I love Thanksgiving. It's my #1 favorite holiday ever. Here's why.
In a nutshell, that link takes you to the story of the very first holiday turkey I ever cooked, which was kind of significant because we didn't exactly celebrate holidays, or have money for food. Oh, and that I was eleven, cooking a turkey. My son is eleven right now, and I simply cannot imagine.
Basically, the food bank people know who the relgious crazies are and don't bother bringing them the bags of food that people donate at the grocery stores and the food drives. One year, someone accidentally left our family on the list, and two white people showed up at my doorstep with dinner.
The fact that two white people came into my neighborhood is story enough, really.
The other important fact to note is that the canned goods and groceries and money you donate actually do end up going to people, and you can be a Judgey McDickerson all you want about grown-ups not being able to feed their kids, but it's no child's fault they are born into poverty. That bag of food changed my life. Without it, I wouldn't be writing this post right now about fancy-pants Thankgiving turkey, this much I guarantee you. Tis the season, and stuff.
This is the year I figured out how to clean as I go with the cooking. It's reassuring to know that I'm not the only late bloomer. Because of this, I was able to take 27 8X10 color glossies with the circles and the arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, explainin what each one was, to be used as evidence against my Thanksgiving dinner, but of course I took most of them on my phone, and of course the day after Thanksgiving my phone's memory card decided to reformat itself. Because fuck my life.
I can still tell you what I made, and how I made it, pictures be damned...and it's all after the jump.
People will tell you that the secret to turkey is one thing or the other, but the secret to good turkey is a Home Depot bucket, some dental floss and a stick'a butter.
When children's TV was still good aside:
You need the bucket to brine the turkey in. Most everyone I know has figured out that brining is good, but almost no one I know gets how to do it. How you do it is you throw your turkey in a Home Depot bucket with enough water and ice and salt to cover it, and you put that on your porch over night (provided you live somewhere cold enough to keep it under 40 degrees). That's brining.
I like to throw in the leftovers of anything else I'm making for thanksgiving. This year, I had a lemon theme for my dinner, so I threw a bunch of lemon quarters in the brine, with some onion quarters and some whole garlic cloves and black peppercorns and a handful of whole herb bunches - just the leftover parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
I just saw the new Muppet movie and it made me miss being a kid, which is really saying something, all things considered aside:
I also like to toss some Kikkoman or Lea & Perrins in my brine, because yum.
You need the dental floss because you will forget, like you forget every year, goddammit, to buy butcher's twine and you need something to tie the turkey legs together so that gravity doesn't rip your turkey in half while you roast it. Do not use minty dental floss.
You need the stick of butter to make the turkey butter. I've heard of people covering their turkeys in butter-soaked cheesecloth, or basting with butter (like my brother and I did with that very first turkey ever) but the amazing this about skin is it's ability to keep everything OUT and you want the butter IN so you have to go under the skin.
If you buy one of those turkey injector kits, I will keeell yoooou.
All you have to do it soften butter, add some stuff to it if you're into that sort of thing, and then rub it under the skin. Really, it's so easy, my ridiculously adorable nephew who just had a third row of teeth removed (really) (not kidding) can do it.
What you add to the butter is what dicates, largely, what your turkey will taste like. I usually make a mushroom butter with:
- 1 ounce soaked porcini mushrooms (my personal favorite mushroom), minus 1/3 cup once soaked
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 1/2 sticks of butter
- 1/4 cupish chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tbspish each chopped fresh thyme, rosemary and mint
- 1 tspish salt
- 1 tspish black pepper
Basically, I throw all of that into my mini-Cuisinart (best kitchen item I own, no joke) (unsponsored) and chop the hell out of it, and voila! Mushroom butter!
This year, instead of going savory for Thanksgiving, I went citrusy, so I had to make a lemon butter. That went a little sumthin' like this:
- 1 whole lemon peel, finely chopped
- 1 entire small head of garlic, roasted
- 1 1/2 sticks of room-temp butter
- 1/4 cupish chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tbsp dried fennel (because *you* try finding fresh fennel in suburban Texas)
- 1 small shallot, chopped
- 1 tspish each salt and black pepper
And all that goes in the mini-Cuisinart and gets processed until you have lemon butter. That gets rubbed under the skin of the turkey, and then I threw a bunch of lemon slices under the skin, too, and "stuffed" the turkey with a few lemon quarters, a few onion quarters, some more of those leftover herb bunches, a few cloves of garlic and some quartered oranges.
A little dental floss to tie it all up, some EVOO, salt and pepper on top, 3 cups of water in the roasting pan and enough foil to cover the whole thing, and the turkey is pretty much done. Roast at 350° until it's 165°/170° inside.
My very first grown up holiday was spent with my then-boyfriend's family. I was slightly more than pregnant with their first illegitimate relative and so they asked me to bring that French's Green Bean casserole monstrosity, which is how you say "we really aren't all that fond of you" in food.
I'd never made, seen, or eaten that stuff before. I haven't since, either. I usually make my own mushroom soup with porcini and cremini mushrooms, add steamed beans and top it fried leeks and shallots. This year, I went the complete opposite of that, with:
- 2 pounds green beans and
- 1 wedged onion, tossed in
- 2 tbsp EVOO and
- 1 tbspish dried marjoram (because *you* try finding fresh marjoram in suburban Texas)
...all tossed together and roasted for about 15 minutes at 450°, turned halfway through. After the roasted until they started to brown a little in a few spots, they got tossed with:
- 1 tsp lemon peel
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 cup chopped almonds
Everyone I live with hated them. I loved them. I am also the only person in the house who seems capable of peeing *into* the toilet every single time, so I win.
I saw going to make my friend Sarah's Greyere Scalloped Potato recipe for dinner, but I am a creature of habit and when I got to the store, I went on auto-pilot and came home with everything to make my go-to holiday potatoes, the recipe for which can be found here. They didn't suck.
They never do.
The Other Stuff
Stove Top and canned cranberry sauce. Because the answer is always Stove Top and canned cranberry sauce. #tradition
And then you take everything left in the roasted pan when the turkey is done and you strain out most of the chucks. I don't strain out all the chucks, like you would with cheesecloth, because I like some chucks.
That is what gravy looks like on the inside. That top right ramekin is about:
- 2 tbsp leftover fat from the pan drippings, which gets used to saute bottom center ramekin, containing
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped and
- 1 small shallot, chopped
After about two minutes, add
- 1/4 cup flour
and stir over heat for about 4-5 minutes, until it's golden. That, friends, is your roux. Roux is what makes a sauce thick, without making it full of flour clumps.
To that you add your degreased pan drippings (mixed with enough water or chicken/turkey stock to make around 2 cups) and two more cups of stock, so like four cups total, but really, it's not an exact science. I think I had like 5 1/4 cups up there, all from the pan. See: butter under the skin ftw.
So, you just bring that to a boil and then simmer it, and add whatever else you're going to add, which for me was:
- 2 tbsp of that lemon butter (bottom right ramekin) I made for the turkey (I just saved some)
- 1 tsp lemon peel (center right ramekin)
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp dried fennel (or fresh, if you don't live in the middle of Gunsmoke)
- 1/4 chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tsp chopped fresh sage
Add a little lemon juice (like I did) will have the same effect as adding a little clip art, so I'd recommend against.
The only PSA you'll ever need to hear aside:
I make cheesecake for every holiday dessert because cheesecake is what tiggers do best.
Cheesecake is kind of hard to screw up...you could follow the directions on the back of a package of Philly's and make a pretty damn fine cheesecake. I personally think chocolate and cheesecake should never, ever mix, but I can accept that I am the minority on that one. I usually make pumpkin cheesecake for Thanksgiving, but my daughter has been on a pumpkin pie baking kick and I am seeing orange now.
Too much information, because no one is reading this anymore aside: Seeing orange > peeing orange > peeing orange in the shower after you've forgotten that you've taken some mystery pills your Texas Bestie gave you for a UTI which make you pee radioactive Tang because remembering this after you've started peeing orange in the shower only goes to absolutely terrify you because A) that color shouldn't come out of your body and B) now you know your personal spray radius, and it's formidable.
So this year I made a plain old cheesecake (add sour cream, a lot of sour cream, like 24 oz sour cream; that's the secret) on a plain old graham cracker crust except that, before I made the crust, I made a tray of pralines by mixing:
- 1/2 cup pecan halves
- 1/2 tsp melted butter
- 1/2 tbsp white sugar
- 2 tsbp light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp heavy cream
- a pinch of salt
and then baking them on a cookie sheet with parchment paper at 375 until they caramelized, about 15 minutes.
Then those got chopped up (all but 12 for garnish on top later) and mixed into the graham crust. So that all bakes at 375 for an hour with a pan full of boiling water somewhere in the oven.
People will say you have to put the springform pan into a pan of boiling water. People will also say that Rick Perry would make an *awesome* president. The water just has to be in the stove, to keep the cheesecake from cracking.
I wish this theory of humidity applied to my face.
If you wanted to get fancy, you could throw some marscapone and frangelico into the cheesecake filling, which, by the way, is amazing with praline crust, but the kicker here is the caramel sauce for on top of the cheesecake.
I'd never made a caramel sauce before, only hard caramel. Oh Em Gee, people. SO MUCH OF THE EASYS.
- 4 tablespoons unsalted, softened butter
- 2 tbsp white sugar
- 2 tbsp light brown sugar
- 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
Bring that to a boil (and yes, it will boil and yes, if you touch it, it will be a pain that lingers) and then keep it at a boil for two minutes. You can really never stop stirring it, so you can skip your upper body workout for the day. after 2 minutes, add
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
and boil for two more minutes. No touchy, no tasty, no resty. Then remove from the heat, put into a heat safe dish, and add
- 1/4 tsp vanilla
- 1/4 tsp salt
Let it cool enough to serve over a cheesecake, or cool it all the way and store it in a tupperware in the fridge. To reheat it, just put the tupperware into a pan of boiling water and stir it around a little.
It's serously the best stuff I have ever put in my mouth, and, well, bygones.