I have a problem.
Well, in truth, I have quite a few problems — some I can write about, some I can’t.
This problem has to do with food.
Specifically, with producing enough high-quality food, on Thanksgiving, to feed 14 people.
I’ve managed food for 14 before, many times.
But, not without an oven.
The other night my grandson, Banzai, and I are cooking dinner. Bonz is doing the stirring and, whenever possible, the snacking. I am doing the rest of the work as we prepare a frittata. (I have to call it something else during the process. Bonz is convinced “frittata” is a “nasty word,” and you don’t argue with a soon-to-be 3-year-old boy.)
I slice potatoes on a mandoline, chop a white onion, mince and smush a couple cloves of garlic, slice some roasted red pepper, dice a couple andouille sausages, dice a pasilla chile, thaw half a pack of frozen green peas and beat eight eggs.
The frittata is simple: sauté the slices of potato in olive oil in a cast iron frying pan over medium heat until they are golden brown and fork tender. Toss in the pieces of sausage, the pasilla and the onion and cook until the vegetables are tender. Throw in the peas and garlic and cook for three or four minutes. Pour in the egg, turn the heat down a titch, and stir occasionally, watching carefully while constantly moving the liquid egg to the bottom of the pan. When the mess sets up fairly well, decorate the top with strips of the roasted red pepper, sprinkle with shaved Parmesan and pop under the broiler for several minutes, until the top is firm and toasty, and the mix has completely set.
Bonz and I complete the process to the broiler stage. I turn the broiler on and I put the pan in the oven on the rack closest to the broiler flame.
Only, there is no flame.
I discover this a few minutes later when I slide the rack out to check the top of the frittata.
It’s still wet.
I realize the broiler is not on. The readout on the front of the stove says the broiler is functioning. The exhaust fan is on.
But, no flame.
No worry. I take the pan from the oven, put it over medium low heat on the stovetop burner and put a lid on the pan. A couple minutes over the heat and it will be done. The top won’t be a delicious golden brown, but who cares?
I investigate the oven situation after we finish dinner. I turn the oven on and set it to preheat to 400 degrees.
The fan comes on.
Mechanical genius that I am, I figure if I unplug the stove and reset the controls, the oven will work.
I might as well have beaten the beast with a ball peen hammer.
No go. No heat.
One week before Thanksgiving, and dinner for 14. A dinner that, in its more traditional forms, requires … an oven!
Ever try to get an appliance fixed in a timely manner?
It’s not going to happen, is it?
First, the manufacturer from whom you’ve purchased the special repair contract can’t send a local repairperson. Oh, no, the repair service must be headquartered at least an hour’s drive away. In another town. In another county. Another zip code. If possible, another state.
Any chance the repair service, once located, has the part needed to make the repair?
What are the odds of getting the part shipped and having the appliance fixed in a matter of a few days?
What are the chances we’ll be struck by a meteor?
So, I fear it is going to be Thanksgiving (did I say anything about 14 people?) without my oven.
Fortunately, all is not lost. Daughter Ivy, with whom I traditionally team to produce the holiday meal, has an oven at her place, a couple miles away. It is a small oven, but it works.
Last Thanksgiving, we needed both ovens and we were hard pressed at that to pull the meal off.
This year, one small oven is going to have to serve the most basic needs.
I take an inventory of the other appliances I have available for the task ahead.
Four burners on the stovetop (unless, of course, they go out). Four burners on Ivy’s stove.
A gas grill on the deck (if there is gas in the tank).
A slow cooker with formidable capacity.
A microwave oven of dubious quality and limited size.
I call an emergency meeting of the cook staff: me, Ivy and Bonz. My wife, Kathy, handles desserts and, without an oven, the traditional pies and tarts seem out of the question. She is going to have to scare up some other options.
Ivy and I run through a list of possibilities while Bonz torments the dog.
The oven, with its limited space and our tight schedule on Thanksgiving Day, will be used to roast a dry-brined turkey and to bake the dressing (a traditional mix, with hot, Italian sausage). Previous schemes involving things like popovers are history. We might be able to bake some rolls after the bird is roasted and is resting, but that’s it.
Check. With all manner of additives beyond the artery clogging cream and butter. Regular stovetop work.
Ivy has a great recipe for a corn casserOlé … but, no oven.
We’ll do up a mess of creamed greens on the stovetop. Ivy found a recipe for creamed collard greens and bacon and it is doable on the burner.
We can roast sweet potatoes on the grill (cut into logs and packed in grill racks) then cube the sweet potatoes and mix them with some chopped green chile and sautéed shallots. A cream sauce sweetened with maple syrup will be the perfect finishing touch. Perhaps a bit of crumbled Gorgonzola over the top?
I can rip off a turkey stock a couple days before Thanksgiving, using chicken broth as a base and six or so turkey thighs, an onion and some celery to flavor the brew. I’ll freeze it and have it ready for gravy and dressing.
Does anyone serve a green salad with Thanksgiving dinner? If so, why? Better yet, sliced, roasted beets, served with finely sliced red onion, walnuts and a slightly sweet vinaigrette, over spring greens. Goat cheese, anyone? We can roast the beets a day or two ahead, in Ivy’s oven. Trim a beet, wrap it in foil, roast at 400 until tender. Let cool, then rub the skin off with a paper towel. Chill the beets down and they slice perfectly. One per person should do the trick.
We are going to pull this thing off. And we’ll have plenty of leftovers for the most important meal — the dinner on the day after Thanksgiving. Turkey mOlé , potato and stuffing cakes, and a corn and green chile sauté.
Of course, if all our efforts fail, we’ll still break out the cocktails and the wine. All I really need to make the day a success are a corkscrew, some ice and a bottle opener.
And, who knows, maybe one day … an oven.