I made it through my first Thanksgiving. It seems to have been a success.
The turkey fiasco didn't end with my late delivery. As I mentioned in my last blog, I had to take an hour out of my pre-Thanksgiving prep day to go pick it up. When I got it home, I saw that they had sent me a smaller bird than what I had ordered. I ordered a 16-18 pound bird and I received a 14 pound bird. I prepared my brine (from Diana Morgan's book The Thanksgiving Table) with cider, allspice berries ginger, peppercorns, and of course salt. The problem is my brining bags were meant for bigger turkeys, so I really couldn't submerge my turkey that well. I turned it frequently, but eventually I had to go to bed, so it was just going to have to be 80%submerged overnight.
The fun didn't stop there. The probe thermometer I bought wasn't working. I roasted the turkey according to the directions provided by The Pioneer Woman (thanks to Colleen for the recommendation). As I wrapped the bird in foil I seemed to hear the voice of Sue saying, "You're steaming it." Then I heard the voice of Colleen saying, "Do this and it will come out perfectly." After the three hours I removed the foil and the turkey looked sort of anemic and the drippings were pathetic. I basted that sucker with as much butter as I could and put it back in the oven uncovered with a probe thermometer in the thigh. That's when I discovered the thermometer wasn't working well. After 90 minutes and two bastings, the termperature of the turkey hadn't budged. Kevin started fidding with the thermometer and the batteries and got it working again. The overcook alarm began beeping. Let me point out that I was planning to cook the turkey to 170 degrees and the alarm doesn't go off until you get past 190 degrees. In the mean time, my skin was getting a bit darker than I was comfortable with. At least I was smart enought to cover the breast with foil after the second basting.
Once I had it out of the oven I flipped the turkey over just as Sue told me to do (I would never have gotten through this Thanksgiving without her advice). I splattered turkey juice all over the kitchen, but I think it was a sacrifice for the greater good. I'm sure it helped make up for the other fiascos. Oddly enough my father told me that the turkey "tasted brined." Fortunately, he considered this a good thing. I told him, "Well it was brined." Dad's repayment for my delicious turkey: I think he gave me a cold.
I got a couple of dishes out of the way the day before. The first was my Corn Pudding. This recipe is one I did many times before in the past and knew it to be creamy and delicious, so I had little to worry about. I admit I used frozen corn for it. I know the recipe is meant to showcase fresh corn in the summer. That made me wonder if frozen corn would make it lackluster and wondered if I should add some pancetta or cheese or something. With all of the richness of the rest of the dishes, the relative blandness wasn't a problem. The other dish I made was Pecan Sweet Potatoes. This is a recipe of my own invention inspired by a pumpkin-pecan pie I made years ago. I mashed 8 sweet potatoes (way more than I needed) with about a cup of ground pecans, a half cup of rum, a stick of butter, a few grates of nutmegs, a few pinches of cinnamon and cayenne and a couple of pinches of salt.
I made my Green Bean Casserole while the turkey roasted. I was able to do the components a little at a time. Rather than make onion rings I sliced shallots and fried them in oil until they were brown and crispy. I blanched the green beans ahead of time too. I bought pre-sliced mushrooms. All I had to do was throw it all together at the last minute.
I made up my own Stuffing recipe. I used two small loaves of cornbread and one loaf of heat-and-serve "artisinal" bread. I cut it all up the day before so it would get nice and dried out. I cooked up a pound of turkey sausage (I had to remove Italian sausage from its casings because the store had no bulk turkey sausage). I added a large onion and four celery ribs. When they started to soften I added two Granny Smith apples and about two tablespoons of chopped fresh sage. When it was all soft I mixed it with the bread and moistened it with chicken broth. I popped it in 375 degree oven for 30 minutes covered with foil and then removed the foil and left it in there another 15 minutes.
I wasn't totally happy with the amount of drippings my turkey produced, but there were some and there was enough fat for the roux, so I deglazed the pan with some wine, made a roux with the fat I skimmed off, and hoped for the best. I had about a quart of neck/giblet stock and added some chicken broth as well. I ended up with more gravy than I needed. My family didn't use it all. I guess they're not all as gravy-crazy as I am.
I had the good fortune to already have my Cranberry Sauce ready thanks to Sue and her freezable recipe. Since I miss Mom's version, I added some candied ginger to the recipe. It was really good, but I don't think I needed to double the recipe.
We ended with my Triple Chocolate Pudding Pie and a giant apple crisp that my sister in law brought. I use cinnamon graham crackers with the recipe instead of chocolate. I like the way they taste contrasts with the
Do I think the meal was good? I can't judge it. By the time I sat down to eat I wasn't hungry from all of the picking and licking and tasting. Being surrounded by the food for two days didn't do much for my appetite or my ability to really taste it. Everyone kept saying it was delicious, so I'm trying to believe them.
I have burned myself multiple times. It seems any time I could get burned, I did. I look at my hands and arms and I'm not even sure where half of these burns came from.
Kevin and I disagreed about what we should do with the floor prior to dinner. I said we should roll up the rug and put it away because we don't want to spill food on it. He didn't want people trampling all over the hardwood floors we put in just a year and a half ago. I won out. I'm glad I did. My two-year-old nephew felt it was his duty to decorate the floor. The area surrounding the table where I had the appetizers (nuts, Terra chips, and a shrimp ring and some ciabatta and artisinal cheese my uncle provided) was covered with bits of bread, nuts, and bits of chips. The kids decided they didn't like the chips after they had started eating them, so they just abandoned the chips wherever they felt like it.Charles also took the runner in my entryway and threw it in the master bathroom and pulled the key out of my coffe table trunk and threw it in the bedroom closet (where it landed I still haven't figured out). The most destructive forces on earth: Hurricans, tornados, and Charles.
My timeline was unexpected as well. Getting everything ready by the appointed time of 2PM wasn't necessary. Just about everyone showed up late due to bad traffic. My mother lives close by, so she showed up on time. My mother-in-law showed up on time because Kevin came and picked her up in Queens well ahead of time. Everyone else was held up by either kids or traffic. Once my uncle showed up we all began feasting on the appetizers he brought. We also began drinking the wine in earnest. Getting everyone to the table to start the Poached Pear and Arugula Salad with Toasted Walnuts wasn't easy. To my pleasant surprise, having the food waiting in the warming oven for so long didn't ruin it. I'm not sure it that's because it's the type of food y ou can't ruin that easily or because everyone expects Thanksgiving food to be a little overcooked.
I admit to being frazzled and ungracious when people began arriving. Everyone had questions. "Where do I put my coat?" (Do you not see the coats on the bed?) "Here is the wine I brought." (Do you not see the bottles on the table by the wall? Must you make me unwrap them and put them out?) I tried to shove everyone towards the nuts and chips and got my husband to serve the drinks. People want to linger in the kitchen though. It's human nature.
Cleanup was a huge pain. My dishwasher is quite small and only held about half of the dishes used that day, so I was washing dishes for a good hour when everyone left. I had to really vaccuum hard to get all of that stuff off the floor and then skated around the apartment with a pair of multi-surface floor wipes on my feet. Goddess only knows how much bacteria still lurks on my kitchen counters. I used an entire can of granite wipes during the day, but I really need to give them a good rub down with a rag and some antibacterial granite cleaner. I still haven't moved all of the stuff I shoved in the spare room to make space back into the living room - including the rug.
Still, I do believe it was all a success. I'm even thinking of doing it next year. Now that I've worked out a plan, followed it (mostly anyway, at some point I trashed the book), and made a dinner everyone seemed to like, I actually believe I might do it again next year.
Anyone out there who would like some pecan sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce? I have a ton.