For the fifth year in a row, I prepared a turkey dinner for ten adults and three children. Every year I resolve to make the meal less complicated than the previous, and so far it seems to be working. My reason for getting progressively simpler is that I’ve come to realize that, at least for this family, the Christmas dinner is much more about gathering the family together for a day and night of festivities than it is about the meal itself.
This year I threw out the complicated roasted orange and sage gravy in exchange for a more traditional gravy made with the turkey drippings and a bit of white wine. I scrapped the mashed yams with roasted garlic and balsamic vinegar in favor of a pan of oven-roasted herbed root vegetables. I ditched the time-sensitive steamed beans in favor of a pan of grilled peppers and aromatic vegetables (herbed to match the root vegetables). I ix-nayed the sausage and apple stuffing and substituted an easy bread and herb mix, made from scratch using turkey stock from the previous year’s bird.
The only thing that didn’t change was the mashed potatoes. Hmmm, come to think of it, I added some roasted garlic to it this year.
It should have gone as smoothly as silk. I even prepared the stuffing the day before and put it into two buttered Pyrex dishes. (I never actually “stuff” the stuffing; I cook it separately.) Unfortunately, that lead to the first problem.
As you can imagine, hosting six guests and preparing dinner for 13 puts refrigerator space at a premium. Fortunately, we had a lot of snow this year, so in advance of the Christmas Eve rain, I shovelled some of that new, fresh snow into several Rubbermaid Roughneck bins, to act as coolers. After I prepared the stuffing, I covered the dishes with cling wrap and put them into one of the bins, on top of about six inches of fresh snow. Next morning I went to check on them. Unfortunately, the dishes had still been warm when I put them in the bin, causing most of the snow to melt. (I use this technique frequently, and that’s the first time I’ve had a problem with premature melting.) Worse, one of the dishes was partially submerged in the icy water, causing the stuffing to become waterlogged.
Oh no! I pressed down on the stuffing to squeeze the water out, but that also squeezes out the flavour. I squeezed out as much as I dared, then popped the dish in the oven to see if it would recuperate. (By the way, the snow was freshly fallen, white virgin snow, so I wasn’t worried about contamination.) Unfortunately, even after 40 minutes in the oven it was still waterlogged.
Plan B. I had to get more supplies anyway, so I picked up a box of supermarket “stove top” stuffing. I prepared it with less water than it called for, then mixed in about half of the waterlogged home made stuff. At serving time, you could barely distinguish between the pan of fully-homemade stuffing (the one that hadn’t gotten waterlogged) and the mashup one. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, though, as it implies that my homemade stuffing was no better than an off-the-shelf commercial one.
Then there were the turkeys. Last year I decided to make two smaller turkeys instead of one large one. It worked out well, except the cooking took almost an hour longer than expected, which threw off my timing significantly. This year I was prepared, and added 45 minutes to the calculated roasting time of the two birds.
However, just before I put them in the oven, I let someone convince me to try cooking the birds very hot for a short time first, then lower the temperature for the remaining time. This supposedly ensures nice crispy skin. I must have over-estimated what “a short time” means (I roasted at 425°F for 45 minutes), because only two hours into the four hours I had alloted for roasting, the birds appeared to be almost ready.
I recovered by tenting the birds in foil and dropping the temperature to a very low 225°F. I let it stay for the full four hours, and it worked out perfectly; the birds were cooked just right, with golden skin and juicy meat.
There you go, two elegant recoveries. I’m happy to report that nobody seemed to mind the simplified menu. At serving time I set up a plating line in which I plated the roasted veggies, then handed it off to a brother in law who plated the mashed potatoes and stuffing, then to another brother in law who added the turkey, and a third brother in law ran the plates to the table. Everybody was served in about four minutes.
So there. Keep it simple. Maybe next year we’ll just order from Saint Hubert.