Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Special Edition

I planned and executed an entire Thanksgiving dinner all by myself, with a good deal of help from Dave. The dinner went over without a hitch - no one got food poisoning, everyone ate seconds, my turkey was juicy, the sweet tea was scarfed down, and, perhaps most miraculously of all, I managed not to cut, burn, or otherwise injure myself despite 2 days of being alone in the kitchen! Those of you who have been privy to my previous injuries (Rose, Casey, Dave) are probably breathing a sigh of relief that I still have all my fingers and avoided any trips to the ER.

Before I post the recipes I used, let me give you some tips for pulling off Thanksgiving; things they fail to mention on Food Network or anywhere else I've read. The thing about Thanksgiving is, if you're going to woman- or man-up and cook an entire traditional dinner all by yourself, you have to do it because you want to do it. If you're not looking forward to it, or feeling a lot of external pressure for perfection, or just unsure of yourself in the kitchen, then don't do it. Buy your meal from Kroger, or better yet, do what two of my Auburn colleagues were doing and go to the beach for the weekend. Turkey's great, but I bet crab claws, steamed shrimp and beer for Thanksgiving dinner is also pretty amazing. Anyway. I was really looking forward to my time in the kitchen, and to my first big turkey, and it helped the day go more smoothly.

Also, being prepared really paid off in this case. I made a detailed timeline of everything that had to get done by Thursday at 1 p.m., and sure enough, I stuck to my schedule and I had very little stress or rushing around on the big day. Figure out what you can make ahead, and write down the day and time you will "make ahead" whatever is on your list. I kept this list on my refrigerator until everything had been checked off.

Lastly, it helps to have a Dave. No, you can't borrow mine. But if you have someone who will go to the grocery store for you (mind you, following a list I categorized spatially by grocery store section and aisle for easy checking; yes, I have my Kroger memorized), and someone who will sanitize coolers for brining the turkey, and who'll vacuum before the in-laws come over, and who'll carve the turkey, and who'll tell you how cute you look in an apron, it makes a big difference.

I swiped some of my recipes off the internet, as usual. I did Alton Brown's roast turkey, and Paula Deen's dressing. I made a cranberry sauce kind of like Tyler Florence's, but instead I used plain sugar, no cinnamon stick, and some orange liqueur. I did green beans really simply, by boiling them in salted water until cooked through, and topping with a couple tablespoons of butter and salt and pepper. I also did mashed potatoes the way I usually do them - cutting them into cubes, boiling for 20 minutes, draining, and mashing them together with heavy cream, butter, salt and pepper. It's not Thanksgiving without Sister Schubert's frozen dinner rolls, so those were in abundance on our table too.

My favorite part of the meal, though, was dessert. Even though my grandmother sent me a pecan pie and two different cakes to use, I couldn't help but make a pumpkin crisp. It's a recipe from Loren (remember bean dip?), who probably got it from her mom, Barbara. The Hawkins family, like the Icenogle family, supplies me with many delicious recipes. This one is no exception.

Pumpkin Crisp

1 can pumpkin
1 large can evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
3 eggs
1 box yellow cake mix
1 c. chopped pecans
2 sticks butter -- melted & cooled

8 oz. cream cheese
3/4 cup cool whip
1/2 cup powdered sugar
(mix all three together)

First, preheat oven to 350. Then, prepare a 9 x 13 pan. Spray the pan with cooking spray, line the pan (sides and bottom) with wax paper, and generously butter the wax paper. Set aside. In a large bowl, blend the pumpkin and milk with a mixer. Add sugar, cinnamon & eggs. Blend well - mixture will be thin. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle cake mix over pumpkin mixture. Sprinkle nuts over cake mix and pat them into the mix. Pour butter over nuts. Bake for 1 hour or until firm. Let cool before turning onto platter. Carefully peel off the wax paper. Frost when cool.

This dessert is similar to the gooey butter cakes that Paula Deen makes all the time, but it is simply divine. I can't stop eating it. The pecans get all nice and toasty on the bottom, and I know some people think Cool Whip is evil, but I could eat it by the tub. That, and Velveeta are two ingredients from my redneck childhood I refuse to give up. You can't make Rotel dip without Velveeta, so it's a keeper to me.

Anyway. I hope everyone else out there had a nice Thanksgiving, full of not working, being lazy, and spending time with the ones you love.