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We had 21 people over for what could be called an “orchestrated potluck” this year on a rainy, cold evening.  My dear friends brought appetizers, side dishes, and desserts to supplement what I had made, and thus we had a wide range of choices for all the guests.

We had several vegetarians and one non-dairy guest, and a range of tastes from traditionalist to foodie, so I am so very pleased we were able to accommodate them all.  I’ve been sick, with laryngitis most of the week, and under the pressure of several deadlines, so the potluck option really saved me from peril.  Plus, I liked seeing the family specialties that people contributed, and I like to think that they enjoyed being a part of the preparation.  Everything was delicious; honestly, not a single dish misfired.

OK, let’s talk turkey.  This year, I made Cook’s Illustrated‘s herb roast turkey.  It appeared in the magazine a couple of years ago, and I see from my friend Google that it appeared on their TV program this year.  The recipe is rather simple.  I pulverized about two cups of mixed garden herbs — parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme — with Dijon mustard, garlic, shallot, and olive oil.

The problem is that it’s incredibly messy to rub the herb paste under the skin of a slippery, unwieldy, wet bird.  But manage it we did, and the miracle was all the more miraculous because it was the biggest turkey I had ever cooked: 22.5 lbs. of turkey goodness.  Not sure if I’ll do that again, but it sure was pretty.

The photo is of the turkey about an hour into the cooking process, just before we flipped it and turned the oven way down to finish the cooking.  The bird was so large that it didn’t fit into my roasting pan — or any other pan — so we improvised a rack in a roaster with a cookie sheet underneath it.  The drippings mostly dripped into the roaster…mostly.  There was a small incident when oven floor met drippings, and smoke ensued, but we like to think that the smoked flavor just contributed something to the whole.

The benefits of buying a bigger bird are really the fat content, I think.  That sucker drained off about 6 cups of fat, and the roasted bird, with absolutely no basting and only a very little bit of oil in the herb paste, had a perfectly browned, crisp skin with just the mildest hint of grease crisping everything up and keeping the breast meat tender.  Our slow, weak brine, as usual, yielded terrifically moist, slightly salty meat.

As a hostess, I do wish my house was bigger and could more gracefully seat a large group.  Is it too much to ask for a dining room table that seats 20 comfortably, haha?  I am really, strongly pro-seated dinners, instead of asking people to perch their plates on their laps or inappropriate furniture, and even with all our tables and chairs and a massive table extended well past the dining room divide and into the living room, we still had a couple of people sitting on the couch.  I’m also not a big fan of the dinner buffet (sorry, Mom), but we just didn’t have room to pass around dishes.  When you see the menu below, you’ll understand why.

Anyway…Retrogrouch urges me not to worry about these things, and it seems everyone left happy and sated, but I’m not sure what to do about next Thanksgiving.  We might have a smaller group, or maybe stack people in bunk beds.

How was your Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving Menu 2009

(stuff I made is preceded by an asterisk; everything else was made with love and graciously contributed by guests)

Overture
Crudité Platters with Sour Cream Dip
Pickled local Italian Prunes
*Relish Tray with Homemade Garden Cornichons and Pickled Cauliflower
Manchego with *Quince Paste Nostradamus (local quinces, cardamom, lemon zest, clove)
Pesto baguette

Act One
*Herb-rubbed Roast Turkey with Caramelized Onion Gravy
*Polska Kielbasa
Tempeh with Charmoula and Grains

Act Two
*Mashed Potatoes with Sour Cream
*Biancalana Pork Bacon and Local Hazelnut Leek Dressing
Apple and Sausage Dressing
Vegetarian Dressing with Onion Gravy

Act Three
*Three Sisters Sauté (Local Corn, Yellow-Eye Beans, and Local Delicata Squash with Cream)
Updated Green Bean Casserole
Spaghetti Squash Bake with Blue Cheese and Ham
Warm Brussels Sprout Slaw with Mustardseed

Intermission
*Long-Cooked Oregon Coast Cranberry Sauce with Star Anise
Cranberry Relish with Meyer Lemon
Caesar and Raspberry-Feta Tossed Salads
*Cucumber and Vinegar Salad (pictured)
Wheat and White Rolls

Finale
Apple Pie
*Pumpkin Pie (two different kinds)
Baked Cheesecake
Lemon Zest Whipped Cream
Cookies & Chocolate
Coffee, Tea, Ice Wine

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