Thanksgiving

ImageThanksgiving was my mother's favorite holiday. She loved the chance to have her family and friends seated around the table, catching up, telling stories,and eating favorite treats.

Most of the time I do the cooking since I work at home and because we have a kitchen the size of a New York closet. Thanksgiving is my wife's day and I happily step to the side, working as a sous chef, assisting her in executing a meal that usually serves between 15-20.

Even though Thanksgiving is a lot of work, the key is organization. Writing up a menu is the first step, then a shopping list, and finally a time-line for the day before Thanksgiving and the da y of the meal.

Along with those first steps, we cover the bottom of the oven with aluminum foil so clean up after the meal is easier. We also clean out the refrigerator so there's room for the turkey after we pick it up from the grocery store. We also want room after the meal so there's space for all those delicious left-overs.

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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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country_home.jpg Thanksgiving is an annual American holiday celebrated by families, friends and magazines. Yes. Magazines. In fact, you could say our current version of Thanksgiving was invented by a magazine or more specifically a magazine editor.

Around this time every year, historians regale us with stories of what the first Thanksgiving was really like. We learn that it was unlikely they ate a stuffed turkey, there was no pumpkin pie, no cranberry sauce, and most of the food was provided by the Wampanoag not the pilgrims--who feasted on venison, lobsters, clams, oysters, and fish.

Harvest festivals were a long standing tradition for the Wampanoag natives going back way before the arrival of the pilgrims. The pilgrims and colonists, devout Christians, observed many days of "thanksgiving" throughout the year in which prayer and fasting were the order of the day, not feasting.

The first national Thanksgiving was held in December of 1777 by colonists to celebrate the surrender of British General Burgoyne at Saratoga. But Thanksgiving was not celebrated consistently all over the country until much, much later.

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texting.jpg“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, NO TURKEY???” I have never sent an angrier text in my life. Ping!

“We are having my famous Native American pumpkin chili,” Mother just texted back. “You liked it last year.”

No. I did not like it last year!   In fact, I did not like her famous Native American pumpkin chili soooo much last year that I had politely excused myself from the table, raced into the kitchen under the guise of needing a glass of water, and promptly shoveled the chili into the family dog’s bowl. If I recall correctly, even the family dog, who eats her own poop, wanted nothing to do with Mother’s famous Native American pumpkin chili. She wanted turkey.

“But it won’t be Thanksgiving w/o turkey!” I am texting back to my mom now with trembling hands.

Ping! Snotty response? “Check your history. Turkey has very little to do with the “First Thanksgiving.”

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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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