My, oh, my.  I’m really tired.  It’s been a very long day chocked full of fun, excitement, cooking, drinking, nibbling, imbibing, laughing, chopping, mixing, sauteing, boiling, roasting, carving, measuring, basting…and on and on.

This is the first time I have attempted a cooking cook-a-long since moving to our new nest.  Our old house had two ovens, this one has one.  The old house had two sinks both with garbage disposals while this one has one.  The refrigerator in the old place was mucho grande.  This one is more petite.  The old house had granite everywhere.  This one has an island with a butcher block top which I had yet to cut on.  So, suspense about how the new kitchen would work out was thick in the air.

Up around 6 a.m., I decided to roll out the pie dough which I made the night before.  This went swimmingly well.  Look at that dough dotted with butter above.  That is a perfect looking dough made possible by the rolling pin that my friend, Nancy, gave me because she didn’t want it any more.  Love it.  It’s heavy, cold, and slick.  The dough rolls out beautifully with little effort.  Less flour is needed to prevent dough sticking to the roller like it did with my old wooden roller.  Who knew?  I’ve had my wooden rolling pin since about 1965.  It’s been a trooper but it has never been easy to use like this marble marvel.

The idea I had was to get the pie finished early thereby freeing up the one oven for other things and to let the pie cool in the refrig just as the recipe suggested.  So, I preheated the oven and got to work on the pie filling after I popped the crust into the oven.  The thing with pie crust is that some need to be pre-baked as this one did.  To achieve the desired effect of drying out the crust, one must put parchment paper in the pie plate and then pour on something heavy to anchor the paper and prevent the crust from puffing up.  In stores such as Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma they carry pie weights and that is what I use to secure the crust.  The cook without weights can always  buy some dried beans and use them in lieu of weights.  Only problem with that is that you must make certain that you earmark the beans only for this purpose.  I made the mistake one time of trying to cook beans that I had used for weights.  After about 4 hours of cooking in water, the beans were still as hard as rocks and that’s when I decided that the beans I was trying to cook until tender….were the beans I had baked.  Those beans were having none of it.  It is as if they had turned to stone, petrified.  I threw them away in the trash.  No garbage disposal for those rocks.  They would have destroyed the disposal, I just know it.

But I digress.

The pie crust was in the oven.  The recipe suggested that I check the crust after some time to see if it was dried out and “set”.  When I opened the oven, smoke came billowing out.  OMG.  Where did that smoke come from?  There was a bunch of black “stuff” on the bottom of the oven.  OMG.  My pie crust was going to taste like smoke.  After thinking this alarming situation over, I turned off the oven, removed the crust, took out the racks and went to work on cleaning out the bottom of the oven.  Whatever it was came up and so I reheated the oven and continued the baking of the crust.  This may turn out to be the first only rendition of twice-baked pie crust.  I feared the outcome.  But what was I to do?  The house was choking in smoke.  Windows and doors were opened with free abandon.  The fan above the stove top flew into action.  The guests were arriving in a few minutes and house was, well, hazy.  And it didn’t smell all that nice either…billowing smoke, smokey haze…it had that smokey smell.  Not good.

While the twice-baked crust was baking, I was making the filling.  And that’s how I forgot to add sugar to the pumpkin pie filling.  Only I did not realize my mistake until the middle of the turkey dinner.  But more on that later.

As we have done for the past three years, we had a few of our friends over to cook, eat, drink.  And as we have done in the past, I pick the recipes, we buy the groceries and then we all come together and decide who will do what.  That decision is made over a mimosa and then it is “all hands on deck”.  This year we initiated my chopping block island by, well, chopping on the chopping block.  Many people warned me about doing this.  Even the Rayman didn’t want me to “ruin” the chopping top.  However, that is what it’s all about.  It’s a kitchen, the chopping block is available.  It should be used so I finally decided Thanksgiving was the time to initiate the block.  And that is what we did.  Quite the liberating feeling.  Of course, there are two schools of thought re: the chopping block.  Use it and don’t use it.  It reminds me of a couple that we once knew.  They had the most beautiful copper pans dangling from a pot rack.  “Oh”, I exclaimed upon viewing them, “your pots are beautiful.  How do you keep them looking so good?”  The good wife replied, “Silly girl.  We don’t use them.  They have been coated to “seal” in their copper so they rarely have to be touched.  I can’t be bothered with cleaning them but I like how they look!”.  Really.  A fortune in copper pots in the kitchen that were not being used.  So, that’s how I felt about the chopping block.  A huge expanse of wood to chop on was readily available.  So I am using it.

And my copper pans look like the dickens.  I don’t always polish them.  In fact, it is fair to say I almost never polish them.  But I use them and I love them.  They are a few of my work horses of the kitchen.

This year I found several recipes from the NY Times Dining section the a week and a day before turkey day.  And they were winners.

The turkey recipe was devised by Jacques Pepin.  It involved first steaming the bird and then roasting the bird.  “Steaming”, people scoffed.  Yes, steaming.  It is really an Asian technique used on duck for instance.  It promised to yield a moist and tender turkey.  Sounded good to me.  One of the most unusual actions it called for was cutting off the tops of the legs before cooking which then allowed for removal of the sinew in the legs which then allowed for easy carving.  What a fabulous idea.  So, when reviewing the menu together as a group, I described this action.  Rayman and Al volunteered for that duty.  Really, I should have asked the butcher but I completely forgot.  I highly recommend this action.  This will normal operating procedure for the all the birds I cook going forward.





But I digress.  So, they carted the turkey out to the front yard and proceeded to cut the tips off the legs.  Really, they were gone for so long, I finally went out to find them.  And this is what I found.  In the picture, not only do you see the leg tips but the sinew as well.  LOL.  The sinew was to be removed after the turkey was cooked, not before.  The Rayman indicated that it was tedious and took all his strength.  You think?  So, as a follow up to this, when the bird was done, a few pieces of sinew remained in the leg.  With a gentle tug, out them came.  So, when you do  this, remember that little trick…sinew removal after the bird is done.


One oven is a challenge since I did not pay any attention to how many dishes needed an oven.  The dressing required an oven for roasting the hazelnuts and roasting the completed dressing for an hour.  The sweet and sour onions required an hour of roasting.  The turkey required 2 hours of roasting.  The squash required 40 minutes of roasting.  My advice to the dear reader is to pick your dishes carefully if you have only one oven.  Luckily, I have an old stand alone convection oven in the garage.  We bought this oven when we lived in our other one oven home and used it a few times.  But it hadn’t been used in about 10 years.  So it was with some fear and trepidation that I fired it up (plugged it in).  Thankfully it worked and it saved us a lot of grief.

And what is it about gravy?  I find gravy to be overrated and unnecessary.  Having said that, I did make some gravy with Jaques’s help.  However, for all the time and energy, I will lobby for listing gravy on the endangered recipe list and opt instead for nude potatoes, meat etc.  Exceptions should be made for french sauces, of course.

So where was I?   Who knows?  So here’s a picture of the table setting.


Cooking with friends is delightful and I highly recommend you all get yourselves a group of friends and try it.  While we were in the thick of cooking, I cranked up the Rolling Stones on Pandora to energize the crowd.  Not too loud or everyone will yell.  But loud enough that people will be unable or unwilling not to dance or at least do a dance move or two.  Gives new meaning to shaking your bootie (while shaking the salt shaker).   I must admit however, that we are getting older and the conversations are getting funnier and funnier.  “Where is a cookie sheet?” , she inquired.  “A cooking fleet?”, he asked.  Or, “Where’s your grater?”.  “My gator?”.  These type of hearing problems, alas, do present themselves.  Then there is the problem of remembering things.  “Oh, I just found those extra Brussel sprouts.”, I exclaimed.  “I thought I bought more but then I wasn’t sure.  Obviously I did.”   And then I was always confusing the ingredients that went in the Brussel sprouts with the ingredients that went in the Sweet and Sour onions.  And then there was the fact that the Rayman had to run to the store 3 times during the day.  Maple syrup.  Where was the maple syrup?  An exhaustive search was undertaken only to come up empty-handed.  So, off to the store.  We needed more apples because I decided to double the cranberry recipe.  (You really can’t make too much cranberry sauce). So, off to the store.   And I DO NOT remember the third thing.  Ha ha.

Here’s a picture of the squash dish (orange) and the dressing.   Simply squash, onion confit (fancy french for sauteed until brown and beautiful), and chopped fresh mint.   And check out the dressing.  Yummy dressing with hazelnuts, mushrooms, rustic bread.

Here’s the dressing.

Squash with onions and mint




Spicy cranberries and apple (NY Times)

A picture of the bird during the cooking process (above right).  I wonder.  Does it make all much difference to baste during the cooking of the bird?  It is such a pain.  Does it matter?  I dutifully followed the recipe and basted but had to remove the bird to do it.

Below are the sweet and sour onions and the Brussel sprouts dishes.

Sweet and sour onions (NY Times)

Can’t see it but the Brussels are resting on a bed of condensed yogurt. It was also sprinkled with mint.


The mystery of the day was the smoking oven.  As I mentioned earlier, there was something on the bottom of the oven that smoked so much I had to take the pie crust out so that I could clean the oven by hand before completing the job of baking the crust.  So, the oven was clean.  We then place a few things in it but nothing, nothing was spilled.  And yet, when I took the turkey out of the oven, something was on the bottom of the oven?  How in the world did it get there?  No one had an answer.  We’ll never know.  But it was so mysterious and annoying simultaneously that I did a self-clean cycle the next day.  It is clean now.  Can’t wait to bake without spilling again to see if the oven stays clean.  Is it haunted?  I’m suspicious.

And to pick up the pie crust episode, I realized during the dinner that I did not add sugar to the pie.  It just hit me like a ton a bricks.  Rayman thought that I did add sugar and just forgot.  He had me believing it.  That is until he took a taste and pronounced the pie to be without sugar.  For heaven’s sake. What to do?  So, while finishing our dinner, we did a group problem solving session and ultimately decided to add sugar in a variety of ways.  So after dinner out came the agave syrup, the ginger syrup, Grand Manier, sweetened whipped cream and we all just put on top of the pie the “topping” of our choice.  Think of decorating an ice cream sundae.  Yep.  That’s what we did and it worked.  The pie was delicious.  Who knew?  And ultimately not as sweet and everyone loved it (or so they said!!)

So, there you have it.  What could have been a traumatic event turned out to be creative and fun.  Just goes to show you, life is what you make it!!  and so is the pumpkin pie!!

All but Rayman at the dinner table.

Bob and Margaret take a break

All of us but the Rayman









Rayman and the Beaumeister

Sugar and Spice Pumpkin pie from Fine Cooking mag












Al, Bub and Charlie enjoy the sunset.

Rayman looking out the kitchen window


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