Over the years our Thanksgiving holiday has always been busy. My large family and extended families have always gotten together, first at our home of origin, and then here at the Cool Water Ranch. When Tom and I were first married he identified Thanksgiving as the holiday he wanted to host when my parents gave it up. We have been doing it now over twenty years.
This year was different for us as it was for everyone else. About half of our family fears COVID, the other not, so the party was a mix of dine-in and takeout guests. We had two other food pick-ups, so the $300 we spent on absurd amounts of food was not wasted. I ask you though, how does one buy half a ham, or half a turkey?
For some inexplicable reason I was giddy about cooking this Thanksgiving. Maybe because I wanted to make a turkey in the old-fashioned comforting way of roasting it in the oven, making a gravy, and stuffing the stuffing in the cavity. An act of defiance. Flagrantly ignoring the “experts.” It was exhilarating.
In shopping for the raw materials for the holiday, I noticed that Zatarain’s has a few mixes I haven’t seen. One was a biscuit mix and the other cornbread. I baked the cornbread last week, adding minced jalapeno. I wanted to dry it out for cornbread stuffing, but even after cutting it into squares to accelerate the drying, it didn’t dry out much. On Wednesday I crumbled the cornbread in a bowl and wet it with a half cup of milk. Then I cut Savoie’s andouille into slivers and then quartered those, adding celery, onion, and bell pepper. When the vegetables were wilted, I added the wet cornbread and mixed it fully. After it cooled I put it away. Also that evening, I peeled and sliced 2 pounds of too-large boiled shrimp and tossed these in remoulade dressing bottled by Arnaud’s. I like this intense red version of the classic, but I still prefer white.
I also made the crabmeat stuffing for the beignets I would fry on Thanksgiving. This was a simple combination of two green onions chopped finely, and one half red bell pepper minced, wilted in 2 tablespoons melted butter. I deglazed the pan with ¼ cup cream. To that I added 4 ounces of cream cheese, then gently tossed 8 ounces of blue claw crab meat into the mixture. And I cracked some pepper into this, also adding a pinch of dill, tarragon and celery seed. It too got refrigerated.
While all of this was getting done, the ham glaze was reducing in a saucepan. For once I went by the recipe, using Tabasco Pepper Jelly added to the root beer, cinnamon cloves and satsuma.
On Thanksgiving morning Tom and I started the ham, scoring it and patting on dried mustard and light brown sugar, then spooning on the glaze, recoating, and repeating it until it was a sticky mess. It went into the preheated oven where it remained for hours, basting and rebasting.
I took out the turkey and immediately realized why there is a turkey hotline. I couldn’t see the bag of giblets anywhere, and I almost threw away a knife with the packaging. Salt, pepper, dred sage and dried thyme were added to olive oil, then spread all over the turkey, then I dropped all the giblets in water to boil. The cornbread dressing was removed from the refrigerator and I spooned a little of the stock water into the cornbread dressing to soften it before stuffing it into the bird’s cavity.
Alongside the bird I put some celery sticks, some carrots and a quartered yellow onion. Stock water filled a half inch at the bottom of the pan. The roasting started with breast up, but half an hour into cooking I turned it. With each turn I basted some melted butter and sprinkled it with a tiny bit of sea salt. There was very little basting until the last hour.
From there all attention was turned to macaroni and cheese, our star dish. Cavatappi, large shells and rotini comprised the medley of dried pasta which was cooked less al dente than recommended, and soaked with heavy cream before being blanketed with Cabot white Vermont cheddar and Tillamook.
Perfect rice got edged out by a lack of time, and I moved on to the artichoke string bean casserole, a Connell family staple that provokes heavy competition. A half cup of olive oil went into a skillet followed by a minced shallot and 6 cloves of minced garlic.
3 cans of artichoke hearts were chopped and added to the skillet along with 3 cans of green beans. Nearly a cup of grated Parmesan and equal parts Italian breadcrumbs finished it off, ending with a pinch of pepper. This went into the oven too.
Four sweet potatoes were chopped in thin slices, then quartered. A stick of butter was melted and a half tablespoon each of cumin, and nutmeg, then double that of curry, cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric stirred in. This was poured over the potatoes to completely coat it. A half cup of water was also stirred in. There should be an eighth of an inch of water at the bottom for steaming. This should be mixed repeatedly to encourage the potatoes to mash.
We did not get to the Bourbon-glazed carrots, the balsamic roasted Brussels sprouts, or the Cheddar biscuits from the Zatarain mix. The appetizers were used throughout the afternoon for snacking. That’s when I got to the crabmeat beignets, and the shrimp remoulade on fried mirlitons. I was disappointed in both of these. I think the beignets would have been better with Crescent roll dough. I felt the dough was too thick, though the filling was great. The remoulade dipping sauce was made from equal parts mayo and Maille Moutarde, which I was shocked to see sitting right on the shelf at my local Rouse’s. My last bottle came from a tiny shop in their company store in Paris, which reminded me of a scene from Madeline. How did it find its way to my neighborhood?
All of the food was unusually great this year, or maybe the smaller group allowed me to focus more on it. We decided the cornbread dressing had a surprised hint of sweetness from the mix, but this was rather an enhancement than a distraction. The turkey skin was delightfully crisp and the dressing had spilled out, thickening the gravy. When it was time to cut into it, I didn’t know what to do. The skin was so crisp and the meat so tender it started to resemble pulled pork as I ripped it with tongs. Mary Leigh’s boyfriend offered his assistance, and I deferred. We flipped it and he sliced the white meat from the breast. The traditional star of the table was no less so today, as the boyfriend tasted it for the first time. Always fun to watch. Always a trough.
Mary Leigh did not get around to helping Tom with his cheesecake. For dessert there was leftover sprinkle birthday cake and some ice cream sandwiches, part of the “secret'' menu. With so few people there was no need for the cheesecake.
It was a really fun day, which was a great surprise. When I mentioned to ML how much I enjoyed it she replied cynically, “See Mom, set your expectations low so you can’t help but be thrilled.” There’s something about that idea that I don’t like, but it certainly worked this time.