No matter how assimilated into southern culture Yankees may become, no matter how many “y’alls” and “fixin’ tos” they may drop into their speech, no matter how much sweet tea and banana pudding they may consume, at Thanksgiving it’s easy to tell if they grew up on the northern side of the Mason-Dixon line. We’re talking turkey here. Or more specifically, what goes insideor alongsidetheir bird.
In the north, where I grew up, the Thanksgiving cook made stuffing, so-called because after preparation, it was stuffed into the turkey cavity and cooked with the bird. Stuffing was made with soft bread cubes, butter, celery, onions, herbs, and seasonings like sage and thyme. Before the turkey was carved, the stuffing was scooped out and put into a bowl, then served as a side dish with a ladle of gravy. For 20 years, I never knew there was anything but stuffing. My first fall in New York, I used my mother’s recipe to make turkey and stuffing for a group of city-bound singles.
When I was 21, my family moved to Texas and I flew down to spend the Thanksgiving holiday there. My mother got up early that morning to make the familiar Yankee meal, which we would eat around 5 p.m.
My sister Carolyn had recently begun dating a local boy, Ray Dean French. About noon, she went out to his mama and daddy’s farm, where nearly 50 members of the French and Ray clans were gathered for their Thanksgiving repast. When she returned, she carried with her a Tupperware container of something she said they called “dressing.” She handed it to my mother, who opened it, sniffed it and poked it with a fork. We all gathered round to stare at it as if it were a meteor that had flown through the kitchen window. Carolyn told us it was made with cornbreadof all thingsand even worse, it wasn’t stuffed in the turkey but cooked all by itself in a pan, then dished out and covered with giblet gravy. We all tried a spoonful; everyone agreed that our version was far superior. My mother and sisters have lived in the south for more than 20 years, but every one of them who cooks a Thanksgiving turkey still does it like a Yankee.
During my years down South, while I have never made cornbread dressing (better left to the natives), I have experimented with many versions of stuffing, turkey preparations and side dishes, some more successfully than others. One, an entirely low-fat dinner, was so horrible no one took more than a single helping of anything and even then didn’t clean their plates.
While I am normally a strong practitioner of caloric caution, Thanksgiving dinner is clearly not the time to pare down the fat grams. It comes but once a year and you might as well go for it.
If you’re ready to gobble down on some serious Thanksgiving delectables to kick off the holiday eating season but prefer to leave the cooking to professionals, several options await you.
One of the more unusual is the Cajun deep-fried turkey, available by order through Michael K’s Catering. Michael Komisar, who partners the catering company with Signe Dietrichson, makes an infusion of butter, broth, onion, celery, herbs andthis is what makes it Cajuntabasco peppers, injecting it into the turkey, which is then deep-fried in corn oil. It comes to you in a cooking bag, ready for carving. Our bird was crispy on the outside, with meateven the breastthat was juicy, moist, and unbelievably flavorful. We loved the kick from the peppers, but if you want, Komisar will reduce the heat . The turkey we ordered served about 12 for lunch but each of us could have eaten plenty more.
Michael K’s is a full-service caterer and will prepare any side dish you request, including traditional or cornbread dressing ($4 small, $7 large), as well as giblet gravy ($3 small, $5 large). Fortuitiously for their customers, Komisar is sharing kitchen space with Guy Henderson, the barbecue genius who mans the Barbelicious van at 18th and Charlotte. Henderson is offering hickory-smoked, slow-cooked turkeys. Both the Cajun and the hickory-smoked birds are 12-14 pounds and $35 each. Whichever one you choose, orders must be received by Monday, Nov. 23. Call 320-0208. There is a limited delivery area; pick-up can be arranged in the Sylvan Park neighborhood.
If you want to go a little more upscale Lousiana, give The Corner Market a call. Both certified executive chef Ken Koval and executive chef Steve Scalise hail from those parts and their Thanksgiving 1998 special order menu offers a taste or two of that gastronomic goldmine.
Start your feast with freshly shucked Lousiana oysters ($7.99 a pint) or corn and crab chowder (the sinfully rich Macque Choux, $15.99 a quart). They are offering Shelton free-range turkeys, averaging 14 pounds, at $3.99 a pound uncooked; for $5.99 a pound, they’ll cook it for you. Get your turkey with all the trimmings: traditional cornbread dressing ($5.99 a pound), giblet gravy ($5.99 a pint) and brandied cranberry orange relish ($6.99 a pint). My taste buds are definitely piqued by the “luxurious” shrimp and oyster casserole ($13.99 a pound) which Scalise says is a side dish. Vegetables include sweet potato casserole, spinach-artichoke soufflé, and fresh green beans with black walnuts and shiitake mushrooms. Finish with homemade sweet potato pie ($16), pumpkin cheesecake ($35), or chocolate Grande Marnier torte ($32).
Thanksgiving orders must be placed by Friday, Nov. 20 at 352-6772. Food will be available for pick-up at The Corner Market, 6051 Highway 100, after 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 25th, until closing at 7 p.m.
Provence in Hillsboro Village has built its reputation on its fabulous breads, but it has increasingly made waves among local gourmands for executive chef Heath Williams’ Mediterranean-influenced foods. His Thanksgiving 1998 menu just gives me the shivers.
Start with the Yukon Gold potato & chestnut soup with gorgonzola and winter savory ($16.99). Another taste teaser would be the eggplant, roasted red pepper, and goat cheese tarts with cured olives ($4.99 each).
Instead of turkey, Williams is roasting hormone-free chickens with saffron, garlic, and preserved lemon, finished with honey, fresh parsley, hot paprika, and cumin ($5.99 a pound). Rather than cornbread dressing, Williams is making stuffing, but it bears little resemblance to my mother’s recipe. His consists of roasted sweet potatoes and toasted almonds with sautéed fennel and red onion, tossed with black mission figs, aromatic spices, stock, and fresh parsley ($5.99 a pound). On the side, he offers winter squash and wild mushroom gratin ($6.15 a pound); savoy cabbage braised in white wine with leeks, fennel, bay leaf, and juniper berries ($7.99 a pound); and chick peas cooked with bay leaf, thyme, basil, and garlic, tossed in a lemon vinaigrette with red chilies, served cold (5.99 a pound).
Provence pastry chef Sallie Johnson has a few things up her sleeve as well. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a fresh yam praline tart ($20), pumpkin biscotti ($1.50 each), pumpkin roulade ($24), cranberry pecan bread pudding ($24), or cranberry linzertorte ($20). Holiday coffee cakes ($20) are also available for brunches or festive breakfasts.
Thanksgiving orders can be placed up until 10 a.m. Monday the 23rd by calling 386-0363. Foods can be picked up at Provence, 1705 21st Ave. N. on Wednesday, Nov. 25th, starting at 10 a.m.
If it’s just desserts you’re looking for, then Bread & Company executive pastry chef John Twichell has what you need. For the holidays, he has double-crust apple pies with Granny Smith apples ($24.95), pumpkin pies ($21.95), and pecan-hazelnut tarts ($21.95). For something really special, try the pumpkin chocolate cheesecake ($29.95). Chocoholics will die for his new chocolate espresso pot de cremes ($3.95 each). You can even bring in your own ramekins and Bread & Company will have them ready for you the next day. When your guests shower you with compliments, simply smile. No one will be the wiser.