We do love a good Thanksgiving cookbook and this year we have found a doozy! Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well by Sam Sifton is just a great little how-to manual for the holiday season.
Having grown up in the South, Thanksgiving was a kind of competitive cooking extravaganza, resulting in too much food. You were commanded to try EVERYTHING; everybody's congealed salad, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, three different greens... by the time you got ready to eat, your plate looked more of compost than dinner. When I became the chief Thanksgiving cook, the meal was pared down to a "meat and three" with dessert. But enough about me...
Cooking for Thanksgiving can be a daunting prospect. But now, the novice Thanksgiving preparer has Sam Sifton on their side. First and foremost, Sifton is a writer of some note, in fact (if one is impressed by such), Sifton was the restaurant critic for the New York Times and now serves as its national editor. He is practical and funny.
"It is best never to call giblet gravy "giblet gravy," but simply gravy. Giblets are mysterious things, terrifying to many in theory..."
After having a glorious fried turkey, Sifton try to replicate the recipe and meets his future wife:
"...we burned the turkey badly and managed somehow to pierce the bottom of the pot while doing so, igniting the oil and starting a fire that nearly engulfed a woman dressed in white Daisy Dukes who would later become my wife."
Yes, Virginia, those Allstate commercials are true, each year several dozen people burn large swaths of land and the occasional house trying to deep fry a turkey. But if you are so inclined (to cook one not to burn down the house) Sifton gives you all the sound advice that should keep you relatively safe.
Sifton is quick to tell you the screw-ups and how to avoid them. Remember, it takes several days for a frozen turkey to defrost. A frozen turkey on Thanksgiving morning means pizza for Thanksgiving.
My favorite Thanksgiving accoutrement is dressing. Again, being from the South we are not big on stuffing things into our bird, probably because there is no bird out there with a cavity large enough to hold our favorite dressing. Also, we are not fond of large chunks of dry bread being passed off as stuffing. Magazines love to show a stuffing that looks like a big bag of croutons. Please!
Here is on of Sifton's dressing recipes. He also has a recipe for cornbread which incorporates the dreaded SUGAR, but we will forgive the Yankee boy who got his cornbread recipe from a guy in Boston. Horror!
Three-Pepper Sausage Cornbread Dressing
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds andouille sausage, or fresh chorizo or hot Italian sausage
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, cleaned and diced
2 red or orange bell peppers, cored, seeded, and diced
2 poblano or Anaheim peppers, seeded and diced
2 serrano or jalapeño peppers, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, cleaned and roughly chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups chicken stock (if using store-bought, use low sodium variety)
1 pan cornbread, cut into cubes
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.2. Heat olive oil in large flat-bottomed sauté pan over medium high heat. Add sausage and sauté until browned, approximately 10 minutes. Remove to a large bowl and set aside.3. Add onion to the pan and reduce heat to medium, then sauté until onion begins to turn clear and soften, approximately 5 minutes. Add celery and peppers and continue cooking until peppers begin to soften, approximately 10 minutes.4. Pour vegetable mixture into bowl with sausage, add chopped cilantro, salt and pepper to taste, and toss to mix.5. Return pan to heat and deglaze with a splash of chicken stock, then scrape contents into bowl with sausage and vegetable mixture.6. Pour mixture into a large roasting pan and add cubed cornbread, mixing by hand. Add chicken stock to moisten, cover with aluminum foil, and place in oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until it is soft and the flavors well incorporated. If you desire a crunchy top, remove foil for final 10 minutes of cooking. (Dressing can be made ahead of time and reheated when needed. If dry upon reheating, add additional chicken stock)
While this book will be a God-send for the novice Thanksgiving cook, it is a delight for those of us who have cooked Thanksgiving dinner for years. An if you are invited to some else's house for dinner, forget the wine and take them a copy of Thanksgiving; they will be forever thankful.