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Thanksgiving 2018 – Part 2, sides and desserts

Today is another day and I wanted to pick-up where I left off talking about our Thanksgiving menu.  I hit the turkey really hard, but I wanted to talk about some of the other great recipes I used for the meal. 

Going hand-in-hand with turkey is, of course, gravy. In Part 1, I talked about how I made the stock by slowly extracting all of that turkey essence through a gentle simmer in the oven for about 18 hours yielding me about 10 quarts of stock.  I tasted it in the morning of Thanksgiving and while it was full of flavor and collagen, it needed some more intensity. Therefore, I decided that I would slowly simmer it uncovered to reduce in volume.  I split the stock between my two Dutch ovens and fired up the burners. 

As it bubbled, Jill and I enjoyed a tube of Pillsbury’s cinnamon rolls – her favorite for breakfast on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.  Jill watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade while I got back to cooking.

With plenty of time to go, I got a head-start by starting the stuffing.  This year, I went with a recipe from Serious Eats and J. Kenji Lopez-Alt for their Slow-Cooker Sage and Sausage Stuffing.  Their recipe calls for 2.5 lbs (1kg) of bread to be cut and then dried for the recipe.  I had mistakenly read it as that weight being the dried (net) weight, not the pre-dried (gross) weight.  So as I stirred in my stock and eggs, it looked like it was going to be way to dry.  

But that’s an easy enough thing to fix!  So I just scaled up with some extra stock and an extra egg, and upped the herbs an seasoning a bit.  No problem!  In no time that stuffing was cooking in the slow cooker.  

Meanwhile, Jill baked some mini loaves of bread using a bread recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the art of French Cooking.  The original recipe was to make a full loaf, but since these were mini loaves, we decided to ignore the time in the recipe and pulled them out when the temp reached about 200 as to not overcook the smaller loaves.  They came out great looking like cute little ciabatta rolls.

Next, I prepared my cranberry sauce.  I adapted America’s Test Kitchen’s tried and true recipe as I have made in the past.  My own spin on it includes a cinnamon stick.  After whipping up this simple recipe in just a few minutes, I tasted it and a spark of inspiration popped into my head:  spearmint. For some reason, I felt a need to add some dried spearmint to the sauce and see how it tasted.  Since this was a little experiment, I put half of the sauce aside just in case it went awry. 

However, it went fantastic – that tart, minty sauce is awesome!  I found my new favorite way to make cranberry sauce, with one tweak for the future.  I didn’t love the color or texture the dried mint added.  The cranberry color with the green makes it just look a tinge brown.  Next time, I’ll brew a strong tea with the spearmint to infuse the flavor and then use that in my sauce in place of the water.  Fantastic!

As the day progressed, I waited until closer to dinner time to start the potatoes.  We had two types, a traditional mashed herbed with dill that Jill made, and I did J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Hasselback potato gratin. I don’t know how I missed the 2013 Hasselback trend now that I look back, but I’m glad I got on board even though it’s 2018.  Those things are awesome!  Turning the sliced potatoes perpendicular to the casserole dish’s bottom makes it not only look prettier, but it gives more nooks and crannies to develop flavor covered in shredded Gruyere in a hot oven.  

After the potatoes came Jill’s traditional favorites: green bean casserole and “cheesy carrots.”  While I wanted to try and dress up the green beans with a fresh take by using fresh ingredients and making my own mushroom sauce, Jill firmly instructed me to “not mess with tradition,” so I followed the normal recipe Dorcas Reilly invented back in 1955 and is still printed on the Campbell’s can

The carrots she likes are even simpler: frozen carrot medallions covered with a Velveeta & milk sauce.  I tossed the three ingredients into a covered Dutch oven and cooked until the cheese got melty and the carrots were cooked through.  Then I pulled the cover off to get some browning action.  While I’m not a fan, this is a must for Jill at Thanksgiving.

While I had planned on also making Leite Culinaria’s Spinach Mornay, I called an audible at this point and decided that it would simply be too much food for 6 people (2 of which don’t like vegetables).  Since we would be having my friends Alex and Qian over on Saturday for a Friendsgiving, I could make the gratin then.

For dessert, my mom brought a delicious pumpkin pie that she baked with homemade pumpkin puree.  Yum!  Jill did a “winterberry pie” that had cranberries along with blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.  It turned out excellent and was a favorite of my dad’s!

A couple of days before Thanksgiving, I baked and froze Christina Tosi’s Crack Pie with some extra pecans from her book Momofuku Milk Bar.  While I’ve made this pie several times and always like it, I baked it in a regular metal pie pan “for fun” this time.  I can tell you that it wasn’t “fun” to get it out of that uncoated pan!  All of that sugar held on tightly and it was a bear to dish out.  Next time, I’ll go back to my ceramic pie dish.  Regardless, this recipe truly is like crack and I keep going back to make it every year.

Finally, Jill had some extra berries from her pie, and we had some honey crisp apples left in the fridge so I wanted to use them up.  I made a single pie crust and turned it all into an improvised top-crust only skillet pie.  That pie was fantastic!  I love that Flakiest Pie Crust from Bon Appetit.  Not only is it simple, but it doesn’t really take any more time than the other methods that use food processors.  But really, this filling was awesome.  I threw in a bunch of cranberries, all of the other berries Jill used, 5 small apples with some sugar, a little cornstarch, cinnamon, and a little allspice.  Sometimes, you just nail it when you’re playing around.  I should have measured what I was doing and should have taken pictures for the blog, but I was having too much fun just riffing.

All told, it was just a great Thanksgiving in 2018.  It was really nice to be home for the first time in years and see all the friends and family that I missed. 

As 2018 wraps up, thank you for spending another year with Explorers Kitchen.  We’ll look forward to a great 2019 together.

Patrick Jaszewski

Culinary Tyrannosaurus, passport stamp collector, home cook, pilot, strength enthusiast, bilingual, coffee roaster, recovering homebrewer. Committed to DIY ethic. Minnesota native transplanted in Pennsylvania. Thunderbird MBA Alumni and Golden Gopher. Undyingly positive and open minded. Drives Jill crazy by questioning everything.

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Patrick Jaszewski

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