Cooking For Others: My Turkey Day Table

EVENT: The Lapine Thanksgiving
VENUE: Phoebe’s Parents’ Barn, Katonah New York
MENU: Grilled Turkey (Uncle Porky); Apple Cider Gravy, String Beans with Spiced Nuts, Semi-Sweet Potato Mash with Spiced Caramelized Onions (Mom); Mixed Greens with Lemon-Chive Vinaigrette, Pumpkin Leek Stuffing with Turkey Sausage (Me); Cranberry Sauce (Aunt Susan); Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie (Cousin Holly); Pumpkin Cheesecake (Cousin Jessica); Fruit Cake (Cousin Julie)

My dad’s side of the family is very close. In fact, my aunt, the only girl of four, married a man whose name only differed from hers by one letter, making half of the members of my Thanksgiving table Lapins, and the other half Lapines. That’s pretty close.

We almost always celebrate Thanksgiving with the Lapine-Lapin clan. The one time in recent memory that we did Thanksgiving with my mom’s side, the evening began with my grandmother biting (and drawing blood from) the only non-blood relative (or person married to one) at the table, and ended by my uncle outing my cousin during a poem he had written about family. That cousin now attends the Lapine-Lapin family Thanksgiving.

But despite the fact that our Thanksgiving dinner tradition now revolves around my Dad’s siblings and their generations of offspring (which seem to multiply by a few infants every year), my mother, the non-Lapine, has always been the one responsible for the meal. Since the clan is a rather large one, our Thanksgiving tablescape does not involve countless sides, but a few minimalist staples in massive proportions that return each year by popular demand.

For years, my roles in this huge undertaking were to chop the herbs for the turkey’s butter rub, slice the onions for the semi-sweet potato mash and roast the spiced nuts for the green beans. Occasionally, I would take over the caramelizing of the onions when my father, irrationally worried that there wouldn’t be enough food, would inevitably send my mother, the kitchen wench, out for three additional pounds of string beans and, once, another whole turkey. But recently my duties got upgraded to authority over one complete dish: the stuffing, which is the only item to change every year.

My memories of the cooking process include my mother getting really aggressive with the massaging of the turkey, making inappropriate comments all the while; frequent freak-outs that the gravy was too sweet; and a porch full of casseroles left overnight to chill since there was no room left in the fridge. The setting for these memories was my childhood home in Westchester, a strange red house my parents sold two years ago. Since then, they’ve moved most of our possessions (my apartment in Flatiron holds the rest) to a small two-story barn, which they rent from Anne, more of a neighbor than a landlord, who lives in the house next door.

While we lamented the lack of fridge and counter space in the old house when it came time for Thanksgiving, the small makeshift kitchen in the new barn nearly made us rule out our hosting the holiday all together. Without the screen porch, there was no room for the 40-person table, and with only an Easy Bake Oven of sorts, there was certainly no room for 3-4 turkeys. But as is the case with most family Thanksgivings, and especially that of the Lapine-Lapin clan, tradition held strong, and for the first time last year, we piled 40 people into the small barn, around a table that divided the large room into two halves, and stretched all the way into the kitchen.

Even in these closer quarters, there was no biting, fighting, or poem reading. Just good food, grilled turkeys (courtesy of my Uncle Porky), and a whole lot of Lapin(e)s.

From my kitchen, housing one big Turkey Day table, to yours,


p.s. Check out yesterday’s post for Cara’s Turkey Day Table, now complete with ’09 pictures!

Rosemary Spiced Pecans for the Green Beans

Pumpkin Leek Stuffing without the sausage for dad.

The other ten pounds of it.

Mom processing the hand delivered drippings from Uncle Porky’s turkey for her Apple Cider Gravy with shallots and rosemary.

Turkey two ways: Lemon-Roasted and Mesquite-Grilled.
The spread.
The table, pre-Aunt Jennifer’s decorations.

Dad’s original place cards, circa 2006.

The table, adorned.

The kid’s table, without kids.

The kid’s table, with kids and full of ennui.
For next year:

Pumpkin Leek Stuffing with Turkey Sausage
Makes 30 servings


3 ½-2lb pumpkins, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
6 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved and thinly sliced
1 stick butter
½ cup of water or stock
2 ½ lbs hot or sweet Italian sausage (I used hot turkey), removed from the casing
3 sweet onions, chopped
3 fennel bulbs, chopped
1 tbsp fresh chopped thyme leaves
¼ cup dry white wine
4 loaves ciabatta, cut into 1 inch cubes
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup sage leaves, coarsely chopped
6 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups chicken stock
½ cup chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss the pumpkin with a drizzle of olive oil and a generous amount of salt on several rimmed cookie sheets. Roast in the oven for 40-45 minutes, redistributing occasionally, until tender and beginning to brown. Remove and set aside in a large casserole (what you will use for the whole stuffing).

In a large Dutch oven or casserole, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté for 5-10 minutes until the butter is incorporated and they begin to wilt. Add the water or stock, turn the flame to low, cover and cook for 20-25 minutes stirring occasionally. Cook slowly until the leeks are completely soft and beginning to turn to mush. Take the lid off and cook uncovered until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and add to the pumpkin mixture.

In the same pot or pan, add a little olive oil, turn the heat to high, and brown the sausage. Break it apart with your spatula as you go so the sausage crumbled into very small chunks. When properly browned, add to the pumpkin-leek mixture.

Add the onion, fennel, and thyme to the pot and sauté for 10 minutes, making sure to scrape up any brown bits from the sausage. When tender, but not caramelized, add the white wine and season with salt and pepper. Continue to sauté for another 5 minutes or so until the vegetables are very tender and the alcohol in the wine has burned off. Add to the pumpkin-leek mixture.

NOTE: everything up to this point can be done 1-2 days before.

The day of, combine the garlic and sage with ½ cup of olive oil. Heat in the microwave until the oil is fragrant and infused, about 1-2 minutes. Toss the cubed ciabatta with the oil and a generous amount of salt and turn out onto several rimmed cookie sheets. Toast in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes—until the bread is crisp, but not completely browned.

Toss the bread together with the vegetable mixture, the eggs, stock, and parsley. Make sure it is well combined, and add any stock as necessary to make sure the bread is moist. Let stand for at least an hour so the flavors absorb. Then return to the oven and cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Uncover, and cook for another 20-30 minutes until the top is crusty and brown.

Posted in: Cooking for Others
  • Treehouse Chef

    Lovely post! Great photos!

  • Caitlyn

    This made me laugh so hard…and wish I could partake in the Lapin(e)festivities!

  • Baking for Good

    Love it! And glad you went with pumpkin!

  • JW

    Made the pumpkin & leek stuffing for "Friends Thanksgiving" over the weekend – it received RAVE reviews. I halfed the amount of chiabatta though and there was still plenty of bready yumminess! Great recipe!

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