Last year, a friend of mine was preparing her first Thanksgiving dinner, except for the turkey. She wanted some recipes. I was exhausted and dashed off some notes to her. When I get tired, I get silly. She ended up with more commentary than recipes, all done with tongue firmly in cheek. I don’t think she used any of the recipes. Funny, I’m not sure why. Here are my much-commented-upon recipes for some of my favorite holiday dishes, all to be taken with a grain of salt. Or to taste.
My sweet friend, here are the recipes you wanted for your first Thanksgiving Dinner, which, of course, you will make by yourself while everyone else is watching the parades and games and having fun, leaving you alone in the kitchen. When they run out of the appetizers that you prepared ahead of time, someone will wander into the kitchen to ask you to bring in more of those yummy appetizers. Yes, the same appetizers they just ate the last of.
At this point, you need to say, “Of course” and send them out of the kitchen. Grab whatever crackers you have in the house, even if they’re stale, put them on a cookie sheet and brush with melted butter.(Be sure to read the Rule of Butter below.) Put in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes and dig out whatever cheese you have. Put the crackers and cheese on a decorative plate. Add some sort of garnish, like parsley, if you have it. Because the crackers are warm and smelling great, they will think you made those, too. If someone asks if you made them yourself (this will always be a woman), just smile knowingly and head back to the kitchen. Alone again, naturally.
Dice two onions and four stalks of celery, saute in a few tablespoons of butter (or lots more butter. The Rule of Butter is that everything is better when there is a lot of butter in it.) until soft, but the onions and celery still have texture and aren’t mushy. Cool. In a large bowl, combine about (I don’t know, how many people are you serving?) at least four cups of the cornbread you bought, crumbled (you really should have made your own, with my world-famous recipe, but with this being your first Thanksgiving dinner, I didn’t want to push it, especially since you’ve already shopped), three torn slices of regular bread, stale if possible (you should have thought of asking me for recipes yesterday so you could have bought fresh bread to make stale and you could have made your own cornbread), then add three beaten eggs, some salt, pepper, 4 tablespoons or so of melted butter (remember the Rule of Butter) and the celery and onions. Add enough chicken stock until fairly moist (not UNfairly moist. You’re not laughing. Well, I thought it was funny…). Now, comes the most important step in making the dressing, adding the sage.
Add sage to taste. Then mix it all together. Add more salt. Taste. Add more pepper. Taste. Then more sage. (Apply the Rule of Sage here, which is that you will always need to add more sage. BTW, I am often called “The Sage of Sage”. Really. Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t think it was ever possible to add too much sage. I was wrong. I had a cold and couldn’t taste anything. I added lots of sage and didn’t taste it because, well, I couldn’t taste anything. There was too much sage.)
Put the dressing in a greased baking dish (like 9×13″ or so) and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, checking first after 1/2 hour, then every ten minutes. It should be slightly browned, but still fairly moist (not UNfairly… you know…I STILL think it’s funny). Take it out a little early, because it will continue to absorb the chicken broth a bit after it comes out of the oven. Don’t overcook it or it will be dry and then you will need to have more gravy (see below) to make it moist. If you have already overcooked it, see below and adjust the amount of gravy to add moisture to it.
NOTE: Amounts are suggested. Trust your instinct. You can’t go wrong. This isn’t rocket science. It’s more important than rocket science. Always taste. You may think with the raw eggs in the dressing, you will get salmonella poisoning. Not true. We never knew until a couple of decades back that there was such a thing as salmonella poisoning. None of the women in my family knew about it until then, so we never got salmonella. Ever. Even after we knew.
ANOTHER NOTE; You really should use sterling silver spoons to taste the dressing, if you can. We Kay women, from the dawn of time, have used sterling silver spoons for the dressing tasting. The more women there are, the better to gauge if you truly have enough sage. (See the Rule of Sage, above.)
CANDIED SWEET POTATOES OR YAMS:
OK, my dear friend, She-Who-Needs-To-Know-Which-It-Is, sweet potatoes or yams, here we go. The can says both, but they are actually sweet potatoes as yams don’t grow in this country. No one can ever agree on which one people will want to buy, so they put both names on the can. There are two varieties of sweet potatoes, one with orange flesh, which is sometimes mistakenly called a yam, but isn’t. The other kind is yellow-fleshed, also a sweet potato. The fact that you know the difference between yams and sweet potatoes will be very interesting to some people. Not many, admittedly, but there will be some. This knowledge can also double as conversation at the dinner table, should it be necessary.
Use 2-3 large cans of sweet potatoes/yams (see above), drained (save the syrup) and mash them, just a bit. There should be SOME texture, but not too chunky either. Add brown sugar to taste. They ARE called “candied” for a reason here! Be generous, because it IS more like a dessert than a vegetable or tuber dish. Now add allspice to taste (kind of like pumpkin pie. In fact, in a pinch, you can use Pumpkin Pie spice. Allspice is better, trust me.) You need to taste it! But not now, after all of the ingredients are in here. 6 tablespoons of butter (or more, or LOTS more. (Remember the Law of Butter, above.) It IS Thanksgiving and you don’t do this often…the butter and brown sugar really make the dish. Drizzle in a little of the syrup from the sweet potatoes (remember they are REALLY sweet potatoes, not yams) to make moist, fairly moist (not…oh, heck, you didn’t laugh, even the first time. Sheesh. OK, missy, I heard that! OK, I give up on even trying to be funny.).
Place the sweet potatoes in a buttered casserole dish and heat in 350 oven until hot and steamy. Take the dish out of the oven and place mini-marshmallows all over the top in a beautifully decorative arrangement, but use LOTS of marshmallows. (The Rule of Marshmallows is that there are never too many marshmallows. OK there isn’t a Rule of Marshmallows. But there should be.) Be sure to squish them down into the sweet potatoes (not yams) just perfectly, just enough to mess up the perfect decorative pattern you spent 13 minutes making with the marshmallows. (HA! You should have laughed at my jokes!) Just pile them on. Place them back in the oven until the marshmallows are golden brown. GOLDEN, not black. Watch them carefully because they will either burn and be yucky (actually I like them burned but most people don’t. I also burn them when I roast them in a campfire by catching them on fire, then blowing them out, eating off the burned part, then putting the interior back into the fire, repeating the process until all of the marshmallow is devoured…or becomes charcoal…) or they will just melt and be sweet but this is not what is intended for this recipe. Serve hot.
Don’t be alarmed if, when you take these out of the frig the next day to reheat them, to see that the marshmallows have liquefied. They do that. Just add more marshmallows when they’ve warmed up a bit.
How many cans of chicken stock do you have left? Depending upon all of the above and below, you may need to drop what you’re doing and brave the cold, snow, ice, hail and salmonella to get more chicken broth. See above re: salmonella.
First of all, even sometime the day before (I know you didn’t have “the day before” this time) or early in the day, take the insides of the little bag that comes inside the turkey (yes, I know you are going to cringe, not want to touch it and say, “uggh”. Just do it. woman!) and put the innards and neck (give the “uggh” bit a rest, OK?) in a saucepan with water to cover, salt and pepper, along with the tops of the celery you used in the stuffing, above. Now you DO NOT want to leave that little bad INSIDE the turkey when it is fried or cooked. Not good at all. That really would be “Uggh.” Simmer for about 20 minutes or so until the meat falls off the neckbone and the giblets and livers are tender. You may remove the bone at this time and throw away the giblets and livers, although they add great flavor and texture if you chop them and add them back to the chicken stock. Oh, yes. they do. (uggh…we’re back to the uggh.) You won’t even notice, but the gravy will be better. Right here, you should be aware that “the” neckbone is actually made up of all those tiny vertebrae in the turkey’s back, necessitating digging through the hot chicken broth to fish out all those tiny little bones (Not really, but that was for all the “uggh” remarks and for not laughing at my jokes.) Just strain the broth from the pan, keeping the fluid.
Using the same pan, add four cups of chicken stock, the meat from the neckbone and the giblets and livers. In a small bowl, place 4 tablespoons cornstarch and add about 4 tablespoons of cold (cold here, not iced, but not warm at all or it will be yucky. Cornstarch thickens when it hits heat, so COLD water…not iced…) and stir until a thin paste is formed, adding a little cold water (see above if confused) if it is too thick. Add to the broth, add salt and pepper to taste (taste BEFORE adding salt as canned broth can be salty and too much salt will ruin the gravy, kind of like too many cooks spoil the broth? I digress…) Raise the heat a bit and continually stir until thickened to your preferred gravy consistency. This varies from fairly thin to thick as molasses (though not sweet…not like sweet potatoes which are NOT yams).
Those were the recipes you asked for. I hope they help. Just so you know, this took longer to read than it will take you to actually make the recipes.
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Since someone else is cooking/frying the turkey, there isn’t the usual argument, I mean debate, over whether the turkey is done or not and the one person in the group that knows about food poisoning insists it needs to cook longer, resulting in dry turkey, requiring the addition of more gravy (see recipe above, but you will need to adjust the amount again, adding more chicken stock) If it does end up dry and yucky because of the food poisoning enthusiast and lover of dry but not poisoned turkey, just make homemade eggnog, telling them that, of course, they were pasteuerized eggs (be sure to cross your fingers behind your back so you aren’t REALLY lying) and pray, pray very hard they get salmonella or food poisoning for ruining the turkey, making it necessary for you to go get more chicken broth at the only store open for 30 miles to make more gravy. See recipe above.
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE CONTINUED: if anyone gets food poisoning from the under-cooked turkey (not your fault) or from tasting the dressing with a silver spoon to make sure it has enough sage, have the person who was responsible for the dry turkey take them to the overcrowded ER to wait for hours and hours to be seen, while everyone around them is coughing and spreading the flu bug that the doctor will tell you has to just go away on its own. If you are the one who has to go in to the ER, be sure to throw up on the person who made you sick and in a very populated area and they will take you in before everyone else. I speak from experience.
Then take a nap. Hopefully the tryptophan will knock you out and no one else and they can do the dishes…no, this never ever happens, but one can always hope. You cooked the dinner alone and you will be doing the dishes, too. But you’ve feed your family and friends. As long as they are stuffed, you’ve done a great job. That’s what makes Thanksgiving Day so wonderful!
Love you, darlin! The dinner will be fantastic, just like you. On Friday, would you please bring me a turkey sandwich, butter instead of mayo, please. With lots and lots of cranberry relish. Salt and pepper to taste.