Thanksgiving 2012 is over. We had nine people (seven adults and two children) crowded around the holiday table and a good time was had by all. It was great, but I’m glad it’s over.
The full bill of fare was:
A smoked 12 pound organic turkey hen with gravy
Cornbread and sausage stuffing from an old Craig Claiborne recipe
Cranberry sauce with pinot noir from Epicurious
Potatoes au gratin
Brussel sprouts with lemon and pancetta
Homemade apple pie made with apples from our tree
Cheesecake and mini-bundt cake cupcakes
We started preparing in earnest for Thanksgiving dinner, about seven days earlier:
- Friday, 16 November – I was committed to providing the first three items on the menu plus the apple pie, so spent an hour or two going over my archive of Thanksgiving recipes, plus a few new online sources to work up a master shopping list. My goal: to get as much grocery shopping done before the last three days preceding Thanksgiving to avoid the rush.
- Saturday, 17 November – We have hardwood floors in the living room, dining room, and hallway of our house. They hadn’t been cleaned in far too long. Events early in the day kept me away from cleaning… so I got pretty much everything done between 6pm and 10pm.
- Sunday, 18 November – What went for the hardwood floors on Saturday, went double for the bathroom floor on Sunday. I got that done by the early afternoon and then went to the local produce market to pick up the bulk of my shopping list with most of the rest coming from a nearby Whole Foods.
- Monday, 19 November – While at work during the afternoon, I realized that I needed to increase the size of our turkey. The turkey was coming from Whole Foods, so I just called and changed the order from an 8-10lb bird to a 12-14lb bird. I also cooked up some cornbread for the dressing.
- Tuesday, 20 November – Pick up the turkey day… a 12lb organic hen, that I promptly took home and put in brine for an 18-20 hour rest. I also stopped at a local wine merchant and picked up a couple bottles of Austrian dry Riesling. Some of the guests were bringing red wine, I wanted to have another option.
- Wednesday, 21 November – After sitting in the brine, the turkey was removed and left to chill in refrigerator covered by a plastic bag overnight. I then picked the last four apples off our apple tree, combined them with one other that previously fell off the tree (a last apple fell off but rotted in the fridge) and a few of the same variety that I purchased on Sunday to make the apple pie.
- Turkey Day, 22 November – The morning was spent doing some cleaning touch up and getting the table ready — the table was extended with a leaf, the table cloth changed, and the “good” china put out. Around 12:30pm, I started the fire in the smoker and put four quarts of water in the water pan. The smoker was slow to come up to the target temperature of 325 degrees F. It first started at around 225 degrees, perfect pork smoking temperature. I then lit and added additional charcoal, bringing it up to around 250 degrees. Then the turkey went in at around 1:15pm, figuring that if it went into the smoke for 60-90 minutes at lower temperature, I could finish it in the oven. I added more unlit charcoal, and the temperature climbed to around 295 degrees. After 90 minutes or so, the middle of the breast rose a third to a half the difference between the 45 degree starting temperature and the 165 degree finish. With bird in hand, I prepped the ingredients for the dressing. By around 4pm, the temperature rose to the 325-335 degree range, and the middle of the breast was 155 degrees. I made the cranberry sauce and cooked the dressing, and then saw to last minute details.
As it was, there was a small communications snafu — I told guests to arrive between 4:30 and 5pm, and Mrs. Geek thought I’d set a firm 5pm arrival time. So, husband, wife, and child were not quite as ready as we might have been when the first guests arrived around 4:30pm. That was my fault, entirely.. but it all came out ok in the end.
The turkey came out of the smoker at around 5:15pm and I made gravy. We dined on some cheese and charcuterie, while the last of the guests arrived. With a full compliment and some last minute (re-)heating, we sat down around 6pm and an excellent time was had by all.
A few pictures from the event:
A collection of apples, some from our tree, some professionally raised. The two runts on the ends are easy to spot as home grown, but the others not so much. I look forward to seeing what the tree will do next year!
The apples (variety: Sierra Beauty) stay rather firm when cooked. I need to keep the apple slices on the thin side. I also used the America’s Test Kitchen “vodka” pie crust recipe — it makes a very soft dough, but I was afraid it would fall apart more than once. It did not. I need to remember to be more careful adding liquid. It made a good looking pie, don’t you think?
The turkey came out great this time around. A number of our guests had heard from me about smoked turkey and this one did not disappoint. The time in the brine generally made it so juicy that it practically made a mess of the kitchen floor once I started carving it.
Once the festivities were done, I was no good to anyone for about two days. It wasn’t so much as living as existing… but that’s what days off are for, I guess.