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Recipes and Stories

15 November 2012: Mastering Thanksgiving Dinner II

Cranberry Orange Conserve with Bourbon

Thanksgiving is just a week away. If you haven’t already started to plan, you need to know that time, as they say, is wasting. You aren’t in trouble yet, but you will be if you wait until next week to start planning and shopping.

Your three greatest weapons are good organization, the practical art of the make-ahead dish, and the fine art of delegation (also known as sweet talking someone into doing something for you).

Organization: put together a basic menu and lay out a plan for the days between now and the big day. Keep both flexible. What is the point of stubbornly insisting on Brussels sprouts if the only ones you find in the market are wilted and yellowing? Likewise, don’t indelibly etch your schedule on the back of your mind and hold onto it for dear life. You’ll just be asking for anxiety if something comes up to interfere with that perfect plan—and, trust me, something always does.

The Art of the Make-ahead Dish: survey the menu for things that you can make completely ahead and plan to make them as far in advance as you can get away with. Most cranberry sauces, chutneys, and relishes will keep for at least a week (or more); broth can and should be made several days ahead; cornbread for dressing has to be made at least one ahead so that it can get a little stale (you can even make it now and freeze it); sweet potato casseroles, pies, and yeast rolls can all be made a day or so ahead. (Take a cue from commercial brown-and-serve rolls: most homemade rolls can be treated the same way—made up days ahead, partially baked, and frozen until needed.)

The Fine Art of Delegation: the calmest hosts at Thanksgiving are usually the ones who put a little effort into the art of sweet talking someone else into doing part of the meal for them. When you say, “No one can make those good butter rolls like you” or “you know I can’t make pastry as well as you can” (never mind that you may be a master bread maker and happen to know they get theirs from a box in the supermarket dairy case), trust me, they will feel as if you are doing them a great favor instead of the other way around.

One great ploy is to ask a guest if there is a dish they simply couldn’t do without, and when they describe it, ask sweetly if they would be an angel and bring it.

Here’s what you can do right now:

• Begin today by laying out a basic menu and then survey your pantry for staples. If you haven’t used that bag of flour or box of rubbed sage since last Thanksgiving, it’s time to pitch them and start over. Make sure that you have all the ingredients for the things that you are making well ahead.
• If you haven’t already done so, order the bird (see Damon Lee Talks Turkey, Part I, below).
• Do one thing that you can put away and forget about, even if it’s just ironing napkins.
Here’s something you can make today that will still be as good next Thursday as it will be today.

Cranberry Orange Conserve
This is my all-time favorite cranberry conserve. To julienne orange zest, simply remove the zest from fruit with a bar zester or remove it with a vegetable peeler and then cut it into julienne with sharp knife.
For about 4 cups

24 ounces (6 cups) fresh cranberries
1 pound (2 cups) demerara (“raw”) sugar
Zest of 1 orange, julienned (see notes above)
3 tablespoons bourbon

1. Pick through the berries for soft or damaged fruit. Wash them in a basin of cold water and drain well.
2. Put 2 cups of them into a heavy-bottomed stainless steel or enameled saucepan. Lightly crush them with a wooden spoon or potato masher and barely cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, skimming off scum as it rises. Reduce the heat to a low and simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the berries pop and collapse and juices are thick, about 45 minutes. Turn off heat.
3. Pour the berries and juice into a cloth lined wire sieve set over a bowl. Force the juice through cloth into the bowl and discard pulp. Put the juice back into the pot and add the remaining berries and sugar.
4. Return the pan to medium heat and bring the liquid to a boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce the heat to very low and simmer until berries are tender and transparent, about 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in orange zest and bourbon.
5. Transfer the conserve to clean, sterilized glass jars and let it cool. Cover and refrigerate until needed. It can be gently reheated or served at room temperature.

Damon Lee Talks Turkey, Part I

Every year, I swear I am done with writing about buying, handling, and cooking a turkey, and, every year, I’m barraged with both questions and thanks for having printed these tips, so here they are yet again. Here’s what you need to know about selecting and keeping the bird. We’ll tackle prepping and roasting it next week.

• Buy small: Bigger isn’t always better. Small turkeys are easier to handle, cook more evenly, and taste better. If cooking for a crowd, try roasting two small birds, or do a turkey breast, too. Allow half a pound for every person you are feeding.
• Selecting a fresh bird: for the best flavor, choose a local, naturally (or organically) raised bird if you can, at the very least, an “All-natural” turkey that is not “self-basting” (which means it is injected with a water-based solution of salt, fat, and who knows what else). Buy it no more than four days ahead and keep it, still wrapped, in a rimmed pan on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.
• Some argue that frozen turkeys (so long as they’ve been stored properly), are more reliable than fresh ones. If you choose to go that route, or if you buy from a small, organic poultry farmer who freezes all his birds on the spot, buy it no later than Saturday. Leave it wrapped, put it in a rimmed pan, and store it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so that it will be thawed by Thursday. (You need to allow a day for every 4 pounds, and it must be completely thawed before you begin cooking.
• Err on the side of caution: a frozen turkey that has been thawed in the refrigerator will keep for at least 24 hours after it is fully thawed—provided it is kept at a temperature below 42 degrees.

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