Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thanksgiving in October

I am very blessed to have two great uncles who have both lived wonderful, amazing and very long lives. My Great Uncle S just celebrated his 100th birthday. He walks 3 blocks every day to the local YMCA to swim and play chess in a men’s club. He was a practicing physician until his 80’s and continues to take the medical boards every 3 years to “keep his mind active.”

My other Great Uncle is A who was like a second grandfather to me. His wife E was one of my grandmother’s sisters (my grandmother passed away when I was 3) and I spent a lot of time at their home growing up. E was lovely, elegant, cultured, smart, had impeccable taste, an amazing cook and a kindergarten teacher. She was who I wanted to be when I grew up. My grandmother’s 3 sisters’ all got dementia in their late 70’s/early 80’s. E was the last to be diagnosed (and pass away). It was heartbreaking to watch her decline and eventually become a shell of who she was. The one thing that never wavered during that time, or during their life together, was her and A’s love for each other. Their marriage was one for the record books. Theirs was a beautiful love story; no one ever doubted their devotion to one another. Even to this day, when A speaks about E, who passed away while we were on our honeymoon in 2010, he gets a lump in his throat and tears up. He says that he always had the last word, “Yes Dear.”

A’s 97th birthday was the week after S’s 100th and since S had a fancy party in the city I decided to host a “Thanksgiving in October” for A at our home. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Growing up we would go to one of my grandmother’s sister’s homes for the holiday – always with a lavish feast prepared and a day filled with family. Once the matriarchs started to get sick / pass away that all stopped. For whatever reason their children never took on the tradition- all of them with their own busy lives to lead (doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, business professionals). I always said that when I had a home of my own I would host family dinners for my mom’s side of the family like we used to have.

I have had them over many times but never for “Thanksgiving.” I usually host dinners in the spring, summer, and very early fall. We have a lot of steps leading into our home and A walks with a cane, my Godmother has bad Lyme’s Disease which makes it very hard for her to walk and my aunts both have bad knees… I really don’t want to tempt it with icy steps. But since the weather was starting to seem like a mild fall I decided to try my hand at preparing a feast that my Great Aunt E would have been proud of.

I turned to my trusty friend, Pinterest.

Since hubs cousin hosts Thanksgiving I have never made a turkey before. I found online that you should have at least 1 – 1 ½ pounds of turkey for each person. Since we had 10 people and my Auntie R doesn’t eat meat (only fish) I got a 13.4 pound turkey. It was fresh when I bought it but I froze it for a couple days and then defrosted it in the fridge for 3 days. Thankfully we have an extra fridge in the garage because that was a decent sized bird!

I found something on Pinterest called “Turkey How To.” I am not sure about the Pinterest rules and regs in regards to reposting a recipe on a blog (and besides I don’t know how to insert a clicky jumplink) so unfortunately I will not be giving you the exact recipe but I will give you what the pins are called and that way you can find them if you are so inclined.

Anyway – Turkey How To… my mom has always brined poultry when she was making a full bird (and sometimes, if she had the time, she’d also brine if she was doing parts). Brining is where you soak the meat prior to cooking. Equal parts sugar and/or salt are adding to cold water. The meat is put into a container and the salt/sugar solution is poured over it adding more cold water until the meat is covered. Then you let it sit for a while (depending on how large the piece of meat is). The idea behind brining is that it makes the meat moist (I really can’t stand that word but it's the only one that fits, lol) by hydrating the meat before cooking, allowing it to retain the moisture during the cooking process. I am sure that we all have experienced an over dry turkey. Not what I wanted to happen with my first bird. In the “Turkey How To” they had a lot of different brining recipes. I have only ever seen my mom use kosher salt and water to brine so I was intrigued.

I did a lot of the prep work the night before and of course my shopping during the course of the prior week. I had decided on the Orange-Tea-Bourbon Brine

(zest & juice of 2 oranges, 1 pint OJ, 2 c kosher salt, 1 c sugar, 12 black tea bags, 4 bay leaves, 12 peppercorns & 1c bourbon)

While it was simmering on the stove it smelled amazing. I wish I had started the process a lot earlier because it took a really long time to cool. I didn’t have a pot that was big enough so I went out and bought a 5 gallon bucket. Haha.

Prior to putting the turkey in the bucket I rinsed it in cold water and took out the neck and the giblets bag (saving that for making the gravy the next day- yes I went that crazy and made my own gravy, lol). Poured in the cooled orange-tea-bourbon mix and then covered it with cold water. I put the top on the bucket and put it in the extra fridge overnight.

E used to make a “Cranberry Compote” that no one can seem to find her recipe for. I have tried a couple different cranberry sauce recipes and haven’t found anything like it yet. I decided to give the Double Cranberry-Apple Sauce from (via Pinterest) a try. This was perfect because we have A LOT of apples from our trees that we still need to use. I also have this awesome peeler/slicer/corer that my mom got me that is anyone with an apple tree’s lifesaver. The recipe called for 6 large granny smith apples. Since our apples are not that big I used 8. We do not spray our trees so the apples don’t look at pretty as they do in the store but they taste just as good (even better I think).

There is a (sharp) three prong spike that you shove the apple on. Then you turn the handle and the apple is peeled, cored…

and spiral sliced just like that!! Such a huge help because that part is a pain. You also need to add a package of fresh cranberries, one small lemon thinly sliced (with the peel but without the seeds), sugar, water and dried cranberries. I was a little wary of the lemon but it really added something delicious to the dish and no one could tell what that “different” taste was (of course I told them). I think making it the night before and letting it sit overnight helped all the flavors meld.

The next thing I started on was the stuffing. I chose to make Paula Deen’s Apple Cranberry Stuffing. I first cut up the Hawaiian Sweet Rolls to toast in the oven

In the recipe comments people we a little wary of using the Hawaiian Sweet rolls but everyone agreed that they were delicious. My problem was I had never seen them in my local supermarket but was able to eventually find them near the deli.

This recipe also called for apples (woo hoo) so I was able to again use my handy dandy spiral peeler thing to make quick work of them. The recipe also called for: chicken broth, dried cranberries, butter, onion, bell pepper (I used yellow because I had one on hand), celery, eggs, salt, pepper, cream of celery soup, and cinnamon.

Although this was pretty good and there were very little leftovers I’m not sure if I would make it with this particular meal again. I had also made Grandma’s Sweet Potato Casserole (I made it the day of and didn’t get a chance to take any pics) and I think with that it was too many sweet dishes. Next time if I make that sweet potato casserole again (I’ll talk more about it below) I will make a more savory vs sweet stuffing.

That’s the end of the prep work I did the night before. It was all put in the extra fridge (along with an awesome chocolate mousse cake I got from a local bakery and the rest of my IF meds, lol) for the night.

The next morning wasn’t as stressful because I did a lot of prep work the night before. I started out the morning making Grandma’s Sweet Potato Casserole – another Pinterest find. Like I said, I don’t have any pictures of the process but there is a finished product in another picture. This was delicious and pretty easy since I used 2 large cans of yams (that I rinsed in a colander) and then 6 regular sweet potatoes (which I roasted in the oven- per the recipe directions). It also calls for brown sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla extract, flour and pecans. There was a streusel topping which was amazzzzzzzing. This was a hit with the whole crew.

I lucked out that both the stuffing and the sweet potatoes needed to be cooked at the same temperature (happy accident) so I waited to put them in until the end of the turkey cook time.

Now onto the bird…

I took the turkey out of the brine and, per the directions on the Turkey How To, I rinsed and patted it dry with paper towels. I decided to cook the turkey in this awesome electric roaster we have. This thing is a lifesaver when you’re making a big dinner because you can cook the meat in it and not have to worry about taking up precious oven space. I have made both ham (Easter) and prime rib roast (Christmas Eve) in it and they both came out perfectly. I again turned to my friend Pinterest, who never seems to let me down, and found a wonderful guide called “Perfect Turkey in an Electric Roaster Oven.” I turned up my roaster oven to as high as it could go (without the pan in it) put the top on and let it sit. I put the turkey in the roasting pan (on top of the rack) and I made a butter mixture that I found in the Turkey How To and I rubbed it under the skin and then all over it. I put it in the roaster (still on the highest temp) for 30 minutes then turned it down to 350 for 2 hours.

The trick is to not open the cover. I put a towel over it as well to keep some of the heat in and reminded my mother (twice) to not take off the lid to peek (haha). It’s different than with cooking it in the oven because it loses heat very quickly when the cover is taken off.

When the turkey went in I started on the gravy. I have never made gravy from scratch before and one of my aunts said that it tasted just like her grandmother used to make. It was pretty delicious if I do say so myself. I found the Classic Turkey Gravy on… you guessed it… Pinterest.

This is when I used the turkey neck (which looks disgusting) and the giblets (minus the liver). I also put in unsalted butter, onion, chicken broth, sprigs of fresh thyme, bay leaf. I let this simmer for 2 hours while the turkey cooked.

10 minutes before the turkey was done I put the sweet potatoes and stuffing in the oven. Once the turkey was done I took it out and let it sit on a cutting board with tin foil tented on it. Turkey (and really any large cut of meat) needs to rest in order to retain the juices. If you cut it right away then it won’t be as juicy. Unfortunately it was too crazy in the kitchen from this point forward for me to get a photo of the turkey but let me tell you it was beautiful. The skin was perfectly browned and it smelled delicious (my mouth is watering just thinking about it). My Auntie R – remember the one who doesn’t eat meat – said that it smelled so good that she had to taste it. Then she had two helpings at dinner. If that isn’t a testament to how good the turkey was I don’t know what is!

While that was resting I poured ½ of cup of the broth I had made (after straining it & saving the neck and giblets for making soup at a later date) to the roasting pan and used a wisk to gently swirl it around to get all of the brown bits off the bottom of the pan (sometimes scrapping with a wooden spoon to loosen them). I then poured everything from the pan into a degreasing cup.

Mine is called a Gravy Separator but it’s the same thing. This is basically a cup with a spout on each side and a strainer in the top (to catch all the bits). As you can see there is a piece infront of the spout that goes from the top of the cup almost to the bottom. As it settles in the cup you can see the fat separating and rising to the top. When you pour it the first bit that pours off is the fat.

I then made a roux (browning flour in the bottom of a sauce pan with some of the fat) then slowly added the rest of the broth. So easy, so delicious.

So here is the table with all the goods. From front to back: sweet potato casserole, stuffing, dinner rolls (that my Godmother brought), salad (that my cousin brought) and the cranberry apple sauce. There are also two gravy boats (although you can only see one). This meal was one of the best I’ve ever made. My side of the family doesn’t come up for any holidays (because they mainly live in New York and the traffic is atrocious) so I was very happy that I was able to make this Thanksgiving in October and they were so thrilled that we were finally able to share Thanksgiving after all these years. I think that my Great Aunt E would have been very proud of me.

Oh, and the chocolate mousse cake… phenomenal! Too bad I can’t take credit for that!

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