I'm thankful to have things to be thankful for; there was a time when I had to dig pretty deep, and there are plenty of people far worse off than I was.
This year was pretty good. After crazy winds yesterday, so bad they were confusing the automatic garage door, it was cold but relatively calm.
Calm enough for the grill. Calm enough to grill a small turducken.
Not the classic whole bird-inside-a-bird-inside-a bird, but a kind of turducken roll, five pounds of turkey breast and a little dark meat, some duck and chicken, with stuffing and sausage. I added three strips of bacon on top for luck, and set it in a disposable pan over indirect heat from hardwood charcoal in the covered grill. The grill reached 325°F rapidly* and I told the household robot to remind me in three hours; I set another reminder for ninety minutes, when I'd need to start cooking.
There was laundry to do, and scrubbing out the big (but not biggest) soup pan to make the mashed potatoes. Once it was done, I washed the spare water fountain for the cats, which I'd been putting off since I changed it two days ago. (And soaking it in vinegar water -- Indiana water is very hard.) A couple of grill checks showed the temperature steady and the turducken sizzling.
By then, my ninety-minute alarm went off and it was time to scrub some Russet potatoes and set them to boil in salted water. I cleaned a couple of ears of corn and set them aside. Next, I cut up celery, baby carrots, an onion and added a couple of whole cherry peppers, and set them in the microwave for a couple of minutes while I rinsed chanterelle mushrooms; then I put the ears of corn in with the now simmering potatoes. Back to the mushrooms, which I cut up and added to the vegetables and zapped that for another minute while I hunted up a TV tray, herded the cats into the back of the house, set up the TV tray outside near the grill and took the vegetables out the microwave and the corn out of the potato water, and carried all that, covered, outside.
By then there was only twenty minutes left on the three-hour timer. I opened up the grill, poked the coals up a but, uncovered the vegetables and added everything to the pan around the turducken, the corn last, laying on top. I closed the grill and peeked through the vent at my oven thermometer: 225°F. Not great.
Back indoors, I told the robot to time me a half-hour and got to work frying five slices of bacon; that takes a little while; once done, I let the rendered fat sit warm and ducked back outside: 275°F and sizzling.
The bacon fat was still warm; I filled a measuring cup with cold water and started sprinkling flour into the bacon fat, stirring and watching consistency and color. Once it seemed dark enough, smelled right and was thick enough, I began adding water and stirring; I crumbled the bacon into it a half-strip at a time, and when it was all in, turned up the heat to get it bubbling, adding cold water with an eye to thickness. And there you go, bacon gravy. (It cannot possibly be good for you. I only make it once a year. It can be salty, but it's so good!) I covered it and turned off the heat.
Another quick check on the grill: 250°F and sizzling. I blew on the coals through the front vent until they were glowing. Had I started with enough charcoal? (I had, but more might have been better. The grill is just big enough to hold enough charcoal for this process, since you can't have big coals directly under the pan.)
Inside, I got out milk and butter, drained the potatoes, then tumbled them in the pan with the burner on until it was dry. (That last step is the key to getting fluffy, flavorful mashed potatoes.) I make skin-on mashed potatoes, which about have to be boiled to get the skins soft. Next step, stir them with a knife until they are in small chunks, adding a little milk and butter. Once that's done, add a little more milk, a little more butter and go after them with a big fork (my preference) or a potato masher (if you'd rather). Mash, stir, and add milk until the end result is right -- it will look, smell and feel right. I add a little salt, pepper and parsley near the end, but very light on the salt -- the bacon gravy has plenty. The Russet potatoes have the most marvelous smell when freshly mashed -- like Autumn and outdoors, like Sunday dinner and comfort.
(Yes, I make the gravy and potatoes "by ear." There's really no other way and it's not that hard; it took me more than a few tries to figure out flour gravy but it's like riding a bicycle once you learn.)
I covered the potatoes and went outside with a cookie rack (for under the foil pan) and the meat thermometer. Opened the grill and it smelled wonderful. The thermometer zoomed right up to 170°F; 165 is done, so it was ready.
Carried it inside, peeled off the bacon, cut off the netting and began slicing it up and loading plates for Tam and myself. I had a taste of the bacon and it was wonderful!
The turducken, mashed potatoes, bacon gravy and mixed vegetables were even better. And the corn on the cob, steaming in the turducken/vegetable steam, smoked by the hardwood charcoal, was fantastic.
(Tam took pictures. I'm hoping she will share one or two.)
I'm thankful I can afford good food and the means to cook it. I'm thankful for the skills and attitude about cooking my Mother taught me. And I'm darned thankful to have a friend to share the meal with.
* The grill has a small upper rack. I lay an oven thermometer on it, sitting so it can be seen through the vent. It's a simple but useful trick.
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