Thanksgiving Wrap Up

I know, I know. I said I’d post this yesterday, but really, the thought of all that food again made me a little green. This may be a long post, so get comfy. Maybe make a leftover sandwich.

First, big thanks go to my dad (see him in the potato post next to me) for helping me pull off the whole meal. We work really well together as a team in the kitchen. Also, to my grandmother (standing by the buffet in this post) for helping keep the kitchen from becoming a disaster zone by washing up dishes as we used them. Big help.

On to the food. We were rather more organized this year, I think. We did a lot more prep work on Wednesday that meant a little less oven chaos. My grandmother made the green bean casserole ahead of time so that on Thursday all she had to do was add the fried onions and heat it up. We also boiled the yams ahead of time to free up the stove top, which was helpful when dad realized he hadn’t preboiled the red potatoes like he’d planned. With those things out of the way, the first two and a half hours of cooking were pretty stress free, as all we had to worry about was basting the turkey.

The turkey, oh man. It came out so well. I was worried that having such a large bird with a long cook time would end up dried out. But with the brining and the basting and the cooking position, it was great. We started it breast side down, and then flipped it for the final hour of cooking. When dad went to flip it, the hip joints actually broke the bottom half of the bird away from the breasts, it was so tender. We ended up having to sort of Tetris the bird into place after that, the legs at one end, the breast at another, so that everything would brown nicely. We took it out a little after I had originally scheduled to (only about ten minutes late) because of other things going on in the kitchen, but it wasn’t dry at all. Dad carved it up, and we both pilfered a little as he went since neither of us ate anything after breakfast.

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There was so much meat from the bird that we only put one leg’s worth on the platter. One misstep with the bird though: we forgot to put the gizzards and neck in the roaster, so they’re still sitting in a ziplock bag in the fridge. Not sure what we’re going to do with them now.

As you saw, I also made my famous Brussels sprouts. I know a lot of people don’t like sprouts, but trust me, these will change your mind.

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Now, I usually do them with a little pancetta, but considering the richness of all the other dishes, I left that out. I’ll give you the recipe in another post to come. This was the only dish I felt I screwed up a bit. I got distracted and twice found that there was no liquid in the pan and they got a bit burnt in places, but everyone seemed okay with them and they still tasted great.

I’ve already mentioned that we did potatoes and yams. We actually did yams two ways. There was a discussion about how to do them that I’ll leave out, but it resulted in my grandmother preparing three yams in slices with brown sugar and butter, while my dad and I had them mashed with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. We actually went so far as to put the little mallows on top, which I didn’t think we were going to do, but for dad it was a “why not?” moment. So we mallowed them up! They were really good. In previous years I’ve done chopped butternut squash in butter and brown sugar, but we decided to mix it up a bit for this year.

Joining the starch party (so many, many starches on tables this time of year), we also made stuffing. Now, I love a good homemade stuffing, but that is too much work on a day like Thanksgiving (for me), so we turn to the standard: Stovetop Turkey stuffing. Besides the sprouts, the stuffing is always my favorite part. I really don’t know why spiced moist stale bread is so good, but it is!

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We also outsourced the gravy this year. I have in past done a gravy with the pan drippings, but this year we decided to be a bit easy on ourselves and got some premade. It did taste great, but I held back on having too much myself. The problem with outsourced gravy is that there’s usually some dairy in it. Now, that’s understandable. I know plenty of recipes use cream or milk to smooth out the gravy and give it a richer flavor. More power to ’em. But since I’m lactose intolerant, that wasn’t going to fly too far with me. This brand didn’t have any milk or cream, but listed in the “turkey flavor” parenthetical that there was lactose.

I’ve made some good strides lately, handling small amounts of dairy in milk chocolate and caramel (thank you Halloween for letting me test myself), so I did pour a little over my potatoes. What always gets me is the people who pour gravy over everything. Thankfully, no one did that at my table, but it always upsets me to see people do that. I understand it if the food is dry. Fine. But when I cook, I plan seasonings and such so that there are distinct flavors. Don’t go messing it all up by dumping gravy over everything. Isn’t your meal boring when it all tastes the same? Hmph.

Thankfully the cranberry sauce is spared from overgravying. We always get the can of Oceanspray cranberry sauce. It’s not the same otherwise. I may have to revise my earlier statement that stuffing is my favorite. Cranberry sauce is right up there. And you know what? I have to agree with Hamilton Nolan in this piece from Gawker on Monday. We should have cranberry sauce as a side all year. It’s delicious. Who’s with me?

So, let’s see. We had:

  • Turkey
  • Stuffing
  • Gravy
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Yams (two ways)
  • Mashed roasted red skin potatoes
  • Cranberry sauce
  • A fruit bowl (for the guests we had)

I guess that’s it. It was a long day, but a pretty good one. Hope everyone enjoyed theirs and had as successful a day of cooking as I did. Cheers!

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Tomorrow is recap day

I’ll be giving you all a rundown of how today went and the little tips and tricks I use for cooking a big meal. For now, I’m going to read for as long as I can keep my eyes open. Severe food coma is coming my way.

Hope everyone’s holiday was wonderful and filling.

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Happy Turkey Day

AKA Thanksgiving.

I have a lot to be thankful for this year. Graduating college, having a super supportive family, great friends I couldn’t do it all without, travel (over 2,000 miles this year), and of course, great food and people to share it with!

I hope y’all are having a great day. We’re getting ready this morning with a whopper of a bird, weighing in at 19.34 lbs. Biggest bird we’ve ever cooked. Something else I’m thankful for: dad will be doing most of the heavy lifting.

Surprisingly, most of the action in the kitchen won’t really get going until 2 pm, but I’ll keep you guys posted.

And yes, Kelly, I’m making the sprouts. (We should make a batch together!)

Good luck to all you tackling the turkey and sides today!

The middle of the night Turkey Turn

So, I think I explained in yesterday’s post about brining that you have to turn the meat about half way through the process. Well, that meant between 1 and 2 am for me.

I didn’t get pictures up of when we first got the turkey in the brine, so here are some in case you’ve never brined before.

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It’s been 3 weeks

Since I last made pumpkin bread. I’ve got three bags of the mix just sitting in my cupboard. And since I can’t have pumpkin pie tomorrow, I think it’s high time I made another loaf, don’t you?

Now, there are dairy free pumpkin pies available (there’s a frozen one I’ve picked up at Whole Foods), but really, they just don’t compare. And frankly, I just don’t have the patience, what with all of the other prep and cooking I have to do to make a dairy free one from scratch. Also, grandma bought a pecan pie from a local bakery, so I won’t be completely pie-less tomorrow.

Turkey day prep!

And so the chaos begins.

Actually, I’m a very organized chef for holidays. Well in advance, I come up with the menu and actually create a schedule for the day that I can (as well as whoever’s helping in the kitchen) follow without getting crazed and stressed out. This is one of the smartest ideas I’ve ever had. I’m a worrier, Type-A by nature. I like a good list, and if you’re like me, the schedule is your best friend.

The best way to figure out your schedule is knowing two things: when do you want to eat, and how long does your longest component take. For Thanksgiving, the thing that takes the longest to cook is the turkey, of course. Once we decide on when we want to eat, it’s a bit of simple subtraction. Take last year: we wanted to eat at 4 pm. It was going to take 2 hrs 15 minutes to cook the turkey, plus 30 minutes to rest, and time for the oven to come up to temperature while finishing last-minute bird prep (which I gave myself 30 mins to do). All told, I needed 3 hrs 15 minutes to get the turkey done. So I started my schedule at 12:45 pm. Everything else was worked around the most important component. It’s especially helpful if you have multiple things coming in and out of the oven and you have to remember to baste. I put every little prep and cooking detail (including recipe page numbers) on the schedule with the menu at the top.

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Never again have a frazzled holiday of cooking!

Now, besides setting up my wonderful schedule, today is also brining day! Remember when I told you about my pilgrimage to Williams Sonoma? And how I bought a container of turkey brine? Well, it’s time to break that bad boy out. We’ve brined our turkey for the past few years, and it, combined with the breast down roasting technique, has resulted in the juiciest turkey I’ve ever had.

Now, if you’ve never brined something, the idea can seem a little intimidating. But trust me, the hardest part about it is making sure you have a container big enough to hold it all. Really, all it comes down to is boiling salt, sugar, and seasoning in water until the salt and sugar dissolve. Then the mix is cooled, diluted with some water (usually ice water to bring the temp down even more), and poured over the turkey. It’s like giving your turkey a nice bath before you fire up the oven. Now, the first two years we brined, we put our turkey in a garbage bag (2, actually, for better leak protection) and put it in the cooler in the garage (where is stays well below 45 this time of year). the tricky part is that you’re supposed to turn the turkey once about half way through the 12-36 hour brining time. This year, we got a little fancy and bought brining bags at Williams Sonoma. It’s still going in the cooler in the garage, but perhaps it’s a bit more secure this time. We’ll see.

Anyways, once it’s time to cook, you simply remove the bird from the brine, rinse and pat dry. It really does make a big difference, not just in flavor, but in moistness. The salt in the brine pulls moisture into the bird that then keeps things juicy in the oven.

And should you need help for this holiday, don’t forget that Butterball has a hotline:

This is one of my favorite Thanksgiving episodes of television. Really, the whole episode, “The Indians in the Lobby” (Season 3, Episode 8) is worth watching on Netflix.

Tomorrow I’ll be blogging as I cook (provided things don’t get too nutty with three people cooking!), and then a recap and leftover ideas on Friday. Happy holidays!