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Brined Roasted Turkey with Italian Sausage Stuffing

It seems as if every year I try a different way to roast a turkey and I’m usually not very happy with it. The turkey is dry, over or undercooked, etc. etc. Each year I swear I’ll never cook one again, mostly because of the number of dirty dishes a turkey dinner creates. But, like most things, time makes me forget all that and I’m again craving the aroma of a roasting turkey in the oven and looking forward to having family and friends around the table.

This year, I checked out some food blogs for ideas and landed on Pioneer Woman, a very good read and a brine recipe that said ‘Turkey 2011’ to me. I bought a small (about 13 lbs.) fresh free-range bird and brined it for 24 hours. The turkey was incredibly moist and tasty, even though we could not discern the individual flavours from the brine. Here is the poor thing in the brine:

1 13-15 lb. turkey
1 1/2 c. apple juice
1 gallon cold water
2 T. fresh rosemary leaves
4 clove garlic, minced
3/4 c. Kosher salt
1 c. brown sugar
1 1/2 T. peppercorns
3 bay leaves
peel of 2 oranges

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Stir until salt and sugar dissolve. Bring to a boil, then turn off heat and cover. Allow to cool completely, then pour into a large brining bag or pot. Place turkey in brine solution and refrigerate for 16-24 hours. When ready to roast the turkey, remove it from the brine and rinse very well under cold water and pat dry.

To roast turkey, place it on a rack in a large roasting pan and cover tightly with heavy-duty foil. Place in a preheated 275ºF and roast for about 2 1/2 hours (if roasting a 20 lb. turkey, roast for about 3 1/2 hours). Melt 1 stick of butter in a bowl. Remove turkey from the oven, and brush with 1/3 of the melted butter, increase oven temperature to 375ºF and place the turkey uncovered back into the oven. Continue roasting, basting with butter every 30 minutes until the internal temperature registers 170ºF. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and let rest until ready to serve.

Italian Sausage Stuffing
Since the turkey tends to get overcooked and dry when it’s cooked already stuffed, I bake the stuffing in a separate dish. It can be mixed and almost completely baked early in the day, then uncovered and finished to brown the top while the turkey is resting. For people who prefer a meatless stuffing, just substitute a variety of sautéed mushrooms for the sausage.

about 8 cups of Italian bread, cut into 1″ cubes
2 T. olive oil, divided
1 lb. Italian sausage, casings removed (mild or hot, to taste)
3 medium onions, chopped
4 celery ribs, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 T. fresh thyme, chopped
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 c. chicken or turkey broth
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. Italian parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Put bread on baking sheet and bake until just dried out, about 10 minutes. Heat 1 T. oil in a large pan over medium-high heat and cook the sausage, stirring and breaking it into small pieces, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a large bowl with the toasted bread cubes. Add onions, celery, garlic and thyme to the pan and 1/2 t. each of salt and pepper, and cook until soft and golden. Add vegetables to the bread and sausage. Whisk together the eggs, stock, cheese and parsley, then stir into stuffing. Turn into a buttered baking dish, cover with foil and bake at 425ºF for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until top is golden and crisp, about 15 more minutes. (Stuffing can be made and baked up to the last step, then reheated and browned before serving.)
This is the bread I used:

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