All right , so Mr. Tom the plump Turkey has sat in his salt mask for at least two days. Pull him out of your chill chest. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Now—I am not big on insisting that everyone needs the same things in their kitchen—but you really do need the kind of meat thermometer that stays in the bird. Mine attaches by a cord that sits outside of the oven. You don’t want to continually open your oven, and poking it several times will merely release those juices we spent THREE DAYS creating. That would be crazy. Place your turkey on a rack in a roasting pan. Take a large piece of foil and press it over the breast. Remove it and set it aside. You will need it later and doing that to sizzling hot turkey will result in your eating a Twix from the vending machine at your local burn unit on the third Thursday in November. Be prepared. Meanwhile—in your food processor—combine a stick of butter (totally soft), two cloves of garlic and several tablespoons of olive oil. This is not the meal where we worry about fat. Go for it, it’s traditional. Whiz to a fine fluffy cloud of garlicky, buttery goodness. Again with the scrubbing your hands—get them good and clean and dry. Then you are gong to gently work your hands under the skin of the turkey—it isn’t attached to the flesh any more but it’s dry so you need to be gentle. You are going to rub your butter into the gap. It’s okay if you have small globs of butter in some spots—massaging from the outside, work the fat as evenly as you can around the bird. Place your meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh. If its programmable, set it for 165 degrees. Slide the turkey into your oven and immediately drop the heat to 350 degrees. No stuffing in the bird. I am sorry, but stuffing makes it harder for your breast and thighs to be ready at the same time. Yes, your grandma did it that way. She also used Listerine as a douche (I am not making that up—go google it—I will wait.) Do not worry about your stuffing—it will be meaty and rich—I swear. We will get to that recipe soon. Now look through your oven window. Avoid opening the door. Closer to the end of cooking you are probably going to have to open the door to slide in some things that need to cook, like the stuffing, or the sweet potatoes, so don’t do it now if you don’t have to. You don’t really need to baste, that’s the butters job—and frankly it’s much better at it than you are. The only reason to open the oven and look at the turkey up close is if you think the drippings are scorching. That must be avoided, since we are going to use those for our gravy. If it appears that they are burning, pour a few cups of broth into the pan—that’s why you need the rack, so your burnished, crispy turkey is not sweltering in a pool of liquid. The basic rule of turkey cooking is thirteen minutes per pound. Now, this formula assumes a commercially raised turkey—they will be far meatier and less muscular than a wild turkey. You may need to make adjustments for a wild bird. See ya soon from Slick Trench—this Thanksgiving is going to be delicious!
I’ve gotten a few questions about this so let me clarify—we do not raise turkeys at the lodge. A smelly loud poultry pen would not add much to the holiday experience of our guests. However, we do purchase farm raised turkeys from our neighbors. Here’s the thing—a turkey not raised in a tiny pen will have a very different flavor than a battery bird. It will. And there is something to be said for that rich and wild flavor. BUT—and it’s a big one, a wild turkey will be less predictable in terms of tenderness. AND the flavor we all know and love in our holiday feast is the mild, white breast of a turkey of Mae West proportions. In short, I don’t think your November feast is the place to try something new. I am here to assure you, my foodie friends, that a supermarket turkey is perfectly acceptable. Perfectly. If you want to order a heritage turkey from your local butcher—do so. You may love it and certainly it gives you foodie bragging rights. But you don’t need to mortgage the children to have a notable turkey feast. Let the grousing begin (see what I did there?) Much has been written about how to prepare a turkey and most of it is best ignored. The days of baking a turkey for eight hours and constantly basting it are over—thank heavens. The little pop up thermometer that comes in your supermarket turkey—pull it out. It’s near the thigh and the breasts will be sad echoes of their juicily luscious selves by the time it activates. For years I brined our turkeys and it works, although it’s a bit onerous—scouring out the cooler, making the brine, submerging the turkey in water that sort of starts to look like bodily fluids that you shouldn’t ever come into contact with. Last year I began dry brining our birds and I am a convert. Total convert—you might find me in the airport giving away flowers with a tag that says “dry brining is the way.” It’s not entirely without effort—you will need to clear a large space in your fridge. The beer may need to go on the back porch. Sorry, fellas, we all have to make sacrifices for the holidays. Rules for dry brining: • Do not use a kosher turkey—they have been pre-salted. • Wash your hands like you are a surgeon prepping to do a heart transplant on your own mother. • Combine-3 TBL sea salt—not coarsely ground • 1 tsp light brown sugar—rub the mixture between your hands to get rid of any lumps. • Begin 3 days before you want to cook it—so look at the date on the bird and pick the freshest one you see. With your spotless hands, slide your fingers between the skin and the flesh. Start at the breast but work your hands all over the bird. Be careful not to break the skin, but work as far down the legs as you can. Now you are going to rub the salt/sugar mixture onto the flesh–under the skin. Work it in, like you are its massage therapist in a sketchy “have a good time” type parlor. No, you won’t make it too salty. No, you shouldn’t add herbs at this point—the salt/sugar is using osmosis to make the cells of turkey juicy and delectable—anything else just gets in the way. It’s like the turkey is you at your middle school dance and the salt is the cool eighth grader who never noticed you. Your neighbor who played D&D at the lunch table right out in the open every day is the herbs. His interest in the turkey (which is you in this tortured analogy) makes it harder for the salt to be attracted to your burgeoning breasts and thighs.) The turkey tolerates the herbs because her mom makes her, but she hates him and wishes he would fall in a hole and die. Now—set your salty bird on a rack on a cookie sheet and put the whole thing in the fridge. Do not cover it. I know this is a scary notion and you may not want your mother-in-law to see it (unless your mother-in-law is Hazel, who is fazed by nothing) but we need the bird to dry out. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about roasting Mr. Tom Turkey and his shatteringly crisp skin…
The best Pumpkin Pie: Okay—here I lose half of you—buy the pre-rolled pie crusts in your local refrigerator section. No, they aren’t quite as good as perfect homemade pie crust, but they are foolproof and you have plenty to be getting on with. They are also a sight better than not very good homemade crust—so get over yourself. You will need two (that’s one package) for this pie 1 can of cooked pumpkin—NOT pie filling. Vacuum packed pumpkin. If you want to you can cook a fresh pumpkin and then sieve it to get rid of the fibers. I do not want, it isn’t better and it takes a lot longer. 1/2 a stick of butter 1/2 of a cinnamon stick 4 cloves About 1/4 of a nutmegThese must be whole. You need a spice grinder—or a pestle or mortar for this. I am sorry, but perfection has its costs. Grind them together. 4 eggs 1 cup white sugar 1/2 cup light brown sugar 1/2 cup half and half In a large skillet melt butter and dump in pumpkin—you will cook over medium heat until it smells a bit roasty and has become darker in color—this will add a richness to this pie that you will not believe. Set the pan aside to cool. In a large bowl, mix 4 eggs, 1 cup white sugar and 1/2 cup light brown sugar, half and half and the spices. When the pumpkin is cool enough that it won’t cook the eggs, add it to the bowl and mix thoroughly. Put your pie crust into a metal pie plate. Using a leaf cookie cutter—or any shape you want really, cut shapes out of the remaining circle of pie crust. Pour your filling into the pie crust. Using a bit of water apply the leaf shapes around the edge of your pie—this gives your beautiful edge. On a baking sheet—this is IMPORTANT—if your pie overflows without one, you will have to stop and scrub out your oven. Ain’t nobody got time for that, bake at a 325 degrees for about forty minutes. You should have the merest hint of a wobble when you pull it out. Allow to come to room temperature.
for one- the original Campbell’s soup kids… where did they go? They used to look like this:
You have to wonder if those chubby little kids will someday end up on a VH1 “Behind the Commercial” tell all….Secondly:Green Bean Casserole. It was invented as a recipe to induce housewives who must have had their tastebuds dulled by all of the smoking they did in the 1950’s, to buy cream of mushroom soup. It somehow became a family standard. Today I am going to talk you through improving the gloppy green bean casserole that we all grew up with. The original is ghastly. But you have to serve some version of it, or you might have a revolt on your hands. Not to worry-This is much better. 2 lbs green beans—you will need to cut the tails off. “Frenching” green beans—slicing them thin lengthwise is a very good way to need stitches. Instead, simply stack them up and cut them into about three pieces. 1 onion diced 1 lb mushrooms—diced 1/2 cup dried mushrooms—finely snipped with scissors 1/2 cups milk (whole) 3 cloves garlic 1/2 cup Butter Flour 1 can of those fried onions Soft breadcrumbs from 4 pieces of torn bread Soak the dried mushrooms in hot milk—heat it in microwave—set aside to steep. Blanche the green beans in a large pot of salted boiling water. Sauté the onion in the butter. When it is soft, add the mushrooms and stir until most of the water evaporates from them. Sprinkle 3 TBL flour over the onions and mushrooms. Stir like crazy. Pour over the milk from the dried mushrooms and use that liquid to make your sauce. You want a mushroom sauce that is full of pieces of vegetables. Stir the green beans into the sauce and combine with a few firm strokes. Spray a 9×12 baking dish with cooking spray and pour in the beans and cream sauce. You can cover it with cling wrap and refrigerate it for up to three days at this point. Melt a generous pat of butter in a large skillet and stir in bread—when golden, dump into your food processor. Add the canned onions (no one wishes more than I that they were not necessary—it’s just not the same without them.) Mix with a few quick pulses (this can also be done days ahead, but don’t top the casserole with them until you are sliding the whole shebang into the oven.) Bake at 350 degrees for about forty-five minutes. It’s pretty forgiving though, it can loiter in the hot oven for a while if you need it to.
Cranberry Sauce: There are lots of ways to cook cranberries. I find that the Thanksgiving plate needs not only that jolt of ruby red, but some tangy crunch—hence I make the following: 1 bag of cranberries 1 cup of sugar 2 crisp apples (Braeburn is about perfect for this—Granny Smith is too tart and Red Delicious are mealy and disgusting) 1/4 cup port (this is not as wasteful as it may seem—you can serve port at Christmas, so it’s okay to buy some now) Combine berries and sugar in saucepan and cook until they begin to pop. Stir in the apples and port and set aside to cool. This is acerbic and boozy and bright.
Glazed Root Vegetables: (In this case either carrots or sweet potatoes—we need some color on that plate.) Root vegetables are always available. This version uses a touch of brown sugar to add sweetness and a scraping of fresh ginger to provide a kick in the pants. (That was truer than her readers would ever know, she thought.) 1 lb of either sweet potatoes or carrots—peeled and cut into small moon shaped pieces. 2 TBL butter About an inch of peeled fresh ginger, grated with a microplane grater. 1 cup of either orange juice or apple juice 1 cup of chicken stock Bring the liquids to a boil in a pot with a tight fitting lid. Dump your veggies in. Cook until tender with the lid on. When just fork tender—use a slotted spoon to remove the half moons. Allow the liquid to boil down until it’s about 1/2 cup. Add butter, brown sugar and ginger. Return vegetables to pot and stir to coat with glaze. It’s better if this isn’t done ahead of time. The texture suffers. This dish is all about balance—sweet and spicy—familiar and unusual. Absolutely worth the effort.
Gravy Train: While your turkey rests before carving, spoon about 6 TBL of drippings out of the roasting pan into a saucepan. Add 4 TBL flour and stir vigorously over low heat, a wooden spoon may be traditional (those things are incredibly useful—I suggest you have half a dozen) but I find a whisk works best for this. Pour in two cups of stock and stir constantly. It will take on the texture of wall paper paste, but what you are doing is getting rid of lumps. Add stock in 1 cup increments until it’s the consistency you want. It will probably take five cups. If you happen to have an open bottle of white wine around (and while preparing the biggest meal of the year, I highly recommend it) add about 1/2 cup. If you make it too thin just simmer it for a few minutes. Season with salt pepper and minced garlic.
The thing about Thanksgiving is this—the magazines that give you menus don’t seem to understand that you already have a menu. The same one your grandmother made. Many of the ideas they offer are great, but it doesn’t matter, since you are not going to follow them. That being said, I do have some ideas on how you can bridge the gap between what you will actually do, and what you think maybe you should do. Appetizer: We will make crab cakes; this is more for my parents who don’t eat crab as often as we do. Soup: Here’s the thing. Pumpkin soup is delicious. But we are having pumpkin pie. I love me some pumpkin, but does it need to bookend the meal? Allow me to answer that—No.
Appetizer: We will make crab cakes; this is more for my parents who don’t eat crab as often as we do.
Soup: Here’s the thing. Pumpkin soup is delicious. But we are having pumpkin pie. I love me some pumpkin, but does it need to bookend the meal? Allow me to answer that—No. No it shouldn’t. The pilgrims, who were not known for being picky eaters, had a famous rhyme “Pumpkin in the morning and pumpkin at noon, if it were not for pumpkin we would be undone” (apparently what qualified as a rhyme was very different in the 1500s). They were starving, and they got sick of it. So, the pie will be quite enough. Unless you have a familial or cultural need to serve a specific soup—save that for another meal.
Salad: Oh come on—there is no room on your plate for salad. If you are having a formal “do” you could do separate courses, but you will already have plenty of dishes to do, so skipping it is quite alright. Let’s get to the main event:
The menu Crab cakes- Dry brined turkey- Stuffing- Gravy- Mashed potatoes -Improved green bean casserole- Glazed sweet potatoes (or carrots)- Cranberry sauce- Pumpkin pie—You will, of course, serve this with whipped cream. For a technique that will let you make your whipped cream the day before consult the index of the blog. For the love of God, do not even consider using non dairy topping. Did the Pilgrims subsist on four kernels of corn a day so that you could glop non dairy topping on your pie? Did your relatives come over here on crowded ships so that you could glop non dairy topping on a pie? Did we land at Normandy so that you could glop non dairy topping on your pie? The answer to each of these is a resounding “no.” Have some respect. Whip the cream. Here in Alaska many people also eat venison for Thanksgiving. This is probably as traditional a Thanksgiving meal as is humanly possible. The first Thanksgiving included venison (brought by the Native American guests) corn and pumpkin—although not as pumpkin pie, the pilgrims had no sugar. We do, and we are thankful for it. That morning Killian will go hunting and so we might eat venison the day after—but not on the third Thursday of November. Embrace whatever is the tradition in your locale or your family.
The stuffing conundrum. Okay, so I once spent weeks working out the perfect stuffing recipe. It was not a bad project for a lovelorn girl, comforting, but demanding enough to keep my mind busy. Then I got an email from a certain Alaskan wildlife biologist and everything changed. So, I know how important stuffing is. Love the stuff, in fact. However, there is no way around it—stuffing is evil. It harbors bacteria because it doesn’t quickly cook through when nestled in the bosom of our turkey. Take heart, my lovelies- all is not lost. You will make your stuffing, nestle it into a baking dish and then drape chicken wings over the top of it all before you cook it. Wings are cheap—they are also full of fat and collagen so as they cook they render the same richness that being inside your turkey would do. Only this is better since the wings will lend themselves to all of the stuffing, not just the 1/2 cup that you could fit into the cavity AND it won’t have slowly bathed in a not hot enough to destroy salmonella sauna. Win-win. To begin the stuffing, use a small ladle to remove some fat from the pan your turkey is roasting in—do NOT try this with a bulb syringe—wanna know how I know? Turns out boiling liquids will shoot from that contraption like a shark after a skinny dipper, only not as pleasant. It will go everywhere, and if you are lucky enough to be wearing a pair of shoes, you will avoid going to the hospital, but how many pairs of cute clogs have to be sacrificed to this monster? Learn from me, people. You want about one-half cup of fat in the pan—see the exact recipe on the blog. If you want, this can be made days ahead of time—but if it’s not days ahead of time and you are up against the wall—have the broth boiling when you add it, it will make it cook much faster. Now—do the chicken wing fandango, I explained above and you are good to go.
Life will get better, sister, I promise: Stuffing Two large onions Diced finely About 6 stalks of celery-finely chopped (celery does not get enough love in the world— always add more celery) 12 cups of stale bread cubes—you can buy them, although if you do, get the unseasoned ones. The seasoned ones smell like the attic of an old lady who collects postcards from circuses circa 1910. I prefer to use a firm bakery loaf. Cut off the crusts and then take the slices and stack them and dice into small cubes. Allow to dry on a baking sheet over night (or up to a few days). 3 TBL finely minced fresh sage 3 cloves garlic—I use my microplane grater, but if you want to use a garlic press, you can. Chicken broth/vegetable broth—either will work—about nine cups, but the moisture content of your bread will be a factor. Add the the onions to the hot fat in your pan and turn the heat way way down. Throw in a sprinkle of salt and stir often. We want golden—not burnt. When the onions are soft, toss in the celery and stir for a few minutes. Remove from heat and toss in the bread cubes, garlic and sage. Stir vigorously—once you add liquid it will be much harder to distribute anything in the mass of damp stuffing. Once everything is mixed up—add your liquid; start with six cups. Then let it sit a minute and see if it seems to need more. Add it in 1/2 cup increments and watch it for a bit. By the time it is done, your breasts are no longer plump pillows. And yet, the flavor of stuffing cooked inside the bird is simply unbeatable. There is a lusciousness a bit of crispiness on some parts that are exposed to the hot air and a depth of flavor that only meat juices can provide. What to do, what to do? Wings to the rescue—yup—chicken wings. The frozen ones are fine for this— although they need to be thoroughly thawed—and patted dry; no point adding a lot of salmonella carrying chicken water to our magnificent stuffing. Your stuffing can be made days before and stored covered in your fridge. An hour before you want to eat; you will spoon your stuffing into a wide flat baking dish (sprayed with cooking spray, of course) then you will lay the chicken wings side by side on the stuffing and place the whole thing in your oven. Hopefully, the turkey will be getting its last forty minutes of cooking at the same time. The wings will brown and drip gorgeousness unto your savory cubes of feast worthy yumminess. Should the wings still be pale and floppy as a beach goer in April—simply run it under the broiler while the turkey rests. You want brown. Now, set the wings aside (you can add them with your turkey carcass to the stock that you will be making, or give them to a starving nephew who is exceptionally appealing). There. No salmonella. No spooning steaming stuffing out of a cavity not being enough to hold all of the stuffing so you have some in a baking pan any damn way. Gravy Train: While your turkey rests before carving, spoon about 6 TBL of drippings out