Thanksgiving in Colorado
Thanksgiving was always a big deal in my family. Even when we lived abroad, we celebrated with a big dinner full of traditions and handed down recipes. Growing up we all had our “part” in our annual family Thanksgiving feast. Mine usually consisted of making place cards, centerpieces and setting the table. Mind you, I have always been a decent cook but, I am about the only “crafty” person in the family thus, tables were my gig. So, this year, at age 36, was the first year I have made the entire Thanksgiving dinner and for the in-laws, no less! Needless to say, I was stressed!
I have made a total of 2 – TWO- turkeys in my life before this year. Townie can attest to my first attempt….shoe leather! The second was earlier this year, because I had one in the freezer left over from buying on sale after Easter. I waited 10 years after the leather turkey before attempting it again! The second time was more successful, it was a mere 12lb turkey so wasn’t too much different than roasting a chicken. However, Thanksgiving with the family requires a much larger undertaking. My 3rd attempt was 23lbs! eeeek!!
I don’t know how people survive Thanksgiving without (1) ample prep time and (2) two ovens! I actually even contacted my neighbors to see if they were staying home or going to family in case I had an oven-needed emergency! I knew the 23lb beast was going to take up my oven space for the entire day so I did as much prep work as I could prior to sticking Tom in the oven. I made my cranberry sauce and roasted sweet potatoes on Wednesday night. I baked pies first thing in the morning. I have a dual oven, but one side is much smaller than the other so not many of my dishes actually fit in it. But, I have a pyrex that is just the right size so was able to use that for our sweet potato casserole which was able to cook during the last 45 minutes of turkey in the big oven. Stuffing was going to throw me for a loop. I LOVE stuffing, so naturally made way too much. But, the dish I put it in was shallow enough that I could place a rack on the bottom of the oven, and slide it under the turkey rack so, it shared the oven for 1.5 hours.
My husband whipped up mashed potatoes for me (he makes them with butter, milk, sour cream and chopped garlic) and my brother-in-law makes the most delicious brussel sprouts on the planet (maybe I can coax the recipe out of him) But, other than that, I did it all myself. I tried everything a little differently than the recipes I grew up with. I did baste my turkey with a 50-50 mixture of wine and melted butter, just like my dad would. The types of food on the table were the same but, that is about where tradition left. I LOVE the food I grew up with, but this was my opportunity to do everything the way I wanted and you know what, I am thinking new traditions have started. There were a couple of things missing that I feel should have been there, like my great-grandma’s cooked purple cabbage and the oh-so-disgusting but lovable Waldorf Salad, but all in all I was perfectly pleased with our offering (AND, I didn’t have to wash a single dish!!).
Turkey – 2 lemons, 2 limes and 2 oranges were cut in half and stuffed into the cavity with 2 full heads of garlic (tops chopped off) and a bunch of green onions. I lathered with butter and rubbed some Citrus Blend poultry seasoning into the skin. Tom was covered with foil and was basted every hour. I removed the foil, except over the breast, for the last hour of roasting (which turned into an additional 45 minutes because those thighs were so thick!) so we could have that beautiful golden color. The turkey was delicious and moist!
Sweet potatoes – I have never loved the sticky sweet, canned yams with roasted marshmallows the way my sister does. So, I usually try to make mine with fresh sweet potatoes. I am partial to Red Garnets. So, I used those in my hubby’s aunt’s recipe, which, naturally, I modified! The below recipe is with my modifications.
- 3 cups mashed sweet potatoes (I used 6, that I roasted in their skins the night before)
- 3/4c sugar
- dash of salt
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 stick of butter
- 1/2c milk
- 1 1/2t pure vanilla extract
- zest of 1 orange
- fresh grated nutmeg – I am guessing I used about 1/2t
- Topping – 1c brown sugar, 1/3c flour, 1/3 stick of butter, 1c chopped pecans
Let’s Make it!
- Blend all ingredients, except topping, in a bowl.
- Put in 9×13 baking dish
- Cover evenly with topping
- Bake at 350-degrees for 40-50minutes until golden brown.
Stuffing – I modified a recipe from the November/December 2010 edition of Cooks Illustrated Magazine. It was good, but I certainly would have used a little more liquid to make the stuffing more squishy.
- 2lbs leftover white bread, cubed and dried (I had hamburger buns, loaf bread butts and a partial french loaf that I mixed with a box of Mrs. Cubison’s stuffing cubes)
- 6 chicken thighs, with bone and skin (I also added the turkey giblets and neck)
- 2t olive oil
- 1/2 lb bacon, cubed
- 4T butter, plus extra for baking dish
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 bunch green onions, minced
- 1 bunch of celery hearts, diced
- 3T minced fresh thyme
- 3T minced fresh sage
- 3T minced fresh rosemary
- 2 1/2c chicken broth
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup dried berries (I used what I had left of golden raisins and an entire bag of craisins)
- 1 large apple, cubed
- Salt and pepper to taste
Let’s make it!
- Heat olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until golden brown on one side. Flip and repeat. Transfer to a dish and set aside.
- Add bacon to rendered chicken fat and cook until browned. Transfer to papertowel lined plate, leaving rendered fat in skillet.
- Heat butter with rendered fat. When foaming subsides, add shallot, green onions and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened but not browned. Add fresh herbs, salt and pepper; cook until fragrant, about 30seconds. Add 1c broth and bring to a simmer, using wooden spoon to scrape browned bits from bottom of pan. Add vegetables to bread mixture, in a large bowl and toss to combine.
- Grease 9×13 baking dish with butter. In medium bowl, whisk eggs with remaining broth until combined. Add to bread mixture along with berries and apples and bacon pieces. Toss to combine and transfer to baking dish.
- Top the stuffing with the chicken pieces, cover with foil to trap moisture and bake for about 60minutes.
- Fluff with fork, let rest 5 minutes before serving
Cranberry sauce – I used this Maple, Citrus & Ginger Cranberry Preserves recipe and it is my new favorite way to eat the tart berry.
Apple pie - I made Southern Comfort Caramel Apple Pie, which was heavenly sinful, just as “advertised”.
Pumpkin pie – I followed the recipe on the back of the Libby Pumpkin Pie Filling can but grated about (I saw about as I didn’t actually measure) 1/2t of fresh ginger and 1/2t of fresh nutmeg into the custard and boy oh boy did that make a HUGE difference!
I also always whip my own whipped cream, heavy whipping cream some pure vanilla extract and a dash of sugar. There is no comparison!!
In the end, there is really nothing to worry about. Family isn’t going to judge (well, not seriously, right?!?!?). While we put so much emphasis on the food and we spend all day cooking it for 1 hour of together time, Thanksgiving is more about being thankful for what we have. We were discussing, during our meal, how fortunate we are to have all this delicious food on our table, a comfortable roof over our head and an abundance of logs in our fireplace to keep us warm. In a day and age when so many have nothing, I am ever more grateful for all with which I have been blessed. That hour at the dinner table, laughing and telling stories is what will stick with everyone far longer than the memory that Bumpkin’s 3rd attempt at a turkey took an hour longer than anticipated…then again, that could have been an extra hour of wine talking!