Planning Thanksgiving Dinner

There are three of us, and we’ll have no others. They’d be welcome, of course, but everyone with whom we associate at all has family, and we’re about 1300 miles from the nearest of OUR kin — not going to happen on unemployment, either way.

Even so, I’m going to have food and food and leftovers and… sigh. Here’s a bit of the menu.

I have a 10 pound turkey in the freezer. (Actually, at 30 cents a pound I have more than one. Saving money is saving money.) It is small enough to thaw over two or three days while sitting in the refrigerator – no water-thawing needed.

A digression. The single fastest way to thaw meat is to put it in a container filled with cold (under 40 degree F) water and then have a constant flow of water into the container. I have a pound of pork chops ready for cooking in 30 minutes that way. Yes, it’s wasteful of water. Yes, that bothers me – but at this point not enough to stop.

I will brine the turkey overnight, then I’ll use Alton Brown’s cooking technique to finish. (Hot oven for 30 minutes or till the breast skin is nicely browned, shield the breast and turn down to medium, remove when the thermometer says the meat is done.) At 10 pounds this is going to take not more than a couple of hours, tops. The brine will include, in addition to salt, thyme, rosemary, bay, some cracked pepper corns, some cracked whole cloves, and the zest and fruit of one lemon. I’ll put another lemon, cut into eighths, into the cavity for aromatics while it cooks. That’s the plan – the other possibility is to replace the lemon with about 40 cloves (mashed) of garlic, with roughly 20 each in the brine and in the cavity.

I’ll have candied sweet potatoes – done mostly on the stove, finished in the oven after the turkey comes out. Cut up the yams, stove-top braise in some brown sugar water till soft, add a bit more brown sugar and butter. To finish I’ll put in an oven dish, top with some marshmallows, and heat till the top sugar is brown. (Diet? What diet?)

Mashed potatoes… ok, confession time. Years ago I did a blind taste test with most of the people I knew. The test was dried potato buds vs homemade mashed potatoes, both with equal butter and milk and salt for the volume. The test was simply “can you tell which is which”? Of 80 people, over half chose the dried as “home-made”. SO… unless I want the skins or it’s a texture issue (I want the lumps of slightly whole potatoes), I use dried buds these days. I do a bit of trickery, however. Once they’re done they get whipped with more butter and just a bit of parmesan cheese. This gets mostly made either the night before or while the turkey is roasting. It’ll get a re-heat in the microwave then get the melted butter and parmesan whip before it goes to the table.

Cornbread dressing – not stuffing, dressing. Cooked on the side. Dried cornbread, dried wheat bread, eggs, chopped hardboiled eggs, chopped onion, chopped celery, salt, sage, thyme, chicken broth (not turkey, I would if I had it though) to “finish” the needed moisture, and it joins the turkey in the oven about 15 minutes after I turn down the heat on the turkey. It’ll take 45 minutes to an hour to cook, and then it should sit for a bit to finish setting.

Seven Layer Salad. Yes, it’s a ‘church lady’ recipe. Yes, you can get almost the same effect by just tossing everything and using a mayo based dressing. And yet there’s something about the meld… A bed of lettuce, followed by a layer of crumbled crisp bacon, with a layer of chopped green onion going next, then a layer of chopped hardboiled eggs, fresh or barely thawed frozen green peas, a THIN layer of mayonaisse that’s had a little sugar and a little salt added (in a cup of mayo, one tablespoon of sugar and one teaspoon of salt), topped with a layer of grated (or better yet shredded) sharp cheddar cheese. Served in a clear glass rectangular cake pan. Note, please, the order. It’s meant to produce green/not-green alternating layers. You don’t have to follow that order if you’re not making it for pretty or if you want a different appearance (or you just flat forgot).

A loaf or two of baked bread, which I’ll have do a slow rise in the refrigerator overnight and bake before the turkey in the morning.

A couple of pumpkin pies. Offhand, I think the candied sweet potatoes will have more sugar, but there’s something about the taste and texture of the pumpkin and classic spices that hits the spot for me.

No, no cranberry sauce (I love it, the other two emphatically do not), no relish trays (veggie sticks, a plethora of pickles, a variety of olives stuffed and otherwise), deviled eggs, … ah, things I like with which to celebrate a thankfulness of plenty. No peculiar foods of which I’m the only one to really like in the house – no dirty rice, no cracklins, no head cheese, none of that. Just the basics, though lots of it (relative to the number of people eating.)

And the very important thing. My family, whom I love and who loves me, for which I give thanks every day and for which I shall celebrate that thanks next week.

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2 thoughts on “Planning Thanksgiving Dinner

  1. Too bad you are in Georgia – we would have given you a turkey that tasted a lot better than $.30/pound! But that’s for another time.

  2. Yep. On the other hand if I were near you I’d also be a LOT less than 1300 miles from family, too.

    Two “besides” points.

    1) Besides, you didn’t have it this year. (Sorry to hear how rough this year was – life is not a gentle instructor.)

    2) Besides, the $.30 is “GOOD SALE” not “you get what you pay for.” Yes, it’s not going to be the quality you produce. But it’s still going to be pretty good.

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