Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving with the control freak

Um, yeah, that would be me. We gardeners have a reputation for being control freaks and I am no exception. This year, after many years of dining at other people's houses, I am FINALLY hosting Thanksgiving again.

Actually, the last two years in a row, we had dinner at a friend's house and they don't like to cook much, so I did most of the cooking. But that still not the same as having your own dinner where you have no other dishes to work around and are in complete control of the menu. I hate sweet sweet potato dishes - the marshmallow casseroles, those dishes that require brown sugar and pecans - and so at last, there will be none of that.

We're having seven people total, which is perfect for our space and equipment. I have nine dinner plates, and my beautiful flatware:

is a service for 8. So thank goodness the other two people who I thought were coming (and the reason that I bought an 18 pound turkey!) are no longer joining us. Thankfully, work is only half a day tomorrow, which gives me time to come home, arrange the flowers, set the table and get a few things made tomorrow night.

My dinner menu, if you are interested:
cocktail of home infused damson plum vodka
cider braised chorizo on smoked cheddar corn cakes

Turkey (an 18 pounder from Dines Farms. It is naturally raised and was (gulp) $63.50 - an amount I gladly paid for a turkey that could have flown to my house and at least lived a decent life before he was killed just three days ago. My man, however, choked a bit when I shelled out the cash.)
Gravy (making this make-ahead gravy recipe. I made chicken with 40 cloves of garlic for dinner on sunday, then used those drippings, the carcass, the wings and one leftover thigh, along with carrots, celery and onions, to make a stock. It turned out really delicious, the best stock I've ever made, thats for sure. Using roasted meat and bones makes a HUGE difference.)
Stuffing (more on this below)
Granny's Crannys (a basic, raw cranberry and orange relish. Both my grandmother and I loved it though no one else did. I could never, ever have a thanksgiving without it, and when I make it, I think of how wonderful my grandma was and how much I loved her. Awwww.....this silly name was given to the dish by a friend who hosted thanksgiving. She made it up when I brought over this dish.)
Brussels sprouts salad from Everyday Food November issue
Sweet potatoes with miso-scallion butter from Serious Eats. Not only does this sound delicious, but one of my guests is Japanese and I thought it was a nice way to put a familiar flavor on the table.
Rolls (I always use the milk bread pompoms from Joy of Cooking. Turns out great - slightly sweet - and makes great mini turkey sandwiches if there are any leftovers. But there rarely are.)
Spinach casserole (a dish I made to take to a friend's with limited oven space - turned out so great and can be made ahead...I use this recipe but I'm adding an additional package of spinach.)

For dessert:
Pumpkin pie, of course! I just use the regular canned pumpkin from the supermarket, but I do make my own crust. I use Mark Bittman's recipe from How To Cook Everything. I do it in a tiny little food processor and it turns out great - if you think you are a pie-making dunce, try it. The food processor does all the work without heating up the butter (did I mention I refuse to use shortening?).
Fleur de Sel pralines from the December issue of MS Living.

I have my list with all the timing all figured out on it. Dinner isn't til 5 pm, so I don't even have to get up too early.

May I discuss stuffing? Of course I may - its my blog and no one is reading anyway! I never liked my mom's stuffing. It had big pieces of celery in it which were so unpleasant to bite into. I adore the flavor of celery, but don't necessarily like biting into it. She also used all dried herbs, many of which were no doubt past their prime. I love my mom more than anything, but never loved that stuffing. So the first year I made Thanksgiving on my own, I researched stuffing (or dressing, whatever you want to call it) thoroughly and started my own recipe. Its very, very simple and utterly delicious. I have tried fancy gourmet versions throughout the years but when I do, I always miss my classic. Here's what I do:

A few days before, cut loaves of bakery bread (NOT sliced, packaged bread) into 1/2-1" cubes and let them set out to get stale and firm. Depending on your turkey poundage (and if you are stuffing it - I always do. To hell with food safety recommendations. I check my stuffing temperature anyways), you'll need 10-16 cups (like two large loaves). On Thanksgiving morning, I cut up about every possible incarnation of an onion (shallots, leeks (which came from our CSA this year - yay!), red onions, yellow onions, white onions, pearl onions, scallions, garlic) and sweat them in ample butter (maybe a stick?) until it smells so good that you can't believe it. Then I dump that into the bread cubes and mix thoroughly. Then I moisten it with wine and/or stock (often, when I do this for roast chicken, I use beer, and its often Coors Light - which adds a really lovely flavor, believe it or not. Try it!). It should just barely hold together when you squeeze a bit. It definitely should not drip liquid. Then I stuff away - I usually end up baking some on the side too, because there is often too much and you don't want to stuff your turkey too tightly.

Did you know that they lowered the minimum temperature for a turkey to finish cooking? Well, they did - its now 165 degrees. So don't over cook it! Here is lots of helpful information on cooking your turkey.

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