Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When did I become my grandmother?

I'm wondering when this happened. I am pretty much a traditionalist when it comes to Thanksgiving. My mother was to a degree, but she would always play around with some element of the dinner (or in her case, luncheon) and do something different with vegetables, dessert, et cetera. Maybe it was because she did this any number of times and missed the mark with whatever the "new" item was that I became annoyed with it and decided that my Thanksgiving dinner was not some experiment.

I don't like turkey that much. I eat it once or twice a year, and I can enjoy it then, but that's enough turkey exposure for an entire year. And I am not too fond of it as leftovers, no sir-ee. My mom could make a million things out of leftover turkey. Not me. Get it out of my sight after dinner and don't make me look at it again for another year. Maybe my mom's abuse of turkey leftovers drove me to the point I'm at today.

Stuffing is hotly debated. Some people like it with white bread, some with cornbread, some with oysters, some with chestnuts, some like it only from the bird, others would never stuff their bird. Well, I was raised on pan stuffing, not from the bird. I never much cared for it because it was usually too dry. My trick was to drown it in gravy. When in doubt, cover any food with fat and it will taste better. Of course, there's also the safety issue of stuffing the bird, for those people who don't belong in the kitchen in the first place. Cooks who know what they are doing wouldn't make the mistake that causes the bacterial issue that the media has hyped into such a big deal.

Jess grew up on stuffing from the bird, and convinced me that I should do that the first year we were together. I did. it's fabulous. It's moist. It's loaded with flavor from the bird. It's a hundred times better than pan stuffing. There are a couple of rules to know: #1, you don't stuff your bird until moments before you are ready to put it into the oven, and #2, you don't give the stuffing time to cool before you stuff, because the stuffing needs to get hot enough to kill anything that may be lurking in it, and cooling it won't help in the heat department. Oh, and #3: the stuffing has to reach 165 degrees or else it's not safe. If it doesn't reach 165, then take it out and nuke it until it does. It won't hurt it.

My sister-in-law makes chestnut stuffing, and I also really like that. I don't make it myself, and I don't remember liking anyone else's chestnut stuffing. Hers is the best. She'll be bringing it this year, yay! Oyster stuffing? Yuck. Cornbread stuffing? C'mon, stuffing is dry enough without making it with cornbread. That was just invented by someone who ran out of regular bread and happened to have cornbread on hand. Not for me.

I don't like sweet potatoes that much either, and the only way I'll eat them is like my grandmother made them: candied, but with sauteed pears and apples. Obviously, it was the apples and pears that got me past the sweet potatoes. But I want sweet potatoes with apples and pears on the Thanksgiving table.

Potatoes and gravy are also a must, and I make them every year. I make them and don't let anyone bring them, because, once again, I rarely eat mashed potatoes, and when I do, I want them to be fabulous. Not too many people I know make fabulous mashed potatoes. Even fewer make fabulous gravy. But I do, and I won't apologize for it.

Now when it comes to vegetables, many people will split camps and say that there isn't really a standard vegetable for Thanksgiving. I say that green beans are it. Now I might do variations on them (like my friend Brad's recipe that uses dill and water chestnuts - yum) but they are always going to be on the table, and if any other vegetable shows up, it won't be because I made it.

Bread is also one of my requirements, and by bread, I mean homemade rolls. Almost all my aunts and both grandmothers were all about the rolls, and so I was spoiled growing up. We never ever had anything but homemade bread on the Thanksgiving table. The smell of the rolls baking as we came through the door was like something out of an old cartoon, where you floated on air following the scent through the house. And loads of real butter to go with, because a good roll is about half roll and half butter. Maybe 3/4 butter and 1/4 roll. Again, put fat on anything and it will taste better.

Finally, dessert. While I have evolved from pumpkin pie to pumpkin torte, it's another one of those only-once-a-year tastes that I want on the Thanksgiving table but don't ask me about it anytime after. Hmmm, so maybe pumpkin torte isn't traditional, but the pumpkin is. I hate pumpkin pie. The bottom crust is typically clammy and limp with moisture, the pumpkin is almost always over-spiced for my taste (because I generally loathe cinnamon and almost everyone uses too much) and the only way it can be choked down is buried - and I literally mean buried - in whipped heavy cream. Don't give me that Reddi-Wip crap, because it's wuss cream. Too light. So I make pumpkin torte, which is much lighter and fluffier and doesn't taste, well, so pumpkin-like.

Now I may occasionally make another dessert for the people like me who aren't big fans of pumpkin. In this year's case, it's baked chocolate custard. Well, not actually baked, but pressure-cooked. I learned the trick from our friend James, who taught me about Cuban flan made in the pressure cooker, and I will never go back to making custards in a water bath and separate ramekins! Love you, James! You have saved me hours of frustration, you will never know. (And that's not the only reason I love you.)

Once the dinner is made tomorrow, I'll see if I can't get Jess to take a few shots with his new fancy-schmantzy D300S and post them here and on Facebook.

Happy Turkey Day, everyone. Hope yours is just like you like it. Mwah.