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Beginner's Stuffed Turkey
Most of us learn to cook from our parents. If you're lucky, you've attended a cooking school or perhaps a cooking class at your local Parks-n-Recs service. But there are a lot of people out there who never had those opportunities and trying their hands in the kitchen for the first time. If you're one of those novice cooks, this recipe is for you. There are no frills to this recipe. You will need:
  • Turkey
  • Turkey Baking Pan
  • Turkey Baster
  • ½ stick of Butter or margarine (softened)
  • 1 large package of Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing.
  • A large serving dish for the turkey
  • A large bowl for the stuffing
Buying Your Bird:
When you buy your turkey, make sure you check the weight. A 12 to 13 lbs turkey can serve 4 to 8 people, depending on portion size. There's just 3 of us, so we tend to look for a 10 lbs turkey, and we still have plenty of left overs.
When you purchase your turkey make sure you also buy a large enough aluminum baking pan to cook it in. Pick the turkey first so you can measure it in the pan. It's better to have a pan that's too big, than one that's not big enough. I prefer the aluminum pans that have wire handles that stretch from the sides, under the pan to the opposite side. This makes it much easier to lift the turkey out of the oven when necessary. Oh, and don't forget the turkey baster!
Refrigerating & Thawing Your Bird:
If you don't have a large freezer at home to store your turkey in, buy it about 2 days before you'll be cooking it. Keep your turkey refrigerated until the evening before cooking. On that night, remove the turkey from the fridge and place it in a cooler (don't take off the wrapping!) Cover the bottom of the cooler with ice (at least 3 inches deep) and place your turkey on top. Then sprinkle ice around the sides and top of the turkey. It doesn't have to be fully covered. You want it to thaw out, but to remain cold. The average thawing time for an 8 to 12 lbs turkey in the fridge is 2 days. Up to 16 lbs, allow 3 days in the fridge. Up to 20 lbs allow 4 days in the fridge.
The directions on the turkey will tell you how long it needs to bake based on it's weight. A 10-11 lbs turkey will take about 4 to 6 hours to bake (if it's fully thawed). If your turkey is still frozen on the day of baking, don't panic. You'll just have to calculate extra baking time based on how much of it is still frozen. If you have to chisel the innards out of the turkey, you'll probably have to bake it a significant amount of extra time. It's better to have a dry bird, than an under cooked one. So consider an extra 6 hours of baking if it's this frozen.
Preparing Your Bird For Baking:
So it's time to prepare your turkey for baking. Most turkey instructions will tell you what temperature to preheat the oven to. Rule of thumb is a minimum of 375° F. Start up the oven prior to preparing your turkey. If your turkey is frozen, don't think you can just up the temp and cook it faster. It doesn't always work that way. You're better off, adding cooking time!
Clear and clean your sink, make sure you rinse it well. Place the turkey package in the sink and cut away the covering. Careful not to cut the baking schedule. Once the covering has been removed, you may have to pull the legs out of a plastic holder. DON'T CUT IT! You're going to need those holders after you stuff your turkey. Once you have the legs open, wash your turkey inside and out. You'll find a package inside the turkey; this is the gizzard, liver and neck. If you don't plan on cooking those, just toss them in the trash. Some companies, split these up into 2 packages and place one in the gut of the turkey and one in the neck flap. You will need to wash your turkey inside and out, so while you're doing that, check both crevices for innards.
Drain your turkey well and place it, breast up, in the aluminum baking pan. Mix the stuffing according to the package instructions. Stuff both sides of the turkey, the gut and the neck. Start with the gut. Any remaining stuffing goes in the neck. Make sure you pull the neck flap over the stuffing and tuck it under the turkey body.
Now here you can do a couple of things if you'd like, but no matter what you do, you're going to get your hands dirty.
Method 1: Take the ½ stick of butter and slather it over the entire turkey body.
Method 2: Mix your favorite herbs in the butter, then slather it over the entire turkey.
    Some herb options: Sweet Basil and Parsley, or Rosemary and Sage, Sweet Basil and Pepper. What ever your favorite herb combinations are.
Once you've washed your hands, measure out 2 large sheets of aluminum foil. You want the sheets to be long enough to stretch over the turkey and about 4 inches down the sides of the baking pan. Place the 2 sheets together and fold one side (length ways) about ¼ inch down. Do this 3 times. Your fold will double the width of your foil covering. Now place this over the turkey and tuck in all 4 sides around the edges of the pan. If any edge doesn't reach the pan, you'll have to start over. The entire bird and top of the pan needs to be covered.
Basting & Cooking Your Bird:
Place the turkey in the oven and start baking. Every hour, return to the oven and pull out the rack. Carefully remove 3 sides of the foil for basting. Simply suck up some of the juices in the bottom of the pan and gently squirt it over the breasts, legs and wings. Try to douse each part of the turkey at least 3 to 4 times. Recover the bird and push it back in the oven for cooking.
When your turkey is nearing the end of it's cook time, check it to make sure it's cooking properly. You can make a small cut into once side of the breast near the bottom and check to see if the meat shows any sign of pink. If it does, you have more cooking to do. If not, you're almost done.
About 20 minutes before serving, pull the rack out and remove the foil entirely. Baste the turkey heavily. This should be easy now as there should be a large amount of drippings in the pan. Place the turkey back in the oven uncovered for about another 20 minutes. This will allow the outside of your bird to brown to a golden color.
Serving Your Stuffed Turkey:
I like my turkey served hot. So I typically set the table with everything else we're having for the meal and work on serving the turkey last. Everyone is different, so you might want to set out your turkey first. But when you're ready, remove the turkey from the oven. Removing the turkey from the pan to the servicing dish is best done with 2 people. Each of you takes 2 large wooden spoons, or equivalent. Place one set of spoons under the front of the turkey, the other set behind. Quickly raise the turkey from the pan and place it on the serving dish.
Remove the stuffing from the front, or the gut of the turkey and place it in the large serving bowl. And serve both to your dinner table.
Storing Your Stuffed Turkey:
After dinner you need to properly store your turkey. It's very important to remove ALL the remaining stuffing from the bird and store it separately in the fridge. I put all the stuffing in a zip lock bag because it takes up less room. With all the leftovers you may have, you might not have enough room to put the whole turkey in the fridge. What I do is pull out 2 gallon size zip lock bags and start tearing the remaining meat off the bones of the bird. All the white meat in one bag, all the dark meat in the other bag.
The remaining carcass goes in a well tied plastic bag and out to the trash. Just keep in mind that cooked bones can splinter if chewed. Any out door animals that might get into your trash, can be severely harmed by the bones, or by food poisoning. So ensure your trashed bird is secured safely.
Turkey Left Overs:
A few ideas for your turkey leftovers:
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