November 17, 2007

Rate the Hate the One Day a Year We Say Grace edition

Thanksgiving is my very most favorite holiday. Why? Because it doesn't have the pagan roots that Christmas and Easter do, because it's not about anything but love and gratitude, and I am a Pisces. I love love.

The very bestest thing about living in Canada is that we get two Thanksgivings. One is in October, which really makes sense to me. Have Thanksgiving early, giving Halloween the mad props it deserves, and then nothing for, oh, what is it, 7 weeks or so? And then, Christmas. But we are Americans, Americans who loves us some turkey, and so we are having Thanksgiving with all our fellow Americans this Thursday. I am thankful for Thanksgiving.

I thought that this week I'd share with you all my standard, go-to, Thanksgiving menu. Gigi and I were lamenting the other day through email that we are all out of new recipes, and it occurred to me that if we just shared our standards with each other, then we'd each have a whole bunch of new ideas. So I'm sharing mine with you, and this is going to be a long post. I'm going to try to hide it behind a jump, so you can choose to ignore it. If not, sorry. But I hope you find something that sound yummy.

Turkey: Brine your turkey, for the love of God and all that's holy. Go to Home Depot, get a 5 gallon bucket. Fill it with water and salt and ice. Add enough salt that you really can't stand the taste of it. Whatever you do to flavor your turkey, add that to your brine. I do sage and bay leaves and rosemary, and if you do that, wrap them in cheesecloth and throw the bundle into the water. I also do brown sugar, whole cloves and whole allspice. Add the whole spices to the cheesecloth so you're not left fishing little clove pellets out of your turkey later. I do half water, 1/4 cranberry juice, 1/4 apple juice. You can throw some citrus slices in there, too. Whatever you do, the flavor is going to seep into your turkey. Let that soak all night long. You need to add ice to keep it cold, especially if it won't fit into your fridge. If it's under 40 degrees out overnight, cover it and put the bucket out on the porch. That's nature's refrigerator. We're coming back to the turkey later, so hold tight...

Potatoes: This is my die-hard potato recipe. They're not fancy, they're what your grandmommy made. They're to freaking DIE for. You will need:

  • 6 pound bag of Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered (good luck finding a 6 pound bag; I just get the 5 pounder)
  • salt
  • 2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped garlic (NOT the stuff in the jar. Chop it yourself)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 c sour cream
  • fresh ground pepper

Cover the potatoes in cold water in a large pot and bring to an even boil. Add salt and boil until tender (about 30 minutes). Drain the potatoes, return them to the pot and shake them over the heat for about one minute to remove the surface moisture.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the garlic and cook it on moderate heat until it's fragrant but not brown (maybe 4 minutes). Add the cream to the pan and bring it to a simmer. Keep that warm while you mash the potatoes in a large bowl. Blend in your garlic cream, the Parmesan and the sour cream. Season it with salt and pepper to your tastes.

The thing with potatoes is they need a bit of time and mess to make, and you need them to stay hot, so most people do them last. I do them first. I do them at 6 in the morning, clean up after, throw them in the crock pot on low and forget about them all day until it's dinner-time. I highly recommend it.

Veggies: Josh and I love love love green beans. I make these every stinking year and they never get old. You will need:

  • 1 pound of thinly sliced shallots (...or leeks. I use leeks. I like leeks. They're biblical and shit)
  • 1/3 cup plus 3 tbsp plain old flour
  • oil for frying
  • salt
  • 2 1/2 pounds green beans. This is great for child-participation. Let your kids trim the beans. They'll love it.
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp paprika (I never seem to have paprika on hand, and I've never missed it in this)
  • pinch of cayanne pepper
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thinly sliced (one time I used the whole mushroom, not just the caps, and no one had a trip or went to the hospital, so I'm guessing this part is optional. Oh, and you should be able to get these mushrooms anywhere. Just ask the produce dude.)
  • 2 cups of chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup creme fraiche (it's in the fancy pants cheese aisle. Secret? If you can't find it, use Cool Whip. It totally works.)
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice. I promise, I promise, you want to squeeze out a lemon for this one. Don't go with the pre-bottled stuff. I promise.

Toss the sliced shallots/leeks with 1/3 of the flour, shake off the extra flour, and fry them in batches in a deep pan with 1 inch of hot oil over moderate heat. Salt them after and set them aside. You can do this the night before and stick them in a tupperware. Just recrisp them for a few minutes in a 350 degree stove right before you use them.

Boil the beans in a large pot of salted water for about 5 minutes, until they're bright green and just tender. Drain them and then run them under cold water to refresh them and stop them from cooking any further. Pat them dry and set them aside, too.

Melt the butter in a large skillet, cast-iron if you've got one, which I don't, and add the medium onion. Cook on low for about 5 minutes until it's softened. Add the paprika, cayanne and a large pinch of pepper and cook while stirring for about a minute. Then add the mushrooms, cover them and let that cook, still on low, for about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook for about 5 minutes more, until they've browned a bit. Stir in the 3 remaining tbsp flour and slowly stir in the stock until smooth. If you're doing this ahead, stop here. The rest has to be all done together, at the very end of cooking.

Let that simmer (or bring it back up to a simmer if you're coming back to it) for about 5 more minutes, and then add the creme fraiche, lemon juice and beans. The thing with dairy and lemon is that if it doesn't boil, it won't curdle, but if it DOES boil, you're screwed. Don't let it get hotter than a gentle simmer. Cover everything, watch the heat, and let it all cook together for 5 minutes. Season it with salt and pepper to taste and then transfer it to a baking dish.

Cover the dish with foil and bake it at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with the shallots/leeks, and serve.

Stuffing: Will someone tell me, please, why they call it dressing? I can't figure it out. Anyway, I use Stove Top. I make the stove top, press it into a baking pan, brush it with butter and bake it for 20 minutes. What do you think I am, Super Woman?

Rolls/bread: This is one of those things I do because I don't do it at all. My kids like to help cook, and there is little margin for error in my Thanksgiving, so I give them the bread department. You can make your own dough, or you can buy frozen bread dough at the store. Guess which one I do? You let the kiddies roll the (defrosted) dough into little balls, little balls, half-dollar (or Looney, if you're Canadian) sized balls. Then you let the kiddies melt 8 tbsp of butter into a pan and in a small bowl let them mix

  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp finely chopped thyme
  • 1 tsp finely chopped rosemary

Let the kids dip the dough balls into the butter, then into the herbs, and then put the dough into a muffin pan. Each muffin cup should get three dough balls in it. (You're making little bread clovers.) You can cover that and let it sit overnight in the fridge, or you can cover it loosely the day of and let it sit in a warm spot until the dough has risen to about the tops of the cups. Bake the dough for about 15 minutes on 425 until the whole thing smells perfect. And then tell your children what good chefs they are.

Cranberries: My very favorite part about this holiday. I loves them. I do this recipe, and I serve it with corn chips. This makes a perfect appetizer.

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup fresh oj
  • 1/4 cup julienned fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp orange zest
  • 1 medium minced shallot
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 12 oz bags cranberries
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp mustard seeds

Combine sugar, vinegar, oj, ginger, zest, shallots, cinnamon, and salt. Boil on high until sugar dissolves and thickens slightly (@7 min). Add cranberries and boil until they burst (@10 min). Remove from heat.

Heat oil in small skillet. Add mustard seeds and cook on moderate heat until toasted (@ 1 1/2 min). Stir seeds and oil into chutney and let cool. Remove cinnamon stick. Serve at room temperature or cooled.

Now, back to the Turkey. It's time to cook it. Take it out of the brine, rinse it with cool water, pat it dry and remove whatever stray chunks have found their way into it overnight. You've just made a whole mess of side-dishes, and you have some leftovers. Take those leftover herbs, spices, oranges, lemons, limes, mushrooms, leeks, garlic cloves and onions and shove them in the cavity of that turkey. This is going to tie your whole meal together. Tie up that turkey up and cook it however you think a turkey should be cooked. Cooking turkey isn't so different from worshipping or voting; everyone does it differently and no one wants to be told the right way. Because, just maybe, there is no right way. Except that I will tell you this: if you have brined your turkey, there is absolutely no need at all to baste it. Every time you open that door, you are changing the temperature in the oven. You don't want to change the temperature of your oven. Get a digital thermometer and don't open the stove. I cover mine in foil and take the foil off for the last 30 minutes, crank up the heat and brown it. I have tried doing that first, because they say it sears the turkey a bit and helps keep the juices in, but I think they are liars.

Also: I usually do a salad of field greens, chopped cucumbers, sugared almonds, dried cranberries and crumbled Chevre cheese topped with this vinaigrette.

And that's about it for dinner. Happy holidays to you all!

Update: Grrr. I forgot stuff. And I'm totally sick of typing, but they're important.

If you really are obsessing about not basting your turkey (like I do), here's what you can do. Take, oh, 2 sticks or so room-temperature butter and throw them in a food processor. Add a bunch of chopped, fresh sage and some honey. Cream that all together. Right before you stuff the turkey (if you stuff it), gently lift the skin from the turkey with your hands and rub your sweet sage butter on the body of the turkey, under the skin. Get it all over everything. Press the skin back down. Voila! Self-basting turkey.

Gravy: Duh. Most. Important. Part. I am no gravy master, but mine is always yummy. Here's what I do:

  • After I make the potatoes, first thing in the morning, I fill a medium stock pot with cold water and add all the stuff that came in the gross neck/gizzards/heart bag. I get that boiling and I let it reduce on a slow boil all day long.
  • While the turkey is resting, after it's cooked, I put a stick of butter in a small pan and melt it. I slowly add flour until I have a roux (thick little yellow balls of doughish stuff).
  • When the liquid in the gross neck pot is thick and more than half-way gone, right before we eat, I take out all the gross stuff and chop it all up. Even the meat on the neck. I chop it all up really small and set it aside.
  • In a pan, I add all the drippings from the turkey, which will need to be strained if you stuffed it with anything, and then since I don't own a gravy separator, I wasted countless minutes trying to skim all the fat off. At some point I give up and resign myself to fatty gravy.
  • To the drippings, I add all the chopped up gross bits. And then I add enough of the broth from boiling the gross bits to make the right quantity of gravy. If you need more liquid, add plain old chicken broth.
  • To that, I start adding the roux. Add it slowly, whisk it in well, making sure that you don't add too much. You can add more, but you can't take it out.
  • I keep sticking my finger in it, tasting it, adding a little salt or a little pepper or a little more roux. At some point, I have gravy. Good gravy. Biscuit gravy. Gravy gravy gravy.
And that, friends, is really it. I hope. My fingers are stuttering.

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