09 Nov 2010

Thanksgiving Schedule

8 Comments Cooking/Baking

Yes, I wrote myself a Thanksgiving Schedule about four years ago. I typed it in Word, printed out the two pages, stapled it and brought it into the kitchen. Now I pull it out every year and do exactly what it tells me to do. It starts the day before Thanksgiving, with brining the turkey. If you’ve never brined a turkey, DO IT THIS TIME! It makes the moistest, juiciest dang bird you’ve ever had. I get my brine at Williams Sonoma and I think it’s worth the splurge, but there are many brining recipes on line that are great. It takes a little while because you have to boil and completely cool the brine, so give yourself ample time, and make sure you have a giant bag to brine in! I always get my Diestel turkey at Whole Foods. Delicious, vegetarian fed, no added hormones or anti-biotics and cage free. You can get organic or regular. Unpaid plug, kids.

The reason my Thanksgiving is pretty simple, is because I do a ton of the prep work the day before. I clean and brine the turkey, therefore I already have the neck and giblets to make my gravy starter. I also cut up all my veggies for the stuffing and place them in baggies, I make any desserts or breads I want to make, I boil eggs for deviled eggs (Russ makes them. Sooo good!), and I make my dough for the pumpkin corn fritters.

Thanksgiving Day, I take the turkey out of the fridge an hour before cooking to bring it to room temperature, and I wash off all of the brine. You don’t ever want to put cold meat in the oven, you’ll be adding a lot of cooking time and it could dry out. My Mother-in-law taught me how to make a turkey 7 years ago, and it has never failed me. Right before roasting, I put an onion and fresh herbs into the cavity, and I rub the entire turkey with olive oil and a generous helping of salt and pepper. I put the turkey in a 325 degree oven until it’s golden brown. Then I tent the turkey and keep roasting. I never baste, and I open the oven as little as possible. Butterball.com has pretty accurate roasting times and has always been very helpful with any turkey questions, but I always check the temp on my bird and hour before it’s “supposed” to be done.  The temperature inside the deepest part of the thigh, without touching the bone, should be 180 degrees. The temperature in the deepest part of the breast should be 170. The turkey should be fully cooked at least a half hour before dinner, so it can rest before you cut it.

Then I’ve timed (to the minute) when to do everything else, like roasting the garlic for the mashed potatoes, boiling the potatoes, sauteing the veggies for the stuffing, making the green bean casserole, frying the fritters, etc. If you haven’t made a schedule for yourself, I highly recommend it. Just write down everything you’re doing as you do it this year and you’ll have it done by the end of the day! It helps me out every year.

GRAVY RECIPE (AS REQUESTED)

DAY BEFORE:

Saute’ neck and giblets (toss out liver) in 1/2 stick of butter for about 8 minutes on each side, or until browned.

Add medium sliced onion and 32 oz. chicken broth.

Cover and simmer for about 1 hour, 45 minutes. Remove and throw away neck and giblets. Strain remaining broth into glass container and refrigerate overnight.

THANKSGIVING DAY:

Start about 1/2 hour before dinner is served

Skim fat off top of broth and place in saute’ pan.

Put remaining broth in small pot and heat on low.

Heat fat in saute pan with about 1/2 cup of flour, stir with wooden spoon until brown and toasty smelling (about 4 or 5 minutes)

Slowly ladle warm broth into flour mixture and begin whisking.

Continue to whisk and add broth until all broth is used.

Add pan drippings from turkey and continue  whisking. Simmer and whisk about 10 minutes.

This gravy has always come out perfect. A couple of times I’ve had to add a little Wondra to thicken it a bit, but it’s so freaking good. If you’ve ever had gravy problems, try this one! And please, for the love of Thanksgiving, let me know how it turns out!!

05 Nov 2010

Taking Thanksgiving Back

17 Comments Family, Personal Crap

It’s November, which has always been my favorite month of the year. Two really cool things happen in November: Thanksgiving, and my birthday. Usually my birthday comes before Thanksgiving, but I like Thanksgiving better than my birthday, which is why I put it first.

This Thanksgiving will mark the seventh one that Russ and I have hosted. You see, Thanksgiving has always been my absolute favorite of all holidays and I wasn’t happy with the way it was going for a while. So I took it back. I grabbed it from the others who had been hoarding it and proclaimed, “This is MY holiday, chumps!” There was some resistance at first, but then it was as it should be.

Let me take you back a bit. Growing up, Thanksgiving was perfect. Yes, perfect. (I’ve learned in therapy it probably wasn’t perfect, but let me have my memories, okay?) It was perfect. My mom and grandma would spend HOURS in the kitchen doing all kinds of who-knows-what that involved making homemade stuffing that was cooked IN the bird, making side dishes from Heaven, and doing some voodoo magic that made everything taste like Autumn. Sure, there were some fights and stresses. And yes, I had to polish the fucking silver every year. And holy cow did I complain about it! But somehow, everything got on the table when it was time to eat and we had ourselves a perfect Thanksgiving.

There was usually somewhere between eleven and fourteen of us. We would eat and laugh and eat and laugh. Grandpa would tell hilarious stories, we’d constantly comment on the deliciousness, and after dinner we all performed. Someone would sing, my brother would play piano or do something incredibly silly, and I’d do some sort of monologue to make my grandpa giggle until he cried. Then there was dessert and coffee and then it would be over, and I’d be so sad that the best day of the year came to an end. It’s weird because it wasn’t traditional, really. We’d eat late and no one seemed to be too interested in the football. My family was always more into baseball and hockey. It would’ve REALLY been the perfect holiday if the World Series were in November!

There are a few reasons I love Thanksgiving so much: The food. No prayers. No presents. All Thanksgiving is is an excuse to figure out what is good about your life and to celebrate that by shoveling food in your yap.

So, years go by and grandparents pass away, and dynamics change and my brother gets married. Now, all of a sudden, we’re eating with my sister-in-law’s family. Our quaint holiday turned into a 27-person melee that didn’t resemble anything I was familiar with. Our first Thanksgiving together, Russ and I were at a card table in the corner, wondering how late the coffee shop stayed open so we could go have a peaceful meal. Plus, dinner started close to 8:00 PM, which just seemed preposterous. This went on for five years until Russ and I couldn’t take it anymore. Our favorite holiday needed a resurrection, and we were just the people to do it.

Seven years ago I called my parents and told them we would no longer be joining in the foolishness of the over-crowded Thanksgiving. (By the way, I love my sis-in-law’s family. I just missed my holiday). I told them Russ and I would be having a traditional Thanksgiving at our house at 4:00PM and that they, and any of the family, were welcome. I was met with much anger. “It’s not for YOU to decide where Thanksgiving is!” Yes it is. “How dare you break up the family like that!” I told you everyone is welcome. “Well, you KNOW Bob and Karen won’t be able to come!” Maybe they’ll come next year. They can trade off between our Thanksgiving and theirs. “I think you’re being very selfish!” I am. It feels great.

A couple hours later, my mom called me back and apologized. She actually said, “I’m so proud of you for standing up for what you want for yourself and your family. I would never have had the balls to do it. I raised you right.” Then she told me she and my father would join us, and we could work out the rest later. I did it. I took Thanksgiving back. This was going to be fantastic.

And it was. That year Russ and I started our tradition of spending the day cooking together, laughing together, and stressing together. We make all the old favorites and I have it scheduled out to the minute, when the turkey goes in, when the potatoes start, what time to roast the garlic. I make the turkey, stuffing (boxed with a lot of veggies and love added), pumpkin fritters, green-bean casserole, and biscuits (frozen). Russ makes the mashed potatoes and White Trash Krab Salad. At 4:00, whoever shows up is sitting and eating and laughing and talking. We make enough so that the next day I can make a giant turkey, stuffing, peas, and mashed potato casserole for anyone who wants to come over.

This year will be rough. Thanksgiving was my Daddy’s favorite holiday, too. I loved that he loved Russ’ Krab salad so much. He was so proud of me for doing it my way. He was so happy to be around his close family. This year I turn 39 two days before Thanksgiving, and yet I’ll still feel like a giddy little girl when we sit down to eat. I’ll be grateful for so many things. And I’ll also be profoundly sad. But I’ll get to laugh and cry and shovel food in my face at my own dining room table, because seven years ago I took Thanksgiving back. This is the Thanksgiving Garrett is growing up with. And I think that’s what I’m most thankful for.

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