Nifty tools are the gravy
When it comes to equipping my kitchen for Thanksgiving, I'm an equal opportunity employer: as likely to employ a classic potato-masher as...
Seattle Times restaurant critic
Let's talk turkey
Join Nancy Leson, Seattle Times restaurant critic, and CeCe Sullivan, Times home economist, for an online chat about preparing your Thanksgiving feast, Wednesday, Nov. 14 at noon on seattletimes.com/foodwine.
There's a profusion of products to assist in preparing the Thanksgiving feast. Some are kitchen staples, others worth a splurge. Here's a guide to help you decide.
When it comes to equipping my kitchen for Thanksgiving, I'm an equal opportunity employer: as likely to employ a classic potato-masher as a gourmet gadget, an eons-old saucepan as a fancy French enameled cast iron.
For far too long I made do on a shoestring budget and have since upgraded my Turkey Day tool kit to include an arsenal of "better" cookware, bakeware and practical products that make preparing the meal as enjoyable as eating it.
I've graduated from disposable aluminum roasting pans to a sturdy nonstick roaster and rack ($49.95, Linens-n-Things), traded up from a scarred cutting board resting on several thicknesses of Bounty (the quicker, uh, soaker-upper) to a broad maple carving board with a deep moat for drippings (wedding gift registry from The Store Formerly Known as The Bon). And just in time for this year's festivities, I've moved from a classic wire whisk to — be still my cholesterol-clogged heart! — a 1.5-liter cartridge-charged iSi whipped-cream-dispenser with decorative tip ($59.99, Housewares), which, at that price, I intend to wield over pumpkin pies for eternity.
Sure, I get great joy shopping at the area's fabulous cookware stores, but rest assured: I still skim the funky foam off my simmering giblets with an old slotted spoon from Goodwill. And I regularly scan the aisles at Fred Meyer, coupons in hand, secure in the knowledge that when it comes to best buys, income doesn't have to dictate outcome.
Bargain-priced to bank-breaking, there are many ways to outfit your T-Day tool kit. Here are some possibilities:
I've always made good use of my old Pyrex custard cups, perfect for holding a little bit of this (minced garlic) and a little bit of that (chopped parsley). But when it comes to mise en place (very loosely translated: keeping my mess in place), I'm nuts about my stackable Mario Batali Measuring Prep Bowls ($9.99, Shoreline Central Market) and the four colorful Progressive Silicone Pinch Bowls scored at Ballard Market ($5.99).
Sometimes a pinch isn't as precise as need be. And that's when a colorful compact set of Chef'n Sleekstor Swivel Measuring Spoons comes in handy ($6.99, Metropolitan Market), though I rely on my "sleek" and "stor"-able stainless-steel measuring spoons (QFC closeout: 99-cents).
Thanksgiving at my house (this year's head count — yikes! — 20) calls for some serious-size mixing bowls. I can't live without my 13-quart stainless-steel bowls ($11.99 each, Ace Hardware), perfect for tossing my cornbread-and-sausage stuffing, though you might like the more modest-size Martha Stewart Collection of nonskid mixing bowls (set of three, $39.99, Macy's), whose nonskid bottoms are most definitely a good thing.
Got kids? Get 'em into the act — peeling potatoes. Mine uses an OXO Good Grips Swivel Peeler ($7.95, Fred Meyer). But yours might like the new Trio Tri-Blade Peeler from Sur La Table ($14.95). Billed as "Your Thanksgiving Helper," it has three surgical steel blades that nestle in the handle when not in use, including one for peeling soft fruits and vegetables (Look, ma! Tomato roses!). Once those potatoes are peeled, it's time to smash them: with an oversize, hardwood-handled, nickel-plated Giant Potato Masher from www.lehmans.com ($6.95), perfect for feeding a crowd.
Side dishes must be keep warm, so why not invest in a silver-plated Reed & Barton Queen Anne Collection Chafing Dish ($265.99, www.ikitchen.com)? Too rich for your blood? Mine too, which is why I'll keep things warm in my Rival 5.5-quart Crock-Pot ($49.99, Fred Meyer).
I've long stopped stuffing my birds, instead cooking the stuffing "en casserole." Having retired my old Corning Ware, I now depend on a collection of Le Creuset enameled cast-iron. My latest purchase: a cobalt blue 2 ½-quart oval ($79.99, Dish it Up!) that would work well for my family. But with a houseful, it's a good thing I also own a 9-quart round ($248.50, City Kitchens). Not that I'd ever say "No thanks" to green beans almondine served in a Corning Ware French White Serving Set (www.amazon.com has a deal on two covered casserole-dishes plus serving cradle, $19.99).
OK, let's talk turkey.
A good roasting pan can mean the difference between a beautiful bronzed bird and a pale imitation, to say nothing of a well-made pan-gravy. Which explains, in part, why I stopped using Handi-Foil Disposable Aluminum Roasting Pans (Safeway, $4.99). I didn't go as far as replacing those with an All-Clad Stainless-Steel 16-inch Roaster with Rack ($199.99 from Williams-Sonoma, with a pair of matching lifters). That beauty has one thing my five-year-old nonstick roaster doesn't: upright handles.
My roaster's handles lie flush to its sides: great for folks with compact ovens. Not so great when I'm trying to pull the pan out. That's when I need Kool-Tek Oven Mitts ($32.95 each, www.cooking.com), though I'm unlikely to spend that kind of dough when I could buy The "Ove" Glove Hot Surface Handler with nonslip silicone grip ($15.99 each, Fred Meyer). Besides, I've already got a drawer of cheap, washable mitts and potholders, so I might as well save the bucks for a turkey-hoister. Hoisting the turkey from pan to platter is an art, made easier with a pair of mini pitchforks like Endurance Stainless-Steel Turkey Lifters ($11.99, www.cheftools.com). You might like the Nifty Turkey Lifter, a nonstick rack with oversize handles that loop and rest over the bird ($9.99, Linens-n-Things).
Some folks keep tabs on their turkey by going the Butterball-with-pop-up-timer route. But I wouldn't trust my turkey to a pop-up. I use a Polder 363-9 Digital Instant Read Thermometer ($25, www.trashcansandmore.com), which recently replaced my Comark professional-chef dial-face turkey-poker (Seattle Restaurant Store, $12.99). And I was impressed by the array of CDN Pro-accurate thermometers, everything from a simple dial-face ($8.99) to a high-tech electronic remote probe ($24.95), while perusing the cookware department at Ballinger Village Thriftway.
Half the fun of roasting a turkey is basting it, and I baste mine with a cheap bulb-baster (Bartell Drugs, $2.99). But now that I've seen the little spray-end on the Cuisipro Dual Baster/Injector ($9.95, Sur La Table), I'm hoping to find one in my Christmas stocking.
Jack Sprat could eat no fat, which is why he owns a sturdy 4-Cup Gravy Separator from Williams-Sonoma ($28). I, on the other hand, can eat no lean, which is why, when I remove my turkey from its pan, I leave the fat-laden drippings right where they dripped, incorporating them into the gravy made directly in the pan on my stovetop. You might buy a bargain-priced Good Cook Gravy Separator ($2.99, Top Food & Drug), or let the juices rest, allow the fat to rise to the top and "sponge" it off with a piece of bread before gravy-making: Whatever floats your boat!
Speaking of which, as someone who makes gravy once a year, I don't own a proper gravy boat, nor do I need one. I make do with an enameled cobalt-blue Chantal measuring cup — a quart-capacity conversation piece that gets heavy use year-round as (shhhh!) our dog-chow scoop. You might snag a Chantal "Livestrong" Pouring Cup ($11.99 from Target), or impress your mother-in-law with a far more elegant option: a Villeroy & Boch "Cascara" gravy boat from Macy's ($60).
With Japanese knives all the rage, even Norman Rockwell would expect to see your turkey carved with a Shun Classic Carving Set ($228.95, The Epicurean Edge). Though Bed, Bath & Beyond offers a Cuisinart 2-piece Carving Set for $29.99. I rely on my husband to sharpen my 10-inch Henckels Chef Knife ($109, Mrs. Cooks). Something he regularly does with the Tri-Hone sharpening stone system I bought "him" for Father's Day (Seattle Restaurant Store, $89.95).
My husband's the pie-guy in our house, and his crusts of choice are the boxed-set of ready-to-bake Pillsbury Pie Crusts. But my pal (and Seattle Times home economist) CeCe Sullivan, a professional do-it-yourselfer, swears by her heavy-duty nonstick Sil-pin Silicone Rolling Pin ($49.95, Sur la Table) along with her SiliconeZone pie crust shields ($10.95 for five sections, Metropolitan Market), which keep her crust-edges from burning. (P.S.: My Pillsbury doughboy uses aluminum foil.)
Maybe your china cabinet is filled with fancy tchotchkes, perfect for the Thanksgiving table, but I don't do china, and if you could see my dining table, well, let's just say a festive tablecloth hides a world of embarrassment. As for decorative touches, what's more festive than autumn leaves, gathered at their colorful peak, pressed between a book and then pressed into service as décor?
Leaves also make a lovely seasonal "hostess gift" if they're the parchment leaves oft-used to decorate cheese plates ($9.99, Cost Plus World Market).
That said, if you're the self-serving type, consider the gift that keeps on giving: a set of four good-size plastic storage containers from Ziploc, Glad, Rubbermaid, et al (priced as low as $2.99-$3.99), used flagrantly by this happy hostess, who sends guests home with everyone's favorite parting-gift: leftovers.
Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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