Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Preparing the Thankful Feast

It's that time of year again: the five gallon bucket sans 20lbs. turkey is hanging out in the fridge; I've made the trip to the thrift store to replace the three or four serving dishes that met their fate this past year; the centerpiece is on the table, in the center, of course; and I begin to reflect how and why I am going to the trouble to scrub my house raw and cook a ridiculous amount of food for a family who I'm sure is very grateful, even though they may not show it every day.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is the only holiday which I demand for myself. I don't mind going to the relatives for Christmas or the Fourth, or any other time of year, but Thanksgiving is special to me. I don't need to discuss the why in this post, but I'd like to discuss the how. How this stingy cheap old mama makes magic in the kitchen and manages to break even on the grocery budget for the week. FYI, this will be my fifteenth Thanksgiving meal. Dang, that's fifteen turkeys I've cooked!
Ok. The turkey. The turkey doesn't need to be special or expensive. Butterball? Bah! If you know what to do with the bird, you can make it delectable and save your fifty cents per pound. At this moment, I have my turkey soaking in a sugar and salt brine for two days. This is going to give me the most flavorful and juicy turkey EVA. Here's the recipe:
1 cup salt
1 cup brown sugar
about 1 gallon of water
1 tbs. onion powder
1tbs. garlic powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
a few cloves
2 or 3 granny smith apples
Boil all that together in a pot, let it cool off, and put it in a five gallon bucket. Make sure you sanitise the bucket first. Then dunk in your rinsed bird, make sure it's fully covered, and put it in a cool place for a couple days. I happen to have room in my fridge, but not everyone does. Just keep it cool. Oh, and by the way, if you do brine your turkey and you want to save your broth, you want to wash him pretty well before you cook him or your broth will be way too salty.
Next part of turkey magic: Cook it in a bag. In a Reynolds oven bag, actually. You can buy a two pack of them at any grocery store, for about 2.50$.  The last part of making your turkey super juicy is to cook it early, and let it rest for at least an hour in the bag before you put it on the carving tray. Oh my goodness, this bird is going to fall off its bones!

Now, for the thrifty part. I already have the rest of the week planned out, to use every scrap of this bird I can pick off the carcass. We will have SOS for dinner on Friday: this is toast, with the left over turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy. And of course, we eat up all of the fixings by Friday evening. Nothing gets thrown away. On Saturday, we have turkey melts on homemade hoagie rolls. The only extra that I buy is the provolone cheese. And finally, on Sunday, we use up the rest of the turkey srcraps on a pot pie. This also allows me to finish off the turkey stock that I saved from inside the oven bag.

That takes care of the turkey, but the rest of the meal could get a bit expensive. It could, but I don't let it. The trick to getting the rest of the dinner in under twenty-five dollars (for a total of 50$ thanksgiving feast that feeds us for 4 days), is to make everything (and I mean everything), from scratch.
I know, I know that's asking a lot, but face it. Homemade is so much cheaper, healthier, and sooooo much tastier than anything you'll find in a can or a box! So... here's my recipes.

1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup hot milk (liquids need to be approximately 120F)
3 tbs. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
(stir together in a mixing bowl and let sit until foamy)
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt.
Mix all together and knead for ten minutes. Let rise for 1 hour, and shape into rolls. Let rise until nearly time to eat, pop them in last minutes so they are still hot at the table, at 375F for 20 minutes.

Green Beans:
Very uncomplicated, rather than making a green bean casserole, I just sautee some green beans in a little bit of oil and season with garlic salt.

Sweet Potatoes:
I bake the sweet potatoes (Not canned, for godssakes), the day before for about an hour. I then put them in a casserole with a bit of brown sugar and top with some walnuts and bake for an additional 30 minutes. They come out as the rolls are going in.

The day before (that is today), I will bake a loaf of bread.
1 cup hot water
1 tbs. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
Follow the same steps as for the rolls recipe above, except shape into a loaf. After it is baked, I let it cool, then slice it, and let the slices lie flat over night to dry out. Then I will toast them and cut them into cubes.
For the stuffing, I mix 1/2 cup of butter with 1 cup of chicken or turkey broth (I use the turkey broth that came from the bird) plus 2 stalks of celery, 1 medium onion chopped, 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp. poultry seasoning. Boil the broth with the onions and celery and seasonings, then pour it over the toasted bread crumbs. Toss it and add more broth if the stuffing is too dry. I will put it in a casserole with a lid, or tight fitting aluminum foil and bake it for thirty minutes so it can steam. Then I will remove the cover and continue baking for an added 15 minutes, so that the top can crisp up.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes:
5 lbs. russet potatoes
1/2 cup margarine
1 1/2 cups milk
3 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper to taste
Peel and cube the potatoes, put them in a large pot of water. Peel and mince the garlic and add it to the potatoes. Bring them to a boil and  let them cook until tender. Once well cooked, drain them, add the remaining ingredients and mash mash mash. Put them in a bowl with a lid and pop them in an insulated place like the microwave until serving time.

Turkey Broth:
There are two ways I get my turkey broth. The first way is to boil the neck and inards, which I will do early in the morning. I will remove the giblets and solids, and cook down the water to half, then siphon off the foam and save the wat I will add this to the rest of the stock that I get from the actual turkey.
The next requires jars. I always save my jars so I have plenty. You'll need an extra hand probably too. I open up the turkey bag while it's in the pan, remove the bird, and pour all of the juices into the pan. I use a slotted spoon to remove any large pieces, and carefully tip the juices into the jars that I have sitting in the kitchen sink. I'll taste the broth to make sure it's not too salty if too much of the brine was left in the cavities. I let it sit for about ten minutes, so the fats and oils rise to the top. I then slowly dribble in a bit of clean water, forcing the fats and oils to run out over the top and down the sides and I'm left with clean yummy broth. I usually get about four jars. 1 for gravy, 1 for stuffing, one for my pot pie later in the week, and another for whatever I feel like using it for.

Turkey Gravy:
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup flour
1 jar (2 cups) turkey broth
In a heavy sauce pan, melt the butter. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk. Allow this to cook out for a minute or two, watching it carefully. Slowly add in your broth, whisking vigorously to break up any lumps. Add as much broth as you need to come to the thickness you like, salt and pepper to taste though you shouldn't need much salt.

Pumpkin pie:
Crust - 2 cups white flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup shortening
a few tsp. water
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add in the shortening and use a fork or pastry cutter to break up into small pea sized bits. Slowly add water, using a fork to mix, one small section at a time, then give it a good couple of kneads. Roll it out on a floured surface, the roll it up onto a pin and transfer it to a pie plate. Prick the bottom for ventilation.
3 eggs
3/4 cups sugar
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. salt
30 oz pumpkin
12 oz evaporated milk
Preheat your oven to 425F. Beat your eggs until foamy, then mix in remaining ingredients. Place your pie plate on your oven rack, and slowly pour in your filling until it is to the rim. Carefully slide it in and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce your oven temperature and bake for an additional 45 minutes to an hour. I do the pies the night before.

Chocolate (Nonnie) Pie:
1 1/2 packages of honey graham crackers (1/2 a box)
3/4 cup margarine, melted.
Use a rolling pin to crush the crackers into crumbs, then place them in a pie plate and add the melted butter. Your crumb pie should be over-moist, don't worry. Pop it in a 400F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until dry and slightly browned. It will be very crunchy and not crumbly.
Cook 8.4 oz of Jello Brand chocolate pudding (this is one big box and one little box) with only 3.5 cups of milk. Cook according the package directions. Pour into the crust and refrigerate over night.

There is something missing... oh yes. The cranberry sauce. I don't like it and neither do the kids, my husband insists on jelly, so it is the one thing I buy in a can. Ocean Spray, to be exact. ;-)

Happy Thanksgiving!

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