It’s a new day in the Kaprowy/Baker kitchen, thanks to a renovation that has gifted us with a shiny new range.
I use the word “range” as if I’m fully in possession of it, though of course I’m not. I actually only learned that it refers to an oven/stove combo in the nine months we awaited its arrival. It was, alas, the final piece in our renovation project and I’ve been kind of sparring with this beautiful beast, whose name is Julia, ever since.
Three months ago, I thought an oven is an oven is an oven. But not so with this one.
I’ve made a roast: success. I made a cake: total (and literal) flop. I’ve underbaked bread. I’ve overbaked cornbread. I’ve made the best chicken and the worst salmon.
And I am flipping through that manual like it’s my new bible.
By the way, I hate manuals.
Luckily, Julia’s makers must have a clue their product is finicky because I found a YouTube video yesterday specifically on how to roast a turkey in the mouth of their range. What pan to use. How long to roast.
I was glad to find it. And alarmed to find it.
Because if I’m honest, I’m worried about pulling off the Thanksgiving extravaganza this year. It’s the mother of all cooks anyway, but when you haven’t become acquainted with your heat source, the stakes are decidedly up.
Even in the best of circumstances, the Thanksgiving meal is tricky for one simple reason: the turkey occupies the oven for a few hours, preventing other dishes from cooking.
Because a good Thanksgiving meal features several sides, plus pies, and because, theoretically, you want that meal to be served warm, you, in short, need to have your game face on.
Yes, you can make some things ahead (I’m looking at you, cranberry sauce) but, let’s face it, stuffing tastes best the day you make it. Green bean casserole is already kind of weird and just gets weirder as time goes on. And corn pudding? Forget it. Needs to be served hot and fresh. As do Parker House rolls.
But most stuffings take an hour to bake correctly. Corn pudding takes nearly that. Meanwhile that turkey is out of the oven. And it’s leaking heat. And the more you cover it with tinfoil, buddy, the less crisp that skin gets.
So, we dance. And stir that gravy like crazy, hoping for no lumps.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to prepare this meal. Cooking is the only place in my life where the more fussy the recipe and coordination, the more I can focus and feel like I’m flying. It doesn’t make me a nice person to be around, granted, but it does fill this need I occasionally feel to be completely in charge.
To keep things interesting, I try some new recipes every year. I’ve found that this year, in particular, blogs and mags are stuffing our inboxes with Thanksgiving recipe ideas and turkey how-to guides, which I think is kind of neat. It’s nice to see that the recipes are back to being designed to serve eight to 10 people, isn’t it?
For us, we’re going to try Bon Appétit’s chorizo and Calabrian chile stuffing this year. I’m going to ditch the Parker House and bake sour dough because I think it will make better sandwiches the next day. I’m adding madeira to the gravy. I’m cooking my Brussels sprouts with pancetta and balsamic. I’m going to try this Smitten Kitchen salad with pomegranates and squash. I’m trying Half Baked Harvest’s mashed potatoes where you cook the potatoes in cream and mash a head of roasted garlic through a ricer and then top everything off with browned butter.
As for our new beautiful beast Julia, we’ll see what she thinks. One thing I know for sure: we’ll know each other a lot better after next week.