Menu planning for Thanksgiving

T-day cookbooks
Two Thursdays from now is probably the last Thanksgiving in a while that I will drive down to my parents’ house and take the lead in preparing the big family meal. Once they move away, I’ll either be flying out just for the holiday, or we will all travel to some other location, so I won’t be in a position to make Thanksgiving dinner again. (Any attractive, athletic younger people who have a thing for homely, overweight older guys are totally welcome to help remedy that!) I’m still working out the menu plan, and when posted a photo of a big pile of cookbooks on Twitter a few minutes ago, it immediately occurred to me that I should have made a blog post instead. So here is where I’m at:

I make a standard turkey stock from frozen turkey wings a few weeks ahead of time, which is used in the gravy and the stuffing. The bird itself will continue to be the Test Kitchen’s dry-salted and barded bird (“Old Fashioned Stuffed Turkey”, Cook’s Illustrated, 11/2009) with the Web-only companion recipes for sausage and fennel stuffing and turkey gravy. This recipe gives a juicy, well-seasoned bird with a crisp, golden skin, but does require some advance preparation. Photos to come on the day appointed.

Usually my mother will take care of vegetables, dinner rolls, and pie. I generally don’t like the traditional Thanksgiving vegetables (carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts) so we’ll do something like spinach, which I actually do like. I’m looking at three different creamed spinach recipes (normally I wouldn’t do creamed spinach, but it’s better for sharing than my usual sauteed spinach with onions and peppers, and fits with the traditional richness of the day):

  • “Creamed spinach with nutmeg and parmesan”, from Christopher Kimball’s Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook, p. 189. (3 lb spinach, 1 pt cream, onion)
  • “Spinaci alla crema”, from The Silver Spoon, p. 568. (2 1/4 lb spinach, 1 cup cream)
  • Alice Waters’ creamed spinach, from her The Art of Simple Food, p. 312 (1 lb spinach, 1/3 cup cream, onion)

All of the recipes are made with nutmeg and parmesan, so I’m not sure why Kimball feels the need to call it out. Kimball’s notes claim that other recipes are not rich enough (!) and leave a bitter taste, hence the 3:1 ratio of spinach to cream (the others are 4.5:1 and 6:1, respectively). I’m not sure I believe this, but it might be worth a try. The principal open question for me is whether I’ll be able to use one of the recipes with onion in it; some family members are anti-onion, but I don’t know if they’ll be having dinner with us or would eat creamed spinach anyway. I’m pretty sure one pound of spinach is not enough (I can eat half of that just on my own!) so if I made Waters’ recipe I’d probably have to double it.

The other thing I’d like to do is to dispense with the dinner rolls and have cornbread instead. I’ve found numerous possibilities, and I’m not sure which will be best:

  • The Test Kitchen has both Northern- and Southern-style cornbread recipes (The New Best Recipe, pp. 693–695), which are fairly traditional.
  • King Arthur Flour’s Whole-Grain Baking has a recipe (p. 556) that uses buttermilk and honey, and also includes some odd flour. (Whole-wheat pastry flour? Whole corn meal? Where am I going to get those without mail-ordering them from the KAF store?)
  • Greg Patent’s Baking in America has a very old-fashioned (as in, before chemical leaveners) recipe (p. 118) for a yeasted cornbread that sounds interesting, although it makes a much larger quantity than any of the other recipes (which are all done in a 9×9 square pan or a 9-inch cast-iron skillet).
  • Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for More Food has a skillet cornbread recipe (p. 118) which, oddly enough, uses all-purpose flour, unlike traditional Southern cornbread which has no wheat flour. Brown’s Good Eats cornbread recipe uses creamed corn, which makes it unsuitable for this time of year (since corn has been out of season for a couple of months now).

Any comments from people who have tried these recipes are welcome. Hopefully other people can benefit from the experience, and I’ll update once I’ve made a final decision.

UPDATE (2013-11-18): We’re going to do the onion-free Italian version of creamed spinach, and I’m probably going to do the leavened cornbread (although, having done the research, I’m feeling mildly inclined to try some of the others at home now).

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