Thanksgiving: in review

  1. They do not make small turkeys. To attempt to get around this fact, I purchased turkey parts. This was problematic for two reasons. First, I asked the turkey guy at the greenmarket for two thighs. When I got home, I discovered I had four thighs, because I didn’t think to ask how many thighs came in a pack. Second, I bought a 10-pound turkey breast, because they do not grow small birds. What I have learned here is that no matter how hard you try, Thanksgiving wants you to have too much turkey.
  2. Jackson and I don’t eat as much as I thought we did. I quartered just about everything – aiming to end up with 3-4 servings worth of every dish so that we had Thanksgiving, plus a day or two of leftovers. It has been five days. We are still working on clearing it.
  1. For a project like this, planning is everything. I made a day-by-day master plan in a spreadsheet (for anyone curious, yes, I have always been like this, but culinary school made it worse.) For me, it’s helpful to think through recipes in obsessive detail before I start – I’m essentially doing a dry run in my head. This lets me figure out where I can stop recipes and pick them up on another day (for example, I sauteed off the veg for the stuffing the first day I started cooking, cooled it, and then didn’t assemble anything for two more days). It also lets me think through potential pain points (like oven space) in advance, so I have a plan to deal with them before I have three dishes that cook at three different temperatures ready to go and nowhere to put them.
  2. This plan also meant I had Thanksgiving on the table by 1:30 pm day of and I didn’t want to stab anyone.
  3. Controversial opinion: if I am the one cooking the turkey, I will never roast a bird whole again. Here’s why – light and dark meat perform better with different cooking methods. I’d read this for years and figured this year, untethered from the bounds of tradition, was the perfect opportunity to test it. I braised the dark meat in turkey stock with garlic and chile, and roasted the breast after an overnight dry brine in salt, sugar, and spices. The difference was insane – the dark meat was silky and ultra tender, shreddable with a fork, while the breast meat was juicy with insanely crisp skin, because I could pull it the moment it was done rather than waiting for the legs and thighs to hit temperatures. Also, braising liquid = bonus gravy.
  1. Challah makes the ultimate stuffing. I will fight you on this. (Also, this is the first time I’ve had stuffing without sausage, and I can’t believe the difference that omission makes. It makes the meal feel so much more balanced – a lighter-tasting stuffing means the turkey isn’t competing for the main-dish slot. I want to keep playing with riffs on this as a side dish/leftovers magnet year-round.)
  1. I know Thanksgiving is all about the rich foods – after all, when else are you going to celebrate putting a full stick of butter and cream in mashed potatoes – but you need a salad. Or a slaw. Or something light and bright and acidic that will wake up your palate and make you appreciate that macaroni and cheese all the more.
  2. I missed green bean casserole.
  3. I have wanted to try Bon Appetit’s mashed potatoes with crispety cruncheties since I heard the name last year. For me, the potatoes themselves were amazing, but the topping fell flat – it was all texture and not much flavor. I love the idea, but I want a little more oomph out of the execution.
  1. I am in love with Serious Eat’s reverse pie crust. It is the most foolproof recipe I have ever tried – even if I still feel like I’m doing something terribly wrong every time I’ve made it.
  2. More than anything, this year has reinforced that what’s on your table isn’t nearly as important as the people around it. I loved cooking everything this year – flexing creative muscles, flaunting tradition, and generally having a great time – but when it came time to sit down to eat, it still felt like there was something missing. I’m glad for my little Thanksgiving with my husband, and I’m glad for the video calls with family afterwards, because it means we’re all doing the things we need to so that everyone is there when we gather next year. But it’s not quite the same as laughing with everyone, or watching my family slowly fall asleep draped over couches, or chatting and sipping wine waiting to be hungry enough to attempt dessert.
  3. Making three different kinds of pie did not replace the family I was missing.
  1. But it helped.

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By Jessi Spell

Hi! I’m Jessi

A culinary degree and two years of professional experience has not stopped Jessi from making stupid mistakes – she just makes them more efficiently. She habitually reads cookbooks before bed, loses track of time on Wikipedia, and yells at cooking shows like dads watching football. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Jackson, five plants, and more cookbooks than a 600 square foot studio should hold.

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