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Prepping For the Big Eats

Posted on Nov 19, 2009 by billsimmon in Emily, family, foodie, friends, Life of Bill | 5 Comments

We take Thanksgiving fairly seriously at the Stoneking/Simmon household. We take it so seriously in fact, that when I just tweeted about how I’d gotten a 13 lb. pre-turkey for making stock that I’m going to brine and roast on Saturday, I got a direct message from a friend who said, “You really don’t mess around with this stuff.” No, we don’t. Thanksgiving is serious business.

Over the last several years we’ve developed something of a tradition. Emily and I host the meal and invite my mom; Emily’s parents, sister and niece; our friends Steve and Eve and Steve’s mom; and this year will be the second year we’ve added our friend Alex to the list. That’s 11 people in our little condo. And in addition to feeding everyone, we really like our leftovers, so we make sure to make more food than we can eat at the dinner table.

The menu we serve is actually pretty traditional — turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, green peas, a corn and squash gratin, biscuits, gravy, etc. We really love the traditional Thanksgiving meal, when done well, but the standard preparation is complicated by the following concerns:

*We only eat local, humanely raised and killed, hormone-free meat. This includes the stock, which we use in lots of dishes, so we need to prep that early. It also means our bird is a lovely, never-frozen fresh Vermont turkey — no Butterballs on our table.

*We don’t like to use any prepared foods either — no Stovetop Stuffing. The one exception are the biscuits. We really like the Immaculate Baking Company’s pre-fab buttermilk biscuits. They’re quick and easy, delicious, and there’s no trans-fat or other nastiness in them. We’re also experimenting with a green bean casserole that adheres to our yummy childhood memories, but that doesn’t rely on condensed cream of mushroom soup and canned onions. My mom always makes the homemade cranberry sauce and she also traditionally brings her famous creamed pearl onions.

The Brine
I brine the bird the night before we roast it. I usually improvise the brine ingredients, using some combination of kosher salt (the largest ingredient by far, apart from water, in the brine), brown sugar, rosemary, molasses and aroma veggies. Then for roasting, I stuff the bird with the veggies from the brine — giving preference to the garlic. The brining process makes the bird taste yummy and helps it to retain moisture while roasting, but mostly we do it because it makes for KILLER stock and gravy, and that influences the entire meal.

Technically, this is “dressing,” because I don’t stuff the bird. Why? There are differing schools of thought, but I happen to think:

  • Sticking bread inside a roasting bird means you have to roast it longer (in order to avoid salmonella) and that dries out the bird, as does having bread inside of it, frankly.
  • There isn’t enough room in the bird for all the stuffing we need, so since we’re baking an extra pan of the stuff anyway, why dry out our beautiful bird?

My recipe for this is dirt-simple. I cut up loaf bread (any yummy brown bread that doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup will do — if it’s local, so much the better) and let it dry for a few days (it always takes longer than I think and I try to do it really early because cooking in a kitchen filled with pans of drying bread is tricky). Then I cut up a bunch of onions and celery, mix it all together and moisten generously with stock. You don’t need much salt if you’re using stock from a brined bird, but I like to add lots of black pepper and some rosemary. Thyme is a popular stuffing herb, but I’m a rosemary guy. Your mileage may vary. Then I bake it while the bird is cooling right after coming out of the oven. Done.

It almost doesn’t matter how these are prepared because they’re just going to get drowned in gravy anyway. I like them with skins or without. I prefer them creamy and smooth, but I’m fine with the lumpier kind too. Lot’s of black pepper is the key here. If I’m feeling really decadent (when am I not?) I like to use generous amounts of butter and heavy cream and whip them senseless. Garlic is a nice addition. Emily prefers a drier, lumpier spud, but she throws a dollop of sour cream on them on the pate.

It’s all about the gravy. My mom is the gravy queen of our Thanksgiving. This year we’re going to make a Marsala wine and mushroom sauce for the table too.

Now I have to go home and clean the kitchen. We’re a week out, and my Thanksgiving prep begins tonight! Feel free to add your own traditions and recipes to the comments.



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  1. On November 20, 2009, Mom said:

    “My mom always makes the homemade cranberry sauce and she also traditionally brings her famous creamed pearl onions.”

    Ahem: Mom also supplies the raw, 18-pound main turkey. Just saying …

  2. So what time do we eat? It’s a 9-hour drive, so I need to make plans.

  3. On November 21, 2009, Spine said:

    Butterball: Now With Even More Suffering!

    I saw a guy buying three Butterballs at Safeway the other day. He said something about deep-frying them. I threw red paint at him and chained myself to his SUV.

    Or maybe I just grumbled sotto voce. Yeah, that was it.

  4. On November 21, 2009, billsimmon said:

    In 1996 John Offenhartz announced that the Internet was no longer cool. His reason for saying so: he’d just discovered the Butterball website.

  5. I like to put a bunch of paprika in the mashed potatoes and then dust the top with a bunch more paprika. Try it this year. It’s *the best*.

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