“For each new morning with its light, For rest and shelter of the night, For health and food, for love and friends, For everything Thy goodness sends.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Have you played your piano recently?” my friend Nancy asked me the other day while chatting on Skype. I hesitated before admitting, “No, you know I really haven’t in a while. I’ve just been so busy.” She quickly but gently scolded me, adding “Well, you should. You play so beautifully.” As I profusely thanked her for her kind words, I glanced away from my computer screen, leaned back in my office chair and looked at my baby grand. Grand, indeed, I thought. So lovely and magnificent tucked in the corner of our living room. How I have always loved it so. I turn away as I remember. I wasn’t supposed to have it, you know. Not yet anyway. After we hang up, I walk over to this thing of beauty to admire it. I lazily touch a few errant keys, the notes ring softly and clearly, breaking the heavy silence in the room, as I think about that day. A few years back. A few weeks before Thanksgiving.
I’m standing in the driveway of my parents’ colonial home on Pine Street with its perfectly manicured lawn and precisely pruned shrubs. From the street, the house eerily looks untouched but the façade belies the tragic truth. The only conspicuous clue is the ugly plywood barrier with the words “No Trespassing” sloppily spray-painted in a cautionary orange on the front door. I swallow hard as I unlock the side gate and slowly slip through to the pool and back yard. I crumple to the ground in disbelief as I look upon what used to be their home. Before the fire.
It was now a shell of a house, open to the elements and freezing from the November cold. As I crunch my way through ashen debris littering the floor, I pass the charred walls that just days before, were a pale shade of eggshell and dotted with gilded-framed photographs of familiar, smiling faces.
I look up at the staircase and think of all the pleasant nights before Thanksgiving I peacefully slept upstairs to the dreamy smells of sage and thyme that seductively wafted from the oven as the turkey cooked through the wee, small hours of the morning. I cough out the acrimonious cocktail of smoke, flame and water that now toxically fills my lungs. I look around in despair. The house has been emptied of salvageable belongings.
Most everything except the piano. Seeing this gorgeous instrument, now warped and singed from the fury of the inferno, breaks my heart and makes me selfishly, desperately want to save it, to get it out of such a forsaken, smoldering environment before it becomes irreparable. I glimpse over at my tearful mother, slowly sifting through the rubble, and silently offer up another prayer, so immensely grateful that no one was home when the fire broke out. Yes, the material loss is unfathomable and mournful, but I remind myself that these are things, not people. You can always replace things.
Weeks later, as we all gathered around the Thanksgiving table in their small, temporary rental house, we held hands and with meaningful glances and without words, knew what we were all so thankful for. True, we were eating on garish, mismatched plates that belonged to strangers. But we were together. We had a glorious bounty of food on our table, even though the furniture belonged to someone else. What mattered, the only thing that mattered, was that we were all together. Home is where the heart is and at that moment, in that foreign, rickety chair, mine was brimming with love and gratitude and I was perfectly happy to be sitting right there.
The only thing daunting about roasting a turkey is handling a big bird. (Just think of it as cooking a really big chicken.) The maple syrup in this recipe is a wonderful foil for the spicy sausage-studded stuffing and gives this Tom a glorious, mahogany color – perfect for the star of your Thanksgiving show.
Maple-Roasted Turkey with Wild Rice, Sausage and Pecan Stuffing
- For the Turkey:
- 1 (12-to 14-lb) fresh turkey, at room temperature for 1 hour
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- ¼ cup pure maple syrup
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
- 2 cups chicken broth, plus more as necessary
- 1 large onion, peeled and quartered
- 4 peeled garlic cloves
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 celery ribs, quartered
- 3 carrots, quartered
- 2 sprigs parsley
- 2 sprigs sage
- For the stuffing:
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 8 cups cubed rustic bread
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound ground hot Italian sausage
- 1 large onion, peeled and diced
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 2 cups turkey stock
- 2 cups cooked wild rice
- ½ cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped sage
- 1 tablespoon chopped thyme
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- For the Turkey: Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Remove the giblets and neck from the turkey (reserve for stock, if desired; discard liver). Thoroughly rinse the turkey, inside and out and pat dry. Liberally season all over, including the cavity, with salt and pepper. (See below for additional instructions.) Pin the neck skin to the body with a skewer. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a roasting pan. Loosely fill the rear cavity with stuffing, if desired (see recipe below). If not, stuff the rear cavity with an onion, garlic cloves and fresh herbs, like sage and thyme. Center butcher’s twine under the back of the breastbone and bring ends up and over to pin the wings, then crisscross the string around drumsticks and tie together. Combine the melted butter, maple syrup, orange juice and poultry seasoning and brush the turkey liberally with the mixture. Pour the chicken broth in the pan and roast the turkey for 30 minutes, then baste with the butter mixture. Continue to roast, basting every 30 minutes, for 1-1/2 hours. Cover with some foil if the turkey’s browning too quickly and add more broth to the pan, if necessary.
- Add the vegetables and herbs to the pan and continue to roast and baste, until the turkey is deeply browned and has reached an internal temperature of 170 degrees; count on about 13 minutes per pound, about 2-1/2 to 3 hours total. Transfer the turkey to a platter, tent loosely with foil, and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.
- For the Wild Rice, Sausage and Pecan Stuffing: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, toss the butter and bread until evenly coated. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until dry and golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium. Add the sausage and onions and cook until the sausage is well-browned and cooked through. Add the celery and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
- Deglaze the pan with a little of the stock, scraping up any browned bits and add to the bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper. To bake stuffing outside of the bird: Butter a large casserole dish, add the stuffing, cover with parchment paper then foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove the parchment and foil and bake until the top is golden brown.
…from the Picture-Perfect kitchen:
Planning: I recommend pre-salting the bird, which locks in its juices. After seasoning, place the turkey on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet; refrigerate overnight uncovered (this helps to dry the skin, which will make it crispy). You can make the stuffing 1 day ahead. Bring to room temperature before baking.
Product Purity: Buy the best and freshest bird possible. I use organic chicken broth without added MSG. Homemade turkey stock is best, but if you’re pressed for time, Kitchen Basics offers all-natural stock this time of the year.
Presentation: Now’s the time to pull out all the stops. Bring out your special platter and lavishly garnish with fresh herbs and fruit.