Monday, November 23, 2009

countdown to thanksgiving!

although the danes have not at all caught on to the joys of thanksgiving as the kick-off to the holiday season, i do my part, year after year, in my little corner of denmark, to introduce people to it. i think i always loved it best. it is really what starts the countdown towards christmas. when i lived in the US, i would go get my christmas tree the day after thanksgiving and put it up on saturday, so we could enjoy it for nearly a whole month! i love getting out the ornaments, nestled in their bits of tissue paper, feeling like they're presents in and of themselves, as i remember each one. oh, but i'm getting a bit ahead of myself here....back to thanksgiving.

this year will be no different. we've invited 21 people to partake in our thanksgiving, which will be next saturday, not on real thanksgiving, since the silly danes don't realize it's a holiday. sigh. so my plans and preparations are already underway. i've ordered extra veggies from the folks who bring my organic box (21 people will eat a lot of mashed potatoes), i bought a whole tray of eggs from a lovely old lady who has chickens, i've stocked up on butter and most important of all, i went to my butcher and ordered a fresh turkey big enough to feed 21 people. i pick it up on thursday afternoon and that's when i will put it immediately into its brine. because brining the turkey is the very best way to make what is potentially dry and boring into something luscious and succulent. of course, i learned this from nigella (who else helps us making things luscious and succulent?). it's in her nigella christmas cookbook (one which i highly recommend, tho' if you have feast, you already have many of the recipes).

here's what you do (the photo above is from last year's turkey, mine will go in on thursday afternoon and be roasted on saturday):

brined turkey

approx. 6 liters of water
1 large orange or two smaller, quartered, with the peel left on (i can see above that i took the picture before i added those)
1 250g packet of maldon sea salt (or other quality, flaky salt or 125g ordinary table salt)
1 bouquet garni (i use thyme, rosemary, sage (sage is perfect with turkey)bay leaf)
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
4 cloves
2 tablespoons allspice (whole)
2 tablespoons mixed peppercorns
4 star anise
2 tablespoons white mustard seeds
200g sugar
2 onions (unpeeled), quartered
1 6cm piece of ginger (unpeeled), but into slices
4 tablespoons maple syrup
4 tablespoons runny honey
a big handful of parsley

mix this up in a pot or bucket large enough to hold your turkey and then submerge your turkey into the brine. if it's not enough water to cover it, add some more water, then set it in a cool place for at least 24 hours and up to 2 days before roasting it. mine goes outside in my husband's workshop, which is only heated when he's working out there, so it's cool enough and doesn't take up valuable room in my refrigerator.

when it's time to roast the turkey, you remove it from the brine and wipe it dry at least an hour before you intend to begin roasting it. nigella bastes with a mixture of goose fat and maple syrup. i don't tend to go the trouble to find goose fat (tho' i know it's delicious) so i use butter. melt the butter and maple syrup together and baste the turkey (and stuff it if you're so inclined) before putting it into the oven. baste it periodically while it's roasting. the amount of time it needs depends, of course, on the size of your turkey and in all honesty, i refer to the butterball website to calculate the time my turkey needs. i also use a meat thermometer as our turkeys here in denmark don't come with one of those trusty little pop-up thingies on them to tell us when it's done. remember your turkey will need a bit longer if you stuff it, but i always stuff mine - and i think that stuffing that's been inside the turkey is the best!

i tend to make a very traditional, simple stuffing like my mom makes, with cubed up leftover bread (i'll save it all week in my big mixing bowl, so it's nice and dry by saturday), the giblets (which i cook with an onion and carrot and parsley, reserving the liquid to wet the bread cubes), plenty of sage, salt and pepper. it acquires its flavor from being inside the turkey, so it doesn't need anything fancy.

last year's pie, before i put pretty little cutout pumpkins along the edge to prettify the crust.
and yes, that is a gin & tonic right beside it (hendrick's gin, of course).

i am a bit of a traditionalist where thanksgiving is concerned. i think you have to have mashed potatoes, stuffing, a good gravy, sweet potatoes, green beans, a corn dish, cranberries and pumpkin pie. i remember being horrified when someone one year suggested lasagna for thanksgiving, because that just wasn't in my purview, tradition-wise. but i'm not afraid to give these traditional dishes a twist.

this year, epicurious has a pretty nifty little thanksgiving menu generator, where you tell it exactly how traditional you want to be and it pops out a suggested menu. here's the one it gave me, when i told it i wanted traditional with a twist:

of these, i think i'm going to go for the cider glazed roasted root vegetables and the persimmon cranberry sauce. i might make my favorite green bean recipe rather than the traditional green beans with mushroom soup and those french's onions (which i can't get here anyway, tho' danish ristetløg are close) that my mom always makes. i'm also going to find a way to use some beautiful, ruby red pomegranates. and this year, i might make a salad, just to have something lighter on the table to balance all of the heavy things. but i will make a traditional pumpkin pie, i just can't stray from that. and like my mom, i'll undoubtedly make an apple pie too.

* * *
favorite green beans

300g bacon, cut into small pieces and fried 'til crispy
1 medium onion, diced and sautéed
500g  green beans (preferably fresh, but i have been known to use frozen in a pinch), cleaned and cut in half.
100g salty (or smoked) almonds, chopped roughly

sauté your bacon until crispy, remove it and place it on kitchen towel to soak up the extra fat. sauté the onions in the bacon fat. give the green beans 3-5 minutes in salted boiling water, taking care not to let them lose their bright green color. tip the bacon back in with the onions and add the boiled, drained green beans. stir and let the beans cook a bit more. just before serving, add the almonds and stir them through.

i make this recipe quite often. you can actually use asparagus or even brussels sprouts instead of green beans, but that's because bacon makes anything taste great.

* * *

of course, i have to find ways of incorporating local ingredients and the local palate into the menu, in order to recognize the reality of where i live (for example, there's no canned pumpkin here, so i'll cook up a pumpkin for my pie this week). one way in which i'll incorporate a danish twist to the thanksgiving tradition is in making a batch or two of homemade schnapps. you do it by buying a plain, unflavored schnapps (brondums is the kind i'll get) and adding something yummy and letting it soak. i'll make a horseradish one to go with the cranberry one from last year. different ingredients need different amounts of time to soak in the alcohol. and the horseradish is best if it only has 2-3 days in the alcohol before serving. the cranberry, i made last year and now it's a pretty pink and tastes just lightly of cranberries. it'll be perfect for toasts during the meal.

although i love making this meal, i'll undoubtedly get all stressed out around noon on saturday, in a total panic that i'll never have it all ready in time for the guests to arrive at 4 p.m. it doesn't help that danes have an annoying habit of arriving early, rather than fashionably late (what is that?), but it will all come together. i think back to my mom, who i don't recall ever showing any sign of stress about the thanksgiving meal. and i remember once when my uncle showed up with five unexpected extra guests. mom just calmly said, "go down the basement and get another leaf for the table, will you, julie? and set some extra plates." but other than that, she was completely unfazed. it was truly impressive. and i wish i could have a bit more of that. but even still, it's my favorite day of the year and i look forward to sharing it with friends and family - a little bit of the traditions of home, adapted to my country of choice. and everyone thinking, for a few hours, about the things they're thankful for. that's the best part. well, that and the brined turkey.


Elizabeth said...

You have your work cut out this week.
If you ever are lost for inspiration I would like to see you recipe for butternut squash and apple soup, sounds intriging to me.

Have fun with the preparations and a wonderful dinner.

kristina said...

Very impressed you're cooking dinner for 21! My family definitely prefers traditional (absolutely must have pumpkin pie) and every year my sister-in-law causes waves by trying to radically alter the menu in very un-Thanksgiving-y ways! K x

Bee said...

21 for dinner? No wonder you've incorporated schnapps (or gin and tonics) into the traditional process.

This may be the Nigella effect, but goose fat is readily available in UK grocery stores. I've already purchased mine; we only have it at holidays, but it does make roast potatoes extra-luscious.

I love a turkey -- that someone else has made. I can't have Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, though, and we tend to have several of them in November. I definitely adhere to a traditionalist point-of-view on this holiday. One year we celebrated with my sister-in-law's family and they brought dessert: cheesecake. (We probably weren't as gracious as we should have been.) You remind me that I should start baking!

Deb said...

I love that your turkey is brine-ing in the workshop...My mom's is always in the bathtub! Ha! I'm intrigued by the corn dish! Not traditional at our house...what do you fix?

Lots of great info here and beautiful photos.. Thanks!

Mari Mansourian said...

mmmm lot's of goodies here, sounds like your home will be full for thanksgiving. this holiday was a new one for us too when we immigrated into the US many years ago, but love to celebrate it now (hey of course food is involved..why wouldn't we), as much as we must have the turkey, we added allot of our own favorites on the table as the years have gone by, so as untraditional as our table looks, we still enjoy gathering with family and friends and good food, :)
hey everyone, stop by my corner today for a recipe swap day :)

Anne said...

I have strangely fond memories of cooking for 20. In recent years it's been more like 8-12. This year, however, even though I will eat Thanksgiving dinner, I won't be cooking at all. I'm feeling rather wistful about it--it doesn't really feel like Thanksgiving unless I'm spending all day in the kitchen putting together a feast.

Your Thanksgiving menu sounds lovely! I've never had green beans with bacon, but I have every confidence that they'll be delicious. And I must try that brine of Nigella's. Maybe next year... or earlier if I try it on a chicken.


Related Posts with Thumbnails