Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Thanksgiving Dinner Post

No flies on you, reader. You have evidently noticed that my Thanksgiving dinner post is appearing not on Thanksgiving or even on the day after Thanksgiving, but on the day after the day after Thanksgiving. How, you may ask, have I the chutzpah to do such a thing? I have no idea. But I can say that I was so incredibly overstuffed (because, you know, I don't believe in stuffing the turkey, and something has to get stuffed, and it might as well be me) on T-day itself that I couldn't even think of blogging, and then on the day after Thanksgiving, I had a very busy day with the girls. We did not participate in Black Friday, but A. wanted to go thrift shopping, so after L. and I caught a perfectly forgettable matinee, the three of us went to the thrift store that has the largest selection of clothes (at least among the thrift stores that I know about, which is doubtless a minority) and that is somewhat local. After more than an hour there (and you have no idea how painful it is for me to spend more than an hour to shop for anything that isn't either kitchen equipment or comestible), we left with a large bag stuffed full of clothes, including a red wool overcoat that, when A. tried it on, caused one of the other patrons to remark "shut up," which I believe is the highest praise that one woman can currently offer another in regards to her clothing.

Thanksgiving itself was a great success, and dinner was very good and much appreciated. I did not quite make everything I had hoped to make, but one of the great pleasures of having only my two daughters for guests is that anything besides the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and an appropriate beverage (this year it was equal parts pomegranate juice and ginger ale: a big hit) is considered superfluous (they will eat the green vegetable, and they will at least try any Jell-o-based foods, but anything beyond that is pushing it), so the fact that I didn't get around to making the deep-fried sweet potato chips went unnoticed by the girls, and had I mentioned it, they would only have been relieved.

The eventual menu:

Roast Turkey
Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Green Salad
Steamed Broccoli with Browned Butter
Cranberry Sauce

Butternut squash pie
Chocolate pecan pie

I roast my turkey pretty much exactly the way that Alton Brown told me to. His method involves brining the turkey, and I am now convinced that there is no better (or even half as good) way to prepare a turkey. Some people will say that brining a minimally processed turkey is no different from buying a turkey that has had some sort of saline solution injected into it, but that is crazy talk. While it is true that both processes have the same goal, God only knows what they inject into those turkeys or how long ago they've had that stuff injected into them. By brining yourself, you control exactly what goes into the turkey and when it goes in.

You can put whatever you like into the brining liquid (though it's not a brine if it doesn't have something close to the right amount of salt in it). The preferred proportion of salt to water is one cup to one gallon. I generally need a gallon-and-a-half to fully submerge my turkey (I would need a great deal less if I had some large food-safe bags sitting around that I could wrap the turkey and the brine in, but I don't, alas) in its big pot, so I start with six quarts of water and 1.5 cups of kosher salt. I put this in the big pot, and bring it to a simmer, and I add a large onion, cut in half, several ribs of celery, a few carrots, two bay leaves, and a teaspoon of black peppercorns. I let this simmer for an hour or so, covered, and then I take the whole pot, still covered, and sit it outside the back door, where the very cooperative weather cools it down within a couple of hours. Then I free the turkey from its packaging, remove the giblets, etc., wash it thoroughly, dry it, and submerge it in the big pot.

At this point, I make a heroic, but ultimately futile, effort to find enough room in the refrigerator for the big pot, and then I take my trusty digital thermometer out to the garage, where I determine that the temperature is in the fifties, so I open the garage door and let the colder outside air in, while I go back inside and check on something else. Then I go back out and note that the temperature is down in the low forties, so I bring the pot outside, and put some packing tape on the lid to make sure that it doesn't come off, and go back inside. Then I worry that low forties might not really be cold enough, so I go back into the garage and open the door again, and take the pot just outside the garage door and cover it with the inverted recycling container, just to make sure that if the imaginary rabid squirrels come around, they won't be able to get into my big pot of brining turkey.

You should, of course, feel free to adapt the above procedure, if you aren't fortunate enough to be as batshit insane as I.

The next day, when you're about ready to cook your turkey (about two to two-and-a-half hours before you want to serve it, for a twelve-pound turkey), preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Dry the turkey off and put it in a shallow pan, on a rack. Rub the turkey all over with a flavorless oil. Take a fifteen-inch square of heavy duty foil and fold it in half to form a doubly thick triangle. Oil one side of the triangle, and fit the foil, oiled side down, over the turkey breast, as if you were making a breastplate. Remove and reserve the breastplate, and stick a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast meat, and put the turkey in the oven. Set the timer for 30 minutes, and when it goes off, reduce the heat to 350, put the breastplate on the turkey breast, and set the temperature alarm on your probe thermometer (if you don't have one, you need one) to 161 degrees. When it goes off, remove the turkey from the oven and let sit for fifteen minutes. Remove the breastplate, carve and serve. Absolutely delicious.

And that's all there is to it. Do not baste. In fact, you need open the oven only three times: once to put the turkey in, once to put the foil on, and once to pull the turkey out. (Except that you will likely have to open it to put one or more side dishes in, unless you have two full-sized ovens, which I have not.)

Keep in mind that because your turkey has been brined, the drippings will be very flavorful but also very salty. When you go to make gravy with them, let them sit for a bit, then pour off as much fat as possible. Mix some of the fat with a quarter-cup of flour in a saucepan, cook for two or three minutes, then stir in the remaining (partially defatted) drippings and bring the mixture to a simmer. It will be far too thick and far too salty to eat, so stir in milk and continue to simmer until the gravy has achieved a desirable level of thickness and saltiness. Grind in some pepper if you like.

You cannot use my (ok, Alton's) roasting method if you want your turkey stuffed, but you don't want your turkey stuffed. You may think you do, but you are, I regret to inform you, mistaken. If you want stuffing, make it separately. You can still call it stuffing, and no laws will have been broken, though some people will say that you've really made dressing. I am not sure that "dressing" and "stuffing" (both being gerunds) come from verbs that are sufficiently different, with respect to turkey, that the nouns are really distinguishable, but I leave that matter to my linguistic betters. I don't especially want to call my bread-based side dish either stuffing or dressing. To me, it's really a savory bread pudding, so that's what I call it.

Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding

20 oz loaf multi-grain bread, cut into cubes (approximately 3/4" dice)
12 oz. wild mushrooms
12 oz. white mushrooms
1/2 stick butter
1 shallot of decent size, minced
1/3 cup chopped celery
1 t. salt
black pepper
1 t. dried rosemary, crumbled
3 eggs
2 cups milk

Melt butter in a skillet over low heat. Add shallot and cook until soft.

Turn heat to medium and toss in the wild mushrooms, cook until there is enough room in the pan for the cultivated mushrooms and add them. Cook until the mushrooms have stopped giving off water and have absorbed all or nearly all the butter. Stir in the celery and cook over low heat for another five minutes. Add 1/2 t. salt and grind some pepper on. Let cool.

Put the cubed bread in a bowl. Whisk together the eggs and milk. Whisk in 1/4 t. salt. Pour the liquids over the bread and stir to coat well. Add the rosemary and stir again. Cover and let sit for at least 1/2 hour. About an hour before you want to serve it, add the mushroom mixture to the bread mixture and stir well, then pack into a buttered pan and put in a 350 degree oven for forty-five minutes to an hour, or until it's done the way you like it.

When I went to Costco earlier this week, they had fresh oyster and shiitake mushrooms as well as regular white mushrooms, so I got a package of each. I used six ounces each of oyster and shiitake in the bread pudding, but you can use whatever you like and is available. Dried mushrooms will work just as well, but you'll need to reconstitute them in hot water before cooking them.

You can add anything else you like to the bread pudding. Diced apples, currants, chopped pecans, etc. Any of the things that you'd normally add to stuffing or dressing. You can also use a different herb, if you prefer.

I baked my savory bread pudding in a rectangular glass baking dish (9x13, I reckon), but afterwards, I wished that I'd baked it in a bundt pan, even though it's not clear to me that a bundt pan would have fit in the oven, since I had it on the rack under the turkey. Still, I think it would have looked cool unmolded in that shape. Since I hadn't done that, though, I served it directly from the pan.

When A. and L. arrived on Thanksgiving morning, A. came into the kitchen and saw the mushrooms cooking in the skillet, and said, "You know we're not eating that, right?" and I replied, "I know. More for me."

I eventually decided that the right name for the molded gelatin salad that is similar to what Mom always makes (and made again this year; we talked for a while on Thanksgiving morning) would be "Molded lime Jell-O salad after the fashion of Mom's salad, which is, in turn, after the fashion of 7-Up salad." As I am not in favor of overly lengthy names unless they poke fun at Redfox, I decided to go with "green salad," which is at least visually accurate. There are those who would say that "green salad" is the name of something that already exists, but to them I say "pshaw!" The really good thing about naming this salad green salad is that when you're having a post-Thanksgiving leftover-based meal, you can serve green salad as your vegetable. It does, after all, have at least two plant-based components in it. And if anyone dares to complain that it's not really a vegetable, you can say, "Nonsense. It's green salad." (I apologize for not having a picture, though it isn't all that great to look at. I did not think to recharge my batteries [or find the spare set] prior to Thanksgiving morning, and the ones I had in there died very early in the day. Sic transit gloria mundi.)

Green Salad

1 6-ounce package lime gelatin
1.5 cups water, boiling
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1.5 cups cold ginger ale
1 20-ounce can juice-packed crushed pineapple
1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans

In a metal bowl, dissolve the gelatin in the boiling water. In a separate bowl, beat the cream cheese until it's fluffy, then slowly add the dissolved gelatin, beating constantly. Stir in the ginger ale, pineapple (including the juice), and pecans. Pour into a prepared mold, and refrigerate for at least four hours. Unmold and serve.

You don't have to mold the salad, of course. You can just serve it in a bowl, but don't tell my Mom, unless you want an earful. I am sure that my recipe is not the same as Mom's, but it tastes the same to me. It tastes like nostalgia. The good kind.


Anonymous lindy said...

Yum. As to the mushroom bread pudding, all I can say is "Shut Up!"
BTW, I do believe the originator of this shout of approval was the one and only Little Richard. His hayday (hey!day?) was before even my time, but I did catch up with him later.

6:57 AM  
Anonymous leslie said...

Yum indeed - just looking at the picture of the mushrooms cooking made me hungry.

I used cider as part of the liquid in my turky brine this year - an experiment that I will make standard as it added a very nice element. I couldn't have left my brined turkey outdoors though because it was 14 degrees! brrrrr

9:18 AM  
Anonymous anapestic said...

Cider would indeed be a great brine addition. I was a bit disorganized this year, and I kind of threw my brine together at the last minute; perhaps next year I will try something a bit more elaborate.

"Heyday" it is, I believe. In this case, the "shut up" is most directly from Stacy London on TLC's What Not To Wear of which Annalisa, inexplicably, and I, far more inexplicably, are big fans.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous leslie said...

Tell us about the chocolate pecan pie?? I make a mean pecan pie with part maple syrup. This year we bought a good Zingerman's pie since the ankle is continuing to limit my cooking but chocolate pecan sounds very intriguing!

Cider brine was very simple - cider, kosher salt, water, peppercorns, lot of allspice, bay and sage leaves. Gallon and a half of liquid (only 1 quart was cider because we ran out, recipe called for 4 I think) in my lobster pot for 24 hours.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Sangroncito said...

I'm about four days late excuse is that I was far away from a computer. Hope you had a great one!

9:30 AM  

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