Thanksgiving 2005

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This will be a little unusual, but Im going to crossover this post with the Chef K blog.

We have 2 distinctly different stories here, both of which require hard examination. I'm going to be wearing 2 hats here, so you'll have to bear with me.

Im going to have to sit down with myself to hash this one out.. so "Enter mystery guest and please sign in...."

Chef K: Thanks for calling me in on this one, saves me alot of typing later.

RoanokeFound: Not a problem, besides - once I saw it, I knew you'd want in.

CK: Got that right...

RF: Allright - getting down to it, this article reports on a nationwide trend that is picking up steam here in Roanoke, the purchasing of holiday dinners.

CK: Now we are obviously not talking Swansons dinners here, were talking about turkeys in the 12-14 lb and up range, cooked for your convience, Hams cooked and glazed - sliced on the bone. Some turkeys Ive seen come the same way - they slice it after its cooked, and reassemble it so all you have to do is dish it out.

RF: Now the article says this is both convient and a god-send for those time-pressed families. Convienet, certainly. A god-send for time pressed families? Well thats where I take issue.

CK: Allright hold on a second here, let me tackle the convienence issue first. Yes, its great that you can go and get your turkey with all the trimmings ready to go. I will even admit to having a thanksgiving where we purchased everything pre-made. It's wonderful, but hollow.

RF: Hollow?

CK: Well, look at it this way. Most restaurants and similar places that do it, they have ovens that can easily fit upwards of 10 turkeys at a time. If they are smart they have slow-cooking ovens that can hold them warm too for when you pick them up. The average turkey costs them around 5 bucks, they allready have the spices and seasonings on hand - so theres no real charge for that. And a little secret for you, lest you think those turkeys are sitting in Cambro buckets soaking in brine for 24 hours before they are cooked. Sorry, no - they come packed in the brine.

RF: So what your saying is the turkey itself is probably costing them no more than 10 bucks start to finish to make?

CK: Yep.

RF: Wow.. and Im willing to bet the sides are similar.

CK: All in all, this is a bonanza for a restaurant that might not normally do much business on a monday or tuesday. They spend those two days making the sides, then leave the turkeys in the oven overnight into Wensday, and come Thursday - all they have to do is package it.

RF: Brilliant.

CK: And I might add alot of the stress about making the turkey is a myth anyway. The thing does not have to be in the oven for 8 hours, it does not need to be basted every 30 mins. Dressing only takes a half hour to make, and the gravy is even easier than that.

RF: I know my mother used to bang out cranberry sauce in less than an hour. Water, sugar, salt, cranberries. Thats all she needed to make the sauce.

CK: Thats pretty much all it should be too. Although I do love the gelatinous can-shaped hunk of cranberry sauce, it's not the same as the fresh stuff.

RF: But it is easier to put on a sandwich...

CK: So basically what Im saying is because people feel overwhelmed by Thanksgiving, the restaurants have struck gold.

RF: You mean because people are delusional and lazy...

CK: Wha?

RF: This nonsense about being hard-pressed for time. The notion of the on-the-go family. If you can't slow down to properly do Thanksgiving than maybe you should just eat a Big Mac instead.

CK: Well - it is true that families *feel* more crunched for time these days, regardless of wether or not thats the case. I know I work till 8 at night, and still manage to sit down to dinner every night. Wether I pre-make some of it, my wife makes it.. somehow dinner is being made, and we are sharing it as a family every night.

RF: But you never feel crunched for time right?

CK: Hell no.. Im a cool cat, no pressure kinda guy. It will get done, and done right, when it should be. Don't bring your panic to me because you have little league/soccer/football... I grew up playing in the street. We did not need teams and coaches, we knew how to entertain ourselves.

RF: Yep - I remember that, Two-hand touch football on the front lawn, tackle when it snowed. We would be out from daybreak and not back till sundown. I don't like this organized sports thing, takes kids away from being kids. Maybe instead of playing soccer with coaches and refs and timekeepers - they should just play till they decide to not play anymore. Or maybe they can just play pickup games of baseball, without having a strategy. The adults have brought a list of rules to a place where none should exist except those made on the spot.

CK: You got it. How can you get a ump to call an infield homerun because the trees hung the ball up long enough for you to round all the way home?

RF: You can't, and they would probably have the tree removed anyway.

CK: But aside from all that, what the real issue is - people are spending money for convience. Money which is pure proft for the restaurants...

RF: and would be better spent at home, where they could simply and easily do thanksgiving AND spend time with the family.

CK: The kitchen in any house is a collection point, everyone is in the kitchen at some point during a meal. Thats where grandma taught the kids how to make things, thats where the ancient family secrets were discussed.

RF: But take the kitchen out of the equation and your left with a brief visit to the dining room table, then off to the couch to belch and groan through football. Thereby limiting the family interaction.

CK: Tryptophan, the sleep-inducing compound found in turkey does not make for scintillating after-dinner conversation.

RF: No, but it does make for a nice nap.

CK: Lets talk for a moment about family histories.

RF: Umm.. k?

CK: In my family, there are two places you get to hear about the family history in detail. The kitchen and the table. The kitchen while cooking, and the table while playing cards.

RF: Right. Same in mine, at any gathering of the trible the family seems to come into the kitchen and all matters of discussion break out.

CK: But if you are buying the meals pre-made, where are you having those kitchen talks?

RF: Im going to guess your not, which might be why so many people feel its appropriate to tell you their life story at inappropriate times.

CK: Could be, but you have a habit of attracting the less sane anyway...

RF: Right. Hey, heres another point. Where are you going to learn all those cool tips?

CK: Exactly - my wife learned that a turkey must be fully thawed before thanksgiving a while ago. In her family, theres a tradition of teaching the poor birds how to swim on Thanksgiving.

RF: I have an aunt who has problems remembering to take the gizzards out before it goes in the oven.

CK: Nice.. well at least its halfway to gravy when it comes out.

RF: Never thought of it that way, too busy laughing.

CK: Heres a helpful tip for you to save time "basting" (which does nothing.. NOTHING for the meat of the bird): Take 1 stick of butter and cut in half, allow it to soften for a few minutes. Place each half between sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. Press or roll butter out till thin and large. Add some seasoning to the top of the butter sheets, and press a bay leaf into each one. Refrigerate wrapped in plastic, but still flat.

Then all you need to do is slide it up under the skin of the bird, you did remember to loosen all the skin you can? Slide the butter up under there, and stick it in the oven. The butter then becomes your baste, pre-seasoned and rich. And you don't have to open the oven door. Period.

RF: Oh, and get yourself one of those digital thermomters with the probe... the less you open the oven door the better. Mine has a remote so I can go wander and take the temp with me.

CK: Choose some appropriate background music, leave some snacks out.. and see how fast your kitchen fills up with people. The smells alone will entice them. And you never know - leave a pile of green beans sitting around and someone might just snap them for you. It's amazing how these things happen.

RF: Or feel free to continue this trend of sterile holidays, where you have not had anything to do with the meal except buy it and eat it. Lose out on the warmth of the family moments, moments that you would have had if you were in the kitchen. And keep promising yourself that maybe next year you'll have the time.

CK: You do have the time. Just do what the restaurants do, make stuff little by little. You could make the cranberry sauce this week and freeze it - it would be fine on Thanksgiving. Stuffing (dressing, whatever) can be made 3 days ahead, then just baked the day of.. but have it laid out in your pan allready. You can even freeze it like that if you wish, just sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top before baking so they absorb any extra moisture.

RF: Or just buy stove top - it only takes, what.. 5 minutes to cook and 10 to sit quietly? 3 minutes for me to eat the whole batch though. Always my downfall.. I love me some stuffin'.

CK: I guess what it boils down to is values. If your going to go the pre-packaged route - then at least be sure to spend time with your family, doing something... anything.. in the kitchen on the holiday. Make a pie.

RF: Don't go shopping... last minute food items fine.. but in NY, people were looking for things to do on holidays - so now stores are open on holidays. There are even stores open on Christmas day. Theres one retailer that takes out an ad every year in the papers, proclaiming their gratitude towards their employees, and announcing that "so they can spend time with their families, we will be closed on Christmas Day." A not-so subtle dig at the others who would open, and open early..

RF: Well thanks for coming Chef K.. hope your holiday is traditional this year.

CK: Well, I'll be celebrating Thanksgiving twice.. a small one on Thanksgiving day, then over the weekend - a larger one with the families. Im working Thanksgiving... working so others have a Thanksgiving..

RF: What a martyr. I will be celebrating a big Thanksgiving this year myself.. Provided everyone leaves my stuffing alone.

Well, thats all this time.. Like I said - I wanted Chef K's opinions on this one, along with my own. You probably wont see a crossover like this again anytime soon. Although if you want, you can always contact me if you have a question for Chef K.

Or Contact Chef K at his blog, Chef K of Roanoke

Anyhow.. put that in your smoker and smoke it.

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