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Executive chef shares tips for preparing turkey, root vegetables

Amanda DeYoung, an executive chef with the Pictou Lodge, takes some pumpkin pies out of the oven. For DeYoung, cooking the perfect Thanksgiving dinner involves combining some family traditions with a little experimentation.
Amanda DeYoung, an executive chef with the Pictou Lodge, takes some pumpkin pies out of the oven. For DeYoung, cooking the perfect Thanksgiving dinner involves combining some family traditions with a little experimentation.

BRAESHORE – If you are going to sit down for Thanksgiving dinner at Amanda DeYoung’s table, you had better like butter.

“Butter, salt and cream,” said the executive chef of the Pictou Lodge when asked about her go-to ingredients for cooking hearty meals.

Butter is rubbed on her turkey at home and pats are in her roasted vegetables along with a dash of salt and maybe some pepper.

While some may be in their own kitchens cooking a turkey for family and friends, DeYoung will be overseeing the cooking of 12 turkeys for more than 400 guests this weekend at the lodge.

The first round will be served during the sold-out Thanksgiving brunch with a guest list of about 300, and then later in the day more than 100 people will be served a turkey dinner for a wedding reception.

That means her own Thanksgiving dinner will be put off about a week, but she still looks forward to putting her own special touches on that meal.

“I enjoy cooking and I like to do it for family when I have enough time,” she said. “I don't want to be rushed.”

DeYoung calls the fall flavours of root vegetables “soul food” and, combining her expertise as a chef and family traditions, Thanksgiving at her home probably doesn’t disappoint many people.

“With a turkey you have your root vegetables, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes, but you can do it different ways. You can roast your potatoes with your vegetables.”

DeYoung says she boils her vegetables a little before putting them in the roasting pan and tossing them with brown sugar, salt and pepper.

“It’s just different because with grandma everything was boiled separately and fed to you separately,” she said. “You can still do all of that, but just a little different twist.”

Some people are now leaning more toward sweet potatoes as well which can be mashed or used in a pie. She notes that sweet potatoes are actually better nutritionally because they have more vitamins than regular spuds.

As for the turkey, she prefers to debone the bird so the meat cooks more evenly. She puts the pieces in a pan and spices them up with butter, salt and pepper but people can also use rosemary or thyme. The turkey is ready to take out of the oven when it reaches a temperature of 165 F.

“I start with the cover on the turkey so that you can create steam which cooks faster. At the end, I take the cover off to let it brown up a bit. I baste it with butter because that will caramelize it nice and let it become a nice colour.”

When the turkey is removed from the pan, she adds a splash of wine to the drippings and once it starts to boil she includes some chicken stock.

Deyoung says that she goes back to her family roots when it comes to making the dressing by combining some tips from both her grandparents.

“My grandmother did dressing patties and that was potato, onion and bread and she made little patties and fried them in butter. They were nice and crispy. Almost like a potato pancake, she said. My grandfather took onions and butter, sautéed them all together and he put them with bread. No potato and then that was stuffed inside the turkey.”

She said although many people do it, it isn’t recommended that stuffing be put directly in the turkey because when people check the temperature of the bird, they can actually get the temperature of the dressing and that can lead to an improper reading.

“Before I went to culinary school I (stuffed the turkey) but once I got into culinary I said no.”

Cleanliness is also key when dealing with any kind of meat, especially poultry, she said. She removes everything off her countertop as she works with the turkey and after it is placed in the oven, she wipes it clean with an anti-bacterial cloth.

Finally, no Thanksgiving meal is complete without dessert and pie is always on the menu, especially apple and pumpkin.

“You can make pies from scratch this time of year because apples are in season,” she said. “As far as what apple to use, a tart apple would be the Granny Smith because when it cooks it doesn't go mushy. It just means you use a little more sugar in the recipe.”

DeYoung admits that a chef’s rule of thumb is to produce a meal he or she would eat herself so people should be adventurous and try new tastes.

“Don’t be afraid to experiment. You put the foods you like together and if it doesn’t work, don’t do it next time.”

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