A 20 Pound Turkey Day
I woke up at three hour intervals all night and was rather pleased that after the four am wake up I actually went back to sleep pretty easily. I ended up sleeping the full twelve hours and really feeling much better when I got up. It was very nice. Even better with a long, hot shower with plenty of time, plenty of bath products, and plenty of patience. I used just about everything from my Last Straw shampoo to the Ginger Body Salts and it felt really, really good. Belly salve after on my hands as well as on my belly and I smelled nearly as good as my skin felt. That was very nice.
John got up after I was done with my shower and I made French Toast while he showered. Fezzik wandered in while I was doing this and watched me while I cooked, comfortably sprawled in the middle of the kitchen floor. The last of the sourdough bread from last night into a nice egg custard with cinnamon, vanilla, a little sugar, milk, and a grating of nutmeg. It was very nice and cooked up very fragrantly and went really nicely with the maple syrup. I was wandering through an issue of Savoir and they actually have a source for Canadian maple sugar, which I may well have to get. Fezzik ended up on the floor just to the left of me and he got his own piece of French Toast in his breakfast.
Turkey prep didn't happen until 10:30, 'cause I knew I'd be early if I did it whenever I wanted to do it. A full turkey dinner is one of the most satisfying and possibly simpler meals I really enjoy doing. Been doing it since college and I always seem to learn some things that just make it better and easier each year. I turned on the oven to 475. John wrestled the bird into the sink and from there I washed it off with clean water, pulled out innards to put into a pot, and happily dried things off and wrestled it onto the roasting stand where it got rubbed down with salt, pepper, and melted butter. I fitted foil over the breast, as the dark meat always wants to roast hotter and longer than the white meat, and John then wrestled the bird into the oven for me.
It's very nice having the extra strength available.
Thirty minutes at high heat until the skin was good and brown. He wrestled it out for me and I basted it with butter and poured a couple cans of chicken broth into the pan under the bird so that the fat coming off the bird wouldn't just splatter everywhere and burn. Turned out, at this altitude, I had to keep dumping more liquid into the pan all day. When I'd forget, the air in the house got fairly smoky from the splattering and burning oil. Oops. I turned the oven down to 375 and let it just roast. I am getting less and less convinced that basting really does a lot, as time goes on it seems that if I really, truly wanted a bird that is more tender and juicy than what I'd get just roasting it straight through without touching it, that I really would have to brine the beast. Put it in a bucket of brine the night before and let it just soak. Really good for really tender breast meat. It adds just a little flavor, but not much, and it only does the dark meat a little bit of good and it can be messy, hard to keep hygienic, and is definitely more work.
I was just lazy enough not to brine it, so, instead, I basted it about every hour, when John could wrestle it into and out of the oven for me. It was a good opportunity to turn the bird as well, as it was too big to put in legs first and just leave that way. Between turns John ran off to REI to get a wallet and he came back with a really nice Pendleton wool blanket as well, in fire colors against black. It is a little fuzzier than our brown to greys blanket, but just as warm and wooly. Yay!
I also took care of the giblets, just simmering them for a while with peppercorns and bay leaves. I skimmed them a lot and put the pot just a bit off center from the fire, so all the scum collected on one side. Made it a lot easier to get the fat and the scum off because it all piled up on one side.
So, basically, I sat around the house for most of the morning and early afternoon, just reading, petting Fezzik, letting Fezzik in and out and sometimes sitting with him in the sunshine on the porch or back on the driveway. Sometimes petting him, sometimes talking with him, and sometimes helping him up or down stairs. He had lost his hind legs last night pretty badly and he really wasn't getting around too well today, though he managed when he wanted to get somewhere badly enough. I also brought his water cooler inside so that it would actually thaw, and he happily munched ice out of it when he was inside.
Around three, I started prepping the mashed potatoes, skinned them and put them in water. I didn't want to start them until it was time, but leaving them underwater kept them from discoloring. Stuffing next. Sage breakfast sausage, Jimmy Dean, got browned and then the oil was used to sweat the celery and onions until they were translucent and tender. I then poured a bunch of dried cranberries and let that saute just a while longer before dumping in several tablespoons of well-rubbed sage, a good deal of pepper and a grating or two of nutmeg. A can of low-sodium, nearly non-fat chicken broth went in next and simmered for a bit before I poured in a bunch of Pepperidge Farm's cornbread stuffing stuff. I like it, what can I say? It's yummy, easy to add good stuff to and I don't have to learn how to bake cornbread. Yay!
John, in the meantime, used the little food processor to grind up all the fresh cranberries and a whole orange with the peel still on. He blended that with a good amount of sugar and let it all sit in a mixing bowl, covered, in the refrigerator.
The stuffing went into two serving bowls and the fire went on under the potatoes while I mixed up the green bean casserole. I don't even really bother with thawing the beans anymore. A can of Healthy Request mushroom soup, some milk, some pepper, and then I just dump the beans in and mix carefully. Toss in a handful or two of French's French fried onions and the stuffing and beans went into the oven when the turkey came out, all golden, crackling and crisp of skin. The meat thermometer read 170 in the breast, so I wasn't worried, at all, about everything being cooked. It sat on it's rack over the carving board while the other stuff started to come together.
I decided not to roast my one yam. Not nearly enough for everyone, and the mashed would do well enough. When Debbie, Matt, Forden and Boris arrived, I smashed some garlic and, at first, got some buttermilk and regular milk together and heated it up. The buttermilk, however, was acidic enough to curdle the milk, which, in turn, got the proteins in the buttermilk to do the same thing and it was just all curds and whey and a scum of melted butter on top. Not at all appetizing. So I threw that all out, and just put three quarters of a can of the low-fat chicken stock, added a tablespoon of butter, and all the smashed garlic. It was one of those times when I had to make a decision and I was glad of the one that I made, not what I'd originally intended, but one that was also good. It was enough liquids for six potatoes, and I thought that that little butter would be enough to give it all just that added note of richness above the stock and it turned out well.
The roasting pan was cool enough to handle, so I started pouring off all the roasting juices into a separator cup. It took five pours and nearly two thirds of every cup was turkey fat, which I poured off into various fat catchers that I could then just put into the trash. All of the juices went into a quart sized measuring cup. I then got a fair sized wok out as well as my nylon whisk, which wouldn't damage the finish/seasoning on the wok, and poured a bunch of turkey fat into the bottom of the wok. I then spooned flour in until it created a paste and put it on the heat. It heated up nicely and with the whisk I just blended it and blended it until it turned into a bubbly roux and after all the practice on biscuits and gravy and other gravies I've done for the last year, I was patient enough to let the roux cook and cook until it was nutty in scent as well as in color. In went all the drippings, in went the last of the can of stock I'd used for the mashed, in went another can of chicken broth, and finally I started pouring the giblet stock into the gravy until it was just a degree or two thinner than I wanted the gravy to be. I then left it to simmer while talking with folks.
Matt had fun saying that I was the cleanest cook he'd ever seen. Debbie's calamata olive bread went into the oven while we talked. I thought I was doing okay on the cleaning 'cause with most of the items staged the way they were I had a little time to clean pots and pans and dishes between items. Boris and Forden were rampaging happily all over the yard. Fezzik was doing his best to walk after them and see what they were doing. He followed them around and around for a while until he just gave up and lay down again. Boris escaped the fenced area when Bob came and opened the gate so that he could pull his car into the yard, and it took some chasing by Debbie and Matt to get the pup back. John gave Fezzik a cow bone in and he was chewing on it when Bob and Mai arrived, and he didn't even really give Bob a look, even when Bob patted him on the head while coming in. John, in the meantime, tackled the turkey and was slicing it up happily. I got the potatoes drained and had someone mash them with the masher while I cut up a Jonagold apple and pecans to put into the spinach salad. I had fun dressing the salad by hand, literally using my hand to turn all the stuff through the dressing, it's the most gentle salad mixer there is. I asked folks if anyone didn't like blue cheese and Mai asked me what it was, so I thought about it and just put it on the salad, so she'd get to try it in context rather than alone. Everyone else liked the stuff, so I crumbled a very large amount of Stilton over the whole salad.
By the time all that was done, the gravy had simmered a good long time and needed a bit more liquid whisked into it and pretty much everything was ready for dinner. The dogs stayed outside, and we all sat down to eat. And eat and eat and eat. It had all turned out really well. The turkey wasn't the juiciest I've ever eaten, but it wasn't too dry, especially with the gravy, which had turned out really well. I think the extra simmering actually helped the gravy a lot. The salad was exactly what I'd wanted it to be, and just barely enough for everyone. Mai was cool and told me that she rarely complements people on their American cooking because American cooking so rarely tastes good to her palate, but that this time it really was a dinner she enjoyed! So that was very nice. She also had fun asking Bob what was traditional and what wasn't, and asking me for recipes for everything as she'd never even seen the green bean casserole before and had never tried fresh cranberry sauce, either. There were cool jokes about this being an exercise for Thanksgiving, getting everyone's capacity in tune for the Big Turkey Day.
That was cool.
After dinner the dogs were let in and given turkey and everyone lay around the livingroom in post-turkey happy stupor. Fezzik pretty just sprawled next to the door, where he'd lain to get turkey, and the other two dogs were in the livingroom getting scritches. He seemed kind of lonely over there, but showed absolutely no sign of getting up. So I went over to him, kneeled on the floor, and started pushing him over to the livingroom over the wood floors. The floors are so slippery and his fur made it easy to just push him across it. I was giggling like crazy as I did it, and soon everyone came to look and have a giggle. Mai was mildly horrified that Fezzik wasn't getting up or anything and was having such trouble with his back legs, which is entirely understandable. John and I have been living with it for so long, it's not a problem, but with someone who'd never seen him get worse, it was a bit of a shock. Still, Fezzik didn't seem to mind at all and slid with perfect aplomb across the floor that's been his nemesis for a while.
Fezzik also got over to where everyone was and he even turned onto his chest to get scritches and watch everyone sleepily while he was there with everyone. He seemed very content. He got even more content after the very long conversations we had about turkey, traditional dinners, and food chemistry and we actually got Debbie's desserts out. She's brought a lovely mocha cake for the humans and a pumpkin pie for the dogs. I pulled out the Readi-Whip whipping cream and on the first *woosh* Boris levitated from the floor. Turns out Boris and Forden know the sound of whipped cream and they love the stuff. So they were ready and eager.
All the dogs got taken out onto the kitchen porch and a good thing too. Fezzik leaned forward to eat from his plate, lost his balance, kicked his plate over and then stepped into his pie with his hind food before sliding to a rather pretzelled sit. Poor pup. I got most of the pie into my hands and from there into his mouth; but John was good and cut him another slice while Boris and Forden helped Fezzik clean his foot and the porch up. Fezzik contentedly ate his second piece.
Decaf coffee and cake was very, very good. The mocha cake was lovely, rich, not too sweet. Layers of rich chocolate cake with chocolate and mocha butter cream frosting between them and it was all iced in a chocolate ganache with small flowers of mocha cream and chocolate coffee beans. Perfect with the coffee. A really great ending to the meal.
Eventually folks said their good-byes and it was only 8 p.m.. All that and an early evening as well. Everyone took home turkey and there was likely half the meat still left. I knew I wouldn't have the energy, the next few days, to make stock, so we just tossed the bones. All the little scraps went into Fezzik's bowl along with some leftover rice and he ate that happily.
Fezzik then staggered out when Boris and Forden said their good-byes. Matt and Debbie and the dogs stayed in the house when Mai and Bob left so there was no repeat of the gate escape, but all the dogs went out when it was time and Fezzik fell pretty hard on the same wood floor I'd pushed him across earlier and had problems doing anything but sitting or lying down on the porch once he did get out. Or maybe he just wasn't motivated to do much more. Either case, he lay there, gnawing on the ice and on his bone for a while after everyone had left, and when John and I were about to go to bed he'd disappeared from there and wasn't on his bed. I wandered onto the front porch and he was in his nest behind the bushes and while he looked at me when I went out, he didn't move at all and made absolutely no move to try and come in. I guess he was content to just lie there and I didn't hear a peep from him all night.
I think he enjoyed having the company and having the people over and he certainly enjoyed the food even though he wasn't particularly mobile. John said Fezzik seemed mildly frustrated while trying to catch Boris and Forden, that his body wouldn't do what he wanted it to do anymore. But, on the whole, I think he enjoyed all the activity and the treats.