There are a couple of myths told each year at my house on Thanksgiving. One is that the Chef won't get bladdered and kick everyone out of the kitchen. The other is that there's a natural chemical in turkey called tryptophan that makes you sleepy after the meal. While the first myth stems from wishful thinking on my wife's part, the sleepy-turkey myth lingers around each year because it sounds so logical. Alas, it is only marginally true. What's making you sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner is any combination of booze, bad conversation, family members and a carbohydrate-heavy meal, but not the turkey itself. The Tryptophan Trip Tryptophan is an essential amino acid crucial for good health. Human bodies need tryptophan to build certain kinds of proteins. There is a sleep connection, though. The body uses tryptophan in a multi-step process to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps regulate sleep. Turkey does have tryptophan. But all meat has tryptophan at comparable levels. Cheddar cheese, gram for gram, has more. While cheddar isn't the most exciting cheese in the cheese cellar, no one connects it with sleep. Turkey gets singled out for no other reason than being eaten during the biggest meal of the year. Let's talk turkey! Americans feast on 535 million pounds of turkey on Thanksgiving. According the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 45 million turkeys are cooked and eaten in the United States at Thanksgiving. That number represents one sixth of all the turkeys sold in the U.S. each year! Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national bird. Domesticated turkeys cannot fly, however wild turkeys can fly up to 55 miles per hour over short distances. Only male (tom) turkeys gobble. Females make a clicking noise. The famous gobble is actually a seasonal mating call. The heaviest turkey ever raised weighed in at 86 pounds - about the size of a German Shepherd! (But turkeys are normally not used as police animals.) A turkey under 16 weeks of age is called a fryer. A five to seven month old turkey is called a roaster. The Turkey Trot, a ballroom dance in the 1900s, was named for the short, jerky steps of the turkey. It became popular mainly because it was denounced by the Vatican as "suggestive." Turkeys are known to spend the night in trees! (Maybe to escape the Thanksgiving table?) Turkeys can drown if they look up when it's raining! A turkey's field of vision is 270 degrees - one of the main reasons they're able to elude some hunters. The average age of the Mayflower passenger was 32. The oldest Mayflower passenger was 64. There was no milk, cheese, bread, butter or pumpkin pie at the original Thanksgiving Day feast. The cranberry got its name because the pale pink blossoms on the plant resembled a crane's head and neck. The name craneberry stuck, eventually becoming cranberry. Fresh cranberries are ideal for cranberry sauce. Cranberries of the highest quality will always bounce! (If you try this at home, please wash the cranberries before eating.) President Abraham Lincoln established the original date for our National Thanksgiving Day celebration in 1863. President Thomas Jefferson scoffed at the idea of establishing a national "Thanksgiving Day." Congress did not declare Thanksgiving a national holiday until 1941. The average person consumes 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day. (Now that's a lot of turkey!) ROAST TURKEY WITH SAGE AND ONION STUFFING INGREDIENTS 1 large onion, finely chopped 1 lb pork sausage meat 2 level tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped 2 level tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped 1 oz fresh white breadcrumbs Salt and pepper 1 14lb oven-ready turkey 4oz soft butter 8oz streaky bacon, thinly sliced 1 pints Chicken or Turkey stock 2 tbsp all purpose/plain flour pint Port 2 tbsp redcurrant jelly METHOD Heat the oven to 425F. Prepare the stuffing: In a large bowl mix together the onion, pork sausage meat, herbs, breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt and pepper. Slip your fingers under the skin at the neck end and loosen to create a cavity over the breast. Stuff the neck end with the onion and sage stuffing up to the breast. Tuck the loose skin underneath and secure with a fine metal skewer. Smear the soft butter evenly over the breast and legs of the turkey. Lay thin slices of bacon neatly across the breast and top surface of the legs. Sprinkle the whole turkey liberally with salt and pepper. Lay two large sheets of aluminum foil over a roasting tin large enough to hold the bird. Place the bird back down and fold the foil loosely over the bird leaving a roomy gap between the bird and the foil to allow steam to escape. Roast in the preheated oven for 40 minutes then lower the temperature to 325F and cook for 3 hours basting from time to time. Remove the turkey from the oven; raise the temperature to 425F. Fold back the foil on the turkey, remove the bacon and pour any juices into a jug or bowl. Return the turkey to the oven and cook for a further 30 mins to crisp the skin. Remove from the oven and check the temperature with a meat thermometer placed into the thickest past of the thigh, the turkey is cooked if the temperature is 175F. If you don't have a thermometer the turkey is cooked if the juices run clear when the thickest part of the thigh is pierced with a small sharp knife. If the juices are pink return to the oven and cook until they run clear. When cooked, leave the turkey to rest for 30 mins wrapped loosely with fresh foil before carving. Meanwhile make the gravy. Pour all the juices from the roasting tin into the bowl or jug with the juices saved from the foil. Spoon off all the fat which will float to the surface and discard. Place the roasting tin on a high heat on the stove top, add the flour and stir to scrape up all the sediment from the tin. Cook for one minute. Pour in the port and stir well then add the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the turkey juices, bring back to the boil and cook for a further 3 minutes. Add the redcurrant jelly stir until dissolved then strain into a gravy boat or serving jug. AND FINALLY... Some entertaining tips for this Thanksgiving: Vegetarians coming to dinner? Simply serve them a nice bit of Turkey. Since they're always going on about how tofu, Quorn, meat substitute, etc., "tastes exactly like the real thing," they won't know any difference. Don't invite drug addicts round for a meal on Thanksgiving night. They may find the offer of cold turkey embarrassing or offensive.
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