Diary of a Mad Thanksgiving Cook

So I said to myself, this year I will tone it down. I will take the preparation in stride and spend Thanksgiving rested and relaxed with my guests. 

And the moon is made of green cheese. OK-there are only so many restraints on my impulses that I am willing to abide by; I just can't seem to help myself. I make a tentative menu, then cross things out, and as the time approaches, I add them and even more back to the menu. So here is a blow by blow account of my week where I will give thanks if it all comes together.

The weeks preceding Thanksgiving: I spent many hours devoted to devising the menu and baking and freezing or preparing and freezing for later baking, the baked goods for the meal. Once the menu was set, i developed a  "prep" schedule" directing me as to what needed to be made when and a shopping list that I revised as time went on.

Monday: Armed with my revised and "final" my shopping list in hand I went to the market to buy what I had not already , purchased the preceding week. This of course took 3 X the time I had allocated to the shopping experience. I returned home to my "prep schedule" totally worn out and trying to figure out how I could push off most of what I had planned to make today, to tomorrow's list of scheduled cooking.  I convinced myself that all would work out, and I contented myself with dry brining  (instead of wet brining) 2 of my 3 turkeys to save refrigerator space, and also to achieve, what I believe to be, a better result. My plan of attack changed so that I was OK to confront the third turkey on Tuesday, with an injection brining of the breast and a sous vide bath for all of the parts. Once I had resigned myself to the procrastination route, knowing full well on some level I would be sorry, I felt liberated to abandon all of the other "Monday" deadlines convincing myself that I could make it up on Tuesday. As Scarlet O'Hara said, "Tomorrow is another day".. (for those who do not know this "Gone with the Wind" reference -Google it)

Tuesday:  I woke up today to take my morning 6:00-6:15 morning walk, dressed and ready to go, only to discover it was 5:00 am. Oh well I thought; more time to cook. And cook I did until 8:15 p.m. pretty much without stopping. But I am happy to say that I am on pretty much back on schedule (see above) except that the chopped frozen spinach for my side dish was not fully defrosted, so I couldn't make it, the chicken livers were too salty-so I will buy more and add to them, and I didn't finalize the table set up-but overall-I am still in the ballpark of being ready on time. Butchering the turkey to create a "turkey crown" that I decided to cook sous vide, contrary to the recipe that calls for roasting it ,and boning and turning the legs and thighs into a sous vide roulade turned out to be a very time consuming task that pretty much took over the entire morning. On the bright side, it was an interesting project and I learned a lot. Fortunately, both the crown and the roulade seemed to have come together, though I will know more after I serve them for Thanksgiving dinner.

Other than that-all is good and hopefully tomorrow a.m. I will pay better attention to the actual time when I wake up.

  Wednesday: In truth this is being written mid February so it is a reconstruction rather than a diary. The run up to Thanksgiving at this point is almost a blur, but I will do my best to describe what happened. This was a big cooking day. I caught up pretty much with my prep schedule, completing Tuesday's tasks as well as Wednesday's which included another trip to the markets to buy what I still needed. I finally was able to set the table after figuring out how we would seat 19 which was no small task.  It was a very tiring and long day, but the meal ahead looked very promising and felt like I was still in control.

Thursday:  I awoke feeling like  things were very much under control and that the day would run smoothly without much stress. I decided to forgo my morning walk and instead, set to work. The problem was that I needed to make and bake many things that morning, (the pies, cheesecake, tart tartin etc.) so I felt quite rushed to get those done early so there would be time to cook the roasted and smoked turkeys and also have time to prepare the other dishes yet to be done. My experiment with making and freezing but not baking the tart tartin ahead had questionable results. The freezing and baking process liquified the caramel and though I was able to salvage it and redistribute the caramel on top, it took away some of the flakiness and crunchiness of the puff pastry bottom. Everything else seemed to be going along fine, but as the day wore on I could see that what I thought would be a sort of leisurely day, turned into a mad dash. The experimental turkey that I roasted directly over vegetables on a baking sheet on top of my baking steel (Turkey Roasted on a Baking Steel) worked perfectly-for the online recipe in addition to my recipe link see: 


I worked feverishly to stuff my eggs, and finish all of my appetizers and my guests were about to arrive but I had not yet put together a salumi and cheese platter that I had decided to add to my appetizer list-why not?!!! Luckily my daughter Lauren and her boyfriend, Jeff arrived early and I turned that plating task over to their trusty hands. Included in my platter were some cheeses that I had purchased and aged in a wine refrigerator that I had converted to an aging locker (but that's another story). That too would be an experiment as I had never aged cheese before. The salumi platters looked beautiful and the guests began to arrive. I baked up some cheese straws from the leftover puff pastry I had previously frozen and defrosted, (these came out perfectly crunchy and flaky), and the hors d' ouevres were served.

I then completed the smoked turkey, reheated the sous vide turkey parts and everything else that needed to be reheated or finished, and finally after a healthy cocktail "hour" or more, dinner was served. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, but I was still smarting over the tart tartin mishap (tasted good, looked funny) and also, my potatoes gratin that I had baked the day before (which was supposed to be OK according to the recipe) but turned grey overnight (again they tasted good but looked funny). Live and learn. My son Danny did have a slight melt-down over my decision to make this new potato gratin dish instead of the usual "roots Anna" but other than that everything went smoothly. The sous vide experimental turkey roulade and breasts were a huge hit as was the turkey roasted on the baking steel. My husband, Peter, true to form wanted to eat only the smoked turkey. But, happily there was something for everyone. It was a very nice evening overall, and in this case with 19 people, it was "the more the merrier".

So-the moral of this story is that my "best laid plans" to make this a stress free and more laid back event for me, once again fell by the wayside. But, oh well, I am an "old dog" afterall.