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.
Calculate 1/3 to 1/2 cup gravy per person (if you want leftovers.) Multiply the proportions accordingly. This gravy is fairly thin; the flour adds 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 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.
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
1. In a large saucepan, combine the turkey parts, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover with 1 ½ inches of water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Adjust the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook for 1 hour or longer if you have time. Check occasionally to ensure that the liquid doesn’t boil away. Strain the stock and discard the vegetables and turkey parts.
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup cold water
Low-salt chicken broth as needed
1. Remove the turkey from the oven and set it on a platter to rest before carving (at least 20 minutes). Pour the juices and fat from the roasting pan into a large (4 cup) Pyrex measuring cup. Let it rest for about 5 minutes to allow the fat to separate and rise to the top. With a small ladle or spoon, skim off and discard the fat.
2. Pour 1 cup turkey stock into the roasting pan and stir with a whisk or flat-ended wooden spoon to release the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the de-fatted turkey drippings. Strain back into the measuring cup. Add enough turkey stock to make 4 cups. If you don’t have enough stock, add chicken broth. Pour into a saucepan.
3. Mix the flour with the 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 saucepan with the stock and turkey drippings and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Adjust the heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, for at least 5 minutes to rid the gravy of its uncooked floury taste. Make more slurry and add as needed if you prefer a thicker gravy. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
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.
Cranberry Relish (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 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.