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So what did you learn from your Thanksgiving meal?

  • w

I learned that even though it saves time, it's not a god idea to pre-slice potato and soak in water. While the water keeps them from turning black, it leaches out the starch and curls up the slices so that they don't lie flat, both of which were important in making a gratin!

I also learned that many things can be done ahead of time nicely. I made the cranberry relish a week a half ago, and they were still delicious. The cornbread chestnut dressing was made the night before and re-heated up after the turkey vacated the oven, and was also delicious. The other veggies sides, braised artichokes with pancetta and preserved myer lemon and spicy shitaki with green onions all can be done early in the afternoon and nuked before serving.

Oh, here is my menu.

Alice Water turkey brine
Vegetarian cornbread dressing with chestnuts
Braised artichokes with pancetta and preserved lemons
Sauteed fresh shitaki with pancetta and green onions
Sweet potato and potato gratin with sage
Turky pan gravy with mushroom
Cranberry and pumpkin upside cake

All in all, it was a delicous and successful Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

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  1. What I have learned is I was WRONG in my final post about nobody having a solution to the white/dark meat variation in cooking times. Several of you do have the answers...Several of you suggested things I'd tried in the past that did not work.

    Whereas I have always thought I spend a lot of time in preparing my turkey, I have not. If I'd commit to a brining process and forgo stuffing the bird, I could accomplish my purpose..moist breast and fully cooked dark meat.

    Thanks for all who took the time to educate me. I do understand this now.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Chuck

      Just a note: brining really doesn't take very much actual work. Sure, you have to do it the night before, but if you have your turkey, brining it is hardly no work. Combine some stuff on the stove until the granules dissolve, add enough water to cool it, pour it over the washed-off turkey in some plastic bags. Really, it took me less than a half hour.

      1. re: Autumn

        agreed. The hardest aspect of brining my turkey was finding a container suitable to hold the 20 lb turkey during the brining, after I discovered at the very last minute that the cooler I had planned to use had a serious leak!

        finally found a plastic box I use to store scuba gear , washed it out very well, worked great. Note to self: buy a new cooler before my next camping trip. :-)

        Like Tom Meg, and as I mentioned in another thread, I learned that meat thermometers have their limitations, and now I don't feel so bad about avoiding them all these years. guess I am a believer in more old fashioned approaches to determining 'doneness' (feel, smell, look, gut instinct).....

    2. ...sigh. I learned that when it tastes like there's enough garlic in the preparation stage, there's actually too much. Way too much. I think I ruined my mashed cauliflower by adding too many cloves of fresh garlic with not enough time to cook all the bite out.

      Also, next time, I'll be more careful with the adding flour to the gravy. Goodness, it's spreadable. With a knife.

      Lastly... fresh pumpkins really aren't that much work, and they're so much more rewarding. Though, I think I did something similar to the pie with the ginger as I did to the cauliflower with the garlic.

      Regarding the pie... I had made a super tasty mix of stuff for the crust: gingersnap crumbs, ground hazlenuts, ground almonds, brown sugar, and butter. The idea was to make sort of a graham cracker crust without the graham crackers. But, like all the times I try to make a graham cracker crust, it came out really wet. Why does it do this? I am not much of a baker. Help?

      2 Replies
      1. re: Autumn

        Autumn - don't know what you mean by too wet. If it looks greasy, it may be a bit too much butter. I personally like it that way.

        But, the reason I'm posting is this particular idea for a ginger snap crust was done in So Florida by one particular restaurant for their key lime pie. It is fantastic!

        1. re: Chuck
          Caitlin McGrath

          I very often make a gingersnap crust for key lome pie. It's a perfect flavor match.

      2. I learned that my fancy electronic instant-read thermometer is about twelve degrees off. Turkey breast was a little dry despite brining and hitting the target temperature of 165. I later dipped the thermometer in unsalted boiling water at sea level and got a reading of 200F.

        Live and learn!

        Link: http://meglioranza.com

        1. I learned that if you stuff the turkey cavity with quartered lemons and fresh herbs (I used thyme and tarragon) and cook it breast side down you will have extremely moist and tasty turkey (both white and dark meat).

          2 Replies
          1. re: MzMaggie

            A friend cooked her turkey upside and told me the breast ended up with ugly indentation from the rack. Did that happen to you??

            1. re: Wendy Lai

              I cook breast side down for 1 hour, then turn it over for the rest of the cooking. This way you get rid of the ugly indentation from the rack.

          2. I learned that I really hate to eat out on Thanksgiving. It was a nice place, beautiful setting, good service, okay food...but I would much rather be dirtying every pan in the kitchen and having fun doing it.

            1. I learned that gravy is a pain in the butt to make, even if you prepared the turkey broth days in advance. It's gonna take a couple more Thanksgivings before I feel at ease w/ the whole gravy-making process. I also learned (or was reminded what I forgot from last year) that no one ever eats as much of the mashed potatoes as I anticipate, but that leftover mashed potatoes fried in a pan w/ some parmesan cheese make for tasty leftovers. Finally, I learned that if I'm gonna buy a kosher turkey, I should deal w/ pinfeathers the day before, not the morning of.

              1. I've learned that most of the stuff to go with the turkey can be prepared in advance. That saves both time and last minute stress when the turkey is done and the meal is all coming together. I made the stuffing, the gravy, the yams, the cranberry relish and the salad in advance. The brined turkey was cooked in the Weber charcoal BBQ. That frees up needed space in the oven. Last minute items prepared on the stove top were broccoli with cheese sauce and mashed potatoes. Other people brought rolls and desserts.

                Making the gravy in advance is by far the biggest time saver. I bought a package of two turkey wings. I roasted them for about an hour, then simmered them in 3 1/2 qts. of salted water along with a carrot, an onion, a celery stalk and a bit of Kitchen Bouquet. After a half hour I removed the wings, stripped off the meat before it cooked into mush so as to use it for other purposes. Then I threw the remaining skin and bones back into the pot for a couple more hours until the stock was reduced to 2 quarts. I strained it and refrigerated it. Then I skimmed off the fat from the top and added some extra cooking oil to it for the roux. When I was done I had two quarts of excellent gravy, plenty for the table and plenty for leftovers.

                1. After many years of managing a "collective" thanksgiving meal preparation, I learned that my partner and I are happiest doing the core work ourselves, and letting our friends bring side dishes with them.

                  In years previous we would make the meal over the course of the day with many well-intentioned helpers, but this year we found it is just as easy, and more pleasurable, to do the main stuff (bird, stuffin', gravy, potatoes) ourselves, and let friends bring sides and dessert with them when they arrive.

                  Also this is the first thanksgiving in a long time that we've cooked in our own kitchen, and I definitely prefer that over cooking in someone else's kitchen. Sharp knives, enough mixing bowls and measuring spoons, etc.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: patrick

                    I agree-- there's no place like home. I cooked in my Dad's kitchen, and while he's better stocked than most (having gotten me started as a cook, through his love of all things Julia Child), there's invariably a few things I always miss- like my Oxo peeler and my microplane grater.

                  2. As long as I am able and have the opportunity, I can't imagine ever buying a turkey that isn't a heritage turkey again. And I'm so glad I didn't brine it.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Nina W.

                      Nina W.,

                      Do tell. What distinguished your heritage turkey and why are you glad you didn't brine it? And where did you buy your heritage turkey from?


                      1. re: rawcuzima

                        Please read my posts on the General Topics board.

                    2. I learned that if you pour hot, lump-free cream sauce over cool ingredients it will lump. Or at least I think that's what happened.

                      I learned that kaddo bourani (Afghan pumpkin) is a perfect side dish that can be made in advance and easily reheated.

                      I learned that the key to a harmonious Thanksgiving is sitting as far away from my sister's in-laws as possible.

                      Link: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

                      1. I learned that although it is *great* to make the gravy ahead of time (and a wonderful gravy it was!), one should not use one of those fancy heat-proof spatulas to do so - or at least I shouldn't. They are *way* more flexible than wooden spoons - I have the lovely burn on my forehead to prove it!!!

                        -Cathy (the klutz)

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: mirage

                          *giggle* Sorry about your forehead but thanks for the mental image. *giggle* I too used one of those things and they ARE more flexible than you'd expect at times. *giggle* Boy was the food flyin', but what fun!

                          1. re: mirage

                            Thank you for the chuckle, I too am a big Klutz so I can understand.

                          2. I made two pumpkin pies, one with baked sugar pumpkins, and one with canned Libby's.

                            The fresh-baked pumpkin was a Cook's Illustrated recipe which called for cooking the pumpkin, etc on a stove first, then it went into a homemade crust.

                            The "Libby's version" was an Epicurious recipe with just mix/pour/bake directions.

                            Believe it or not, the easiest pie tasted better.

                            What I learned is that I am going to go back to bread pudding for my Thanksgiving dessert, and buy a pumpkin pie for my one pumpkin pie fan.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Funwithfood

                              Which pumpkin pie recipe from Epicurious did you use? I just checked and they have many!

                              1. re: Buttercup

                                Buttercup, yes there are many. The one I made was called "The Ultimate Pumpkin Pie". I did not make the crust, used Marie Callender's.

                                Also, I upped the ginger to 1 tsp, the salt to 1/2 tsp, and added 1/8 tsp allspice and 1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg (did this after tasting the "batter", which tasted way under-spiced.)

                                1. re: Funwithfood

                                  That looks amazing! I will definitely try it. I made the Fannie Farmer pie over the weekend (there was none at Thanksgiving) with FF's basic pastry crust, using whole-wheat pastry flour for 1/2 the flour. It was pretty good for my first effort.

                                  Link: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...

                            2. Oh and one more thing.

                              Bags of snacking chestnuts bought in Asian markets work just as well as fancy French candied chestnuts. I used them in my cornbread stuffing and cooked with all the other ingridentsm, no one missed that they weren't fresh or French! And they only cost $1.25 a bag for 20 chestnuts, all peeled, and cooked, and lighly sweetened.

                              1. ...that 6 large bunches of chard, after steamed and squeezed of all their liquid, will shrink to the size of a softball...

                                .that the eight-or-so cups of cooked garbanzos that were planned for another purpose make a great addition to the recipe linked below...

                                .and that pickled shallots are not only a vital part of that same recipe, but they are so amzingly delicious and so stupidly simple to make that I will be making them regularly from now on so that I will always have some on hand...

                                Link: http://www.kron.com/Global/story.asp?...

                                1. That a home-brined fresh bird doesn't necessarily taste better than a pre-basted frozen bird from Safeway...

                                  That it is MUCH easier and more enjoyable to cook in my own kitchen as much as possible before heading over to the in-laws...

                                  That homemade sweet potato pie is simple to make w/ my food processor and much better tasting than my MIL's purchased Mrs. Smith's pumpkin pie...

                                  That one of the best parts of cooking most of the meal is that I don't have to lift a finger in the clean up...

                                  That young children (ages 4-7) can like "adult" food if you just offer it to them...

                                  That my often-stoic MIL really truly digs my food...

                                  1. That my Cuisinart mini-prep does a better job of turning graham crackers and Nabisco Famous chocolate wafers into cookie crumbs than my regular-size Cuisinart does - by far.

                                    That I could make my desserts the day before and they were just as good as if made on the day of.

                                    That I shouldn't be surprised that my mom continues to use raw onions in her stuffing instead of sauteeing the onions before combining them with the other stuffing ingredients, despite many years of me pleading with her to cook the friggin onions first.

                                    1. I learned...
                                      . that even if you have to work on Thanksgiving, and your husband roasts and bastes the turkey it will STILL turn out great!

                                      . that preparing a traditional Thanksgiving meal in Beijing, China is easier than you think!

                                      .to make the gravy in advance. It really does save time and stress.

                                      .that despite everything you've heard, Europeans DO like stuffing, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie, but they DON'T like cranberry sauce from a can.

                                      1. .. that a sweet potato pone recipe gone "wrong" with condensed milk instead of "sweet milk" (=whole milk) is a delicious dessert. The fact that my grandmother's recipe called for 2 c. sweet milk when condensed milk typically comes in 14 oz cans should have been a tip-off.

                                        On a related note, the oh-so-culinary heavenly hash that was improvised out of the 12 ounces of leftover condensed milk was the star of the dessert leftovers the day after, flying faster than the pecan pie and the pear-almond tart, and rivalling only the "sweet potato dessert" for the family's attention.

                                        1. My homemade whole berry cranberry sauce usually doesn't thicken very well, even when made 2 days in advance. This year I learned from my Mom to cut the liquid in half (1/2 cup instead of 1 cup) and use cranberry juice instead of water. Wow, did it thicken up beautifully! It was made 2 days in advance. My mom made it and used Ocean Spray type cranberry juice. I might use a pure cranberry juice next year (or at Christmas.)

                                          1. Another thing I learned, also from my mother, is to make a beautiful brown turkey stock for the gravy. She slow-roasted turkey legs, onions, garlic, carrots and celery until they were very, very browned (not burned) and then used them to make stock. One leg per quart of water for the stock. Yummm, was that gravy extra good. The brined drippings did not over-salt the gravy.

                                            1. I learned that everything tastes good when you are invited to a close friends' house the week after the loss of your mother. Tastes REAL good. Makes you think of the emotional aspect of food and gives new meaning to comfort food. Especially those mashed potatoes and gravy.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: Sweet Pea

                                                So sorry for your loss, Sweet Pea. Losing a parent (or any loved one) is honestly bad enough, but it feels even worse, if that's possible, when it happens close to a traditional family holiday. Be well.

                                                1. re: Deenso

                                                  Thank you Deenso. You know how they say there is always a siver lining? Her memorial serice was on my birthday. I figure from now on, I get TWO cakes! As now there are two lives to celebrate on that day! I choose to be happy!

                                              2. j
                                                Jennie Sheeks

                                                I spent the day at my brother's in-laws home, with others doing most of the cooking. But I did learn several things:

                                                ** Even if I'm only contributing something as simple as a salad and appetizer, it's much easier on me and my host if I bring my own tools, like a cutting board, juicer, dish towels. It's a drag to interrupt the main cook to ask them where they keep their measuring spoons.

                                                ** The meal preparations should never be so involved that I don't have time to get down on the floor and play with my niece and nephew.

                                                ** That I really prefer my stuffing chewy, a little caramelized, not mushy and definitely without nuts.

                                                ** That outside of pumpkin bread, I just do not like pumpkin desserts. Not pie, not cheesecake, not layered desserts involving pumpkin and graham cracker crusts.

                                                ** That even though my sister-in-law doesn't cook, there is hope that her young daughter will learn to cook if I and my sister-in-law's Mom (a fabulous cook) take over. My 3 1/2 year old niece loved watching me crack Dungeness crab, helped make the crab dip and assemble the salad. Even though she was unsure about the finished products, she loved helping.