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A Nice (HeatCageKitchen) Thanksgiving

Happy Monday, Dear Readers:

Are you over the food coma yet, or are you wondering when you’ll ever be done eating turkey new and different ways? HA–you know me, I’ll eat turkey anytime, and frequently do. Still looking for fresh turkey thighs around here. . .haven’t found them yet, but I managed to procure four at the Mandeville Whole Foods this weekend. (Turkey is cheap right now!) I was so happy when the little guy offered to butcher a turkey to give them to me, I said, “if you can do that for me, I’ll kiss you.” He looked a bit nervous, and replied, “I don’t think we’re allowed to do that, Ma’am.” I smiled and said, “Yeah, it think my boyfreind would be a bit upset with me, too.” Guess he’d never had that before; he was about 17, I think. Well, I’m a Texan, and I’m a tough customer, but I appreciated the help.

My cashier, Monica, knew exactly what I was talking about when I complained about no place for your coffee in grocery baskets here. (More on that later–and WF actually does have them.) Turns out she lived in League City for a while, and Clear Lake–and she misses HEB as well! My new BFF there. I told her all about our FABULOUS Clear Lake HEB, and how I used to have lunch on Saturdays with Miss Sunie, Miss Lei and Miss Carolyn’s wonderful samplings. But as nice as she and Lisa were yesterday, it’s getting easier, even though I still miss my HEB.

We’re going to have to take a trip to Clear Lake and buy groceries soon.

BF had to go to work early Saturday morning, but I was up early, and managed “bright-eyed and busy tailed” without the addition of caffeine, much to his dismay. BF can’t handle perky that early. He was looking for duct tape in the truck as we drove to town. (One guess.) But I’m here at the library, telling you all about my Thanksgiving.

We’re no longer taking the bucolic Cow Road, because *that* main road is now repaired after the August flooding literally broke it in several places. I’m gonna miss Cow Road, but maybe not all that much. . .it was kind of spooky at night. Episodes of The X-Files start out on settings much like Cow Road.  I warned BF to lock his door when we were going home, in case *something* came out of the woods, opened the door and pulled him out of the driver’s seat. This amused him to no end.

The other night, I was heading over to pick him up for 9:15 pm, and since it was cold, I took a cup of hot tea in a lidded travel mug.  I told BF I was on my way, and halfway down Cow Road, he texted me that he was getting ready to leave. I stopped The White Knight and texted back that I was “bumping and grinding down Cow Road.” When I arrived at his place of business, I let him know that I was bumping and grinding and managing a cup of tea when he texted, and I had to stop to text back, slowing me down. He was quite amused.

I’ve also visited the local Ace Hardware Home & Garden Center. They have more than just home and garden stuff. They have stuff for animals. They also HAVE animals–baby chickens!

What a cutie!

Well, hello, there!

They carry Leghorn, Ameraucana and Bantam varieties. The Leghorns are brave, they’ll walk right up to you and say hi. The Bantams are indifferent. But the Ameraucanas are, well, chicken! When I got close enough to take a picture, they all ran to the back of the cage, like I was trying to hit them. Poor babies. When I told BF about these little darlings, he asked, “you didn’t bring any of them home, did you?” They were $3.49 each, and I actually had enough in my purse to bring three of them home to the Casa. But no, we have a 60-pound pit bull puppy who will eat nearly anything, including jumping crickets (I have personally witnessed this behavior), so I figured the little darlings were safer at the hardware store in the heat chamber. They’re just adorable, though:

What's going on here?

What’s going on here? (I think this is the Leghorn variety.)

I enjoyed seeing them so much. . .I went back the next day just to visit them again. (BF didn’t know what to make of that, but it’s just around the corner from the library.)

See? These Ameraucanas are chicken!

See? These Ameraucanas are chicken!

They also have warm, soft bunnies and doves. And, maybe one or two other farm critters. But although they had supplies, there were no cats. Darn good thing. BF promises that we will, at some point, acquire a feline for me, but I warn him not just yet. Here’s one more cute picture of baby chickens:

Aren't they cute?

Aren’t they cute? (I think these are the Bantam, but I may be wrong.)

BF’s BFF tells me that the grew up with chickens, and they’re not that cute. Oh, well. Let’s talk about a bigger bird.

As I mentioned last time, at nearly the last minute, I found myself making a full-on Thanksgiving dinner for four and a half people: me, BF, his daughter, her better half and their nearly 3-year-old son. My head was buzzing with all the details and reverse-engineering the process: when to make the brining liquid and when to add the turkey to it. When to start on the make-ahead sides, what I needed to make on Turkey Day. BF, to his credit, stepped back and let me do what I needed to, and just said with a smile, “this is your show.” In return, I promised him the best turkey he’d ever had, and I believe I delivered, based on what I heard from everyone. (Well, the wee one didn’t say much about it.) BF was also ultra-helpful in doing some tidying up, removing a lot of stuff from the dining area, including several large clear-plastic storage containers filled with my sewing patterns and a myriad of automotive things that, for the most part, belong in the garage. He went back and swept, mopped and put everything right so we could all enjoy a pretty nice meal.

We certainly did, except for one detail: BF’s daughter promised to bring mac & cheese and a pecan pie, BF’s favorite. Unfortunately, she only showed up with mac & cheese. BF was VERY disappointed to miss the pecan pie, but he did manage to find apple pie in the evening at his Dad’s house. She promises to deliver a pecan pie at a later date.

What did I do? What didn’t I do? My back still hurts from standing up for two days! But I had a blast, and all the dishes are finally washed. Let me take you through all this. Warning: I didn’t get pictures of everything. That’s how crazy-busy I was for 2 days.

BF was off work Monday and Tuesday, and we did some stuff in the house. He went back to work on Wednesday, working until 9:00 pm, and I stayed home to get everything started. I got up early, whereas BF slept later. But I got right on it, getting the turkey into the drink (brining fluid, that is.) Since I had half a jar, and we had an 8-pound turkey breast, not a whole turkey, it was plenty enough to brine the whole thing. That went into the fridge early, then I started on other things. I pulled supplies I knew I would need:

The setup

The setup (well, part of it, anyway.)

And why are those potatoes there? Mashed potatoes were requested. I also made sure these two were full and ready to rock:

Salt & Pepper--gotta have it.

Salt & Pepper–gotta have it. (Gorilla glue, behind the pepper, was not part of our Turkey Day. It’s just sitting there.)

Oh, and another special request:

Yes, she did.

Yes, she did.

I bought three boxes of this drek, I mean, holiday dinner staple, just to make sure we had enough, and I have one box left. You know what I did with it, right? But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I decided to make two loaves of cornbread: one was an old Martha Stewart recipe from her big green compendium book, and one was from Babycakes, the vegan/gluten free variety.

Real, glutinous cornbread.

Real, glutinous cornbread. I think I made this for the GER once or twice.

Why both? Well, the MS recipe was for dinner at the Casa, and the vegan loaf was to take to his father’s place later. Turns out BF’s dad is a diabetic, and I brought it so that he could enjoy some with coconut oil and agave syrup. Well. . .he already had some, but I told him if he didn’t like it, I’d take it home, because I like it! No word yet on if he liked it or not. But first was the *real* cornbread, then the vegan version:

Ready for Thanksgiving!

Ready for Thanksgiving!

The “regular” cornbread recipe, which I may post eventually, is pretty simple but uses a fair amount of butter, which is why it’s so darn GOOD! (A stick and half, to be exact.) Sure enough, everyone loved it, as they always do. We still have some in the fridge, but I may freeze it if BF is sick of cornbread.

Once I got all that done and the washing up finished, I went onto. . .you know. One of my favorite Thanksgiving staples.

The start of something good.

The start of something good.

Yes, that’s the infamous Cranberry Ginger Relish (it’s no longer on Martha Stewart’s website, but a printable is available on the Recipes page.) I’ve made it many times, and it’s always a hit. Until now. Everyone said it was “OK.” Even BF. I was really disappointed–I made it with regular sugar, not SomerSweet. It always disappears, even with real sugar, but not this time.

Cranberry Ginger Relish. Oh, yes.

Cranberry Ginger Relish. Oh, yes.

I made a double batch, some for us, and some to take with us to BF’s Dad’s place later in the evening. It’s easy and you can make it a couple of days in advance. No word on if he liked it, or if the rest of that group liked it, but our little group said “it’s OK.” Oh, well. . .I finished what was left over time and burned it off washing up and moving stuff around in the studio. More for me!

Also done in advance: from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, delicious Green Beans Gremolata. I did enjoy BF’s face when he asked, “what’s gremolata?” Another “pesto moment” with a cute quizzical look on his face! I explained it, of course, as a fresh seasoning blend, which it really is. Blanched the green beans, then put them into ice water, and then made the gremolata. When I finished that, I packed it up, then drained and packed up the green beans and stashed them in the fridge. And then I started the washing up.

The kids (I can say that now) were slated to arrive at 11:00 am. Of course, they didn’t make it until about 1:30, which threw me off, but gave me lots of extra time to make sure everything was DONE. Thursday I got up about 7:00 am or so, and went to work. First up: drain, rinse and pat dry the turkey:

Drying off the turkey means the butter will rub on easier and stick better.

Drying off the turkey means the butter will rub on easier and stick better.

I used my roasting laurel, which holds the turkey UP in the roasting pan. It also garnered another funny look from BF–“what’s that green thing for?” I explained that, too, as politely as I could. It’s not my intent to confuse him, only to explain. But I don’t want to sound like I’m talking down to him either, because that’s not my intent, either. But I do enjoy the funny looks!

Next up: butter it up!

Outside. . .

Outside. . .

And inside.

And inside.

This gives the turkey a nice crispy skin and keeps it moist and tasty. Since it sat in the drink all night, it didn’t need any additional seasonings like salt or pepper. It was 8 pounds, so at 350, it baked for 2.5 hours. Once that was in the oven, I did more washing up and got started on the mashed potatoes.

Low-carb folks don’t normally have potatoes, but of course, I was asked, so I did.  (I also made some waffled hash browns for breakfast last week, I think on Wednesday–BF enjoyed those, too.) Using another Ina Garten recipe, I peeled and boiled some potatoes. While those were boiling, I warmed a stick of butter and some half-and-half in a small saucepan. When the potatoes were done, I put them into the stand mixer (BF also lifted that heavy thing up for me), turned it on low, added the melted butter and half-and-half, salt, pepper, and a half cup of sour cream.

Perfect Mashed Potatoes!

Perfect Mashed Potatoes!

What Ina tells you in the book is that you can set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, and they stay hot and tasty for 30 minutes or more, but you might need more liquid. I didn’t–and this worked very well for me. Best mashed potatoes ever, and they stayed perfect more than 2 hours after they were cooked, just like this.

But get this: since sour cream only comes in a whole cup, I took some out for the waffled hash browns and dipped mine. I offered BF some, and he declined–seems he doesn’t like sour cream on baked potatoes. Thankfully, I didn’t tell him that was the “secret ingredient” in the mashed potatoes–he would have been mad at me for doing that.

Next up was a subject of much contention: sweet potatoes. Longtime readers know I can’t stand the ridiculous treatment given to these nutritional gems around the holidays, which includes marshmallows, maraschino cherries, pineapple, corn syrup and other unnecessary additions. I made my favorites, but. . .they stayed in the oven too long, darnit, and were a bit over-done.

Sweet Potato Frites

Sweet Potato Frites

GRRRR. . .I’ll eat them. Just can’t seem to recapture the magic the first time I made these in 2002 for me and the GER. We couldn’t stop stuffing our faces with them that day, but this time. . .darnit.

Next up: stuffing. But not just any stuffing. I begged BF to let me make STUFFLES!! Yes! Two boxes of stuffles, and put them in the little oven to keep them warm. I couldn’t resist:

STUFFLES!

STUFFLES!

Those went over very well. The next day, I offered to make BF a sandwich with the stuffles, and turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy in between. He declined my inventive idea. (They make sandwiches like that at Starbucks, you know.)

Because I was being daring, I decided to try my hand at Ina’s Perfect Homemade Gravy. You know what? They LOVED IT!! I kid you not–I even used pan drippings from the turkey. It was pretty easy–start out by caramelizing the onions:

BF couldn't believe I was cooking that much onion, but he was thrilled with the result.

BF couldn’t believe I was cooking that much onion, but he was thrilled with the result.

I had to explain what that meant, but to his credit, BF gave me the space to do everything, and he was not disappointed. In fact, they were all expecting gravy from a packet. Oh, NO. I kept cooking the onions, despite BF’s skepticism:

Twenty minutes later. . . .

Twenty minutes later. . . .

See how much browner they are? By this time the turkey was done, and I took it out to sit for 20 minutes under a foil tent. I removed some of the pan drippings and added them in. Then, as instructed by Ina, I started sprinkling in. . .flour:

Yes, real flour, not the gluten-free type.

Yes, real flour, not the gluten-free type.

Cook that a little:

This cooks out the "raw flour" taste.

This cooks out the “raw flour” taste.

And then add two cups of hot chicken (or turkey) broth. Ina specifies that she prefers homemade, but. . .well, this came from Trader Joe’s:

It must be heated, or I think the gravy will seize up.

It must be heated, or I think the gravy will seize up. (I think.)

Next up was a tablespoon of Cointreau, or other good brandy. Well. . .I opened up a couple of those boxes marked “Amy Liquor” and pulled this out:

img_3569

I added one tablespoon when BF wasn’t looking, and when it was all stirred up and cooked in:

Gravy!!

Gravy!!

I added in a tablespoon of cream, which was optional, and stirred it well.

See that Cranberry Grab-It dish on the burner above the saute pan? That burner is also the “air vent” for the oven. When you use the oven, that burner gets very hot from the air vent, even though the burner is turned off. I put that dish there to warm it up so that the gravy wouldn’t go into a cold dish. Worked like a charm, too.

Then it was cleaning that pan, adding oil on high heat, then the green beans and heating them up. (I put my red universal pot lid on top to heat them faster.) A few minutes later, I took them out and put them in another serving dish, topped them with the gremolata, tossed them and covered them.

Then we heard the car door shut and the dogs making noise.

When BF’s very nice daughter brought in the hot mac & cheese, we immediately went to putting food out and having some. We had a great time. His daughter raved about the gravy, and all of them just loved it. I took a taste, and agreed that, for the first time, I like it. So, maybe one day I’ll try this again gluten free. A Facebook commentor on Dr. William Davis’ Wheat Belly offered the suggestion of thickening gravy with arrowroot in place of the flour, so I may try that at some point. (Shhh! Don’t tell BF.)

I went through at least a pound and a half of butter for Thanksgiving. BF was shocked when I told him we had no more butter, but it’s the truth–even the butter dish was empty. So when I hit Whole Foods on Sunday, I bought a pound.

Incidentally, did you know there’s a difference in the way butter is packaged on the east coast and west coast? I’ve noticed that when I’ve bought butter at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, they come in short, fat sticks, rather than the longer slimmer ones we get down here in the South. Turns out there is a reason for that–the ones we get here are known as “East Coast Elgins,” and the ones west of the Rockies are called “Western Stubbies.” Since Trader Joe’s is a California-based company, well, you get it. Whole Foods is based in Austin, but they also sell Western Stubbies, but I’m guessing it’s because they were primarily a west-coast store for so many years. (The first one in New Orleans was in the French Quarter, and was the size of a Circle K, until they built a bigger one in Metairie.)  I found this out when I was looking at OXO’s website. You can read a little more about that on The Kitchn’s website.

We went to visit BF’s father, sister, and brother-in-law later in the evening. BF’s brother and sister-in-law brought a big spread that people were in various stages of enjoying; that’s where he found the apple pie. It was very rushed and busy, but we had a nice time with them as well.

So. . .next up is Christmas, and I have no idea what we’re doing or where. I hope to be able to do more slow cooking and maybe a bit of waffling, too. Maybe brownies, maybe cake, maybe sweet rolls–whatever they ask for, I’m up for. But I’m getting back on my regular low-carb/gluten-free/somewhat Paleo eating style, best I can.

Give some thought now to any upcoming holiday gatherings, office parties, and Christmas lunch/dinner celebrations that you’ll be attending, and what you might need to bring. Feel free to search the archives here, or start looking for some inspiration online. Start with Martha Stewart’s website, The Pioneer Woman’s website (she has a recipe section just for Christmas), The Kitchn, or jump in with both feet and get on Pinterest. Other celebrity chefs have websites and recipes, and they’re too many to list here (just pick one!) Create your “Holiday 2016 Recipes” board and start pinning. The Food Network also has a huge database of recipes (well, DUH.) But if you want more, well, ask yourself a question.

What’s your favorite grocery store? HEB’s website has a whole section for holiday things–products, recipes, etc., and you can order HEB things from the website from all over the US (except coffee to California.) Go here to find lots and lots of HEB’s recipes–just pick one. (Wait–Chocolate Pecan Pie? That could put BF on his knees!) Kroger has a general listing of recipes, while Randall’s also has a page for Christmas recipes. East-coast readers familiar with Publix will also enjoy their recipes and meal planning page. Louisiana-based Rouse’s has a recipe page as well–so if you’re looking for some Louisiana food for your Christmas dinner, take a look there. (Winn Dixie doesn’t have anything, I checked.) Trader Joe’s has a very nice recipe site, primarily using their own products, and so does Whole Foods.

No, I will NOT be making those “mirlitons.” Longtime readers know I hate them, whether you call them that, “Mexican pears” or “chayote squash.” They’re good for one thing: breaking windows. Wait a minute. . .Hatch chili bread? In Louisiana? Hmmm. . . .

OK, folks. . .I think I’ve bored you enough with getting started on Christmas early. Just think about what you’ll be doing, OK? Whether it’s a church function, going to someone’s house, or just doing Christmas dinner alone the way I did for many years, you’ve got time right now. Try out a recipe or two, gather any unusual ingredients that might be harder to find on December 20th, make room in your pantry, fridge and freezer for them, and plan your menus,but GET STARTED. If you find yourself with a last-minute invitation, check your Pinterest board for something you can make quickly or looks good.

I’m all about getting ahead of problems. You can ignore it, but it won’t go away. And if you are going to be alone, do what I did for all those years–make a delicious dinner and enjoy yourself. I recommend some good old-fashioned British comedy DVDs, too–and if you have cable, the Doctor Who Christmas special, which is always well-done and spectacular. No cable? See what your local library can get for you, by interlibrary loan, if need be. But as always, START REQUESTING THEM NOW. See if your PBS station runs Doctor Who or other British TV. Or you’ll be watching stuff on YouTube on your phone.

Library’s closing. I gotta go, but I’ll be back again real soon with more foodie things.

Happy Dining!

 

 

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