Bonnie’s Blog on Food and Grog

Cooking and life advice from a Nana.

Peace or Pandemonium? Tranquility or Turmoil? Thanksgiving Day Arrives!! October 21, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — bonhuse @ 9:53 pm

 

I happen to really enjoy cooking and find it relaxing, and I have been making this dinner for umpteen years, so it is familiar to me.   Nevertheless, there is a lot to remember and the MORE you can do to help organize yourself, the more enjoyable the day will be for you and your guests.  And I have not only witnessed, but caused, more than one Thanksgiving to go from peace to pandemonium in record time.  One minute you are full of Thankfulness and Goodwill toward All, and the next minute you are fantasizing about feigning your own death.  Your urge to strangle the next person who lifts up a lid to peak at something becomes almost uncontrollable.  Total turmoil causes you to forget to serve a major component of the dinner.  (In my case, it was the yams which were discovered late Thanksgiving night, withering away in the cold oven)

Now I tend to be pretty casual about things, and doubt that  anyone who knows me would consider me compulsive, obsessive, or both.   I am very capable of leaving my bed unmade without having it haunt me.  Unlike my mother AND my daughter Kris, I am not a house-cleaning fanatic, and I have a fairly high tolerance for a temporary mess.  When I used to make this dinner with my Mom, I would turn around to get a knife or kitchen tool and find that she had washed it, dried it, and put it in its appropriate drawer,  ALL in  that 2-minute period during which I wasn’t using it!!   I like to rinse dishes as I go, but I don’t  mind a small depository of kitchen necessities sitting around.   

BUT watch me get ready for Thanksgiving!  I turn list-making into a science.  I have tasks and shopping lists prepared in advance and saved in Word.  I have learned that if I want to enjoy the entire process and not have this nagging “I-know-I -forgot-to-do-something” feeling, I have to allow my evil, neurotic twin to take over when it comes to the planning part of a big party.

So, not one to ignore the ample knowledge to be gained from one’s mistakes, I have come up with a few tricks that work for me.  I suspect that as I get even OLDER, these not-so-subtle memory crutches will become even more obvious.  Rather than a myriad of index cards stuck to my fridge, guests will arrive to see giant flip-chart pages covering the walls.  The detail of these lists will be unbelievable.  Nothing will be trusted to memory.  Hopefully, my plan to grow old gracefully will kick in  before I start stuffing the turkey with yams and putting marshmallows on the stuffing,  and I will have the sense to pass the Thanksgiving drumstick to a younger member of the family! 

But for now, until that “growing old gracefully” thing kicks in,  these are the things that work for me.

1.  I make my menu and master list of EVERYTHING that will be served on Thanksgiving at least a week in advance, or earlier.   I include everything that needs to be put on the table — even condiments. 

2.  From the menu,  I gather all the recipes and make my shopping lists.  I always end up getting some things at one store and some at another.  I have favorite stores for different things.  Anything I need in great quantity I get at Costco; and they are about the only place that has poultry BIG enough to suit me.  I like the bakeries at Von’s and Albertson’s.  I love the produce at Fresh & Easy.  I make my list on the computer so I can move things around to different list for different stores.  (I know, I know….)

 3. I buy as much as I can ahead of time.  All the canned things, any baking supplies, anything that is just as good frozen as fresh.. I buy those things as far ahead as two weeks, just to space out the trips to the market.  

4.  Now here is where it gets really compulsive.   I take index cards and I make a series of cards for EACH menu item.  For instance, for the cranberry salad, I would make one card that says “Grind and prepare cranberries” and another one that says “Whip cream and finish cranberry salad”.  For the gravy there would be a card that says “Roast turkey wings” one that says “Make turkey stock” , and one that says “Prepare Gravy”.  Tasks are combined on one card if they can be done at the same time (I probably will roast the wings and make the stock on the same day, but just in case….)  Then on the reverse side of the card, I write the DAY I am going to do that task.  Just to show you HOW excessively single-minded I can get, I even specify morning or afternoon.  Sick, I know.

5. Then I  sort all the cards into stacks by timing, and clip them together.  As I finish each job, I toss that card away.   I am easily tricked into feelings of accomplishment, so tossing away an index card that said “slice the butter” can make me feel almost as good as tossing “cook the turkey”.  I am into cheap thrills.   When you have finished the entire pile for that timeframe, you can either plop down and relax, or get ahead of the game by dipping into the NEXT day’s pile!  Exciting, huh??? 

6.  The other thing I have been doing for years is selecting the serving dishes for each and every thing two or three days ahead of time.   This way you can clean silver if need be, wash things that need it, and make sure you have everything you need to make your table look nice.  I put a little slip of paper in each serving piece with the name of what is to be in it.  (You are smirking, I can feel it! )  But really, this makes dishing up the dinner on Thursday SO much easier  and you don’t have to make those BIG decisions on the spot!  Also, if someone is helping you dish up, they can easily pitch in without digging through your cupboards!  And yes, try to remember to take the little note out of the serving dish before dishing up. 

There are a few serving pieces that I only USE on Thanksgiving or Christmas, and it is entirely possible that I have stashed them somewhere or loaned them out, and tracking them down could take a bit of doing.  You do not want to be doing this while the turkey sits on the counter leaking its precious bodily fluids onto the platter!! 

7.  I always set the table as early as Tuesday or Wednesday.   It is one less thing to worry about, and you can also plan the seating for all your guests.  Plus, I like to discover the inevitable shortage of something, like napkins, in advance.   This year we are expecting a big crowd and I may have to have rent an extra table.  That will mean double serving dishes for each item, so all the more reason to do it ahead of time!

So the schedule ends up looking something like this:

As far ahead as you wish:  Roast turkey wings and make stock.

A week or so in advance:  Buy non-perishable groceries.

Monday or Tuesday:  Select serving dishes and wash/polish if needed. 

Tuesday or Wednesday:  Set the table completely. Buy the rest of the groceries.

Wednesday:  Bake pies, bake yams, grind cranberries, tear up bread, cut up celery and onion for stuffing.  If you are serving white wine, put in fridge to chill. 

Thursday morning:   Mix stuffing together; stuff and truss the turkey and get him in the oven.  Peel russet potatoes, cover with water, set on stove.  Peel cooked yams and slice, place in container in fridge. If your favorite side dish cannot be made on Wednesday and heated on Thursday, then now is the time to put it together.

Thursday afternoon, about two hours before the ETE (expected time of eating)… Boil the russets.  Make the caramel sauce for the yams.  Whip the cream for the pies and put in the fridge.  Make the gravy from the stock.  Saute mushrooms for gravy IF you like.   When potatoes are done, drop a stick of butter in them and put the lid back on. 

Thursday RIGHT before dinner:  Rice potatoes, add cream and reheat.  Heat up the yams in the caramel sauce, prepare the yam casserole with the marshmallows.  Reheat the gravy.  Put butter on the table, water in water glasses, get wine ready to serve.    Take turkey out when done.  Remove stuffing from cavities. Put yam casserole in the oven until marshmallows melt.   Let turkey sit for 15 or so minutes so juices redistribute.  THEN carve and put on platter. 

VOILA!!  Wasn’t that easy? 

 

One last thing to mention.  IF you invite your guests to come early and spend the day as we do, set out a few LIGHT snacks.  I put out 4 cans of black, pitted olives, and that is just for Kelly.  Then for everyone else, I put out olives, marinated artichoke hearts, and other interesting little pickled vegetables from the gourmet section of the market.  We don’t want to fill people up!

I JUST this week-end learned of a new appetizer, however, that is just too perfect to pass up. Not only does it SCREAM “Thanksgiving”, but it is so delicious that I must add it to the menu this year for the FIRST time.  My friend Patti, (of previous sage fame) who has, by the way, totally redeemed herself many times over, made this delectable delight just this week-end while visiting. It is a keeper!

PATTI’S SCRUMPTIOUS BRIE

One wedge of good quality Brie

One cup of dried cranberries

1/2 Granny Smith Apple, very finely diced

Bottled caramel ice cream topping

Crackers (buttery plain crackers work best — like, yes, Ritz, or a close relative)

Soak cranberries in Gran Marnier, Triple Sec, or another liqueur of your choice.  Place them in a small bowl and pour enough liquor over to just cover.  When cranberries are puffed up, (about an hour) drain off liqueur. 

Place brie  on microwavable serving dish.  Pile cranberries on top.  Place diced apple on top of cranberries.  Drizzle caramel sauce back and forth across brie.  (Don’t overdo the caramel).  Place in microwave and cook for ONE MINUTE.  Cheese will just be warm and starting to melt a little. 

Serve with crackers and stand back.  If you have a lot guests, obviously you will want to do more than one of these.  You can do two or more wedges on one plate, points facing each other, and adjust the amounts and microwave time accordingly. Increase the microwave time in small increments so as not to melt the entire wedge.

 

 

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“YOU SAY POTATO, AND I SAY …. YAM” October 15, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — bonhuse @ 9:53 pm

BUT let’s not call the whole thing off, let’s have BOTH. Must have mashed potatoes, if for no other reason than as an additional vehicle for the gravy, and must have yams/sweet potatoes, just CUZ.   What is a sweet potato and what is a yam?  Darned if I can figure it out.  Depends on where you read about it, and all I know is that in most markets the darkish-redish skinned tubers with very orange meat are labeled “YAMS”.  The lighter skinned with more yellow meat are marked “Sweet Potatoes”.  So we buy YAMS.  We think they are tastier and more moist. 

What can I say about Mashed potatoes?  I never met a potato I didn’t like, but we use Russets for mashing.  LOVE Red potatoes for baking, and fingerlings are great for slicing and roasting, but they can get a little pasty when mashed.  So we opt for the masher-friendly russett.

Early on Thanksgiving afternoon I peel the potatoes and cut them in half or quarters, depending on their size.  I probably use 10 large russets, or more if we have a huge crowd.  Cover with water and bring to a boil, then simmer until they are tender when pierced with a fork.  Drain them, let them cool for awhile and then… and here is the ONLY tip I have for this recipe, put them through a RICER.  If you use a ricer instead of mashing them, you will not have a lump.  It is impossible for a lump to escape the ricer!   Then add a stick of butter, about a cup of cream, and blend together just to combine well.  I don’t recommend using an electric mixer as you can easily over mix them and end up with gummy mashed potatoes.  Just gently mash together, but the lid back on, and wait until dinner.  Reheat right before serving. 

THE YAMS

Another easy recipe, and always scrumptious.  Yams, brown sugar, butter.  That is it.  I buy medium to large yams, and cook them the day before, just to get one more thing done and to free up the stove top for Thursday.  Do not peel them, and you can boil them or bake them.  I like to bake them because they are less likely to get  mushy.  Bake them at 350 for about an hour, or until they are tender with pierced with a fork.  Take them out and refridgerate until completely cool.  The same day, or Thursday if you are just too tired to do another thing….  peel the yams and slice them into thick medallions. 

When dinner time is getting close, melt 1 stick of butter in a large frying pan.  Add 2 cups of dark brown sugar, and stir until smooth.   Add a pinch of salt.   Heat and stir until it becomes caramelized,   You can add more butter and or/brown sugar as needed.   When you have a syrupy smooth mixture, add the yam slices in one layer.  Cook over moderate heat, turning them gently with a spatula to coat with caramel mixture.  Transfer to casserole or other oven safe dish for reheating.

Because we have two sects in our family – the Marshmallow and the Non-Marshmallow People — and because we aim to please — we make a second serving dish of yams.  With a spatula, place two layers of carmelized yams into a baking dish.  Place a layer of marshmallows on top the yams, pushing them together very closely.  Bake in 350 degree oven just until marhsmallows are brown and bubbly.  A WORD OF CAUTION:  Be careful to not put too much caramel sauce in with the yams.  If you lift them with a slotted spoon or spatula, and let them drain slightly, you will have plenty of caramel on them.  TOO much will result in the marshmallows melting into the caramel and becoming a very unappetizing mess of yams floating in runny sweet stuff.   I speak with authority on this subject as the Marshmallow People  of 2007 will confirm!

 

THE CRANBERRY SIDE DISH WE LOVE

Filed under: Uncategorized — bonhuse @ 8:32 pm

Now we are getting into areas of personal preference and family tradition….  EVERY family has some dishes that they ALWAYS must have on certain Holidays,  whether it is good ‘ole green bean casserole ala Campbell’s soup or a special lime jello mold that a favorite Aunt made 4 generations ago.  No matter how unusual  this special dish may seem to some, don’t apologize for it!  For your family, the Holiday just doesn’t seem complete without organic Peruvian tangeloes on a bed of wilted spinach and endive with pomegranite mustard sauce.  It’s okay. 

 So far be it from me to impose mine on you, but let me offer it up because I have found that most guests, having never had this particular cranberry dish, really do like it, so we may be on to something here. It has been part of my Thanksgiving since I was just a little kid.  Grandma Simon & Grandma Alice always made this and so it is a must!   Also, kids tend to love this cuz it is pink and fluffy and has marshmallows in it! 

Cranberry Marshmallow Salad (serves 10 to 15)

2 packages of fresh cranberries

1 large bunch of seedless grapes – red or green, your choice

1 large package of regular size marshmallows

1 – 2 cups of sugar

Whipping Cream

A day or two before Thanksgiving, I do some of the prep on this easy dish.  Rinse the cranberries in a strainer, and put them through a meat or food grinder.  I have an attachment on my KitchenAid mixer that works perfectly and is very easy.   The cranberries have to be crushed so that they are juicy and pulpy.  Chopping them in a food processor doesn’t do the trick.  If you don’t own such a thing, Rival makes a little portable food grinder, and I’m sure there are others easily found at your favorite cooking store.  I haven’t been able to come up with an alternate way to get the cranberries satisfactorily “smushed”, to use the technical term.

After the smushing is complete, put the cranberries in a tupperware container.  Wash grapes and slice each one in half.  Add to cranberry mixture.  Next, take the marshmallows and cut each one in half, using scissors.  It helps to dip the scissors in water occasionally.  THIS task is a great one for children — only, of course,  if they have reached an acceptable scissor-using age.  It is fun for them and one less thing for you.  Have them wash their grubby little hands, find a little area for them to work, and have them put the cut marshmallows  into the cranberry mixture as they go. Finally, add a 1-1/2 cups of sugar to the container, stir, and store until ready to finish. 

On Wednesday night, or Thursday morning,  pour one pint of heavy whipping cream into a large bowl.  Whip until stiff (the cream, not you), adding a little sugar as it starts to thicken. When cream is whipped, add the cranberry mixture to the bowl and fold together to until combined and fluffy.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Whenever possible, I store things in the serving piece I intend to use.  Just one less thing to do on Thursday!

 

 

HAVING FUN WITH YOUR TURKEY – OR “FOWL PLAY” October 14, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — bonhuse @ 9:35 pm

A horrible pun, but I couldn’t resist it.  And really, cooking a tasty, juicy  turkey is easy and shouldn’t be anxiety-producing!  We love the moment that the turkey is in the oven and the smells start to permeate the entire house!  Stuffing the turkey and getting him all ready for the oven is really not difficult at all, and after that… well, you can pretty much sit back and relax!  Peel some potatoes, get a couple of things ready, but then there is ample down time to enjoy the day, and that IS after all, what this is about!  When the hostess dashes about frantically, looking as though her hair may fall out in one big clump at any moment, the guests cannot possibly have a good time.. if anything they feel guilty about being part of the apparent final undoing of the hostess!  So keep things in perspective.  If something doesn’t turn out, no big deal!  True, you will be reminded in perpetuity of the time you left the giblets INSIDE the bird, and they won’t let you forget the year you used WAY too many marshmallows producing a disgusting yam swill,  but those are the stories you can put in your BLOG when YOU get old!  See, doesn’t that make you feel better?

So first of all, make sure you have plenty of room to work on this big boy!  You have the stuffing ready, and oven is preheated to 325, and the big moment is approaching.  You have remembered to thaw out the turkey if he/she was frozen.  Run cold water through the cavities and pat dry with paper towels.  Remove the bag with the liver, heart and gizzard (aka, “giblets”)…  What to do with these?  Depends on your taste.  I always put them in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer until cooked.  This is because my Mom and husband used to share these tidbits.   So Greg now has these all to himself, as I am not a big fan.  The juice from boiling them, however, does make a nice rich broth to add to your gravy if you like.  Just add a little of this broth to your gravy mixture.  If you are a giblet lover, chop them up and put them in the gravy or the stuffing.  Not everyone loves them, so I leave them out and offer them up to any particularly carnivorous looking guests! 

Spoon the stuffing into both cavities… you can actually get quite a lot in the neck cavity.  When you have tamped the last possible bit into the turkey’s body, you have to lace him up in some fashion.  You can buy those little turkey lacing kits at the market.   It doesn’t have to look perfect,   it just has to stay together during the roasting.  Place the bird BREAST DOWN on a roasting rack in a large roasting pan.  Cover the wing tips and any bony parts with tin foil to avoid over-browning them.    Brush with vegetable oil or melted butter, whichever you prefer.  (The extra stuffing, if any,  can go in a casserole to be refrigerated and heated up right before dinner if you need it. )

A good digital insertion thermometer with a long probe wire is REALLY great to have for this, and aren’t very expensive.  You can get them at any of the stores that have good cooking supplies such as Bed, Bath and Beyond, and of course, Williams Sonoma has terrific ones.  This allows you to have the thermometer outside the oven (the probe wire can be closed in the oven door) and you can see the progress without opening the oven so often.  Some of the probes can be set for the meat you are roasting and will automatically BEEP when the desired temperature is reached.  For example, if you are roasting a turkey, the alarm will sound at 165 degrees.  If you are cooking roast beef, you set it for “Beef” and the desired doneness, and it will beep accordingly!  

So now the turkey is in the oven and you have some actual free time.  I peel the potatoes and put them in a pot covered with water; I get the yams ready to go in the oven; if there is a vegetable side dish that I COULDN’T make the day before, I get that together.  But if you do  most of your prep the day before, this should be a fun time to relax and enjoy the day. 

Every hour or so take a peek at the turkey, and using a turkey baster, squirt juice from the bottom of the pan over the turkey. This keeps it more moist and also makes the skin golden. 

We subscribe to the “twenty minutes per pound” theory, which seems to hold up very well in figuring your ETE  (estimated time of eating).  HOWever, since we tend toward the larger birds, such as Turclules, who actually weighed more than our granddaughter who was five that year, we have learned that it does not always hold true.  At 35 pounds, he should have taken 11 hours and 40 minutes.  He was, however, ready to go after a mere 10 hours and 20 minutes.  Must have something to do with thermodynamics and mass.  All I know is it was done.  Again, a good reason for getting one of these nifty thermometers. 

Another word about the thermometer probe.  Make absolutely sure it is not touching any bone, as that will register a higher temperature than is accurate.  Place the proble in the meatiest part of the thigh, not touching bone, and it should be PERFECT. 

Finally, when the turkey is out of the oven, cover it with heavy tin foil and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving.  This allows the juices to redistribute and you end up with an overall moister meat!  Carve right before serving.

 

Thanksgiving 1990 or “WHAT WERE WE THINKING”???? October 12, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — bonhuse @ 4:09 am

Ever have an idea that seems brilliant at the time, but in retrospect seems so incredibly ridiculous that it is hard to admit it was YOURS?   Well, I have to claim responsibility for this particular farce and am the first to admit that its only redeeming quality was that we have some good stories to tell as a result. 

Our son, Kelly, a bachelor at the time, was renting a very beautiful house in Encino with three other guys.  We still lived in our very modest tract house in Reseda, with a tiny kitchen and not a lot of space for entertaining, although we certainly did not let that stop us in most cases.  Thanksgiving had always been at our house, and we did not let our limited space stop us from inviting lots of people.  So it dawns on me that we have a unique opportunity this particular year to use a huge kitchen and have enough space to invite anyone and everyone, and that while it might be a little more work, we would cook Thanksgiving Dinner for everyone at this Encino Bachelor haven. 

My husband, Greg, was not nearly as enthused about this flash of brilliance as I was, but as usual went along with it in the spirit of the season.  Of course, knowing that we would have more room than usual, we invited scores of people, and encouraged them to bring anyone they knew.  My mom would help, as usual, and it would be a huge success. 

Two turkeys were clearly in order.  Two HUGE ones, of course.  Approaching the big day, I went to Kelly’s to survey the equipment and supplies.  Lovely kitchen, nice appliances, NO cooking supplies or utensils.  Ah well, not to be dissuaded from making this a spectacular event, we will simply bring OUR cooking pots and pans over.  Big deal, how hard can that be?  In fact, we will cook one turkey in our oven at home, and one over at the other house, so how GREAT will that be?  We will have twice as much oven space!  OH.  Dishes and serving pieces.  Of course, they have absolutely NONE.  They eat off paper plates and order in.    Oh well, we’ll bring our dishes over as well.  I’ll make a few trips during the week, it will be lovely.  It isn’t that far between our houses… maybe a 10 minute trip each way.  Between Greg, my Mom, and I, we will make this a Thanksgiving to remember in this beautiful house. 

We now have about 20 people coming to this feast.  Of COURSE the boys don’t have a table large enough to seat 20 people.  But Kelly says he will rent tables.  I am still wild with enthusiasm.  I find new pie recipes, I plan every detail, I am in hog heaven.   We are going to rent two long tables, put them together to make one very large square table.  Of course I have no tablecloths even CLOSE to this size, but that’s OK, I’ll buy one. 

So the plan is to do the pies and prep work at our house and then make “a couple” of trips over to Kelly’s on Thanksgiving Day.  We will cook one turkey at home and one over there.  We’ll cook the potatoes and vegetables and last minute dishes at Kelly’s. 

We make an EXTRA huge batch of stuffing the night before.  We make about 10 trips to the house with dishes, serving pieces, and cookware and part of the groceries.  This takes some careful planning folks!  These boys do not have exotic cooking staples such as salt and pepper, sugar and flour.  No.  We have to bring them all.  The closer it gets, the clearer it becomes we have to move the contents of our entire kitchen to their house. 

Now, one of my best friends, Patti Christy, who I met when Kelly was 1 month old, lived in San Diego at the time.  “Come up and join us, and surprise Michael!” I suggest.  (Michael is her son who attends UCLA and is going to be at Kelly’s house for Thanksgiving ) “If you come the day before, we can cook together and it will be just so much fun”.   She agrees it is a great idea and shows up as agreed.  She has been my friend forever, we raised our kids together, she is always helpful and we have a blast together. 

We have moved most things we own to the Encino house.  It is Wednesday night, my mom is over, and we are cooking our heads off, making trips to the boys’ house when necessary to make Thanksgiving day as easy as possible.  We have planned this with detail rivaled only by the Normandy Invasion.  We work well into the night and go to bed feeling in control of yet another lovely Thanksgiving. 

Leaping from bed with our usual Thanksgiving Day enthusiasm, we come to the kitchen to find Patti already up and standing proudly in the kitchen.  She has a surprise for us!!  She got up extra early to help out with the stuffing and has finished it for us to save us time!  We stare at amazement at the enormous bowl of forrest green that is to be our stuffing.  She has put an entire bottle of sage into the bread mixture.  “Don’t you like it that way?  We love sage at our house! ”

Stunned, we try our best not to strangle her, it is not in the spirit of the season.  She is trying to help.  She likes it that way.  Can it be saved?  Folks, let me tell you, that they do not make cooking vessels LARGE enough to mix in enough extra bread, celery and onions to this mixture to make it edible.  The bathtub is not large enough.  If we emptied the swimming pool… maybe. 

So we are good sports, we forge ahead.  Greg takes Turkey #1 over to House #2 to start it roasting.  I put Turkey #2 in House #1 and get it going.  We peel potatoes, we transport them to House #2.  We pass each other on Ventura Boulevard, one going back for one thing, one delivering another.  NOTE:  We do not have cellphones.  This is back in the days when mobile phones were possessions of Swat teams and rich people.  We are neither. 

At last, we decide it is time to move central operations to the Encino House.  We are now all in one place.  We set the enormous table.  We put out appetizers.  The hordes will be arriving soon.  We are still having “fun”. 

Let me just tidy up the kitchen and get the potatoes boiling and the yams cooking.  So what is the worst thing that can happen on a big cooking day, other than the electricity going out and the gas being shut off?  YES.  The garbage disposal can stop working and the sink can be clogged.  That’s right.  The guys try to fix it, it can’t be done, it requires a plumber and we haven’t invited one.  There is nothing to do but start putting garbage in disgusting containers. 

People are arriving now.  Our daughter Kris, has brought her new boyfriend to this occassion and he is very thrilled to be there.  He is so thrilled that he proceeds to drink himself into oblivion.  Filled with booze and thankfulness, he proceeds to stand up and make a very long toast.  Upon finishing, he retires to the kitchen, throws up, and passes out. Kris’ mortification is complete.

The table is SO HUGE that we cannot pass any dishes without STANDING UP and WALKING.  It is not only very long, but it is two tables wide.  People are so far from each other that they have to shout to be heard.  There is constant movement as guests at the north end of the table get up to bring the gravy to those at the south end of the table and those at the south traipse to the north with the bright green stuffing. Those on the east side must stand up to pass butter across the table to the west-siders.   At no point is everyone seated at the same time.

Dinner is over in what seems like SECONDS and everyone slips into an l-tryptophan coma, leaving us with the biggest mess since the Sylmar earthquake of 1971. We can only scrape the large hunks off the plates and cannot wash any dishes as the sink is full of icky water already. 

We load up the trunks of ALL our cars with dirty dishes, dirty pans, and  dirty silverware.  We make three trips with three cars, toting leftovers, supplies, garbage, and cookware back to Reseda.  We are now beyond exhaustion.  Patti, still trying to redeem herself for exposing herself as a Sage Junkie, insists that we wash all the dishes when we get home, which we do until 3 a.m. 

WHAT have we learned here?  As Greg said to me through clenched teeth no less than a dozen times DURING this Thanksgiving fiasco, “We are NEVER doing Thanksgiving anywhere but at our house EVER again.”  We know that the day will come when Thanksgiving will be at one of the kid’s houses instead of ours.  That will be fine.  WE, ourselves, will not do “Meals on Wheels” when it come to Thanksgiving Dinner.  It is, to say the very least, an ill-conceived idea.  BUT we have to admit, it was a Thanksgiving that has not blended into obscurity with other, less memorable, less eventful, less remarkable Holidays.  So there is THAT.

 

THE STUFFING

Filed under: Uncategorized — bonhuse @ 1:24 am

I feel a sermon coming on….   PLEASE, no package bread cubes, no stove top dressing, and, as I may have mentioned before–fruits, citron, exotic small fish, and various nuts– simply have no place here!!   I think Stove Top dressing is a great side dish, I like the flavor and I enjoy it once in awhile.  I just think that tearing up bread and chopping a few vegetables is not all that much work ONCE a year.  And no disrespect to Mrs. Cubison, but sheesh…  if you are going to make the stuffing, cubing and seasoning the bread is the easiest part anyway!  Plus, those bread cubes are too dry.  I don’t even use old bread in my stuffing.  Just regular loaves of bread which I let my granddaughters tear into pieces in a huge bowl.  So here we go. 

Grandma Alice (my mom) taught me how to make this.  She used to make it with pork roast (just put it in the pan with the roast) as well as with turkey and chicken.  It’s very simple, and the only thing you have to be careful about is the consistency– moist, but not gummy. 

 

3-4  loaves of white bread (sometimes I add some whole wheat, but nothing fancy, just whole wheat bread)

Chopped celery – one to two cups

Chopped onion – one to two cups

Salt & pepper to taste

Sage – ground or fresh– you will need more if you use fresh

Eggs – one or two

Chicken broth or water

Butter

 

The day before Thanksgiving, tear the bread into small pieces in very large bowl.  I have a stainless steel bowl large enough to bathe in…  that’s what we use.  This is a great job for the kids.  Add salt and pepper and sage and toss together.  Again, be careful to not over season it.  You can add more later.  And herein lies another great Thanksgiving story, which I will add after the recipe!  It’s a good one!!    So, let bread sit uncovered overnight.   You can also chop the celery and onion the night before if you like. 

On Thursday morning, put the onion and celery in a saucepan and cover with water or chicken broth.  Bring to a boil and simmer until the vegetables are tender.  Add one stick of butter to the saucepan and turn off the heat.  Let this mixture cool a bit.  Beat an egg or two (depending on how much stuffing you are making, obviously).  Check the seasoning on the bread, and adjust as needed.  If you use fresh chopped sage, you will need to use a little more than if you use dried sage.  You want the sage to be prevalent, but not overwhelming.  Add the liquid and the beaten egg, little by little to the bread.  This is when you need to be careful to toss the bread with the liquids, making sure the bread gets moist, but DON’T over stir as mixture will become glutinous.  When all is blended, stuff the unfortunate fowl.

Amounts and techniques are a little vague here, I’ll admit!  The mixture should be moist, but you should be able to see individual chunks of bread; it should not be a huge homogenous ball of wet bread! 

Extra stuffing that won’t go in the bird can be baked in a casserole on the side.  I usuallly keep it in the fridge and start the extra stuffing baking about an hour before dinner is to be served. 

Remove the stuffing from the turkey before carving.  Cover with tin foil until dinner.  Remember you cannot leave stuffing IN the carcass , NOR can you stuff the bird the night before. These precautions are pretty well known, but worth mentioning again. 

Next:  The story of The Thanksgiving From Hell, circa 1990

 

THE GRAVY

Filed under: Uncategorized — bonhuse @ 12:02 am

This is the MOST important part of dinner for me! I guess you can argue that the turkey pretty much defines Thanksgiving dinner, but rich, golden brown, savory gravy, slathered over the entire plate lives on in the memory, as well as the arteries!  And IF the turkey is a little dry (which is shouldn’t be if you opt for the “breast down” method) and IF the mashed potatoes are a little lumpy (which they shouldn’t be if you use a ricer), cover it with gravy and you will hardly notice. 

All credit for this wonderful make-ahead trick goes to my dear friend Marcella, who told me about this a few years ago.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was holding out on me.  We talk about EVERYTHING, and in excrutiating detail, and until each aspect of a subject has been analyzed beyond recognition.  AND,  one of our very favorite subjects is FOOD.  We have been known to drive over 20 miles to have our favorite hot dog.  What is lacking in this potential case of Obstruction of Gravy, is MOTIVE and MEANS.  She just is too nice and she talks WAY too much to be capable of keeping such a juicy secret.  Hard as it is for me to believe, it just must be that the subject of Thanksgiving gravy just never came up until three years ago!!  Case dismissed.

 So now,  having this rich, hearty stock made in advance assures you of a perfect gravy every time, and eliminates the last minute chaos which ensues when the turkey is out of the oven, the gravy has to be made, and everything has to be dished up for the big meal. 

6 to 8 turkey wings

vegetable oil

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

1 large carrot, cut in chunks

Flour 

Butter

Fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced — optional!

Preheat oven to 450.  Toss wings and oil in large baggie to coat,  remove from baggie and place in large roasting pan.   After 30 minutes, turn the wings and scatter the onions and carrots throughout the pan.  Continue to roast until wings are a deep golden brown, about another 30 minutes.  Add about one to two cups of water  to roasting pan and continue roasting 15 minutes longer.  (Times are approximate…  just make sure wings become a deep brown.   Keep an eye on the vegetables during the process and remove if they start to burn before wings are done)

When the wings are brown and crusty on all sides, transfer them and the juice to large stock pot, scraping all browned bits from pan.  Cover with water and season with salt and pepper. (Note: careful with the salt… you can always add more later )  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer uncovered until stock is reduced to 5 or 6 cups, about 3-l/2 hours.  Strain through a sieve over a large bowl or another pot.  Press on solids to release as much stock as possible.  Cool for awhile and then refridgerate.  You will end up with a sort of gelatinous stock that is a medium brown color. 

When you are ready to make your gravy on Thanksgiving Day, simply make a “roux” by combining equal parts of butter and flour in a small saute pan. (Intimidating French name, VERY simple process, works for thickening just about anything, including your thighs) 

Start with about 4 tbsp (half a stick) of butter and 4  four tablespoons of flour.  Stir it together  with a spatula and continue moving mixture in the pan until it is smooth and bubbling.  Do not let it turn brown.   Transfer  roux in a large sauce pan and add the stock, little by little, stirring continuously with a whisk to combine.  You will NEVER have lumps when you use a roux as thickening!

To get the feel of the process the first time (after that you will be a pro), start by adding a about 2 cups of stock to the roux.  When it starts to get hot you will see how thick it is becoming.  Add more stock to thin it out until you get the desired consistency. You can also add some canned chicken broth if you need more thinning.  After doing this, you will know how much stock and roux you need to make the gravy the way YOU want it.  Play around with it a little–it is simple to make a little more roux if you need it (just equal parts of butter and flour!), add more stock, and go from there until you get the amount of gravy that you need!     Add salt and pepper to taste, and any other herbs that you may like in your gravy.  We keep it simple, and stick with the salt and pepper.

We like to add sauteed fresh mushrooms at this point, but this is obviously a matter of choice.  If we are having lots of guests outside our core mushroom-loving family,  I put part of the gravy in a separate pan before adding the mushrooms.  

When I read this over it sounds like more work than it actually is!  Remember, you are doing this several days before Thanksgiving, and the actual making of the gravy on Thursday is VERY simple after you get the feel for it.  So give it a try — you won’t be sorry!

You can have your gravy all done at any point in the day.  Simply reheat it right before dinner.   Leftover stock freezes well.  If you cook a big Christmas feast, you will already have your gravy stock ready.