What's on the menu?
Thanksgiving, or as it is more commonly known “the Day Before Black Friday,” is a chance for folks to get together with family, eat too much, argue and watch football. We generally consider it a uniquely American holiday, but that’s not true. It is celebrated in Canada and, according to Wikipedia, in Grenada, Liberia, Norfolk Island and the city of Leiden, in the Netherlands.
Thanksgiving can also be a huge pain in the neck if you’re the one doing the cooking. I have no idea how my grandmother put out so much food by herself every year, because the first time I tried it, things did not go smoothly. I love to cook, and I love to cook for people, but I also have a tendency to make things a bit more… complicated than necessary in the kitchen.
My first Thanksgiving menu (for seven people) included a roast turkey, a roast tenderloin of beef, two cranberry sauces, sautéed greens with apples and chiles, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, turnips in cream sauce, a salad I cannot remember and an apple pie with almond crust. Oh, and steamed rice with milk gravy. And two sauces for the beef – horseradish cream and a wine-stock reduction with shallots and garlic. I think I baked bread, too, and for some reason I remember a corn pudding soufflé. Things get hazy, because to calm my nerves when I started cooking that morning I had a glass of the wine I used to deglaze a pan.
By the time we sat down to eat around 2:00 that afternoon, I’d had a few more glasses of wine. By “a few,” I mean, “a lot.” I remember that the food was good, and I remember being quite surprised by that development, given how many different things I’d made and my blood alcohol content. I vaguely remember football and standing in front of my kitchen sink for a solid two hours trying to reduce the mountain of pans, pots, baking dishes, roasting pans and every single utensil I owned at the time.
That was the last Thanksgiving meal I cooked for quite a few years, and still the last one I’ve been stupid enough to attempt on my own. This year my wife and I are hosting our families at the house we moved into a few months ago. She and I have divided things up pretty equally, and in addition our mothers and her father are bringing bread, corn pudding, ham, rolls and cornbread. I’m going to roast a turkey, but for the last decade when I’ve done that I’ve made things considerably easier on myself by first removing its backbone and laying it flat, or spatchcocking it.
Spatchcocking does a few things; it reduces the cooking time considerably, because the flattened bird is thinner and thus has more surface area open to the direct heat from the oven. That, in turn, tends to leave you with more evenly cooked meat overall – the breast doesn’t dry out before the leg/thigh meat is cooked; and finally the skin tends to crisp up evenly. You don’t get to bring a whole bird to the table, but that’s not a big deal as far as I’m concerned.
In addition to the turkey, my wife and I are making roasted green beans, mashed sweet potatoes, stuffing, a very easy salad of Belgian endive, apple, walnuts and blue cheese, cranberry sauce and a couple of pies. It’s not exactly a weeknight dinner, but it’s nowhere near as ridiculously ambitious as my first go-round, and we enjoy cooking together.
I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving as much as I anticipate enjoying mine. If you’re cooking, I’d love to know what – apart from the standards – you’re making, and if you’re dining out, I’d love to know where. Share in the comments, if you would?