By Karen Ridings
Do you have visions of turkey, stuffing and sweet potatoes dancing in your head? Don't let a tight budget stop you from planning a spectacular meal!
Start with planning:
• Will you be cooking everything or will people be bringing side dishes? Consider letting guests contribute a dish to the meal. Thanksgiving potlucks are very trendy.
• Map out your menu and the number of people to be fed. Don't overbuy.
• Make it from scratch. Cut costs by making some of your items such as gravy and stuffing from scratch. Also, by making food from scratch, it is easier to control the amount of sugar, fat and salt in dishes.
- Start watching for ads and clip coupons.
- Look for "buy one, get one free." Save the extra one for a December holiday meal or donate the free one to your local food bank.
- Use your shopping points to get a free turkey.
- Look for off-brand turkeys.
- Compare the prices of frozen vegetables with fresh.
- Don't be afraid to adjust a recipe to save money. For example, if a recipe calls for some very expensive ingredients, find similar but less expensive substitutes.
- Use regular dishes versus paper.
Safety concerns - treating your turkey with respect:
• Always thaw a turkey in the refrigerator at 40 degrees F or below. Do not thaw on the countertop. Bacteria can grow fast at room temperature. It is recommended to allow 24 hours for every 5 lbs:
- 8-12 pounds = 2-3 days
- 12-16 pounds = 3-4 days
- 16-20 pounds = 4-5 days
- 20-25 pounds = 5-6 days
Also, defrost your turkey on a tray so raw juice do not drip down onto other foods.
- To wash or not to wash? The USDA does not recommend washing your turkey anymore as other foods and countertops can become contaminated with salmonella. Cooking to proper temperatures will destroy bacteria that are present. If you do wash your turkey, clean and sanitize your sink and counters afterward with a bleach solution of 1 tsp. of bleach per 1 quart of water. Air dry afterward.
- Stuffing. Do not stuff the turkey the day before Thanksgiving. You can pre-mix the dry ingredients the day before and refrigerate. When you are ready to cook the bird, add the liquid to the dry stuffing ingredients and stuff the bird just before cooking. Pack the stuffing loosely. Consider cooking the stuffing separate from the turkey. The turkey will cook faster without the stuffing, there will be less of a chance of overcooking, and this will save on your energy bill.
- Use a thermometer to check for doneness. Check temperatures of both the thigh and breast. Both the stuffing and turkey need to reach 165 degrees. Check in several places. Reaching proper internal temperatures is important in order to kill bacteria that might be lurking on the turkey. Let the bird and stuffing stand for 20 minutes before carving.
- Leftovers. Within two hours after cooking, cut the meat from the bones and store in the refrigerator or freezer. Freeze small bags of turkey for future recipes. Use leftover turkey stored in the refrigerator within 2-3 days. If you wish to make soup from the carcass, refrigerate within 2 hours after cooking and make the soup within 1-2 days.
For more information for cooking holiday turkeys, read:
Prepare a safe andelicious Thanksgiving Turkey for your guests
University of Florida Extension: Holiday cooking
Virginia Cooperative Extension wishes you a happy Thanksgiving!
Karen A. Ridings is a family consumer sciences agent located in Frederick County. She joined the Virginia Cooperative Extension, Frederick County office, in January 2008.