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Honors turkey

tAMPA —We are confident Marianna Stephens will roast the turkey right side up this year.

It was just last Thanksgiving that the St. Petersburg woman found herself poking at the cooked turkey and wondering where the heck the meat was. We know this because her dear sister, Kathleen Finocchi, also of St. Petersburg, tattled to get Marianna a spot in Wishbone U., our annual Thanksgiving cooking boot camp.

As they peered at the bird on the day of the feast, Marianna, 41, whispered to Kathleen, "There's something wrong with it. It looks really bad." Kathleen, 40, concurred and Dad was called into the kitchen.

"Where's the meat? The meat is gone!" he shouted.

Turns out, Marianna roasted the turkey upside down and the bulk of the meat stewed at the bottom of the pan. The trio had been trying to carve the bony underside.

"We don't want a repeat performance, so if you could select my sister to attend your cooking boot camp we would all be very pleased," Kathleen wrote.

Wish granted, sister. And just so Marianna had some moral support we invited Kathleen to take part, too.

The sisters were among 13 students who graduated with honors in Thanksgiving dinner basics at the fifth annual Wishbone U. at Publix Super Markets' Apron's Cooking School in Tampa. Chefs Rich Norris and Scott Hill shared their expertise and recipes in the three-hour class that ended with the group eating dinner around a long table set with white tablecloth and cloth napkins. Just like the real deal.

The students ranged in age from 13 to 75. Some admitted to reputations as the Person Most Likely To Burn Water, two were new to the American Thanksgiving and several wanted to give Mom a helping hand.

The best sport was Rosa Shaw, 75, who was ambushed, in a loving way, by her son, Bruce Shaw of Riverview. She attended the class while on vacation from Augusta, Maine.

"My mother is dear, but she needs help. . . . I have had 43 turkeys this woman has cooked without saying a word," he wrote. "Sorry Mom. . . . Your stuffing is great."

Rosa swallowed her pride, tied on an apron and learned something new: Let cooked, naked potatoes sit in the hot pan to dry before adding hot milk (or heavy cream) and melted butter. This way they absorb more creamy goodness. "I never knew that," she said.

She is still talking to her son.

Instructors Norris and Hill focused on techniques for roasted turkey, homemade gravy, mashed potatoes, roasted winter squash and cranberry sauce. At the end of the class, the students were surprised how much was accomplished in less than three hours.

"I guess I don't have to get up at 4 a.m.," Marianna said. That's right, Hill said. "Thanksgiving doesn't have to take all day. Unless you want it to."

Students were also a bit taken aback by the amount of butter and salt used in some dishes. Norris reminded them that the hefty pinches of salt in the potatoes would be divided among a dozen guests.

"It's Thanksgiving, let's make some flavor," he said.

His students may not have known it at the time, but Norris gave them the best advice of all when he said, "Remember it isn't about the food, it's about the family."

Family was the reason two teenagers wanted to take the class. Filipe Sarmento, 13, of Tarpon Springs and Allan Withall, 19, of St. Petersburg, both had visions of helping Mom with the cooking.

"My mom has two jobs and if she works on Thanksgiving Day nobody else can cook the dinner, which would not be good," Filipe wrote.

Allan, a student at St. Petersburg College, has several younger siblings and wants to share the workload this year. "In previous years, my mom has managed to put together delicious Thanksgiving meals for us and our grandparents. It wasn't an easy task pulling it all together with the little ones running underfoot," he told us.

Filipe and Allan get high marks for being good sons. Wishbone U. administrators let out a collective "aww" when their applications were read.

This year's Wishbone U. included two immigrants seeking to master the all-American meal and one American who would like to impress his Cuban in-laws.

"I intend to show them the, until now, hidden joys of a traditional American Thanksgiving meal, and, more importantly, the unsuspected and unrealized talents of their 'gringo' son/husband/in-law," wrote Rex Baldwin, 61, of Tampa.

We have full confidence that Rex will wow the family. He was so excited to be selected for Wishbone U. he has taken a couple more classes at Apron's.

Alex Zielinski, 43, of Tampa is a native of Australia and a new U.S. citizen who asked to learn the traditions of Thanksgiving. Thuyen Herman, 57, of Belleair Beach has been married to an American for 32 years but is a French national who moved to the States in September. She's a good cook but American recipes are a little foreign and she wants to make a traditional feast without her usual "Western-Oriental fusion flavor."

"So far, a measuring cup doesn't mean anything to me and the oven settings are a guessing game," she wrote.

Rounding out the class were students with desperate, or just plain funny, stories. Among them:

• Sarah B. Kline, 53, of Tampa, who managed to finish medical school and has a successful practice in Tampa. Why, oh, why, she wondered, can't she cook a holiday dinner that someone will want to eat? Thank goodness for the microwave and takeout food, she says.

• Michelle Yeckley, 42, of Spring Hill, who has been accused of trying to kill her family with undercooked turkey. On the flip side, she has overcooked a turkey so badly that even gravy didn't help.

• Marla Spurr, 25, of Oldsmar, who wants her children to grow up with the taste of homemade food in their mouths. "I can make nothing from scratch," she wrote. Marla is the mother of two boys, 2 and 1, and has another child on the way.

• Kellie Ranalli, 42, of St. Pete Beach, who says her 4-year-old has been "known to shout 'Breakfast is ready' when the familiar sound of the smoke detector is activated."

• And then there's Stacy Wagner, 51, of Tampa, who started panicking a few months back about inviting friends and family to have Thanksgiving dinner at her house.

"I have never had a Thanksgiving disaster because I have never volunteered to make the dinner. Not once. And everyone, including my husband and daughter, seems just fine with that, as my limited skills have not gone unnoticed."

Well, it's time for them to take notice, Stacy. Like the other Wishbone U. grads, you've got mad skills now.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8586.

What the chefs say

Apron's Cooking School head chef Rich Norris and sous chef Scott Hill shared their expertise with Wishbone U. students during a three-hour class on Oct. 25. The following suggestions are helpful for novice and veteran cooks:

Planning:

• Write down your game plan, including times for prep work and cooking.

• Make what you can ahead of time. Cranberry sauce can be made several days before Thanksgiving, as can stock for gravy and the gravy itself.

• Heat casseroles in the oven after the turkey comes out.

Cooking and equipment:

• Parchment paper on baking sheets makes for easy cleanup.

• Purchase an instant-read thermometer.

• Start potatoes in cold water so that they cook evenly.

• Overcooked potatoes won't absorb as much liquid. Return drained, cooked potatoes to the hot pot and let the steam escape. Dry potatoes will absorb liquid better.

• Always make more on Thanksgiving than you think you'll need. Everyone likes leftovers.

• Use coarse kosher salt. It is easy to overdo it with fine table salt.

• Leftover heated milk and butter for mashed potatoes can be frozen for future use. Let it cool completely first.

Turkey tips:

• When buying a turkey, figure 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per person. That way you'll have enough for soup and turkey sandwiches.

• If you're roasting the turkey in an aluminum pan, double up for sturdy's sake. Also, the turkey should sit off the bottom on a rack. Don't have one? Make a rack of whole carrots and celery stalks.

• Salt turkey before putting on herbs. The salt draws out moisture and lets the herbs and other flavors penetrate.

• The turkey is done when the internal temperature of the breast is 165 degrees and the legs and thighs are 180. Tent the breast with foil to keep it from overbrowning.

• Don't rush the turkey. It needs to rest at least 15 minutes so that the juices can redistribute into the meat. If you carve it right away, the juices will run out, leaving the bird dry.

• Don't carve the turkey at the table unless you are supremely confident about your knife skills. Parade the burnished bird around the table then whisk it back into the kitchen. Carving isn't always pretty.

>>moderate

Oven Roasted Turkey

10- to 12-pound turkey

1 bunch sage, divided use

2 large onions, halved

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

4 cups low-salt chicken broth

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pat turkey dry inside and out. Place turkey on small rack (or make a rack of carrots and celery stalks) and set in large roasting pan. Fill main cavity with ½ bunch sage and onions. Mix oil, pepper, chopped thyme and 1 tablespoon chopped sage (save remaining sage for another use) in small bowl to form a paste; smear all over the turkey. Tuck wing tips under, and tie legs together loosely to hold shape.

Roast turkey for 1 hour, tenting breast loosely with foil if browning too quickly. Turn pan around; roast another 30 minutes. Baste with juices every 30 minutes until thermometer inserted in thickest part of thigh registers 180 degrees.

Transfer turkey to platter. Remove vegetables and herbs from main cavity and discard. Spoon any juices from cavity into roasting pan. Let turkey stand 30 minutes (internal temperature will increase 5 to 10 degrees). Serves 10 to 12.

Source: Apron's Cooking School, Publix

>>moderate

Homemade Turkey Gravy

Pan drippings from turkey

1 cup water

7 to 8 cups turkey or chicken stock

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons cider vinegar

Pour pan juices from turkey through a fine-mesh sieve into measuring cup (do not clean roasting pan), then skim off and discard fat. (If using a fat separator, pour pan juices through sieve into separator and let stand until fat rises to top, 1 to 2 minutes. Carefully pour pan juices from separator into measure, discarding fat.)

Straddle roasting pan across 2 burners, then add water and deglaze roasting pan by boiling over high heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits, 1 minute. Pour through sieve into measuring cup containing pan juices. Add enough turkey stock to pan juices to bring total to 8 cups (if stock is congealed, heat to liquefy).

Melt butter in a 4-quart heavy pot and stir in flour. Cook roux over moderate heat, whisking, 5 minutes. Add stock mixture in a stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps, then bring to a boil, whisking occasionally. Stir in any turkey juices accumulated on platter and simmer 5 minutes. Season gravy with salt and pepper, then stir in cider vinegar (to taste).

Makes about 2 quarts.

Source: Gourmet

>>easy

Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes

3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 stick of butter

1 to 2 pints heavy cream

Kosher salt and white pepper for seasoning

Place potatoes in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender (about 30 minutes). Place butter and cream in a small pot, bring to a simmer and remove from heat.

Drain potatoes, return to pan and let any excess water steam off. While the potatoes are still hot but dry, puree with a food mill or potato masher. Whisk in butter and cream, and taste for salt and pepper.

Serves 4 to 6.

Source: Apron's Cooking School, Publix

>>easy

Cranberry Orange Sauce

16 ounces fresh cranberries

Zest of 1 orange

½ cup sugar

½ cup orange juice

2 cinnamon sticks

Pick through the cranberries for any bad ones. Put all the ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and simmer until the cranberries split and the sauce thickens. Place in the refrigerator to cool; remove cinnamon sticks before serving.

Serves 8.

Source: Apron's Cooking School, Publix

>>easy

Roasted Butternut Squash With Herbs

1 butternut squash, split and seeded

3 ounces olive oil

3 tablespoons sage leaves, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

4 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a bowl, mix olive oil, sage, salt and pepper, and rub on the flesh side of the squash. Roast the squash skin-side up on a rimmed baking sheet until the skin starts to caramelize and a knife easily pierces the squash. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.

Remove the skin and mash the squash. Add the butter and season to taste. Stir well.

Serves 4.

Source: Apron's Cooking School, Publix

Honors turkey 11/17/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 8:28am]

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