Maybe this is a weird thing to be proud of, but I didn’t write any lead-up to Thanksgiving post this year and it felt really nice. So much of the writing about Thanksgiving is unnecessary: seriously, anything you need to know about turkey or cranberry sauce or stuffing has already been written. The fact that it’s a “new spin” on whatever is really just an opportunity to get you to click, buy, forward, ReTweet, etc. So I avoided all that and then went to Boca Raton, Florida where my family lives and where I promptly fell ill with a mini-flu—chills, sweats, the works–and laid on the couch while my mom got me chicken soup from Too-Jay’s to supplement the bagels and rainbow cookies from Way Beyond Bagels. As for Thanksgiving dinner, it was a simple one this year, and that was a good thing. Mom brought in food that I helped heat up and everyone was happy; Thanksgiving really isn’t about reinventing the wheel, it’s about hitting the marks. This meal did that and my plate shows you what you want to see: the turkey, the stuffing (cornbread-based), mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, and vegetables that I infused with a little garlic and olive oil (OK, I didn’t just heat everything up). Here’s our whole family in one picture that my dad arranged with a timer:
In the top row that’s me, Craig, my uncle Mark, yet another Craig Johnson (my sis-in-law’s dad!), my dad, my mom, my brother, his wife Tali, their dog Lulu, Tali’s mom Gila, then moving left my grandfather, my grandmother, and my aunt Ellen. Despite my illness, it was a lovely Thanksgiving and way more fun to talk about after the fact! Hope yours was great too.
Here’s the thing about turkey. If I were making it for my family, this year, I’d go the Gina DePalma route (click that link for her excellent essay on how to keep it simple): a whole roasted bird, some butter, some stuffing, the end. But, as it happens, I’m not cooking for my family this year (we’re going out! “It’s just easier”) so last week I made a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving for some friends and threw tradition out the window. The first thing to go? The white meat. Sure, you can monitor the temperature and hope that it doesn’t taste like sandpaper when you roast it in the oven, but why bother when the dark meat–legs and thighs–are so much better? (Note: if you must have white meat, slow-roasting the breast is best.) Best of all, if you braise them, you can do everything the day before and it will only taste better. Let me repeat that. You can have all the turkey cooked the day before and don’t have to stress on Thanksgiving Day. That’s worthy of a parade right there.
America’s obsession with breasts goes far beyond the pages of Maxim magazine; it’s readily apparent in the poultry section. A large chicken breast for two now costs as much as a whole chicken. And a turkey breast can run as much as $15. America: stop your obsession with cleavage and lower your head a little. See those legs down there? They’re just as meaty, ten times more flavorful and very, very cheap. How cheap? Look how much I paid for these two enormous turkey legs.
Even though I shipped my cooking gear here to New York before arriving in September, things have been so busy and crazy it’s been difficult to find time behind the stove. When I get back from the west coast leg of my book tour (I leave tomorrow!) I have a lot of cooking I want to do; in the meantime, I’ve been checking many places off my New York “must eat” list. Here’s one of the best.
Finally, there’s the turkey itself. For years my mom tried to convince me to make just a turkey breast for the Thanksgivings I’d make at home. And for years I refused because I’d never made a whole turkey before and wanted to document that experience for the blog.
But because I was cooking a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving for just Craig and his aunt and uncle on Saturday, I knew a whole turkey didn’t make sense. And so it was that I bought a 2 1/4 pound turkey breast at Gelson’s already tied up and everything.
It’s that time of year again. First comes the “What To Do With Leftover Candy?” and the blood-tinted Halloween punch; then we’re in turkey month—just look at those glossies at your supermarket checkout—and, faster than you can say “hot buttered rum,” there’ll be the Bûche de Noëls, the potato latkes, and glasses of champagne to ring in the New Year.
Most mainstream food outlets—from blogs to magazines to cooking shows on T.V.—will follow the formula with precision. They’ve been plotting this since summer, when holiday strategy meetings took place: “What can we do this year that we didn’t do 50 times already?”
Yesterday morning I Tweeted the following Tweet: “Should I get a medal for not having any Thanksgiving content on my blog (minus the banner?) Or should I cave and make some turkey & pie?”
Several followers felt I deserved a medal (“Don’t cave! It’s a welcome respite from the ‘holiday spirit,'” wrote @laujk; “Please no Thanksgiving stuff. I haven’t bought a food magazine all month. Super boring. (especially for us Canadians,” wrote @emmawaverman.”) Ultimately, though, enough people DID want Thanksgiving content (“Embrace the festivities,” wrote @5_minutespeace; “Cave–it’s fun to see everyone’s take/ideas,” wrote @FreshTartSteph) that I decided to do a round-up of all the recipes from my blog’s archives that’d be perfect at your Thanksgiving table.
Here’s an appropriate video for those of you preparing to feast tomorrow; it’s a montage of scenes from great food movies (“Big Night,” “Like Water For Chocolate,” “Goodfellas,” etc) created by Matt Zoller Seitz:
That Thanksgiving scene from “Avalon” fueled a running punchline in my family; every Thanksgiving my dad would say, in a thick Yiddish accent, “You cut the toikey?” My mom would say it too. And thus I hope you all have fun cutting your toikeys tomorrow.