If you are an anxiety type, Thanksgiving presents two excellent opportunities for worry. The first and most obvious is: What will you do if there are family dynamics? A recent article in the New York Times laid this out very nicely. What to do? Duck! And I don’t mean the quack-quack kind of duck, but the verb.
In the wise words of a very wise teacher, just because someone hands you a X#*P (expletive meaning not-so-good tasting) sandwich doesn’t mean you have to take a bite. (Rudi did not beat about the bush.) So when the family starts acting up, don’t take a bite of that sandwich. It’s only a day. They’ll be gone soon enough. Whatever you do, don’t take it personally. Holidays bring out the best and worst in all of us, so it’s best to breathe deeply, and cut everyone a little slack. So much easier said than done. Or you could go to the Caribbean.
The second source of anxiety is the turkey gravy. Now this is in the don’t-sweat-the-small-stuff category. In the face of family feuds, gravy is something you can actually do something about. I’m going to give you my quick and dirty on this right now, starting with: How much gravy do you need? Personally, I don’t want vats of gravy lying around after Turkey Day to remind me of excesses I do not wish to be reminded of. I do want enough to go with my second or third day of leftovers, however. A quarter of a cup of gravy is quite enough for one reasonably restrained person who will not be going back for seconds. Since “reasonably restrained” and Thanksgiving are incompatible, count on 1/3 to 1/2 cup gravy per turkey eater. Then add what you want for leftovers. Now you have a number you can work with.
You will find many, many methods for making gravy. Just pick one and stick with it. Here is mine, which is based on the fact that Mom always used an old-fashioned aluminum gravy shaker. One day I spied a plastic version of it in a cookware shop and snapped it up. Now, it’s a little late in the game to try to find one of these for this year, but keep your eyes peeled for the future. I’ve seen them on e-bay. I’m not very high on extraneous kitchen gadgets that have a single purpose, but this little gizmo allows you to combine flour with cold water to create a smooth slurry in the shake of a…. Anyway, you can do the same thing in a bowl by whisking flour and cold water together. Or you could use Wondra (instant flour) which solves the lumpy problem. If you can’t get the lumps out, simply strain the mixture BEFORE you add it to the stock.
Makes 4 cups to serve 8 to 12 (recipe can be multiplied)
Turkey neck and wing tips
1/2 onion, peeled and sliced
1 carrot, thickly sliced
1 stalk of celery, thickly sliced
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
4 or more tablespoons flour
Low-salt chicken broth as needed
1. As soon as the turkey goes in the oven, put the turkey neck and the wing tips (if you have cut them off the turkey) in a large saucepan with the onion, carrot, celery and bay leaf. Add a pinch of salt and a few grindings of black pepper. Cover with about an inch of water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Decrease the heat so that the stock simmers gently while the turkey roasts, for at least one hour. Just be sure the liquid doesn’t boil away. Strain the stock.
2. When the turkey is done, remove it from the roasting pan and set it on a platter to rest for a while before carving (at least 30 minutes.) Pour all the juices and fat from the roasting pan into a large (4 cup) Pyrex measuring cup or glass bowl. Let it rest for about 5 minutes to allow the fat to separate and rise to the top. Skim off and discard the fat.
3. Pour about 1 cup of the turkey stock you made in step one into the roasting pan and stir with a whisk to release all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the turkey drippings (now de-fatted) to the pan and stir some more. Strain all of this back into the measuring cup to see how much you have and to rid the stock of any unwanted crusty bits from the bottom of the pan. Add enough turkey stock to the measuring cup to make four cups. If you don’t have enough stock, add chicken broth. Pour it into a saucepan.
4. Mix the flour with 1/3 cup cold water until smooth, using a gravy shaker, or whisking it in a bowl to smooth out the lumps. Strain if you can’t get the lumps out. Whisk this slurry into the stock and bring it to a boil. Simmer for at least 5 minutes to rid the gravy of the raw flour taste. The amount of flour depends on your taste. My view on this is that it should be fairly thin; the flour should just add a little body to the stock without making it goopy. If you want thicker gravy, repeat the flour and water exercise, and add it cautiously and in increments to the gravy. It will thicken as it cooks, so give it a little time (5 to 6 minutes) before you jump in with more flour. Season with salt and pepper.
I have one more recipe to share for Thanksgiving. This cranberry relish has become a must-have on our family’s list. I never mind making it because it takes all of about 4 minutes. It is fresh, and bright and slightly puckery. You can use the leftovers to make pancakes, too. Don’t add the relish to the batter, but when you pour the batter onto the griddle, dribble a few teaspoons of it over the top and continue to cook the pancake in the usual way. Hmm…. You could sprinkle on a few pecans, too. But I digress.
Makes 4 cups
Makes 4 cups
1 lemon (if you can find a Meyer lemon, that would be nice)
1 (12-ounce) package of cranberries
2 cups of sugar
1. Cut thin slices off the bottom and top of the orange and the lemon to expose the flesh and discard the slices. Slice the fruit into thin-ish rounds, removing the pits as you slice, and toss them into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the machine until the fruit is coarsely chopped. Add the cranberries and pulse again. Stop before it becomes a puree. Pour it into a bowl, stir in the sugar and refrigerate. It’s best if you make it a few hours ahead of time. As far as I can tell it keeps forever in the refrigerator. That’s all there is to it.
If you get on a cranberry sauce-making jag, here is another one from Dorie Greenspan in Parade Magazine that is terrific and would complement the relish nicely.Dorie's Cranberry Sauce with Apricots
Wishing you a happy and stress-free Thanksgiving. Even though times have been tough for a lot of people, it is good to set aside a day to count our blessings. Amen.