Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Little Thanksgiving Secret

    When I married my husband I did not know how to cook. Yeah right, you are thinking. Women everywhere say they don't know how to cook, when what they really mean is that they are not gourmet cooks. However, although I am famous for my ability to exaggerate, I am not stretching the truth here. Scrambling eggs was beyond me. When I got home from my honeymoon my mother-in-law taught me how to cap strawberries and how to scramble and fry eggs; she gave up when we got to the omelet. To this day, regrettably, I still cannot make a decent omelet. From those humble beginnings with my mother-in-law, I sort of muddled through, and it was relatively easy in the early days. My husband ate only one vegetable (green beans), three meats (or at least at the time I thought they were three different meats) -- hamburger, steak, and pot roast, and he loved baked potatoes accompanied by iceberg lettuce wedges dripping with Thousand Island Dressing (this culinary delight of his is actually making a comeback in some fairly nice restaurants...including of all places, The Palm.)  I used my Betty Crocker Cookbook a lot along with my Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook.
Somebody who really knew how to cook had given me a copy of Joy of Cooking when we married, but it was years before I mustered up the courage to open that tome (thankfully, later Irma and I became good friends!) And I usually called my mother when I got stuck. But I was always something of a rebel (that's what kept me out of the kitchen in the first place), so at some point I began to be one of those cooks who never really follows the recipe. There have been occasions when it has gotten me in some serious trouble, but most of the time I am happiest when experimenting with a recipe and making it my my own.
     Both my mother and my mother-in-law are the complete opposite. They follow the directions to the "T." Not me. A few years back when it was determined that I would begin to host my mother-in-law and my husband's family for Thanksgiving dinner, I started to sweat. And it was only August. I wasn't worried about the turkey despite the nightmare stories I had heard from my friends.I even solved the how-to-thaw-a-giant-frozen-turkey when you have one relatively small refrigerator by simply buying FRESH turkeys! Sure these fresh turkeys cost more, but they saved me a lot in headaches and freezer/refrigerator space. Again, I digress. So the turkey wasn't the issue. Neither were the green beans, the sweet potatoes, the shrimp appetizer, and the various and sundry sides that accompany our traditional Thanksgiving meal. What I was sweating was the GRAVY. I have never been able to make good gravy. And my mother-in-law, bless her soul, was a gravy pro. She would even brown her flour ahead of time so that the color of the gravy would be perfect. And it always was. My gravy on the other hand was never dark enough in color and no matter how gradually I added the flour, I always had some clumps of that yucky white stuff that I was trying to whisk out or spoon out at the last minute. So I knew that if something did not materialize in the gravy department, come November, I would have a potential disaster on my hands.
      Enter my Thanksgiving secret which became my Thanksgiving solution. No, I did not buy the McCormick package of gravy mix, or the jar of stuff that you sometimes see in the grocery store. I went the Cadillac route and broke down and bought the Williams-Sonoma Turkey Gravy Base. It was worth every penny.
 The stuff is not cheap. In fact two jars will set you back about twenty dollars. Twenty bucks for turkey gravy? You betcha. That first year I hosted, I held my breath when my mother-in-law sidled over to the stove, put a spoon of "my" gravy in her mouth, and took her first taste. I could hardly believe my eyes. She pursed her lady-like lips and pronounced it "perfect." That was high praise from one of the finest old-fashioned Southern cooks around. I grinned. The evidence of my crime was already disposed of and carefully hidden in the bottom of the garbage can. There was no one or nothing to give me away. I had even gussied up the base by adding rich cream, plenty of my own turkey drippings, and a tablespoon or two or three of sherry. Let me tell you, that gravy had depth. If only I could have kept my mouth shut, no one would have ever known. But I have never been any good at keeping secrets.
   So if you are worried about making the gravy or are just too lazy to stand there and stir and thicken and stir some more, all at the very last minute, I suggest you march right out and buy yourself some Willliams-Sonoma Turkey Gravy Base as soon as you can. It is a seasonal item. Don't ask me why, but they only stock it at Thanksgiving. I guess folks in other parts of the US don't eat turkey at Christmas which is why I have to buy four jars instead of two. I know. I know. Forty bucks on gravy. But trust me on this one, you cannot make it any better. Or at least I never could.

1 comment :

  1. love it, the things we do! we should all share our dirty little secrets one day, I imagine the non cooking that we all do is gigantic.


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