"The Happy Cookbook" that I wrote with my wife Kathy, is a celebration of the foods that make America smile. These are recipes that when you see them or you think about them, they trigger something in the nostalgia department of your brain and you’re instantly transported back to a certain place in time. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I must confess our cookbook has the best turkey recipe you’ll ever find.
This is the turkey recipe that 1980’s TV sitcom dad, Alan Thicke loved. I met him 30 ago when I was hosting House Party on NBC, Alan was one of the biggest TV stars in the world and I was humbled that he came to watch me do my show at 30 Rock, in the legendary 8-H Studio, which today is the home of Saturday Night Live.
Years later Alan and I would play tennis at the Chris Evert Pro Celebrity Tennis Classic in Boca Raton, which is a terrific fundraiser and wild weekend for the players. Alan was super competitive and when we would play doubles tennis, he knew the quickest way to score a point was to hit the ball directly to me.
Last year, after Alan died, Kathy and I were having dinner with his wife Tanya and she told us something we didn’t know about him—that his happiest meal of the year was always turkey. Why? Tanya says Alan loved the holiday season and the smell of the bird baking made him euphoric. Tanya would make this recipe (her mother’s) not just for Christmas, but also Thanksgiving, (US and Canadian) and his birthday.
The secret is you marinate the bird overnight in vermouth. It is so juicy and delicious and truly the best turkey we’ve ever had. It is prominently featured on page 177 in the Holiday section of our cookbook as the lone turkey recipe.
But it’s not the only turkey story in the cookbook. Kathy’s mother Lil, wasn’t a big home cook, she occasionally cooked hamburgers or grilled chops but her specialty was baking a turkey in a brown paper bag. Yes, the kind of paper bag from the grocery store checkout. Amazingly, the bag kept the bird ‘moist and tender’, Lil would explain to people who’d ask why the bag didn’t catch on fire:
“It just doesn’t” she’d reply, every time.
Turns out it was simple science. She cooked the bird at 350 degrees and paper doesn't combust until 451 degrees. If she’d had an extra glass of Chardonnay and accidentally set the oven a bit hotter it would have been a different story.
The bag bird was kind of her specialty, until one fateful Thanksgiving. Kathy’s father was carefully removing it from the oven, and then from the super-hot bag, when it slipped out of his hands, leaving a foot-wide grease slick on the kitchen floor. My father-in-law lunged at the bird as it hit the linoleum, his foot skidded on the grease, and boom, down he went. Seeing the turkey she’d spent all day roasting on the floor, Lil approached the now-upside-down-but-still-perfect-looking bird, with an outstretched hand to retrieve it, but thanks to the combination of gravity, speed and turkey grease, boom, down she went.
Disgusted by these kitchen amateurs, Kathy’s 75-year-old, Bronx-born grandmother went to show them both how it was done. She was able to get a single hand on a drumstick before boom, she, too, slipped and joined her family on the floor. Had the Medic Alert been invented back then, somebody would have pushed the button and an EMT would have arrived in five minutes to a bizarre scene of half the family splayed out on the kitchen floor as if they were pins in a game of human bowling.
That was the last time Lil ever baked a turkey in a bag.
Actually, she pretty much stopped cooking all together which meant the next Thanksgiving, they got take out and a chiropractor did not have to make another emergency house-call to their kitchen.
Adapted from “The Happy Cookbook” by Steve Doocy and Kathy Doocy. Used with permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.