Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey Disasters and Bread Heaven

After two years of hosting Thanksgiving at my place, it was time to call it quits. I loved cooking Thanksgiving dinner. I loved my recipes, both the ones I came up with and the ones I pilfered. I loved the abudance. I loved the myriad desserts that people brought. I loved being able to drink as much as I wanted because I didn't have to drive anymore.

Ah, but that's the crux of it all. I didn't want to need to drink so much. The cooking part of the dinner is fun. The logistics not so much. I had to bring in extra tables and chairs. Although as a hostess I don't like to ask my guests to provide too much, I definitely had to make sure they provided some of the things I didn't have the time or money to provide. Then there was the cleanup. My dishwasher can only hold so much and so can my sink.

Although I hate the idea of choosing between parents, I knew it was time to start splitting up the holidays again. I said whatever parent asked me first would be the parent that I had Thanksgiving with and I'd do Christmas with the other one. Mom jumped in almost immediately. Her boyfriend and his daughter were hosting Thanksgiving this year and wouldn't Kevin and me come?

Unlike me, they don't like doing all of the cooking themselves. On top of that, Daughter is a vegetarian. When I asked what I should bring, I was told, "The Turkey."

I didn't think doing the turkey myself would be such a bad thing. I've done it before. What's the big deal? Sure, I'd bring the turkey.

I bought my Turkey from Heritage Foods USA. I figured that was one way of placating the vegetarians. I would buy the most politically correct turkey possible (and the cost of it cost me almost as much as last year's entire dinner).

It was one fresh turkey. Do you know how fresh it was? This turkey still had the stubs of feathers stuck in the skin. It's as if someone hand plucked it and grew a bit lazy. Before I stuck this thing in the oven, I was going over it with a pair of tweezers trying to remove all of these feather remnants. Some of them were small and sort of disintegrated when I tried to pull on them. Some of them were quite large and quill-like and were easy to yank out. I'm surprised I wasn't more grossed out by this. At least it was noontime when I did this, so I had Arlo Guthrie to keep me company as a picked the thing over, because, after all, it's Thanksgiving, and you can't have Thanksgiving without Alice's Restaurant.

I'm afraid I don't have 27 8-by-10 color glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against me. This is all you get.

As per Sue, it always has to be turned upside down when it comes out of the oven. Looks goo doesn't it? It's nice and brown and juicy. Appearances can be deceiving.

Knowing it would be a late dinner, I waited until the early afternoon to put the turkey in the oven. I had been told heritage turkeys don't take as long as others to cook. I decided not to use any weird roasting techniques this year. After brining it overnight in my delicious cider brine, I slathered lots of sage-and-thyme-infused butter under and over the skin and shoved it into the oven at 350 with a probe thermometer in the thigh. After 2 hours and change, the thermometer told me it was the right temperature. I can only think that there might have been a problem when I saw just how brown, almost black, the breast was becoming, and I covered it with foil, trying to keep the legs exposed. Maybe the foil changed the way it cooked. Eventually, my brother came over to help me transport it. He took it away to carve at Don's house.

I arrived at the party. We had a couple of hours worth of appetizers. There was lots of cheese and wine. There was also my homemade bread.

My most special project this year, was the bread. I've mentioned that in the past I used to bake bread all of the time. I was particularly fond of a recipe for whole wheat bread that I found in my mother's old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. I had numerous vacation days before and after Thanksgiving due to it being the end of the fiscal year at work and I had a bunch of unused vacation days. I decided to use that time to do some bread baking projects.

Here are two rounds of cranberry-walnut wheat bread. I forgot to take a picture of them before I wrapped them and I didn't want to have to re-wrap them. This bread tasted absolutely wonderful and was a huge hit with the whole family (except for the nut-and-fruit-hating kids of course). I definitely want to make this one again.

I also made some rosemary rolls. I found these a little dry, but several of the guests thought they were wonderful. I'd give these another shot, but I'd make sure I ate them the day I baked them. I baked these the day before.

It was getting close to dinner time when my brother went to the kitchen to carve. A few minutes later Don's daughter came out and said dinner would be delayed because the turkey was still "a bit pink" and had to go back in the oven. I went into the kitchen and saw my brother dimembering the turkey. "A bit pink" was a HUGE understatement. Yes, the thigh was the correct temperature, but it seemed the whole underside of the turkey was raw. I was just mortified.

It wouldn't fit back in the oven whole (long story), so my brother was carving it up and trying to re-cook it that way. The turkey, although it had a great flavor from the brine, was quite tough and dry. I couldn't believe I had allowed such an expensive turkey to be ruined like that.

I also had to donate my Triple Chocolate Pudding Pie. This has become a Thanksgiving staple and is a lifesaver for those of us who don't like pumpkin. It's a very easy pie to make, so it's not a big deal to bake it. The kids couldn't wait to get their hands on it, and rightly so. It was the only pie they seemed to enjoy that night. It was the only pie I ate that night. The delicious chocolate was the only thing I had a stomach for after three hours of snarfing cheese and appetizers and then trying to chew my way through the turkey jerky.

I have a leftover packet of yeast and quite a bit of leftover bread flour, so I now have to carve out some time to bake some more bread soon.

ADDEDDUM: I must give credit where credit is due. Rather than make a last-minute gravy I did the more relaxing thing and used a make-ahead turkey wing gravy, using Cathy's recipe. Excellent idea and excellent gravy.

A few other photos for your amusement.

My attempt to get a photo of some of the feathers pulled from the skin.

Living room, appetizer table, dinner table.

Random family shots.

Cool centerpiece.


Donna-FFW said...

Are ya gonna hold out on the cranberry bread recipe? Everything looked fantastic, loving that pie.

Emily said...

I think you're being too hard on yourself! I bet you it was that turkey. I don't think it was your fault at all. It it makes you feel any better, my pecan pie was on the runny side. Eek. :/

The Duo Dishes said...

You did a great job with all of this food! Turkey takes a bit of time to get just right...which is why we don't do it for Thanksgiving. Too hard to figure it all out. :) The pie sounds really delicious!

Sue said...

I LOVE that centerpiece too.

I hope you're not still worried about the turkey. Frankly, although of course there has to BE a turkey, it's never the best part of the meal.

I don't know what to think about yours, though. You didn't say how many pounds it was. I also used a thermometer with a probe for the first time. I tested it on a chicken the week before and it was completely undone at 165 degrees. So I had no idea what temp to use for the turkey. When I finally remembered to take out the turkey (I WAS busy!) it tested nearly 200 degrees!!! But the gravy overcomes all sins and honestly it wasn't that bad. I now think the best way to test a turkey is the old-fashioned way - by piercing the leg and seeing if the juices run clear.

Sue said...

I meant to tell you that those rolls looked gorgeous. If you had just put them in the freezer as soon as they were cooled and taken them out 2 hours before serving, they would have been fine. You could have baked them more in advance that way. They look perfect.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Donna - It's coming. Promise.

Em - I think I might still need to get used to my oven. My bread was a little burned on the bottom.

DD - You guys have the right idea. Make another protein. I get so tired of turkey on holidays sometimes. I hate it when it shows up on the Christmas table as well as the T-day one.

Sue - The turkey was about 14 pounds. It's smaller than the ones I've make in the past and those were just fine with the probe thermometer. I'm not sure what happened. Again, I'm still getting used to that oven. Maybe the turkey you serve at the table isn't the best part, but ripping off those crsipy bits of skin and secretly snarfing the pope's nose while you carve it are pure T-day heaven.

The recipe said to put the rolls in the refrigerator in a sealed bag if you make them the day before rather than freezing them, which is what I did, even though my instincts said to freeze. Oh well, live and learn.

Lo said...

Definitely stop beating yourself up about the turkey -- I just read the other day that heritage birds take 30% less time to cook than regular birds... not sure how that works, but it has something to do with the way the muscle tissue develops.

I say blame the bird :)