Friday, November 27, 2009
"The Love of a Family is Life's Greatest Blessing"
I have the privilege of hosting Thanksgiving every year. My parents fly in and stay with us during the week. My siblings come in with their families, and my Uncle Pros and his family come. We don't see each other that much, maybe a couple times a year, so it's a real treat to get together.
We fall into our roles. I shop and cook most of the meal. My brother Ed sets the table. My Auntie Nanette always jumps in to wash dishes during the cooking process -- there are always lots of dishes! My mom supervises. My husband and the guys fry the turkeys. My dad always carves.
Then there's the series of horrible jokes from my Dad and Uncle Pros, running political commentary, story after story of our childhood, my nephew Christian who makes us laugh til we cry, and arguing about passages in the Bible. There's a lot of laughing and some yelling.
You know. Family.
This year was a little different, because my sister and family couldn't come (sad), but my older brother and his family came for the first time (happy!).
Brother Ed went about his task of setting the table, not easy in this decoration-less house. Edward always makes the table beautiful, making use of what the trees and bushes have to offer outside.
Turkey, Turkey, Turkey, Turkey So Fine
Then there's the turkey. As long as I've hosted, we've fried the turkeys. Fried turkey is the best! But this year, my husband was ready for a break, so we did something radical -- we roasted it.
The last time I tried to roast a turkey, it was disastrous. I called my Irish-American mother-in-law in a panic ... where to stick the thermometer? She tried to tell us, but we obviously couldn't follow directions. We took the turkey out, thinking it was cooked. It wasn't.
Luckily, we had fried a turkey -- the fried turkey was supposed to be the experimental turkey that year -- so we ate that.
This year, I had the opposite problem. I bought a 20-pounder, and I brined it as usual. I highly recommend brining. I was gleeful, thinking I was going to smoke this big boy over hickory wood on my new obsession, the Big Green Egg.
Alas, it and the roasting pan didn't fit into the Egg.
Plan B was to cook it on the Weber Grill. I figured it would take about 6 hours, so I started the turkey in the oven, using Anne Burrell's roasted turkey recipe. Anne's recipe is delicious, by the way, and the apple cider in her recipe and cooking the turkey at high heat for the first hour made the bird burnished and browned.
Four hours in, I pulled the turkey out and put it on the preheated grill, so I could use my oven for other things. Even though the turkey had one of those popping button things to tell you when it was ready, we decided to stick a thermometer in to check it. My brother actually knew how to use the thermometer on a turkey.
It registered 170F in the breast. It was done, two hours ahead of schedule. Actually over done. And the popping button thing was still unpopped.
Luckily the brine saved the turkey. It was moist and flavorful if not the juiciest turkey in the world.
Then again, it's hard to beat the juiciness of a fried turkey.
Since we were planning to serve dinner around 6 pm, we had some light lunch fare.
The Italian Wedding Soup was a big hit, such a big hit that I don't have a picture. Italian Wedding Soup is a soup with little meatballs floating merrily in chicken broth, with some kind of green vegetable (I used spinach, but kale and escarole are also used) and sometimes shredded egg.
My mother made this soup the first time she cooked the Thanksgiving meal, when I was in college. We were all pretty sure she was going to mess up Thanksgiving -- I mean, a woman you have never seen cook your whole life is going to cook the biggest meal of the year? -- but that's another story.
It was also good fortune that I made Italian Wedding Soup as my sister-in-law Tina, who is Italian-American, shared with me that her mom makes the soup every year for Thanksgiving.
I also made a Butternut Squash Soup served with pepitas, for the vegetable lovers among us.
In addition to the soups and refreshing clusters of grapes, clementines, and cherries, we had a tray of salami, prosciutto di parma, provolone cheese, and sliced tomatoes lightly dressed with balsamic vinaigrette, served with freshly sliced Tuscan bread. I made the mistake of asking the Italian deli man if I could try samples of the domestic prosciutto ($10/lb.) and the Parma ham ($22/lb.)
Duh. As if there was even going to be a contest.
Finishing up the lineup was an offering of triple creme brie cheese, strawberry rhubarb jam, candied walnuts, and water crackers.
Ah man. Were these good. The creaminess of the cheese, the sweet-tart flavor of the jam, and the crunch of the nuts and crispness of the crackers were irresistible.
I wish I had taken pictures of this lovely spread -- the deep and vibrant red palate of the jam, grapes, cherries, and tomatoes; the pop of orange from the clementines; the creamy whites of the cheeses, bread and crackers, the sugary brown of the walnuts, and the rosy prosciutto and salami. Pretty and a delicious preface to the main event.
I was perfectly on time most of the day. Until the turkey decided to be done two hours early.
Let's say the turkey got a good rest as I finished the rest of the meal, with the help of my sister-in-law who took over the salad, and my older brother who volunteered to make the gravy.
I threw a melange of cubed sweet potatoes, celeriac, carrots, acorn squash, and parsnips which I had tossed in olive oil, shallots, thyme, and salt and pepper to roast at 425F in the oven.
I quickly assembled the stuffing -- cubed Tuscan bread and crumbled cornbread, chicken broth, and a saute of onions, celery, apples, butter, and herbs -- and threw that in another oven.
I boiled the potatoes which Sergio had peeled and cut earlier in the day, and Tina helped mash them while I added a puree of leeks, chicken broth and butter I had made the day before, sour cream, and milk.
While my dad carved the turkey, I quickly made a sauce of shallots, white wine, orange juice, and chicken broth and tossed in haricots verts which I had blanched earlier in the day, to warm through and finish cooking.
Time for Dinner!
Salad of Goat Cheese, Candied Walnuts, Roasted Beets, Arugula & Mesclun with Balsamic Vinaigrette (pictured above in the far left).
Brined, Herbed and Roasted Turkey with Apple Cider Gravy
Stuffing with Cornbread, Sausage, and Apples
Mashed Potatoes with Sour Cream and Leeks and Apple Cider Gravy
White Rice, of course.
Sauteed Haricots Verts with Orange Sauce
Not pictured but still yummy:
Roasted root vegetables
The best thing about dessert is I didn't make any!
Filipino cashew boats, courtesy of my mom who brought them with her
Pumpkin pie and apple pie, courtesty of my older brother
Pecan pie and apple crumble pie, courtesy of my work
Ricotta cheesecake and carrot cake, courtesy of my aunt and uncle
While this post is mostly about food -- this is a food blog, after all -- Thanksgiving isn't really about the food. It's about taking the time to reflect about all that we have -- family, friends, a roof over our heads, food to eat, gifts of our hearts and hands to share -- and to open our eyes and take in the great beauty that quietly surrounds us and that we sometimes take for granted. How lucky we are.