Photos from past TG feasts are a good indication of what to expect this year. Our turkeys are ordered from Detwiler’s Farm Market, the guest list is finalized (mostly), the scrapple for the post-TG scrapple tasting is in the freezer and the wine is selected. My brother Hugh’s birthday – October 4th – marks the start of the Holiday Season, with Kevin’s on March 24th marking the end. And then it’s Spring! So we enjoy this six month long celebration of food, and start planning the first major meal weeks ahead of time. Winter will just fly by!
For the past several years our turkey has not been the traditional Norman Rockwell centerpiece, but rather a “ballotine”, which is basically a de-boned turkey stuffed with turkey sausage. You can see how this is done on the Serious Eats website, found here. It is quite a dramatic presentation, carving is a cinch and everyone gets white and dark meat. (If you have, like we do, a lot of dark meat eaters at the table, just roast a couple extra thighs with the main event and
we’ll they’ll be happy.) You can also watch Jacques and Julia put one together here. It is a terrific change from the whole turkey with the dried out breast and tendon-filed legs which is often the result of roasting a 20 pound turkey, no matter how well it is brined and basted.
Another option is to spatch-cock your turkey. The presentation is not as dramatic as that whole roasted bird at the head of the table, but it solves the dried out breast problem, speeds up the cooking time, and guarantees plenty of crisp skin. Once again, Serious Eats has a comprehensive tutorial for this method, which makes it look pretty easy and pretty delicious.
At our house, the sides are pot luck, with some repeats from year to year that we cannot live without – corn pudding and scalloped oysters are the two most constants on the buffet – but there is also always something new. This year we’re thinking about ditching the Brussels sprouts in favor of curried cauliflower, channeling Mark Bittman. I’m in favor because #1 the idea of a curry dish on the ThanksGiving menu adds a little diversity to the table and #2 the cauliflower is chopped up, which I’m hoping will help it retain its heat better than the whole florets sitting on the sideboard. Here’s how you do it:
Gobi Taktakin from Mark Bittman’s “The Best Recipes in the World”
Finely chop a small red onion and a medium head of cauliflower. Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a non-stick skillet – large enough for your cauliflower to fit into in one layer – to medium high. Add 1/2 Tbs. (or more if you like it) cumin seeds to the oil and let them fry briefly, for 20 – 30 seconds, then add half the chopped onion and all of the cauliflower. Add 1 Tbs. curry powder and season well with salt, pepper and cayenne. Cook, stirring and tossing until the onion has caramelized and the florets have lightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Add 1/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro to the pan, toss and transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle with the remaining red onion and serve hot or at room temperature, garnished with wedges of lime.
(I will add that we really like this cookbook of Bittman’s, so much so that after having it out of the library for several weeks, Kevin found a used copy for our own shelves!)
And then there is the “pumpkin” pie, made with roasted butternut squash in lieu of pumpkin, fresh or canned. Butternut or some other yellow fleshed winter squash (Hubbard is another good choice here) makes superior pie, IMHO, because it is drier when it’s cooked, which offers a better texture when made into a pie. My recipe comes from the “Wilson Farm Country Cookbook”. This has been my go-to pumpkin pie recipe forever:
“Pumpkin” Pie a la Wilson Farm
Preheat the oven to 425. Prepare one unbaked 10″ pie shell. Beat together 3 whole eggs. Add 1 1/2 cups of milk and 3/4 cups of cream to the eggs. In a separate bowl, mix 3 cups of prepared squash or pumpkin with 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1 Tbs. of your favorite pumpkin pie spice. (to make your own, sift together 1 Tbs. cinnamon, 2 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, 1 1/2 tsp. ginger and 3/4 tsp. cloves, mix it together thoroughly and measure out the amount you need.) Beat the egg/milk mixture carefully into the puree. Pour into your pie shell (which you can first blind bake if you prefer, but I never do) and bake for 20 minutes at 425. Rotate the pie, reduce the oven temperature to 350 and continue to bake, rotating a couple of times, for about 35-45 more minutes, or until set.
This year I swear I am not going to make cranberry sauce. Last year I caved and made some, which I just threw out about a week ago. No one at our table ever eats it! I’m thinking cranberry jelly out of the can is going to be just as welcome and can be reconstituted as a cranberry glaze later on, after it sits untouched during the meal. But there will be homemade pickles available, for that sharp flavor you need to cut through all the richness – cucumber and cherry for sure. (When we were kids it was very important that the ThanksGiving table was laden with produce and products from our own garden and pantry, and that still holds true today, although the mantra for produce is more local than hyper-local. The Chestertown Farmers Market opens on the Wednesday before TG, which is always a very festive time and also when we hope to pick up our cauliflower!)
The next two weeks are going to go very fast! Get your pie dough made and put it in the freezer, make that damned cranberry sauce now too, if you want, because obviously it keeps for a year. Shop for all the non-perishables before the crowds at the local groceries become unbearable – and they will – and get your wine now too, while choices are still plentiful. This weekend would be good time to write a check-list, so as to catch your spouse/partner/helper off-guard at your preparedness and make it easier to enlist their help. Division of labor needs to be discussed and agreed upon, after all, no surprises. Of course, if you are lucky enough to be invited to someone else’s home, all of this is moot. Pick up a very nice bottle of champagne, for then or later, figure out what you are going to say when it is your turn to express Thankfulness, and you are good to go.