Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Apple Pie for Thanksgiving

It’s way past Thanksgiving, but I did save the pics from baking the apple pie—Whew!

I decided that I was kind of tired of the traditional pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. We weren’t having turkey, either, so tradition was kind of out the window.

As I know from many years of making apple pie, there are pitfalls:

  1. Sometimes the apples aren’t done by the time the crust is done.
  2. The filling can shrink away from the top crust as the apples cook within it. When you cut into such a pie, you think you’ve been cheated out of some filling.
  3. Sometimes the apples are too sweet or too tart because you don’t get to test the filling before it goes into the pie and make adjustments.

So this year, I cooked the filling first. In hindsight, it seems like a no-brainer. The best part of cooking the filling in advance is that you can do it the day before making the pie. You can also make the crust a day ahead so that the day of baking is just assembly and baking. I ended up making the whole pie the day before Thanksgiving so I could just eat on the big day. đź‘Ť

I found this terrific recipe for a Classic Apple Pie with Precooked Apple Filling. It also has what looks like a good crust that you might want to try, even though I opted for a different one. I used a combination of Granny Smith and Macintosh apples to cover both the tart and sweet flavors. I can’t imagine ever making another apple pie without a precooked filling.

For the crust I used the Foolproof All-Butter Dough from Cook’s Illustrated—it’s not the one with vodka. (There may be a paywall that prevents you from reading the recipe if you are not a member.) It’s a nice dough that almost resembles a puff pastry, with many flaky, tender layers, as you may be able to see in the photos. If you look closely at the slits in the baked pie, you can see the layers in the crust. We thought it was the most tender crust we ever had:

I can’t believe I didn’t take any photos of the pie after it was sliced!

Is It Too Late To Talk About Thanksgiving?

It might be late, but who needs a holiday for turkey, stuffing, and pie?

The Turkey

If you remember last year, I de-boned a whole turkey to make a turkey roll, after practicing with a couple of chickens. It was a good skill to learn and have in my apron pocket, but I decided to go with something even easier this year—the spatchcocked turkey. You might recall when I spatchcocked a chicken to cook on the grill. Well, it’s the same simple process with a turkey—cut out the backbone with kitchen/poultry shears and press the whole thing flat, so it all cooks at the same time without overcooking the breast.

It did mean that I needed to buy some more kitchen equipment, which I’m always glad to do. I bought the extra large 15″ x 21″ x 1″ baking sheet (from Nordic Ware®) and a 14″ x 20″ stainless steel rack that fits exactly into it. Even though I’m only cooking a small 12 lb. turkey this time, the sheet will be big enough for larger ones in the future. The rack sits up enough to allow room for carrots, celery, and onion beneath the bird to flavor the juices that drip down, although I skipped that because I made the stock for gravy on the day I started the brining process with the backbone and giblets. I also picked up the extra long heavy duty aluminum foil to line the pan, because, why make a hot mess on its first voyage?

Here are the instructions for dry brining, and here are the instructions for the roasting day, both from Serious Eats. This might be my favorite new way to cook a turkey. It cooks in just a little over an hour at 450° and everything comes out juicy, including the breasts without the usual drying out to get the thighs done. Cutting up the turkey for serving is very easy—I’m long over the need to present a whole stuffed bird and try to carve it at the table; I’d much rather present the serving platter.

After dinner, I made turkey stock in the slow cooker with the carcass and drumsticks (we don’t really care for those), letting it cook on low overnight. You can let the slow cooker go for as long as 24 hours when making stock. The next morning I packaged the rich stock in quart containers for the freezer.

The Dressing

I almost called it stuffing, which would be technically incorrect. You can’t really stuff a flattened bird. 🙄

For me, the dressing is the most important dish on the Thanksgiving table, then gravy, then pie, then bird, then potatoes, in that order. I picked up 2 half-pound bâtards (short baguettes) last week and put them in the freezer. I’m making a simple dressing with roughly-torn croutons, onion, celery,  sage, and parsley, lots of butter and stock, like this one from Epicurious, but without the other herbs. This dressing recipe includes beaten eggs, which makes the stuffing kind of a savory bread pudding—I recommend it. We ate every bit over a couple of days. I might have nibbled into one corner before dinner, as you can see in the pic.

The Pie

It’s been a long time since I didn’t make pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, but with my husband’s lactose intolerance, the custard and whipped cream just seemed like more than I wanted to deal with in terms of substitution, so apple it is. I’ll be making that on Wednesday and trying out the concept of macerating the apples beforehand and then cooking the resulting juices into a syrup. The process is described here, another recipe from Epicurious. The juices from the apples cook up into a very nice syrup with a strong apple juice flavor, and the pie filling is not overcooked, as sometimes happen when you cook the filling in advance, apples and all. I did follow the linked recipe pretty closely, but I did not want to fool around with our expectations by adding Chinese five spice powder—I just used cinnamon.



Turkey Planning or Am I Crazy?

I haven’t been able to cook a turkey for years, since my oven went weird on me. I can still cook a casserole or a pie (with odd burned patches), and cookies work out, even roasts in covered pans, but my turkeys stopped cooking through, and even though they looked good on the outside and should have been done, they remained bloody on the inside, even if I didn’t stuff them. So, I gave up, and that was disappointing, because it was the easiest big dinner of the year, IMHO. I’m thinking, now, that I will try a turkey again, but this time make it the hardest, most complicated dinner of the year. 🙄

Thanksgiving in the USA is about two weeks away, so I’m gathering up information on how to debone a whole turkey. There seem to be two schools of thought on where to put that first knife cut, on the bottom next to the backbone or on the breast next to the sternum. I like them both and am not committing myself until I view these videos several more times each. Either way, there is the danger of cutting the thing in half when you get to the middle, whether it’s the sternum in the middle or the backbone. Which one looks best to you?

Here’s the best video for starting at the backbone:

Here’s the best video for starting at the breast:

I have a lot to think about, like do I have to do all this work on Thanksgiving morning or can I debone it on Wednesday and stuff it on Thanksgiving? Should I try to get a fresh turkey or thaw one a few days before? The other thing I might think about is whether I’m crazy, but I’m going to ignore that question until after the holiday evaluations. We’re not having company for the day, so I really have all the time in the world to do this thing.


The Thanksgiving Gravy Volcano: A Cautionary Tale

I went through a spell long ago of thickening all sauces with cornstarch because of the foolproof, lump-free results. While fine for Asian or fruit sauces where you prize that translucent, glossy nature of such a sauce, it just isn’t satisfying in both flavor and texture for those meat gravies that you want for mashed potatoes and stews, so I eventually went back to the fat-flour roux for those sauces.

One Thanksgiving in grad school, while I was in the cornstarch mode, I was in the kitchen making the gravy—and it was a huge pot of it—and I made my cornstarch and water mixture for that last step before eating. I poured some of it in, because I wasn’t quite sure how many cups of stock/drippings I had in the pot, and it rose up like one of those grade school volcano experiments and flowed over the sides into the burner and then receded. I stared at it, wondering why that happened, cleared the burner and poured in some more. Same volcanic action. Same confused stare. Then it hit me that I had grabbed baking soda instead of cornstarch. I didn’t call to the living room for help; I just stared some more and wondered what to do. What else could I do? I mixed up the right ingredients and thickened the gravy and we ate it, getting our post-dinner bicarbonate during dinner.

Luckily, it tasted fine, but it may be one reason I often read labels out loud just to confirm to myself what I’m doing.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Storm Crypt via Compfight cc