Thanksgiving improv


I wasn’t even going to do Thanksgiving this year. I just couldn’t make up my mind. I didn’t invite anyone over, didn’t order a turkey from my local butcher, and didn’t make lists and lists of potential menus. The big day came and went, and other than receiving a few “Happy Thanksgiving’s” from colleagues, it was not celebrated. The Saturday after Thanksgiving was grocery day, and at the very end of forty minutes of snaking through isle after isle, I saw a small chicken. And that’s when it started…


I looked at that little chicken and thought to myself, “well, I guess I could at least roast a chicken…” As I placed the little guy in my cart and headed for the check-out, I had a sudden urge to add green bean casserole to this fake turkey day menu. I raced back to the vegetable isle and grabbed some beans and button mushrooms, and then headed on home. Once I got there, my brain went into overdrive. What did I have on hand? Sweet potatoes? Was this a joke? Sweet potatoes are like the epitome of Thanksgiving food. It seemed like a sign.


I also had potatoes, for mashing. And brussels sprouts, for au gratin-ing. And wrinkled apples and cider and Calvados that would be perfect for that recipe I saw in Bon Appétit not long ago for poulet Vallée d’Auge, a traditional recipe from Normandy, where I live. Earlier in the week as I was re-organizing my baking cupboard, I found some long-lost oat bran that was probably past its prime, along with some crystallized honey that desperately needed using up. It seemed like everything was falling into place, and that somehow, magically, I was going to be able to make Thanksgiving dinner with stuff I had around the house, without any planning whatsoever. And so I did!


Sunday morning was spent as it always is, cleaning. By 11:00 I was done and in the kitchen. I blanched sprouts and peeled potatoes, snapped the ends off green beans and minced my mushrooms, made a quick béchamel sauce, caramelized some apples and roasted my sweet potatoes. A quick pause for lunch (luckily we had leftovers!) and the marathon continued. I was in the kitchen like a warrior until 5:00 pm, when I finally was able to take an hour break before starting on the pièce de résistance, my chicken.


It was a lot of work, but it was time well spent. I cranked up the music and booty-danced in my kitchen as I chopped onions and made ganache with coconut milk (have you ever tried this? It will change your life!), baked delicate, crispy, honey-flavored cookies, sautéed mushrooms and flambéed Calvados. It was an absolutely wonderful day, followed by a perfect Thanksgiving dinner and three glorious days of leftovers, where all I had to do after a long day of work and public transportation was heat up my oven and spoon things onto a plate. It was totally worth it.


I plan on trying to get the recipe for Poulet Vallée d’Auge up here really soon (you can of course find it on Bon Appétit if you don’t want to wait!), because it was the star of the show. I love mixing sweet and savory notes, and this is definitely a recipe I’ll make again. I’m not sure how much time it would actually take to make start to finish, but other than cooking the apples and mushrooms, then browning your chicken, it’s mostly just oven time. The addition of cream and egg yolk at the very end made the appley sauce thick and rich, and the sautéed mushrooms were heavenly.


The other dishes I made were classic mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts gratin sans le bacon, roasted sweet potato fries, my famous 100% home-made green bean casserole, and these chewy, crispy oat bran sandwich cookies.


Because I needed so much heavy cream for the green beans and chicken, I used coconut milk as a substitute in my dark chocolate ganache. It was so addictive! Just use equal parts chocolate and coconut milk, heating the coconut milk and stirring the chocolate in off the burner with a touch of salt. It was a bit thinner than usual, but firmed up once I put the cookies in the fridge.


The roasted sweet potato fries were new, but don’t really merit a recipe. They were delicious and simple: peel the sweet potatoes (or not… mine were kind of old and needed peeling!) and cut into wedges. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs of your choice, then arrange on a baking sheet (try not to let them touch or overlap) and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes, turning halfway through!


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