of neighbours out of the eight in our ‘close’ (apartment building), all the rest being very young tenants of absentee landlords. They’re pleasant enough, but there’s no sense of community. And we now have rats in our back yard. You could say the past few years have been a bit of a turkey.

And yet, in all three cases of things caving in or falling, I had been in the respective disaster areas just a little while previously, and I escaped injury or worse.The one set of neighbours we do know are good folks, very much on our wavelength, more like friends, with an adorable three-year old who has adopted us as ‘TomanSusan’. I don’t work so much now, but I get more time to look after the house and the hubby, which to tell the truth I rather like; and Tom has a brand new metal hip, which we thought would never happen but eventually did, giving him freedom from pain and new-found mobility (not that you’d ever know, couch potato that he is).

So we count our blessings, which at the time of writing include our small turkey, defrosting merrily in the fridge. I will potter happily in the kitchen and Tom will soak up the sports, as will I when the dinner’s all done (although with American football I have only the most rudimentary idea of what’s going on).

If you do celebrate Turkey Day, have a smashing time and don’t work so hard that you forget to enjoy it.

Roast Turkey
(serves 4-6 hungry buggers)

one 9-10 lb. turkey
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
the turkey neck and giblets, cut up small
4 oz. unsmoked Pancetta, finely chopped (ordinary bacon will do too)
a mixture of finely-chopped vegetables – onion, leek, celery, carrot, swede (rutabaga)
10 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
3 pts. water
juice of ½ lemon
4 rashers unsmoked streaky bacon
50 g. butter
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. dried sage
1 tsp. onion powder
rashers of streaky bacon (you will need about three 250g. packs)
1½ tsps. cornflour (cornstarch)
a little redcurrant or cranberry jelly

Wash the turkey and remove the giblets, and dry thoroughly. Cover with cling-film and put back in the fridge.

In a large skillet or sauté pan, heat the oil. Add the turkey neck and giblets, the Pancetta, the vegetables, peppercorns and bay leaves. Cook very gently for about 20 minutes. Add the hot water, and simmer for about an hour. Top up with a little more water if it gets to looking dry.

Just before the end of this time, take the turkey out of the fridge – this is about ¾-1 hour before the start of cooking time.

Strain the stock, remove any excess fat from the surface, and set aside.

In a roasting pan with a rack set in it, pour 1 pt. of the giblet stock and the lemon juice.

Under the skin of each side of the turkey breast, thread 2 rashers of unsmoked streaky bacon. Preheat the oven to 400F/200C/Gas Mark 6 and place the oven shelf in a position where the turkey’s centre will be smack-bang in the centre of the oven.

In a small pan over a low heat, gently melt the butter, and add the salt, the dried sage and the onion powder. Let the mixture cool a little so it is still liquid but not hot. Brush the bird with this mixture, including inside the wings. Re-fold the wings. On the breast, lay rashers of streaky bacon in a lattice pattern (you will need three 250g. packs).

Lay more bacon on the legs and wings. Place the turkey breast-up on the rack over the stock in the roasting pan. Place a meat thermometer in between leg and body, not touching the bones. Rub some butter on a large piece of aluminium foil and cover the bird with it.

Calculate the roasting time as 20 minutes per pound, plus an extra 20 minutes. A 10 lb. turkey should take about 220 minutes.(3 hrs. 40 minutes). Place the tin in the oven.
Baste the meat three or four times during cooking. Inject some of the basting liquid under the skin of the breast.

Top up the tin with a little more stock if necessary. When the bird is ready, the meat thermometer should register at least 75°C. ‘Rest’ the bird for 30 minutes before carving. Pour the stock out of the tin into a saucepan, and remove any excess fat.

In a small bowl, mix together the cornflour and the water. Add this ‘slurry’ to the gravy and stir until thickened, or alternatively use a little ‘packet’ turkey gravy. Add a little redcurrant or cranberry jelly, if liked.

Happy Thanksgiving!