Thanksgiving Day has come and gone, but I thought I might regale you with the tales of the past two weeks, starting the day before Thanksgiving. I took a vacation day to prepare and I’m very glad I did! I got up early in the morning, wrote out a few checks to stick in the mail and headed for the post office, followed by a quest for a fresh 20-pound turkey. Unfortunately, a large fresh turkey was not to be found at a reasonable price, so I settled for two 10-pounders. Once all the purchases were stashed at home, the marathon cooking started.
I began by making a huge pan of lasagna for Friday. My son and his crew were to arrive on Thursday and stay for a few days. It occurred to me that I didn’t want to serve turkey two or three days running. Never one to make anything small, I did a four-layer lasagna with tomato-basil-garlic designer noodles that I picked up at a Rossi Pasta outlet on a trek through Marietta a few months back.
Three and a half pounds of Ricotta, two pounds each of fresh-shredded Mozzarella and Parmesan and about ¾ of a gallon of Tuscan sauce that had been completely doctored to my taste, and I almost threw out my back lifting the huge pan from of the oven! An hour after assembly and cooking, the pan was cooling on the racks. It soon found its way into the freezer.
Next, I made “The Stuffing.” We’re not talking Stove-Top here, or even Pepperidge Farms bread cubes. I make “The Stuffing” from scratch, which includes drying my own bread. I set my daughter, Meredith, to the task of cutting up six cups of onions while I chopped the celery, then sautéed the results of that labor in butter. I added all the appropriate seasonings and spices and then put it in the fridge to await the annual cooking ritual.
My family would disown me if I made any other stuffing than what has become the traditional one for our family. My son practically inhales the stuff. One niece who lives out of state asked for the recipe. When I finally met her fiancé (now husband), his first words to me were “So you’re Aunt Betsy of the stuffing!”
Third in line was preparation of the homemade dressing for the spinach salad. Nothing in the store quite compares to what I put together in the food processor for this dish. I whizzed it all down, poured it into a quart container and stuck it in the fridge.
After that clean up, I started the pies…two pumpkin and one apple, all with crusts from scratch. The pumpkins I made with plain canned pumpkin that I add my own spices to, so I can control the flavors. They went into the oven first. Then I rolled the dough for the apple pie while Mom peeled and sliced the apples. It was huge and loaded. I set it aside until the pumpkin pies were done.
While I was waiting, I decided to experiment. I created a variation on my mother’s sour cream coffee cake. This version was pumpkin-pecan-sour cream cake. It required the same temperature as the apple pie. So I put the apple in at 450 for 15 minutes, then cranked it down as required and put the cake in to keep it company.
This is where the fun began. As the apple pie neared completion time, I realized I was hearing noise. When I opened the oven, I discovered that the overloaded pie was leaking juice all over the bottom of the oven and it was starting to smoke. I yanked the pie out, spilling more juice, began opening doors and windows, and clicked on the exhaust fan.
The downside of this action is that the oven cooled too quickly and the cake still required another 40 minutes. I didn’t dare turn it off and clean out the oven, so I attempted to finish the cooking even with smoke pouring out of the stove.
In the end, the cake had to come out before burning on the sides, but there was at least a layer that wasn’t quite done. The flavors and the texture ended up being reminiscent of a pumpkin torte or pudding. In my opinion, I need to try it again, but the holiday tasters loved it anyway, and my son took half of it back to NJ with him when he left.
By the time I dragged the experimental cake from the jaws of death, I had been on my feet in the kitchen for almost 10 hours. Quite frankly, I thought I would never be able to stand on my feet again without pain, but fortunately I was wrong! And it’s a good thing, because I had more cooking to do the next day! To be continued….