challenge builds character. some people climb everest, others single-handedly prepare a thirteen-course thanksgiving meal for two in a studio apartment kitchen with only two working burners during a global pandemic. i don’t own crampons, so i scaled mt. turkey instead. i’m kind of a nut about thanksgiving—every year i make a too-big feast with a completely new menu. this year, i started my planning much later than usual, and there was talk about maybe scaling back and making a less grandiose spread this year, but i wanted to show 2020 that it didn’t break me. and now, after two days of cooking with very few mishaps, i can look 2020 right in the eye and say SUCK IT!
THANKSGIVING 2020 MENU
SOURDOUGH DRESSING WITH SAUSAGE, KALE, AND MUSHROOMS
stuffing is always the hardest choice: cornbread or sourdough, meat or no meat, do i even like chestnuts or do i just like the way they smell? in the past, the best stuffings i have made have always included mushrooms, and this is another winner. the recipe was a bit of no-fuss perfection: you roast the mushrooms and kale and sausage on one tray while you toast the bread on another tray and then you combine the two with golden raisins and broth and all of the rest of it and you’re done and can move confidently on to the rest of your dishes.
this is before i tossed the chunks of raw sausage into the mix, but it looked so pretty and appetizing i had to photograph it:
finished product, served in my VALIANT battle-scarred casserole dish:
i was very happy with how it turned out, even though i am not usually a raisins-in-my-stuffing kind of girl.
BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH PISTACHIOS AND LIME
i doubled this recipe because 2 pounds of brussels sprouts is nowhere near enough brussels sprouts for a proper thanksgiving unless you’re some kind of sprout-hating monster. fun fact—i brought leftovers in for FOUR different co-workers, with accommodations made for each individual’s specific food preferences/sensitivities, and one of them DID NOT TELL ME he didn’t like brussels sprouts, and instead of bringing them home to feed his family or whatever, he THROWED THEM IN THE GARBAGE. and then, bigger mistake, he TOLD me he had thrown them in the garbage. i tried to have him fired, but no luck.
my beautifully roasted babies, before saucing:
amply bedecked with nuts and zest:
well, shit. i was just looking back at last year’s thanksgiving write-up only to discover that i made brussels sprouts with pistachios and lime LAST YEAR. so much for my new year/new menu tradition. however, this recipe came from an ALL-NEW 2020 magazine, so at least the recipe itself is different. maybe?
even worse, i did a MUCH better job photographing them last year:
new year/worse me. i KNEW i should have gone with the maple-bacon sprouts. dammit.
MASHED POTATOES WITH CRISPETY CRUNCHETIES
this was a wonderfully funusual concept: mashed potatoes topped with crushed potato chips&etc—a sort of companion to my turkey-stuffed-turkey (FORESHADOWING!), but the recipe itself was overly fussy—you gotta roast golden potatoes for 90 minutes, hold them in a towel so you can peel them while they are still burning hot (the recipe is sadistically EMPHATIC about this), then shove them through a ricer while simmering and steeping a bunch of stuff (herbs, peppercorns, etc) in heavy cream before straining it over the potatoes etc etc and the whole rigamarole took sooo long. the results were tasty, but, i mean, why not just crush up some potato chips over some less-labor-intensive mashed potatoes and move on with your life?
the whole process took so long and i didn’t even manage to take a decent picture of ’em because i was so frazzled with timing everything else. this is grudge-photography in action:
because i make a new menu every year (OR SO I THOUGHT!), i’ll never have to deal with these jerk-potatoes again, but if i ever decide to make crispety crunchety spuds in a non-thanksgiving capacity, you better believe i’m taking some shortcuts. PRO TIP: make extra crispety cruncheties for post-thanksgiving leftovers, because they turn into softety soggeties pretty quickly.
BRAISED GREENS WITH CRISPY GARLIC AND MISO BUTTER
the first time i make anything, i follow the recipe to the letter (unless cheese is involved, and then it is always better to add MORE), even when the science of it seems off. sadly, in this case, my obedience resulted in decidedly uncrisped garlic. making crispy garlic is not at all difficult, and someone should tell this recipe how to do it.
they were yummy even without the crisp, though—tender, delicately seasoned collards and kale with ginger and miso broth. probably pretty healthy, too, if you’re not eating it in the midst of some decadent carbstarch-heavy thanksgiving meal.
CORN CASSEROLE WITH BACON AND CHEESE
corn had a lot to live up to after last year’s creamed corn triumph, which was the best corn i’ve ever made or eaten in my life. this one was good—it’s hard to go wrong when there’s cheese and bacon involved, but it was a bit soggy and a pretty heavy dish to serve alongside the stuffing and alla them potatoes. but i guess that’s thanksgiving for you. it did suggest using the low-salt saltines, but once you’re hucking on all that bacon and cheese, that’s a pretty small concession to healthy eating, and if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that life is short and unpredictable, so you gotta take your pleasures where you can. and my salt-loving quarantine-belly is proof that i am taking this lesson to heart (attack.)
before the cheese n bacon:
not even close to last year’s corn, but nice warm glop nonetheless.
TURKEY AND EPIS
i got a nice big 23-pound turkey, cooked it perfectly, and then didn’t manage to get a good picture of it before tearing into it ravenously with the hunger of someone who’s been preparing food for days and not eating any of it. apologies. this picture is abysmal; the lighting and angle making it look shriveled and small and sad, but trust me—that bird was glorious.
i have never made a turkey with anything stuffed into its cavity other than herbs and onions and maybe some halved citrus fruits, but when we were sharing our thanksgiving meal checklists, as thanksgiving nerds do, cassandra informed me she always stuffed her thanksgiving turkeys with ground turkey that had been marinating in this haitian seasoning base called epis, which sounded heavenly, so i begged her for her recipe and gave it a go.
i got some matchy-matchy peppers, regular and hot:
and then you blend them up with a bunch of other stuff and let the ground turkey soak it all in overnight. here is some of the extra epis-enhanced ground turkey i cooked outside of the turkey the next day:
so, no, i didn’t get a great photo of mr. turkey, nor of the stuffing within—one of the difficulties of making such a foolishly ambitious feast in an unsuitably tiny kitchen is that you end up hastily documenting the finished products in-between the frenzy of cooking and trying to figure out where to PUT all the food while you cook other things as the day wanes and the light worsens and you start to wonder why you do this to yourself every year. but then you have a bite of perfectly-roasted turkey and you remember: because you’re a thanksgiving nerd and you’re damn good at it.
since i never make gravy on thanksgiving, when i saw this recipe, i thought it could stand in for the absent gravy, and it was something i could whip up on one of my two burners while the oven was tied up for hours as a revolving door of roasting. basically, i made cream of mushroom soup. oddly enough, this was one person’s favorite dish. and it wasn’t the food thrower-awayer—whose opinions about food clearly cannot be trusted. it’s easy and delicious—the kind of thing you can just throw together whenever you need a tasty sauce for a thing. or just eat it plain; it’s pretty filling with all that creamy goodness.
SAVORY ROASTED CARROTS WITH MUSHROOMS
EVEN MORE MUSHROOMS! i used manycolored carrots to make this more autumnal and festive, and it was a very strong side dish. can’t go wrong with roasted vegetables, and the mushrooms made it pop with juicy little accents.
they may LOOK like they’re burnt, but i assure you they are just purple.
not much to say about roasted vegetables. moving on…
ROASTED GARLIC GREEN BEANS WITH CASHEWS
to MORE roasted vegetables! these beans weren’t as special as i’d hoped, but they were very good and i love the whole process of roasting garlic and squooshing it out of its little garlic skin. there’s something insectile about it, like molting. which doesn’t sound appetizing, until you consider that the other thing it is reminiscent of is the satisfaction of popping a zit, and then you’d LOVE to only have that insect-analogy in your head.
anyway, these were perfectly fine but not life-changing green beans. PRO-TIP: like the crispety cruncheties, the cashews get a little soft in the sauce once it cools, so keep some back for the next-day leftovers. in other words, don’t finish off the bag of cashews as a snack during your feast-making marathon. oops.
SWEET POTATO GRATIN
nothing is better than a gratin. i’ve gratined it all: potatoes, butternut squash, brussels sprouts, you name it. any chance i get to eat an obscene amount of gooey, melty cheese, i will take it. gruyère? i’m there!
and you may argue that at a certain point, when you have doubled (or—let’s be honest, trebled) the amount of cheese a recipe calls for, it can get weird and oily with alla that cheesy fatty goodness:
but if you don’t wanna eat it, that’s just more cheese for me!
looks plasticky, tastes delicious. and all that flavorful cheese-sweat can be ably soaked up by mashed potatoes.
SAVORY PEARS AND SQUASH WITH GRANOLA TUMBLE
this was the prettiest dish i made, and really the only one i photographed at all well this year, so let’s take our time with it.
this is the mashed butternut squash and pear base:
this is that covered with the roasted pears and shallots and crispy sage:
and this is THAT covered in the granola tumble:
and then a blurry close-up more in keeping with the rest of my photos this year. sigh.
this was a great big heap of fall. an excellent combination of flavors and textures, and i LOVE crispy sage (and the recipe actually understood that you can’t crisp things in liquid, duh, #garlicfail). the tumble is also good on oatmeal.
i’ll tumble 4U:
CRANBERRY AND BRIE PULL-APART BREAD
this was supposed to be the star; the showstopper that would earn me my paul hollywood handshake: individual bread rolls, each stuffed with a little chonk of brie, layered with cranberry sauce and herbs. and it LOOKED great. but the baking time was off (I SWEAR!), so when i went to turn it over, it fell apart and the bottom-now-top was still fairly raw, so i had to kind of shovel it all back in and it didn’t get that nice monkey bready shape it was meant to. so this is the only photograph you’re gonna get.
a tasty mess, full of cheese. who needs paul hollywood’s covid-spreading handshake approval, anyway?
finally, since i do not make dessert on thanksgiving, because i am LAZY, here is a pie i did not bake
which seems unremarkable until you realize it is a GIANT pie that was a foot across and weighed about eight pounds.
AND THAT WAS THANKSGIVING 2020!
stay safe, make good choices, and hopefully 2021 will be better for most of you.