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A Leg Up On Thanksgiving Dinner

  • Eli Morse. the Food Service Director at the Coop Food Store, explains to Coop employee Travis Berwick how to best cut turkey meat. Morse was cooking samples for employees at the store's new Culinary Learning Center at the Lebanon, N.H. store on Nov. 25, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Eli Morse. the Food Service Director at the Coop Food Store, explains to Coop employee Travis Berwick how to best cut turkey meat. Morse was cooking samples for employees at the store's new Culinary Learning Center at the Lebanon, N.H. store on Nov. 25, 2013.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Coop Food Store cashier Casey Goodrich tries food from the Coop Culinary Learning Center in Lebanon, N.H., on Nov. 25, 2013.<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Coop Food Store cashier Casey Goodrich tries food from the Coop Culinary Learning Center in Lebanon, N.H., on Nov. 25, 2013.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • A sample meal from the Coop Culinary Learning Center in Lebanon, N.H.,  on Nov. 25, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    A sample meal from the Coop Culinary Learning Center in Lebanon, N.H., on Nov. 25, 2013.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Eli Morse. the Food Service Director at the Coop Food Store, explains to Coop employee Travis Berwick how to best cut turkey meat. Morse was cooking samples for employees at the store's new Culinary Learning Center at the Lebanon, N.H. store on Nov. 25, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Coop Food Store cashier Casey Goodrich tries food from the Coop Culinary Learning Center in Lebanon, N.H., on Nov. 25, 2013.<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • A sample meal from the Coop Culinary Learning Center in Lebanon, N.H.,  on Nov. 25, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

Your average Thanksgiving turkey, which ranges in size from over-sized to behemoth, poses a few challenges for the home cook. First, the legs typically take longer to cook than the breast, which means that the breast often overcooks — and no one likes a dried-out turkey breast.

But Eli Morse, the chef at the Lebanon Co-op’s Culinary Learning Center, has a way around that. Start the bird out breast side down in the pan in a 450-degree oven. Then turn the bird right side up and turn the oven down to 325 degrees. The early blast of heat to the legs gives them a head start, and the slow finish keeps the entire bird moist. “Be aggressive in the beginning and then back off,” Morse said.

A few days before Thanksgiving, Morse was in the learning center’s brand-new kitchen, in space once occupied by College Cleaners. He was giving a demonstration, with samples for Co-op employees and passersby, of how to make such Thanksgiving side dishes as gravy and cranberry sauce. Also on the menu were sauteed lacinato kale and a trio of roasted mushrooms, parsnips and winter squash. Creme brulee rounded out the meal.

The learning center will introduce a full slate of cooking classes for the public in January, but until then, said Morse, classes will be brought in slowly while he gives the kitchen a test drive. The space will permit 12-14 participants for cooking classes, set up at their own tables, and 20-24 people for demonstrations. Classes will cost from $25 to $55. Co-op members will receive a small discount; employees can take them at no charge.

“I’m always looking for ways to improve my cooking,” said Travis Berwick of West Lebanon, a Co-op employee who stopped in this week to see what was being dished out.

Morse’s second tip for turkey roasters is an easy one that’s often overlooked. Let the bird, or whatever roast you’re taking out of the oven, rest before you carve it. An 18-pound bird should rest for approximately 20 minutes; a smaller bird for less, and a larger one for more than 20 minutes. Not only is the bird much easier to carve, but it helps to collect and conserve the juices.

The third tip offered by Morse is to cut against the grain of the meat. It’s perfectly acceptable to cut against the bone, but, he said, if you carve off the entire breast, and then cut it crosswise rather than lengthwise, it makes for a more tender cut and you get a better yield, Morse said.

Gravy is another element of the meal that tends to make people anxious, Morse said. But really, it’s not so complicated. When you roast the turkey, place underneath it sliced carrots, onion and celery, which will add flavor to the fats and juice as they begin to flow from the bird.

When you’re ready to make the gravy, ladle out the pan drippings and put them in a separate sauce pan. Move the bird out of the pan, and deglaze the pan with white wine or sherry at a low simmer. The idea is to scrape up the bits of meat and fat that have browned at the bottom of the pan, or what’s called the fond, and add them to the gravy. The deglazing with wine “locks in the great flavor” of the drippings, Morse said.

Heat the sauce pan to low, add chicken stock, and add flour for thickening, perhaps a tablespoon. Morse then adds a tablespoon of tomato paste for flavor and to sweeten it a little.

The controversy over whether to stuff the bird, or not, is pretty easily dealt with, Morse said. It tastes better cooked in the cavity, but for safety reasons, it’s advisable to remove the stuffing from the bird and finish it on the stove top for a few minutes. That way you take advantage of the imbued flavor of the turkey but know that you’re cooking it to a safe level.

Morse’s cranberry relish, which contains both lime and orange zest and juice, and cilantro, has a bright, piquant flavor that would be an excellent complement to the turkey and any side dishes. “That really pops,” said Bruce Follett, the Co-op’s director of merchandising.

Finally, Morse makes sure to put some kind of green on the menu as a balance to all the starch of the potatoes, stuffing and, if you’re making them, roasted root vegetables. He cooked green beans in “lots and lots of boiling water,” drained them and plunged them into cold water to stop the cooking and keep them fresh and green-looking.

His own Thanksgiving meal won’t stray too far from the essentials. Mashed potatoes with ample quantities of butter, a green vegetable and for dessert, pecan pie. His wife, a Southerner, makes a “killer” pecan pie, he said.

Cranberry Relish, courtesy of Eli Morse

2 (12 oz.) packages fresh cranberries

1 cup sugar

2 limes. Remove the zest and chop it roughly. Then juice the limes and set aside.

1 orange. Remove the zest and chop it roughly. Juice the orange and set aside.

Half a bunch cilantro, washed and roughly chopped

Pinch salt

Place the cranberries, sugar, lime and orange zest, lime and orange juice, cilantro and a pinch of salt in a food processor and puree well.

For more information on the Culinary Learning Center, go to www.coopfoodstore.com/classes or call 603-643-2667.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.