Published: Sunday December 15, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday December 15, 2013 MYT 9:39:33 AM

Holiday cooking

Insert a thermometer into the turkey flesh (without touching the bone) to check if the turkey is ready. – Photos by MING TEOH/The Star

Insert a thermometer into the turkey flesh (without touching the bone) to check if the turkey is ready. – Photos by MING TEOH/The Star

The writer discovers that preparing and partaking in a Thanksgiving spread can be a meaningful time together with family and friends.

“Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.” – W.T. Purkiser

I’VE always loved festivals like Christmas, and also Thanksgiving, which I wish was more widely celebrated in Malaysia. Not only is it a time, as the year comes to a close, to pause and reflect on all that we have to be thankful for and accomplished during the year and to prepare our goals for the following year, and a wonderful time to spend with family and friends, but it’s also when some of my favourite dishes are prepared and served. Besides, thankfulness is a quality that is often taken for granted, and we often need days like this to remind us to be thankful!

Thanksgiving is celebrated mainly in North America, on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States, and the second Monday of October in Canada. It originated as a day of giving thanks for a good harvest during the year, and although it historically has its roots in religious and cultural traditions, it is now also celebrated in a secular manner and is a public holiday in both the United States and Canada. To a lesser extent, the celebration is also observed in other countries.

The Thanksgiving spread all laid out on the side table.
It looks quite a feast when the spread is all laid out on the side table.

I’ve always wondered why the dates for the celebration were earlier in Canada than in the United States, and discovered that this is because Canada is further up north and winters come earlier, hence, the harvesting season ends earlier, and the thanksgiving comes earlier.

This year, Thanksgiving was held on Oct 14 in Canada, and I had the privilege of not only celebrating a true Canadian Thanksgiving at my cousin’s home in Canada, but also helping to prepare it together with her family.

I discovered that while each family has its own unique traditions for Thanksgiving, there are certain aspects that are similar: it is a time for the family to get together over a specially-prepared sit-down meal that usually involves roast turkey and stuffing. And this is usually served with gravy and homemade cranberry sauce. For desserts, there is always pumpkin pie, among others.

A slice of pumpkin pie.
Thanksgiving is not complete without a slice of pumpkin pie.
For the sides, there are steamed or boiled vegetables like green beans, cauliflower and broccoli, often served with cheese sauce. Sometimes there are also roasted vegetables like butternut and acorn squash and “smashed” or mashed potatoes, or variations prepared with exotic additions like goat’s cheese and chives.

As with most festivals, preparations start the night before with the turkey stuffing which is my favourite item in the meal. In fact, I have to admit that I enjoy this even more han the turkey! After we got home from a night out, my cousin, her friend and I prepared to dice and mix all the ingredients together, and leave it overnight to soak in the flavour.

Carving the roast turkey.
The moment of truth arrives with the first slice of roast turkey.

The turkey was defrosted and marinated and left overnight in the refrigerator in the covered metal pan also known as a turkey roasting pan.

The next morning, we woke up early and continued with the food preparations. There was something innately satisfying about milling about in the kitchen preparing a huge meal together with family and friends, and there being a lot of activity and noise, it kind of reminded me of Chinese New Year back home in Malaysia, except that the dishes were different.

Cranberry sauce can be made using fresh or frozen cranberries. And we boiled them together with sugar until they popped and had a jam-like consistency.

The turkey is placed into the covered metal pan or turkey roasting pan before being put into the oven for roasting.
There’s even a special pan for roasting the turkey in.

Then, we washed and prepared the vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and green beans) for steaming/boiling and the squash for roasting. The vegetables were steamed or boiled first and the seasonings only added later. Butter and cinnamon was added to the squash slices before it was put into the oven for roasting.

Dessert was the traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, as well as apple crumble pie and passion fruit cheesecake.

Because Thanksgiving is in autumn (or fall, as it’s known in Canada), the table settings often have the autumn colours. And since Halloween is also celebrated in October, there were elements incorporated into the decorations and table settings. In fact, we even carved some pumpkins and made jack-o-lanterns after dinner!

Golden tones: The table settings is all decked out in autumn/fall colours.
For golden moments: The table decked out in the colours of fall.

As the table was laid out, the autumn smells wafted around the entire home, making me feel truly glad for all that I had.

Roast turkey

THIS method, popular in North America, uses a covered metal pan known as a turkey roasting pan which seals in the juices of the turkey and keeps it moist. It will brown evenly inside the pan, but if you
want the skin to be crisp, simply uncover it at the end to roast for about 15 minutes.

Turkey roasted using a covered metal pan or turkey roaster placed into the oven, will be more moist as the juices are all sealed inside. However, the skin will be lighter than a regular oven roasted turkey. If you wish it to be more brown, just uncover the lid and leave it to roast in the oven for about 10 minutes, before taking it out.

If you don’t have a turkey roasting pan, an alternative may be to place the bird in a normal roasting pan and cover it well (making a tent over the turkey) with a layer of baking parchment paper and aluminium
foil on the outside.

Or try this quicker, well-tested method that many chefs prefer, which is to roast it the normal way, in a 175°C oven for about 1 hour and 20 minutes – or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the bird registers 60°C – basting with the pan juices every 15 to 20 minutes.

Thereafter, you should rest the bird for another hour or so before carving.

You need:

4.5kg whole turkey
½ cup melted butter
Sea salt to taste
Freshly-ground black pepper
to taste
3 tbsp fresh or 1 tbsp dried
4 tbsp finely-chopped garlic

Two days before: Start by defrosting the turkey in the refrigerator. It will take five hours of defrosting time for every 500g of turkey, and hence will take about two days to defrost a 5kg bird.

Night before: Reach inside the turkey cavity to find a bag containing the innards of the bird – this can be chopped up and included in the stuffing (sauteed together with the onion and celery mixture), if you

Rub melted butter all over the turkey. Then rub the turkey with sea salt, freshlyground black pepper,  rosemary and the garlic. Leave it to marinate overnight in a metal pan with lid (the turkey roasting pan) inside the refrigerator.

Just before roasting: Remove the marinated turkey from the refrigerator and stuff it. Push everything upwards to fill the insides of the turkey entirely. When the turkey is fully stuffed, tie the legs together with
kitchen string to prevent any spillage. 

To roast: Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Place the turkey on a metal rack inside the covered roasting pan and place it in the oven, and roast for an hour.

Baste the turkey well with the pan juices and continue to roast, covered, for another hour or until the kitchen thermometer inserted into the fleshy part of both thighs (without touching the bone) reads about

Then roast, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, until skin is nicely browned. (Total roasting time about two and a half hours.) 

Once the turkey is done, remove from the oven. Carefully tilt turkey so the juices inside the cavity will run out into the pan (so that you can make the gravy using the roasting pan).

To rest: Transfer the turkey to a serving/carving platter. Let the turkey sit for at least 30 minutes before carving so that the juices can redistribute themselves throughout the bird for a more juicy bite.

While the turkey is standing, prepare the gravy.


A delicious gravy or sauce can be made by “recycling” the drippings or juices that collect in the turkey roasting pan. 

Turkey drippings in the metal pan (turkey roasting pan) is made into gravy.

You need:
Turkey drippings
¼ cup cornflour
Water (just enough to dissolve the cornstarch)
Sea salt to taste
Freshly-ground black pepper to taste
2 tsp chopped fresh herbs like sage or thyme
1 tsp finely chopped garlic or to taste

After the turkey has been removed, place the roasting pan with the drippings on the stove over low heat.

Place the cornflour in a small bowl and add just enough water to dissolve the cornflour. Stir to remove any lumps. Once there is a smooth consistency, slowly add cornflour mixture to the turkey drippings in the roasting pan. Keep stirring so that the mixture does not become lumpy.

It’s not necessary to use all of the cornflour mixture; just add as much as you need to achieve the desired consistency for your gravy.

Once the gravy is thickened, season to taste with sea salt, freshly ground pepper and fresh herbs like sage or thyme and garlic.

Once it boils, remove from heat immediately and pour into a gravy container.


This can be prepared the day before.

The stuffing for the turkey.

Bread mixture
1 loaf of bread (can be wholemeal, brown or white, slightly stale bread is OK, too), cut into cubes
Sea salt to taste
Freshly-ground black pepper
Fresh or dried chopped rosemary to taste
Finely chopped garlic to taste

Onion and celery mixture
½ cup finely chopped white onions
3 tbsp finely chopped garlic
½ cup finely chopped celery
3 cups chopped fresh button mushrooms
Olive oil or butter for frying
Sea salt to taste
Freshly-ground black pepper 
1 egg, beaten
Chicken stock (from boiling chicken bones in water)

To prepare bread mixture: In a mixing bowl, combine the bread mixture ingredients. Mix well,
using your hands. Leave overnight, covered.

To prepare onion and celery mixture: Add a little olive oil or butter into the pan and sauté the onion and garlic. When the aroma rises, add the celery. When the celery is slightly softened, add the mushrooms, stirring all the while. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To assemble: Combine the onion and celery mixture with the bread mixture. Add the egg and
mix well.

Stir in chicken stock until mixture is well moistened.

Stuff into turkey cavity so that it can be roasted together with the turkey.

Simple cranberry sauce

Cranberry sauce is a popular condiment to accompany the roast turkey.

3 cups frozen or fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Place all the ingredients into a saucepan and boil until the cranberries pop and have a jam-like consistency. Remove from heat and put into a serving container. This can be made a few days ahead.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, thanksgiving, turkey, recipes, christmas, food, taste, lifestyle


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