I have returned from Wisconsin, dog in tow, and I could not be happier to have this whole moving process finally, finally completed. But anyway, we can talk about that later. Let’s talk about Thanksgiving!
It goes without saying that, when in the middle of a year-long cooking project, the one day you absolute MUST cook on is Thanksgiving. I feel like that’s in the Constitution somewhere. So before I left New York, I picked out a couple Gwyneth side dishes to contribute to our enormous family meal, relishing the idea of force-feeding my health-food-phobic family Brussels sprouts. If you recall, the last time I cooked for my family, I made cheesy stuffed burgers. This time, I wasn’t going to take it so easy on them.
The original plan was to cook three side dishes, but it quickly became apparent that the kitchen was going to be occupied most of the day, with the oven out of commission for at least six hours due to our roasting turkey. So I settled on just two recipes: Caramelized Brussels Sprouts and Maple-Dijon Roasted Vegetables. The latter had my family intrigued; the former left most of them grimacing.
My sister Sara did a grocery run (meaning, in this family, to basically get more lard and beer), so I tacked my groceries onto the list. Not having to pay for the ingredients OR even go out and get them? I could get used to that. She returned with a bag full of produce and I immediately scolded her for bringing me real New York maple syrup, as opposed to real Vermont maple syrup, which Gwyneth insists on. Some people just don’t get it.
Most of the day was spent drinking and watching football while the turkey slowly roasted away in our oven. About an hour and a half before dinner was to be served, I finally got to work. I steamed the Brussels sprouts until they were tender, while various family members meandered over to poke and prod and sniff the sprouts like the chimps in 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Love you guys, by the way!) However, my cousin’s girlfriend Jamie is a vegetarian who often has difficulty at our meat-laden family gatherings finding enough to eat, so she was thrilled at the idea of Brussels sprouts and roasted vegetables. To some, Gwyneth is a true hero.
These strike fear into the heart of people like my mother.
I then got to work on the roasted vegetables, slicing sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots into French fry-sized pieces with the help of my sister Sara and my uncle Kurt. But, here’s the thing: My parents have a beautiful house and an awesome kitchen, and yet not a single decent knife to be found. It took far, far too long to slice these vegetables, and my sister and I found ourselves sweating as we hacked and sawed with blunted blades at the vegetables. We may as well have been using Stone Age tools. Fix this before Christmas, please, Mom and Dad.
Sara, trying not to chop her fingers off.
But eventually we finished the slicing, and the vegetables were arranged on a giant baking sheet. I then made the sauce, which was simply Dijon mustard, maple syrup, and salt and pepper. As I measured out the New York maple syrup (ugh), my dad realized a friend had given him fresh, real local Wisconsin maple syrup from their land, and he offered me the bottle. This, I knew immediately, was a development Gwyneth would have been EXTREMELY excited by. In fact, I wondered if she had even been offered local homemade maple syrup while preparing one of these recipes. Is it possible I just one-upped the quality of Gwyneth’s very own ingredients? Finally, I had something to be thankful for.
Suck it, Gwen.
Anyway, I poured the sauce over all the vegetables, and all that was left to do was roast them. Meanwhile I returned to the Brussels sprouts, which had been cooling on a cutting board. I sliced each sprout in half, heated some olive oil in a skillet, and proceeded to saute the Brussels sprout halves. As each side lightly browned, I flipped the sprouts over, giving a nice sear to each half. When they were finished I plated them and sprinkled lightly with lemon juice and salt. EASY. DONE. WONDERFUL.
Meanwhile, the turkey was still in the oven, and my vegetables still needed to be roasted. We put them in the warming pan below the oven to at least start the process, which caused the vegetables to get slightly warm, and that’s about it. The family was slowly starving to death as the internal temperature of the turkey didn’t seem to increase at all over the course of an hour, and then things got weird. Maybe it was impatience, or a sense of joy at being with family, or possibly just the result of drinking all day while waiting for dinner to cook, but an inexplicable dance party broke out in the kitchen. And I mean a full dance party, Black Eyed Peas soundtrack and all. Have you ever had an impromptu dance party in your kitchen with 20 relatives, including your grandfather, jumping up and down to “Let’s Get it Started”? Because I have, and it is bizarre.
Also my sister’s friend brought her new puppy over and LOOK AT HIM.
The dance party lasted about half an hour, and finally, through the magic of dance, the turkey was done. The oven immediately was re-filled with rolls, two casseroles, and my vegetables, and slowly our Thanksgiving dinner was pieced together. A Hogwarts-sized table was assembled and set, and all 1,000 of us finally, finally sat down to eat and be thankful and merry and make inappropriate jokes in a formal setting, at which we seem to excel.
Overall, I was disappointed with the roasted vegetables. The sweet potatoes were the best, because they absorbed the most amount of the sauce, so you really got a nice maple-Dijon taste with them. The parsnips were second-best, and the carrots were just the worst, tasting mostly like plain, roasted carrots. You could barely taste the maple-Dijon. If I made this again, I’d probably prepare twice the amount of maple-Dijon sauce, so I could pour some over the finished vegetables so they weren’t so bland.
Nikki helpfully illustrates my thoughts on the roasted vegetables.
The Brussels sprouts, on the other hand, I loved. They tasted fairly bland after the initial sauteing, which made me nervous, but the simple addition of salt and lemon juice really made them delicious. And, wouldn’t you know it, every last Brussels sprout was eaten! Who would have thought such a thing was possible in this family? And it goes without saying that Jamie was very, very happy to have more than the usual amount of vegetables, although now I’m worried she’s going to expect this from me every year.
THESE. Yes. Great.
So overall the dishes were okay, at the very least providing some variety to our usual turkey/stuffing/gravy fare. Plus, I’d never before contributed my own dish to the family meal, and it felt good to have two things out there that were all mine (and Gwyneth’s, I suppose). Thanksgiving as a whole was what I’ve come to expect from this family: insane, dramatic, hilarious, stressful, and one of the most fun weekends of the year. I can’t wait to do it all again in a month. Who knows what organic vegetable monstrosities I’ll force upon my family for Christmas.
My assembled plate. Oh my god yes.
What we did to that poor bird.
The results of feeding a family of 300.