Growing up in Oklahoma, my Thanksgiving lasted all day.
My parents made me dress up, which I remember thinking was annoying. Both my mom's and dad's sides of the family would come over, and my mom would be prepping all week. Everyone would bring different pies, but my mom made all the starters—she did almost everything. Maybe one of my aunts would bring deviled eggs.
I remember distinctly a couple of dishes that my mom would always make. At the time, growing up in Oklahoma, a lot of the food available was canned, so for the stuffing she wasn't making fresh stock and stuff like that—it was all canned chicken stock. She would make this stuffing out of dried-out bread, half cornbread and white bread. Then she would reconstitute it with chicken stock and a bunch of dried herbs, mostly sage, and she baked it like a pie, in a casserole dish. It was really good, but it almost had the texture of a brownie. And when we'd get a square of that—it had onions in it, just dried herbs and onions, and no meat.
Another thing that I remember that she'd make was this cheese log, which was actually pretty awesome. I was talking to somebody about this the other day. It was cheddar cheese, with green onions and white onions in there. All of it was mixed together and rolled in a bunch of pecans and walnuts. It was shaped out like a tree log, and then my mom would serve it with Ritz crackers and saltines. It was one of my favorite things.
There was never any alcohol at my Thanksgiving because my mom and dad didn't drink, so our Thanksgivings were fairly uneventful—no crazy fights or anything. People would eat and watch football, and we would all stay up the Christmas specials or whatever was on. It was pretty traditional. Then we'd decorate our Christmas tree.
The only thing that was crazy about it was that my mom would be up at three in the morning getting stuff ready. Thanksgiving was a really early day. It was the same thing every year. The cheese log was always going to be there. No one would ever get adventurous and make something cool.
We both woke up on the floor in the living room, like, Oh my god, what happened? The turkey and everything was just sitting in the kitchen, ready to go.
In adulthood, one of the funniest Thanksgivings I ever had was before my wife and I moved to New York to open Mission Chinese Food and Mission Cantina, when we were still in San Francisco. I remember it had been a really long work week for both for us, and the SF Mission Chinese had been cranking really, really hard. So we took off, and we were like, What are we going to do, we don't have reservations anywhere, and I didn't really want to hang out with anybody. I just wanted to be with my wife. So we actually went home and did the whole Thanksgiving thing; we got all of the dishes and everything together. But we drank so much rosé and champagne and other alcohol that we both completely passed out before we ate. We didn't even eat. Everything was perfectly done, so the next day, it was just sitting there. Whatever. It was so funny, because we both woke up on the floor in the living room, like, Oh my god, what happened? The turkey and everything was just in the kitchen, ready to go. We ate some, but then immediately went back to bed because we felt so horrible. I think we took some of it to work, and then obviously no one wanted to eat Thanksgiving food right after Thanksgiving.
I don't drink anymore. I have, like, tea.
In terms of what to do with leftovers, if you encounter a situation like mine, I can give you a Chinese-style recommendation and a Mexican-style recommendation. Obviously, the easiest thing with leftovers is to do something with all of the turkey. (For the stuffing and everything else, I don't know what to do with that—you could make another stuffing, put some stock on it, and bake it like my mom did.) If you have a lot of leftover turkey, there's a Oaxacan dish called relleno negro, and basically it's turkey—they eat a lot of turkey in the Yucatán—that's cooked and braised in a blackened chile mole. But it's not a mole so much as a blackened sauce, like a recado. So recado negro is basically blackened chile and spice sauce. It looks awesome because it's super black, like squid ink. You can just make the sauce and then add the turkey, cook it in the sauce, and you throw a few boiled eggs in there and serve it with tortillas, avocado, habanero, salt, and salsa. It's so good.
For a Chinese-influenced turkey recipe, I think the easiest thing to do would be to make fried rice, always delicious and super, super simple. Chop up all the turkey—I guess you could throw some stuffing in there too?—and typically, I would always just make sure there's an egg in there and some meat. Everyone always make a leftovers sandwich, but I think that fried rice is definitely the way to go. I always take a little bit of iceburg lettuce and fold it into my fried rice at the end. Some people don't really agree, but they do it at some Chinese restaurants, though you would never know that. You're just eating it, thinking, Why is this so good? It's because there are little pieces of lettuce in there.
For me, to show up at a Thanksgiving with a whole pastrami—that's amazing. People are like, What the fuck?
At Mission Cantina, we're selling whole Thanksgiving pastramis. Everyone does turkeys on Thanksgiving, and turkey's awesome, but people usually make turkey better by stuffing it with other things like chicken and duck. It's fine, but for me, to show up at a Thanksgiving with a whole pastrami—that's amazing. People are like, What the fuck?, and it's like, yeah, you've had pastrami in small doses, but you've never had a whole pastrami.
We're also doing a wild rice stuffing with chorizo spices, pecans, and raisins, and pickled jalapeño cornbread with smoked habanero honey. So it's very cool.
It's ironic, but it's really good. It may actually outshine the turkey.
This post previously appeared on MUNCHIES in November 2014.