When we stopped making the turkey last year, we had the best thanksgiving ever. We had it catered from Wakonda from the inimitibable Chef George. In fact, when you take in the food costs and time, it pretty much is a draw. We were having our front door neighbors over. It was our first Thanksgiving without blood relations. At around 5 in the evening, I drove over and picked up 6 neatly packaged bags in cardboard boxes. Driving home, the smells were otherworldly. We unpacked, put out our good (and only) china, and popped a bottle of wine. The neighbors came, and we had the best Thanksgiving meal that I have ever had (except for a visit to my college roommate’s family in Philadelphia in 1987, where I ate enough for three, and then lounged around for five hours alternately watching football and a Star Trek marathon, before eating AGAIN).
There was no Star Trek last year, but there was homemade cranberry sauce with perfectly tart fresh cranberries in a jammy gel that had never had the shape of a cylinder. The stuffing could have been a main course by itself. I could have lifted the gravy boat and guzzled the brown ambrosia. The mashed potatoes were really smashed with the evidence quite clear from the non-uniform pearls of pure earthy flavor. Washed down with a Gewürztraminer, followed by pumpkin pie a la mode and serious fresh ground coffee. Oh, the turkey was perfect.
The clean up involved putting away the leftovers in the packages they came in. No hours of back breaking labor for a 5-15% chance of a turkey mishap (observation from about 25 Thanksgivings as an adult). That bad luck turkey is a mofurkey which in its many manifestations is alternately unevenly cooked, over-done (usually due to relying on the popup signal designed by lawyers), or generally associated with some misfortune (this year, a nephew with second degree burns, have heard stories of houses burning down). No, we completely avoided the mofurkey last year by outsourcing. It wasn’t just the meal we outsourced -it was the stress and the work on a day that no one should work. We could concentrate on the giving of thanks and enjoying each other’s company. What did we do for Thanksgiving this year? We ate jja-jjang myun at a seriously great place in Bayside, Queens. No mofurkey!
I actually like the satisfaction of cooking a turkey, or ANYTHING, successfully. For me it is both a creative and a scientific challenge- you want the right flavor (this is more the art), and you want the right textures (this is more the science. Generally, turkey breasts are so large now that the turkeys cannot walk easily. So when you cook a turkey, you are cooking a huge breast with some dark meat and bones attached. The challenge is to make it all finish cooking at the same time such that one part is not too dry. Brining is a great way to do this. Also, cooking the breast with aluminum foil over it for part of the roasting helps. Those who are passionate about cooking will make something in the same way that a mountain climber might feel compelled to climb a mountain. I recently decided to buy a deep frier so I could make Anthony Bourdain’s pomme frites, which require first blanching the potatoes at 275F, then letting them rest, then cooking them for about 3 minutes at 375F to brown them. This is the way to make the world’s greatest fries, and I had to do this. Trouble was, the deep frier, despite it’s temperature guage showing a setting of 375, maxed out at 308 according to my cooking thermometer. So I ended up lifting the fat basin with the basket it in it and putting it directly on the stove, where I did the final cook. Let me tell you, a gallon of peanut oil cooking at 375F is a little scary to watch. But oh, the fries…. I recently told this story at a dinner party given by our new neighbors, a sixtyish newly retired couple from CA. They just did not get it. They looked at me like I was crazy for attempting such a thing, espeecially when there is a McDonalds in town. These people had not understanding of passion for cooking.
I agree though, that for a relaxing holiday, catering may be the best option. I tend to get so into cooking that it is difficult to entertain also, and the mess I make requires a lot of clean up afterward. For less work and more fun, ordering out or going out is a fine option.
Of course I enjoy cooking as much as you do. When you add family dynamics, self appoint food critics, and friends who have never witnessed your family at a holiday, to a holiday that by definition should be chillaxing, you get the setup for something people will talk about for the rest of your life whenever they get together -An Incident.