Thanksgiving is a time to be with loved ones and a time to give thanks to God for our many blessings in this country. It’s also a time to make a huge dinner and eat a lot.
Our family Thanksgiving reflected all those attributes and was pretty similar to ones in years past. But this time, it was held at our house. We typically go to my in-laws where my mother-in-law cooks an amazing dinner. However, this year, everyone came up to our place because we’re the central location and my mother-in-law doesn’t want to make such a big meal anymore. I expressed my concern to her about taking this on, given my past experiences with Thanksgiving dinner, but she assured me it would be fine.
So this was a challenge. The one year I tried making a Thanksgiving dinner, it wasn’t great. That year, I picked up the Thanksgiving dinner ingredients at a discount store, not thinking it would make a difference (it does though). Plus, I didn’t have a plan on how to cook the turkey and left the neck and giblets in the turkey while it cooked. So after that, no one asked me to host the dinner.
But this year, I didn’t have a choice. So I shopped at a normal grocery store, asked my mother-in-law for her tips, checked ratings on some Pinterest recipes, and used the ones with good ratings. So basically, I did some leg work for this meal.
The preparation started several days before Thanksgiving. Since Thanksgiving was so late, I decorated early for Christmas, no tree though. Cleaning began a couple days before the event, and with our youngest and only helpful child offering to assist, we were well on our way to a successful Thanksgiving.
On Thanksgiving eve, I pulled up my Pinterest brine recipe and got the turkey set in the brine overnight. I had the help of our oldest son’s girlfriend, who is from India, with the side dishes. Sumy (the short and easy name for Sumyuktha) is pretty amazing and a good cook, so it made the process easier. She told me a bit about India while we prepared the meal. English is their first language, and they learn two other languages in school; she is fluent in three languages but knows six. She is also earning her PhD in neuroscience at Dartmouth, so helping me with dinner was a piece of cake I guess. So we got all the side dishes set up and were ready for the next day.
The morning consisted of starting the turkey, cooking breakfast for the family and cleaning the rest of the house. Oh, and giving the dogs a quick grooming and bath.
So with the last detail of preparation, I put a sweater on our shih tzu, Butters. And I’m sure with low expectations, our guests arrived. The guests were all from my husband’s side. As an only child with both parents gone now, most of my family has died or is in another state or in jail. The living, law-abiding part of my family was celebrating in the cities. Sometimes we join them.
We had the normal small talk, and Sumy got questions like, “Do you celebrate Thanksgiving in India?” and “Do you have tigers in your neighborhood?” She has only seen a tiger a couple times, she disclosed, and only in northern India. And they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Other questions were the usual ones when we have a family gathering like, “Why is there a dog on the table?”
So dinner was ready, Mark said a blessing over the meal, and the family began to eat. People raved over the variety of dishes: the brined and very tender turkey (with no neck and gizzards inside), the homemade Pinterest stuffing (my son-in-law said it was the best stuffing he’s had), French green bean hotdish (which Sumy said she loved and never had before), mashed potatoes (mother-in-law style whipped with lots of butter, chicken base, salt, yams topped with roasted marshmallows, Rhodes dinner rolls topped with sesame seeds, cottage cheese, and desserts of homemade carrot cake, pumpkin pie and homemade whipped cream.
In what took an hour to eat and three days to prepare, the meal was over, and we were on to watching football. But my step father-in-law noted how much he loved the dinner, and others were thankful and also agreed.
What meant the most though was when I looked across the room to where my mother-in-law was. She smiled at me and gave me the “thumbs up” motion.
So thank you to Judy and Pinterest … and to lots of butter and garlic! It was a great Thanksgiving.
Here are a couple of the recipes if anyone wants to give them a try:
“Stove Top” Stuffing
Recipe by Alison Roman, Serves 8
• 1 loaf crusty white French bread and one package of ciabatta rolls
• A half cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
• 4 celery stalks, finely chopped
• 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
• 2 onions, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
• 2 Tbsp. finely chopped sage
• 1 Tbsp. finely chopped rosemary
• 2 large eggs
• 2 and a half cups chicken broth
Directions: Tear the bread into large bite-sized pieces (crust and all) and place on a baking sheet. Let it sit out at least 6 hours, preferably overnight (if you don’t have time for this, don’t panic: just throw bread in a 325 degree oven, and toss occasionally until croutons feel pretty dry but are not toasted, about 30 minutes). It’s important that the bread is dry so that it will absorb the liquid without falling apart. So once your bread is ready: Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the celery, garlic, and onions. Season with salt and pepper and stir to coat. Cook, stirring pretty frequently until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sage and rosemary and cook another few minutes until everything in the skillet gets to know each other. Crack the eggs into a bowl and pour the stock into another bowl. Whisk a little bit of the broth into the eggs. Then pour the egg mixture into the bowl with the stock. Season with salt and pepper.
Transfer the bread to a large bowl and add your celery-onion mixture and your egg-broth mixture. Using your hands, spatula or spoon, mix everything together. You want to be gentle yet firm–you don’t want to mush the bread, but you also want to make sure the bread is absorbing all the wonderful things (for a perfect stuffing experience in every bite).
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Transfer the stuffing mixture to a 9- by 13-inch baking dish (or any 2 and a half to 3 quart oven-safe vessel) and cover with foil. Bake the stuffing for 25-30 minutes then remove the foil and return to oven for another 10-15 minutes to get the top all golden brown and crunchy (obviously the best part of the stuffing).
The stuffing recipe can also be found at: www.buzzfeed.com/amphtml/alisonroman/how-to-make-the-perfect-classic-stuffing-for-thanksgiving.
• 3 cups apple cider
• 8 quarts cold water (almost 2 full 4 L milk jugs)
• 2 fresh rosemary branches (or 2 tbsp dried rosemary leaves)
• 5 cloves garlic; sliced
• 1 and a half cups pickling salt
• 2 cups brown sugar
• 3 tbsp peppercorns
• 2 tbsp coriander seeds
• 6 bay leaves
• 2 large oranges; use the peels (with not too much pith) and squeeze in juice
• 1 apple, sliced
• a handful of fresh thyme
• a quarter cup cold butter
First thing in the morning, measure the liquids by adding the apple cider to a clean 4 liter milk jug then top it off with cold water. Combine this with all other ingredients (except fresh herbs) in a large pot. Bring to a boil until salt has completely dissolved, then turn off heat and cover. Let cool completely (you may need to stick it outside or in the fridge). Pour the cooled brine into a large brining bag or clean food safe pail (I like to support the bag in a rectangular plastic wash basin that we use for camping). Add a second 4 liter jug of cold water to the brine. Add in fresh herbs. Place uncooked turkey in brine solution breast side down, seal the bag getting rid of as much air as you can. Place in refrigerator.
The next morning turn the turkey over in the brine solution and brine until you want to begin to cook the turkey. Brine for 12-24 hours.
Remove turkey from the brine and rinse thoroughly. Pat dry. Discard brine. Place turkey breast side up in the roasting pan (if you have a rack, place the turkey on it first). Slice butter thinly and loosen skin over turkey breasts. Place butter under the skin so that it sits between the meat and skin. Repeat until breasts are all buttered. Stuff your turkey or not. Season with pepper. You really don’t need salt. Add a bit of water to the roasting pan, maybe an inch. Completely cover the turkey with foil (or with a lid if you have one). Roast at 325 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celsius) according to table on main post.
The brine recipe can also be found at: dishnthekitchen.com/best-ever-turkey-brine-recipe/.
Traci LeBrun is the editor of the Messenger.