The advantages of early prep

Today I managed to do something I have *never* done before in all of my 49 years…I finished all of my Christmas shopping.  Yes, every…single…present.  Can I get a Hallelujah?

I also learned you can get a turkey that is almost too big–almost.  Years ago I purchased a roasting pan specifically designed for roasting a turkey.  A Mauviel 16 X 12 X 3 roasting pan.  It was on sale, and I had a coupon, otherwise I would have never gotten it.  It came with a heavy duty rack.  Since it had been a few years, I did NOT remember that it was recommended for a turkey up to 25 pounds.  I purchased a 27 pound turkey.  Today I was baking the cornbread for the stuffing as well as the pumpkin bread, and that little voice said “check the roasting pan”.  I took out the pan and rack, pulled the turkey out of the refrigerator and attempted to fit said turkey into the rack.  Nope, it wasn’t going to work, not unless I wanted to balance the turkey body on the rack handles.  Remembering how my Grandma cooked her turkey, I took the rack out of the pan and attempted to put the turkey in the pan.  It fit…barely.  Actually it pretty much filled the pan completely, but nothing extended over the sides thankfully.  So this Thanksgiving the turkey will be cooking while nestled in its juices, but since Grandma never used a rack I don’t think one is necessary.

This Thanksgiving I’m also doing something different from my usual routine, but it was how my Grandma did it.  I’ll bake the turkey overnight, low and slow.  I remember waking up each Thanksgiving morning when I was little to a house filled with the wonderful smell of turkey slowly baking in the oven.  She would put it in the oven very late the night before, and by lunch time the turkey was perfectly done, moist, falling off the bone tender.  After doing much research I’ve found a few professional chefs that do it this way and I’ll follow their instructions.

Our son stopped by a few days ago to help his dad move the old TV console upstairs.  It was one of the few purchases we made where the product was “made in China”, but surprisingly the console was crafted of solid wood, not particle board.  It was HEAVY, too heavy for me to be one of two people moving it.  The new TV arrived, they hauled the old one away, and we placed the new one on the buffet where it fit perfectly.  The TV upstairs was on a coffee table, so hubby and Andrew moved the console upstairs to replace the table and where everything could be organized and stored.  The coffee table is now in front of the theater recliners upstairs.

Before Andrew arrived, Katherine and I left to do some Christmas shopping.  I had promised to take her out, but still had a lot of other things to do that day.  One of those things was to put up the 14 X 9 foot tent in the backyard since it was going to freeze that night.  It was one of my schemes that actually worked well last year, placing all of my plants in the tent along with a small heater.  It kept everything alive and happy throughout every freeze.  This year I wanted to put the tent out in the yard where it would receive full sun (last year it was placed at the side of the house in the shade).  That way I could remove the top flap, open the windows and door and let the plants receive sunshine when it was above freezing, so I could keep them inside the tent instead of having to pull them out into the yard to receive sun.  This task was on my mind as we made our way home, along with everything else I needed to do.  We get home, are depositing our bags in the dining room when hubby motions me to the kitchen window, pointing outside.  Looking out, I see the family sized tent completely pitched in the middle of the yard, ready for the plants.  He grins as he tells me it was Andrew who put it up after he found out what was on his mom’s to-do list.  Tickled me to pieces, and makes me so grateful to have such a kind, thoughtful son.  It took the four of us less than ten minutes to take all the plants to the tent, as well as getting the heater set up inside.  Everything was nice and warm inside the tent as the temps dipped below freezing that night.

Tomorrow I’ll make the homemade cranberry sauce, air dry the turkeys in the refrigerator so the skin will crisp up nicely, make the biga for the rosemary potato rolls as well as chop all the onions, celery, garlic, etc, and store them in airtight containers in the refrigerator.  Late that night I’ll put the large turkey in the roasting pan and slide it in the oven to slowly bake overnight.  I should have plenty of pan drippings in the morning to make a nice homemade gravy out of.

Here’s to early preparation and planning ahead–anything that will take some of the stress out of the holidays is a plus in my opinion!


I can’t tell you how elated I am that cooler weather has finally arrived.  It’s a special kind of hell when you combine south Texas summers with hot flashes, bad enough that it has me considering moving north to escape the heat.  No joke–we even went through the list of states with no state income tax to narrow down the choices.  Tennessee is looking really good once hubby retires.  Right now with the reduced temperatures I’m content with where we live, but when the broiler of summer hits, we just might end up relocating eventually.

I’m happily planning the Thanksgiving meal, as this year will probably be the largest group we’ve hosted yet at around a dozen plus.  I know there won’t be too many more of these as college looms, job transfers, etc, so I’m enjoying every moment I can.  Since we have the largest house, and I absolutely love to cook (not to mention I’m really good at it), everyone is more than happy to come visit and be treated to the goodies.  So far the menu includes two turkeys, one roasted, one smoked.  Yep, we started the tradition around 15 years ago of smoking a turkey and everyone loved it so much we’ve done it ever since.  But I’m old school, absolutely love a roasted turkey, hence the reason we serve two.  Strange thing is, we hardly have any leftovers by the time everyone loads up a to-go plate, lol!  Along with that there’s the made-from-scratch cornbread dressing and turkey gravy.  Homemade cranberry sauce.  (I opt to use 1/2 cup brown sugar with 1/2 cup white sugar instead of a full cup white sugar, along with a pinch of cinnamon).  Trust me, you have to give this a go if you’ve never tried it.  You’ll be using the cans of cranberry sauce as doorstops from now on if you do!  Green bean casserole, stewed okra with tomatoes, a casserole with broccoli, rice and cheese.  A sweet potato casserole with a pecan, marshmallow and streusel topping.  Potato rosemary rolls.  (My newest find from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice cookbook–two days to make, but absolutely worth every second!)  Pumpkin bread pudding with butterscotch caramel sauce and vanilla bean creme anglaise (requested by my sister-in-law).  Rice pudding (requested by hubby).  And to round it all out, cranberry margaritas.  Any other appetizers, drinks, etc, will be provided by the guests.

Yes, I can hear you now–has she lost her mind???  Is she actually going to COOK all that?  Trust me, I absolutely LOVE to cook, and yes, I will be making all of that and will be thrilled to do so.  It’s my thing, ya know?  There are a couple of items that make it much, much easier.  The small (1.5 quart) and large (2.5 quart) version of this:

If you get most of the items prepared ahead of time and they just need to be kept warm, or hot, pop them in these nifty slow cookers and everything will be the perfect temperature all at the same time.  It gives you more time to enjoy the cranberry margaritas.  ;-)

The garden went very well this year.  The plant that performed the best was actually a volunteer–a seedling that established itself all on its own from the Italian Ice tomato I had last year.  It ended up taking up more than half of the raised garden box, yielding literally hundreds of tomatoes, and kept going through the broiler heat of the summer into the fall.  THAT is one heck of a tomato plant!  Some of the other tomatoes that performed well, the ones winning the best for flavor included A Grappoli D’Iverno, Rose De Berne, and Tangerine.  The best sauce tomatoes included San Marzano and Costoluto Genovese.  Here’s a sampling of my canning adventures in sauce as well as tomatoes, pints and half pints, as well as the ongoing harvest:

Any time I wonder if all the work and effort we put into growing the tomatoes was worth it, raised beds, organic fertilizer, irrigation lines, etc, all I have to do is open one of the jars I canned and the aroma and taste immediately let me know that, yes, it was worth it and more.  There will be no fall garden–I will clear out the boxes, dig in organic fertilizer and let them rest over the winter, getting ready for the spring.

I’ve already got a jump start on decorating–the Christmas tree is already up.  Yes, this is a first as I’ve never put it up before Thanksgiving before.  I guess I was feeling a little guilty for not really decorating for Halloween.  It was just too darned hot, and obviously the entire neighborhood felt the same way.  Many who always decorate didn’t, and some of those didn’t even hand out candy.  I managed to put out the dozen fake pumpkins as well as a lighted one, but that was about it, as well as handed out candy.  It just didn’t feel like fall, didn’t feel like Halloween, just…ugh.  It took me a grand total of fifteen minutes to put away the decorations.  So, to make up for it, I’ve decided to do Christmas on a grand scale–I’m pulling out every decoration I own and they’re going up somewhere.  Since I have several weeks to do this, I think I’ll be able to get it done.

We’ll be going light on the Christmas presents this year as we had a couple of unexpected expenses.  The upright freezer died, thankfully when I had very little in it.  It was out of the extended warranty by a year, and the compressor croaked.  After checking with a few repair places, they wanted more to replace the compressor than a brand new full sized freezer would have cost.  A-holes.  We waited for the Labor Day sale and got a new, larger freezer for less than what the repair would have been.  The downstairs TV had been acting up for a while, and it turned out to be another one of those ‘costs more to repair it than replace it’ kind of deals.  After milking it for more than six months, we decided to take advantage of the early holiday sales and bought a new one, this one with 4K technology that makes the standard hi-def seem like analog.  Since they were about the same price with the sale, we went for the updated version.  Considering the old TV was more than a decade old, I think we got our money’s worth out of it.  The new one will be delivered this coming week, just in time to get it settled in before Thanksgiving.

Well, hubby just got back from picking up some good barbecue from the joint down the street–turkey, chicken and pork ribs.  With the fire in the fireplace, it’s going to be a good evening.

Here’s to cooler weather, and all the enjoyable things that come along with it!