Thanksgiving When You’re Broke and Alone
Ah Thanksgiving. I love this time of year – leaves are turning into dried ornaments, the night chill turns us into a nation of scarf-lovers, low self-esteem based on poor body image is all but forgotten under big woolly sweaters. It’s a time when leafy green salads are tossed aside to make way for slowly braised beef ribs. Grilled corn on the cob and seared sea bass with tomato salsa sound great when it’s thirty degrees out and short-shorts are in vogue, but by the time October in Ontario rolls around, that corn is now in a creamy chowder laced with bacon and that sea bass is now swimming in a bordelaise sauce with puréed potato and sautéed chanterelles. At least that’s how it goes in my house. (By the by, no matter how many times I try, I still look terrible in short-shorts. True.) Canadian Thanksgiving (also known as “real Thanksgiving”) also comes at an interesting time in the university student’s life. I never went to university, as pursuing the dream to become a chef didn’t really allow for that frivolous nonsense, but I meet quite a few students due to the shop’s proximity to the University of Toronto. They usually check out the shop, in awe of all the goodies they never saw at the A&P back home, and buy a sausage or a few slices of bacon. Some shopkeepers might see these customers as not very important but I see awesome young adults willing to “try new things” at an age when that statement is most often applied to bisexuality and hard drug use. These students may eventually become regular customers, or they may not, but they will remember the time they bought and ate something they normally wouldn’t because they’re broke. I feel a lot of people with steady jobs and an apartment forget what it was like to leave your parents’ house for the first time. You have no real spending cash, other than whatever your cruddy part-time job gives you for your hard work. You wear clothes that don’t fit properly or have holes in them and pass them off as “hip”, which we all know is not true. You are broke, and that’s okay. That will (by the grace of God) change, and with any luck you can be a tax-paying slave to the dollar in a few short years. On top of being broke, most students are as lonely as Pepé Le Pew in a cat lady’s house. You yearn for companionship, but it is SO hard when you don’t know anyone and everyone seems different from you. Except that no one is really that different. You’re all broke and alone, for now. If for no other reason, that should bring a couple of you guys together in solidarity…which could be a very good thing this time of year, because Thanksgiving can truly suck if you’re a student. Most students have been in classes for about five weeks by the time Thanksgiving rolls up. Some lucky students will use this time to go home and see their families for the first time since Labour Day, and excitedly engross the whole family with tales of new books and clubs and professors over a delightfully big turkey. Other students, especially those who aren’t from the city and have to work to pay for some of their tuition, may choose to just stay in town and wait until Christmas for the big reunion. I admire these students, because no matter how you slice it, they are grown up enough to face what could very well be a miserable weekend. But it might not be. Ok, so here’s the deal. If you are a student, all broke and alone this weekend, and you have even a little energy to try new things, this post is for you. When the rest of us are shoving our heads into the turkey-filled feedbag, you can try something a little different, yet still reminiscent of what this season is all about. You don’t need much money to cook this plate, but you do need a little patience and just one friend. That’s right: a friend. This part I can’t help you with, but I do suggest you find someone else in your situation – perhaps a dorm-mate, or a study-buddy, or that cute boy/girl who works the cash at Tim Horton’s. You can cook this for yourself, but that doesn’t defeat the “lonely” part. I leave that in your hands. Now, I’ll be doing some fancy knife work and cooking here, but you can do all of this with just one kitchen knife, a pot or two, and a baking tray. If you don’t have these things, go and get them. Because that’s part of being a grown-up. And by the way, if you are nineteen and you don’t know how to do laundry, punch yourself in the thigh. You owe it to the 35-year-old version of you to learn this stuff now. So here’s the dish. Ballotine of Chicken with Apple and Sage, Gingered Squash Mash, Roasted Potato, Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Cranberry Reduction Pretty good, eh? Maybe you SHOULD invite that boy/girl from Tim Horton’s. That’s the one good thing about not going home on a holiday weekend: no parents cramping your style with the old “open bedroom door” rule. Here we go. You’ll obviously need some ingredients. I bought the vegetables from an organic market near my shop. Some people would think that this trip would have cost me a lot of money, but it was only $5.46 for: one smallish squash – this one is called “delicata”, but any old squash’ll do one apple a few dried cranberries an onion – even though I’m only using a quarter of it a little knob of ginger one clove of garlic two smallish Yukon gold potatoes like, twelve Brussels sprouts Then I went to a cruddy convenience store and bought some Cranberry juice. It cost waaaaay too much at $2.25 for 250ml, but whatcha gonna do? Finally I went to my store and picked up a chicken leg and two slices of bacon. That cost $3.45. Well, it would have if I didn’t own the shop. Stuff I already had at home was some breadcrumbs, grated Parmigiano, and three to five tablespoons of butter. I also had salt, pepper and fresh sage and thyme (from my garden, silly). First I butchered the chicken leg. I drew my knife along each side of the bone until I freed enough of it to slip my knife underneath the bone. Gradually I cut the bone away from the leg. I made an easy brine by mixing a quarter of the cranberry cocktail with a healthy pinch of salt and a sage leaf, then put the boneless leg in that brine and soaked it for about an hour in the fridge. In the meantime, to make the stuffing, I finely diced some onion and garlic and sweated them out with one slice of chopped up bacon and butter in a pan. I cut the seeds out of the apple and chopped it, sliced the sage, and added that to the pan once the onions were caramelized. Once the apples were starting to mush I added about 2 tablespoons of cheese and 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs and took the pan off of the heat. I mixed everything well and put it aside. For the squash, I peeled the delicata, cut it in half and seeded it. I peeled and sliced the ginger and put that in the squash where the seeds were. I added a bit of thyme and knobs of butter (about a tablespoon’s worth), and sprinkled it with salt, pepper. The oven had been preheated to 350˚F and I put the squash in on a baking sheet. After twenty minutes I flipped the squash so it could caramelize on the other side, cooked it for another ten minutes then removed it from the oven. I transferred it into a bowl and mashed it with a fork while it was still warm then set it aside. I then turned the oven up to 400˚F in anticipation of the chicken leg. To make the potatoes I peeled and quartered them, then placed them in simmering salted water for about twenty minutes, or until they just felt tender. I cooled them in a strainer before tossing them with butter. For the Brussels sprouts I cut off the nasty ends, halved them, then scored the core. I blanched them in simmering water for about seven minutes, then drained them. I sautéed onions and garlic in butter and the other slice of bacon (chopped up), and when caramelized I added the sprouts with a little salt and pepper. I cooked them until browned and set aside. To make the sauce, first I browned the bone from the chicken leg in a clean pan. That took about five minutes per side on medium heat. I poured the remaining cranberry juice into the pan with the browned chicken bone and added the dried cranberries and some thyme. I reduced it by four times so the juice was syrupy and added a knob of butter at the end to give it a little body. To make the chicken, I took the leg out of the brine and lay it flat on my cutting board, skin side down. I put the stuffing in the middle and rolled the chicken around it to make a fat cigar. I tied it up with some twine and seasoned it with salt, pepper, and butter. I put the ballotine (that’s what it is now) on the baking sheet next to the buttered potatoes and placed them in the oven (remember, now it’s at 400˚F). After about forty minutes, the chicken and potatoes should be golden and ready. I took the twine off of the chicken and sliced it into six even pieces. Now I was ready to plate. I put a dollop of squash on my plate, and used a spoon to mush it down. I scattered half of the Brussels sprouts around, and then added the potato. I put three slices of chicken on top of everything, and then finally drizzled it all with the cranberry sauce. Done. I realize I wrote this recipe using a first person narrative, but I don’t really expect you to follow this to a T. The point is to expose you to something you may not have tried before, and that can only be a good thing. This plate cost me about ten bucks to produce, and that left me a few bucks to spend on wine, which is a great thing. So even if you are broke and alone you can get full on food and drink, perhaps with a new friend. At a time of year when everyone is being thankful for what they have, let’s be thankful for what we don’t yet have. Sometimes discovering new things can be more exciting than knowing the same old hat.