We had a great Thanksgiving this year. We hosted my family — 8 of us total. Not all of the family could make it (Hi Amy and Lisa – we missed you), but we celebrated the most important aspects of the holiday — family, food and fun (in whatever particular order you prefer). Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!
In addition to the turkey, one of the stars of the Thanksgiving meal is the stuffing/dressing. We call it “stuffing,” even though we don’t stuff it in the bird. Dan is not a fan of stuffing the turkey because he doesn’t think that the turkey comes out as juicy when it’s been stuffed. This year, we used a modified version of my mom’s sausage stuffing. Instead of pre-packaged stuffing, we decided to use fresh ciabatta bread. For best results, the bread should be stale, which can take a couple of days. (Or just use the pre-packaged version).
Dice up the bread into small pieces and set it out at least overnight.
We used my Grandma Helen’s recipe for Spiced Cranberries: 12 ounce package of cranberries, 1 & 1/2 cups of sugar, 1 & 1/2 tablespoons of white vinegar and 2 & 1/4 teaspoons of cinnamon.
Wash the cranberries, then add the sugar and cook them over low heat until the sugar dissolves and all the cranberries break open. You need to stir them often during this process.
You need to stir so often, in fact, that you probably want to enlist someone to help so you can focus on other parts of the meal. My dad was happy to help.
This is what the cranberries should look like when they are done cooking.
Add the vinegar and cinnamon and stir. Cool and serve. This is a good recipe to make the day or night before so you have time for the other Thanksgiving dishes that need to be cooked on the big day.
The bread did not seem to be getting as stale as we wanted it to be, so we spread it out on trays to hasten the process. Worked like a charm.
The ingredients for Dan’s turkey brine are water, vegetable broth, salt, honey, peppercorns and a bay leaf. Brining is key to ensuring that the turkey will be moist and flavorful.
My brother Adam shows the parents some stuff on his laptop. Most likely hunting photos — he likes to shoot Bambi’s mom and dad.
Thanksgiving makes Dan happy.
To prepare the turkey for the brine, clean out the cavity (ew) and rinse the bird well.
While still happy, Dan takes the turkey prep very very seriously.
Add the washed turkey to the brine, then add a bag of ice and put it all in the refrigerator. Dan brined our turkey overnight.
Dan explains the fine art of making dressing for celery salad to our youngest guest, Macy. The dressing can be made the night before and refrigerated. You can also cut up the celery the night before, but don’t dress it until about an hour before the meal or it may get a little soggy.
The turkey stock, which eventually became The Best Gravy Ever. Dan took it out of the fridge on Thanksgiving morning and skimmed off the fat that had congealed on the top.
We put out some breakfast for our guests on Thanksgiving morning. (The coffee cake and muffins are store-bought. We’re fans of homemade stuff around here, but we’re not crazy — there’s a lot of other stuff to cook at Thanksgiving!)
We also made a breakfast casserole the night before and just popped it in the oven Thanksgiving morning.
Dan cooked the turkey stock over very low heat all morning.
My dad taught Dan a new trick for the turkey — dislocating the joints prior to cooking it. Doing this made the turkey easier to carve when it finished roasting.
The aromatics for the bottom of the roasting pan. These will add flavor to the turkey drippings that will go in The Best Gravy Ever.
Thanksgiving is all about tradition. Here, Dan prepares for the traditional Turkey Dance, which my dad has performed at Thanksgiving for many years. He is not sure of the origins, but it is tradition and therefore must be done.
Dislocating the turkey’s joints allows it to shimmy even better.
A little side shimmy.
Dan seemed to really enjoy the Turkey Dance. Perhaps a bit too much?
Put the aromatics in the bottom of the roasting pan, then add the rack for the turkey.
After the Dance, Dan trussed the turkey.
Trussing the bird may or may not have been necessary, but it looks good.
After about 30 minutes in a very hot (500 degrees!) oven, the turkey is starting to brown.
You don’t want the breasts to brown too much, so cover them with foil for the remaining time in the oven, and reduce the oven heat to 350 degrees.
When the turkey is almost done, lightly rub some butter over the skin to help the turkey develop a golden brown color.
Dan cooked the turkey to 163 degrees. The turkey has to rest for a bit before carving/eating, and during this time it will continue to cook about another 5 or so degrees. The ideal temperature for turkey (measured at the breast) is 165 to 170 degrees.
De-glaze the roasting pan with a little white wine for The Best Gravy Ever. Then strain the drippings and add them to the turkey stock. It really was the best. We highly recommend making your own turkey stock at Thanksgiving. In addition to using it for the gravy, we used it in the stuffing instead of chicken stock or water. So good.
My dad is an expert turkey carver.
The family, ready to eat. Seriously, the looks on most of their faces say stop taking pictures already, so we can eat (which is why I didn’t get a very good picture showing everyone).
Adam is enjoying his third or fourth plate, we lost track.
My brother Jesson says “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!” about his turkey leg. Pretty sure he had another helping after this shot. My people can eat.
More aftermath. If you measure the success of the meal by the amount of dirty dishes, we had a really really successful meal.
Dan decided to use the turkey bones to make another batch of turkey stock to freeze.
Add a little onion and celery and simmer for about 3 hours.
My mom and Macy play a made-up Scrabble game. Fill one of the trays with tiles and make a word. Then let someone else have a turn by re-filling the tray with tiles and making another word. Rather than all sitting around the board and keeping score, we just informally took turns making words until we used up all the tiles. The only rule we attempted to enforce was that they have to be “real” words.
Done! This was a fun, ongoing game that we played a couple of times over Thursday and Friday. The board above was not our best work, since someone (ADAM) snuck in a few made-up words. And maybe a couple of words in Spanish.
We had a wonderful holiday, and hope that you and yours did as well. Thanks to all our guests for making the trip! Gravy aside, the very best part about Thanksgiving is remembering how lucky we are to have cherished families and friends who make this day and all our days truly special.