On Saturday I celebrated my first Thanksgiving ever! Thanksgiving is a bit of a mystery for Europeans – you don’t really think about it until you meet and become friends with some American, and then you realize that our cousins on the other side of the pond have an extra Christmas we just don’t know anything about, and it is not even religious. No stressful and compulsive shopping required, as well. Just the sheer pleasure of staying together with family and eating. I kind of like it!
My expat (from the US) friends invited us over for a ‘real Thanksgiving dinner’. We met in the afternoon and spend some time getting tipsy and playing cards and games, nibbling on m&m and cheese. Dinner should have started at around 6pm but the baby turkey was a bit reluctant to cook, so we started later. My friend, who is not an expert cook and was cooking her first Thanksgiving dinner ever, managed to put together a real feast. She had to adapt her family recipes to what she can find here: she ended up doing everything from scratch, while as far as I understand there are many commodities available in canned form in the US. The result was impressive, and even more so because her kitchen equipment is quite limited. She must have a real talent for cooking and huge organisational skills. I just love when people cook for me – don’t you? It makes me feel spoiled.
We had all the classics: roasted turkey (I am wondering how many people will a grown up turkey feed- the ones you see in the movies are easily four times bigger than the baby one we had, which fed eight people with consistent leftovers), the best cranberry sauce ever, the stuffing, garlicky mashed potatoes, sweet corn, some delicious green beans I need the recipe for, little home made dough rolls to soak up the sauce (I don’t remember their name now). To finish off, apples stuffed with sugar and cinnamon, wrapped in pastry and baked. The sugar melted to a delicious sauce covering everything. Wow.
When my friend invited me, I asked her if I could bring the drinks, and what kind of drink is traditional. The traditional drink is eggnog, she said, ‘but it must be difficult to find and anyway everybody thinks it is kind of gross’. Alternatives: cranberry juice or wine. We did bring some wine, but I was just too curious. I knew the world – eggnog – and I assumed it must contain eggs, but I never had it. Quick internet search revealed it is actually quite similar to an egg liquor we drink in Italy, sold under the name of ‘Vov’. Many Italian skiers will probably recognize it in the so-called ‘bombardino‘, which is served hot to warm you up during sky breaks – just in case you need some extra calories as well.
Melissa has a recipe for eggnog, and I found several other ones on Epicurious. I settled on one that was very similar to Melissa’s but used whole eggs, since doing macarons with the leftover whites would be a bit out of reach for me right now. I am slowly starting to spend some time in the kitchen. It is mainly a matter of organising things differently, and having someone to help when you are really stuck (I can’t carry things, so there is no way I can drain something into the sink, for instance, which led to a few overcooked pasta and overblanched vegetables; I am getting better and now I remember to ask for help before). So I ordered milk, cream and eggs from the market, plus some extra rum and brandy. I decided to make eggnog at the last minute so I ended up mixing two recipes in my head and ordered way too much milk and cream. Now we usually don’t drink milk, and for sure cream is a no-go in this period. I had to use it all. So without thinking about it too much I decided to double the recipe.
I started to worry when I saw exactly what the volume of fourteen eggs is.
I ended up producing a little more than three liters of something I never drank before, let alone cook it. Thank goodness, it was good. I also benefited from considerable help in packing and chilling it. At the party everybody loved it, including my American friend, who said that it was very good, though thinner than normal eggnog – which was just fortunate because that is exactly what she does not like in eggnog normally. Other Italians – keen skiers – recognized the bombardino in chilled form. The Germans loved it. Me – I am not sure, I still have doubts over drinking custard instead of eating it with a spoon, possibly in the form of ice cream. I’d rather go for the ice cream, most of the times. And besides, I don’t like nutmeg on sweet things, but that is a quirk of mine. I guess it was just fortunate because I have no way of burning off the excess calories anyway.
Anyway, by around midnight the whole drink was finished. See you next year, eggnog!
Eggnog (makes about 1.5 liters)
7 whole eggs, very fresh
3/4 liter whole milk
200 gr caster sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, or vanilla extract
250 ml cream
about 100 ml dark rum and 100 ml brandy, or to taste
Put the whipping cream in the freezer. Heat the milk with the split vanilla pod, scrapping out the seeds. Turn the heat off right before boiling point. In a large stainless steel pot whisk the whole eggs and the sugar. Slowly add in the hot milk, straining it through a colander. Put back on low heat, stirring, until the mixture reaches 77 Celsius (170 Farenheit). If you don’t have a thermometer, you can recognize the point because the mixture changes, getting thicker and coating slightly the back of a spoon (I personally recognize the point because the mixture changes smell, but I have never seen it described anywhere, and I could not describe it any better anyway). Keep stirring, then pour in the cold cream and any booze using – the amounts above will give you a slightly alcoholic edge without making anyone drunk (I think some alcohol evaporates at this stage because the mixture is hot, and because my kitchen definitely smelled like alcohol). Let cool, uncovered, then pour in clean bottles, and chill for at least three hours.
Serve in glasses or cups, with grated nutmeg on top.