Thanksgiving is without question my favorite holiday of the year. It involves all the things I love most – family, friends, fun in the kitchen, and obscene amounts of food. Before returning back to Boston for the annual FamilyStylesFoodFestFunTime, Chris and I decided to organize a London Thanksgiving to comfort the Americans missing their annual tryptophan hit back in the States and to introduce some Brits to their FirstEverThanksgiving. Such a phenomenal opportunity to welcome foreigners to a holiday that revels in stuffing yourself beyond capacity. Oh and we tossed a few Australians and Canadians in the mix too. I only wish we could have invited about thirty other friends, but we could barely pack the 20-odd guests into the living room already.
The menu was a classic Thanksgiving feast for the first-timers but also involved some first times for me. Like my first time brining a turkey! Apparently the ratio of one gallon of water to one cup salt and one cup sugar is ideal to unwind the meat proteins of the turkey, allowing the flavored solution to be drawn up into the meat. Sweet. More moisture + more flavor = happy eaters. There’s nothing worse than dry turkey breast. And you can add your choice of spices, aromatics and flavorings to make things even more exciting. Here’s what I came up with based on the contents of the kitchen:
Brine For A Juicy Turkey:
1 gallon water
1 cup salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 orange, sliced
1/2 lemon, sliced
4 cloves smashed garlic
1/2 tbsp black peppercorns
about 1/2 tbsp white pepper
about 1/2 tbsp Chinese five-spice
a few sprigs of thyme
Here is Boris (named for our London mayor) or Natasha (named for Boris) in his (or her) bag of spicy salty sweet bathwater.
Boris and Natasha were purchased the morning before the party from Wyndham House Poultry at Borough Market and brined for approximately 11 hours (about an hour a pound) in the fridge. Chris had big plans to deep fry one of our turkey friends and had even purchased 12 gallons of oil and created a MacGyver style contraption of assorted hardware store items to fry the turkey and avoid incinerating himself in a spectacular ball of flames. Alas, the weather refused to cooperate and potential explosions are best to keep outside, so Boris and Natasha were lovingly rubbed with butter, stuffed with onions, carrots, oranges, and lemons, and placed in the oven to ultimately look like this:
While the turkeys roasted, potatoes were simmered, bread was sliced, stock was reduced, celery was chopped, onions were sauteed and eggs were devilled. I also got all up in a few packages of dry-cured English streaky bacon from Broadway Market.
Irene and I have a Best Stuffing Ever recipe that we make in some variation every year. Now I know you probably think your stuffing is the Best Stuffing Ever, but our stuffing is actually the best, you just haven’t heard of it yet. Here’s why: it’s full of bacon. Not only will you find deliciously salty crunchy bits of bacon in every bite, but the entire stuffing is infused with amazingness because…all the vegetables are sauteed in bacon fat. See, I told you it was the best stuffing ever. Bean and I started making this stuffing many years ago when planning an every-item-on-the-Thanksgiving-table-will-include-bacon meal. That started our traditional Thanksgiving kitchen takeover and probably helped develop our shared love for food and cooking and utter ridiculousness. So it’s all thanks to bacon, really.
Above, you can see The Best Stuffing Ever: Deconstructed – a pile of bacon on a pile of mushrooms, leeks, and celery sauteed in bacon fat on a pile of sliced wheat and white bread. To make The Best Stuffing Ever yourself, use this recipe from Bon Appetit but keep in mind that it’s very forgiving of measurements and flavorings. You don’t really need seven cups of leeks – in fact you can leave them out altogether and the stuffing will be delicious. You also don’t need tarragon – you can use sage or rosemary or whatever you like.
Back to the main menu. The entire meal, after some tasty devilled eggs and pretzels and dip, looked like this:
Brined and Roasted Turkeys with Red Wine Gravy
Leek, Mushroom and Bacon Stuffing (aka Best Stuffing Ever)
Rye and Celery Stuffing (Also Seriously Excellent Stuffing)
Cheesy Mashed Potatoes (thanks for all the peeling, Jackie!)
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Chili and Parmesan
Green Bean Casserole (thanks Michelle!)
Candied Yams with Marshmallows (thanks Damien!)
Homemade Plain and Cheese Rolls (thanks Lizzie!)
And that’s not even mentioning the 4539845 bottles of alcohol and, of course, dessert. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without an excessive amount of dessert. Accordingly, I made five pies. Because I firmly believe that you can never have too much pie.
That includes two sweet potato pies (recipe here), because it’s hard to get real pumpkins here with a lot of flavor and I found out last minute that pumpkin in a can does not exist in London except as an American import. I got some funny looks in the supermarket. I also made two apple pies, one with a lattice crust and a little mini apple cutout. The butteriffic homemade pie crust recipe can be found here, which I liked because it did not request the use of a food processor or any other appliances I don’t own, only a sick amount of butter.
Here’s a picture of the pecan pie (recipe here), with a little bit of kitchen disaster in the background for good measure.
And our fabulous baker friend Lizzie brought over a stunningly gorgeous Pavlova topped with a mountain of fresh berries.
To say we ate a lot of food is a bit of an understatement. Some people had seconds and then thirds and then several plates of dessert and could barely stagger out the door. But that’s what Thanksgiving is all about, right? We even played the ‘I’m Thankful For…’ game which you write down on a slip of paper and put it into a hat. Then you pick out an an answer to read anonymously and dramatically to the entire table, which resulted in some hilarious, happy and heartwarming moments. Maybe that’s what Thanksgiving is all about. But even with all the love and all the effort, the twenty-two wonderful people in the room couldn’t finish off the absolutely monstrous amount of food on the table. And I give thanks for that. Because then we had leftovers. And that’s really what Thanksgiving is all about.