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From choosing your turkey to the ultimate cranberry sauce our Irish chef has you covered. Photo by: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getting geared up for Thanksgiving - useful tips and recipes

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From choosing your turkey to the ultimate cranberry sauce our Irish chef has you covered. Photo by: Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you have had a chance to go to a mall or any major big box retailer it looks as if we have skipped Thanksgiving and gone straight into the Christmas holidays. We have had the Christmas lights up for a couple of weeks in my neighborhood, which always feels a bit odd when it’s 85 degrees (in Miami)! What has happened to my favorite holiday?

I love Thanksgiving, it is the only time for us in South Beach that we get to see natural breasts! Although these days the turkeys are getting pumped with more artificial growth hormones than those creepy people down the gym with their weird moustaches, and that’s just the girls!

So with Thanksgiving just around the corner we are going to start our preparation for the big feast. I am going to give you a couple of tips on what to look for in your turkey {it’s very important to check the size of your oven too}but for most people the thing that makes the Thanksgiving meal {apart from the drink, football and a day off work} is the sides, whether it is cranberry sauce out of the can or aunt fanny’s green bean casserole, but this year you are going to dazzle your friends and family with a great stuffing made with Italian sausage and apples and some awesome cranberry sauce with port and apricots.

Remember Thanksgiving is an emotional holiday. People travel thousands of miles to be with people they only see once a year. And then discover once a year is way too often.

CHOOSING YOUR TURKEY

Size, Sex and Age Matters – To start, you should determine your desired turkey size according to your number of dinner guests. Account for about 0.75 pounds of turkey per person, so a turkey for eight guests should weigh about 6 pounds. When it comes to deciding between a hen (female turkey) or tom (male turkey), you may consider that hens usually weigh less than 15 pounds, and toms generally weigh more than 15 pounds. But their gender makes no difference in terms of flavor, texture or tenderness.

What does make a big difference is the age of the bird. Fryer or roaster turkeys, those less than four months old, are very tender. Young turkeys, from 4 to 7 months old, are quite tender too. These two types of turkeys are best for roasting.

Turkeys that are about a year old, yearlings, have moderately tender skin and meat. They can still be used for roasting, and cost much less. Mature turkeys, or those above fifteen months of age, have tough meat and should not be used for roasting.

In my book the younger the bird, the tastier the turkey.

Frozen, Fresh or Hard-Chilled? - In short, frozen is the best and cheapest option. Frozen turkeys are blast frozen so quickly that no ice crystals are formed on them (so that thawing does not damage the turkey) and then they are stored at 0°F or lower.

They need to be bought out of the deep freeze at least three days in advance of cooking, so there is sufficient time to defrost them properly.

Trying to defrost the turkey by leaving it outside the refrigerator can be harmful, since it may cause bacterial growth and food poisoning. Instead, thaw it in the fridge, for about five hours for every pound of the turkey's weight.

 If time is of the essence, go hard-chilled or fresh. Hard-chilled or partially frozen turkeys are chilled between 0 - 26 degrees F, and so are quicker to defrost. Fresh turkeys (the most expensive sort) have never been chilled below 26 degrees F, so they have never been frozen. The latter need to be transferred to the refrigerator as quickly as possible and should be cooked within two days of purchase.

APPLE AND SAUSAGE STUFFING

Makes 40 cups.

This savory stuffing recipe makes enough to fill a 14- to 16-pound bird and is always a hit, even with kids. And when made with low-fat turkey sausage, this is a healthy and complete meal in itself.

INGREDIENTS

 2 lb. sweet Italian turkey or pork sausage, casing removed
 4 tbsp. butter
 2 large onion, chopped
 8 celery stalks, diced
 4 Granny Smith or delicious apples, cored and chopped
 4 garlic cloves, minced
 4tsp. poultry seasoning
 24 cups cubed multigrain bread, cubed and dried in an uncovered bowl overnight
 42 cups (or more) low-sodium chicken broth
 Salt and pepper to taste
 
METHOD

Coat a large skillet with cooking spray. Brown the sausage until cooked through. Remove from heat, transfer to a large mixing bowl, and crumble sausage.

Melt the butter in the skillet and simmer the onion for 2 to 3 minutes, or until translucent. Add the celery, apples, garlic, and poultry seasoning, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring often.

Add the apple-vegetable mixture to the bowl of sausage, along with the bread; mix well. Moisten with the chicken broth and season with salt and pepper. Cool completely before stuffing the turkey.

Gilligan’s tip: Stuffing can be cooked separately in a large glass casserole dish, but more stock may be needed to replace the moisture that usually comes from the turkey cavity.

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