Saturday, December 6, 2008

Thanksgiving! - Turkey Deluxe and More!

I had an amazing Thanksgiving. The preparation of the food was thrust upon me and my sister at very near the last moment. We were at the grocery store until midnight on the phone with our mom. But you know what? We didn't mess anything up! We cooked everything we set out to cook! And it was delicious! I'm so proud.

The hardest thing about Thanksgiving was getting the timing right. We had so many things to cook in the oven that all had to be done before the turkey. We were up until three baking the night before, and Haley was up at six to finish before putting in the turkey around 830 or 9.

We made:
  • turkey & gravy
  • cranberry goo
  • sautéed squash
  • creamed spinach
  • cornbread dressing
  • rice
  • mashed potatoes
  • cheesy potatoes
  • corn
  • pumpkin crunch
  • pecan bars

Turkey Deluxe

Neither of us had cooked a turkey before. We had consulted with Mom, of course, and I had chatted with a customer where I work the day before. He swore it would be no good unless we brined the turkey first. Haley is a science nerd and thusly loves Alton Brown (I do too!) -- so we started with his Roast Turkey recipe here that Haley had seen on the teevee. Here's her prepping the brine.

We used a big fine gallon paint bucket to brine it. The brine is basically lots of salt, brown sugar, pepper and vegetable broth. You boil it up, pour it in the bucket, stick the turkey in breasts down, then cover it with icy cold water. It stayed out on my porch for about six hours, and we flipped it halfway through. I think with brining, the longer the better. Ed from the clinic said he brines his for twelve hours!

Next you add some aromatics -- the stuff you stick inside the turkey. We followed Alton and did apples (Minnesota Honeycrisp, a variety of apple designed by my alma mater) and onions.

Then you just stick it in the oven. You do it extra hot first, like, 450 or something. Then you bring it down after about half an hour. Unfortunately my oven is about this _____ big and really old, so even after we somehow made the 19 pound turkey fit inside of it, the house filled up with black smoke really badly. And I ain't got no ventilation. So we took it out and decided to bring it over to Nate's parents' house. Here's me with the already lovely turkey at 9 in the morning.

When we got there, the Rowans showed us their turkey trick: a big plastic baking bag. It keeps the moisture and flavor locked in and keeps things from burning and smoking. It cooked maybe... four hours? I won't give you the turkey porn 'til the end. Here's some other food.

Cranberry Goo

This is just cranberry goo. From cans. One of them was regular cranberry sauce (not jelly) and the other was whole cranberries. Mixed together. Rob made this. And how!

Creamed Spinach

Creamed spinach was easier and deliciouser than I thought. Apparently this is a staple to my sister because it's something her best friend always makes for Thanksgiving. We used two blocks of frozen spinach, cooked according to the directions. Then you sauté some onions -- usually scallions or something -- but we used purple because that's all we had by the time we got it -- with some butter and garlic. Once the spinach is done, throw it in and add about a cup of cream or half & half. Cook it until it thickens up. Don't forget salt & pepper. Voila!

Simple Squash

Oh god I love squash. Ain't nothin' better than sautéed squash. Just butter, onions and squash until they soften. And lots of Tony's.

Canfield Cornbread Dressing

Next is the crown jewel of this Thanksgiving -- my Maw-Maw's cornbread dressing. I was never a very big fan of this, but holy cow was it the most delicious thing ever when we made it. I think the reason was that it was a little crispier this time around.

It's sort of an ordeal, but worth it. Start by baking two boxes of cornbread into either one 9x13 or two 9x9s. Once it cools, crumble it up!

Then you boil a pound of chicken after seasoning. My mom does thighs, but I did breasts because I hate bones. While it's boiling, brown a pound of ground beef, well seasoned. Take the chicken out, let cool and then shred. You can do this with your hands or a couple of forks. It's a technique that anyone who's made authentic Mexican food should be familiar with.

While you're shredding, put all the turkey giblets (You know, they extra stuff that's in a bag inside the turkey. It's, like, the liver and heart and stuff.) into the same chicken water and boil those too. I know it's gross, but it's delicious. Now, if I'm not mistaken, my mom puts the giblets into the cornbread dressing -- or at least the neck meat. I know I couldn't stomach getting the neck meat off. Haley tried, but even she got grossed out. (In my mind, I have Nate quoting Napoleon's brother Kip: "You're bruising my neck meat!") Phydeaux was really happy to get the giblets. For us, they just made the broth amazing.

Chop up a couple of green bell peppers, an onion, some green onions and a bunch of parsley. Mix the crumbled cornbread, the shredded chicken, the ground beef, the peppers, the onions, the green onions and the parsley. Then put them in either one 9x13 or two 9x9s (or 8x8s?). Smush it down so it's packed tight, then pour the chicken and giblet broth over it. Not too much! You don't want it to be soggy. Then bake 'em!! About an hour at 350, of course. When they're golden brown around the edges, you'll want to scoop it up out of the hot baking dish with your bare hands it'll smell so good. Don't though!

Please make this your desktop background like I did. It's just so beautiful.

The Rest

This is the pumpkin crunch featured in the last post!

You know Krusteaz? Haley had wanted to make pecan pie, but we settled for a box of pecan bars. They're great! Really. Try them.

Sharon made her signature turkey gravy. Cold water and a Thunderstick are the two secrets, but I won't give away any more without permission.

Nate's Dad Bruce always cuts the turkey with this ancient electric knife, but this year he passed the honors on to Natey! I cried a little; it was my first time cooking Thanksgiving dinner and Nate's first time cutting the turkey. How pukishly domestic of us. I love it!!

Here's the food porn. GUH. SO GOOD.

All in all, the holiday was a complete success. Haley and I didn't sleep much, but we learned that moms and dads that cook Thanksgiving dinners do a lot of work with a lot of love. I'm really happy that I got to share the experience with Haley and Rob and Nate. And Charlie came to dinner too!

Thanks to the Rowans for letting us bring all the food over to their house and helping with the turkey when we were clueless. Thanks to Rob for some awesome photographic memories and help with dinner. Thanks to Nate for cutting the turkey and playing mandola all day. Thanks to Charlie for his pure self. Thanks to Mom for the Thanksgiving know-how and the many years of home-cooked meals. Thanks to Alton Brown for the rest. And a big dumb sentimental thanks to my big dumb sentimental sister Haley. I miss you!

The one thing I missed this Thanksgiving? Good ol' green bean casserole. But when I tried to make it, I didn't have enough green beans! What ever did I improvise? How badly did I adulterate a classic?? Find out next time in ... Experimental Cookery!

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