Since my husband and I moved away from our families this summer, it was the first time we were having a big holiday on our own. We certainly missed our families, but we wanted to do something fun instead of wallowing over the holiday weekend. One of Arlond's co-workers graciously invited us into her home on Thanksgiving, where we had a very yummy traditional turkey dinner.
Then on Saturday, Arlond and I invited some friends over and had our very own Thanksgiving feast. We'd both helped out with big holiday meals before, but this was the first time we did it on our own. So naturally, it was an adventure.
First things first, we had to decide on a menu. After careful debate, we finally settled on the following:
Organic Free-Range Roasted Turkey
Sweet Potato Casserole
Persimmon Bread Pudding
Note: Our friends also brought rolls, salad, and green bean casserole.
Next, we had to figure out how to make all of this. We'd made mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, and deviled eggs a million times, so that was no problem, but pretty much everything else was a first. My dad is the ultimate turkey expert, so I called him and made him tell me everything there is to know about cooking turkey. I took notes on an envelope. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
"How many people are you serving? 8? You'll probably need at least a 12-pound turkey so you have leftovers." (This was WAAAAAY too much turkey. I really probably only needed 8-9 pounds, but I think we ate most of it... eventually.)
"Defrost the turkey." (I just bought a non-frozen one. Check.)
"I don't really know what the recommended cooking temperature and time are off hand. Just look them up online. There are charts." (Note: These charts are all for conventional turkeys...which will come into play as the story progresses...)
"Find a stuffing recipe you like. Try to find a really moist stuffing so your turkey will be moist too. I really like stuffing so I stuff as much stuffing into every nook and cranny of the bird. Once the bottom gets full, I'll shove some in the neck cavity too. Toothpicks are really good for holding everything in. I usually still have more stuffing leftover, so I'll wrap it up in foil and cook it next to the turkey." (Yeah, my dad really is obsessed with stuffing. I never really cared for it and was really only making it for the sake of a moist bird. The side pouch is a good way to set stuffing aside for your vegetarian friends and family, too!)
"Put your turkey in a foil pan or a roasting pan if you have one, but the foil pan will work. Then pour milk all over it. Pour until you've got between 1/2 and 1 inch pooled at the bottom of the pan. Then take a stick of butter and rub it all over the turkey. Like, the whole stick. Then put it in the oven and every 15-20 minutes rub more butter on it. Just use one of those pop-up timers so you'll know when it's done." (The butter and milk sounds pretty ridiculous, but it is amazing. My dad makes the best turkey ever, so this is solid gold advice right here.)
So then I asked my dad about making gravy:
"I'm not really that great at making gravy. It usually tastes good, but it always looks bad. It's probably because the turkey juice is so buttery. So I'd recommend trying to skim off as much grease as possible before starting. But stir the turkey juice in a sauce pan on low heat and slowly add in flour and water until it looks like gravy. If it's too thin, add more flour. If it's too thick, add more water. If you need more gravy, you can just water it down some more and then add more flour to thicken it back up."
So there you have it. My dad's uncanny turkey wisdom. Next I had to figure out about stuffing. As I mentioned more subtly earlier, I hate stuffing. Savory stuffing tastes like over-parsley-ed soggy bread, and I have a strong aversion to sweet stuffing (my dad's preferred choice) because I just can't accept mixing sweetness and meat juice together. It just doesn't seem right. So I perused my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook and found a recipe for Mediterranean Stuffing (p.481):
8 cups Italian bread cubes
3/4 cup chopped bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon rosemary
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup parsley (I think I toned this down a bit though)
1 to 1 1/4 cup chicken broth
1. Place bread cubes in single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake at 375°F for 10 minutes or until golden, stirring once, set aside.
2. Cook bell pepper, onion, and garlic in hot oil for about 4 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, rosemary, and cayenne pepper. Toss bread cubes, onion mixture, and parsley in a large bowl. Drizzle with enough broth to moisten.
Better Homes and Gardens also hooked me up with an amazingly easy recipe for cranberry sauce (p. 522):
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 cups cranberries
Combine sugar and water in medium saucepan and bring to a boil for 5 minutes to dissolve sugar. Add cranberries. Return to boiling, then reduce heat. Boil gently and uncovered until cranberries pop, stirring occasionally.
I had recently bought some persimmons from the farmer's market and wasn't sure what to do with them until I found the recipe for persimmon bread pudding on the Whole Foods website.
For the pumpkin pie, I wanted to use real pumpkin instead of the canned pumpkin, so I compared notes between my mom and Better Homes and Gardens, and used this recipe:
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter
4-5 tablespoons cold water
1. Mix flour and salt in medium bowl and add butter and mash in until butter is in pea-sized pieces.
2. Sprinkle water over mixture and blend. Repeat until dough is moistened. Form into a ball.
3. Roll out dough until about 12 inches wide. Place in pie pan and trim edges.
2 cups puréed pumpkin (Cut up pumpkin and roast for about an hour. Peel and purée.)
1/2 cup sugar
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 heaping teaspoon ginger
1/4 heaping teaspoon nutmeg
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cloves
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine pumpkin, sugar, and spices. Add eggs, beat lightly with a fork until combined. Gradually add cream, stir until just combined.
2. Place pie pan and crust on oven rack and carefully pour filling into pastry shell. Cover edge of pie with foil to prevent over browning. Bake 25 minutes, remove foil and bake another 25 minutes until it passes the toothpick test.
Then the big day came. We had most of the ingredients on hand, but we had to buy a few things that day. We inevitably made three trips to the grocery store when it was all said and done, but oh well. We started off with prepping the turkey and the stuffing:
Our beautiful turkey friend, "Hank", named after his cousin on New Girl
Thanks to my crafty chicken de-boning skills, I easily pulled this right out. I'm pretty sure it's Hank's man parts, but Arlond tried to convince me that it was his neck. Either way, I'm not ashamed to admit that I played with it for like 10 minutes before Arlond made me throw it away.
Everything started off really well and was going smoothly. And then Hank had a little surprise for us about an hour before he was supposed to be done...
Arlond: "Uh... Hank's done."
Me: "What do you mean, he's done?! He's got like another hour!"
Arlond: "No. the pop-up popped up. I checked with the meat thermometer and he's done."
This is when things started to get crazy.
Between the two of us, we had just started the deviled eggs, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, and bread pudding. And now the turkey needed to be carved and gravy needed to be made. So the bread pudding and sweet potato casserole got finished up first so we could throw them both in the oven. Then we had to get the deviled eggs done so they were out of the way because they were EVERYWHERE. Arlond continued to work on his little mashed potato project by himself and the cranberry sauce was pretty self-sufficient and only needed an occasional stir-up from me. Meanwhile I'm praying someone will show up early and save us from this nightmare (PS: No one did). And Hank pretty much got the shaft after he got done early.
Why did he get done so early you ask? Here is my theory: As I mentioned previously, Hank was an organic free-range turkey. Conventional turkeys are actually grossly mis-proportioned because they are systematically bred to have the biggest breasts possible (everyone's favorite part... except me). Their breasts are so big they can't even stand up or walk. Turkey production is so messed up that almost no one raises turkeys that are reproduced the old-fashioned way. Instead, humans have to artificially inseminate the lady turkeys. (For more information, check out this article, or read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle). This sounds pretty awful and I wanted Hank to have a happy and full life. So as a result, his breasts were significantly smaller than a conventional turkey's breasts and so the section of the turkey that typically takes longest to cook because it's so big didn't take as long for Hank.
So about 45 minutes later when everything else was finally under wraps, Hank sat patiently waiting for more attention. We stuck him back in the oven for 15 minutes or so to warm him back up, and I think this ultimately led to his slight drying out. He wasn't dry dry, but he wasn't as juicy and tender as my dad's turkeys. A work in progress and not too bad for a first attempt, if I do say so myself.
After we took Hank back out of the oven, I drained the leftover turkey juice into the sauce pan and started adding flour. I was going very slowly and patiently, adding flour little by little. Once it got nice and thick, I added some water. This is about when I realized I should've been alternating flour and water, because it started getting even thicker. So I basically had a brown paste with a mild gravy flavor. Once I got it back to an appropriate consistency, I salted the bejeezus out of it and called it good. Not the best gravy ever, but passable. And again, now I know for next time.
Looks like gravy to me
Then after everyone showed up, we had a lovely meal:
My excellent carving job (I had no idea what I was doing)
Deviled Eggs, Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, and Sweet Potato Casserole
Persimmon and Chocolate Bread Pudding
Made-from-scratch Pumpkin Pie
So in the end, it wasn't perfect, but it was delicious and rewarding. Everyone enjoyed everything and had a good time hanging out. It was definitely a learning experience, and I'm excited for my next big holiday so I can show off my mad skillz (Easter, anyone?).