The Thanksgiving holiday, like most American traditions, has a complicated history. Over the years, I have had a personal disdain for the inaccurate retellings of Native American history, over-abundant feasting, and the crowds of mass consumption for the “newest” products. Focusing on these unfortunate characteristics takes a bitter toll on my ability to appreciate much of the good that this holiday also brings. Which is why in the year of 2020, when we have decided to stay home to keep our families safe from unknowingly spreading the COVID-19 virus, it seems more important to redefine my Thanksgiving mindset. My three most meaningful values are being thankful, spending time with family, and cooking. Fortunately, for the past few months I have been living with a master chef in the making who took it upon himself to research, plan, and prepare a Thanksgiving menu for the two of us.
While Derek was clearly the lead chef in the kitchen for the day’s events, I also brought some special skills to the mix as the sous chef. Our first day off together, I made my famous breakfast speciality, “Best Ever Pancakes,” from America’s Test Kitchen. The key to my perfect pancakes is to mix a bowl of the dry ingredients separate from the wet ingredients before beating together and then to let the batter rest at room temperature for about ten minutes. With a 1/4 cup scoop, the pancakes are a little smaller and get a nice toasty color on the griddle before I flip them over to the other side. We eat them as soon as they’re hot and ready with quality maple syrup.
Thanksgiving Day was going to be a full day of cooking so to lighten the workload, we ordered a pre-cooked glazed ham from Al’s Supermarket and spent the day before grocery shopping and baking our desserts. I made crownies (1/2 cookie and 1/2 brownie) and Derek baked a pumpkin pie. We were planning on using Alton’s Brown’s recipe and then realized that we didn’t have the proper tools to begin from the pumpkin itself so Derek found another recipe for the filling and I made Alton’s crust from gingersnap cookies. The pie process seemed to take for-ev-er, but Derek stayed up until 12:30 am to see it through. It was amazing to me just how spot-on the pumpkin pie filling was. It accomplished all of the senses of a real pumpkin pie with the creamy texture that melts in your mouth like a spicy, sweet taste. The crust was somewhat of a disaster as it never fully hardened for that flaky crunch and resembled more of a granola crumble.
Thanksgiving morning, we got right back to work as soon as we had our bellies fueled with pancakes reheated from the oven. We picked up our ham in the morning from Al’s in Michigan City along with a few last minute ingredients. First on the menu was a cranberry sauce and homemade stuffing. Derek boiled the cranberries down to a sweet, syrupy liquid and I tore pieces from a loaf of day-old bread to dehydrate in the oven. While the breadcrumbs turned into crusty bits, Derek prepped the potatoes for a fried potato cake side dish.
The potato cakes began with boiling the potatoes and then adding an egg yolk, chives, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper before mashing the potatoes and forming patties to coat in eggs and Japanese Panko. A little oil and a few minutes on each side produced a golden delicious crunch similar to a twice-baked potato or a stuffed hash brown.
With the potatoes behind us, Derek shifted gears by chopping all of the vegetables for the stuffing casserole and boiling brussel sprouts is a salty pot of water. Our oven was starting to get a little full with all our dinner courses reheating.
As we awaited the ham to fully reheat, Derek set the table while I mixed a strawberry cocktail recipe by Jamie Oliver. It had been a long day of cooking, washing dishes, and timing all of the side dishes to finally sit down and celebrate our hard work with a Thanksgiving meal together.
This was the first time that we have actually spent Thanksgiving together at home and cooked everything from scratch for just the two of us. While we would have preferred to visit our families, it was nice to make the holiday special and make a little fuss in the kitchen. I felt completely exhausted when the evening had come to a close but I knew that Chef Derek had taken on much of the responsibility for seeing the meal through to the end. I am thankful for the memories that we created together and hopeful that we will be able to share our love of cooking with friends and family at future Thanksgiving dinners to come.