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Trusting My Instincts: No More Fire Turkeys

I'm more of a cookbook cook than a real cook. As the saying goes, "Good cooks never measure." I'm an okay cook. I measure.

But most recipes are, at best, a blueprint for your own creativity. And when that blueprint seems all "cattywhampus," as they say down South, I often fail to trust my instincts and just ignore the recipe.

For example, I'm always looking for a better turkey recipe. I didn't realize that there were many ways to make a turkey until my 30's. Then again, I never had to make a turkey until my 30's. I had been faithful to the Silver Palate Cookbook's recipe for roasting a turkey because it had delivered faithfully -- a succulent, if slightly bland, turkey. I then came to expect that no matter what you did to it, turkey was just plain bland.

Then I found an interesting recipe in Real Simple magazine for a turkey with molasses, butter, salt and pepper blended together and stuffed under the turkey's skin. What a cool idea! The problem was, the recipe called for 1/4 cup of salt and 1/4 cup of pepper. Yes -- 1/4 CUP of pepper. I knew it had to be a typo. I searched and searched on Real Simple's website, and I think I even e-mailed someone there, but I could not find anything to confirm that it was a typo.

And so I made the turkey as called for. I didn't trust my instincts. I think even the heartiest Cajun or Creole would have puckered their cheeks upon tasting that uber-spicy turkey. The one-quarter cup of pepper had to be a typo. It just HAD to be.

And I tried it again, thinking maybe I'd done something wrong. Again, I ended up with yet another fire turkey by not trusting my instincts. I had to go out and buy prepared turkey to bring to a family Thanksgiving dinner. To make matters worse, my mother-in-law had given me the turkey in the first place, trusting that I knew what I was doing. I sounded like an idiot trying to explain how I had bombed yet another turkey.

This year, I decided to trust my instincts and combine the best of both recipes: I combined 1/4 cup unsalted butter, 1/4 cup molasses, salt, pepper, sage and thyme to taste and, carefully separating the skin from the meat without tearing it, smeared the butter/molasses mixture all under the skin of the turkey. I then smeared the rest of the stick of unsalted butter on the outside of the turkey and seasoned it with salt, pepper, Mrs. Dash, and paprika to taste. I chopped up celery, onion, carrots and parsley and put it in the cavity and around the turkey, added a glass of water to promote broth production, put cheesecloth across the top of the turkey, placed it on a roasting rack in a roasting pan, and covered it with foil. It went in the oven at 325 degrees.

Then, using the basting technique from the Silver Palate recipe, I combined 1/4 cup corn oil with 1/4 melted unsalted butter and basted the turkey every half hour on the dot with the mixture until the turkey produced enough of its own juices to baste with. I continued basting every half hour on the dot, using a timer to remind me to get up.

I was amply rewarded with a turkey that was not only juicy, but flavorful. Why? Because I trusted my instincts. One-quarter cup of pepper? I don't think so. My instincts say otherwise, and I'm going to be better about trusting them in the future.

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