Perhaps the largest of which was the fact that I do not have a proper oven. Due to the lack of space in this old city, many apartments don't come with a fully stocked kitchen. To maximize space my landlord purchased a microwave oven/oven that works both as a microwave and as an actual oven. It's a genius invention but it's the size of a microwave and so wouldn't fit a turkey no matter how I might try to force it. The only one of us who does have a real oven is Mr. Johnson, though it isn't the most elite of appliances either. A petit little thing with confusing pictures for settings it presented a few "user-error" moments during the cooking process. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I hadn't even stepped foot into Mr. Johnson's apartment when I started preparing for the feast.
Being the sole American and a person who has a problem accepting help in the kitchen, I was in charge of the majority of dishes. The menu was as follows, turkey (obviously), dressing, green bean casserole (completely from scratch, none of this French's onion and cream of mushroom soup nonsense), candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. I wanted to make sure I included all the classics since this was everyone's first Thanksgiving. Sandra volunteered to make the mashed potatoes and I was more than happy to pass the torch since my plate was full enough already. Cranberries were nowhere to be found and so they didn't make it to the table and I knew no one would miss them because none of my friends know they should even be there.
This isn't my first rodeo and so I knew that as much of this stuff as I could get done ahead of time the better. So the night before I stayed up until 1:30 am preparing the stuffing and deep frying my own onion slices for the green bean casserole. Meanwhile, my turkey sat in a bag of homemade brine to ensure that it would be juicy and delicious come dinner time. For a long time I thought I didn't like turkey. It was always dry and boring. I was under the impression that this was why gravy was invented, to make the crumbly slices edible. But then I discovered brining and my whole world changed. Brining is the process of soaking a turkey in a salt water mixture. Since the turkey soaks up a lot of the salt, it then must also soak up a lot of liquid because of a wonderful thing called osmosis. This then results in a juicy and delicious turkey! It can be a bit of a pain in the ass but I definitely think it's worth it.
So here it was, my Parisian Thanksgiving day. I woke up early so that I could make the pumpkin pie and get the green bean casserole ready for the oven. I made my own bechamel sauce with some shredded cheese and caramelized onions and mixed in the blanched green beans. I spooned them into a baking dished, topped them with bread crumbs and my fried onions, and set it in the fridge to hang out until it's time was up. I then moved on to the pumpkin pie. Not having all my usual tools here made things a bit more of a challenge. Instead of using my beloved Cuisinart Food Processor to mix my pie crust, I shredded the cold butter in with a cheese grater and then mixed it by hand. A lack of counter space and large cutting boards meant I was reduced to rolling it out on the kitchen table and by the end of it I was completely covered in flour. Why do I insist on wearing all black when I do these things? I also didn't have a pie tin and so used one of the cake pans that we have instead. It wasn't the prettiest of crusts but it looked like it would be flaky and delicious and so I popped it in the fridge to cool while I prepared the pumpkin filling.
Since Thanksgiving isn't celebrated here, that meant that they don't have pumpkin puree at the ready at every super market. Because of this I had to make my own pumpkin puree. I was a bit excited about this because I love making things from scratch and it seemed easy enough. Plus, though they don't rock canned pumpkin they do have gigantic wedges of pumpkin in almost every produce section. I stabbed at the rind and tossed it in the oven to roast and soften. Since I don't have a food processor, I wanted it to be as soft as possible so that it wouldn't be too much work to puree it. And by the time I took it out of the oven it was so mushy that all I really had to do was scoop it from the rind. It was a bit stringy but it smelled incredible and I whisked it into my custard, excited to taste this "from scratch" pie.
Christy came home to help me bring the two massive, heavy bags of food to Mr. Johnson's flat, but when she arrived the pie was still cooking away in the oven. One thing I didn't account for is that cake pans are much deeper than pie tins. This meant that the custard filling was taking it's sweet time to set. But time was ticking and I was growing concerned that the turkey wouldn't be in the oven soon enough. Panic set in and I decided to send Christy off so that she could preheat the oven and throw the turkey in so that it could start it's own long cooking process. I threw a bowl of butter in under the pie to melt so that I could prepare the cheese cloth (which I couldn't find so I was really using a wash cloth) which would be soaked in butter and wine and place on top of the turkey for the first hour or so of cooking. Since my microwave/oven is placed exceptionally high I had to stand on a chair to get the butter out or risk spilling it all over myself and ruining my young and beautiful face. But oven mits aren't exactly dexterous and halfway through grabbing the butter I realized something horrible was going to happen. The rack was slipping and the pie with it. Before I knew it, Christy was screaming out "STORKIE!" and the pie was crashing onto the floor.
I stood on the chair in bewilderment. There were two ways this could go, I could either cry at the loss or laugh at the hilarity of the situation. And standing on the chair looking down at the mess on the floor and the wall and all over the place, it really seemed like laughing was the only option. Well that, and eating a bit off the floor. I had spent so long and made my own pumpkin puree and everything, how could I just throw it away without tasting a bit of it. So Christy and I turned into real fat kids and ate the hot mess off the floor. And boy was it delicious. The crust was flaky perfection. The filling was pumpkin spice amazement. It was tragic. It was hilarious. It meant I had to make another pie.
But that had to wait, Christy and I needed to hustle our way to the metro and bring all the fixings to Mr. Johnson's place. Christy and walked to the metro burdened by some of the heaviest bags on earth, with Christy's containing a raw turkey dancing around willy nilly with every step. Standing on the metro with a raw turkey and a bag of ingredients between our feet brought about a few funny stares, but maybe it was the smell of poultry and raw onions.
We made it to Mr. Johnson's apartment and I was happy to unload the goods. It was then that I had to translate the crazy symbols that were his oven setting and stick the turkey in there. After only 15 minutes it was starting to get brown, really really brown, so I turned down the heat and continued with my other preparations. I candied the sweet potatoes and set the aside to caramelize under the broiler later. Meanwhile I started making yet another pumpkin pie but at least this time I knew exactly what I was doing. Everything was going smoothly, but then I took the turkey's temperature.
It was half an hour before anyone was supposed to be there and yet there it was, the turkey was done. What was I going to do? Six rolled by and no one had arrived yet. Six thirty and still not a single sole and stepped foot into the apartment. At seven thirty the first guests were coming and so I decided, screw it, and put the turkey back in the oven to crisp up. But, again, the oven was a bit funky and so one side of the turkey blackened while the other side, the side I could see through the window, was golden and perfect. I took the turkey out and threw the dressing, green bean casserole, and sweet potatoes in to finish. Elze carved the bird and put the pieces in the roasting pan so they could sit in the delicious drippings. We set the table and all sat around, what I must admit, was a beautiful spread.
(Yes, Mom, I know the roll of paper towels isn't adding anything...)
Suanne and her enormous appetite.
Beautiful Elze behind "the spread".
Martin digging in on the juicy turkey goodness.
Luke with his very own leg. Lucky bastard.
Though things hadn't gone exactly to plan everything turned out in the end. The turkey was perhaps the best turkey I had ever had. While I would like to take 100% of the credit, I must admit that the quality of the bird was most likely above any turkey I've ever bought in the states. It was fatty and flavorful and dripping with sweet succulent juice. But even with the delicious meal, the best part of the evening was sharing it with all my friends. It was fun to hear what they liked the most and to listen to them talk about how they had never had this or that before. As per tradition I made everyone go around the table and say what they were thankful for, and we were all thankful for the same thing. To be here, in Paris, with friends from all over the world. Just like the first Thanksgiving we were in new place trying to survive and we had each other to help us through it all.
Everyone left so full they were about to burst, which I told them is another Thanksgiving tradition. There was barely any turkey left because we all had helped ourselves to at least two servings. While I may be a bit sad not to have shared this holiday with my family back home, at least I was able to introduce all my friends here to one of my favorite traditions. And really, no matter where your from, sharing a meal is a great way to spend an evening. Every culture appreciates and practices it. Food is something that can bring anyone together, and isn't that really what Thanksgiving is all about?
adapted from Martha Stewart
I brine my turkey for 24 hours, so make sure you're ready in advance. You also should be aware of the fact that you have to let your brine cool completely before you can soak the turkey in it, so usually it's good to make it a day before you plan on using it.
10 cups water
3 cups coarse salt
5 cups of sugar
1/2 bottle of dry white wine
Aromatics (this can be anything of your choosing that you think will make your turkey taste better, I used onions, leeks, carrots, herbs de provence and peppercorns.)
Bring to a boil and stir until all of the sugar and salt have dissolved completely. Let cool. Place in a large pot or bag big enough to fit the turkey. Put the turkey breast side down in the brine and add enough water to fully submerge the turkey. You will have to weigh the turkey down with something since it will float in the brine. Leave for 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 425 degree. Remove the turkey 2 hours before roasting, pat dry, and let sit at room temperature. Soak a cheese cloth in melted butter and white wine and place on the turkey breast so that it covers the breast completely and goes halfway down the sides. Place in oven for 30 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and brush the cheese cloth and turkey with the white wine and butter mixture as well as any drippings about ever 30 minutes. Roast until a thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the thigh (not touching the bone) reads 170-180 degrees (the times will depend on the size of your turkey, and can be found here http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/lets_talk_turkey/index.asp). Remove the cheese cloth for the last hour of roasting to ensure a good delicious brown crispy crust.
Since I was afraid that the brine would make my turkey drippings too salty for use in a gravy, I made my gravy ahead a time with a chicken carcass I had from dinner the night before. I then pan fried the turkey giblets with some bacon and added that to a pot along with the chicken bones. I then deglazed the pan with white wine and added that, along with more wine, peppercorns, and herbs de provence, to the pot with the poultry bits. I cooked this over low heat until it was nice and brown, a few hours. I strained the bits away and brought it to a slow boil. Meanwhile I mixed about a quarter of a cup of flour with a cup of wine by shaking them in a jar. I used this, little by little, to thicken the gravy until it was at a desirable consistency.
Candied Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes (about one for two people) peeled and sliced into disks.
1/4 cup water
In a sauce pan mix the butter, whiskey, maple syrup, brown sugar and water until the butter melts. Add the sweet potato slices and coat with the liquid. Cook over high heat until the liquid is thickened and the sweet potatoes are almost done. Transfer to a baking dish and finish in the oven to make a caramelized glaze on top.
Pick Axe Stuffing
Bread (good crusty kind)
Dried Apricots, chopped
Tear bread into small pieces and leave out to dry for a day or two.
In a large non-teflon pan, cook the sausage, bacon, leeks, and apricots until browned and delicious. Add to bread with cashews. Deglaze the pan and use as the juice to bind the stuffing along with eggs. The stuffing should be fairly moist but not too wet. Place in baking dish and heat at about 350 degrees until warmed through.
From-Scratch Green Bean Casserole
2 medium onions, sliced and caramelized
1lb green beans, blanched
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup cheese, grated (parmesen, sharp cheddar, or some other hard, strong cheese)
Fried onions (I just battered mine in egg and flour then fried in vegetable oil)
In a large pot melt the butter until it starts to bubble. Add the flour and whisk until it becomes thick and golden, about 2-3 minutes. Add the milk and continue to whisk until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese, caramelized onions and spices until incorporated. Then stir in the green beans. Pour into a baking dish and top with the bread crumbs, fried onions, and remaining cheese. Bake at about 350 degrees until warmed through and the cheese is melted.
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup water
1 cup (2 sticks) cool butter
If using a food processor, but all the flour, salt and butter in the mixer and pulse until grainy. It doesn't need to be too even since the cold butter chunks are what make the crust flaky. Then slowly add the water until the crust just comes together. Roll out onto a floured surface. I then fold it into fourths to move it to the buttered pie tin and unfold it to gently fill the tin. Place back in the fridge to cool while you make the pumpkin filling.
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (this should be about one can or about 1 1/2 lbs fresh pumpkin, roasted and pureed)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons flour
Mix all of the ingredients, I recommend sifting the spices in, with the whisk attachment of an electric mixer until well blended. Pour into the cooled pie crust, brush the crust edge with egg wash, and bake at 350 degrees on top of a parchment lined baking sheet for approximately 1 hour. Check after 50 minutes to see if the filling is set. Simply give the pie a little shake and if it jiggles, it needs more time.