Alice Waters, I'm afraid that when it comes to Thanksgiving, you're going to have to give me a pass. Because when it comes to Thanksgiving I'm much more Sandra Lee than Alice Waters. Yes, that's right, I'm the Thanksgiving Semi-Homemade King. I often don't brine my turkey, my stuffing starts with Pepperidge Farm cubed cornbread stuffing, my fantastic whipped sweet potatoes with maple syrup and dried cranberries begin life in a can, I purchase my gravy, I am going to take Chris Kimball's advice and make the cranberry sauce recipe on the back of the frozen cranberry bag, adding a half-teaspoon of salt, I do make George Germon and Johanne Killeen's crazy good mashed potatoes from their book Cucina Simpatica that are unapologetically full of butter and heavy cream, and I buy my pies.
So that's it, Alice. I put it right out on the (blog) table for everyone to see. I don't feel guilty about this in the least. Should I? I feel like a guy that's stepped into some kind of bizarre 12 step program for people who are addicted to semi-homemade Thanksgiving preparations:
"Hello, my name is Ed Levine, and I am a semi-homemadeoholic."
Let me explain, Serious Eaters, and when I'm finished perhaps you can find it in your hearts to forgive me, or at the very least you won't sneer.
Turkey: I've had some bad luck with brining turkeys. Our fridge is small, so one year I bought one of those cheap Styrofoam coolers to brine my 16 pound turkey in. The cooler broke, and my kitchen floor was flooded with salty, sugary water seasoned with coriander seeds and other interesting spices. Two years ago I decided to take my turkey up to my neighbor's penthouse roof (they were away) and leave it there overnight to brine. But the weather forecast called for 40 MPH winds, and I got so worried that my turkey was going to fly off my friend's roof and kill or maim someone, giving new meaning to the phrase "fresh-killed," that I retrieved the turkey in a preemptive midnight run to the roof.
The Stuffing: Every year I start out thinking I'm going to make the Silver Palate's fantastic recipe for cornbread stuffing with sausage, pecans, and apples from scratch. Then I get to the part of the recipe that calls for making the cornbread and toasting the other bread that goes into this stuffing, and I end up buying Pepperidge Farm cubed cornbread stuffing and then adding some Italian parsley, sage, one large Vidalia-like onion, and the sausage, pecans, and apples. This stuffing turns out so good I can't imagine actually making the Silver Palate stuffing recipe comes out any better.
Mashed Potatoes: I suppose I could get the mashed potatoes from Kentucky Fried Chicken or Popeye's, but George Killeen's mashed potatoes are really easy and so, so, good.
Sweet Potatoes: This is one dish I do sort of feel guilty about. I use canned sweet potatoes in light syrup, rinse off the light syrup in a colander, put the sweet potatoes either through a food processor or in a blender, and then put them on the stove in a pasta pot and then start adding maple syrup, butter, heavy cream, and some dried cranberries. I've made these with freshly roasted sweet potatoes, and once I added in the mixings I found I couldn't tell the difference between the fresh and the canned sweet potatoes.
Gravy: My mother-in-law used to be the designated gravy maker in our Thanksgiving crowd, but in the last few years she hasn't been feeling up to the task, so I've ended up buying two pints of store-bought gravy. This year I bought some Thomas Keller frozen chicken stock, so I am thinking about making some gravy using Keller's stock.
Relish: I usually buy cranberry-orange relish from a local gourmet store, Citarella, but after interviewing Chris Kimball this year for Serious Eats, I'm going to take his advice and make the cranberry sauce recipe on the back of the frozen cranberry bag, making sure to add a half-teaspoon of salt.
Green vegetable: I'm with Kimball on this issue as well. He says his Thanksgiving meal is a study in white, brown, and orange. Ours is, too, though my wife makes a really good broccoli puree with creme fraîche from the Silver Palate that is enlivened by Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Pie: I bought a new kind of frozen apple pie this year thinking I could save money and hassle if the Vermont Mystic Apple Pie I bought at Whole Foods turned out to be terrific. Alas, it wasn't. It was pretty good. In fact, it was the kind of earnest, honestly produced pie that a friend who was an okay baker would bring to your house and you would tell them it was great just because you love your friend, not because you really did. The Vermont Mystic pie had terrific, just firm and sweet enough apples, but was done in by its thick, stiff, not flaky, crust.
So there you have it, Serious Eaters, the Ed Levine Semi-Serious Semi-Homemade Thanksgiving. I put my fate in your hands. Am I fated to end up in Food Hell, or will all of you take pity on an insanely busy person who still wants deliciousness surrounding him at Thanksgiving, but lacks both the know-how and the time to make everything from scratch.