Back in the saddle again, thoughts of turkeys past danced in her head. The ones she cooked upside down. The ones she cooked right side up. The ones she grilled. The ones she brined. The one she won in a raffle. The 18-pounder that her sister-in-law's brother cooked in just under an hour in a deep fat fryer, positioned next to the swimming pool, just in case. The ones she infused or injected, stuffed or didn't stuff, basted with butter or broth, slathered in maple syrup, coated in Jim Beam, or sloshed with brandy or wine.
Having spent Thanksgiving as someone's out of town guest for the last fifteen years or more, Mrs. Linklater couldn't wait to mash her own potatoes, make her own gravy, and share the prep with her older daughter, who took charge of the dressing. The day was so successful, Mrs. Linklater feels compelled to share her tips for this classic American meal.
7:00 AM -- Do pre-turkey carbo dumping.
Drive to location of the annual 10k Turkey Trot to watch older daughter run in the race. Stamp feet to stay warm and burn 6.2 miles of fat by association. Bring Flip Cam to capture start and finish.
RACE START: Person in the purple hoody wearing sunglasses is DNA positive• TIP: Remember to check and see if the camera is actually turned on when attempting to shoot video of the FINISH. Or you will get stuff like this when you think it's off and record nothing at all when you think it's on:
12:30 PM -- Get the turkey into the oven 1/2 hour late. To do this properly, stop first at Starbuck's after the race. Then pick up some stuff from Mrs. L's house before going to her daughter's.
• TIP: Don't forget to bring a meat thermometer, even if you think your daughter already has one, because she probably doesn't. Mrs. Linklater planned to cook the turkey using the high heat method -- 500° until the meat thermometer says it's done. No basting, no stuffing, no muss, no fuss. But, oops, forgot the meat thermometer.
• TIP: Read the directions for cooking again: Extremely high heat also requires a heavy duty stainless steel pan and Mrs. Linklater's untamed frugality had already settled on a lightweight aluminum pan on sale for $2.00.
So instead of risking an aluminum pan meltdown at 500° she lowered the oven temp to 450° instead. Couldn't hurt. But when she checked the bird after an hour, it was already looking as browned as it ought to be when it's done. Forgetting her years of previous poultry prowess, she panicked, covered the entire bird with aluminum foil and dropped the temperature to 325°, where it stayed for the next three hours until the bird was done -- according to the turkey leg squeeze and the joint pull test, if you'll pardon an expression. But, just in case, Mrs. L sliced into the meat anyway. Boy was it juicy. Terrified this was too good to be true, and the bird might be raw farther inside, she turned off the oven, leaving the turkey to cook some more in the last remaining degrees of heat. Meanwhile, there was no room yet on the counter, with all the slicing and dicing for the side dishes.
1:30 -3:30 PM -- Prep the side dishes. Mrs. Linklater suddenly remembered what it was like to prepare family meals every night instead of once a year, the way it should be. After chopping apples and parsley for her daughter's sausage/apple/cranberry dressing with almonds but without the sausage, then cutting the rye and wheat bread into semi-perfect little cubes and drying them out in the oven, and stopping to taste her daughter's delicious herb concoction to flavor the dressing [this sentence is getting so long Mrs. L must pause to take a breath], before finishing with a flourish by slicing a pound of mushrooms, cutting off the ends of a boatload of green beans, making broth with the giblets, and peeling three pounds of potatoes -- okay it could have been worse -- Mrs. Linklater lay down and watched football for an hour. She has no memory of which game.
• TIP: You can eat pretzels lying on your back without choking. Those mini pretzels are perfect for absorbing the saliva which begins to build in anticipation of the best meal of the year when you're watching TV. And they sit comfortably on your stomach. I'm just sayin'.
3:30 -4:30 PM -- Set the table. CAUTION: If you have pets, do not do this the night before. Nothing like finding a kitty with its ass in the middle of a plate.
• TIP: Take everything that you bought in cans and jars and put it all into serving dishes so there is the appearance of homemade.
4:30 - 6:00 -- Assemble the food. Do not worry about little spills if you have dogs. But, have a taser ready if the turkey lands on the floor. Speaking of the turkey, first take the bird out of the roasting pan so you can make gravy from the mess of burnt stuff on the bottom of the pan.
Hoisting the turkey from pan to platter is possibly the most dangerous move you can make on Thanksgiving. Mrs. Linklater knows there are no shortcuts to this frightening procedure, short of jamming your fist into the cavity and grabbing the neck with your other hand. But don't ask me to eat any of that stuffing when you're done.
The second most dangerous move is screwing up the gravy. If you made your turkey bouillon the Julia Childs' way by dredging the giblets in flour and browning them in butter and shallots first, then adding a bottle of red wine before filling up the rest of the saucepan with water, your gravy will be a lovely golden brown without too much effort. This year Mrs. Linklater' gravy did not reach its full potential. While it tasted fine, it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi, no doubt because some people, who shall remain nameless, refused to share the "drinking wine."
Sweet potatoes or yams are required on every Thanksgiving menu. It doesn't matter which one you cook, because nobody can tell them apart anyway. Fortunately, you can disguise the orange taste with brown sugar and butter. You're also expected to bury them under a layer of those annoying tiny marshmallows. Or you can break with tradition. Make a topping by warming an entire jar of Marshmallow Fluff with a half cup of butter; pour it over the sweet potato/yam mixture, sprinkle with pecans, and heat in the oven for about fifteen minutes. Or, just eat the Fluff straight out of the jar to save time. And skip the pecans. Either way, you will spare everyone all those eensy-beensy marshmallows.
Green bean casserole has become an American cliche. Fight it. Use fresh, whole green beans, saute real mushrooms, and toss it all with real bacon bits you cooked yourself and didn't get from a jar, along with a hefty amount of Marie's Ranch Dressing. IF YOU MUST, throw on some fried onions, which now have the audacity to come in a holiday can.
When she was matrimonially impaired, Mrs. Linklater used to prepare her MIL's spinach souffle. Used to. She also stepped in oyster stuffing a couple of times. However, she has yet to understand the fascination with food that looks like it's been thrown up.
Rolls. Save them for sandwiches the next day. Seriously.
Salad? Are you insane? You probably want Stilton and a lovely port after dinner, too.
On the other hand, my favorite grocery store makes cranberry chutney every year. It's so good they should sell it. Oh wait, they do. No more jellied cranberry sauce with the telltale tin can marks for me, even though, along with the green bean casserole, it has become an American past time.
• TIP: Make sure the bowl you use to whip the mashed potatoes is deep enough to keep potato spew from hitting all the appliances on the counter. Especially when you add an entire package of cream cheese and a stick of butter. Or cheese or chives or garlic or anything else.
• TIP: Have someone else wash the dishes. And remember to take a Zantac before you put the turkey in. Now's a little late.
8:30 PM or so -- slice a nice piece of pie that someone else made or bought at Baker's Square and top with a dollop of whipped cream. Serve with or without coffee. Mrs. Linklater enjoyed a wedge of both pumpkin and pecan pie with caramel flavored whipped cream that was really and truly tasty. Naturally there will always be some people who like to make their own pies. Show off! Mrs. Linklater actually considered making an old fashioned mince pie from scratch once, until she read the recipe, "First, kill a sheep. . ."
Next time -- what to do with those boiled giblets, especially the neck, which looks so much like something Lorena Bobbit tossed out a window.
Well, that's it for Mrs. Linklater's timeless cooking tips for a truly American Thanksgiving meal. Hope yours was as retrograde as hers.