Family, Food and Thanksgiving

I never liked Thanksgiving growing up.  I got bored watching football, I didn’t enjoy cooking, and I was a terribly picky eater who didn’t like much of anything on the table at dinner time.  I really just wanted macaroni and cheese.  My love for the mac & cheese hasn’t gone away but, thankfully, I have come to my senses on everything else around this holiday.  Especially as I’ve gotten more comfortable in the kitchen.

For my family, holidays have always centered around food.   Actually, almost everything centers around food for us.  I was one of those kids who was actually expected to sit at a table and eat with my family.  Every night.  And with rules that the TV could not be on and the phone would not be answered.  I hated it at the time but I love my parents now for torturing me with such love.

So at the holidays, the focus on food is always magnified 10 fold.  You stress over the menu weeks in advance and you plan evenings to test out new recipes so they are perfected in time for the holiday meal.  And when you sit down to the big dinner, there’s enough food to feed the neighborhood…or to at least stock the freezer full of leftover to last you through the winter. 

Thanksgiving was quieter this year since my sister is still living in London with her family, but we all managed to make it special anyway.  Lots of food, post-dinner naps watching football, movies, and lots and lots of leftovers.

Here in DC, my mom made a 21 lb turkey, intending for 75% of it to be used for her turkey gumbo (recipe below).  She parted with enough of it for dinner and to leave me leftovers for Lone Eagle Sandwiches.  I made green beans (lightly sautéed in olive oil with chopped pecans) and a sweet potato casserole that my mom’s family always makes.  It is absolutely delicious but also has a ton of butter and sugar.  But did I mention it’s delicious?  You’ll want to go back for thirds during dessert.

My dad loves to cook too so he made a cranberry-apple relish (a recipe he saw in The New York Times), salad and mushroom risotto.  And for dessert, I made pumpkin pie.  I grew up eating pecan pie, and still love it dearly, but fear mine will never compare to my mom’s.  I started trying to make pumpkin pie a few years ago since it’s my brother in law’s favorite and have really grown to love it.  The recipe I’ve been using, from Cooks Illustrated, is seriously fabulous.

Across the pond, my sister honored the family tradition of oyster dressing.  I personally have never developed a taste for it and always beg my sister to make her cornbread, apple and bacon stuffing instead (although it’s not cooked in the bird so it’s not really “stuffing”).  But she wanted a taste of home and a challenge.  Her recipe was apparently a success so maybe I’ll give it another try?

After finding out that their stay in London was being extended another year, my sister decided to follow a dream that’s been tempting her for years: culinary school.  She’s been letting family and friends follow her cooking adventures through her blog, Paper Scissors Stone.  If you want a taste of some of the differences in food and cooking between here and London, I think you will enjoy her posts.  She’s also a pretty great writer and is giving me the sisterly competition I need to start writing more myself.  I will be spending Christmas with her in London and we plan to do some cooking experiments together so stay tuned; I think we make a pretty good team in the kitchen.

And now, my mom’s Turkey Gumbo recipe.  Sort of.  It needs this disclaimer from her: Turkey Gumbo is one of those things you just cook.  It’s using up leftovers and making use of the carcass which too many people throw out. Not really any precise measurements because it depends on the size of the turkey.  Just boil up the bones, strain the stock and make soup.Throw in the scraps. Add the andouille, the only thing you have to buy. 

Margaret’s Turkey Gumbo

As you carve the turkey and remove meat from the carcass, throw the
bones into a large stockpot. While cleaning up, save any drippings from
the turkey that you don’t use for gravy and small shreds of meat that are
too small for the platter; refrigerate. Add about a gallon of water to the pot
and set on the stove to simmer. If you have a smaller pot or smaller turkey,
use less water.

After simmering for several hours, strain the bones from the stock.
Refrigerate overnight to allow any grease to rise to the top so you can
remove it easily. You should have about 3 quarts of stock. If less, you can
add water to obtain the amount you want for your gumbo.

Make a roux, using approximately 1 cup of fat to 1 cup of flour. Let the
roux brown to the color of mahogany. The darker the roux, the less
thickening power it has, so stop cooking when it hits the right color.
(You can make more roux for a very thick gumbo, less if you prefer, or skip
it altogether for a broth-like soup.)

Add 2 chopped onions and about an equal amount of chopped celery to
the roux. Saute until the vegetables are softened. You can add additional
chopped garlic if the turkey was cooked without much garlic.
Slowly add the degreased stock. Add the reserved turkey scraps and
drippings from which you have removed any grease. Add bay leaf, thyme,
salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste. Let simmer partially covered for a while,
being careful not to let it evaporate too much.

Slice andouille into “coins” or small pieces. Add with chopped leftover
turkey. Simmer partially covered for a half hour to an hour. Add chopped
parsley and thinly sliced green onions. Serve with rice and/or potato salad.
File can be added at the table as can Crystal or Tabasco.

One Response to Family, Food and Thanksgiving

  1. Amazing that Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday and you dreaded it! I am glad we have converted you over time. I always hated Easter and Halloween. Was one of those your favourite? I am sure we can agree on the 4th of July being the MOST FUN OF ALL!

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