Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. My family on my mother’s side is very close-knit, and holidays are the time when everyone shows up–no invitation needed, just “What time should we be there and what can we bring?” Thanksgiving inspires everyone to add their special ingredient to the cornucopia.
My husband is in charge of the turkey, gravy, and mashed potatoes. I make stuffing and cranberry sauce. I also coordinate everyone’s contributions so that we don’t end up with, for example, an overload of dessert and no vegetables. Because my relatives love to cook and are very good at it, it’s no sweat to put together a delicious menu of new and traditional dishes. Dad always makes mashed turnips and carrots, just the way Grandma Rose used to. You can count on Pinar, my cousin’s Istanbul-born wife, for her addictive muhammara dip. Sister Nicole has a way with green vegetables, everything from brussels sprouts to collards, and never the same thing twice. Cousin Kathryn–a gifted baker–is bringing a ginger-pumpkin and a cranberry-apple pie? Fantastic. I have never in my life laid eyes on that awful-sounding green bean casserole you read about at this time of year.
Once the food’s underway, another project is rearranging the furniture in order to get 20+ family members and special guests seated comfortably for a long afternoon and evening of eating, drinking, and talking. This involves moving furniture and setting up a bar as far away from the kitchen action as possible, a maneuver that never works. You should see the crowd trying to help wash the dishes.
I love figuring out ways to make things go a little smoother each year. I usually make decaf coffee first after dinner, so the older folks can have theirs right away. This year, I set up two coffee pots–one with decaf, one with regular coffee–ahead of time so all I had to do was push the button as we cleared the dinner dishes. When my cousin Philip started to gripe about needing caffeine right that SECOND, as he always does, I just handed him a freshly brewed pot. Take that, family dynamics!
The older relatives like to reminisce about holidays past, while watching the youngest ones play with their cousins. A competitive game of Bananagrams might break out. If there’s a baby to hold, it’s the best of all possible worlds–and another fiercely competitive activity.
Culinarily, however, the best thing about Thanksgiving to me is the stripped-down carcass of the turkey. I will give away all the stuffing, pie, cranberry sauce, and turkey meat, but save every bone, piece of skin, and scrap of turkey cartilage and other detritus and use it to make the best, most flavorful soup ever. The recipe is based on the recipe for Turkey Carcass Soup in that classic 1980s cookbook, Jane Brody’s Good Food Book, but over many years has been tweaked to my taste. This time, instead of barley–which I really enjoy, and which gives the soup nice body–I am making it with egg noodles. You could use rice or a small pasta shape, too.
This is a two-stage process, but it is certainly not difficult. Step One: Make the stock. Step Two: Make the soup. You can spread it out over two days if you like. Extra stock can be frozen flat in Ziploc freezer bags for later use.
What? You were going to toss the carcass? Oh, please.
Step One: Turkey stock ingredients
Carcass of a roasted turkey and any remnants of skin, bones, etc., broken into pieces (recipe is based on a 20-25 pound turkey)
2 large onions, chopped
4 celery ribs, with leaves, cut into 3-inch pieces
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch pieces
Green tops from 3 leeks, washed well to remove sand (save the white parts for the soup)
5 whole cloves of garlic, smashed slightly with the flat of a knife
15 whole black peppercorns
8 sprigs fresh parsley
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 large bay leaves
Salt, to taste (I used about a tablespoon)
Place all ingredients in a large stock pot (I use a lobster pot for this purpose) and add water to cover (this took about 8 quarts, but really depends on the size of the turkey). Because I had NO leftover turkey meat for the soup, I purchased 4 pounds of turkey wings at $.29 a pound and placed them on top to cook along with the stock.
Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, for 2 to 3 hours. Skim foam from the top from time to time.
When finished, the stock will look like this (above). Remove the turkey wings and set aside. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the wing bones and refrigerate until ready to make the soup. Cool the finished stock a bit and strain into one or more storage containers and refrigerate till tomorrow. This makes it easy to skim off the congealed fat. If, however, you are very ambitious–or just craving soup–you can skim the fat with a spoon. Discard the bones and vegetables. Their work is done. Yield: 7 quarts.
Step Two: Turkey soup ingredients
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
White parts of the 3 leeks, washed well and sliced
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
3 cloves garlic, smashed slightly with the flat of a knife
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
10 cups turkey stock
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme or marjoram
1/2 cup raw barley or rice OR a 1-pound package egg noodles
2 cups diced, cooked turkey
1 cup frozen petite peas
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
In a 6-quart pot, melt the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Add the leeks, carrots, celery, and garlic and saute, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Add about a cup of stock, and stir to incorporate the flour. Add the rest of the stock, marjoram, and barley, if using. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat so it simmers gently, and cook partially covered for about 1 hour. Check the barley, if using, to be sure it is fully cooked. Add the turkey meat, peas, parsley, and salt and pepper. While the soup is reheating, cook egg noodles in salted water, separately until al dente. Drain the noodles in a colander and put about one cup in each bowl and ladle soup over. Enjoy.
There are never any leftovers.