| A stove-top Thanksgiving
How to make turkey happen when your kitchen is overstuffed. A Martha of the Mission special report.
By Karen Solomon
IN MARTHA OF the Mission's perfect world, you and your 18 friends would gather for the most celebrated of all food holidays round a royal oak table with ample seating and tableware, and dine sumptuously on a multicourse meal prepared in your expansive, posh, well-stocked kitchen. Afterward, you would retire, brandy snifter in hand, to the lavish library, recline on any of a number of couches, and reminisce about all that you're thankful for.
While most of us have plenty to be thankful for in the worldly or spiritual sense, most San Franciscans wish they could be a little more thankful for their apartment-size kitchen, with its perplexingly tiny appliances and nonexistent counter space. Your landlord is a cheap bastard, and more likely than not, you're afflicted with a leaky, inefficient, Betty Crocker Mini-Wave Oven completely ill-equipped to roast a 15-pound bird, never mind all the side dishes said bird requires. You could do a potluck and suffer the consequences of cold, mismatched food, or you could think beyond the limitations of your oven for a wonderful and remarkable meal.
For starters Add some class to your soiree while tree-hugging. Avoid disposable "dishes" and ineffective plastic "cutlery" like the plague. If you don't have enough dishes, silverware, or serving bowls and platters, go to the cheapest thrift store on the block and buy what you need for the night for, like, $3. When the party's over, you can return them the next day. Or, if you want to be that kind of host, you can always have your guests bring their own.
Don't let the Barbie Townhouse-like cubic inches of your oven's interior deter you from feeding an army. You and your giant bird have some cooking options that'll toss the ol' potbelly to the curb. You can get fancy with the preparations – the brining, the marinade – but a simple rub down with garlic, salt, pepper, herbs, and olive oil will always produce a flavorful result.
On the grill Blow the dust off of old Bessie in the backyard and bring the flavor of the Fourth of July to Thanksgiving. This is San Francisco, and the weather in July and November is more similar than you might recall, making it somewhat tolerable to pop outdoors every hour or so to check on the barbecued poultry. It can be difficult to control the heat under the hood, but you want to aim for a medium blaze, and plan on about 11 to 13 minutes a pound. Cook the bird breast-side up on a rack in a disposable pan full of water (make sure the bird doesn't touch the water) – the moisture will keep the meat from drying out, and the collected drippings can be used for gravy. When the meat thermometer reads 180 degrees, it's done.
Deep fryer Hands down, this is the most butch, most delicious way to prepare a turkey, though it does require a trip to the hardware store for about $75 worth of equipment, a propane tank, and enough hot oil to firebomb you and your neighbors. Needless to say, this must be done outdoors, and you should proceed with deep and sober caution. Heat four to five gallons of oil (peanut oil is best because it's less likely to smoke) to 360 degrees, and then fully submerge the room-temperature bird (traditionally, this would have a dash or seven of cayenne pepper or some other kick to it) in the pot's accompanying basket, keeping the temperature steady. Cook for three minutes a pound, plus a few minutes more, and then let it rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Here's the opportunity to be the most creative when it comes to oven achievement. Mashed potatoes and green beans are both stove-top no-brainers, but they taste best when made fresh and served hot, so save room on top of the stove for these critical players just before eating. For mashed potatoes, simmer (don't boil) cut potatoes until they're soft, about 20 minutes. Purists say to peel them first; I say the choice is yours. Mash them with as much butter, milk, salt, sour cream, and roasted garlic as you'll allow yourself. For the green beans, chop up a handful of sage and let it steep in olive oil overnight. Heat about three tablespoons of the sage-infused oil over medium heat in a frying pan, and then add a half cup of chopped hazelnuts and stir for about four minutes, until they begin to brown. Add a pound of washed, trimmed beans and stir until cooked but firm, about five minutes.
If your turkey is being cooked elsewhere, your trial-size oven will have room to heat or cook the critical carbohydrates that make the holiday complete. But if you do cook your bird indoors, it can sit, whole and covered, in a warm space. Here are a few sides that can be made ahead. All of these should be cooked in a pre-heated, 400 degree oven.
Baked blue sweet potatoes Visit an Asian market and look for Okinawan sweet potatoes. They're so blue they don't even look like food; once cooked, they turn the most stunning shade of indigo – they really perk up the 1970s earth tones of a Thanksgiving dinner plate. Wash them, pierce them, and roast them whole for 45 to 60 minutes, depending on their size. Eat them plain or with butter and brown sugar. (These are small enough to fit in the oven at the same time as the bird).
Stuffed acorn squash Cut one to four acorn squashes in half, scoop out the seeds, rub with salt, and bake, cut side down, on a foil-lined cookie sheet for 30 minutes, or just until tender. While that's doing its thing, finely chop one onion, two celery stalks, and two carrots and sauté them in two tablespoons of butter over medium heat for five minutes. Add a half pound of chopped mushrooms (as fancy or as white as you'd like). Stir for five minutes more. Add one cup of panko (Japanese bread crumbs, or use regular bread crumbs) and let the mixture brown for two minutes more. Stir in salt, pepper, and a quarter cup of stock or water. Mound into cooked squash, press in a decorative sprig of fresh rosemary, and top each squash with an additional pat of butter. Return them to the oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
Cornflake crumb stuffing This is my mom's hella-easy recipe, and in my opinion, it's a lot more crunchy and interesting than a soggy bread stuffing. Sauté three finely chopped medium onions and a diced celery stalk in a stick of butter (hey, nobody said this was a healthy holiday) over medium heat for about 12 minutes, until the vegetables are translucent and tender. Turn off the heat and add a half cup of water or stock and three-quarters of a teaspoon of Bell's Seasoning. This comes in a yellow box with a turkey on it, and despite the fact that the ingredients seem like they could be improvised – it is, after all, a spice mixture of oregano, thyme, ginger, marjoram, etc.; everything you already have in your pantry – this cannot be substituted. Add one and a quarter cups of cornflake crumbs and mix well. Bake in a square pan for 30 minutes.
Pies can be made in the morning before the turkey goes in the oven and left to sit on the proverbial window sill all day. But if you seek a no-bake dessert that can be whipped up quickly during that after-dinner pause, here are two suggestions:
Seared apples and pears over ice cream Melt three tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a sauté pan. Add slices of cored fruit, no more than a half-inch thick, in a single layer, and sear until the fruit turns caramel brown, about five minutes. Flip until it browns on the other side, three minutes more. Serve over vanilla or pumpkin ice cream.
Fresh fuyu with mascarpone cream Top big bowls of freshly quartered fuyu persimmons (the squat, tomato-shaped variety) with this densely rich cream. With a hand mixer or whisk, beat a half cup of heavy whipping cream, a half cup of mascarpone cheese, three tablespoons of powdered sugar, and one teaspoon of vanilla extract until peaks form.