I wanted to pop in and wish you a spectacular holiday (if you're celebrating), and offer a few hints and some inspiration gleaned from Thanksgivings past at my house.
When You're the Thanksgiving Cook
The most common and time honored spices used in turkey dressing are: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Sound familiar?
The USDA (U. S. Department of Agriculture) has changed its guidelines for cooking fowl. The new "doneness" temperature is 165 degrees F. This is very good news if you like a moist bird. You may be using an older recipe that warns you to cook your turkey to 175 degrees F. Don't do it. And if you need a little more reassurance, check the USDA's website for proof positive: USDA - Poultry Preparation
If you're noodling turkey size, the rule of thumb is one pound of turkey per person.
If you haven't started defrosting your turkey, you still have time. You can defrost fowl in cold water in your sink. Plan on 30 minutes per pound. You can also use the defrost setting on your microwave. Read the owner's manual for times.
If you're famous for your (dry) roasted turkey breast, try inverting the bird (cook it upside down), and flipping it during the last hour for browning. This works great.
For a bird with a wonderful aroma and a subtly complex flavor, stuff the turkey cavity with sliced oranges, celery, onions, carrots and bay leaf (about 4 for a 12 pound turkey). Collectively, these are referred to as aromatics, and they are -- aromatic. You kitchen will smell delicious long before dinner is ready.
These days, most experts recommend against cooking the dressing in the bird. If you're game, though, (pun intended), make sure to cook it to 165 degrees F to kill any bacteria. Use an instant read meat thermometer to check.
For a moist and flavorful bird, slather butter and herbs (poultry seasoning or sage, rosemary and thyme), under the skin before cooking. If you're a confident cook, injecting spices, butter and honey into the bird is also a tasty option. For flavor, moisture and tenderness, nothing beats brining your turkey, but it may be a bit late this year -- there's always Christmas and Easter, though.
If you're planning on making sandwiches with leftover turkey, add sliced avocado and some Munster cheese to your list of sandwich ingredients. This makes a dynamite sandwich you'll really enjoy. Extra points if you prepare it on potato bread.
If you're cooking your turkey in the oven, calibrate the oven temperature using an inexpensive freestanding oven thermometer (dash out and buy one now if you don't have one). Set the temperature on your oven dial to 350 degrees F. When the oven comes to temperature, test it against the thermometer. If your oven is inaccurate, you may be able to adjust the dial (recalibrate it). If not, make adjustments to compensate (i.e. 338 degrees is actually 350 degrees using your quirky oven). If you have suspicions about the accuracy of the freestanding thermometer, dip it in a pot of boiling water. It should read 212 degrees F or thereabouts.
Stand on a rubber mat. When I quipped about an aching back, I wasn't kidding. If you're not accustomed to standing for hours at a time, a rubber mat will reduce the stress on your back and may give you another hour or two of painless movement before the twinges start. Rubber soled shoes help, too.
Clear your countertops. You probably won't be using your toaster, battery charger, popcorn maker or whatever else you have cluttering your countertops. Clearing the decks will give you extra space you're sure to need before the day is out. That way you won't end up stowing your pies in bookshelves or on plant stands.
Group items in the fridge. Your fridge is probably groaning under the weight of more ingredients than its seen in one place -- well, since last Thanksgiving. This year, try grouping items by recipe so they'll be easier to find. You can pull them all out at once instead of opening and closing the fridge multiple times and moving items around and around trying to locate the ones you need.
Expect calamity. Yes, it may come in the form of a stopped up garbage disposal or a broken chair leg, but it's my experience that Thanksgiving never goes smoothly. If you recognize that something is bound to go wrong -- and play it for laughs anyway, you'll have a much better time.
Good luck from the trenches!