Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thanksgiving Redux

Following Keja's lead, I'm going to review Thanksgiving dinner. We were in Nebraska, with Dave's family, and I was responsible for the pies, the turkey, and the gravy.

The pies:
The mince was delightful, definitely my favorite. So simple and easy. I don't think anyone other than Dave's grandfather and I had it, but that was to be expected.

The apple pie, which I can do in my sleep and never fret over, wasn't so hot. I had another mid-shopping breakdown and went for the only organic apples available, which, it turned out, were sweet. They were unmarked, other than "organic" so it was a gamble, and I lost. It ended up tasting like any other apple pie you'll ever get in a restaurant, with sickly sweet, fake tasting filling. I was very disappointed. I should have reduced the amount of honey I used, and didn't, but there's no cure I know of for the yellow delicious flavor they had, despite being red and looking like macs.

The pumpkin pie was fine, but in my attempt to not waste food, put in all the pumpkin and probably used 4 cups instead of 2 1/2, which resulted in very thick pie. Good flavor though, and not too sweet.

The turkey: I was not expecting to be the lead on this, but it was probably better this way, or I would have stressed about it, never having cooked a turkey before. But, a quick call to my dad and step-mother, and I was on my way. They suggested cooking it for an hour at 375, then turning it down to 325 for the remainder of the time. It was a 22lb. bird, and my dad guessed that it would take 4 or 5 hours. It took 3 1/2 but it wasn't stuffed, which probably explains the discrepancy. Then it rested under tin foil for a 1/2 hour. It was good. It's hard to compare any turkey to my parents' fresh, homegrown monsters, but it was pretty juicy and had a nice flavor. I did salt, pepper, and garlic powder the skin and rub on a stick of melted butter prior to baking.

The gravy: Ah, gravy. I have previously mentioned that my grandmother made the best gravy, and I hold hers up as the gravy standard. It was pretty thin, so it got into every crevice of the mashed potatoes, and always had a very concentrated meat flavor. Really outstanding. My gravy was an utter flop. The only worse gravy I've made was when my father-in-law brined the turkey in a salt and vinegar brine one year, and I naively made gravy from the drippings. The turkey was good, the gravy truly inedible. This year you could eat it, but it was nothing special at all.

I started by boiling the giblets with carrots, onions, and celery as soon as I put the turkey in. I kept adding water, when I probably should have just turned it off. Then I collected the drippings, which were pretty ample, and skimmed off the fat. I made a roux by melting butter and adding flour, stirring constantly, until the mixture was brown. I then started adding the drippings a little at a time but had way too much roux and was getting a ball of sticky goo in the pan, so scrapped that, started over with less roux, which was still too much, and halved that. Then I remembered the giblets so added some of that broth, feeling that it was important to honor the bird and use it all, and now the gravy was too thin.

My sister-in-law said she just makes a slurry of flour and drippings and adds it directly into the pan, so I tried that, to thicken it. Long story short, I served the gravy, and people took firsts, but not seconds. It tasted like flour and salt and not much else.

I immediately contacted my cousin Emily, who had the foresight to watch my grandmother make gravy, and makes a really good one herself, and asked for lessons. She's coming to visit on Monday and we're roasting a chicken so we can make gravy. Stay tuned.