Thanksgiving Food Postmortem

Grace’s parents stayed with us this Thanksgiving and did most of the cooking, more or less making everything from scratch. I pitched in with some pumpkin pie making (mainly because I wanted to give the new KitchenAid a spin in crust making) and cranberry sauce. This is basically a post-mortem on how everything got put together.

For my part, I basically used the ingredients list from the KitchenAid pie crust recipe and Alton Brown’s technique of putting the dough in a big Ziplock for rolling. This was almost a no-mess exercise and took very little effort, as compared to the mess I made when I tried to do pie crusts by hand and without a good rolling surface some years ago. The crusts weren’t that great to look at, but came out fine. The pie filling was off the back of the pumpkin puree can, and nothing special. Will try variations next time, now that I know crust is easy.

The cranberry sauce was a variation of this version, with peeled orange rind instead of orange, no pear, and a bunch of dried cranberries instead of mixed dried fruit. It came out great, much better than the pricey Citarella stuff from a couple of years ago.

Grace did a big spinach salad, while her parents made baked yams, mashed potatoes and the turkey with stuffing. The turkey was seasoned the previous night with garlic and butter over the skin, and roasted under the usual aluminum tent with a couple stalks of celery. We used one of those cheesecloth bags to allow easy extraction of the stuffing, which was microwaved before serving to make sure it was up to temperature. (We used a probe thermometer for the turkey itself, though the bird came with one of those pop-up doneness doohickeys)

Everything came out yummy, and everyone ate into tryptophan comas (or not) while watching DVDs. It was a good meal.

I wonder, though, about whether we can do better than standard home cooking using techniques from books, FoodTV and so on. These techniques are basically derived from restaurant work and/or food science, with refinements made over many more iterations than any home cook will manage, not matter how long-practiced they are. For example, the potatoes could have been baked and pushed through a ricer. As the oven was already on for hours to cook the turkey, this would have been cost free and should have yielded fluffier mashed. For the turkey itself, no garlic butter was pushed underneath the skin, the old chicken roasting technique writ larger. (I didn’t realize this until after the stuffing (the stuffing bag was used for the first time this iteration, actually) was already loaded in the turkey (put the bag in first, next time), so the skin was stretched out as is and tore a little when I tried. It’s possible turkey skin is more delicate than chicken skin, or the circumstances were wrong for me to try.) There were probably a few other things that could be tried — brining?, aromatic vegetables underneath the turkey to lift the bird up and later help with the gravy making? — but I can’t think of them all right now.

One thing to note: I will be buying proper pie plates and a roasting pan in the near future, because the Wal-mart-special disposable aluminum one just didn’t cut it. They’re basically too flimsy to be useful, buckling under the weight of the pies and turkey when removed from the oven. And for the turkey, the disposable pan precluded any sort of deglazing for proper gravy.

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