Happy Thanksgiving

November 25, 2010

It’s now after 12 noon and the turkey is in the oven and it should be coming out around 4 PM, for a 5 PM dinner. Tonight’s menu includes: Old-Fashioned Turkey with Gravy, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. I have never liked stuffing, so I only make it when we have friends. I will provide updates as the day progresses.

I woke up 15 hours ago for this? But worth it !

  • 6:30 PM – It’s over. I can’t believe that I woke up 15 hours ago to start the preparations, but everything turned out great. The skin on the turkey was delicious with the constant basting of the salt pork. This year’s gravy (Chris Kimball’s recipe without turkey drippings) turned out better than my own recipe (with turkey drippings). The mashed potatoes were silky smooth and very rich; I generally followed this recipe except that I didn’t add garlic and used my ricer. The only recipe that failed was the pumpkin pie; the homemade crust was shallower than the store-bought, which shortened the cooking time dramatically. But because I was eating and not keeping an eye on it, the crust burned, so we will try to eat the filling only. I promised the boys another pumpkin pie tomorrow.
  • 5:45 – Everything is on the table. It all looks delicious. Dinner time!!!
  • 5:30 – Everything is done cooking, except that the pumpkin pie is in the oven and will cook during dinner. It should be ready to eat about 7:30. I am about to carve the turkey.
  • 4:30 – The internal temperature of the turkey is 155-degrees. Only 10 more degrees to go. The potatoes are diced and simmering; they need to simmer for 25 minutes, then I will process them in my ricer. The cranberry sauce is ready, and I put it in the refrigerator, because it is right around that critical temperature where bacteria will multiple. The gravy is still boiling (rather than simmering), and hopefully won’t delay dinner. It looks like dinner will be closer to 6 PM than 5.
  • 3:40 – Time to dice the four pounds of russet potatoes. I will use a garlic-less version for this past recipe. What I like about this recipe for Thanksgiving is that 95% of the work (i.e. the dicing and mixing) is done hours before dinnertime; only the mashing (or using the ricer) is left for the last minute.
  • 3:35 – The cranberries are off the stove and cooling; I will add the triple sec in about 30 minutes.
  • 3:30 – I just realized that I was supposed to have started the “dripping-less” gravy 1-1/2 hours ago. The recipe requires that I reduce the liquid by half, so I will have to keep it turned up pretty high. I want those concentrated flavors, not a watered-down sauce.
  • 3:15 – The cranberries are cooking on the stove, and I can hear them beginning to pop. They have another 2 minutes to go before I turn them down to a simmer. My oranges didn’t yield much zest; I needed a full tablespoon, but only got less than a teaspoon. I’ll add some squeezed orange juice, though it is much less potent.
  • 2:50 – The internal temperature of the turkey is 125-degrees. According to the recipe I have to wait until 140-degrees to remove the foil, cheese cloth and salt pork so that it can nicely brown. It seems like we will eat at least a half hour late.
  • 2:30 – The pumpkin pie mix is ready and in the refrigerator. The recipe says that it is best if you let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. I am using the King Arthur Pie recipe, which is much better than the Libby recipe. I haven’t tried the CI recipe, but the ingredient list didn’t make we want to try. Also, I am too low on sugar, so could only make enough for one pie. I will need to use the rest of my 29-oz can of pumpkin tomorrow for a second pie. The grocery stores all closed at 2pm.
  • 1:34 – The first slushy snow of the season has just begun falling outside. I’m glad the turkey is keeping the house warm. The internal temperature of the turkey is 107-degrees; a long way to go.
  • 1:10 – Lunch is almost ready. Mini-grilled cheese sandwiches made a very narrow loaf if Italian bread. (see photo below). I was out of sandwich bread, but they came out cute. Hopefully they are flavorful.
  • 12:35 – Getting ready to make a light lunch, I’m thinking about grilled cheese sandwiches for the boys.
  • 12:30 – I’m never sure exactly when to start the cranberry sauce. I will use the recipe from my own cookbook (see recipe at bottom). But, it does look like it originally came from Chris Kimball’s recipe. I’ve been making this variation for the past few years.
  • 12:20 PM – Fortunately, I have time for a second cup of coffee while I finalize which recipes I will use for my dinner. Already, I decided that I will make the Cook’s Country of Old-Fashioned Turkey with Gravy. At 4:30 in the morning, I was mistakenly looking at the Cook’s Illustrated version of Old-Fashion Turkey, sans stuffing.

Pumpkin Pie Recipe:

Cranberry Sauce Recipe:

12 ounce bag cranberries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons Triple Sec

  • Begin at least 2 hours before dinner time.
  • In saucepan, boil water, sugar, orange zest, and salt to boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar; about 5 minutes.
  • Add washed cranberries; return to boil over for 5 minutes, without stirring.
  • Lower heat and simmer until about two-thirds of berries have popped open and sauce thickens, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Off heat; stir in triple Sec.  Let cool for 1 hour on counter-top, then cover and refrigerate (up to 7 days.)
  • Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving.
  • Makes about 2 1/4 cups

Thanksgiving – Early Morning & Before

November 25, 2010

With my nearest relative more than 2,500 miles away, every year I celebrate Thanksgiving with my sons and invite all my friends. Some years we have 20 people, and other years, such as today, we are just the four of us. But the whole ritual of cooking changes very little no mater with whom we celebrate Thanksgiving; with more people we have more side dishes, and more stress. Our stress-free menu this year is a simple one: roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. I will provide updates as the day progresses.

Covered with foil, cheese cloth and salt pork. Still 6 hours until dinner.

  • 11:30 AM – I finally had a cup of coffee.
  • 11:10 AM – The turkey is in the oven. I can rest for the next 3 hours.
  • 10:45 AM – Finishing the kitchen cleanup, and noticed a problem with the recipe. I did some more checking and realized that I was looking at the wrong recipe. The correct one is here. The main difference is that the Cook’s Country recipe places the salt pork on the breast, and the Cook’s Illustrated puts the salt pork on on the non-breast side. I’d rather baste the breast side, which has the tendency to dry out.
  • 10:00 AM – I got back from the store, and removed the turkey from the bath. I patted it dry and put it in the refrigerator to dry the skin.
  • 9:00 AM – Went to the store to buy my final ingredients. I also decided to buy a “safety” pie crust just in case mine doesn’t turn out.
  • 8:30 AM – Got out of bed and changed the water in the turkey bath. Inside the cavity is still pretty frozen, but it should be ready about 10:30. Perfect, because I’m aiming for an oven-time of 11 AM.
  • 5:00 AM – Went back to bed for a few hours.
  • 4:45 AM – I start to make a shopping list of last minute items that I will need: Red onion, salt pork, russet potatoes, garlic. Also a pie crust.
  • 4:35 AM – I search the Cook’s Illustrated website to see which turkey recipe I wanted to follow this year. I decide of Old-Fashion Turkey, sans stuffing.
  • 4:30 AM – With the turkey in the sink defrosting for 30 minutes, I just changed the cold water. Chris Kimball recommends changing the water in which you are “speed defrosting” the turkey every 30-minutes.
  • 3:53 AM – I awake and take my 20-pound turkey out of the refrigerator. Every year I tell myself that I will buy the turkey earlier next year, so that I don’t need to wake up in the middle of the night to start defrosting in water. But every year I awaken early in the morning to find that it is still frozen. My refrigerator is on the recommended setting of 3 (out of 5), so I’m not sure why I have this problem every year.
  • T-Day minus 1: Yesterday. I stopped by the supermarket to buy some thyme. I wasn’t sure about potatoes, so didn’t buy any. I decided not to brine my turkey, because I don’t have a suitable bucket; they are all exceptionally dirty this year (even though I would have lined it with plastic bag).
  • T-Day minus 5: Friday. I bought all the usual ingredients for pumpkin pie, also whipping cream this year (rather than my usual heavy cream).
  • T-Day minus 7: Friday. I bought the turkey. A 20-pounder this year, and put it in the bottom shelf of my refrigerator. In theory 7 days is plenty to defrost a 20-pound turkey, but every year I find that it is still frozen.

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