Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving: the leftovers

Two slices of good white bread.  A generous schmear of mayo.  A grind of black pepper.  Thinly sliced leftover roasted turkey.  Pile on the stuffing.  Then crown with cranberry sauce.

Is there anything better?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving: the sides

Quickly, before I head off to the family Thanksgiving dinner -- the side dishes. 

For our cousin-hosted dinner tonight, I did the mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts. 

 Yellow and orange sweet potatoes, bathed in butter, brown sugar,
dark corn syrup, orange zest, and orange juice. 

Brussels sprouts, quickly blanched, tossed in
olive oil with a few garlic gloves.

Roasted at 425°F and turned occasionally, for
about 15 minutes.  Drizzled with more oil, and
seasoned with sea salt and a bit of balsamic vinegar.

Yes, everything I did is in disposable foil pans. :-)

Thanksgiving: the turkey

Unconventional.  Daring.  Scandalous.  Yes, that's how I roast my turkey.

Forget stuffing an 18-lb bird, and roasting it for five hours.  Put the stuffing on the side, cut the bird up -- same way you'd do a chicken -- and roast the pieces.

I cut up the bird last night, and brined it overnight.  This morning, removed the pieces from the brine, arranged in the roasting pan, tucked in the scraps (back, neck, giblets), some cut-up onion, carrot, and celery, seasoned it all lightly (remember, it was brined, so likely will NOT need salt), and poured a melted stick of butter over all.  Added a cup of turkey stock, too.

350°F, uncovered. 

Two hours. Done.  Perfectly.  PERFECTLY

 Cut up like a chicken: breast, legs, wings.  

 With the back, neck, giblets, onion, carrot, celery tucked in,
seasoned lightly, basted with melted butter.  

Two hours at 350°F.  Roasted to perfection.
Neck, back, giblets, veggies, drippings saved for stock.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Prepping for Thanksgiving dinner(s)

But still prepping for two Thanksgiving dinners:

• Thursday with the extended family -- I'm doing mashed potatoes, candied sweets, Brussels sprouts, apple and pumpkin pies -- and the cousins are doing the rest.

• Friday with my circle of friends -- doing Hot Brown sandwiches, mashed potato casserole, mushroom-sage stuffing, Brussels sprouts, cranberry relish, apple pandowdy, sweet potato pie.  Oh, and some gravy.  Carmen insists on having gravy.  So I'll make gravy. 

New name for my blog???

Four Degrees of Separation.  Dang, now I have to change the name of my blog!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving: the soup

Thanksgiving or not, this is a great time of year for soup.  I find few things as satisfying as making a pot of soup.

This is a basic catch-all autumn vegetable soup.  Clean out the fridge, chop it all up, add some good stock, and a bit of thickener (pasta, rice, barley, or oats -- yes, oats), and you can eat for a week.  Dazzle your Thanksgiving guests with a cup of this soup as a first course. 

Here's everything I put in my soup:

From the left-- a large onion, peeled parsnip, half a head of savoy cabbage, bulb of fennel, celery, carrots, well-rinsed leeks.  Oops -- took the photo too early.  I also added six cloves of garlic.

Chop all the veggies.  Add everything except the cabbage to a pot filmed with some oil.  Saute until tender.  Add cabbage, and cover all with stock. (I used unsalted, homemade turkey stock.)  Thyme, bay leaf, salt, pepper.

Like many other recipes I've blogged here, there's much latitude for your creativity.  Add rice or pasta if you like them.  Use veggie broth to keep it wholly vegetarian.  A couple tomatoes squeezed into the soup adds a very nice dimension, too, or a tablespoon or two of tomato paste added with the sauteing veggies.  You could start out by sauteing some cut-up bacon with your veggies.  Dang, that's good, too.  Possible you have a rind of cheese, from pecorino or parmigiano?  Throw that in.  Beans?  Add them if you like them. 

Sauteing veggies.

Simmer 30 mins.  Added half a cup of rolled oats to thicken the soup a bit.  Works remarkably well for that.   
Everything in the pot, covered with stock.

Rolled oats, to thicken the stock and add body to it.

This is the kind of soup that is ten times better the next day than the day it is made.

Just before you serve the soup, drizzle a bit of good olive oil on each bowl as you serve it to your guests.  Or toast some good Italian bread, rub it with raw garlic, and put that crostino in the bottom of the bowl, and ladle soup on top.  Pass grated cheese at the table.

Thanksgiving: the pie

I tried a new recipe -- sweet potato pie.  Can't say I've ever made one.  I've made more apple, peach, bloob, pumpkin pies than I can count, but sweet potato?  Nope. 

Dug up a nice recipe from our friends at America's Test Kitchen (hosts of the TV show of the same name on public television, and Cooks' Illustrated magazine, one of the dullest cooking magazines I've ever come across.  But that's another blog entry altogether.)

Great idea for it -- blind-bake the crust, add the sweet potato custard, then bake.  A beautiful pie results, and the bottom crust is crisp. 

Taste -- very good, though I think I'll go easier on the nutmeg next time.  Peggy didn't like the bourbon flavor in it.  I thought it added a nice dimension, but if it went missing, the result would be equally good.

One of my favorite places for sweet potato pie is the Basic 4 Vegetarian Snack Bar at Reading Terminal Market.  Kick-ass sweet potato pie. 

I'm planning on doing another one for my ThanksFriday dinner with the gang, along with a big apple pandowdy. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thanksgiving: the stock

Few things are as important to a good Thanksgiving dinner than a pot of hot, rich stock simmering on the back burner.

You need stock to make your stuffing (see my last post), to baste your turkey, to make lots and lots of gravy to drown your mashed potatoes, turkey, and stuffing in, and as the base for your post-Turkey Day turkey soup. 

Stock can be made well ahead of time and frozen until you need it.  It takes a few minutes of preparation, and several hours of hands-off simmering.

Start with meat.  For my Thanksgiving supper, I will usually buy turkey parts --  a few pounds of wings, necks, giblets -- roast them until browned, then dump them into the stockpot.  You can make chicken stock if you must for your turkey, but there's no lack of turkey parts in the markets these days.  Bony pieces are the best; you wouldn't simmer turkey or chicken breast meat to make stock. 

Roasted meat, with veggies, ready for the boil. 

Cover the parts generously with cold water.  I will typically make about four quarts of stock at at time.  To the stockpot add an onion or two sliced in half (no need to peel it); a carrot or two; a stalk of celery or two; four to six garlic cloves, smashed; a handful of parsley, stems and all; a dozen or so peppercorns; a bay leaf; and a few sprigs of fresh thyme, or a teaspoon of dried if that's all you have. 

I use a pasta pot for stock -- a large, covered, 12-qt pot with a perforated insert. 

Bring the whole lot to a vigorous boil, then lower to barely a simmer.  Cover partly, and let the stock simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  Turn it off, cover completely, and let it cool down a bit.

 The finished stock.

When it's cool enough to handle, lift out the perforated insert, you're left with about 12 cups of the most awesome stock.  (By the way, I do all this manipulation in my sink.  It's easier to handle large pots of hot liquid at the lower level, and any drips, spills, or splatters won't matter.)

Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate or freeze.  

 Removing the meat and veggies from the pot. 
Keep the bits of meat, dump the rest. 

Do not salt the stock.  It will be very bland now, but you want to have completely unsalted stock so that you can control the salt in whatever recipe you eventually use it in -- stuffing, gravy, soup. 

Depending on what meat you used, you can pick off bits of meat from the boiled bones, and save them for soup later.  You'll see here that these photos were taken when I made a pot of beef stock -- not turkey -- but the process is identical.  That boiled shinbone meat will be excellent in a pot of beef mushroom barley soup.  If you used turkey giblets to make your Thanksgiving stock, save those, and chop them finely to add to your gravy. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thanksgiving: the stuffing

Making stuffing (or dressing, if you insist) for your Thanksgiving dinner is dead easy.  It's a few staples from your fridge, some herbs (dried or fresh), stale bread, and stock.  Dead easy.

For 6 cups of stuffing:

5 cups bread (stale, not so fresh, toasted, whatever you have), cut up into cubes
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
4 Tbs butter
2 cups stock (chicken is fine, turkey is better)
sage, about 2 Tbs fresh leaves, chopped
thyme, about 2 tsp, dried or fresh
salt and pepper, to taste

Saute the celery and onion in butter until softened.  Set aside.

Onions and celery sauteing in butter. 
An iconic aroma of a Thanksgiving morning.

Put your bread cubes in another bowl.  Warm up the stock slightly -- it doesn't have to be boiling, but it shouldn't be ice cold either.  Pour about a cup of the stock over the bread cubes and mix gently.  Here's where a bit of judgment is necessary: you want to cubes to be dampened, but not sodden with moisture.  If the bread has been toasted or is very stale, add a bit more stock, mix, then cover the bowl and let it sit for 10 minutes to allow the bread to soak in the stock.

The kind of bread you use will determine what your stuffing becomes.  I used a sourdough bread here (frankly, it was the crusts cut off of a loaf which was used for another recipe).  Good white bread is fine.  A French baguette or an Italian loaf is nice, too.  Sure, add some crumbled up cornbread here, if you have it.  That's nice, too.

Bread, moistened with stock, sitting to soften.

Add your softened veggies to the bread cubes, add in your herbs (fresh is best, dried is OK), salt and pepper to taste.  Add more stock if you think the mixture is too dry.  Taste for seasoning. 

 Mixed gently, and tasted for seasoning. 

Again, here's a point of judgment: I happen to like my stuffing very peppery and sagey, so I go heavy on both.  What you prefer is wholly up to your tastes and those of your guests.

 About two tablespoons of chopped fresh sage, from the herb garden. 

You have the basics here for good stuffing to accompany a roasted turkey.  At this point, you can be as creative about your stuffing as you like. Add some cooked rice if you like.  Browned sage sausage.  Apples, finely diced and sauteed in a bit of butter to soften.  Raisins.  Craisins.  Nuts.  Chestnuts.  Mushrooms, sliced or chopped, browned in butter, and finished with a bit of sherry or brandy. 

Arrange the stuffing in a casserole, and bake at 350°F for about 40 minutes until a bit browned and a bit bubbly around the edges. 

Arranged in the casserole and waiting to be popped into the oven.