A Menu To Be Thankful For

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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

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