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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkEntertainment | Restaurants & Dining | November 2008 

The Irreverent Chef: Thanksgiving
email this pageprint this pageemail usLiana Turner - PVNN


May all your turkeys be moist and tender and all of your gatherings be full of goodwill, laughter, health, love, friendship, abundance and GRATITUDE!
 
Turkey day is coming soon for Americans, and for our friends from other countries who join us in celebrating what is probably our most meaningful holiday. I have never met a person from any country who didn't love a turkey dinner.

I like to see what happens when I say and think a particular word over and over again, until the word gets lost and all that remains is the true meaning. When I do that with "Thanksgiving" what is left after the word loses importance and visions of pilgrims in black construction paper hats and parades of gigantic balloon characters and football games on TV fall away, and they are replaced with the essence of family, friends, abundance, coming together, and most importantly, gratitude.

I don't mean gratitude in the way that I am thankful that my nine-year-old car is still running great, or that I found two perfect Ralph Lauren shirts at an outlet mall for $9.99 each, or that now that summer is over I can finally afford to get manicured again. This is a gratitude that goes far deeper, and has more meaning, so much so that it is difficult to express, but it has to do with being here on the Earth with the people who love and surround me, near and far, and appreciating nature and beauty at its most basic, from the sun and the moon right down to the dirt and rocks.

As I evolve as a person (get older) the simple things become more and more important, and the complicated, busy things that seemed so important before, lose their attraction. Conflict is no longer a fun sport to participate in. Ego becomes a less invasive part of my existence. Basically, I'm finally learning how to have a good time! Keep it simple, and don't sweat the small stuff... mottos for the new age.

I have always felt protective about Thanksgiving... the dinner part of it, I mean. It should be as simple as possible, and as easy as an all-day meal preparation can be. The person who volunteers to cook the turkey must be prepared to work hard and stand strong (and don't forget to delegate, especially the cleanup. You have done all the work. Let the others finish.)

An American Thanksgiving dinner is a grand tradition, with turkey as the center, and mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, yams or sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie rounding out the rest of the dinner. There are, of course, some variations of dishes in certain regions and certain families, but the basic menu is pretty much the same.

I like the idea of having something that is constant and doesn't change, even though I love change in general, but some things should not fluctuate, and I think turkey dinner is one of them. Roulades, soufflés, mignonettes, prosciutto, anything that is infused, foamed or molecularly gastronomic should not be part of a traditional turkey day. Some things must remain sacred.

My family had a deep-fried turkey one year. It was the only year that the turkey became the exclusive dominion of the men. There was something about a high powered gas burner and several gallons of volatile boiling oil in the driveway that really got the testosterone flowing. They had never shown much interest on other occasions when the turkey was just sitting in the oven (until it came out and they could raid the skin.) The deep fried turkey was good, but the cost of the oil and the gas and renting the burner did not make it more attractive.

I say "Why mess with a great thing?" A turkey... a roasting pan... an oven... it is such a beautifully pure symphony of kitchen song that you can't go wrong. Please do get an instant-read thermometer, though, the kind that you stick in the bird to check the internal temperature (don't leave it in when you put it back in the oven.)

An over cooked turkey is a crime in my eyes, and I think we should start legislation to make over cooking of all poultry and seafood illegal everywhere. Allow approximately 20 minutes per pound cooking time, but don't take my word for it. Toward the end, start checking with the thermometer. When the inside temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit, the bird is DONE. (Okay, don't tell this to the USDA, or the health department, but if you want a really truly moist and tender turkey, take it out at 160 degrees. It will continue to cook as you prepare to serve the rest of the meal, and will reach 165 degrees. Trust me.) Take it out of the oven immediately. Cover it with foil. It will stay warm for a long time while you make the gravy and serve everything.

Side dishes are up to debate to an extent. The mashed potatoes should be normal, no wasabi or rosemary oil, just potatoes, cream and butter, salt and pepper. The stuffing for the turkey, I won't try to influence. There are so many possibilities and combinations, and everyone has their own "best." The "best" for me is homemade bread croutons, butter, onions, apples, celery, garlic, fresh sage and thyme, and the stock that I have made with the turkey neck and giblets (LOVE that silly word!) and an onion, a carrot, celery and some garlic and herbs. If some people weren't so damn picky, I would also put oysters in my stuffing, but it's hard to please everyone with oysters. In this world we have two different kinds of people: the oyster lovers, and the other guys. Maybe this year I will make an extra batch with oysters...

I like to add a green salad, just for health's sake. The gravy is basic, using the rest of the stock that we made with the giblets and vegetables, and some nice dry wine. Pumpkin cheesecake is good, but in my crowd, people would miss the real thing, which is the pie with whipped cream. Why mess with perfection? We can have cheesecake anytime.

One thing to remember is that if you are going to cook your own turkey, buy it in advance. It will be frozen, and you need at least three days in the refrigerator to thaw it. Alternatively, and if you don't mind living dangerously and going against the advice of health departments everywhere (overzealous) you can put your turkey in a large cooler with ice and it will defrost in two days without taking up all of your precious fridge space.

Note to potential clients: These are my biased opinions and only reflect what I would like for my own Thanksgiving dinner. If you want me to prepare a fried turkey with molecularly crafted gin infused gravy with prosciutto, and pumpkin soufflé for dessert, I would consider it.

In conclusion... Happy Holidays and may all your turkeys be moist and tender and all of your gatherings be full of goodwill, laughter, health, love, friendship, abundance and GRATITUDE!

Keep it simple and don't sweat the small stuff!

The Irreverent Chef, a.k.a. Liana Turner, is the chef and owner of Paradise Bakery and Catering. Serving the "Best Cinnamon Rolls in Vallarta," along with delicious sandwiches, salads, main dishes and yummy sweet treats every day but Sunday, and providing all styles of catering services, from pre-prepared meals to-go for informal gatherings to full service elegance for dinners, cocktail parties, wedding receptions and special events, Paradise Bakery & Catering is located at Sierra Aconcagua 299, Prolongacion Brasil, Colonia Lazaro Cardenas, Puerto Vallarta. For more information, call (322) 222-5133 or visit VallartaCatering.com.

Click HERE for more articles by The Irreverent Chef



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