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Thanksgiving dinner was a two-person affair for Tom and me this year. Sadly, Covid concern kept us away from our traditional holiday meal at the home of friends. To console ourselves, we tried putting together a minimalist celebratory feast.

I acquired a turkey thigh and leg (bought, not grown, Tom hastens to clarify), which together weighed in at a bit over two pounds. Wrinkly creatures, they were.
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I’d only ever roasted whole turkeys before, so I had to do some recipe research for these parts. I found a simple preparation for roasting turkey parts in Julia Child’s The Way to Cook. Per Julia, parts take half the time of a whole bird, which for my two would mean two hours at 325°, for an internal temperature of 165°. Mindful of turkey’s tendency to be dry, I spread softened butter all over the two parts and basted them every 30 minutes with their own juices and hot water.
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Meanwhile, to approximate the traditional Thanksgiving bounty of multiple vegetable dishes, in my hotter oven I roasted a pan of winter vegetables, using ones I had on hand: a white sweet potato, a carrot, some chunks of Spanish onion, the end of a fennel bulb, and a few Brussels sprouts.
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And I made a very small batch of cranberry-orange relish: one cup of cranberries and half of a clementine, rind and all.
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A special treat for our first course was oeufs au cheval. I’ve written here about this appetizer of white bread fried in butter; spread with foie gras, topped with a butter-fried egg; sprinkled with grated parmigiano and paprika, and finished under a broiler. The eggs were unusually uncooperative this day, apparently adapting perfectly to the ambience of 2020, so our plates weren’t as pretty as earlier ones I’d made, but they tasted just as good.
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Then it was time for the turkey. When two hours in the oven were up, the thigh and leg were a crisp rich brown, quite handsome to look at, but they’d also reached 180° on an instant-read thermometer. That was not good. I pulled them out of the oven, gave them a good rest, and hoped for the best.
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I didn’t get it. The meat was dry and chewy, the skin all leathery. Alas, that’s only too common in Thanksgiving turkeys, and a perfect example of why people often dislike the traditional dinner. (The vegetables were somewhat over-roasted too. Maybe my oven is running too hot?)

Well, it was what it was, and we ate what we could of it. A hastily made pan gravy and the cranberry relish helped it a bit.
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The nice 12-year-old Morey-Saint Denis from Drouhin that we drank with it by no means hurt. One wonders how many dry turkeys have, over the years, been lubricated by a good wine.
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What helped the dinner most, actually, was its dessert – again in the great American holiday tradition. Just for the two of us I made the whole pumpkin chiffon pie that I’d intended to bring to our friends’ dinner party. It’s one of Tom’s favorite pies, and it came out exactly as it should: feather-light on the palate, moist, spicy, and only slightly sweet – a lovely ending to a slightly flawed dinner.

Let’s hope it’s an omen for what’s left of this very flawed year.
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I’m just back from my birding trip in the Yucatan and haven’t started serious cooking yet. So this week I’ll write about some of the good things I ate there.

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One dish I was particularly looking for was pollo en escabeche, to see how the recipe I’d tried here, just before the trip, would compare. I found this Valladolid specialty in a restaurant in that city. It looked nothing like the one I’d made, and it tasted much, much better than mine.

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The chicken had been cut in strips after its poaching, spice rub, and sautéeing. There were large chunks of sweet onion, strips of pink pickled onion, and one whole large yellow chile xcatique, which was much hotter than the little yellow peppers I’d used. The broth was dark brown, full-flavored, and lightly speckled from the spice paste, with only a hint of the vinegar that had been so strong in mine. I have to admit that mine was only a crude approximation of the real thing. I don’t know whether to blame my recipe, my ingredients, or myself.

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On Thanksgiving Day I had turkey for dinner, semi-traditionalist that I am. Pavo en negro was a far cry, however, from the familiar North American holiday bird. The turkey may have been originally roasted, but then it was shredded and served in a black sauce along with a slice of (also perhaps-roasted) pork loin and a halved hard-boiled egg. From the name I was expecting the sauce to be a thick mole, but it wasn’t. As I’ve since learned from Rick Bayless’s book Authentic Mexican, it’s a Yucatan specialty based on a paste made from chiles burnt black, ground achiote seeds, Mexican oregano, black pepper, cloves, cumin, garlic, and vinegar.

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For all that assertive spicing and almost shocking appearance, the dish was remarkably subtle, and the smooth, flavorful sauce seemed to get even better as it cooled. I wiped up every last bit of it with fresh tortillas.

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One evening Tom and I shared a first course of papadzules. This Yucatan specialty consists of fresh tortillas moistened with a sauce of pumpkin seeds, rolled around a filling of crumbled hard-boiled eggs, and topped with a tomato sauce with a touch of habanero chile. In The Cuisines of Mexico, Diana Kennedy calls it one of the most beautiful of Mexican dishes. Mine, eaten in a very simple restaurant in the town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, was not very impressive to look at but was surprisingly delicious.

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That same restaurant gave me another excellent dish: pollo en pibil. Pibil is the word for the Yucatan style of pit barbecuing, though the same effect can be achieved on an indoor stove. My chicken had been marinated in bitter orange juice and spices including achiote (which gives it a rich golden-red color), then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. It was among the best-flavored chicken preparations in this passionate chicken lover’s memory.

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Just one anticipated culinary pleasure was denied me. I’d been hoping for pulpo – octopus. Just about every menu listed it, but not a single place had any. We were told it was because of high winds following a cold front (from the same storm that caused so much trouble in the Midwest last week), which made it impossible for the fishing boats to bring in any octopi. As a consolation, for dinner on my last night, in Cozumel, I had a combinación de mariscos: grilled shrimp, lobster, and fish, all totally fresh and delicious. Not a bad way to end a trip.

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Here are a few of the other dishes that we ate. Clockwise from upper right, gambas a la plancha, pescado a la veracruzana, cocteil de concha, huevos rancheros, tacos de pescado, menestra.

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