The Pilgrims might have preferred cooking a whole turkey to stuffing and roasting only the breast, but they didn't share the concerns of the modern-day cook. Of the original 102 settlers who arrived at Plymouth in the winter of 1620, only 55 were still alive by the spring of 1621, and as far as we know, none of them perished from high cholesterol. Nor were they worried about dressing and cooking the bird ahead, carving it neatly, or surviving the feast without blowing their diet.
Marinating and stuffing the breast and using the marinade for the sauce eliminates the fatty skin and dark meat, the butter and oil for basting and the calorie-laden gravy. And you won't have to get up at the crack of dawn to stuff and truss it. The rolled breast can be prepared and roasted a day ahead, leaving the oven free for the accompaniments. Just be sure to allow 18 to 24 hours for the meat to marinate. When you taste the succulent white meat wrapped around moist dressing and capped with a crisp stuffing crust, you won't feel one bit deprived -- it's a multisensual taste treat.
If boning a turkey breast is not high on your list of talents, call ahead and ask the butcher to do it. Order a whole 5- to 6-pound breast, boned and butterflied. You might ask to have it pounded, but it's easy and therapeutic to do it yourself. A round metal disc pounder with a handle protruding from the center is easier to work with than the hammer variety, but even a rolling pin will do the job.
After the meat is pummeled and marinated, it is spread with spinach-pecan stuffing, rolled up and tied. (You don't need a lesson in meat tying; any type of knots or bows will do.) Halfway through the baking time, an egg white is spread over the top to glue the remainder of the stuffing in place and keep it there when the meat is carved.
Coating carrots with a buttery, brown sugar glaze has become a classic preparation, but adding rosy-colored cranberry sauce makes a great dish even better. To reduce prep time, look for peeled and trimmed baby carrots in the produce section of your supermarket.
Although wild rice may not grace our Thanksgiving tables as often as sweet potatoes, it is a native seed, harvested on U.S. soil long before white man stepped foot on it. Even today, 85 percent of the wild rice raised in this country is produced by Indians. One of the best recipes I know is prepared with leeks and dried apples and comes from Dean Faring, chef at a Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas. His version calls for lots of heavy cream, but substituting chicken broth for a good portion of it results in a marvelously creamy dish. The nutty rice, salty ham ++ and sweet fruit harmonize together like a well-struck chord.
No matter how you celebrate this day -- with pumpkin pie or scoops of non-fat pumpkin yogurt, turkey sliced in the traditional way or rolled in the modern style -- it's still a time for good old-fashioned thanks.
roast breast of turkey
Preparation time: 45 minutes.
Bake time: about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Advance preparation: Marinate 18 to 24 hours before cooking. May be roasted a day ahead and reheated.
Serves eight to 12.
1 whole turkey breast, skinned, boned and butterflied, 4 to 5 pounds net weight (about 5 1/2 to 7 pounds with bones)
juice and grated peel from 3 medium oranges (about 1 cup juice)
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cups fresh chopped spinach, washed, dried and chopped into bite-size pieces
1 1/2 cups packaged corn bread stuffing (such as Pepperidge Farm)
2 1/2 cups chopped pecans, toasted at 350 degrees until golden
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute
1 egg white mixed with 1 teaspoon water for brushing on turkey
GLAZE AND SAUCE:
1 cup dry red wine
3/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup honey
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water
greens such as spinach or parsley
Rinse and dry turkey breast. Pound lightly to make as even as possible. Place in a shallow dish.
To make marinade: Mix all ingredients in small bowl. Pour over turkey, turning to coat both sides. Cover and refrigerate overnight, turning once or twice.
To make stuffing: In a large skillet, heat oil over moderate heat until hot. Saute onion until soft. Add spinach and saute, stirring until wilted and onions are tender. Remove to a large bowl and stir in corn bread stuffing, pecans, mustard, eggs and broth.
To assemble turkey: Remove turkey from marinade. Dry well and place on work surface skin side down. Set marinade aside. Sprinkle meat with salt and pepper and spread with half the stuffing. Beginning with a short end, roll up as for a jelly roll; do not be concerned with torn or uneven pieces of meat. Tie with string at 1-inch intervals. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
To roast: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place turkey in shallow pan, add about 1/2 inch of water and roast for 50 to 60 minutes or until a meat thermometer reaches 120 degrees, basting with pan drippings every 15 minutes and adding more water to pan as needed. While turkey roasts, add wine, marinade and broth into a deep saucepan and reduce to half; set aside.
Remove turkey from the pan to a cutting board. Pour drippings into reduced wine mixture. Stir 1 tablespoon of the mixture into honey. Cut strings off turkey, brush the top and sides with egg white and press remaining stuffing firmly over top and sides. Drizzle with half the honey mixture. Return to oven and roast 15 minutes. Drizzle with remaining honey and roast for 15 more minutes or until brown and crusty and thermometer inserted into center reaches 145 to 150 degrees. Remove roast to cutting board and let rest 20 minutes before carving. (The turkey may be cooled to room temperature and refrigerated wrapped in foil overnight. To reheat, bring to room temperature, return to roasting pan, add 1/2 inch broth or water, cover loosely with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until heated through.)
Meanwhile, make the sauce: Deglaze the roasting pan by placing it over moderately high heat. Add a little of the wine mixture and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan and stirring constantly. Strain into reduced wine mixture. Remove from heat and whisk in cornstarch. Return to heat and cook, whisking, until sauce comes to a boil and thickens. Season to taste with salt, pepper, wine and/or honey, if needed. (The sauce may be refrigerated overnight. Reheat before serving.)
Carve the roast into 1/3 -inch slices, place overlapping on a serving platter and, if desired, garnish with greens and oranges. Serve with sauce.
Cranberry glazed carrots
Preparation time: 15 minutes with peeled and trimmed carrots.
Advance preparation: Carrots may be blanched a day ahead. Glaze before serving.
2 pounds fresh or frozen baby carrots, peeled and trimmed
4 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
1/4 cup golden brown sugar
3 teaspoons lemon juice to taste
salt, pepper to taste
If using fresh carrots, cook covered in a small amount of boiling salted water until crisp-tender. Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking. If using frozen carrots, line baking sheets with several layers of paper toweling. Defrost in a single layer until they reach room temperature. Blot dry.
(The vegetables may be refrigerated overnight, if desired. Bring to room temperature before continuing.)
Before serving, in a large skillet, melt butter or margarine, add cranberry sauce, brown sugar, lemon juice and salt, stirring until smooth; simmer 2 minutes. Add carrots and cook, stirring occasionally until glazed and heated through, about 5 minutes. (Frozen carrots may take longer; cook until tender.) Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice, if needed.
Wild rice with leeks and dried apples
Preparation time: 20 minutes.
Cook time: 40 to 50 minutes to cook rice; 10 minutes for final cooking.
Advance preparation: may be refrigerated up to 2 days.
pTC Serves eight to 10.
1 cup uncooked wild rice (4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped lean smoked ham
1 cup chopped leeks, white part only
1 cup chopped dried apples or pears
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup whipping cream
Rinse and drain rice. Place in a medium saucepan with 3 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered until rice is tender, but still slightly crunchy, about 40 to 50 minutes, adding more water if needed. If all water is not absorbed, drain off excess. Do not overcook or grains will split open. (The rice may be refrigerated overnight, if desired.)
In a large skillet over moderate heat, heat olive oil until hot. Add ham and saute for about 4 minutes or until golden. Add leeks and fruit and saute, stirring for 3 to 5 minutes until leeks are soft, but not brown. Stir in cooked rice, broth and cream. Bring to a boil, lower heat and cook, stirring for 5-7 minutes or until thickened. Season with salt to taste. (The rice may be refrigerated up to 2 days. Reheat on top of stove or covered in microwave.)
Marlene Sorosky is the award-winning author of five cookbooks on entertaining. Her book "Season's Greetings: Cooking and Entertaining for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's" (HarperCollins) has just been re-released.