I’m feeling a bit of food blogger guilt for the complete lack of thanksgiving food porn. I mean, I tried:
But the lovely cherry pie was prettier pre-baking. And besides, I might save it for another post. I’m getting desperate — cooking is becoming a “throw in a pot and go” sort of affair around here, since the thesis defense is now looming. Still slightly in the distance, but really … I haven’t even finished my analysis. So I’ll cheat a little, and give you a play-by-play of Thanksgiving, just because I can. And while I’m at it, maybe I’ll come up with a list of things I’m thankful for, because that seems to be the thing to do (even if I am a bit late).
Let’s start with the good stuff, shall we? Here’s the menu:
- Roast chicken with rosemary and garlic butter
- Caramelized onion, sage, and bacon stuffing (made with homemade bread)
- Roast potatoes
- Roast sweet potatoes with chili
- Roast carrots with a touch of golden syrup, salt, and pepper
- Yorkshire pudding
- Chicken gravy
- Sauteed kale with smoked paprika and lemon (got to have a green — even if no one eats it)
- Cherry pie
Guests brought awesome apple pancakes (which went really well with gravy, strangely enough), delicious shortbread, and plenty of wine.
This year went quite well, mostly because we tried to plan a menu that would be easy enough to make in an afternoon, and had an actual schedule that broke the cooking up into manageable chunks. This meant that cooking, as you might guess, actually started a few days in advance.
This is excessively long, I realize, so skip it unless you’re planning a big (Holiday) dinner in the near future. Or go straight to Thursday if you want to know about the race!
We baked the bread for the stuffing and pre-dinner snacks. Ahem — actually, James baked the bread, because he’s good at it and that’s usually his job when we have dinner parties. I made chicken stock for the gravy and stuffing, using some chicken bones we had kept in the freezer for that purpose.
I picked up the chickens from a local market, and washed, salted, and peppered them as soon as we got home. I also stuffed some of the fresh rosemary we have growing in a pot in our kitchen under the skin covering the breasts, just for flavor. We’ll come back to those on Thanksgiving day.
I bought some organic kale from the same local market, plus some lemons. I washed and tore up the kale, so I could just throw it in the pot on Thursday. I sliced a bag-full of multicolored carrots into three pieces lengthwise, and then quartered them. After a quick toss in a bit of lemon juice, salt, pepper, and oil, they were ready to go in the fridge.
We realized we were short on butter for the pie and cookies we were planning to make, but luckily had a carton of heavy cream (NOT ultra-pasteurized) in the fridge — perfect for making butter. So we did that, reserving the whey for the pastry crust as well. Once that was ready, James made the dough for the pie, and I made the cherry filling, plus some shortbread. We went to bed at 1 am, which wasn’t quite the plan, but that’s what happens when you have to clean the house and cook at the same time. Next year, I’m definitely starting the cleaning a bit earlier.
We ran the race! I made it in under 45 minutes, which was under what I was going for — just under a 9 minute mile. James beat me by 4 MINUTES, which is unusual — I used to beat him … Got to work on that. 😛 I saw our lab’s computer guy there, cheering on his daughter, which was cool. I love the fact that all sorts of people end up at these things. The place was a bit of a zoo after the race, and it was hard to get out of the park, but after half a beer, some yummy chowder, and the usual post-race fruit, we made it home to start the stuffing at 1 pm.
The first item on the agenda? Cutting 3 mini-loaves of that gorgeous bread into cubes and drying it out in the oven @ 250 degrees F for 1.5 hours. It was an easy start …
Next? I put together the stuffing, basically by throwing stuff together. I cooked the bacon, and took that out but used the fat to cook the onions and sage in. Once the onions were soft, I threw in the bread and cut-up bacon, tossed everything together (with a bit of salt and pepper), and poured in ~ 2 c. of stock. I also added the zest from one lemon, for a little extra flavor. After that cooked for 10 minutes or so, I let it cool off and stuck it in the fridge, for baking / stuffing later.
Then some friends stopped by for a visit, en-route to another thanksgiving party, so we took a little break until about 4 o’clock. James pre-heated the oven, mostly to keep the house warm, but we didn’t do much cooking from 2:30 – 4, which was fine by me.
After they left, we took the chickens out of the fridge, just to let them warm up a bit before roasting. We washed and peeled the potatoes and sweet potatoes. The potatoes were tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper (nothing fancy — one of our guests has allergies that dictate plain food). The sweet potatoes got tossed in lemon, a bit of chili powder, salt, and pepper, and since they were cut up into smaller bits, we put them in the fridge for a while.
At 5, we put some garlic and butter under the chicken skin, and used the stuffing we had made to stuff the chickens. The chicken, potatoes, and remaining stuffing all went in the oven at once, around 5:15. I made the yorkshire pudding batter (basically crepe batter — 2 c. flour, 13 oz. milk, 4 eggs, a bit of salt — it could have used some pepper), and fridged that.
At 5:40, the carrots went in. If I hadn’t forgotten the sweet potatoes, they would have gone in, too.
At 6, our first guest arrived early. No problem — we have bread and homemade butter, and James decided to teach him the rules of Australian Rules football, which he could live stream.
More guests arrived around 6:20, which is when I realized the sweet potatoes weren’t in the oven. Oops! We stuck ’em in and hoped for the best, poured some more wine, and got everyone settled. The chicken came out of the oven for a rest at 6:40, or whenever the meat thermometer read 165 degrees F (I checked in periodically). Everyone finally arrived by about 6:45, so once we got them talking, comfortable, and appropriately buzzed, we finished the cooking:
I sauteed the kale, took out the chicken out of the pan, and poured out the fat for the yorkshire pudding. It’s good stuff — you pour a tablespoon of the chicken fat into muffin tins, heat the oil up, and then pour the batter in. After a few minutes, you have these gorgeous, greasy, puffy treats — just in time for dinner. James made the gravy in the meantime.
The fire alarm went off. Oops! The yorkshire pudding was spewing oil onto the oven floor. We have, by this time, covered all but 2 windows in the house in plastic, so we threw the alarm onto our bed, closed the door, opened our two windows, and kept cooking. No harm done beyond a little smoke, right?
We had dinner ready by about 7, and did a buffet-style serving line. The chicken was gorgeous, with crackly skin, everyone loved the stuffing, and I was really quite pleased at how everything turned out. I didn’t even burn anything seriously this year — or stress out over the food. I just got to enjoy it.
By 8:30, everyone was stuffed and happy, and ready for dessert. (No, that is not a contradiction — that’s what Thanksgiving is all about).
Oh, because I can’t resist, here’s a morning-after pie shot:
I’m thankful for the fact that Thanksgiving leftovers give me the excuse to eat pie for breakfast.
A few other things I’m thankful for:
- James, for happily cooking all sorts of yummy things for dinner parties, even if the whole thing was my idea. And for being a generally awesome fiance.
- My family, for teaching me that cooking things from scratch is the way to go.
- A decent work environment and colleagues I would actually want to invite to Thanksgiving dinner.
- BibDesk. If you’re writing your thesis in LaTeX, use BibTeX, and have a Mac, you’ll understand. If you don’t, go look it up!
- This year’s election results. (!!!!)
- Possibilities. Do I teach, or go for a fellowship this summer? And what, exactly, do I want to do with my life? Agghh. Still thankful … At least I have options.