A Bird of One’s Own: A Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving for One

“You should do something on your site for Thanksgiving,” suggested my mom yesterday in the afternoon.

If only she knew the grand plan I’d been hatching over the past couple weeks. I was to invite hordes and hordes of friends over on Sunday to revel in the splendor of my autumnally decorated apartment; to clink glasses of champagne merrily and ogle over the gigantic turkey I roasted for hours in my perfectly heated oven. These friends would declare the experience “the best Thanksgiving they’d ever had” and mourn the fact that they were headed, in a few days, home to their family feasts: meals that would pale in comparison.

Yes, my plan was grand–Martha Stewart meets Frank Capra with music by John Tesh–and I carried it with me like a young Napoleon once carried the dream of conquering Europe. Only, unlike Napoleon, my dream was only that: a dream. A flight of fancy. Friends over on Sunday? Cook a giant turkey? John Tesh music? This would be impossible. And I’d practically given up.

But on my mom’s suggestion, I suddenly recalled an episode I watched of a certain someone’s show on The Food Network where she (this certain someone’s a woman) made an alternative Thanksgiving dinner with a guinea hen, cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce and roasted Brussels sprouts. This I could make and write about. And that’s in fact what I did. Behold, my Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving for One:

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Won’t you come inside and discover the identity of our secret someone and the recipes for this luscious meal?

Welcome! Kisses! You look great. Have you lost weight? Happy Pre-Thanksgiving.

Our special someone (do I even need to say it) is of course, Ina Garten (aka Barefoot Contessa) whose show is on Mondays and Tuesdays at 5 on the Food Network, conveniently after Judge Judy (who was, incidentally, in a feisty mood today (but isn’t she always?).) Lucky for all of us, the recipes for the dishes I’m about to discuss are all available on the foodtv site. I’ll even provide links. Nothing like boundless generosity on a family holiday, is there? Now say thank you, damn it!

Let’s start, as I did, with the cranberry sauce because it has to cool in the fridge while everything else cooks. After making this cranberry sauce, I’ve come to several conclusions:

1. Cranberry sauce is the greatest condiment known to man;

2. Any man who says otherwise shall be sentenced to death;

3. This particular cranberry sauce is the best I’ve ever had in my life and I want to eat it forever, even on inappropriate things like hot dogs and Chinese Food.

Oh, and.

4. It’s so easy to make that if, after reading this, you don’t make yours fresh this year, I will personally come over your house and beat you with a gigantic bottle of Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice, now in 7 delicious flavors!!

Here’s the link to the recipe; she calls it “cranberry fruit conserve,” I call it “manna from heaven.”

To begin with, you buy a bag of cranberries; you core, peel and chop a granny smith apple, you zest and juice a lemon and an orange. That’s it!

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Then you add water, sugar and all the cranberries to a saucepan over medium low heat:

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It’s 5 minutes or until the skins “pop open.” It was hard to tell if my skins were popping open and if I had to do it again I’d have waited a tiny drop longer. But it didn’t even matter. Once they pop even a little, you add the juice, the zest and the apple:

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Then it cooks for 15 minutes more and becomes: (dun dun dun dun):

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Mmm, now that’s what Thanksgiving’s all about, is it not? Pilgrims didn’t come over on the Mayflower to eat cranberry sauce from a can, did they? Hellz no. They came to bury their faces in rivers of this. And believe me, I’ve been burying my face in this for the past 48 hours. Literally, I was just in the kitchen with a spoon shoveling this into my mouth. You think I’m kidding? Ask my mouth.

Mouth: “It’s true.”

See?

But lest I bore you with tales of cranberry sauce glory, we’ll move on to the bird.

To make this bird, first you make stuffing to stuff in the bird. This is my first experience with stuffing and let me tell you, it’s a pleasant one. The recipe for the bird and the stuffing is here. Let’s proceed.

So for the stuffing, you cut up an onion and saute it in butter.

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Then you add that to a bowl with broken up corn bread, chicken stock, parsley and celery but I didn’t buy celery because I thought it was wasteful to buy a whole thing of celery only to use one stalk especially when I’m leaving for home on Wednesday. Mix that all together.

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Add salt and pepper and taste. It’s terrific. But don’t waste it, it’s going into your bird.

Now as for the bird, this was my first experience with guinea hens. The only synaptic connection my brain makes to guinea hens involves one of the greatest TV shows of all time, “Freaks and Geeks.” As a testament to how much I love this show, I actually spent a few hours last night trying to extract the scene from Episode 10 where Becky Ann Baker (Lindsay’s mom on the show) tries to spice up her marriage and break out of her routine by making roast guinea hen instead of meatloaf. Her unappreciative husband, played by the brilliant Joe Flaherty, makes a mockery of the meal–he does a little puppet show with the bird–and leaves the table to go make a sandwich. It’s a great scene and perfect for this moment in our post. But unfortunately, it’s encrypted and the only software that can crack encrypted DVDs requires you to specifically identify the chapter and title of that particular moment and it was too hard to nail it down. PLUS: it’s illegal.

So you’ll have to deal with just these guinea hens:

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They were way more expensive than I thought they’d be (they only came in packages of two and cost almost $20) but since I’d already gathered all the other ingredients, I wasn’t going to quibble over the price. Plus I got two meals out of them, so if you think about the money I saved on dinner tonight it’s… still pretty expensive.

As you can see, you rest the guinea hens on sliced onion, stuff them with the cornbread stuffing, tie the legs together, coat in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. It roasts in the oven for 30 minutes, which is 10 minutes less than it takes to roast your Brussels sprouts…

Here’s Ina’s recipe for Brussels sprouts but it’s not even a recipe, it’s a technique. Much like her little red potato technique or her fennel technique, you simply trim them (cut off the stem end and peel away yellow leaves), toss them in olive oil, sprinkle generously with kosher salt and pepper and place on a cookie sheet.

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35 minutes later, you have this:

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They’re perfectly caramelized: crisp on the outside, tender on the inside. Ina has you sprinkle an extra sprinkling of salt on top to make them more like french fries, and I’m not going to say no to that.

And with that, your pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving for one is complete! (Actually, this is perfectly suited for two (since there are two guinea hens.)) (If you’re just going to be with a spouse, lover, or mistress this Thanksgiving, you may want to try this approach.)

So I’m thankful that my mom prompted me to make a Thanksgiving post, especially since we’re going to a restaurant on the real Thanksgiving! (Mom wouldn’t let me cook for the family because (1) it’d be too messy; (2) I don’t have the right equipment; (3) It would take forever; (4) I’m just getting in the day before; (5) Etc. Etc.) But I’m not complaining. This, in a way, is perfect. Now I got the Thanksgiving cooking bug out of my system and I’m prepared to feast on a meal prepared by strangers but surrounded by the ones I love. And if I bring a canister of my own cranberry sauce in my pocket, who’s gonna know?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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