Sunday, November 18, 2007

Just 4 days to go...

Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday. You get family and good food without all of the crazy spending and gift-giving of Christmas (or Hannukah, if that's your tradition). The decorating is much more low-key and hassle-free, too. I realize that many people get stressed about the idea of hosting Thanksgiving and having to feed the multitudes. And do you stick with the same recipe every year, or try to vary it with some new ideas garnered from magazines? The same dilemma all those magazine editors face with every November issue... (Hire me! I'm up to the task!!)

Well, I absolutely love fixing Thanksgiving dinner. Granted, I say this after only technically hosting one such holiday—last year in the Manhattan apartment I shared with my sister and a friend with all of our parents sitting on the couch and floor around the coffee table. What the event lacked in furniture it made up for in good food and good times—even if the general concensus was I went a little too heavy on the lemon juice, which, coincidentally, might be the single most relevant event leading to the naming of this blog, but I digress...

I look forward to and thrive on the challenge of planning multiple dishes to be cooked with limited resources all timed so that everything is finished as close to the actual meal as possible. Some might call me a masochist, but I'm sure there are plenty others out there who get where I'm coming from. If it were up to me, I'd cook the entire meal myself or at least manage my brigade of family "staff" in whatever kitchen I happen to be in. I don't mind the responsibility. I love it, in fact. But I have to remember to balance my enthusiam with that o everyone else. Just because I recently graduated from culinary school doesn't mean that I have the right to take over (even if I want to).

This year I'm lucky. I'm flying home to Missouri and my parents are hosting the big event. And do you know what that means? I get to cook in a nice large kitchen and take advantage of two huge refrigerators, two large ovens, a 6-burner stove and a sink that's actuall big enough to wash pots in. New Yorkers, you know what a treat this will be! Oh, and bonus, my parents will be footing the bill! Does it get any better than this?

Now, I'm a member of Slow Food, but even if I weren't I'd still be cooking everything from scratch. This year I'll allow myself the exception of using store-bought chicken stock, but that's only becaue I'm not flying in early enough to make my own. There will be no powdered gravy mix, no just-add-water stuffing mix and no bakery-bought pies. Yes, a can or two of cranberry "sauce" will be opened, but I have to allow my family their traditions too. You can be sure, however, that I WILL NOT allow anything so utterly lazy and I-don't-care-enough-to-even-try as a Jenny-O Turkey In a Bag. "Goes directly from freezer to oven—no thawing!" Over my dead body! This product breaks just about every commandment of turkey cooking known to man and I want no part in it. (Although, I suppose it's at least a step above a Thanksgiving microwave meal....)

So what will we be cooking? Well, my mom bought an organic turkey of some sort and promises me she has it thawing in the fridge already. I'll probably stuff it with an orange, lemon and onion (all quartered) as well as some fresh sage. I'll rub the outside with olive oil and heavily season it with kosher or sea salt (no iodized table salt!) and start it in a 450°F oven for 30 minutes and then finish it at 350°F until it's ready. (This gives it a crispy skin without drying out the breast too much.) With that, we'll make a yet-to-be-determined bread "stuffing" that won't actually even be stuffed inside the turkey—it just slows down the cooking and greatly increases the chances of food poisoning. I'm also planning for brussels sprouts cooked with bacon and shallots, and maple roasted sweet potatoes. There will be pumpkin and pecan pies and cranberry-walnut biscuits. Probably a double batch of those since they'll be perfect for making next day turkey sandwiches. Of course, there'll be gravy too.

Other family members are bringing corn, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and an assortment of pre-dinner snacks. I'd be cooking more dishes and trying even more new recipes if the family let me, but it's a family holiday and the point isn't to cook a meal that pleases me, it's to cook a meal that pleases the family, and I'm happy to do that. I still manage to sneak in a new dish or two every year and, as long as the basics are covered, no one seems to mind. My hope is that eventually the fancier dishes will become the new family traditions, but until then, I simply have to get away with as much as I can. And it's not that I don't appreciate mashed potatoes, too, it's just that there are so many different things to try and only so much room on the buffet counter. (Or in my stomach...)

For now, I'm going to watch Iron Chef America: Battle Thanksgiving and see if I get any more ideas for the big day...

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