Saturday, November 10, 2007

carving out the time

I should be making a grocery list. Or washing my makeup brushes. Or changing the sheets over to the dryer. Those Saturday chore things, from the list in my back pocket.

Instead I'm piled up on the couch with the Boo and a puppy draped across my ankles, alternately working a book of word puzzles and then going back to composing and deleting first paragraphs to possible blogs.

Really all I want to do is think about Thanksgiving. It's my favorite holiday, and I've been lucky enough to spend several Thanksgivings recently with my family in California, and I'm sad that I can't be there this year. My Aunt Paula and I would plan for months and trade menu ideas and cook for two straight days and then collapse after dinner and hope someone else (meaning Mom) would do the dishes. This year, we're hosting (which is one of my favorite things) and I've been making menu notes in my Palm for weeks. I've been going through magazines, ripping out recipes, storing gravy-making notes and cranberry compote flavor combinations and brainstorming where we're going to put all this food and all these people. This is the time of year that I start thinking that maybe I should install another refrigerator in our garage, and also maybe invest in a double commercial oven, which is, of course, never going to happen. Thanksgiving is like my fantasy holiday.

I've made the same turkey every year for at least the last 8 years, it's a Two-Hour Turkey (found on Epicurious, I think?) and it is absolutely killer. And foolproof. Two hours of turkey time means I can get the bird done reasonably early, keep it under foil until it has rested and is cool enough to carve without scorching my fingers (ok, Dad's fingers), and have plenty of oven time left for side dishes. Here's the genius part for this year: we're having the big dinner on Friday instead of Thursday. Jenny and Patrick are spending Thursday with his family, and this way Casey and Trent can spend as much time as they like with his folks, and I can cook and clean all day Thursday and cut the labor down for the actual day of feasting. We're having friends come in addition to the core family, and I'm just so excited about all of it, particularly about Megan's offer of donating sous chef labor. I love having people in the kitchen with me, it gets sort of lonely in there sometimes.

So now it's just puttering through the next two weeks until the big day. Here's the rest of the tentative menu:
Mashed potatoes and gravy
Green bean casserole
Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Red Onions with Rosemary and Parmesan
Macaroni and cheese
Roasted Cauliflower
Rolls or cornbread
Cranberry relish
(bites before dinner):
Carrots and celery (with ranch dressing)
Black Pepper Almonds and Pecans
Cheese and Crackers
Dad's Chip Dip (Dad: can you bring chip dip?)
Triple Chocolate Cheesecake
Pumpkin Bread Pudding or Pumpkin Creme Brulee
Apple Crumb Pie

Menu notes: the last several years, I've tried fancier mashed potatoes. With caramelized onions and goat cheese, or with garlic and leeks and mascarpone. But lately I've just been making simple, straightforward fluffy mashers with cream and butter, and it's really the best. So I'm not messing with this dish this year.

The green bean casserole is, yes, the recipe off the Campbell's cream of mushroom soup can, or the French's French Fried Onions can, or whatever. And it's the one dish that Austin requests every year, and I always roll my eyes, and he always points out that it is all gone by the end of the meal, and he's always right.

I started doing the roasted sweet potatoes with red onions a couple of years ago, instead of a sweet approach, and it's really amazing, and can be made ahead of time. It's just as good at room temperature as it is warm.

I still haven't settled on a stuffing plan. Casey has made a batch of Stove Top in addition to whatever fancy stuffing approach I take every year, and I occasionally wonder if maybe she's right. I have lots of good ideas for great stuffings, which involve a mix of regular bread and cornbread and cinnamon raisin bread, dried cranberries and dried blueberries, toasted pecans, chopped apples, and maybe a partial batch with andouille sausage. But maybe I'm just going to dump a box out into a pan and add vegetable broth and a pat of butter and no one will notice or complain (and at least one sister will rejoice).

I understand that macaroni and cheese is probably not a traditional Thanksgiving side dish, but I noticed that this menu was suffering from a shocking lack of cheddar, and this will solve that problem handily.

I'm not entirely sold on the roasted cauliflower yet either. I might just make that as a standard side dish with a regular dinner some other time. I do want to try it, though.

I make the same cranberry relish every year, with ginger and cardamom and dried cherries, and I'm always glad that it doesn't all get eaten because it's my favorite part of leftovers.

I'm most pleased with the dessert selection. It's traditional flavors but a different approach to them. I have never made an apple pie before (I really don't make many pies), but this one looked so pretty and lush in the Thanksgiving issue of Everyday Food that I'm just going to go for it. I can make a pie, right? And based on my recent discovery that I'm really good at making cheesecakes, even if they aren't my favorite, I think the chocolate cheesecake will be a good crowd pleaser. Every menu benefits from a chocolate option. And I will take a vote between the pumpkin creme brulee (with maple) or the pumpkin bread pudding (with caramel bourbon sauce). Anybody out there have a preference?

You might notice that this isn't exactly a gourmet production. I go pretty traditional for this holiday. No fennel, no chanterelles, no chipotles. That's for the rest of the year. Thanksgiving is for comfort food, lots of it, spread all over the table and the kitchen and filling the house with warmth. I just can't wait.


Anonymous said...

Hi Delaney,
I just wanted you to know how much I've been enjoying your blog. You're really on a roll with this, and I love getting to know you better through your posts. It seems to me that we share quite a few views and sensibilities, from annoyance with bad grammar and body hair removal (by the way, electrolysis does not work) to entrails-baring honesty in our writing. Everything I write is truth (perhaps ever so slightly adorned) and I think I probably just lack the capacity to create fiction. But then again, what's wrong with documenting the world we know, trying to make sense of it, living it twice and sharing with others? The experience of reading your words enlarges my life. It was especially fun to sit at your Thanksgiving table tonight! Thanks for all of it.
Love, Cynthia

Red Beard said...

I switch back and forth between my blog identities better than Batman switches back and forth between the cowl and the three piece suit.

Anyway, this all sounds amazing. And I think macaroni and cheese should be at every large comfort food meal, regardless of the occasion. My mother would make it for me every year after my grandmother died, and everyone would always eat it, despite her protestations that it wasn't a necessary addition to the Thanksgiving table.

My grandmother made the best mac and cheese though, and some part of me just wouldn't allow Thanksgiving, her time to really shine in the kitchen, to occur without some homemade mac and cheese.

Even though we're not going to be there (and believe you me I wish we could) I have to vote for the bread pudding. When I read those two options my mouth started watering, no joke. But when left with the choice between caramel and ANYTHING else, I will always choose caramel.

Vickie said...

Ah, you're gonna make me cry. I wish I could be there to help and enjoy. Use that nifty pie crust recipe I used with the apple pie--a cinch. Love you, Mom

agnes said...

if you're trying to get us to move back to nashville by blogging about your culinary adventures... well, it's working.

Anonymous said...

Aren't we lucky??? I vote bread pudding! And cornbread/breadcrumb stuffing with herbs, dried fruit and sausage sounds much better than stovetop to me. Just thought I'd weigh in.

CDG said...

I need to ring in and clarify that while I will indeed insist on a batch of Stove Top again this year, I also wholeheartedly support any other stuffings, too! Yum, stuffing, yum.