Friday, November 27, 2009

My first solo Thanksgiving


No one is blogging today.

So I had better blog myself! I have not been blogging all that much these days, yet I still get annoyed when my favorite blogs don't update. Time to do my part.

This year was the first Thanksgiving where I cooked the whole dinner all by myself. I do remember that last year I did most of it myself, because Charles had just been born. But I did get a good deal of help/advice from my mom, and I think other relatives who were there too.

This time, it was just John and me, no other family, so we invited a few friends over to make it a "real" Thanksgiving. (My opinion on Thanksgiving is that it is a holiday which must not be celebrated alone. Christmas can be very special with just immediate family, but Thanksgiving requires company.) So our old blogfriend (and real friend) Dr. Thursday came over, and a friend from choir.

Here is what I prepared:

Apple-cranberry casserole. This is our family tradition and cannot under any circumstances be skipped. It is also delicious. I made this on Wednesday. Aside from all the apple-chopping, it is extremely easy to make.

Cranberry sauce. I had never made this one before. I made it Wednesday because I had leftover cranberries. Unfortunately I messed up the recipe at the very beginning -- it was supposed to be twice as many cups of cranberries as water, and I put it twice as much water as cranberries. The first time I tried to "jell" it, it didn't jell at all. So I added the last of the bag of cranberries, which wasn't much, and boiled it for longer. This time it did jell, though rather softly. At least it was a sauce in consistency, and not a syrup. It tasted better than the canned stuff, too, and had the advantage of having whole cranberries in it instead of just clear jelly. I did skim out the seeds, though.

Deviled eggs. Made these Wednesday too. I forgot to set a timer on the eggs, and as a result overboiled them so that their shells came off very stickily and messily -- so they were not beautiful. They tasted good, though. I put them out as an appetizer when the guests came. One didn't eat eggs at all, and I didn't notice the other one eating any, but John and I ate a lot. We hadn't had lunch.

Then on Thanksgiving itself, the real cooking got started. I made:

Sweet potatoes. I did them in the slow cooker; they were incredibly simple. I just peeled them and cut them up, and put them in with some brown sugar. Before I served them up, I mashed them and put in some butter. (Our choir friend was in the kitchen with me at the time and exclaimed, "That's a lot of butter!" I guess I'd forgotten that not everyone considers butter a health food. But neither of us is trying to stay skinny at the moment, and butter is a good source of healthy fats and vitamins, too.)

Mashed potatoes. Very standard -- made with butter and hot milk. Yummy.

Stuffing. My one cut corner -- I made it from a box. I have never been hugely into stuffing, and the stuff from the box tastes just as good to me, so I went for it. It was good, too. I did add extra onions.

The Turkey. This 12-lb. monster took awhile to cook. But he was worth it. I cooked him breast-down, despite the standard advice for breast-up. I think breast-up is mostly just for ease in carving, and to get crispy skin on the breast. But I don't care so much about the breast skin. Mostly I just care about having the breast less dried-out than it tends to be on a roast turkey. So breast-down it was, although it took a lot of work to turn him over when it was time to carve him!

I was limited a little bit by materials. I do not have a roasting pan, so I had to roast the bird in a Pyrex. So the drippings formed a little lake around the bird. I ladled some out periodically, but there wasn't a whole lot I could do. As a result, the breast got fairly marinated in the drippings, which was, in my opinion, an improvement anyway. I also didn't have a meat thermometer, so I had to err on the side of cooking too long. I don't know if it was due to this, or because of the swimming pool of drippings, but the bird fell completely apart when we tried to carve it. I took hold of the drumstick as the instructions told me to, and tried to pull it gently away from the carcass. Instead, the meat slipped right off, leaving the bone on the bird! The same thing happened with every piece I touched. Again, I don't think this made it any worse. I don't particularly like fighting with meat on the bone. Everyone just got hunks of meat that were pretty unrecognizable -- but tasted good.

The piece de resistance -- The Gravy. I was so worried about this gravy that I dreamed about it the night before. Gravy is one of the few things I've actually been taught to make, but it's also so easy to mess up. First, in the morning, I began my giblet stock. I soaked the neck and giblets in a tiny bit of vinegar for a half-hour, as I do with chicken stock. I'm not sure this was such a good idea, or else I put in too much -- when I tasted the stock later, it seemed too sour. I also had onions and carrots in there -- we didn't have any celery.

I knew the only thing that would make the gravy any good was to have delicious, and sufficient, pan drippings. Luckily there were a lot, even once I skimmed off the fat. (I hope turkey fat is good to fry in -- I added it to my "frying fat" can. When the can is full, I'm going to try fried chicken.) They were also a nice brown, unlike the pale, translucent turkey stock I had come up with. And they smelled divine. Hope began to dawn in my breast that perhaps the gravy would not be nasty after all.

I made a roux with the turkey fat. I was taught to use a flour-and-water paste, but this time I decided to try roux, because I have had some failures with the paste method. (Lumps in beef stew--yuck!) Normally they tend to say not to let the roux cook by itself for gravy, but to use a "pale" roux, but I did cook it a little bit, on the grounds that gravy looks more appetizing when it's a little darker. Then I added the pan drippings, and finally the turkey stock, one ladle-full at a time, until I felt it was thin enough. (That left some stock unused -- but I think it's better to have less gravy than watery gravy.) I let it cook in the saucepan for awhile while I mashed the potatoes and put things into their appropriate dishes. Then I tasted.

So. Good. I had forgotten how much I love homemade turkey gravy. There is just no substitute.

We also had macaroni and cheese at dinner, which our choir friend brought. (This was not Kraft mac 'n' cheese, by a long shot. It was a baked macaroni and cheese casserole kind of thing, with a crispy au gratin topping. It was so delicious ... I am just polishing off the leftovers of it as I write this.) Apparently it is an African-American Thanksgiving tradition. All I know is, I'm making it my tradition. It was just too good.

Due to budget consciousness, I didn't buy our family's favorite Thanksgiving drink -- sparkling apple cider -- and got a jug of regular apple cider instead. Dr. Thursday brought wine, but the only one who was neither pregnant nor driving home was John -- so he was the only one who had any. I hear it was good, though. I am going to get a taste of it myself when I use some of the leftovers in my next beef stew. Wine is one of the things that might make my actually like stew, instead of just putting up with it. I don't mind stew, but it is generally so boring. (I think this is why John likes it so much.)

And that was it for our dinner! I should have taken a picture of the table. We only have a little card table, which takes up half the living room as it is, but we pulled it out from the wall to be able to seat everyone. John did it up all nice -- the white tablecloth we got for our wedding, our red-flowered dishes (I love these!), and the fancy silverware John's mother gave us. We even pulled out the wine glasses, which are cut glass and look so beautiful. Of course, with such a small table, the food was served buffet-style in the kitchen.

I believe a good time was had by all. They said they liked the food. And the conversation never flagged for a moment. We played Scattergories before dinner (two English majors, one guy-who-knows-everything, and one expert at the game, led to some serious competition -- and some strange words), talked about the Rosary, talked about Vatican II, talked about science, talked about gratitude, just talked ... It was great fun. I am so glad we did it like this, and I think the day was a huge success.

Today's job: pick over the turkey and use the carcass for soup! Also: not go shopping! Poor John is working at the bank today ... I do not envy him. As for me, Black Friday is the one day I just will not shop on.


Dr. Thursday said...

How - uh - uncanny. I didn't expect to read a condensed edition of yesterday here!

(Hmm, I wonder if this is what the Judgement is like. I had better be good...)

Yes, the food was VERY good... but I am almost tempted (hee hee) to write the experience from my perspective... not that it would be any different, that is. But I would have to stress how GOOD the food really was - and how stupid I felt at having brought wine, since I did know I would not have more than a "sip-in-toast", and that it is not advisable for mothers with babies-before-birth. But then it IS traditional, remember: "Mr. Martini, how about some wine?" and we all know the famous GKC quote about thanking God for beer and burgundy...

Yes, it was a lovely and wonderful happy time, though I was exhausted after the drive home.... I will think about writing up the saga, but I have so many other things to write... (And fiction is so much more fun, too; maybe I will have to do a Weaver Thanksgiving story.)

In any case, recorded or not, I must express my deep gratitude to my host and hostess (and a polite nod to my fellow guest) for the excellent meal and conversation and everything....

RE the game: I don't know everything, though I am glad I know what I do - and God knows I talk and write enough. It's what I get from reading. Hee hee hee. (My mom always said I was vaccinated with a phonograph needle, but who knows what those are these days! Hee hee.) Anyway, those were some strange words we found. And even now I keep finding myself hunting - like Milo in the Phantom Tollbooth - for things that begin with J.... It was so annoying that today I had to consult "Burnham's Celestial Handbook" so I could find something in the sky: "Job's Coffin" - a common name for the constellation Delphinus the Dolphin. Ah yes.

It was a great time, and I am grateful. (Folk etymology: grateful = great+full. Hee hee.)

Sheila said...

I am finding myself wanting to have some time with those Scattergories lists myself.

Wine is always a good thing to bring to a dinner ... John enjoyed it. :) And it is rather symbolic, too. I should have served bread.

Meredith said...

What a lovely Thanksgiving! You did it up proper. ^_^

James Tillman said...

So, this post showed up in my reader--and then, half way through, I realized I was avidly reading about the food. This is odd, because I usually skip all and any detailed information about food and food preparation. Yet I was held rapt by--or at least was darn interested in--information I doubt I will every use. Apparently, although I skipped thanksgiving meal this year, my subconscious still wanted one.

Anyhow, it sounds like you had a very good time. With very good food.

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