~The Aftermath of Thanksgiving Dinner~

Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is from my weekly newspaper column, coincidentally called On The Homefront. I speak to my readers as if they are my friends (actually many of them are, and even more are relatives–I am related to almost everyone in my corner of the world, and I may be mistaken, but I think some of their cats are related to mine.)

Like many of you, we had Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving Sunday, and now the remnants of a fairly decent meal sit in my fridge. The remnants are the best kind of leftovers there are, just waiting to be made into  soups and casseroles (in other households not mine) and the piece de resistance—the turkey sandwich. There are many ways to build a turkey sandwich and we all have our favourites, mine being white meat on buttered white bread (I know, I know, it should be a whole grain bread, but it is not) with a little mayo, lettuce, a tiny bit of salt on the lettuce, and then the sandwich cut into four dainty pieces. To make the meal complete it should be served with a side of cranberry sauce, green onions, and potato chips (if ever there was a politically incorrect meal, this is it.)

But let us go back to before the leftovers. Back to yesterday, when I was fixing the grand meal for Thanksgiving. I always have lots of food for Thanksgiving, as if I am expecting to feed an army. I guess I think the bounty of the harvest season should be on my table. The good thing about my “over cooking” is that we have lots of leftovers, which at Thanksgiving is a good thing (here I am, channelling Martha again). Speaking of channelling………

As many of you know I am not a domestic diva or gourmet goddess. I cook because we need to eat, which makes me a very practical (read: fast as I can) cook. I enjoy reading gourmet; I do not particularly enjoy cooking gourmet. So yesterday while I was making a couple of new recipes (yes, actual recipes—I was not just cooking by rote) I channelled a couple of my favourite Food Network personalities: Michael Smith, most recently star of Chef  Michael’s Kitchen and Chef at Home, and the Barefoot Contessa or “how easy is that” Ina Garten.

Michael Smith, a bona fide chef, and Ina Garten, a former caterer and now famous cook, are both somewhat laid back but at the same time enthusiastic about cooking. And that is exactly what I need in the kitchen–a little enthusiasm as I peel, and chop, and cut. And follow a recipe. Most of the time when I cook, it is tried and true stuff I have made hundreds of times, thus need no instructions (take frozen lasagna out of freezer, take off plastic covering, insert into oven, set timer).

Yesterday was very similar to every holiday when I cook a turkey, as it is never as easy as you think it is going to be. In an effort not to wrestle with a thawed out turkey I got one of those already stuffed birds that you do not have to thaw before cooking. But you do have to run it under warm water for a couple of minutes. I found out why when I took off the plastic wrapping. It is to make it possible to remove a plastic package of innards (ugh) and the neck (double ugh) that is tucked beneath an immovable wing. It took a bit of a tug of war, and my youngest son pulling the stupid plastic bag from under the frozen wing with all his might (and he is no little guy at 6’1” and over 180 pounds) which led me to declare the statement I make every holiday without fail: “Hope you enjoy this bird today, because it is the last one I make” and restate my vow to celebrate all future holidays with a pot of chili.

Once we had the plastic bag and neck loose and deposited promptly in the garbage (look away those of you who find this blasphemy and boil this stuff to make gravy) I proceeded to pour some melted butter over the turkey and shove it in the oven (covering parts of it with foil as instructed). Then I just basically forgot about it—which is the way I like to cook.

Cranberries popping

Cranberries popping (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I came close to enjoying the prep of the rest of the meal: the apple and sweet potato casserole with a yummy syrup was pretty darn good (even though I forgot the cinnamon); the green stuff with marshmallows was a hit; the roasted potatoes a can’t miss; and the made from scratch cranberry sauce (which I am so proud of ) was good too. If nothing else, I am a gravy aficionado—so the gravy was delicious. The meal was crowned by pumpkin pie (with my cheat of Cool Whip on top) and spice cake with cream cheese icing. All in all, it was a decent meal—with Michael and his enthusiasm and Ina and her “how easy is that?” attitude keeping me company (plus a little calming piano music in the background, and a glass of wine that helped take the edge off.)

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, and better yet, that you are still enjoying a few leftovers.

Potlucks are not for the faint of heart

Recipes

Recipes (Photo credit: pirate johnny)

Hey, if you are going to be snobbish about it, forget adding me to your list of fans. Daniel Humm, executive chef of Eleven Madison Park in New York says that people who do not have a certain “level of skill” should relegate his new cookbook to the coffee table rather than near their cook top. According to a short article in the National Post, he says that the recipes in his book require (besides skill) a “significant time commitment, a reasonably equipped kitchen, and a healthy dose of persistence”. So I assume making a meal in fifteen minutes is not a significant time commitment, and the attention span of a baby rabbit and the skill set of an impatient “get in on the table so we can chow down kind of cook” are not the proper credentials needed to cook from “Eleven Madison Park:  The Cookbook”.

Well, Monsieur Humm, methinks your cookbook is not for me. Actually, that is not altogether true—as I treat reading cook books as kind of a hobby. I love to read about food, about exotic ingredients combined in unusual ways to create magnificence, all the while stirring 1% milk into my macaroni and cheese and warming up meatballs from the frozen section of the grocery store.

I have long made fun of my skills as a cook, and I have a friend who calls me on it, saying that she thinks I use my “phantom lack of skills” to ward off any criticism of my cooking. And she is right. I am not a bad cook—my family is not starving, and I can be creative in my own right—but I am not a particularly confident cook. I attended a small get together on Saturday night—a casual dinner party, and having volunteered to bring dessert, I had visions of all kinds of delectables I could make and offer to my friends. I usually volunteer to make the salad, but in my new quest to “take risks” I offered to bring the finale to the dinner instead.

I told my sister of this unusual offer to make dessert and she promptly emailed me an easy and foolproof recipe for dessert that she was sure would be a hit. She is aware of my skills, so sent something that had very few ingredients, and even fewer steps. I think that part of my problem is that I am a languid (synonym for lazy) cook, as well as a little unsure when it comes to feeding anyone outside my family (which includes my siblings and nieces and nephews, who are kind about my efforts).

I was determined to try the recipe. I made a list of the ingredients and was all set to buy them and “compose” a homemade dessert. Then I got cold feet. I perused the bakery section of a local grocery store and found a sinful dessert that would be sure to please. I considered buying the caramel chocolate mousse cake and putting it on a plate from home to “make it seem” as if I had baked it. But then, I decided on two things: I should practice baking before I tried the recipe on my friends, even though I knew my sister would not steer me wrong; and, to be honest. I presented the cake unapologetically in its original packaging. These were good friends—they would understand. And they did. But they did not know the angst that went into “buying” dessert.

Desserts from JusQytly

Desserts from JusQytly (Photo credit: laRuth)

I never judge when people bring “prepared” food to a potluck, as I understand their trepidation. I suffer from it too. To those of you out there who either do not care what people think about your cooking (good for you) or are such good cooks that you have great confidence from years of success, I honour your commitment to “homemade” and enjoy it immensely. There is also a faction out there who is unabashedly unapologetic—as they should be. They bring offerings that may not be “from their hands but still from their hearts” and I honour you too. We are all talented in different ways and being made to feel guilty because you do not make your offerings from scratch is just not hospitable.

So, this holiday season, as we all venture out to our potlucks, go with what makes your season bright and not stressful. If “homemade” is not your forte, that is what grocery stores and specialty shops are for. Some of us will reject Chef Humm’s cookbook except as a form of light reading, and others will relish it as an instruction manual that will garner rewards, which the Chef says is possible, if you follow the recipes “exactly”. By the way, I am going to try my sister’s recipe and report back—just not under the pressure of producing a grand ending to a great meal.

Published in: on November 28, 2011 at 9:35 pm  Comments (8)  
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