Friday, November 26, 2010


The table is set with my great grandmother, Hannah's china

It's Thanksgiving day and I've been working on the big feast for a better part of a week.  The turkey stock was the first step with five pounds of turkey wings, carrots, celery, leeks, onions stuck with whole cloves, peppercorns, and parsley.  Once done, it chilled outside overnight so I could easily lift the cold fat that rose to the surface.  Strained, and reduced, some of it was frozen for soup in January with two quarts for the big day.

My mis-matched sterling flatware, freshly polished

Cranberry sauce was next.  I've been doing Craig Claiborne's cranberry orange relish from his 1961 masterwork, The New York Times Cookbook.  Its got whole fresh cranberries (when I first started making this, Cranberries were available in pound bags, but have been 12-ounces for many years now, and I 've had to adapt Claiborne's original), orange zest, orange juice, sugar, and toasted almond slivers.  It's still my favorite and after Thanksgiving, I'm often in the fridge with a spoon, which I eat right out of the container.

I've been also making a braided loaf of bread with onion (sometimes scallions), sour cream, flour, dill weed and dill seed, salt, yeast, egg, etc.  I've made it by hand, in the bread machine, or adapted it so that the bread machine mixes and kneads the dough and I let it rise and bake it in the oven.  I've been made it into rolls.  This year I did the whole braided loaf.  It makes fantastic sandwiches for the leftovers.

I should have known there was something wrong with this pie.  It was far more pale looking than I ever remembered.

Pumpkin pie is the only dessert I'm bothering with this year--we're only five people.  I use pureed canned pumpkin, do my own spice mix and make my own pie crust.  I'll serve it with whipped cream.

Creamed onions were next.  A Mowery family tradition, my version has changed often.  At one point I was making a six-onion casserole (leeks, Spanish onions, shallots, scallions, pearl onions, and chives), but I wanted something simpler this year.  So going back to basics, I parboiled a pound of frozen pearl onions (so much easier than peeling all those little ones and no tears) and while they were draining, put two tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan and when melted, added to tablespoons of flour and mixed it into a roux for about two minutes before adding a about two cups of turkey stock and a pinch of cayenne. I finished the sauce with two tablespoons of homemade creme fraiche  before adding the onions back to the veloute.  Into a covered baking dish they went before being refrigerated overnight.  All they would need was a dusting of Asiago and Parmesan cheese before baking.  

John Baker, one of my guests, sent over a gorgeous arrangement of flowers for the table, and I decided to bring out the good china and silver and really set a proper table.

Last night I assembled the stuffing--a grand mix of Italian sausage, cornbread cubes from Trader Joe's (without the usual spices and preservatives), leeks, mushrooms, an orange pepper, celery, onions, fresh chopped parsley, egg and turkey stock.  I combined a special poultry mix of my own for the first time instead of using that classic stuffing spice mixture from the supermarket. The combination included fresh rosemary, thyme.  My sage in the garden had frozen, so the balance of herbs and spices came from the pantry:  marjoram, red pepper flakes, salt, onion and garlic powders, and freshly ground black pepper.  This was packed into a big baking dish and refrigerated overnight.

The whole Thanksgiving enchilada

I always get a small turkey--no more than 14 pounds because I've been making a turkey that I saw Julia Child demonstrate in the 80s and I never veer from this method.  It's virtually boneless (except for the drumsticks) with the wings removed entirely, and the whole thing turned skin side up in a large roasting pan.  I put a light film of canola oil over the skin, and dust it with dried thyme, salt and pepper.  I broil it for 45 minutes (tenting the bird if the skin gets too browned), and then finish the final 45 minutes in the oven.  Julia originally did it in a grill, but it's too cold to do that here.  What emerges from the oven is a gorgeously browned bird with uniformly well cooked (and not over-cooked) breast and thigh meat. It's a joy to carve and clean up is a breeze.  I have enough pan juices for an excellent gravy.

This morning, I boned the turkey and managed for the first time to stab myself with the boning knife twice, and then when I was breaking the carcass down to put in a bag for the freezer, a sharp bone cut a line in the palm of my hand.  I think the turkey was getting its revenge. It was a war zone in my kitchen!

The last item besides the gravy was an inspired combination.  I tossed large Brussels sprouts onto a baking sheet with a combination of cut purple, red bliss and Yukon gold potatoes and extra virgin olive oil and mixed in fresh rosemary leaves, and thyme sprigs and salt.  They would roast in the oven with the dressing and onions while the turkey rested and I made the gravy.  

The wonderful thing about this turkey preparation is that there's just a small amount of fat, so you don't really have to separate them fat from the juice--it's about two tablespoons.  So I heated up the pan juices and mixed a quarter cup of flour into about a cup of cold water.  I poured this mixed slurry into my roasting pan an stirred for about a minute or so to cook off the flour before adding about 1/2 cup of white wine and then turkey stock, whisking the combination vigorously as the flour dissolved and formed a silky sauce as I scraped up the fond at the bottom of the pan which helped to brown the gravy.  Salt, pepper, dried thyme were added next before the final addition of three tablespoons of creme fraiche.  

We sat down to eat at about 5:15 PM.  My Thanksgiving dinner was a triumph. I've never made a better stuffing in my life.  The decision to make my own sage-based seasoning, and then the last-minute idea of adding a big pinch of red pepper flakes to the stuffing added something very special.  Instead of heat, the pepper flakes added a peppery warmth that was even better at lunch this afternoon.  The other inspired decision was the combination of Brussels sprouts with the potatoes and herbs.  I'll never put myself through the inconvenience of mashed potatoes again.  The vegetables were golden and tender.  

John's Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir perfectly complimented our meal.  The table looked gorgeous and I sat watching my friends eating and drinking and laughing, thinking to myself we indeed had something to be thankful about on this day.  Even the perpetual Portland rain took a vacation.  It was sunny outside. 

So there I was smugly basking in the compliments of my guests, proud that I had not over-eaten.  We had espresso and then dessert.  Good thing Jean-Francois brought a very pretty, small white layer cake with raspberry filing and a white chocolate genache frosting.  Why? When I put a forkful of pumpkin pie in my mouth, I had a rude reaction.  "Blech," I said to myself as I put my fork down.  I forgot the sugar!  

left to right Kyle, John Baker, Jean-Francois and Jay

Hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving!

No comments:

Post a Comment