Mixing Up Thanksgiving

I like to change things up. OFTEN. Thanksgiving is no different.  Here’s an account of an unusual Thanksgiving I had a few years ago with friends.

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Because people go in so many directions over Thanksgiving, I decided one year to have friends over for a casual Thanksgiving before Thanksgiving. To keep it simple, I cooked the turkeys spatchcock-style (flat with the backbone removed) and served all the food buffet style. Here is Carl’s (Raelene’s significant other) take on the meal.

“Thanksgiving dinner presents an interesting challenge for a cook.  How to make a meal conform with tradition and still be distinctive.  So when we had Thanksgiving dinner at Lauren’s house last night, all be it four days before the official holiday, I was interested to see how she handled the dilemma.  I am one of those people who thinks that Thanksgiving without turkey and stuffing isn’t Thanksgiving and I wasn’t disappointed.

Lauren presented a magnificent turkey.  It was a deep golden brown and somehow she had browned the entire turkey.  No white spots even under the wings and legs.  This was obviously no “set and forget” production. When a turkey looks that good, your eyes send a message to the brain and the brain tells the taste buds, “This turkey tastes great and don’t report otherwise.”

The second major test is the moistness and again Lauren scored a 10.  A dry turkey never elicits open criticism, but a background of observations outside of the cooks’ earshot like:

“It was a “little dry!” or “It could have been a little moister!”  Everyone feels compelled to comment. Part of the tradition.  You can judge a turkey’s dryness by the consumption of gravy.  But as I mentioned, Lauren’s turkey was moist and tender, even the breast slices that are the litmus test of dryness.

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The dressing was delicious. First of all it was moist and firm, not dry and crumbly. I know that many diners like the dry and crumbly, which they rectify with an ample covering of gravy.

I never use gravy for one simple reason.  The turkey and dressing (and mashed potatoes for that matter) have subtle flavors and using a gravy, usually giblet based, overpowers the flavors and the entire meal tastes the same. The better the gravy is the worse the problem.  You might as well shovel the turkey, the stuffing and the potatoes and pour gravy into a blender and serve them up as a stew.

I don’t have a clue what Lauren used in her dressing, but it was the highlight of the meal. No single ingredient overpowered the others and every bite seemed to have a slightly different taste. I like that!

The food was served “buffet style” which is great.  I make a quick sampling of everything and then circle around for my final selections.  When Thanksgiving is sit down, I seem to lose control of what ends up on my plate.  Anyway, making several trips to the trough is the best way I know to complement the chef.  In this instance, I even found myself grazing on tidbits long after the dinner was finished.  If that isn’t a complement, I don’t know what is!”

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Well, thanks Carl! It was certainly fun and different. This year I have decided to try something new again. A wonderful new gourmet catering restaurant has opened in our area and their food is outstanding. I am going to “order” Thanksgiving from them. So, rather than spend the better part of a week planning, shopping, prepping, shopping again, cooking, cooking and more cooking …. I am going to try to enjoy Thanksgiving this year the way my family enjoys it. Just show up at the table and relax most of the day! This will be a challenge for me but an experiment also. Will I enjoy myself or desperately miss the cooking grind? Will the food be as good as when it is homemade? Will anyone notice?

I promise to let you know how it turns out!

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