November 19, 2010

Thanksgiving on our minds

Ok, so. Thanksgiving. I have a small confession: I Love-with-a-capital-L Thanksgiving, a day of family togetherness and time off work and permitted gluttony, but I have to admit I don't Love Thanksgiving food. I tend to get more excited about planning what to do with turkey leftovers (don't throw away your carcass! TURKEY STOCK!) than planning the actual meal. Don't get me wrong: I like Thanksgiving food. Cornbread stuffing and mashed potatoes and turkey with gravy? Yes please. I eat it and I enjoy it. But if I Loved, say, cornbread stuffing, I'd make it more than once a year, right? And yet we never do.

However, I am really excited about Thanksgiving this year, because we'll be spending it in cold Washington state, where it will probably snow, and because we get to cook in my mother-in-law's awesome kitchen. And I'm psyched to get into her amazing china/crystal/silver cabinet (it's a wonderland; that's what happens when your dad is a traveling china salesman) and set the table. Also, I like cooking all day so that the house smells warm and homey. Definitely one of the best parts about Thanksgiving.

We officially entered menu planning mode yesterday. (I know, a little late, but we still have lots of time... right?). Betty is picking up a fresh turkey, which we'll be treating Zuni Cafe style: salting the entire bird and letting it sit in the fridge for 2-3 days before roasting. This is how I treat my chickens prior to roasting, and it is a brilliant method that results in tender, flavorful meat. See more about the Zuni "dry brine" process for turkeys here. (I also found this article touching on pros/cons of turkey brining interesting. Food science writer Harold McGee is against wet brining turkeys and I like it. Anything that doesn't involve a flood of turkey-scented water on my kitchen floor is good with me.) Gravy will be a standard affair, per Mark's dad's request. Turkey stock and a butter/flour roux, no giblets. Something like this.

As far as sides, cornbread and sausage stuffing is the tradition in Mark's family. We'll make a skillet of cornbread, cube it, dry it out, and fold in browned sausage, fresh herbs, chopped onions, carrots, celery, fennel, turkey stock and butter. Dennis and I are big on mashed potatoes (the fluffy kind, please), though Mark predicted his dad would come down against fun add-ins like garlic or celeriac (boo! but I understand.). I usually make a chunky cranberry sauce, flavored with orange zest and Cointreau and simmered until the berries burst and the sauce thickens. The wine will be something from Washington state, for sure.

The wild cards: I'm not sure yet how to do the sweet potatoes. And we are still thinking about vegetable sides -- I like the idea of something crunchy, so shaved fennel/apple/walnut salad is a contender. But I also love simple green beans the way my mom does them -- she wok fries them with onion and oil until they are crisp and tender and fantastic -- and brussels sprouts are a favorite too. That will be a game time decision.

For pre-dinner food: My family doesn't eat until 3-4pm, so my mom always sets out a few snacky things for us to graze on while we're hanging out. Our spread always included boiled shrimp and spicy cocktail sauce, crudites with dip and a tray of Vietnamese snacks -- goi cuon (summer rolls) with peanut sauce, cha gio (egg rolls) with nuoc mam and these fabulous sweet potato and shrimp fritters called banh tom. Mark says his family eats much earlier, though, so maybe we'll forgo anything more than crackers and cheese.

Finally, Mark's contribution will be rolls (probably Parker House style yeast roles) and pie. Of course. He wants to make a sour cherry pie, which is not traditional, but he wants to take advantage of his parents' supply of home canned sour cherries and I don't blame him. I also asked him to make Cook's Illustrated pumpkin pie recipe. He plans to use his butter/cream cheese crust recipe.

OK, now that I've written all that out, I am starting to get a little excited about Thanksgiving food. If anyone has any tried-and-true sweet potato suggestions, or most favorite sides, please comment away.


Amy said...

I hate pumpkin pie but am EXTREMELY opinionated about sweet potatoes! So, my extended family goes crazy for the Ruth Chris recipe for sweet potato casserole. I like it but I'm a bigger fan of more savory preparations -- sweet potato + chipotle, sweet potato and gruyere souffle, etc. The sweet potato shrimp fritters you mentioned sound amazing. And my favorite side is brussels sprouts the David Chang way. Really good.

Laura J. said...

Hi Kim. I like your blog! Please do a follow up post on how your turkey turns out. I hate the wet brining process too! Also, the breast meat turned out weird last year, almost spongy.

My favorite T-day side dish is sweet potato biscuits! We're going to my aunt's house this year; I'll be making the biscuits along with roasted green beans with walnut oil and almonds. YUM.

Kim said...

Amy -- I googled the Ruth Chris recipe and it sounds right up Mark's alley, though I'm with you on preferring savory sweet potatoes. Have you ever tried Gourmet's recipe for sweet potato fries? AMAZING.

Laura J. - I will report back on the turkey cure. And I like the sound of both of your Thanksgiving contributions this year. You are a gem of a guest.

LJ said...

my favorite is: gravy. Once you get a good recipe, please post! it makes anything palatable, and also the best turkey sandwiches the next day.

Kim said...

Laura J. -- The dry brine method is a keeper! My only advice is to use a good thermometer, don't overcook (we brought it to 165 and let the turkey rest for 30 minutes) and be sure not to use a pre-brined turkey (like a frozen Butterball or somesuch).

Lynh -- I ended up using Ina Garten's gravy recipe. You brown 1 cup of chopped onions in 1 stick of butter, add flour to make a roux and stir in hot homemade stock and white wine, if you want. I also added a dash of soy sauce to up the umami and add some color. This makes an decent base (and you can make it ahead of time), but it really benefits from adding turkey juices/drippings to pump up the flavor. I found it pretty bland without the turkey drippings.