Thanksgiving, Looking Ahead to 2011.....
I cook a 50 hour Thanksgiving meal by myself (for my immediate family) which is wearisome.
Going out to eat is out of the question because my family doesn't think the food compares to mine (last year we went to Charlie Palmer's in OC). And to boot, there are no leftovers.
What can I do...every other year that would be fabulous, but could not be compared with my 8 course traditional Thanksgiving dinner? We like traditional/classic American cuisine. What about a stuffed turkey breast, like the one featured on the cover of Saveur?
Any help/advise is welcomed. I'd like to create other delicious traditions that are less time intensive.
We did a classic American Thanksgiving this year for 3 and spent nowhere near the amount of time you did. But it was not nearly as fancy, nor were there 8 courses. Also, my husband and I shared the cooking. Surely, even if you are the head cook, you can enlist your immediate family to assist in food preparation -- e.g., chopping vegetables, etc. The question is whether you and your family would be satisfied with the kind of scaled-down home-cooked meal that we did.
Nibbles, served on Island in kitchen while we were cooking:
Crudite tray of olives, grape tomatoes, and carrot sticks.
Cheese and crackers.
steamed green beans
Everything was made from scratch except that I am not an accomplished baker so I use prepared, refrigerated pie crusts and frozen yeast dinner rolls. Broth for the gravy was made from the neck and giblets while the turkey was roasting. Cranberry sauce was the basic recipe found on the Oceanspray bag, made the night before.
Thanks for all your feedback. Unfortunately we have no family so I'm on my own for everything (menu below), and the meal is just for four of us!
When I told my kids that I'm not sure how long I can do this (takes 4 hours just to make the *broth* that goes into the gravy), I asked them what courses they could live without, they said "Don't make the corn" which is the course that takes just 15 minutes to prepare.
Some of the time is shooting the courses. After all that trouble, I like to photograph the food so I at least make money from my efforts!
Perhaps every other year I could make some kind of special meal that would have lots of flavor and elegance, but simpler to prepare. Someone I met makes pot roast for Thanksgiving. That might be too casual, but perhaps something along that vein but more elegant...?
*Funwithfood's Thanksgiving Dinner*
Jewel Mold of Layered Berries, Creme Fraiche, & Lemon Mandarin Jello
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Shallots & Applewood Smoked Bacon
Elegant Yam Casserole
Gratin of Creamy Corn, with fresh Thyme
Herbed Cream Infused Mashed Potatoes
& Rich Turkey Sercial Madiera Gravy
Citrus-Herb Brined Turkey
Chestnut & Herb Stuffing
Cranberry Sauce with Cherries, Marsala & Fresh Rosemary
Pumpkin Pie (or bread pudding)
.....then of course Turkey Noodle Soup with the leftovers
Sounds delicious, but kind of makes me tired just to read about it! (Or maybe that's the four hours of sleep I got last night.) Anyway, how old are the kids? Because if you absolutely can't avoid doing all of this, I'd be tempted to draft them into service, on the grounds that such an important family tradition will need to be continued and there's no time like the present.
I did see several Food Network shows about Turkey Roulades this year, though -- I think Ina did one, and so did Anne Burrell. Looked tasty, and made for an attractive presentation, although if you're serving too many people you might have to make more than one.
re: Ruth Lafler
Your children will be 1 year older next Thanksgiving. You've got a year to teach them how to peel carrots, potatoes, and apples, and otherwise function as sous-chefs. If you are looking for building holiday memories and traditions, I bet they will remember more about a meal where they helped than one that involved really elegant food. We've got pictures in our family album of our son at 4 years old making his own apple turnover with left over crust & apples from the pie -- priceless.
Wow, you have little kids, plural, and you're doing 50-hour preps? Wow. I mean . . . wow. I have little kid, singular, and tonight's veggie burgers and salad wiped me out. You must run on plutonium!
Like I said, check out the turkey roulades. Anne Burrell wrapped hers in caul fat and it was gorgeous. It's here:
Also, you could always go totally non-traditional for your alternate years. I know you said your family likes classic American food, but my family does a huge homemade Tex-Mex feast on Christmas Eve and it's astounding how many people manage to conveniently drop by around dinnertime. Holiday meals are wonderful and I'd walk a hundred miles for my mom's stuffing, but there's a lot of repetition of flavors and it's nice to have something completely different. Doing a multi-course, super-authentic Thai or Indian meal would probably satisfy your elaborate-prep jones and be delicious besides. Or you could do themes: regional American food, food based on books or movies your family likes, decade-specific food, etc. I'm mostly just thinking that if you're going to do alternate meals, you're going to want to keep the flavor profiles pretty different from one year to the next, or else you and your family are going to spend the entire meal comparing it to the one you're not eating -- that's what I'd do!
Yes, I'd like to stray from tradition for my "alternate" years. This would also give me inspiration to conquer dishes I've wanted to, but have yet to try. For example; beef stroganoff, roast leg of lamb, boeuf Bourguignon, turkey roulade. Are there any other elegant 'mains' I might be missing...?
I don't think you'll be happy going 2 whole years without turkey and all the trimmings.
The alternate years will seem like a big sacrifice. You'll end up doing it all anyway--on Christmas or another holiday. Better to really streamline the 8 course meal-- down to 6 1/2 at least!
I think the problem you might be having is that the term "elegant" is kind of vague and subjective. For me, it's about refined flavors and quality ingredients first, with presentation running a slightly closer third than it would if we were discussing the term "sophisticated"; to somebody else, it might mean something different. I've had pizza that I'd consider elegant, but maybe not tacos, although I don't doubt that there's an elegant taco out there somewhere, and I just haven't eaten it.
From the examples you've listed here, it looks like you're after pretty classic recipes from the Western European/American traditions. So why not go straight to the source? I'm thinking Julia Child, James Beard . . . this kind of cooking really doesn't fit my life right now, so I'm only able to come up with the most obvious sources, but surely somebody else will have better suggestions. Because when you say "beef stroganoff," I'm guessing that you don't mean somebody's mom's adapted weeknight stroganoff; I'm guessing that you want to make The Beef Stroganoff, if there is one. So classic, canonical cookbooks will probably be your best source.
50 hours? That's really over the top. Can you ask some of your family members to bring some of the more basic dishes?
For the last 20 years or so my family has cooked the turkey on the grill (charcoal or gas, depending on who's hosting). It cooks more quickly than a standard oven and it frees up the oven for other things. And honestly, I've never brined a turkey, and they always come out well. You don't need to brine -- if you don't cook it to death and let it rest it will be moist without going to all the trouble of brining. This year I did a freakin' Butterball (long story) and it came out gorgeous and delicious.
Why, why, why are you doing 8 courses? Thanksgiving is a time of conviviality and not formality, at least that is the case at our house. Three courses, max, if you must do courses. Myself, I have everyone serve him/herself from a sideboard. No first course. Guests are invited for 6:00 p.m. or so. Champagne is offered with only mixed nuts or popcorn. When it is time to eat, on the sideboard are placed the turkey, already sliced, the stuffing, the dressing (in the bird and out of the bird, but the same thing -- vegetarians to think of), the mashed potatoes, the roasted yams, the green veg (this year spinach with celery and pinenuts) and the bittersweet onions. No soup, nor salad. Have tried these in the past, but gave them up. Cranberry sauce or jelly (homemade) are on the table, as well as the relish tray, the gravy, and butter for the yeast rolls (homemade) that come to the table when they are done. Five or six pies for dessert, a separate course, is also served from the sideboard so that everyone can have some of this and a bit of that. We usually have from 15 to 22 guests, which is just the immediate family. With a smaller group I might be able to do courses, but not for this crowd. I may very well put in 50 hours of prep work (I've never counted it up), but it is spread out in a way that I can manage. I should add that these days I make only one of the pies (others make the others) and my son does the sweet potatoes (and two of the pies). Also, I save the pan drippings from the turkey to use next year. If stored in a glass container in the freezer, the drippings keep perfectly. I usually make the gravy on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, having made turkey stock some time in October. Not fast, not cheap, but doable.
How many people are eating?
It may not be traditional/classic American cuisine, but deep frying a turkey is much less time intensive. We do that every year, but then my husband favors a cajun-style Thanksgiving instead of traditional...
What do you serve in your current 8 course traditional menu? Perhaps you could start by just cutting courses or the number of dishes in each course?
Fast, Cheap, and Good... pick two. If it's fast and cheap, it won't be good. If it's cheap and good, it won't be fast. If it's fast and good, it won't be cheap. Fast, cheap and good... pick two words to live by. Cutting up the whole turkey will speed up the longest element, but that means less time for you to multi task. Quality takes time and eight courses require focus and timing. Be proud and continue a great holiday for your family.