Something about the Thanksgiving, regardless of where I have dinner, what I eat, or who I see, always makes me feel warm and happy inside (and sleepy too). Having grown up in an Asian family, we don't celebrate Thanksgiving as a holiday to be thankful for things, but rather as a way to make lots of food and see friends and relatives. I always feel a little guilty when we start on the food without giving thanks or any such thing. But I guess it's implicit in the way we enjoy each ourselves :) I have yet to master the skill of being able to handle making all the dishes for a Thanksgiving dinner with ease (how exactly does one person manage to crank out a zillion dishes in the kitchen yet keep them all nice and warm for the moment when everything can be served?). However, I can say that this year was more successful than the last, because for starters… I didn't burn the turkey again this time haha.
We had two families over at my house for Thanksgiving, which was nice because it meant more people to eat the food! I can't tell you how disheartening it is to put a lot of variety into the dishes only to see that there is too much left over because a small handful of people can only eat so much food. This year, I was in charge of making the turkey, the mashed potatoes, the stuffing, and the dessert. In previous years when the food was for our family alone, I have experimented with other dishes like baked corn, sweet potato chowder with curry, and candied yams. With all this on my hands, I never had time to make dessert. Plus, nobody ever had room left afterwards. So this year, with a bunch of guests coming, my mom wanted to make a bunch of Chinese dishes, which left me with much more time to make a dessert… and we all know how happy that makes me hehe. Oh and the dessert gets its own entry :)
A lot of logic must go into the design and preparation of a meal, and I love this about cooking in general. I know that the way to make the juiciest turkey is to use an oven bag, but having tried it the past two years, I knew that it was next to impossible to get a beautiful brown and crisp skin – essentially the centerpiece of a Thanksgiving dinner. I was stressing over how to keep the turkey moist when the Thanksgiving dinner episode of America's Test Kitchen (a more trustworthy source of cooking tips than even the Food Network) came on TV. What a lifesaver!
My mom bought a 12 pound turkey this year, and when I came home on Wednesday night, it was thankfully already thawed and ready to take a bath in brine. I placed the turkey in the largest dutch oven I could find, filled with about 2 gallons of water plus 2 cups of salt and some star anise. It brined overnight in the cold, and the next morning we took the turkey out to air-dry (important for good skin!). Four hours before dinner was to be served, our turkey got patted down with paper towels and a coating of melted butter on its skin. When you brush the melted butter on, the coldness of the turkey turns the butter solid, which is great because it coats nicely and doesn't drip off like vegetable oils tend to. Then I sprinkled on top a mixture of salt, garlic powder, and herbs, and the bird was ready for the oven!
To crisp and brown the skin, I roasted the turkey at 425 degrees F for the first 45 minutes or so, until the skin was brown and beautiful. I could hear the sizzling from the butter the entire time, so it almost becomes like you're frying the outer skin, that's why you want the temperature so high. Then after the turkey browned, I turned down the temperature to 350 degrees for an hour and a half to prevent overcooking the meat, and finally for the last 45 minutes I placed a foil tent on the breast and turned the temperature further down to 325. I usually budget about 15 minutes per pound of roasting time when the turkey is unstuffed (25 min/lb if stuffed), so my turkey roasted a little under 3 hours. Then I took it out to settle for about 20 minutes before my mom carved it up. The turkey itself came out beautifully browned, and was juicy and tender, although my mom carved the breast and served that to the guests, so they all got to eat the driest part of my turkey lol, but with our big Asian dinner, the turkey was really just another dish, so it wasn't that big of a deal. I ran out of time and couldn't make a gravy from the drippings, so we went with canned mushroom gravy, which was fine except it was kind of thick.
For the stuffing, which I chose to make outside of the turkey this year, I cut up 5 slices of white bread into cubes, and tossed them with diced carrots, celery, onions, shitake mushrooms, Chinese sausage, and shrimp. It was cooked on the stovetop with a light brown sauce (combination of oyster and hoisin) so the consistency was still wet and saucy like stuffing cooked inside the turkey. I like giving the idea of an Asian fusion stuffing, and you'll see the concept again in my mashed potatoes, because it suits the Westernized aspect of my palette while still bringing back the Asian flavors of my upbringing (and reaches out to my family too). Of course, most people at the dinner table were confused with the stuffing, I think because it looked more like a Chinese dish than a pile of stuffing, probably also due to the addition of shrimp haha. Next time maybe we'll have to introduce all the dishes before people dig in.
My final contribution to the dinner was a mashed potato dish that was not only healthy but also Asian-inspired. I peeled and quartered six fist-sized red potatoes, then let them boil in a pot of salted water. When they were soft (probably about 15-20 minutes), I strained them out and mashed them to a smooth pulp with a hand masher. Next I added about 3/4 cup of skim milk, 2 tbsp of butter, 3 cloves of minced garlic, 1 tsp of sesame oil, and a few dashes of white pepper, and folded everything in with a fork to aerate the potatoes a bit. Finally I added salt to taste, and it was ready to serve. I wanted to garnish with some chopped scallions, but forgot, oops lol. I felt pretty good about the fact that this was the dish I was able to make with the most ease, not only because I've played around with the recipe at least 4 or 5 times before, but also because the potatoes boiled up perfectly. In the past I've had a mishap once where the potatoes turned into a really gross mess that reminded me literally of glue. That was a pretty disappointing attempt. Other times I underboil and then I have to spend lots of time mashing the leftover chunks. My biggest problem with making mashed potatoes though is that it gets cold so easily, and nobody wants to eat cold mashed potatoes. Short of sticking the whole thing into the oven again before the guests arrive, what other way is there of keeping it warm? I'm glad the flavor came out quite well though, Thanksgiving would never be complete for me without a good mashed potato side to go with my turkey.
Now then, the rest of the dishes at the table, courtesy of my mother:
There was also ginger soy noodles with scallions and pot roast pieces, and spaghetti squash plus daikon with shredded pork that I've posted before from a different dinner party (you can see them in the backgrounds of some of the pictures above too). All in all, a very plentiful meal with some great company :) I got to catch up with a childhood friend, which was great.