Canadian Thanksgiving Feast

Back home from his travels DonQui decides to get cooking again.

Today being Canadian Thanksgiving, he decides to put together a Thanksgiving feast. Central to this has to be a turkey which is a little difficult to find in the UK at this time of year.

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Fortunately his friendly local butchers — Mills & Sons & Daughters are able to find him a lovely small bird. DonQui finds that smaller turkeys have much better taste and with this one at just over 4kg (9 lbs) he won’t be stuck with leftovers for weeks afterwards.

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Another essential for DonQui is wild rice which comes from the great lakes of Canada and the northern USA. Many packets of wild rice in the UK are sold mixed with white rice. This is a silly combination as wild rice requires much longer cooking than ordinary rice. If you want to mix the two they need to be cooked separately or otherwise you will end up with one still too hard or the other too soggy.

Traditional accompaniments would be sweet potato and squash or some other autumnal vegetables. DonQui’s guests had requested roast potatoes and peas. He is happy to oblige even if they are not the most authentic of Thanksgiving side dishes.

Cranberry sauce is another important addition to a turkey feast. This time he uses a store-bought jar although he has made it himself before. Cranberry sauce is quite easy to make and DonQui’s recipe can be found here.

DonQui decides he will stuff the turkey. As this entails quite a bit of work, it is not something DonQui does as a matter of course. Due to the time it takes he prefers to prepare the stuffing the day before, making it much easier on the day. He also pre-prepares the gravy base for the same reason.

Here are his recipes to serve 4-6 people depending on appetites and the desire for left-overs

Stuffing Ingredients
A handful of chopped turkey and/or chicken livers (about 6 whole livers)
Half an onion finely chopped
A good bunch of chopped parsley (about ½ a cup)
A good teaspoon each of fresh chopped sage, rosemary and thyme (reduce the amount if using dried herbs)
A bit of grated nutmeg
6 slices of stale white bread cut into squares leaving crusts on
a handful of chopped dried cranberries (optional)
a handful of chopped chestnuts (optional)
a splash of milk
salt and pepper to taste
butter for cooking (mix with a little vegetable oil if desired)

Stuffing method

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Gently pan fry the onion in butter until soft and it begins to colour

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Add the chopped livers and stir fry over a low heat until most of the pinkness is almost gone. Add the herbs, nutmeg, salt and pepper and continue cooking over a low heat until well mixed.
Set aside to cool

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Put the cut bread into a bowl

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Moisten with a little milk and kneed it together with your hands until the volume is reduced and the bread becomes almost dough-like but not too soggy. Squeeze out any excess liquid.IMG_0444 2.jpg

Mix in the liver/onion/herb mixture along with the cranberries and chestnuts if you are using them. This time DonQui uses only the cranberries. They add a delightful taste burst to the finished stuffing.  You can start this off with a fork but to get it really well mixed you will need to get in there with your hands.

IMG_0446.JPGWhen it is throughly mixed it should have the look and constituency of a course paté. Set aside for at least a couple of hours or overnight

Preparing the Gravy base.
Place the turkey giblets (neck, kidney and heart but not the liver) along with a roughly diced carrot and celery stalk in a roasting pan along with a quartered onion leaving the outer skin on. DonQui also likes to clip the wing tips off the turkey and add these also. The liver goes in to making the stuffing.

Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Place the roasting pan in a pre-heated oven at 160º and roast for about 1 hr until the vegetables have begun to brown but not burn.

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Deglaze the pan with a splash of dry white wine and transfer everything into a large pot. Add water to just about cover, along with a bay leaf and a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme. Simmer the mixture for at least an hour until all the flavours combine. For a deeper taste use chicken stock (or better yet turkey stock if you have it) in place of some or all of the water. This could be cooked up in the roasting pan but DonQui prefers to use a pot. Its narrower base makes it easier to cover the ingredients with liquid.

Strain and reserve the liquid until ready to make the gravy. Discard the solid ingredients. DonQui does this the night before to reduce the number of activities on the day of the feast.

The Wild Rice
Properly cooked, wild rice expands to almost 4 times its dry state.

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Soak a cup of wild rice in 4 cups of water and leave overnight. The grains will burst at the ends, exposing the white insides.

About 1 hour before serving, drain the soaked rice and place in a pot with three times its volume of salted water. For an even better taste substitute about 1/3 of the the water with chicken stock.

Bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes or until tender.

The Turkey

Take the turkey out of the fridge at least 1 hour before cooking. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.

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Stuff the neck end (back) of the turkey with the stuffing and close the skin back over it. DonQui tends to secure the neck flap with a wooden cocktail stick but this is not essential.

Place two halved citrus fruits (lemons or clementines) inside the main cavity of the turkey along with sprigs of fresh rosemary and/or thyme. DonQui also adds half an onion (optional). These will steam the inside of the turkey as it cooks and add greater flavour to the gravy.

Warm some butter in your hands then rub and massage it all over the bird. Then sprinkle with salt and black pepper.

Place the turkey in a roasting pan. Cover with tinfoil (aluminium foil). Place in the oven and roast at 180º C for 25-30 minutes per kilo. Remove the tinfoil for the last 40 minutes of cooking. This will give make the skin turn a nice crispy golden brown.

Take the bird out of the oven. Use large tongs, or tongs and a carving fork, to tip the bird up to let the juices from the cavity pour out into your pre-prepared gravy base. Then place it on a carving board, cover with tinfoil and a couple of tea towels (dishcloths) and let it rest for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours). During this time the bird will continue to cook.

If you are worried whether the turkey is properly cooked, pierce the thickest part of the thigh with a sharp knife or skewer. If the juices run clear then it is done. If you like to use a thermometer (DonQui never does) then the internal temperature should be 65ºC. Be careful of overcooking as the breast will dry out.

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While the bird is resting, get on with cooking the vegetables and finishing off your gravy.

Finishing the Gravy
After pouring the juices from the cavity of the turkey into the gravy base, bring it back up to the boil and let simmer.

Pour off all the fat and oil from the empty roasting pan, place onto the stove top at a moderate head and deglaze the pan with a good splash of white wine.

Scrap up all the brown bits with a wooden spatula and then strain the juices into the simmering gravy base.

Thicken the gravy either with a roux of flour and butter or cornstarch mixed with water. DonQui likes to use a roux and he describes his method of doing this in his recipe for rich meat sauce.

If you do not pre-prepare a gravy base then you should add chopped carrot and celery with a quartered onion to the roasting pan along with the turkey. After deglazing the pan as above add 500ml of chicken or turkey stock and add this to the juices from the cavity of the cooked turkey.

After resting, more juices will have accumulated on the platter or in the runnels of the carving board. Add these to the gravy before serving.

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DonQui was most pleased with the way his Thanksgiving feast turned out.

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The empty plates and dishes afterwards bore testament to the enjoyment of others. All are agreed that the early October Canadian date for Thanksgiving is much more sensible than the US November one. It is, of course, more suitable for northern climes but it also gives a nice separation from Christmas.

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