Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

The Big Meal: Roast Turkey Thigh, Haricots Verts, Dressing, Gravy
Yesterday marked the seventh Thanksgiving that Ann and I have celebrated together. And it marked the quietest and most relaxed Thanksgiving that we have celebrated. Most of our circle of friends who celebrated with us in the past have moved away, my daughters are off and gone, and Ann's parents are getting to the point where they just don't want to make the drive from McLean, and who can fault them for that?

Table for Three, Please
That left just Ann and me and Carter, who was more focused on having to work Black Friday sales at his job at the mall that evening than he was on celebrating with us. Progress though this year: he left his cell phone in the kitchen when he joined us at the table for dinner.

Herbs from our Garden
Unlike years gone by, I did very little in the way of advance prep and that was limited to a quart of turkey stock that I made from a half dozen turkey necks on Wednesday and a pint of the meat that I pulled off the necks. Just cooking for three, we scaled the menu and the portions way back and that really reduced the prep load, so I just prepped everything Thanksgiving morning in a slow, leisurely manner.

Ann and I started the morning after our obligatory coffee in the sun room by walking about the back yard collecting herbs from the various beds: chives, sage, rosemary, and thyme. For the second year running, the parsley plants that I bought at the farmers market immediately bloomed and went to seed upon planting them. Though they were tiny, they acted like second year plants. Note to self, no more parsley from the market. I brought home a bunch of parsley from the restaurant. At least until it snows, it looks like Beth will have plenty of parsley, but damned if I don't miss being able to go out the back door and cut some at will.

Thanksgiving Mise en Place
Once a chef, always a chef. The reason we are so efficient in the kitchen is that we have everything in its place and ready to go before the flame goes on. In the restaurant kitchen, we spend all day getting ready for four hours of dinner service. At home, I spent 20 minutes getting ready for an hour of cooking: mirepoix for the dressing (leeks, onions, celery), ingredients for the pancetta-pecorino butter for the turkey (sage, rosemary, shallots, garlic, pancetta), chives for the mashed potatoes, and herbs for the dressing (sage, thyme, and parsley).

Ann put on some oldies from the 1960s on Pandora and we worked away in the kitchen, in no sort of rush. We had no agenda really, but by 1pm, it became clear that we were getting really hungry and so we put a move on things and ate at 2:45.

Roast Turkey Thighs with Pancetta-Pecorino Butter
Some years ago, Ann found a recipe for a pancetta-pecorino compound butter that we used under the breast skin of the turkey and it turned out so good that we have made it every year since. This year, it went under the skin of the turkey thighs and then all over the thighs, into the mirepoix for the dressing, and as the base fat for the gravy. It's really good stuff: butter, finely minced pancetta, shallots, garlic, salt, pepper, pecorino, olive oil, rosemary, and sage, all tossed into the food processor. Can be made a long time in advance and would be something awesome to keep in the fridge most of the time.

Gravy is Awesome
Once the turkey had cooked, I put the dressing in the oven. Ann makes the same dressing every year because it is wonderful: toasted cubes of bread, saltines, mirepoix (onion, leek, celery), herbs, stock, and milk. This year, I might have deglazed the mirepoix pan with a glass of Chablis while Ann wasn't looking (because we can NEVER change a recipe: we have to follow it to the T) and some turkey stock to get up all those browned bits of pancetta-pecorino butter that also wasn't in the recipe.

While the dressing cooked, the turkey rested and once it had cooled, I started making the gravy by taking the fat off the roasting pan and adding it to some of the compound butter. A little flour went into the pan until I had a nice light brown roux, then in went the drippings from the roasting pan, the pint of turkey neck meat, and the turkey stock. A few more minutes on a low flame, a touch of salt, and done. Ann: "I could eat a bowl of just this!"

While I was making gravy, Ann made a batch of mashed potatoes. We have a running mock argument about them each year as I really don't see the need for mashed potatoes and dressing in the same meal. She disagrees. I need some cranberry sauce with my meal or it isn't Thanksgiving and she does not. We enjoy our little verbal sparring. ;)

Ann put a bunch of green beans tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper, and pecorino on a sheet tray and once the dressing came out of the oven, I put the beans under the broiler for about five minutes just before we ate.

It was a quiet Thanksgiving dinner, just the three of us at the table with the dogs curled up below, low stress and calm with few dishes to clean up. But I won't lie: we missed our friends and our family. It wasn't the same without them.

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