Thanksgiving dinner was quite pleasant, and surprisingly painless, given the amount of food. There were eight people eating dinner at our house; the food included a dish that could be labeled as a main dish if you wish, four side dishes, and two desserts. Which sounds like a lot of work, especially if you’re only just toying with the idea that you might be healthy, and especially if you’re a little tired mentally from having steam-cleaned carpets two of the three previous weekends (different carpets on different weekends, they don’t get dirty quite that fast, and our grime tolerance is really very high) and have to pick up a guest from the airport on Thanksgiving day, but it really wasn’t bad at all.

One thing that helped was that guests brought two of the side dishes. Another thing that helped was that we did some of the cooking on previous days. Which is a double-edged sword: we’re not exactly perky and bustling with energy evenings after work, so it’s not always a good idea to offload work to weekdays. In this case, though, it was the right move: on Tuesday, Liesl made cranberry-orange relish, which basically means dumping cranberries, an orange, and sugar in a food processor. And on Wednesday, Liesl made the dough for the pie crust (I didn’t realize how easy that is), and I made the marquise au chocolat (I should post the recipe for that some time; like many good chocolate desserts, it’s a simple preparation of high-quality ingredients), neither of which took as much as half an hour.

So on Thanksgiving all we had to do was finish the pie (pecan pie, so basically dump a bunch of things together, mix them, and put them in the pie crust), make the other side dish (a spinach dish that was made much much easier by our buying pre-cleaned baby spinach. We should get into the habit of making fresh spinach dishes much more often, given the availability of that stuff), and make a double recipe of the following:

Beef Birds, from Molto Italiano, by Mario Batali.

2 pounds skirt steak, about 1/2 inch thick, cut into twelve 4-inch-long pieces
12 slices prosciutto
12 fresh sage leaves
1 pound pancetta, cut into 1-inch cubes
olive oil, salt, pepper

Put a piece of prosciutto and a sage leaf onto each slice of steak. Roll them up, and put them on the skewers, alternating with the pancetta cubes. Brush with olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Grill or broil, turning once, until the beef is medium-rare, about 3 minutes per side.

And even a doubled recipe of that is really easy, especially since I wasn’t, say, sweating about the fact that my pieces of beef were all different sizes. Really good, too, in ways that I’m not used to. For one thing, it’s the first time I’ve cooked with thick slices of pancetta. We had to go to a butcher to get it (we got the steak there, too); first time I’d been there, but I’ll be happy to do so again in the future. Thick pancetta turns out to be a quite different beast from the thin slices I’m used to: much more of an aroma, and you just can’t ignore the fact that, at times, you’re biting into a big chunk of fat. Which, normally, is a huge downer for me, but it wasn’t in this dish. Probably because of the broiling, which is something that we almost never do; the skirt steak was also much fattier than I’m used to cooking with, but I didn’t notice its fat at all while eating.

We had the meat too close to the broiler’s heating element, so it smoked up the place; fortunately, our smoke alarm is not hyper-sensitive. (No way to turn it off, and it’s wired to the townhouse complex, so if it goes off you will at a minimum annoy your neighbors and at a maximum, if you don’t get on the phone soon enough, have fire engines at your doorstep.) Because of this, the beef ended up being a lot more rare than medium on the inside (though the outside looked lovely); it tasted delicious nonetheless. We really should use the broiler more.

So: easy food, which I think was more than good enough to stand up to almost any Thanksgiving I’ve had. And quite nice company. Followed by three more days of weekend. (Not that I don’t enjoy work, but the occasional break has its benefits.) And no gifts. What more could one want from a holiday?

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