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  • Think smaller

    The whole bird a daunting endeavor?
  • Turkey. Let's talk about it — honestly. Is it time to ax that big ol' bird from your Thanksgiving feast?
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  • Turkey. Let's talk about it — honestly. Is it time to ax that big ol' bird from your Thanksgiving feast?
    Even if you do have the free hours to roast it, a hungry crowd to feed and enough oven space to hold the monster, who these days has the carving skills to do the portioning at the dining room table? Indeed, who among us has a dining room anymore?
    As the Butterball people note, 80 percent of us will carve that whole turkey in the kitchen.
    But if you want to save time and effort, go with turkey parts. Not only can they make for faster cooking, but you can enjoy the kind of meat you like best at its best. No need, say, to overcook the breast meat to ensure the legs are done.
    "Who has not had a dry turkey?" asks celebrity chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli, who will compete in this season's "The Next Iron Chef: Redemption" on Food Network. "The advantage of breaking up the bird is you can roast the thigh and breast separately. Or braise the turkey thighs and roast the breast."
    What matters in cooking turkey parts, says Guarnaschelli, is maintaining the "iconic flavors" of Thanksgiving.
    Guarnaschelli hits all those flavor memory bases with a turkey breast roasted with pearl onions, sage and Granny Smith apples. It's fairly traditional. But the chef gets more adventurous in talking about the dark meat.
    "Braise turkey thighs like a stew until the meat falls off the bone, or roast at a high temperature for crispy skin and juicy meat, or steam them with vegetables in wine," she says.
    Virginia Willis, an Atlanta-based Southern food authority, also recommends braising for the breast; the technique ensures moistness, she says. A bonus? The Madeira-laced braising liquid can be spooned as a sauce over the meat, the mashed potatoes and the dressing or stuffing, she notes.
    Doing something different with the Thanksgiving turkey also appeals to Joanne Weir, a San Francisco-based television cooking show host. Her new book, "Joanne Weir's Cooking Confidence" (Taunton Press, $24.95), offers a recipe for breaded turkey cutlets that puts a spin on the expected turkey slices.
    Whatever you do with the turkey, know you are not alone.
    "So many people are thinking in different directions for Thanksgiving and not just doing a plain turkey," Weir says.
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