Friday, November 30, 2012

Feliz Thanksgiving: 8 kilograms, Mini Ovens, & Contraband Soup

This year, I am working as an English language assistant in a public school in northern Spain. In October I left my quiet, happy life in Utah to live in a country with a different currency, measuring system, and language, 5,000 miles away from everyone I know and love. The first few weeks were a little rough with the eight hour time difference, finding an apartment, and separation anxiety from my car, but now that I am two months into my stay, I'm having the time of my life! I'm improving my Spanish, meeting new people, traveling through Europe, working with the best kids and teachers, and trying the most amazing food!

While I'm willing and excited to dive head first into Spanish culture, I'm reluctant to let go of all my Americana, including putting my napkin in my lap, my favorite TV shows (Gossip Girl, New Girl, 30 Rock, Happy Endings), and my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving! I mentioned in my Mexican Hot Chocolate Pie post that Thanksgiving is my favorite because of the menu planning, grocery shopping, hours in the kitchen, and sharing food with my loved ones. This was not my first Thanksgiving away from home, but it was definitely the first spent on a different continent. Did that drive me to deny myself a day of feasting and food comas? Never. Together with my fabulous roommates and the other language assistants in Ourense, we created a traditional Thanksgiving spread, drawing on our creativity, resourcefulness, and breaking a few airport security rules to acquire the necessary ingredients!

I'm exaggerating on the airport security rules. The green bean casserole cook bought the hard-to-find Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup on a weekend trip to Madrid. She had to plead her case to get it past airport security! We thanked her dedication and bravery by eating the entire casserole.

Turkey is not a common meat in Spain. In this country, ham is king. We special ordered an 8 kilo turkey (17.5 lbs) a week before our Thanksgiving feast. It did not come frozen like the butterball turkeys stocked eye high in Walmarts back home. The man at the deli sold us a fresh turkey, so fresh we had to remove a few feathers ourselves, with no giblets already removed. That presented a major gravy-making problem, but I'll get to that later.


The turkey brined in our tiny fridge overnight. Everything in my European kitchen is one size too small, including the roasting pan for the turkey! In order to prevent the bag from ripping on the turkey's feet (yes they left those on!) while it soaked in the savory herbs and spices, we double bagged the turkey, set it in a stock pot, set that stock pot in the roasting pan, and propped the bird up with Diet Coke and beer cans. That is the epitome turkey brining ingenuity!

Brown Sugar Thyme Turkey Brine

recipe adapted from


8 quarts water
2 cups kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp black pepper
2 tsp dried thyme OR 2 bunches fresh thyme
8 garlic cloves, smashed
rind from 1 orange, peeled in large strips
rind from 1 lemon, peeled in large strips 


In a large stockpot, combine water, salt, brown sugar, and pepper and stir until salt is dissolved. Add thyme, garlic, orange rind, and lemon rind and stir. Line a large roasting pan or stock pot with a plastic garbage bag. Rinse the thawed turkey and place in the plastic bag. Pour the brine over the turkey and tie off the plastic bag so the turkey is completely submerged in the brine. Refrigerate in the stock pot or roasting pan for 12-18 hours.

The next day, we prepared our brined turkey for roasting. At home, our turkey is set on a rack in a roasting pan to allow the drippings to collect in the bottom of the pan during roasting. Those drippings are later transformed into creamy, rich gravy. To compensate for the lack of roasting pan with a rack, the turkey roasted atop a bed of aromatics (chopped onions, carrots, celery, and apples) and was stuffed with onion, garlic, and the flesh from the lemons and oranges used in the brine. Before the bird went into the oven, I rubbed the skin with a compound butter made from room temperature butter, salt, pepper, and thyme.

As you can see, the bird took up the entire oven! I tented it with foil to prevent burning on the top and to facilitate auto-basting, similar to using a roasting bag which were nowhere to be found in the supermercado. We left the bird alone for 2 hours and 45 minutes. During this time, our power turned off twice because of the oven induced overexertion!

Nearly three hours into the turkeys roasting, I removed the tin foil and prepared a glaze. I glazed the bird three times in 15 minute intervals, rotating the pan after each coat to facilitate even browning. Finally, with the help of my stronger male roommate, the turkey was removed from the oven (it weighed a ton!), tented with foil, and left to rest for 30 minutes. It's very important to let meat rest after roasting or grilling. The resting time allows the meat the soak in the juices released during cooking. If you cut into hot steak or poultry right after it's cooked, all the juices will escape from the meat, leaving it dry and flavorless.

Brown Sugar Mustard Glaze

recipe by Martha Stewart


1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup dijon mustard


In a small bowl, whisk together brown sugar and mustard. Beginning 45 minutes-1 hour before the turkey is finished roasting, glaze the turkey with the brown sugar mustard mixture every 15 minutes, tenting with foil if browning too quickly.

Once the turkey had rested, we started the gravy. It took 2 people to tilt the roasting pan while 1 person held a saucepan underneath the collect the drippings! (Everything about this Thanksgiving was unorthodox!) I made a quick gravy by blending together some onion and apple slices from the roasting pan and the turkey drippings. I transferred that mixture to a saucepan, added a few tablespoons of flour, and whisked while the mixture came to a boil. Finally I added salt and pepper to taste. The gravy was slightly sweet and every one loved it!  

This was our spread! We had all the classics, turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, two kinds of stuffing, creamed corn, green bean casserole, macaroni & cheese, and our friend from Argentina brought ham and cheese empanadas!

I loaded my plate with comfort food and joined my new friends in celebrating a tradition from our home. It was definitely a Thanksgiving to remember! We brought Thanksgiving to Spain with a fabulous dinner and decadent desserts....

Silky Smooth Pumpkin Pie


and Walnut Crumble Apple Pie!

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