Cooking with the Caspers

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The Caspers Host Their First Thanksgiving

Mrs. Casper's favorite holiday, besides her birthday, has always been Thanksgiving. Hosted at her mom's house, it was a magical event that started when Gram arrived with her veritable bucket of stuffing, and ended with Uncle Rich finishing up the dishes and taking a nap on the couch. So, when the Caspers moved in with Gram, it became a great desire of Mrs. Casper's to host Thanksgiving herself. Mom had done it for years without a hitch, so why couldn't the Caspers?

 

Ha. Ha. Haaaaa.

First of all, as anyone who has hosted anything for the first time knows, "without a hitch" is, at best, an illusion, and at worst, horribly incorrect. Second, Mom had done this for over 2 decades. It SHOULD look well-practiced by that point.

The Caspers were convinced, though, that this was a great idea. Just about a month into living with Gram, we began to prepare. Most sides were delegated out (something we highly recommend for any event centered around food), and we decided that our big efforts would be turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Mr. Casper picked up a gigantic Amish turkey, Mrs. Casper found a recipe that involved bacon, and we were on our way to Thanksgiving greatness.

Let's just start with admitting the obvious. First time hosts of Thanksgiving? First time turkey-cookers? Mistakes were made. Many of them. And some were mistakes we should have been above, like defrosting the turkey with a pan under it to catch any leaks. We do not recommend having to deep-clean your fridge one day before having 18 people over for dinner.

Our second mistake was the classic "never assume, it just makes an ass out of u and me". Gram, who rarely travels to her basement any more, insisted her big classic speckled roaster was down there, and we believed her blindly. Fortunately, we had the tiniest of foresight, and looked for the pan the day before. It was (and is) nowhere to be found.

 

If you're the family member who has Gram's roaster, lucky you, but more importantly, lucky us. We did have a small roaster (thrift store snag) for the turkey breast we cooked in addition to the full bird, and cleaning that thing was a process. The handi-foil roaster we snatched up at the grocery store the night before Turkey Day? No cleanup required. 

Our next mistake was another one that we should have known to fix before it happened. Failure to defrost some really lovely Yuengling bratwursts. Fortunately, a cold water bath got the sausages down from rock solid.

 

What were we doing with bratwurst the day before Thanksgiving? Stuffing! We went 50/50 Italian and Challah breads for ours, and added mire poix (celery, carrot, and onion), garlic, and classic poultry herbs (thyme, rosemary, and sage).

The crumbled browned bratwurst went into about 75% of the bread mixture, leaving 25% for the vegetarian stuffing. After adding stock, we let both stuffings sit overnight to soak up the stock and become that savory cousin of bread pudding. The vegetarian option went in the loaf pan it would later be baked in, and the meaty option went straight to the giant beige tupperware of Mrs. Casper's childhood.

You may, at this point, be in need of a reminder that we did eventually get it all in the oven and figured out. In the quiet moments before the house was overrun with family, we had a lot of pride in our bird. This context should make our next rookie mistake less traumatizing, more hilarious. SHOULD.

Poor Mr. Casper. After being so careful with handling the bird, including keeping the cats locked away upstairs, our marinade bag failed us. At the time, there were no words. Just shock, semi-hysterical laughter, and a lot of bleach wipes.

 

Luckily for us, getting married had brought us into a small collection of coolers. What better way to brine our turkey than directly in a cooler?

It turns out, this is a fairly common method! With cold November temps in the air, our turkey was kept nicely chilled overnight, and slowly came up from fridge temperature by the time it was ready to go in the oven.

The brine itself was a mixture of apple cider, salt, garlic, onion, poultry herbs, orange and lemon peel, and peppercorn, boiled to steep and then cooled with large quantities of cold water. More water, a small bag of ice, and it was locked up for the night!

So it's now the day of. Thanksgiving. Turkey Day. Macy's Parade Day. Turkey Bowl Day. Whatever you call it when dreams of gravy come to mind, the time had come. Whole bird and breast were in the oven, stuffed with bratwurst stuffing. Mr. Casper was peeling and chopping 10 pounds of potatoes (or was it 20?).

 

The Queen of Thanksgiving, Mrs. Casper's mom, had arrived with sweet potatoes, rolls, Mary (Mrs. C's sister), and Dad. Preparations were in full swing, and all was calm.

Quick recap: In the oven - Full bird. Amish. 27ish pounds. Additional breast. Butterball. About 12 pounds.

 

And that's when it all came crashing down, quite literally. The oven rack was in no way prepared to host nearly 40 pounds of bird plus stuffing, and it bent down on itself. Fortunately, Dad, clear of mind from a morning for once devoid of Thanksgiving madness, sprang into action. Not a drop of turkey was lost. 

There were some losses, though. Namely, one brand new meat thermometer. In the chaos of having over a dozen people descend on Gram's by-no-means-spacious kitchen, Mrs. Casper made a big mistake by leaving the thermometer in the bird while going to check on something else. Guess what? Not all thermometers can stay in the oven! One of our culinary-minded guests stepped in here, and we learned the thigh-juice trick. Stick a knife in a bird thigh (we do not recommend sticking a guest), and if the juices run clear, it's done!

And it was done. An hour behind schedule. And it was beautiful. Crispy bacony skin, moist white meat, leg meat that dripped in bacon flavor. But maybe you can see the other "mistake" we made. Hint: it's a bird-cooking tactic sometimes employed for juicier breast meat.

Yeah. We cooked the thing upside down. Whoops. Our guests were very gracious, and didn't mention it. It actually worked out well for the meat, though next year we plan to do the bird right side up for maximum crispy skin.

All in all, the meal was a success. People were fed, seconds were had, leftovers were snatched up quickly. Yes, "dessert guests" had to sit through dinner on our abridged schedule. Yes, the turkey was upside down. But it was all worth that first delicious bite of mashed potatoes and scratch gravy, and the round of applause for the Caspers helped too.

The Amish Bird, in all its' upside-down glory.