December 2005

From big Burrito’s Bill Fuller

So, we decided that we should do a regular section of our monthly newsletter featuring recipes and a little chat about foods and current trends. Being naturally verbose, often lucid, and occasionally prompt, I am the obvious candidate for the job. As I embark on this new journey into culino-marketing-quasi-journalism, I picked the most comfortable food topic possible, Thanksgiving dinner. Never mind that it is November and Thanksgiving is the most obvious topic in the world. So here it is:

Surprisingly to most people, I look forward to cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Autumn cooking is so satisfying. Roasting and braising. Butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, short ribs, pork, duck. Rich flavors and full bellies. Thanksgiving is the Superbowl of the season. I make pretty much the same meal every year. It turns out that, while our customers look forward to creative, new dishes on our restaurants’ menus, the family has different notions of the big dinner. My interest in fatty waterfowl led to a desire last year to cook a goose for Thanksgiving instead of turkey. Mentioning it a few weeks before the holiday led to an explosion of anger from my generally jovial father-in-law. After a week of his vocal refusal to attend Thanksgiving dinner, I relented and promised a turkey. I actually conceded in my head right away, but let him stew on it for a week.

So what do I cook?

Turkey with Stuffing, of course, and Mashed Potatoes and Gravy. Brussels sprouts with aged Virginia ham (procured during our annual vacation to the Carolina beach). Sweet potatoes/yams with lots of butter and sugar, local corn from the freezer with even more butter, and Homemade Cranberry Sauce fill out the vegetable categories. Dessert tends to be two items; a Crème Brûlée variation (often butternut) and a Pear/Apple Crisp/Cobbler variation. Pies don’t usually appear at our house due to time constraints—everything gets done on one day and I have one oven. Except crème brulee, which I make late the night before. Bread I grab from Eleven, my only shortcut. One day, I’ll have another oven and will be able to get everything done at home.

(Underlined links are printable recipes in PDF form.)

A few recommendations on cooking Thanksgiving dinner:
  1. Get an early start.
  2. Relax. Get help if you need it. Don’t try to do more than you are able to. It is the cook’s holiday too.
  3. Have a lot of Chicken Stock on hand. We use this like water in the kitchen. Either make your own ahead of time or buy a good one. My current favorite is Kitchen Basics brand when I can’t get my own made at home.
  4. Have a plan. If you are like me, you have four burners and one oven. A gas grill out back helps to warm things or hold things. We aim for 4 PM dinner. Here is my plan:
  • Go to farmer’s market.
  • Brine Turkey if you so desire.
  • Get Groceries.
  • Get the last few groceries that you forgot.
  • Rinse turkey, pat dry.
  • Clear out basement refrigerator.
  • Clear counter space.
  • Make crème brulee.
  • Make cranberry sauce if you want to.
  • Prep stuffing if you want to (dice veggies, cut up bread, don’t stuff turkey until tomorrow for safety reasons).
  • Drink some wine.
  • Make coffee.
  • Add Baileys to coffee if it is cold outside.
  • Stuff the damn bird and get it in the oven.
  • Start Cranberry sauce (if not done already).
  • Baste bird.
  • Cut everything up (peel and dice potatoes and put in pot of water, dice ham and cut sprouts, peel, cut, blanch sweet potatoes and place in baking dish).
  • Baste bird.
  • Prep crisp/cobbler. I throw this in the oven when I pull the turkey out. By the time the gravy is made and dinner served and eaten, the Crisp/Cobbler is done.
  • Baste bird. (Get the point yet? Keep it up.)
  • Start Brussels sprout.
  • Start mashed potatoes.
  • About 1 hour from dinner time, get sweet potatoes in.
  • Start roux for gravy.
  • Switch from coffee to wine.
  • Pull bird.
  • Make gravy.
  • Yell at everybody to set the table, help with the mashed potatoes, get the kids out of the kitchen, put the dogs outside, etc.
  • Put Crisp/Cobbler in oven. Set timer.
  • Serve. Pose with family and friends for your Norman Rockwell moment.
  • As people clear dinner, burn brulee with torch. The family will be impressed by this for at least two Thanksgivings.
  • Make coffee.
  • Serve dessert when Crisp/Cobbler is done.
  • Slink away to couch while cleanup occurs.
  • Port or bourbon is a good finishing drink to this day.
  • Sleep in. Spend time with loved ones. Avoid the mall and go for a hike at a local park.

However dazzlingly complex or elegantly simple your approach to the holiday is, have a warm and enjoyable one!