After last year’s unusual Thanksgiving due to COVID, it was wonderful this year to celebrate the 2021 Thanksgiving by once again being able to open our homes to guests! I hope everyone has had an enjoyable holiday and that you, too, were able to spend it in the manner we’ve all come to know and love. As much as I enjoy other holidays including especially Christmas, one of my favorites always has been Thanksgiving because how can you go wrong with turkey, leftovers, football, and afternoon naps!
Cooking a big feast is one of the best parts of Thanksgiving, and I really enjoy doing this. I don’t like that my guests won’t have leftovers at home, though, so I cook double the amount and send lots of food home with them. For example, for Thanksgiving for six people, I’ll cook enough for (at least) 12 — and this way the guests don’t have to be without leftovers since they didn’t eat at home on the holiday. (Be sure to have to-go containers because none of us likes to have somebody’s dishes we need to return …)
For this year’s meal, I made two 5-pound turkey breasts, favorite side dishes, and scratch cakes. My turkeys baked in the oven over the years frankly haven’t been all that special, so in recent years I’ve cooked turkey breasts in my slow cooker, which is something I use often for a variety of foods given the juicy and tender outcomes.
Favorite Browning Slow-Cooker
My favorite slow cooker is the All-Clad 7-Quart with All-In-One-Browning, so much so that I gave away my other ones. And while 7 quarts can hold a lot of food, it would not have accommodated both of this year’s turkey breasts, so I cooked one yesterday and one early this morning.
The reason I love this All-Clad slow cooker so much is that I can sear meat first before changing over to the slow cooking function. This gives not only great, locked-in flavor but also beautiful color, which isn’t always found with meats cooked in a slow cooker.
Turkey Breast #1
For the first turkey, I seared all sides in olive oil and then removed it from the slow cooker. After removing the turkey, I added and sautéed chopped onion and finely minced garlic, which of course makes the house smell amazing! Then, I made up a mixture of cranberry sauce, freshly squeezed orange juice, orange zest, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, pepper, and Everglades Seasoning (a longstanding Evans family favorite), and added it to the sautéing garlic and onions.
When the flavors all had gotten together, I returned the turkey breast to the slow cooker, placed it on top of this yummy base, and ladled some of it over the turkey. It cooked for five hours before reaching the desired 170 degrees. The base then was turned into a delicious gravy on top of the stove.
Turkey Breast #2
For the turkey cooked today, I wanted a different flavor profile, so after searing all sides and removing the turkey from the slow cooker, I sautéed minced garlic and chopped onions, which soon were joined by large pieces of oven-baked bacon, mushroom caps, and fresh thyme. Everglades Seasoning once again joined the party, and after browning the base, the turkey was returned to the slow cooker and topped with some of the bacon, mushrooms, onions and garlic.
It cooked for five hours, and then the base was made into a chunky gravy with big pieces of bacon and mushrooms. (One thing I’ve learned is that when cooking something like this in the slow cooker, keep food pieces large as they naturally will break down some during the long and slow cooking, so if you start out with them large, they’ll keep their shape and texture at the end.)
Dressing (or Stuffing, as some call it)
One of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving is the dressing (we’ve never called it stuffing in my family as we don’t stuff it inside the bird but rather bake it on its own), and each year I make a different kind. My personal favorite is my grandmother’s cornbread and oyster dressing, but I enjoy trying something new each year. Today I made an Andouille sausage, Granny Smith apple, and toasted walnut dressing with half Cuban bread and half Italian bread cut into cubes. The aroma of sautéing onions, garlic, sausage, apples and walnuts was wonderful, and made a nice welcome to my guests coming through the door!
The other side dishes for today were green beans (always), mashed red potatoes mixed with buttermilk and cream cheese, cranberry sauce, and rolls.
Orange, Chocolate-Chunk Mini-Cakes for Dessert
Dessert was orange, chocolate-chunk, mini-cakes, which, while still warm from the oven, were covered in a simple syrup made of freshly squeezed orange juice and sugar, and then when cooled, were drizzled with a chocolate espresso ganache made in a double boiler. Each person had a little cake of approximately 4″ diameter baked in a mini-bundt-cake pan I’ve had a long time.
Chocolate Ganache Do’s and Don’ts
And while we’re on the subject of chocolate ganache, for those who haven’t learned this lesson the hard way like I did a long time ago – whatever happens, don’t even for a second lay down your spatula and walk away from the stove while your chocolate is slowly melting into heavy whipping cream over a pot of simmering hot water. I guess if your kitchen is on fire, you should leave – but other than this, just don’t do it because it’s not going to end well! Once chocolate has burned and seized, it’s over. Time out, stop the clock, it’s over.
One time I tried rehabilitating my seized chocolate ganache and in the process, kept making the situation worse by the minute until ultimately I had a horrible concoction. I don’t think you could create a gritty sludge like that even in a chemistry lab. So, if your chocolate seizes, take the smart path, throw it out, and start over because it is going to get worlds worse the more you try to make it right. Just trust me on this! (And, this photograph is how ganache should look – smooth, shiny, silky chocolate!)
Food and the Stories of our Lives
Especially at the holiday table like today’s, food brings us together as we celebrate making those dishes that as children, we watched our aproned mothers and grandmothers make – while we also make new dishes with our own signature on them. Food is sustenance, true, but it’s so much more. It carries the story of our lives, our time spent with those we love and care for, and our long-held family traditions that shaped us into who we are as people.
In my particular family tradition, Southern, we break bread together regularly; we celebrate happy occasions with food; we express sympathy by bringing covered-dish foods to those who’ve lost a loved one; and we talk a lot about food and recipes to teach and remind us what it means to be a part of our family.
My wish for you today is that you were with friends, family and loved ones for a blessed 2021 Thanksgiving!