Tuesday, November 26, 2013


For the first time in four years I am serving a traditional Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, making everything from scratch, and I couldn’t be more excited. Maybe it's a testament to the benefit of taking a break from tradition. For years I have told just about anyone who would listen that Thanksgiving is the most overrated holiday meal of the year; over-hyped, anti-climactic, and chock full of boring, heavy, bland food. The last time I prepared a full traditional dinner I really tried to prove myself wrong, driving all the way to Nashville to buy an over-priced free-range, organic, local, Ph.D holding turkey from Whole Foods and the equally over-priced William-Sonoma brining bags and brine mix everyone on the Internet was swearing by. I made picture perfect red potatoes, cut in half with a full sage leaf carefully pressed into the fleshy skin before roasting. And of course all of the other usual suspects were on the table. It was good. I’m sure some people would have called it great. But I was unimpressed. It was a shit-load of work (especially that whole wet-brine deal) for very little pay off. I couldn't tell a differnce in the turkey from any other Thanksgiving turkey I'd ever had or made. The next year, having decided to put my own culinary energy into a Christmas feast (which I will ALWAYS, always, ALWAYS do, no matter what I do on Thanksgiving, see exhibt A here), I catered Thanksgiving dinner from Whole Foods, and hit a deer on the highway on my way back home from picking it up on the night before Thanksgiving. The turkey and I both survived the terrifying wreck, but my beloved Honda did not. I think that soured me even more on Thanksgiving, and for the next two years I wouldn’t touch a turkey with a 10-foot pole. We made our own sushi feast one year, complete with the most beautiful sushi-grade tuna you’ve ever seen, and did a Thai extravaganza the next year, with fresh rolls meticulously crafted by hand, fish curry, and ice-cream on top of sweet sticky rice. Happy Thanksgiving to the Lowbridge-Solise family!
Not our Thanskgiving sushi feast from 2011, but a sushi feast nonetheless.
Now it has been four years since I last wrestled with a turkey (and reminisced about the one and only fight my parents had each and every year, or at least the one and only fight we were privy to. We'd hear them from our bedrooms before the sun was up arguing about how to clean and prepare the turkey), and I’m ready to give it the old college try again, and prove to myself that a traditional Thanksgiving dinner can be thrilling, delicious, and worth every last bit of hype thrown at it. The challenge? I’m also staying local for all ingredients (no trips to the Fresh Market in Evansville or the Whole Foods in Nashville – if I can’t find it at Walmart, Kroger, or Marketplace in Madisonville, Kentucky, it isn’t gonna be on the table), and keeping the budget under $200 from start to finish. I’m dry-brining a 20 pound bird this year (it’s all the rage in the foodie world, I’m told) using my own combination of the LA Food Section’s Zuni CafĂ© inspired method, and a garlic-herb rub from Bon Appetit (minus the salt & sugar) for the last 8 hours when the birds sits uncovered in the fridge, plus the good-old herbed butter under the skin technique I mastered back in 2009 (if you’ve never had your entire forearm underneath the skin on a turkey, you haven’t lived). There will be mashed potatoes and homemade gravy, there will be sweet potato biscuits and cornbread stuffing (I made the cornbread this morning), and, a tip of the hat to my mother: a traditional French’s green bean casserole (but I’m frying my own onions, doncha know). We’ll have the creamy-Dijon braised Brussels sprouts I made for an after-Thanksgiving dinner party last year, and a new cranberry technique – an uncooked relish with lime and bourbon. My sister is making a pecan pie, complete with her signature gluten-free pie crust that you’d never guess was gluten-free. Don’t tell my sister (I already had to convince her we NEEDED the green bean casserole), but I’m thinking that we’d be remiss not to have a pumpkin pie on the table, and I am probably going to burn the midnight oil making one tonight. I don’t even like pumpkin pie (or any pie for that matter – shhh, I KNOW) but now that I’m in the zone it seems silly to leave it (and the iconic can of Redi-Whip) out. I’m truly hopeful that this meal is going to blow my mind, and that I’ll be joining the chorus of die-hard Thanksgiving fans who sing the praises of this meal so beautifully. It really might – a lot of these are tried-and-true recipes we’ve used for non-Thanksgiving dinner parties that I already know I love. I think it’s really going to come down to the turkey, and based on my research, the dry-brine thing is a winner. Cross your fingers, and let me know what kind of Thanksgiving you are having this year!

Beer and wine: assortment. I like Pinot Noir with turkey, but I’ll have some white on hand, too.

Pecan pie
Pumpkin pie (maybe)