I think Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Maybe because it has to do with one of my favorite topics. That being, of course, food.
This year I got to have two Thanksgiving dinners. Max and Tamsey brought their kids out to visit their grandparents while Max went elk hunting, but they had to leave the Monday before. So we were invited to partake in a pre-Thanksgiving dinner at the Bremers’ house on Sunday.
My sister Stephanie and her family drove all the way out here too so her husband Nathan could go hunting with Max. They were successful and got two impressive bulls. In the meantime, I got to play with my nephews and Max’s kids. Here I am reading JB Bremer a story. There are two other random kids in the picture too, because, well, there’s always kids around.
Stephanie and Nathan got here November 9th, and I just took Berck’s mom to the airport this morning. Three weeks of company! It was so much fun, but it’s also very nice to be back to normal around here.
I’m eating a slice of coconut cream pie after heating up a plate of Thanksgiving dinner. Berck can’t eat because his jaw is hurting. Fortunately for him, his mom put the turkey carcass in a pot to boil on Thursday evening (it’s been simmering every since; I have a big pot) and made soup out of it yesterday. He’s been living off of broth, V8, and beer.
So, back to the feasts. I think I’ll discuss them by dish.
Butternut Squash Soup. Throughout the last year, I kept hearing references to butternut squash soup served at Thanksgiving. I don’t know if it’s a fad or if the Pilgrims actually pureed their bounty. I’d never had the stuff, so I thought I’d try a recipe that looked good. Stephanie and I collaborated on it for the pre-Thanksgiving meal, just in case it wasn’t any good. We needn’t have worried. It was delicious. I made it again for the real Thanksgiving and it was even better. I don’t know if it was organic squash from Whole Foods, the fact that I roasted it for an extra, extra, extra long time, or sauteing the onions in bacon grease, but the second batch was amazing. I didn’t have any sherry, so I used mead.
Cranberry Sauce. I don’t like cranberry sauce, and neither did all but one of our Thanksgiving Day feasters, but that didn’t stop me from making some anyway. It all started when I was watching the Osborne Christmas Special, and Jimmy Kimble’s partner from The Man Show (whose name escapes me) was teaching Jack how to make cranberry sauce. He said how much of a shame it was that everyone used the stuff in the can and nobody made cranberry sauce when it was so easy. Sure enough it was. I used the recipe from the Joy of Cooking:
1 lb fresh cranberries, picked over
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
Boil all of the ingredients for about 10 minutes (at 6,000 feet), chill, and serve.
It was quite tasty, actually, even if I still don’t like cranberry sauce. I found that was really good along with
Sweet Potato Casserole. This dish is Stephanie’s specialty, and if there isn’t any served, it means she didn’t come to dinner. She made a batch for both dinners. Cyrus, Michele’s nephew, who grew up in Vermont, stated, “The squash dish with almonds is very tasty.” Yankees don’t know a thing about Southern cooking.
Mashed Potatoes. I didn’t know this was a required Thanksgiving dish until Berck and I celebrated our first Thanksgiving as a married couple with my family in Highlands, NC. We were passing platters around when, after reviewing all of the dishes, Berck suddenly realized something and blurted out, “Where are the mashed potatoes? What’s wrong with you people?!” I have to say that mashed potatoes are a nice addition (as long as someone else makes them).
Sauerkraut. The other thing Berck noticed on that particular table is that we were all passing around a bowl of cold sauerkraut and putting some on our plates. At some point in my life, I realized that mine was the only family that I knew that served sauerkraut at Thanksgiving, and yet it had always been there, along with the turkey and stuffing. See, my mom’s mother’s parents both emigrated from Germany, and… well, that’s all I know.
Stuffing/Dressing. My mom never stuffed her turkeys, but she makes the best dressing anyway. She always said that it was stuffing if you stuffed it, dressing if you just made it on the side. I now know that it was always called stuffing until the Victorian era, when that word was suddenly considered far too descriptive. That’s about the time English speakers started referring to legs as “dark meat” and breasts as “white meat.” Using body parts simply brought too much to mind.
Anyway, Stephanie and I tried to make some dressing for the pre-Thanksgiving feast, but the oven became unexpectedly overcrowded, and it didn’t turn out quite right. Berck tried his hand yet again at making his own stuffing for his bird–I even baked him some cornbread–but it ended up being rather bacon greasy.
Pea Casserole. I guess green bean casserole is a mainstay of Thanksgiving dinners, although I don’t think my family ever had it (French’s fried onions are just pure calories and cholesterol with no nutritional value). I have a soft spot in my heart for the stuff after I attempted making it overseas one ex-pat November. The canned mushroom soup came either from the one store at the edge of town that had it (and was an hour bus ride away) or from a precious stash of imports. Fried onions were nowhere to be found. Anyway, pea casserole is all that green bean casserole is, except better.
Refrigerator Rolls. Oddly, this dish is a tradition for both of our families. This batch got baked a little long with everything happening at once at the end (and Berck dropping a casserole of stuffing on them). Still, they’re the best bread around.
Turkey. Our plan was to purchase an Empire Kosher Turkey, simply because we like Empire Kosher Chicken. But there were none to be had. The meat department guy at the King Soopers in Monument said he tried to get some in but they wouldn’t get them in time for Thanksgiving. So I got a fresh, natural Turkey from Whole Foods. I soaked it in brine the night before. Berck stuffed it, and we trussed it with a couple of drywall screws. Berck put it breast-side down in the roasting pan we bought last year to cook a turkey in. I got fussed at for putting it in an hour early, but either turkeys take longer to cook up here, or the Joy of Cooking was off an hour. I also got in trouble for putting it back in the oven with the LCD thermometer still in it. Good thing we had a spare thermometer after it melted. The bird was very tasty. I think it was the best turkey I’ve ever had. The breast (my part) was completely moist.
Gravy. Berck’s mom extracted the neck from the bird cavity, and Berck boiled it all day with onion and celery. Then he made a delicious gravy from the drippings and the broth. Yum.
Drinkies. For the pre-Thanksgiving dinner, I brought Woodchuck hard cider and Sam Adams Cherry Wheat beer, both of which were huge hits. (I also brought a six-pack of Fat Tire for Berck.) For Thanksgiving day, we had more cider, including some Strongbow, a bottle of Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling (I now have two white wines I like), and most of a bottle of Est! Est!! Est!!!.
Desserts. For the pre-Thanksgiving dinner I accomplished the impossible: I made a pecan pie and a chocolate icebox pie that were both (yes, both!) saturated fat free. The crusts were made with skim milk and canola oil. Here’s my recipe:
Two pie crusts
2 cups flour
2 Tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Make a well and pour in
(At 6,000 feet I need another couple tablespoons milk.)
Mix with a fork then roll out on wax paper. (Those little plastic cutting sheets work really well too.) Turn over on pie pans and shape.
The chocolate icebox pie was easy to fix. Just use fat-free sweetened condensed milk. (Although I did have to cook it a lot longer.) I was going to put light whipped cream on top, but the ubiquitous can in the Bremers’ fridge was gone, so Michele had to settle for some of the regular stuff.
But I know what you’re wondering is how you can make a pecan pie without any butter, aren’t you? Instead of a stick of butter, I substituted 1/4 cup canola oil, 1 Tbs milk, and 1/4 cup non-fat dry milk. And it worked! It tasted really good too.
But for Thanksgiving Day, I made both of them for real. I think Berck ate his chocolate ice box pie all by himself, though I do think his mom had a piece. There’s one more piece left, but he has to wait for his jaw to heal to eat anything.
I keep thinking I’m forgetting something. Maybe it was just the bag of Fritos Nathan opened as soon as he got to our house because dinner wasn’t ready yet.