Thanksgiving 2009 – Debrief
Thanksgiving is a complicated holiday. For one thing, it’s one of the few times I have more people than I can comfortably seat around my dining table. Inevitably, guests spill over to my contingency site, a folding game table laden with tablecloth, runners and china to disguise the fact that it is a folding game table. Also, given the constraints of my small galley kitchen and single oven, the execution has to be planned out with the precision of an Ocean’s Eleven heist.
Last year, I wrote a post-mortem of my Thanksgiving preparation which I found extremely helpful as I started thinking about this year’s theme and menu. Hence, I’ve done it again. At some point, I hope to amass a treasure trove of lessons-learned to get this holiday preparation down to a science.
Thanksgiving 2009 Menu:
Poached Oyster with Champagne Cream
A pared down version of this recipe from Bon Appetit/Epicurious.
- Getting the fishmonger to shuck the oysters meant avoiding slashed wrists and other mishaps.
- Omitting the spinach and artichokes cut down the complexity of the preparation.
- Substituting leftover chardonnay for champagne produced satisfactory results.
Result: This was a hit and not hard to make at all. Definitely gets added to the recipe box
Truffle-Scented Roast Turkey with Shallots and Chestnut Gravy
The week before, I ordered a 16-18 lb Eberley Farms free-range organic bird.
- Going to the trouble of hunting down fresh truffles in NYC. This was from Burgundy and about the diameter of a Susan B Anthony dollar. I kept it in a sealed glass jar filled with uncooked rice. The week prior, I had also bought a bottle of truffles preserved in liquid from my grocery as a back-up. There was no contest. One had a delicate earthy perfume while the other smelled like a science experiment.
- Brining the turkey even if the recipe did not call for it. I soaked the bird overnight in a solution of 8 qts water, 2 cups kosher salt, and 1 cup honey with herbs and black pepper thrown in. This time I double-bagged the Ziploc XL plastic and surrounded it with ice inside a cooler. Success, no leakage + juicy breast meat.
- Cooking the turkey on it’s side resulted in a beautiful brown bird all around.
- Cardinal rule of using turkey lifters: Remove those plastic tips covering each prong. I almost lost one of them inside the turkey as we were turning it over after the first hour. Lucky I found it after frantically pawing out the herbs inside. I re-stuffed the various greens back into the cavity before returning the bird to the oven. It was not till the turkey emerged hours later that I realized I had left a stainless steel spoon inside. Oops. My husband says good thing I am not a surgeon.
- 375’F yields a cooked bird in three hours, not four. I put it in at 2:30 and was done by 5:30, an hour earlier than planned.
- Roasting to 165’F resulted in still pink thighs even though its internal temperature rose to 180’F as it rested. To ensure I did not send anyone to the hospital, I put the bird back in the oven after carving out the breast meat. Next time, I’ll let it linger to 175’F before taking it out of the oven.
- Truss the turkey so that it looks a bit more lady-like in the pictures.
Result: Mixed. Juicy breast, but my timing is still not perfect.
Cafe Boulud’s Blanquette de Veau
Since carnivores outnumber omnivores 3 to 1 on my guest list, I decided to augment my rather smallish bird with another meat dish as insurance. The trick was finding something elegant that I could make ahead and not require oven space on the day itself. Cafe Boulud’s Blanquette de Veau fit the bill nicely.
- Using a breast of veal cut into individual ribs and augmenting this with veal shoulder stew meat. The bones and ligaments really added to the flavor in the stew.
- Throwing in some parsnips on a whim. When I saw this pile of locally grown parsnips at the grocery, I succumbed to buying a few pieces for the stew. Peeling them was a joy as it released a wonderful aroma reminiscent of cinnamon.
Roast potatoes are the little black dress of Thanksgiving. Depending on how you accessorize them, they can work with any kind of menu.. A big plus is that they don’t take up much room in the oven. I quartered and spread them on a parchment lined tray, drizzled some olive oil and roasted them one rung underneath the bird during the last hour. After last year’s near fiasco with aioli, I decided to do something easy and stress free this year. They were only seasoned with salt.
Arugula Salad with Dried Cranberries & Honey Walnuts
Serving a salad instead of cooked greens are great since they don’t fight for oven or countertop space. With so much going on in the other dishes, I needed another quick and easy dish. I dressed this with a simple vinaigrette of olive oil and Chardonnay vinegar and topped with dried cranberries and honey walnuts.