Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving Dry Run aka Friendsgiving

Recipes in this article:

It’s that time of year again. When the leaves on the trees start to change colors and fall off. When football takes over and becomes a real way of life. When all the white girls start wearing leggings and Uggs and switch from their venti soy caramel macchiatos to grande pumpkin spice lattes. It’s that time to start organizing your recipes and figure out what is going to be on the menu come Turkey Day.

Thanksgiving is far and away my favorite holiday. Maybe it’s because my favorite episode of Rocco’s Modern Life growing up was the Thanksgiving special. More likely it was the copious amounts of food and time spent in the kitchen bull shitting. So when I was given the chance to prepare what many are now calling Friendsgiving (Thanksgiving with friends instead of family), I was already in my apron. There was only problem: I had never eaten a traditional turkey on Thanksgiving, let alone prepared a turkey feast.

For as long as I can remember, my father, Zino, has hated Thanksgiving food. Zino grew up in Greece eating turkey as a staple since it was much cheaper than other meat. He now avoids turkey like the Cowboys avoid making tackles. As such, I never grew up with a traditional Thanksgiving meal with a beautiful turkey carved at the table with eager bug-eyed kids gnawing at the table for their turkey (or at least as Doug and Rugrats made me believe).

This Friendsgiving (I genuinely think this is the lamest name ever) was my chance for a “College Dropout” moment; like Kanye got out of Jay’s shadow I could get escape my dad’s hatred of turkey. With a Kanye sized chip on my shoulder, I decided to try Alton Brown’s classic Thanksgiving turkey recipe. I also decided to prepare many of the traditional sides and force my guests to prepare the rest.

So lets talk logistics here:

  • 24 hours
  • 10 hungry mouths to feed
  • 1 turkey
  • 5 sides
  • 2 sauces
  • 2 desserts

Those stats may need some asterisks1 like Barry Bonds because to be fair we did a lot of sides pot luck style but far and away I went the hardest in preparing this meal. I chose to pick up the following dishes: turkey (duh), stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, bread, and my first ever pumpkin pie. I had never messed with pies but I figured first turkey, first pie, lets go big.

As everyone does these days, I started off by researching all of my Thanksgiving day recipes through various sites. I remembered seeing Alton Brown make a delicious turkey on Good Eats when I was back in middle school and something resonated there (much like my irrational middle school obsession with Dashboard Confessional). For the stuffing I went with a tried and true method Zino used. Zino may have hated turkey but on Thanksgiving he would still try his best to appease me with stuffing. For cranberry sauce I looked to Kenji Lopez over at Serious Eats. With 24 hours to spare I went with Bittman’s no knead bread recipe. For gravy, I just winged it. As for the pumpkin pie, I once again took the recipe from Serious Eats.

So the feast was to be on Sunday, we (roommates and I) went grocery shopping Saturday afternoon and immediately started quick thawing the turkey per Alton Brown’s method: put the turkey in a water bath changing the water out every 2 hours. Worked like a charm; by midnight that night we had a thawed bird. I have to give props to my roommate for this one, at some point during Saturday night the decision was made to go to a concert and he stayed back. When I got home, I knew it was time to make brine. Followed Alton’s recipe except we literally didn’t use anything he used except for chicken broth (didn’t realize until writing that I realized he calls for veggie stock), brown sugar, and salt. It was simple enough but we didn’t finish making this until 1am Sunday morning.

Come 6am Sunday morning, it’s time to brine this bitch. Seeing as none of us wanted to dirty a cooler with turkey juices and didn’t have a spare five gallon bucket like Alton calls for (retrospect definitely do it this way), we used a trash bag lined Omaha Steak™ cooler. Honestly, this is one of the most bootleg cooking tricks I have ever used and I flipped bacon with my fingers instead of tongs for months. At this point I immediately fell back to sleep for another 3 hours. The goal was to let the turkey brine for full 8 hours with a flip half way through at the 4 hour mark.

When I woke up, I realized I had completely fucked up. I was nursing a hangover and had a ton of things to bake before I could even pop the turkey in the oven. Being an engineer I made a Gantt chart of how I wanted everything to work.

Bittman’s no knead bread was first. Upon the completion of the initial 18 hour rise, it’s simply folded on itself and left to rise again for another 2 hours. During the last 45 minutes of this rise, you heat up your dutch oven inside an oven set to 450F. This is what helps give your bread such a beautiful crust. For the first 30 minutes of bake time you bake it with the lid on so it is essentially steaming itself inside the hot vessel. The bread is then baked another 15-30 minutes to brown the top crust. Its super easy and the crumb is always pretty good. Its definitely a go-to when trying to impress.

While the bread was working on its 2 hour rise, I started working on my first ever pie dough. Going into this all I knew was that pie dough should have lots of super cold butter and should be pretty crumbly. I used a food processor as called for in the recipe so it ended up taking only 10 minutes to make. After the 2 hour chill session at the ice bar, I attempted to roll it out before realizing the whole thing was crumbling like the floor in the piano scene from the Goonies. I ended up saving my dough by adding two more tablespoons of iced water. I found that recipe used (as linked) needed significantly more ice water and was able to roll the dough out nicely. My only issue with making my first ever pie is there is just too much fucking dead time. Its just like watching an Ironpigs2 game by yourself without any beer. While my pie crust was chilling in the tin I tackled the pumpkin filling. I found that the sweetness, spices, and overall texture of Serious Eats’ recipe was exactly what I remembered as a classic pumpkin pie. The only change I would make if I did it again was maybe add a dash of cayenne pepper to bring out the spice just a bit more.

The pie was the last thing that needed to go into the oven before the turkey so the second the pie came out, the turkey team mobilized. We pulled it out of the brine, doing our best to dry it off as much as possible and stuff it with as many aromatics as we could find. In the end we used sage, rosemary, onion, carrots, and celery. Really can’t go wrong with the classics. We then proceeded to fit our turkey with the greatest aluminum bra ever created. For 30 minutes we roasted the bird getting its skin crispy and gold. Afterwards we lowered the temperature, fixed its bra, and waited. At this point we realized we had made it and could chill the fuck out. The house was stuffy, the kitchen hot, and I was covered in flour and sweat.

We finished all of the prep work for the stuffing while waiting for the turkey and started and finished the cranberry sauce. We sat around watching football until it got closer to the end of the turkey's cooking time. Towards the end of the turkey’s cooking time, our guests started arriving with their sides. We whipped together the last of our sides, the stuffing and the gravy, while resting the turkey. And while I enjoyed everything everyone brought (#nodisrespecttobenaffleck), my first turkey was far and away the best thing I had that night. I don't know if it was all of the hard work that went into it or if it was just an amazing turkey. At the end of one of the longest days I’ve had in the kitchen in a minute, all I could think in my head was the Ice Cube classic “I didn’t even have to use my AK, today was a good day.”

  1. Barry Bonds is actually mentioned in the Wikipedia article for Asterisk. 
  2. MiLB team, stand up Lehigh Valley. 

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