Thanksgiving Report

We arrived late to H’s sister’s house on Wednesday night. My fault… I had to send off a page to a collaborator for a proposal, and it took a while to get it done. Doesn’t it always?

Upon arrival after 11pm, we did three things: boiled some cranberries in simple syrup in preparation for candied cranberries, soaked stoneground cornmeal for cornbread, and disassembled four pomegranates.

We started early on Thanksgiving day.  As I put the pomegranate seeds through the food mill, H’s sister joined us in the kitchen.  I sweetened the juice a bit, then heated it to dissolve agar flakes.  Once set, these would be pomegranate cubes for chocolate fondue.

Fondue is a food favored by my family, though we haven’t had it in a long time.  My parents received two fondue sets when they were married, but we always used the red enamel one with four long forks heated by a small can of Sterno.  Bread dipped in winey cheese fondue, or apples, bananas, and Sara Lee poundcake cubes dipped in chocolate.  Ahh.  Needless to say, we had never tried pomegranate agar when I was growing up!

H’s mom starts on our first round of dirty dishes.

Next I made the persimmon cranberry sauce.  I love to make cranberry sauce.  It’s incredibly easy and everyone loves it.  It can be as sweet or as tart as you like.  (Mmm, I just picked up more cranberries at the market today so I could have more!)  Meanwhile, H is setting up Sousie in the laundry room, where the hands of children are less likely to find the exposed wires.

Next I boil the corn for the cornbread, cut it off the cob, and start assembling the dry ingredients.  Oops — I have forgotten to let the soaking cornmeal come to room temperature.   On to the pumpkin chiffon pie!  Hmmm.  I need to crush ginger snaps (TJ’s Triple Ginger Snaps) for the crust.  We didn’t bring a food processor, H’s sister does not have a rolling pin… but H finds a MagLite and a plastic bag.  This performs nicely.  Pie crust goes in the oven briefly.  I also start roasting the beets for a salad.  I dissolve some gelatin in warm water, then cook the pumpkin-egg yolk base for the pie filling.  By the time this is done and starting to cool, my gelatin has set.  I gently re-dissolve in the microwave, then fold it into the yolks.  I start digging through the cupboards for an electric mixer.  Eventually, H’s sister finds it for me, and I beat the whites in a double boiler (Italian meringue-style), and fold these into the cooled pumpkin-egg yolk mixture.  This goes into the fridge to set.  By now, H has the cornbread in the oven.

H’s mom is on the second round of dirty dishes.

By now, H’s nieces have joined us.  H’s older niece, S-N, has now begun to act like a teenager.  While still eager to please, she cops a little more attitude this year.  We try not to make fun of her too much.   H’s younger niece, I-R, is at a great age to help now.  A bit more coordinated than last year, I am less petrified by showing her how to use a sharp knife, and she is interested in what we’re doing.  H starts mise-en-placing for the chard dish (a riff on this – with dried cranberries and no bacon).  This will a last minute saute, so everything has to be ready to go.  I-R helps him tear the chard into big chunks, but gets a bit bored.  I entice her first into completing the candied cranberries — rolling them in sugar — and then into peeling the roasted beets.

Parsnips.  H’s sister comes in periodically to ask if she can help.  I set her to peeling and cubing the parsnips for steaming.  I cook a few sage leaves for sage-infused olive oil.  H fries some more sage leaves for garnish

H starts on the sweet potato soup.  He puts the turkey breasts into Sousie.  I start boiling the wild rice for the stuffing.  At this point, I’m onto chopping things.  Lots of fruit to prepare for the fondue (kiwi, oranges, apples, bananas, and persimmon), and chanterelles, garlic, and shallots to prep for the pasta with mushroom sauce (a riff on this and this).  For the beet salad, I dice the beets and toss them in an orange viniagrette, section three oranges (sectioning citrus is my specialty!), thinly slice half a sweet onion, and cube up some slightly overripe kiwi.  I also toast and chop some hazelnuts for garnish (Have I mentioned before that I am on a rather expensive hazelnut kick right now?  I ate handfuls of them at work today.)  H finishes the wild rice stuffing.  H starts on the fresh egg pasta – the semolina flour needs to hydrate for a while.

H’s mom is still cleaning up dirty dishes.  Really, her constant washing makes it possible to keep things moving in the kitchen all day.  Where’s the XXX?  Oh! Here it is!  Clean, again.

In the meanwhile, we are supervising the nieces who have started on the annual Cranberry-Nut Bread ritual (this is a really great recipe from Cook’s Illustrated.  It’s behind a paywall but a clever google search will find it).  This year, we tell them to read the directions through, ask if they have questions, and make it on their own.  I remember in second grade that we were given a worksheet where the first instruction was “Read all the instructions before filling anything out on your worksheet”.  It then proceeded to give all kinds of crazy detailed instructions (e.g., underline the word “year” with a red pen on line 7), and the last instruction was to ignore all the previous instructions and do one simple thing.  Needless to say, I was not patient enough for this exercise and failed it miserably.  But now I know why our teacher’s did it.  The nieces simply could not read through the instructions and follow them!  They kept asking what to do next, and we would say, “What does the recipe say?”  and they would read it to us, and then ask “What do we do next?”.  Oh dear.  Well, they chopped the cranberries.  That was good.  They zested the orange (H reminded them to zest it before they cut it for juice.  That’s just experience, not in the recipe.)  They measured the flour, powder, and soda.  They juiced the orange.  H taught them about how to read a measuring cup and about the meniscus.  They measured out 2/3 C orange juice.  Since they were doubling the recipe, they needed 1 1/3 C buttermilk — ah! this sums to 2 C!  And can be measured all at once in a 2 C measure!  S-N and I toasted the pecans.  After we burnt them once, we toasted them again, and she chopped them.   Now what? Now what?  Read the recipe.  Read the recipe.  Did you butter the pans?  Did you preheat the oven?  Now can we mix? Now can we mix?  Read the recipe.  Read the recipe.  Instructions on not overmixing the batter.  Into the now-greased loaf pans!  Into the oven!  Nieces disappear for a while…

It is now the calm before the storm.  We sit for a few minutes.  We have extra corn from the cob, and I decide to make the corn pudding that I have been wanting to make but H kept nixing (wrong texture, he says) and look up a few recipes to work from.  H and I make a plan for the last 1-1.5 hours for a 6:30 dinner.  We would have liked it to be a bit earlier, but the turkey breast got into Sousie a little late, so 6:30 is a realistic goal.  It’s about 4:30 now, the cran-nut bread is out of the oven; the sweet potato soup has been blended; the parsnips have been pureed in the food mill; I have sent H’s brother-in-law to get the dining room furniture arranged; H’s sister has set out plates and utensils for our buffet-style meal.  The mises are in their places for the chard, sauteed carrots with garlic and ginger, the mushroom sauce, and the beet salad.  The fruit for the fondue is prepped and plated and chilling in the fridge.

A bit past 5 o’clock and the pace picks up.  I heat up the reduction I prepared on Tuesday for the gravy.  It smells divine.  I make a roux (with unsalted butter — I forgot to reserve the turkey fat), thicken the gravy, and let it sit on the lowest possible setting until ready to serve.   H has taken the newly cooked turkey breast out of Sousie and is using Sousie to reheat another that we cooked the day before.  The dark meat goes into a high roast oven (also a great Cook’s Illustrated recipe for butterflied high-roast turkey).   H starts rolling out the pasta.  I set out the cran sauce to let it come to room temperature.  I whip egg whites and fold then into the corn, yolks, and cream in the corn pudding (H’s sister digs in the garage to find me the right size baking dish).   When the dark meat comes out of the oven, the corn pudding goes in to cook; the parsnips and rice stuffing – both covered – go in to reheat.  Corn bread is cut up and goes to table.  By now I have started on the mushroom sauce.  After a while, it gets turned down to the lowest possible setting, waiting for everything to come together.  H rolls the pasta through the setting.  H takes a propane torch to the sous vided turkey breasts to brown the skin.  I assemble the beet salad and send it out to the table.  I find the remaining bowls we need for each dish.  H cooks the chard and carrots.  They hold for a final spurt of heat.  H completes the pasta, I have water boiling.  Into the water goes the pasta, I reheat the sauce, into a bowl and to the table.  Chard is heated and sent out to table with H’s second sister; carrots heated and out;  reheated stuffing and parsnips come out of the oven and onto the table.  Gravy goes into a bowl and to the table.  H carves up and plates the turkey.  I send twelve soup bowls of sweet potato soup topped with cream, cranberry oil, and a few nuts (H and his toppings!?!).

Is that it?  Everyone gather round!  Let’s take pictures while the food gets cold!  Everyone over here!  Wait use this camera! Everyone gather around H’s 93 year-old grandma!  And another picture!  Now for the annual description of the food while the food gets cold!  H and I describe each dish to his family.

Later, we make the chocolate fondue, whip cream for the pie topping, and serve dessert around 9pm.

Another thanksgiving.  Photos to come.

Also, here are too many photos from our BC trip.

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