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.