Cooking School

Top tips for cooking turkeys, feeding vegetarians, and holiday side dishes

Author: Canadian Living

Cooking School

Top tips for cooking turkeys, feeding vegetarians, and holiday side dishes

You asked, and we answered! Here are your turkey and Christmas dinner questions answered by food expert Christine Picheca.

Q. I've got a big turkey in my freezer. I've never cooked one before, in fact, the MIL (mother in law) is going to help. How do I defrost it? When do I move it into the fridge so it can defrost? And will it defrost totally in the fridge?


A. Yes, it is safest to allow the turkey to fully defrost in the fridge. If it is big it is going to take a few days. Place it in a roasting pan or plastic tub that has sides on it - water will come off of it and you don't want it slopping in the fridge and contaminating anything else you have in there. Once it is defrosted rinse it under cold water, if the center is still has some ice crystals, the water will help to melt what is left. Make sure you dry your turkey well to get a nice crispy skin!

After that your MIL will probably take over!

Q. It's my first time cooking a turkey this year and I don't have a proper roasting pan for my bird. I was going to put it into a casserole dish and hope for the best. Is this okay? Should I cover it in foil? And how do I know my turkey is done?

A. A roasting pan is better than a casserole because it helps to reflect the heat in the oven for even cooking and nice browning. The casserole will work if it is big enough - the sides of the turkey should not be touching the sides of the pan. I think a better alternative is a recyclable foil roasting pan. You can get them cheaply at a dollar store or most grocery stores sell them this time of year as well.

As far as covering goes, if you are going to cover the turkey with foil, you don't want to fully seal it in. Create a loose tent with the foil over the bird leaving the end open, this will protect the skin from browning too much while the turkey cooks and help to keep the turkey moist - take the cover off for the last 15-20 minutes of cooking to brown the skin. If I am cooking a small bird (10 -12 lb) I usually do not use a tent, just roast as is.

Q. What's better - fresh or frozen turkey?

A. My preference is always the fresh option. You can tell the quality of a fresh turkey by the smell, the firmness of the meat and the colour of the skin, it is next to impossible to estimate how a frozen turkey will be. You also do not need to worry about taking up valuable fridge space with the turkey.

Q. Three vegetarians will be joining our group of 16 for Christmas dinner. Do you have any suggestions to ensure there is something great for them to eat without adding too much difficulty to the meal preparation?

A. Christmas diner is great for the veggies because you can feed them with side dishes that everyone else will have as well rather than making them a separate meal.

Here are a few ideas for you:
Cook the stuffing on the side instead of in the turkey so all of your guests can enjoy.  Add interesting nuts, dried fruits or add caramelized onions for extra flavour instead of a plain bread stuffing. Click here to see our collection of turkey stuffing recipes.

Start with vegetarian soup like a puree of broccoli or squash.

Here is a list of dishes that will work as a side or main entree, good luck with your dinner.

Stuffed Acorn Squash
Polenta and Provolone Spinach Bake
Red Beans and Walnuts with Garlic Sauce
Sweet Potato Strudel with Balsamic Mushroom Sauce
Tomato Potato Torte
Vegetable Goat Cheese Terrine
Wild  Rice Broccoli Casserole

Page 1 of 2 -- Find delicious alternatives to serving turkey on page 2Q. Not to be a party pooper, but I'm not the biggest fan of the traditional turkey - although it does smell good while cooking and look pretty when done. Can you suggest some alternate, impressive, meat dishes that could serve as the centre piece of Christmas dinner?

A. I think a crown roast of pork makes a stunning center piece to a holiday meal and pork is very trendy these days. Here is a recipe for one and a menu that goes along with it: Crown roast of Pork with Mushroom Pilaf. This recipe is part of this menu: Holiday Mix n Match.

Or a baked ham is always stunning as well.

Q. I have been told that the stuffing should not be cooked inside the turkey. Why? I have always done this.

A. Stuffing should not be cooked in the turkey because it is difficult to get the interior temperature hot enough in the time it takes for the turkey to be cooked. The safest way is to cook the stuffing separately.

If I am cooking a smaller bird, I still stuff my turkey because I like the flavour of it and it is less dense so you can get the interior hotter. If you are going to stuff your turkey make sure your stuffing is cold going in and stuff the turkey right before you are going to roast it - do not stuff it ahead of time.

Q. I plan on serving dinner at 4 pm. What time should I put the turkey in? I ordered a 22lb fresh turkey.

A. Here is a guide for roasting and some helpful roasting tips. Your turkey is going to need 5 - 51/2 hours of cooking so you shuld be putting it in the oven around 10:00 am, remember it needs to rest after you take it out of the oven.

The best way to determine if it is cooked is to use a thermometer, pierce the bird in the fattest part of the thigh and it should have an internal temperature of 165 degrees (some guides are going to tell you 180 degrees, this the temperature government regulations tell you to cook poultry but the turkey will be over-cooked at this temperature, and the temperature will continue to rise after it comes out of the oven).

Here is a basic cooking chart from our Roast Turkey How-Tos article:

Roast turkey weight
10 – 12 lb (4.5 – 5.5 kg)
12 – 16 lb (5.5 – 7 kg)
16 – 22 lb (7 – 10 kg)
20 – 25 lb (10 – 12 kg)

Stuffed
3-1/2 – 3-3/4 hours
3-3/4 – 4 hours
4 – 4-1/2 hours
4-1/2 – 5-1/2 hours

Unstuffed

3 – 3-1/4 hours
3-1/4 – 3-1/2 hours
3-1/2 – 4 hours
4 – 5 hours

Q. What's a nice liqueur to serve after a traditional turkey dinner? We always have Bailey's but I'd like to try something more "adult" and cultured, if that makes sense.

A. By something more "adult" I'm thinking you mean more boozy and less sweet - cause there is nothing wrong with Bailey's!

My recommendation is Calvados - it is like brandy but made from apples, it would go great with a winter dinner and would be a nice digestif after a heavy meal. Cognac or brandy would be nice as well or if you want to stay with something sweet - Grand Marnier, and orange flavoured liqueur will be great for Christmas.

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Top tips for cooking turkeys, feeding vegetarians, and holiday side dishes

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