HOW TO HAVE A SUPERLATIVE THANKSGIVING
For bakers, Thanksgiving is so close you can actually touch it. With every pie shell rolled, every little (or large) oven burn, Thanksgiving feels quite tangible. Even if you aren''t trapped in the sugar trenches, there's an over abundance of holiday inspiration easily within reach.
In case you haven't heard, this could be your BEST last-Thursday-In-November yet. Inundated with articles and click bait taunting with the BEST recipe and methodology to achieve holiday superstardom is making me slightly nauseous. No offense intended in the way you might approach the meal, but I'm planning on roasting the turkey as usual. It's quite possible my stuffing isn't your idea of the BEST STUFFING EVER but we look forward to our tangle of matzoh, caramelized onions and fresh herbs doused in homemade turkey gravy. Best is such an over-used word. My best doesn't have to align with your notion of best. Wouldn't the words, "Our Favorite" be a better choice than "The Best" when penning those boastful headlines and directives? Because my favorite doesn't have to be your favorite and honestly, it doesn't have to be the preeminent in its category.
Thoughtfully prepared food enjoyed in the company of some of your favorite people should be more than enough to feed your soul. So no apologies here but I won't be spatchcocking, confit-ing or cane syrup-ing. I've given up the turkey-in-a-bath-of-brine and I will always return to James Beard for pie inspiration. Not because my way is the best way, but because it's our favorite.
What isn't a favorite and certainly not the best way to get Thanksgiving dinner on the table is learning that your oven has a safety lock. (Said lock activates when the oven has been on for too many consecutive hours.) In that case, it's always best to keep the oven manual within reach. One of this week's big surprises was finding a glut of Meyer lemons at the market. A far cry from the flavors of the season, the lemons made sacrificing a highly coveted pie shell from the freezer an easy decision. Best of luck as you navigate the days leading up to your very, very outstanding holiday.
Give thanks for pie crust that's a snap to put together and gives your rolling pin a pause. Mini pretzels, pecans (or walnuts), a bit of brown sugar and melted butter do the heavy lifting in this press-in crust. All the worries associated with making the perfect pie crust don't apply here. Ideally you want to align this shell with a stove top filling; my choice is butterscotch but dark chocolate is also a top contender.
I realize not everyone feels dessert is an integral conclusion to their nightly meal, but some of us do. And for the lead up to the big pie day, you might not want to be fussing with any more pie shells than are strictly necessary. This one does appreciate 8-10 minutes in the oven at 325 degrees to hold itself together although in a pinch, you can simply freeze it solid before filling. And the oven time affords you a brief opportunity to tidy up/clean out your fridge because you know refrigerator real estate (and freezer, too, for that matter) is of critical importance in the next two weeks. Don't say I didn't warn you.
In less than three weeks, Thursday the 24th of November will plunk itself down smack in the middle of your kitchen, ready or not. In my house, Thanksgiving morning commences with a ribbon cutting facilitated by Al Roker wielding a giant pair of scissors against a backdrop of West 77th Street and Central Park West. Broadway show tunes, the high flying antics of Underdog and Snoopy, plus a flotilla of floats (serving as mobile stages for pop/rock singers I’ve never heard of) fill three jam packed hours of the MACY's Thanksgiving Parade. In that small window of time, the morning feels endless. Once the National Dog Show takes over the tv screen, the clock is really ticking and getting Thanksgiving dinner on the table feels more like a sprint than a leisurely jog. For this particular race, fuel is essential, meaning a little something to accompany those multiple cups of coffee is an integral part of the operation.
Whether you are the ringmaster of the Thanksgiving circus or simply a guest trying desperately to stay out of the way, a no-fuss breakfast option is key. My Thanksgiving prep features more than a freezer full of pie shells. The inventory includes too many bags of cranberries, (some of them with a tear in the corner, allowing renegades to bounce around like runaway skittles), several containers of once fresh rhubarb, plus the fixings for turkey gravy. Additionally, I squirrel away a no-fuss breakfast option, one that asks little of me other than taking the time to prepare it in advance. No yeast-driven dough, no rolling required and not much needed in the way of embellishment. Even if you are not up to your elbows in giblets and gravy but instead, over-the-river-ing to someone’s house, it’s a really nice gift-able item.
For many years, my Sunday mornings were tethered to restaurants which meant dizzying numbers of quick breads, mini muffins and scones. Being responsible for the first course of many bleary-eyed, mimosa-sipping Philadelphians wasn’t exactly relaxing. Assembling two humble loaves in your home kitchen with your favorite tunes playing on repeat, however, is pretty delightful. While the holiday lends itself to some classic flavors, I tend to align myself with three steadfast loaves. A classic option is plump with cranberries, toasted walnuts and plenty of orange. My other two favorites showcase pumpkin; one swirled with dark chocolate and candied ginger, (a slightly assertive wake up call), while another is studded with apples and spiked with cider. I am happy to nibble away at any/all of the above, stopping only to brew a second round of coffee in the empty Chemex. With no offense intended, the one loaf that isn't invited to my November breakfast is zucchini. Let’s just leave zucchini where it belongs, in August. And if the stars align correctly, three weeks from today, your breakfast will consist of multiple slivers of leftover pie.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm