Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Throwdown

I know I'm far from the only person who cooked yesterday and the day before, but for me, Thanksgiving is the culinary holiday to end all, and I want to share with everyone what I made!

I don't have anyone to cook for besides Steve, and the holiday always sneaks up before I'm ready to even think about entertaining, so I usually don't.  Nevertheless, I've been cooking a real Thanksgiving dinner every year since I moved into my house - mainly because I wanted to see if I could do it, and partly so that I'll have some experience with it should I ever find myself contributing food to extended family gatherings during the holidays (a task that, for now, mostly falls to my dear Aunt Kaye in Chesapeake, VA).  For years I worried that I'd find myself married and having to cook for in-laws from hell without ever having made a turkey or pork tenderloin before, undercooking the meat and sending everyone to the emergency room with food poisoning.  So, I've rehearsed for such an occasion four years in a row now and (to my knowledge) not made anyone sick.

So here's how I spent my day yesterday!

Turkey with herbs and citrus
This is the turkey recipe I've followed each year.  For the most part, this was the same as Giada's recipe.  The main differences are that I doubled the "butter" and olive oil and used Earth Balance instead of butter for the butter-olive oil-herb mixture for the skin.  Since Earth Balance is pretty salty, I skipped salt here.  Also, I didn't have any herbes de Provence on hand, so instead I used a dried Italian herb mix consisting of oregano, rosemary, basil, marjoram and sage.  Close enough for rock 'n roll.  I stuffed the cavity with the orange, lemon, onion and herbs and rubbed the butter-oil-herb mixture on the skin the day before and left it in the fridge overnight.  Where the recipe says to add broth and herbs and throw it back in for 40 minutes, I went up to an hour for peace of mind (the cook time in this recipe has never seemed quite long enough for a 15-pound bird, so I leave it a little longer at each step) and because I had sweet potatoes and stuffing in the oven at the same time.  I didn't use low-sodium chicken broth as recommended, so where it says to add one final cup of broth to the roasting pan, I just added water.  This can get really salty if you're not using the low-salt and salt-free items indicated.  When it was finally ready to come out of the oven, I made the gravy pretty much the same as in the recipe, except that where it says to spoon off the fat from the strained pan juices and then cook some butter and flour, I spooned off the fat (green in color from the olive oil), put that in a saucepan and whisked in some flour, followed by the rest of the pan juices and additional chicken broth.  The greenish-brown color of the roux changed to a normal light-brown gravy color as soon as I added the de-fatted pan juices and broth.  This also needed no additional salt, so when it was ready to serve I just added pepper.  Num-num!

Carrot and fennel stuffing
I decided this year that I'd had enough of Emeril's cornbread and andouille dressing recipe - it's a good meal all by itself (hot Italian turkey sausage is a good substitute for the andouille), but very complicated when you're working on other dishes.  Instead, I went hunting for simpler recipes and found this one, which gave me an excuse to go to the store and pick up some fennel.  I did use carrots but skipped the apricots because a) I wasn't dying to have them, and b) Wal-Mart didn't have any when I went looking for them last weekend.  No biggie - it was good with all the other veggies.  The biggest difference between this recipe and what I actually made, besides the absence of apricots, is that I didn't use a baguette.  I happened to have a loaf of Pepperidge Farm buttermilk bread in the freezer, so I toasted and cubed the slices over the weekend and then stored them at room temperature until I was ready to make the stuffing.  Not sure how many cups that was, but it was 14 slices and, with the rest, fit into a 9" x 13" casserole dish.  I had to go up to 5 cups of broth because the larger amount of bread didn't seem to be soaking it up, and then I left it in the oven about an extra 20 minutes because it seemed a little soupy after the first 20 minutes.  (So maybe I didn't need the extra broth?)  I was bummed that it appeared to have burned when I took it out of the oven, but when I tasted it, it didn't seem burnt so much as caramelized.  Maybe the buttermilk in the bread had something to do with it?

Sauteed kale with radishes
I bought a bunch of radishes with tops last week on a whim - and then didn't do anything with them.  It occurred to me that Thanksgiving would be just as good an occasion as any to use them, but in what?  I'd only ever used them to spice up greens before.  Steve doesn't really like any greens other than kale and fresh spinach.  Since we've been eating a lot of the latter recently, I decided to go for the kale.  The idea was to have a healthy alternative to creamed spinach or greens cooked with salted meat.  This is by far the easiest side dish I made yesterday, although the baked sweet potatoes with streusel (below) were a close second. 

2 tbsp Earth Balance
1 bunch radishes (about 6-8 radishes), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch kale, chopped and rinsed in several changes of water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

In a large enough pot to hold all the fresh kale, heat Earth Balance over medium heat.  Add radishes and cook until softened, about 3-5 minutes.  Add garlic, stir and cook another 2 minutes.  Add kale, salt and pepper and stir well to coat with Earth Balance and mix with radishes and garlic.  Cover, lower heat to medium-low and cook until kale is wilted, about 10 minutes.

The nice thing about this dish is that, although very simple, it comes out tasting like you put more effort into it than you did.  Steve asked what the secret ingredient was and seemed surprised when I gave him the rundown.  People who like greens with vinegar can have their vinegar, but I've often found that salt (in moderation, of course) is just as easy a way to take the edge off of fresh greens.

Sweet potatoes with walnut streusel
For the most part I followed Tyler Florence's recipe.  However, since it was just us, I only put two large sweet potatoes in the oven.  For the streusel, I only used 1/4 cup of butter, brown sugar and flour and substituted chopped walnuts because Steve doesn't like pecans. 

I had some misgivings about doing this instead of a sweet potato souffle because you don't always know how good the sweet potatoes are until they come out of the oven.  Luckily - or maybe because they were locally grown? - the little piece I pinched off after taking them out of the oven was sweet enough not to need mixing with brown sugar or cinnamon. 

This brings us to dessert, which we did get to share with an evening guest:

Citrus pound cake with cranberry syrup
Just like the recipe says.  This is probably the first cake I've ever made without baking powder or soda, but by following the directions exactly, it came out.  I made the pound cake first because I wanted it to be room temperature when served, and the heat requirement was different than for everything else on the menu.  My friend Usa (who ran the NYC Marathon this year and finished in 3:50) came over in the evening for dessert and wine.  I made the cranberry syrup and served it up with the cake when she got here, and we talked about German restaurant experiences in the Columbia area (she's from Germany) and, of course, the marathon.  This rare visitation had me thinking that I really should plan better so that I can enjoy holidays like this to the fullest.  Steve's always good company, but it's still nice to have guests every once in a while.  Next year?

One last thing about the food: after Usa left and I started clearing away the dishes used to make the syrup, I discovered that the strained cranberries make a delicious homemade cranberry sauce!

So...having proven several times over that I can indeed make an edible turkey, I'm thinking that next year I'll scale back and make something that only calls for the turkey breast.  More on that next year.

Stay tuned to see what I do with all these leftovers through the weekend.  Hope everyone is enjoying their Thanksgiving weekend and not being trampled underfoot by Black Friday shoppers!

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