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Cooking Up a Thanksgiving Feast

By: Eugenia Jones

Chef Ed and Chef Michael, culinary arts program instructors at SCC’s McCreary Center, talk turkey

Chef Ed and Chef Michael, instructors for the Somerset Community College culinary arts program based at the McCreary Center in Whitley City, are experts when it comes to creating an extra special holiday.  The two professional chefs are simply bubbling over with tips, advice, and good ideas for those in need of some extra guidance in making Thanksgiving Dinner turn out just right!

“It’s great having someone else do the meal,” laughed Chef Ed as he explained that he takes a break from cooking on Thanksgiving.  “I’ve baked the chocolate chip pecan pies for the last two years, but I let family do the remainder of the cooking on that day!”

Chef Ed genuinely enjoys Thanksgiving.

“For me, Thanksgiving is all about food, family, and hanging out.  That’s what comes to mind when I think of Thanksgiving,” he explained.  “Since I’m originally from Puerto Rico, it’s also about passing down some of those Thanksgiving traditions to my kids.  Our Thanksgiving is a little bit of Puerto Rico and a little bit of the United States.  It’s a good time for our family.”

The menu for Chef Ed and his family typically includes turkey along with a Puerto Rican style stuffing made from ground beef, pork, raisins and almonds.  Puerto Rican tradition replaces the traditional potato side dishes of the United States with rice and beans plus plantains, garden salad, and a lighter, thinner gravy prepared with mushrooms.

“We also serve a good bread,” Chef Ed grinned.  “But it’s usually not cornbread!”

He also spoke of his mother’s tradition of making a traditional Puerto Rican coconut infused eggnog with rum.

“She makes enough for Thanksgiving plus enough to last through the holidays,” Chef Ed shared.  “We all get to take a little bit home!”

Chef Ed’s fellow instructor, Chef Michael laughed when asked to describe his favorite Thanksgiving Day menu.

“For me, lobster is perfect!” he quickly answered.

Despite his preference for lobster, Chef Michael offered useful advice on preparing the traditional turkey dinner.

“The trick to getting a delicious turkey is to let the meat rest for fifteen to twenty minutes before slicing it,” he cautioned.  “When you carve the turkey too quickly, the juices are released and you get a dry bird.”

Chef Michael also offered his method for making gravy.

“I strain the broth and drippings from the turkey.   Then I make a blond roux of butter and flour cooked for two or three minutes until it has a nutty smell.  The blond roux and warm, simmering broth are combined to make the gravy.”

According to Chef Michael, country style green beans prepared with bacon, onion, fresh butter, salt, and pepper make a tasty side dish as do roasted sweet potatoes.  Chef Michael stressed his preference for fresh sweet potatoes, cut in small pieces, roasted and topped with a brown sugar/butter/cinnamon glaze and marshmallows on top.

For dessert, the Chef recommended trying an old fashioned, Southern-style apple and nut pastry known as Apple Pandowdy.

Chef Michael reminded those planning to prepare Thanksgiving Dinner to always think about food safety.  His safety tips are as follows:

1.Thaw your turkey in the refrigerator for two to three days.

2. Cook the turkey to 165 degrees internally.  Use a cooking thermometer to check the temperature of dark meat areas and the breast to be sure both areas have reached 165 degrees.

3. If stuffing/dressing is prepared inside the turkey, be sure the stuffing temperature reaches 165 degrees.

4. Wash hands thoroughly after working with turkey in order to avoid cross contamination of salmonella to other foods and through kitchen surfaces.

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