I’ve already mentioned that I love Thanksgiving. It allows me to, without constraints of expectation, indulge in a huge amount of culinary exploration, cook scores of brand new dishes, obsess for days and days over what I’m going to cook, and buy loads of new cookbooks. Oh, and look at photos of Thanksgiving tables on Flickr for hours to figure out what everything’s supposed to look like. None of my friends or family really know what it’s all supposed to taste like, so whether it’s a disaster or a triumph, it’s going to get eaten just the same.
However, I do tend to get carried away.
This is blindingly obvious to you, I’m sure, having read the first paragraph. Gemma’s rule of cooking number one, is why cook one dish, when you can cook three? Last year, that was translated into Thanksgiving terms as, why only have roast potatoes, when you can have three kinds? Also, why have two side dishes, when you can have seven? And, why not do it all, barring the intervention of my sainted mother, pretty much by yourself?
My long suffering mother helped here with the cooking, and she laid the table and provided the house and kitchen that hosted these festivities, but when it comes to the kitchen, I’m a bit of a lone ranger. There’s no way I expect other people to have the same kind of dogged determination as I do when it comes to these epic feasts. Besides, life’s no fun unless you’re pitting your very being against the clock. If I ever thought anything to do with cooking was easy, my first instinct has always been to make it harder. More of everything! Double the quantities! Can we fit in another course?
So, mostly for the purposes of self-gratification, here’s my menu from Thanksgiving, 2008.
Winter squash soup with prosciutto and sage
Seasonal pate and toast
Savoury apple-onion turkey with
a selection of American apple-cider gravy or traditional English gravy
Traditional English roast potatoes
Classic Thanksgiving mashed potatoes
Thanksgiving sweet potatoes
Mixed winter vegetables
Lemon-butter green bean casserole
Classic Thanksgiving corn pudding
Cheddar-scalloped baby onions
Traditional English sage and onion stuffing
Homemade cranberry sauce
Chunky peanut, chocolate and cinnamon cookies
Both served with cream and vanilla icecream
So, let’s break it down.
My soup starter came from Thanksgiving 101, by Rick Rodgers, page 21. It’s basically a creamy butternut squash soup with salty, savoury ribbons of pink Italian air-dried ham stirred in, and was really nice. I’d make it again for Thanksgiving, but like a lot of the things I eat for this stolen American holiday, I wouldn’t eat it any other time. The pate is a bit of a cop-out, shop-bought and served with toast, a bit of a concession to the fussy eaters in the family. As you can see from the rest of the menu, there’s a lot of that going on!
Savoury Apple-Onion Turkey, and the accompanying gravy, came from Betty Crocker’s Complete Thanksgiving Cookbook, page 20-1. I don’t remember this being amazing, but I think the gravy was a bit of a disaster. I’ve never made a gravy I’ve liked that wasn’t our family recipe. This is not the fault of other gravy, or particularly an indication of the greatness of our gravy. I just can’t get along with other gravies, or I completely have no clue how to make gravy ‘properly’. I’d love to make a gravy I liked, but if I want something to satisfy my gravy urge, I have to break out the roast juices, Bisto powder and Oxo cubes. For shame! Other people liked the apple cider gravy, but I could happily never have it again.
The roasties are self-explainatory, but the classic mashed potatoes are another Betty Crocker recipe, same book, page 71. However, since then, I have discovered the ultimate mashed potato recipe in Sheila Lukins’ bloody fantastic USA Cookbook. It’s called Garlicky Red-Jacket Mashed Potatoes, and it is the only mashed potato recipe I’ll ever bother with. It involves cider vinegar (ha ha, a use for that new bottle of Norman cider vinegar I brought back from my holiday), sour cream and red potatoes, and it’s glorious. Bless Sheila Lukins and her kick-ass cookery book. I’m slowly reading every single recipe in there like it’s my new religion, and I can also whole-heartedly recommend her awesome Tomato Balsamic Vinaigrette, which is so good I don’t mind how fiddly it is. Anyway. The sweet potatoes were actually slow cooked, another good old BC recipe (page 79 – I hope someone’s using these… who am I kidding?). I don’t think anyone ate them.
Mixed winter vegetables were my mum’s contribution, which I think were just boiled cauliflower and cabbage or something. Lemon-butter green bean casserole is a Nigella recipe, which has been on the table every year since I started my Thanksgiving tradition. It’s not really a proper green bean casserole as I understand it, but it’s basically lemon guts and juice, with copious amounts of butter, pepper and salt. Delicious. Also good whenever I get green beans, which isn’t often, but I do love them.
The corn pudding is another BC recipe (Classic Baked Corn Pudding, page 83). Really tasty, this is basically loads of milk, loads of eggs, loads of cheese, and obviously sweetcorn and breadcrumbs. It was tasty and heart-blocking. Totally unlike anything else I ever eat, and I might cook it again another year.
Cheddar-scalloped baby onions was equally artery-clogging and came from Thanksgiving 101 (page 81) and was a more elaborate version of Creamed Onions. As I said before, why make the simplest version of anything when you can complicate matters further, especially if that complication comes in the form of cheese?
The Thanksgiving Dressing I have no memory whatsoever of. The English version was Paxo. I love Paxo. Forget the poncy versions they come up with, sage and onion stuffing cannot be bettered. To try is an utterly pointless waste of time. Paxo rocks. For the cranberry sauce, again, a blank. It might very well have been the Fresh Cranberry-Orange Relish from Thanksgiving 101, page 94. But then again, maybe it wasn’t.
For my pumpkin pie, I procured a stupidly expensive can of Libby’s pumpkin puree, and followed the instructions on that. I read in Thanksgiving 101 that Libby’s reckon 55 million pies are made from that recipe every year, so who am I to argue in my pursuit of the real American experience?
Chunky peanut, chocolate and cinnamon cookies are courtesy of Martha Stewart via a Thanksgiving copy of Martha Stewart Living I picked up in New York a few years back. I feel like I have my Holy Trinity of Thanksgiving Gurus lined up here – Martha, Betty and Nigella. (Except, of course, that Betty isn’t actually a real person… Fictional gurus are still pretty kick ass, though.) The first chapter of Nigella’s Feast is the first time I’d ever read Thanksgiving recipes, which didn’t exactly kick-start my obsession, but it certainly added fuel to the fire. These cookies are great to have in the freezer, and wound up lasting me until the next year. Delicious! American cookie recipes always seem to yield about three dozen cookies, which is great if you want freezer fodder. If you didn’t freeze them all, though, how the hell would you get rid of them?
As a last minute, why have two puddings when you can have three kind of addition, I also made Dark Chocolate Cream Pie from Thanksgiving 101 (page 121), which went down very well indeed.
So, there’s the dirt on last year… I wonder what I’ll do this year?