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Thanks And Favorites, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:34am

About that Thanksgiving menu.

The Diestel heritage turkey, delicious. A meat thermometer is critical, however, as it cooked much faster than advised. Gravy from roux (half pan drippings, half butter, plus flour) and giblet stock, with chopped turkey liver? Do pour in the glass of wine that the Diestel site recommends. Tasted just like mom used to make. Hers was salty too.

How about the carbs and sugar? Salted caramel apple pie? Divine. Salt, sweet caramel, and the tree-redolent tang of apples kind of divine. Your son using his childhood origami skills on a pie crust lattice kind of divine. Meanwhile the recipe-from-can pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes with hot water and butter/no milk, boxed cranberry sauce, and frozen rolls all tasted just fine.

On to side dishes. A simple salad of dried cranberries, mixed greens, red onion slices. The usual vinaigrette, refreshing. Californians go crazy if they don’t get a salad in a big meal. I’d give soy-roasted brussel sprouts an A. The lap cheong fried rice, which I’ve made umpteen times, was reliably good and OK to serve room temperature if you are prioritizing last-minute stove time.

Which it seems I always am.

What didn’t work? Bagged bread stuffing. The wholesome Whole Foods version of our family Pepperidge Farms favorite comes out soggy and boring. And, sadly, the fried pumpkin. Not enough taste to the gourd, not enough crunch in the crust. The salted egg sauce was pretty good though.

So, next time I host, I think I will repeat the menu, with a few changes.

That’s a revolutionary statement. I’ve always been a cooking thrill-seeker, no truck with the tried and true. Partly because I love the new over the known, partly because I felt powerful in big new recipes.

But we change, for better or worse.

For worse – there, I’ve said it – I no longer have the working memory of my middle years. Then I could execute 3 dishes I’d never tried, all at once, saute, braise, bake, chaos no obstacle. I remembered all the steps without checking cookbooks as I worked. These days I can’t follow more than one recipe, especially when I have to also deal with the monitoring and checking required by hot things on stoves.

For better, for the first time in my life I’m happy to choose favorites. I would rather cook peacefully and eat happily than beat my chest. Adult children help with that. There are people at my table who can make pies and carve turkeys. When I said to my daughter, “What if something doesn’t work?” she answered, “Then we will just laugh.”

I think I’ll focus on small improvements to our family menu. Next time I host, butternut squash tempura? Maybe sweet potatoes, same method? And we can give up stuffing altogether, fried rice suffices. Like a simple thank you.

Have a wonderful weekend, maybe with favorites of all sorts.

32 Responses

  1. I’m not surprised to read that Whole Foods bread stuffing wasn’t as good as Pepperidge Farm.

  2. I cooked the same turkey and you’re right, mine was ready two full hours before it “should” have been (24.5lbs) – was freaking out a bit, as we weren’t at all ready to sit down. I covered it was a dish towel and kept basting it, and it did stay really moist. Next year I’ll just keep the fast cooking of the turkey in mind, no other changes to a menu I know my heart.

  3. Personally, I could give up everything on the Thanksgiving table and just eat stuffing, which I always make with real bread, torn into chunks by me, drying all over the kitchen for days before, and with a full meals worth of stuff added in. Tempura pumpkin seems like the opposite of simplifying…have you tried grilling it, easy to do, and you can rub it with chili and such to get rid of the bland? The last Gourmet cookbook has an amazingly simple, really delicious recipe for roasted sweet potatoes which is great for Thanksgiving. It can cook in the oven that the turkey has just exited.

    1. @Ellen, Your stuffing sounds amazing. I enjoy some complexity, so I’d like to try tempura, but just one experiment rather than a whole menu seems about right.

    2. @Ellen, I make my own bread cubes too, but just learned after all these years that setting the slices out to dry only makes them stale. This works wonderfully, so easy &quick — cut fresh bread into 1/2″ cubes, arrange single layer on cookie sheet(s), bake 45-60 min at 250.

  4. A feast, and I can see various members whom you have introduced over the years reflected in the choices.

    We have a French friend who roasts his turkey a day or two before, removes all the meat, and dressing, which he keeps in a casserole. He then makes a bouillon from the carcass(well, two but I’m not going into that), reduces it and to makes a gravy, then adds the meat, which has been very gently reheated. The presentation is both intensely flavourful and elegant, and he has no mess, no carving, no stress about timing. His method changed my life and it is now my favourite.

  5. We call our stuffing dressing and it our favorite part of the meal. Here in Texas, we make it with cornbread using a recipe from the 1940s.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who has a lowered tolerance for chaos in the kitchen.

    1. @Susan, You’re among friends on the lessening chaos team. And I guess we’ve always done more dressing than stuffing, as it doesn’t go in the bird. But the fried rice is, in essence, dressing.

  6. Up until the last couple of years I’ve made turkey and stuffing. We use Diestel turkeys too, and I’ve always had great results with Mrs. Cubbison’s “dressing” (seasoned bread cubes as opposed to the “stuffing” which is crushed bread crumbs) with added diced onion, celery, green apples and moistened with turkey stock. This year we went to cousins’ house and she did the turkey. I tried and brought along a couple of new side dish recipes which I’m going to share soon. I really miss the smell of roasting turkey in the house and will probably make one at some point in the holidays.

  7. Diestel turkeys are the best, but do seem to cook very quickly. Pepperidge Farm stuffing with celery, onions, and the mild Italian sausage from Whole Foods is the yummiest and always the highlight of our Thanksgiving. The trick is to bake it in a casserole dish instead of stuffing the bird. Two years ago I was able to find La Brea stuffing mix at Whole Foods and it was divine, butI haven’t seen it since. Would you please post your fried rice recipe? Your daughter’s comment about just laughing if anything goes wrong was wonderful and what it’s all about!

    1. @Janey Ann, La Brea stuffing! Their bread is a mainstay of my breakfasts:). And yes, I’ll write up how I make fried rice, and my daughter’s wisdom delighted me too.

  8. It wouldn’t be fried rice at our house without the Chinese sausage! Once my grandmother brought some back from San Francisco that was outstanding but, alas, she passed away at age 97 and now we’re on our own to find whatever Chinese sausage is available here on the East coast. Actually, I will be vacationing in San Francisco this January, so I must search for some in their Chinatown. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

    1. @Jane, Oh gosh. Here we have an Asian market called Ranch99. They must stock 8-10 different varieties. Now of course I forget which kind we buy, but I’ll figure it out and include it in the post on how I cook it.

  9. What a delicious feast and I love your daughter’s delightful response. I went to a reception last year that served a corn chowder with corn bread croutons that were to die for. Do you make your own vinaigrette for your salad, or have a particular brand you enjoy?

    1. @Candace, Corn chowder is one of my favorite foods. I make my own vinaigrette – the totally simple sort of 2:1 oil:vinegar, plus Dijon mustard, plus lots of cracked pepper. Occasionally turmeric as a way to eat more of that apparently very healthy spice.

  10. Between my husband’s family and mine, Thanksgiving was never our meal to host until recent years. It has taken us about 4 tries to land on and successfully execute the “best of” menu. We both agreed this year was our best tasting and least stressful effort. We edited out the dishes that only one among us cared for and brought together the favorites from both sides. Also, we indulged reminiscences about great dishes cooked by previous generations to honor those no longer with us and recall what made the meal signature for all those years.

  11. I hate kitchen chaos esp for a big meal when you are cooking for a we say in my family. I am totally non-adventurous at times like those. I like peace in the kitchen. The result of too many fraught Christmas afternoons growing up when my mum stressed over the meal. We celebrate with my sister and family now. She is NOT a cook so lots of laughs…as we decide what to do with something that does not look as expected!

  12. Oh my gosh! I can so relate to you being no longer able to multitask several different recipes at once. I used to be able to drink wine all day while preparing Thanksgiving dinner for several guests and pull the entire dinner off perfectly while being the most fun hostess. Now, I have more sticky notes than you can believe reminding me of every little step in the order I need to proceed and I start planning weeks before. HA! Time for the younger generation to take over and let me still drink wine and relax while doing so!

    1. @Janie, Ha! Even if I plan to have wine that night, I drink ginger ale at the stove, if I am cooking anything of any complexity.

  13. Our kids cook the big meals these days, which is odd, but pleasant. And they do seem to change up the menu regularly, although when we do it, they rather prefer us to stick to what they’ve come to count on. Curious.
    When we do get a chance to cook a turkey, we’ve been lucky to get them from a colleague’s hobby farm, so they’re always “happy turkeys.” Rather than a meat thermometer, I tend to rely on my dad’s old wing-wriggling trick. . . . and I make his gravy (from a roux, yes) and his dressing as well.
    I love your daughter’s attitude! She sounds quite wonderful (as do both your kids, truly, and your entire family!) xo

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