My mom and sister helping me prepare curry the night they arrived. You can’t really tell how tiny they are at this angle, but honestly, it’s like they’re not even real people. Titchy little midget folk, but very sweet.
Last Thanksgiving was kind of a rough one, culinarily. I put the turkey in the oven, settled down for a nice glass of wine and general merriment, and then realized about 1.5 hours later that the turkey had already reached temperature, I had yet to make any side dishes, and that the turkey would be 10 degrees OVER temperature by the time it rested. Then I made gravy as fast as I could, which resulted in lumps, which I then tried to blend away without the benefit of a VitaMix. This resulted in scalding gravy being splattered over my arms, and my eventual arrival at my (unset) Thanksgiving table, looking like a very sad leper.
The food was fine last year, but not fiiiiiine.
This year, I vowed that things would be different. I would NOT overcook my turkey! I would have an elaborate menu planned! I would keep my drunken revelry to a minimum! I would pull the turkey out of the oven 10 degrees before it reached temperature! I would have all of my side dishes sitting, ready to go, in warm bain maries! I would HAVE A PLAN!!!
And so it was.
I started with the procurement of (what I deemed to be) the best ingredients. By the end of July I had ordered one of the much-storied heritage turkeys from Heritage Foods USA. By the end of October I had submitted and confirmed an order of fresh black truffles to arrive the week of Thanksgiving, plus a “practice” order to come two weeks beforehand, just so I could play around with them. I had researched recipes and combinations of food to see what would play well together. I had written, printed, revised, and re-printed the Thanksgiving menu just so I could begin a tentative timeline for preparing things. I really felt READY.
My family flew out for the second year in a row, braving double-wide mounds of fire ants, knife fights over Wal-Mart specials, and God only knows what type of gangs frequent the Alamo, just to leave Colorado to come to Texas. Can you imagine? Voluntarily leaving sparkling, snow-capped peaks and mile-high sunshine, just to see your family on a holiday? That’s SACRIFICE. I love my family. We would have gone to see them in Colorado, but I’ve quickly grown accustomed to having the use of my own knives, pans, and gadgets for the food holiday. Plus, we’re going home for Christmas, and the military doesn’t take kindly to doctors leaving their bases for the major holidays.
My fam also gamely participated in the Turkey Trot 4-miler, for the second year running. My brother beat us all, predictably, but all of us finished within a 20 minute window, so nobody had to wait around for too long. The race ended in true Texan style, with no water available, but plenty of full-sugar sodas for all. Hoo-rah. At least the weather was gorgeous. I’ll hand it to Texas, this time of year has some beautiful days. It’s almost like summer in Colorado, with the 75 degree days and 50 degree nights.
Once we arrived home, I set to work on the meal. I even delegated, which is terribly hard for me. I have a tendency toward being a controlling whore in the kitchen. “small dice please. No, no, NO! That’s not a small dice. That’s a who-knows-what-the-hell SLICE. Just put the knife down. PUT THE KNIFE DOWN. Go watch football or something before I kill you.” I let my mom make the cranberry relish, which she did perfectly. Fresh cranberries, chopped with oranges, orange peel, apples, sugar, and vanilla bean. Much better than my version, I’ll admit, which is cooked down into sweet-tart glop. I let my sister (read: made my sister) roll out the doughnut holes. I even recruited my brother to put the potatoes through the ricer, since my arms were getting tired. My brother was rewarded with a delicious lemon and marzipan cake, decorated with a crude hand turkey, and labeled for his benefit.
And Chris, God bless him, did dishes ALL WEEK. Hundreds upon hundreds of dishes, all hand-washed, dried, and then (in the case of my wedding china) put back into bubble wrap and boxes because we don’t have a hutch yet. He was so good.
Our turkey had arrived on Tuesday, and then put in a cooler because it was too large for our refrigerator. On Thursday, it got a rub down with butter, truffle salt, and pepper, then into the oven. I have some things to say about turkeys, which I will put in block quotes so you can skip it if you prefer not to listen to free-range blah-blahs. But it also includes my newfound BFF, the heritage turkey.
A word on turkeys: I had always heard varying things about heritage breeds. I heard that they were the gold standard, and that they were the responsible choice, and that they were mouthwateringly delicious. I also heard that they were “gamey,” overpriced, and tough. Having now eaten a heritage bird, I will tell you that it was BY FAR the best piece of meat, from any bird, that I’ve ever had. It was succulent, beautiful, and most of all, FLAVORFUL. Jam-packed with flavor, in fact. Like gravy in meat form. The white meat was as flavorful, or more, than traditional dark meat. And the dark meat was as flavorful as a steak. There was no gaminess or toughness to be found, and the scent while it was cooking was unrivaled by any of the traditional broad-breasted whites. I cannot believe that the two are related by anything other than name. If I were to deep-fry a turkey, I would likely go with a free-range traditional turkey. But for any other cooking method, I will happily save up my pennies for a heritage turkey.
You see, heritage turkeys are expensive. $120-$300 or more, depending on size. And that sounds like (is) a lot of money. But there’s so much difference between a commercial turkey and a heritage turkey. You see, a regular grocery store turkey is kept in a tiny, metal cage, without the ability to open their wings, while they grow. They’re so top heavy that they’re incapable of walking, most of them sustaining injuries like broken legs, just because they’ve been so far mutated from their natural form. They cannot reproduce naturally, so are entirely dependent on artificial insemination. ALL of them. It’s like they grew up too close to a power plant. Their hearts are underdeveloped and weak, and their meat starts to separate from the bones in places, like a heavy steroid-user. Even the free-range ones, which I think are MUCH better than the commercial birds, are basically crippled by their mutated form. Enter the heritage bird. The muscles on a heritage bird are developed. The hearts are much larger, stronger-looking, capped in a normal amount of protective fat. The bones are denser and larger. Upon visual inspection, the bird MAKES SENSE.
I was fascinated while cleaning the carcass. I could see, looking at the turkey, that it was as nature had designed it. All of the parts were in proportion to one another, and it just looked so much HEALTHIER. There was meat in places where a commercial turkey just has fat and connective tissue. There was just a neverending supply of rich, delicious protein.
So, given the fact that my heritage bird was tracable to the farmer, treated humanely, meatier, more flavorful, fresher, more natural, prettier, and infinitely more memorable than a commercial bird, I will go ahead and say that YES, it was worth every penny. And I will never buy one of the $5 “store-special” birds again. I will still buy the regular free-range, on occasion, though. For frying and such, and because I honestly can’t afford to eat heritage turkey as often as I’d like.
While the turkey roasted, I made a butternut squash soup with sage and cream a la Thomas Keller. I shaved black truffles into cream and butter, then warmed the lot for the mashed potatoes. I blanched haricot verts, warmed peas, deep fried shoestrings of sweet potatoes, and assembled a pie shell for the pumpkin pie (which my darling-but-lilliputian mother made). And my gravy was unparalelle
Stuffing, you ask? Bread rolls, you ask? Well, well, well. What if I told you that I combined the two to make something that far outshone either (in my humbug opinion)? You’d be thrilled? You’d name a holiday after me? You’d…send me presents?? XOXOXOXO.
I don’t like stuffing. Wet bread has never been my thing, at least not in savory applications. And rolls are BO-RING. But the flavor and consistency is important in the meal, from both players. And that’s why I came up with stuffing-flavored doughnut holes. It’s adapted from a recipe for bread bowls from King Arthur Flour, but ends up being sagey, thymey, deep-fried balls of hot, yeasty dough. And I’m giving you the recipe, because I care about you, and because EVERYONE should have deep fried foods at the holidays.
Stuffing Doughnut Holes
-1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
– 1/4 cup vegetable oil
– 3 cups AP flour
– 1/2 cup semolina or bread flour
– 2 teaspoons ground sage
– 1 teaspoon dried thyme
– 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
– 1 tablespoon sugar
– 3 tablespoons instant potato flakes
– 2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk
– 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast (or 1 packet)
Deep fryer or cast iron pan with enough vegetable oil to deep fry (read deep-fryer instructions before doing this, or you’ll set yourself or house on fire)
-In a bread maker, stir together water, sugar, and yeast. Then place other ingredients ontop, finishing with the salt on top. Allow to mix until dough is elastic and soft, but not sticky. Or, do this in a stand mixer.
-Allow to rise, covered, for 1.5 hours, or until doubled
-Measure out 1 oz balls of dough, rolling them to make them completely smooth. Place on a cookie sheet, cover, and allow to rise while fryer preheats to 350 F.
-Deep fry, turning periodically to insure even browning, until they’re golden.
-Drain, dust with sage and sea salt, and serve immediately
See? Super easy. And you’re left with these little numbers, who you’ll want to eat while still blisteringly hot. And nobody can judge you for eating an entire batch because it’s THANKSGIVING. The glutton’s holiday. The day where it’s totally okay to have three wineglasses on the table–one for red, one for white, and one for additional gravy.
Best of all, this can be done to most bread recipes. As long as they’re not too lean of a dough (read: the dough must contain butter or oil), and as long as they produce a relatively dense bread (not too holey like ciabatta), then you can do it. Parmesan herb donut holes? Check! Sourdough donut holes? Check! Pumpernickel donut holes? CHECK!!! The sky is the limit, baby. And your bread maker will do all of the work.
Actually, you can make a regular loaf of your favorite bread, set aside a small wad of the dough, then fry it while your bread is baking. It’s literally that simple.
I don’t want aaaanybody else,
when I think abooout these, I touch myself.
Not actually, because my fingers are all greasy and salty, but I kind of WANT to, at least.