Thanksgiving

thanksgiving tableDon't feel sorry for us. We prefer it this way. My husband and I are both transplants. He's from Chicago. I'm from Massachusetts. Not Boston. Yes, there is a state beyond the Beantown borders. We have both lived in Los Angeles for over 20-years, longer than either of us lived in our home states. We think that makes us honorary Californians, but am not sure these days that's something to brag about. At least we still have the best weather, great wine and the option to go from surfing to skiing in the same day. Well, not for us in particular, but it's still a cool thing to be able to say.

Neither of us has blood relatives here. We are what we like to call "child-free." However, we do have family. Friends who mean just as much because we've shared each other's lives for the past 20 years. Kids we've watched grow up who call us Aunt and Uncle, which is a role we can handle. Some years they take us in, allowing us to bask in the glow of the holidays without all the strum and drang that would accompany actually spending time with our own parents and siblings. Even when there's drama, since it has nothing to do with us, it's more amusing than annoying and certainly never affects our ability to put away more than our caloric share of the meal.

We are in demand because we bring good wine, eat everything - if you're not cooking you can't complain about other people's holiday traditions - and don't expect to be entertained. We are boring, which is just what those who are dealing with family want at the holiday table. We are the Thanksgiving equivalent of the bomb-squad, the guests whose mere presence diffuses the tension for another day. It's much harder to fight in front of guests. God forbid there's a scene at the table. How embarrassing would that be?

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pumpkincakeSo you're preparing for Thanksgiving and you’re already irritable just thinking about the cooking tasks that lie ahead of you. You wish that it was your sister-in-law who was the one cooking, as usual, but she is bailing this year and going to Paris (where they have lousy pumpkin pie, by the way).

So there you are with the piles of sweet potatoes and cranberries, getting crabbier by the minute. Then you find out that two of your guests are non-dairy and two are gluten-free.

Before you have a nervous breakdown, try this dessert. It’s so easy you can make it plus a pie (for those who are gluten-gobblers and live for butterfat) and still not lose your mind.

Also, you will like it–it’s delicious, especially with a little whipped cream which your dairy-phones won’t like, but, hey, let ‘em eat cake.

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turkey-hash-630x407-1Forget about Thanksgiving dinner. I can’t wait until the day after Thanksgiving for leftovers. When else during the year can you look forward to turkey soup, turkey chopped liver, smoked turkey sandwiches, and above all turkey hash in a single day? All this month, on www.barbecuebible.com, we’ve been telling you how to cook turkey on the grill. Make sure you manage to squirrel away a pound or so of the cooked turkey meat for hash.

Our word hash comes from the French verb hacher, "to chop." (Yeah, it’s the same etymological root as that chopping device favored by George Washington, the hatchet.) Hash originated as a way to use up leftovers, but it now turns up not just at hash houses (a nickname for diners) but at high-falutin’ restaurants from coast to coast.

The most common version of hash contains corned beef and potatoes, but you can make hash with an almost endless variety of ingredients. Rural New Englanders combined corned beef, potatoes, and beets to make red flannel hash. In seafaring communities it was common to find salt cod and fish hash. Hachis parmentier, garlicky chopped lamb and potatoes, is classic comfort food in France.

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russparsons.jpgI’m grateful for many things at Thanksgiving– family, friends, health, light traffic on the 405…all the usual suspects.  But as the person who hosts that gathering year after year, I am also grateful for this technique for a perfect dry-brine roast turkey that makes my old wet-brine birds seem spongy, bland and far too much work by comparison.

The method was developed by one of my favorite San Francisco chefs, Judy Rodgers. In her 2002 The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Rodgers goes into great detail on why salting meats and poultry days ahead of the actual cooking promotes juiciness, texture and enhances flavor…flying in the face of what, until then, had been the conventional wisdom that the salting of meats should be done only at the last minute. Per her instruction, I tried it with dozens of dishes–from chickens to chops to pot roasts–and, in every instance, the technique worked beautifully.  But it never occurred to me to use it on the all important Thanksgiving turkey until The Los Angeles Times’ Russ Parson, one of my favorite food writers, declared it the definitive way to beautify the bird. And, boy, was Russ right.

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turkeycransandwichMe: I should post the turkey sandwich with the cranberry sauce. Everyone will have leftover cranberry sauce to use up.

Me: Nope. Too much like Thanksgiving. I'll go with the Southwest sandwich.

Me: But cranberry sauce won't be around much longer; habanero Gouda cheese is around all year.

Me: No, no. Too much like Thanksgiving.

Me: I'm just gonna post both; that way, people can decide for themselves.

Jeff: Who are you talking to?

This Turkey, Cranberry, and Gruyere Sandwich with Sage Mustard is all about opposites attracting: toasty, fragrant rye bread and moist, savory turkey; tart cranberry sauce and mild Gruyere cheese; earthy sage and tangy mustard. Somehow, they all come together in perfect harmony.

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