Turkey and Cranberry Loaf: Thanksgiving with the Po’ Folks

Canadian Thanksgiving is only one week away, but here at the Choosy Beggars, Mike and I are starting the celebrating early…and poor.  With our wedding only 6 weeks away, the purse strings are slack with overuse and I’m tired.  All the time, I’m just so tired.  But being tired and poor is no excuse not to eat good food, right?  After all, that’s what we do here!  If I have one goal for this blog, it’s to bring easy, affordable and delicious food to the table without the help of Uncle Bens (note: I did say ‘delicious’) or Suspicious Things From Jars where you only recognize two items on the ingredient list.  Ergo, for our pre-Thanksgiving warm up feast, I bring you ‘Holidays In The Hood’.

The po’ folks can barely afford Butch, the grade ‘B’ turkey who got shivved on his way to the slaughterhouse. Haven’t they suffered enough? Every omnivore deserves to have some turkey with cranberry sauce around the holidays, even if that 25 lb free-range organic heritage turkey that Martha Stewart waxes poetic about is naught but a pipe dream.  Here’s where we come in, and present to you Thanksgiving for less than $2 a plate with a well seasoned and high styled turkey and cranberry loaf.

Ground turkey is delightfully affordable and provides a lot of lean protein bang for your buck.  Instead of a traditional bread crumb thickener for this loaf, we’ve used oats.  After all, the second thing that the po’ folks need, right after dignity and a warm bed, is a bit more fiber in their diets.  True story.  Ask Detroit.  If you have never used oats to thicken and bind your meatballs or loaves, do give it a shot.  Your loaf may be slightly less tender than with milk-sopped bread, but oats provide fiber, nutrients, and a much fuller, denser texture than turkey loaf can normally achieve.  When you add in the fact that oats are economical and easily accessible, it’s a wonder that they don’t make their way into more of our meals!

Turkey and Cranberry Loaf

Serves 8-10, like every good holiday dinner.

  • 2 lb (1.1 kg) ground turkey*
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 eggs
  • 1.5 cups rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 large ribs celery (1.5 cups diced)
  • 1 large sweet onion (2 cups diced)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1.25 tsp ground sage (divided)
  • 2.5 tsp dried thyme (divided)
  • 3-4 bay leaves, optional
  • salt and pepper, to taste

* If you have an option, use turkey that is a mixture of ground dark and light meat.  The overall flavor and texture of the loaf will be improved.

Preheat your oven to 350ºF and lightly grease or spray a rimmed sheet pan.

Sprinkle the quarter cup of water on to the oats and toss them around so that they are gently moistened.

Put the ground turkey into a large mixing bowl and crack in the eggs.  Add the oats, nutmeg, 1.5 tsp of dried thyme, 1 tsp of ground sage, salt (I used about 2 tsp) and pepper (I used about 1 tsp) to taste.  Mix the ingredients together until combined.

Finely mince the garlic, onions and celery.

Heat the oil over moderately low heat in a large pan.  Add the onions and garlic and sweat them out for about 7-10 minutes until the onions are just starting to turn golden.  Add the celery to the pan along with the remaining 1 tsp of thyme and 1/4 tsp ground sage.  Continue to saute until the celery is tender, about 2 minutes.  Set the mixture aside to cool.

When the onions have come down almost to room temperature, add 1/2 the mixture to the turkey along with the cranberries.  Mix to combine.

Divide the turkey meat into three rough mounds, with one portion slightly larger than the other two.  Press one of the smaller portions into a flattish oblong shape to be the base of the loaf, and gently make a shallow well in the center so that it looks like a boat.  Spread half of the remaining onion and celery into the depression.

Cover the top using the second smaller portion of meat.  The easiest way to do this is to form smallish flat patties in your palms and gently press and smooth them down onto the meat.  Be sure to seal the meat along the sides to full enclose the filling.  Press gently to flatten out the top and spread the remaining onion and celery mixture on top.  Complete your loaf by covering it completely with the remaining larger portion of meat, again being sure to press down gently and seal the sides.

Moisten your hands with cold water and pat and smooth the mound into an attractive loaf shape.  Gently press 3-4 bay leaves into the top of the meat for decoration.  As a tip, if you slide the pointy ends of the leaves into the meat, they will hold better and actually stay fairly flat on the loaf as it bakes..

Bake the loaf for approximately 60-75 minutes, or until the juices have started to release and the loaf feels firm.  Or, if you’re one of those Rigorous Technical People, you could cook the loaf until the internal temperature reaches 155-158ºF (note: USDA recommends 165ºF, but I thumb my nose at that).  Tent the turkey loaf loosely with tin foil and let it rest for 8-10 minutes before carving.

As with all meatloaf, the turkey loaf has a nice, taut brown crust and the cranberries near the outside peek through like little caramelized jewels.

Now you might be wondering why we went to all the trouble of layering and ‘stuffing’ the turkey loaf, but now you can see why.

Thin ribbons of herbed onion and celery run through the center of this dense loaf, mimicking the soft stuffing on the side of a traditional Thanksgiving bird.

For a meatloaf, this has the potential to be a surprisingly elegant dish, but instead of fooling with fussy sides to gussy up the meal, we opted for sauteed baby zucchini and haricots vert (Martha Stewart might be proud after all) with a Yukon Gold and sweet potato galette.  Easy, simple but still more sophisticated than our regular weeknight fare.  Turkey loaf is moving up in the world! Or…possibly moving down, depending on where you head for the holidays!

  • Liz

    This sounds fabulous. I’m wondering what I can tell my husband the dried cranberries are so that he might eat them…
    Hey, do the oats go in way back when the meat and eggs and spices are going in? Just wanted to be sure!

  • http://www.eatatburp.com lo

    I’m totally sold. My current favorite turkey meatloaf features grated apple and a shiitake mushroom gravy. But, this idea is definitely giving my concept a run for its money!

    Thanks for reminding me about Canadian Thanksgiving. Always a great excuse for us in the states to celebrate TWICE!

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Liz – heh…no real way to disguise cranberries, is there?! Yes, the oats go in with the meat, eggs and spices. Thank goodness for pictures to help out my befuddled and erratic mind!! Post is updated.

    Lo – Ooh, your turkey loaf sounds divine! I used to make a curried turkey loaf with grated apple in it, and you’ve just made me remember that it hasn’t gone on the table in a really, REALLY long time. I feel more loafing coming on….!

  • http://findingbreathingroom.wordpress.com/ Tyla

    I just made this tonight, and it was fantastic! It really was like turkey dinner in a loaf! I didn’t have quite enough turkey, so I substituted mashed chickpeas for 4oz of the turkey, and it still turned out great. We had it with some roasted buttercup squash and spinach salad.

    I only came across your blog for the first time today, and am so glad I did – I have a list of items to try already!

  • Skiznit54

    I made this tonight.  Glazed the top w/some home-made cranberry bbq sauce.  It was delish!