A First Friendsgiving, and How To Roast a Perfect (Stress-Free) Turkey

Friendsgiving 2013 | Wandering Spice

There was one thing I was not willing to leave behind when I left the US: Thanksgiving. My favorite holiday, not surprisingly as it revolves around seasonal comfort food. We’ve been throwing Thanksgivings up at the family farm for the past three years, but this year, I really wanted to invite our friends – some who’d never celebrated the holiday before – for a first annual Friendsgiving at our place.

My friend of 23 years was visiting from the US, so she, the Australian Man and I set out to whip up a banquet of my family’s most loved treats. The next day, ten friends squeezed into our apartment, and our first Friendsgiving was underway. (One of these friends is fabulous blogger Heidi, who wrote a really lovely recap, here).

One minor detail: I’d never roasted a turkey before. I’ve been an active cook in our family’s Thanksgivings over the year, but it was always my dad’s job to smoke the turkey in the US, and in Australia, my mum-in-law’s job to oven roast it.

Friendsgiving Turkey  Wandering Spice

Determined to succeed, we searched for a simple method and found this one, from The Kitchn. I found confidence in their step-by-step outline, knowing we could adjust the flavors and method based on our combined poultry knowledge. We picked up our 8kg (~17.5lb) turkey from the butcher at 8:00am, and shortly after were home drying it off and preparing for its debut.

Per The Kitchn’s advice, we decided not to fully stuff or truss our bird, to reduce cooking time and also help it cook more evenly. We loosely stuffed it instead, with a quartered lemon and onion, salt, pepper and rosemary, just for flavor. We knew from roasting chickens that butter under the skin works wonders, so we gently separated the skin from the breast and smoothed (copious amounts of) butter mixed with more fresh rosemary in between the skin and meat. Then, a generous crack of pepper and sea salt over the top, and she was ready to go.

Friendsgiving 2013 | Wandering Spice

My husband, who’d roasted large game while running a commercial kitchen a few years back, suggested cooking the bird on a trivet of celery, onions and carrot. Well, he’s a genius. I cannot recommend this enough. The vegetables flavor the turkey drippings to make the most divine stock, which is then used to baste the turkey while roasting, which then adds more flavor to the stock, and so forth. Use it to flavour your gravy, or freeze in an ice cube tray for future use.

After roasting for four hours, basting every 45 mins or so (and covering with foil for the first and last hour), she was done, and she was all things a Friendsgiving turkey should be: tender and full of flavor, with crispy golden skin. Despite my initial nervousness, roasting The Big Bird was easier and much more enjoyable than I thought it would be. We even went out for a leisurely lunch while it was in the oven.

On the menu:

And of course, endless gratitude and love to our Australian friends who so enthusiastically got into the  Friendsgiving spirit with us.

Friendsgiving 2013 | Wandering Spice

My tips for a stress-free day:

  • Prep a day in advance. Put on some music and chop the vegetables you need for stuffing, sides, salad, etc. Store airtight in the fridge overnight and you’ll be ahead of the game on the day. You can even measure out dry ingredients for cornbread, cakes, etc and label them so you can get cooking with minimal hassle. Get the family involved, too!
  • Buy your meat and produce from a farmers’ market. You’ll spend less than at the supermarket (especially when feeding a large group) and support your local growers.
  • Make a loose schedule of what to make and when, so you’re sure you can get everything done at a stress-free pace.
  • Decorate on a budget by grouping locally grown flowers in small jars or pots. I grabbed 4 budget bunches from the flower cart at the end of our street, trimmed them to the same height, and stuck them in old jam and salsa jars. Don’t have matching tableware for a big group? No need. Alternate plates and cups, like we did.

Most importantly: enjoy it, and don’t be afraid to try something for the first time. Family and friends are there to have fun, and won’t notice the mistakes you think you’re making. (Did I ever tell you about the time my dad’s barbecue was backed into by a car, sending his turkey flying down the hill? No? Ok, I’ll save that for next year. PS – no one was the wiser).

  • bryan currie

    Hi Yas,

    Great Blog, just thought I would point out that my mother would be able to point out all my mistakes (I think she could bullet point them and arrange them with a dewey decimal system). She has been practising for some years now but I’m not at all bitter….. :)

    Cheers Bryan

    • http://www.wanderingspice.com/ Yasmeen

      I would love to meet this mother of yours… oh the stories she’d tell…

  • Heidi Apples

    oh yay, Yas, what a great recap & fabulous tips! I totally feel like I could roast a turkey now :) it was all SO delicious, thank you again xx

    • http://www.wanderingspice.com/ Yasmeen

      You could do it with your eyes closed. So happy to have had you and Ben there.

  • Rosa

    Wonderful food! Your friends are very lucky.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    • http://www.wanderingspice.com/ Yasmeen

      And I’m lucky to have them! (And lucky they like turkey)

  • adrianfoodrehab

    What a fab feast. I’ve never experienced a thanksgiving meal. Seems like heaps of fun. comfort food surrounded by your closest friends sounds like bliss.

    • http://www.wanderingspice.com/ Yasmeen

      Comfort food and friends, and family (coming up this weekend) – nothing like it. Definitely missing my family at this time of year, but feeling very fortunate to have such wonderful friends and Jase’s family around.

  • http://www.foodpleasureandhealth.com/ Dixya Bhattarai RD

    what a wonderful celebration :)

    • http://www.wanderingspice.com/ Yasmeen

      Thanks, Dixya, it was really lovely having a bit more space to have friends over this year!

  • foodnessgracious

    You’re a true rockstar! Perfect party and the food looks amazing. Also that pic of your man wrestling the turkey is awesome!

    • http://www.wanderingspice.com/ Yasmeen

      I love that picture too… he carved the hell out of that thing.

  • http://wayfaringchocolate.com Hannah

    Okay yep crazy jealous over here. :) So wonderful!

    • http://www.wanderingspice.com/ Yasmeen

      I’m looking forward to you eventually being in Oz so we can have you at our table!

  • saucy gander

    What a wonderful feast, and a delicious looking Big Bird!

    • http://www.wanderingspice.com/ Yasmeen

      Thank you! A bit of combined thinking/experimenting led to a big turkey success for us first-timers. Looking forward to next year already.

  • Kiersten @ Oh My Veggies

    Such a beautiful spread–I thought I had my fill of Thanksgiving food, but looking at this is making me hungry all over again!

  • http://msihua.com/ msihua

    Wonderful! He even looks like he’s playing with the Turkey as opposed to turkey conquering husband! Well deliciously done :)

  • Fanch

    It is going to be hard to do as well as you did for Christmas eve, we’ll try ;-)