Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

I rolled out of bed around 5:30 yesterday morning. Before 9:30, I was snacking on cheese, crackers, roasted butternut squash seeds and chilling with a glass of wine.

Let's start with the seeds. Pat them dry and concoct a tight spice paste with olive oil. I used my favorite combo:  cumin, chili powder, coriander, black pepper and kosher salt.

Add the seeds and toss to coat.

Roast in a shallow pan (I used an 8" skillet) until the seeds are dry. When you shake the pan, the seeds should  move easily. Munch on!

At 2:30, I had another glass of wine and homemade, hand-cut pasta. The pasta was the scraps from my ravioli. I had a pot of boiling salted water, so I couldn't resist. I gave my feet a rest for more than an hour while I blogged about Tuesday's and Wednesday's efforts in the kitchen. Clearly this was going to be a very leisurely Thanksgiving. I didn't eat my meal until 9:05 p.m.!

Blame it on the turkey I was too tired to brine Wednesday night. It didn't get its fragrant bath until 6:30 Thanksgiving morning. Blame the rest on the Dallas Cowboys! During the third quarter, I got tricked into thinking we were going to win. This completely distracted me and I totally forgot about oven management (you know when you shift the turkey to make room for the sides). After we lost, I started reading a book (you have this luxury when it's just you at dinner.)

The best part about all of this is that because I took my time, cleaned my kitchen as I went (the dishwasher and I did five rounds of dishes) and wasn't on my feet until I could no longer stand -- I didn't have a huge mess staring at me after I passed out from the food-induced coma. I even managed to put away all but two of the side dishes before I fell asleep. Final clean up will be a breeze in a couple of hours.

About the food:  I vowed to sew instead of cook this year, but I caved at the last minute. I'm quite proud of the restraint I showed this year regarding the number of dishes:  turkey ($4 for a 12-pound bird) butternut squash ravioli, creamed collard greens, dressing, homemade cranberry sauceyeast rolls and sweet potato pie. These are all TNT (tried and true) recipes for me. The butternut squash ravioli took forever to make. I've added a ravioli maker to my wish list.

Since I don't have all of my turkey how-to tips in one post, I'll do so here.

Oops! No pics of the brine this year. This is from last year. Brining is your friend. Embrace your friend. I tried this brine from Emeril once and I've never looked back since. You're supposed to brine the bird for 12 hrs. Since I started the day of, my turkey had a nine-hour soak.

After brining, here's where you get to know the turkey in an intimate way. I love the result, but I hate the process -- compound butter under the skin. You can take advantage of your spice rack and use a dried mix of poultry seasoning if you like.  Do NOT add salt.

After you get the butter on there, pat the skin dry. Rub the outside of the bird down with butter or olive oil and season. Use dried herbs here. Do NOT use any salt. I like to use poultry seasoning that isn't finely ground into dust (the powdery kind is fine for dressing.)  Grab your pepper mill.

I made a conscious effort to do two things this year: let the turkey sit out a while before baking and not stuff the cavity. I kinda cheated on the first because although I took it out of the fridge, I left it in the brine. This was a generic bird and I wanted it to have as much contact with the brine as possible. Here's what I've noticed with generic birds:  no flavor difference, but look for extra feathers. One of the wing tips was missing too.

I roast my birds breast side down first. You get this:

And this:

Usually, I don't get the pan marks, but the Cowboys had me distracted and I didn't flip the bird soon enough. Here's my finished product:

I can never seem to insert the thermometer correctly to take the temp of the thigh or the breast, so here's how I know if a turkey is done:

1.  Check the pan juices. Are they clear?
2.  Shake hands with your turkey. Are the limbs loose?

That, my friends, is how you make a foolproof turkey.  

Here are the ravioli and greens in pictures. Blogger is not working with me today to get two small pics on the same row. Inserting pictures is the one thing I hate with Blogger; it's so frustrating!

Butternut squash ravioli

Creamed collard greens. One recipe note I will add, sautéed and creamed greens should be a sinus-opening adventure; reach for the cayenne.

I didn't arrange everything artfully on my plate for a final pic. I can tell you that it was all good! Hope your Thanksgiving was a blessed one!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sides for Sale

I received a wonderful offer to prepare the Thanksgiving sides for a family:  macaroni and cheese, greens, dressing, candied yams and rolls. This was a challenge because It was for eight people, plus leftovers and I'm not a big fan of traditional mac and cheese and greens.  Let me clarify that; I love traditional mac and cheese, but I never make it (I stepped up my game years back) and I'd rather have sautéed greens with a ton of garlic than greens floating in pot liquor.

Here are the highlights:

I do have to say that I did put my foot in those greens! I grabbed a forkful the next morning and they were delicious.  After cleaning eight pounds of them, I would have been sorely disappointed had they turned out otherwise. I guess I should give you some sort of recipe.

1. Cover meat, meat onion and garlic in cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the meat floats. Make sure you salt the water.  I use extra meat because I use turkey instead of pork.

2. Add the greens and cook until beyond tender (I'm Southern and we don't abide al dente greens when pot liquor is involved.

3. Remove the bones and grab some cornbread. I do a final seasoning check and add some heat, white vinegar and Tony Chachere's. What really sets them off is if you can get your heat and vinegar in the same bottle. I'm the oddball in the family (surprise) because I like a little raw chopped onion on top. I have also been known to eat them with my fingers ... (you gotta mash them up with the cornbread).  As I'm writing this, I'm thinking I should have kept some of those greens for me. I did buy a pound for myself, but those have been creamed. (Yes, I picked a total of nine pounds of greens for Thanksgiving. I must have done four pounds Sunday for dinner with friends. I will not be cooking greens again until Easter!)

Mac and cheese.  I used Cook's Illustrated's recipe for Classic Macaroni and Cheese.  It was good, but it wasn't slap-yo'-mama-good. (I have standards.)  I need to find a killer recipe for creamy regular-folk mac and cheese.  Back in the day, I was content to layer cheese, noodles, eggs and Pet milk.  I might have to revisit that. I don't like the consistency of the roux-based white sauces.  They are smooth, but I can feel the flour. This does not bother me with gumbo and etoufee, but I think it's the reason I don't like gravy.

I digress. Here are the pics:

Mac (two boxes)

and cheese. I shredded a block of colby-jack, cheddar and fontina.  I added eight ounces of shredded cheddar.

Starting the roux.

 Milk, cheese and extra seasoning.

I poured the sauce over the pasta, stirred it up and put in in a baking dish. I sprinkled cheese on top and let it cool. It will get baked today when it's heated up.

Candied yams.  My peeler got a workout!  10 pounds of sweet potatoes! I have learned my lesson from years past and now put the peels in the garbage instead of feeding them to the garbage disposal. Yeah; they got all over the floor.

Now they are all ready to go.

Layer with cinnamon, nutmeg, butter and sugar (a mix of brown and white).  Cook on low. I remember Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet being amazed at how "blacks cook candied yams."  That's right, no water.

I forgot to take a picture of the finished dish, but hopefully, you've seen candied yams before.  Now for the dressing. I take no shortcuts.  You've seen it before. I'm glad you've seen it before because I forgot to take pictures!

Yeast rolls. As I write this, I'm making my third batch for the holiday. Here are yesterday's:

Ooo wee!

I par-baked them.  They looked great when I took them out, but then they started to fall a little.

I threw in a sweet potato pie and cranberry sauce on the house.  Oh, how I love homemade cranberry sauce.

I was exhausted after I finished yesterday; I think I'd been in the kitchen for 11 hours, plus the evening before.   Only six hours were spent chopping, dicing, standing over the stove, etc. The rest went to all the dishes and cleaning up.

Speaking of which, I need to tackle the current mess.  This will be my fourth cleaning of the day. This is one of the reasons I actually like doing Thanksgiving by myself - no pressure. I can take my time and eat at 7 pm if I want to (which is usually the case). I might take a nap after I start the dishwasher :-)

If I don't post again today, Happy Thanksgiving! I'm thankful for the opportunity to continue family traditions, knowing my way around the kitchen and my dishwasher. Of course, there are family and friends whom I'm thankful for. I can't call them now because they're eating and when they call me, I'll be eating or asleep. It's the game we play every year. Go Cowboys!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I'm Makin' Waffles!

I loved when Donkey said, "I'm makin' waffles!" in Shrek. Good times. Anyhoo. I was unable again to pass up buttermilk in the store, so now I have to use it before it goes bad. I've had it for a week and I can't remember why I bought it.

Use #1:  Cook's Illustrated's Buttermilk Waffles for Two

You see before you AP flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking soda. There's buttermilk (of course), melted butter, and a separated egg. The egg white has a pinch of cream or tartar.

Now, get to combining.  Whisk all of the dry ingredients and make a well in the center.

Beat the egg yolk and add the melted butter. Whisk together and add that to the buttermilk.

Whip out your hand mixer and attack the egg white. Sparkle performed nicely. You're looking for stiff peaks.

Fold the liquid in to the dry ingredients. Please don't over mix. Looks like a sticky biscuit dough, huh?

We've gone through this before, but it bears repeating. You must make a sacrifice to the mixing gods. Take about 1/4 of the egg white and dump them into the bowl. Don't mix these with wild abandon because you'll jack up the dough. What you want to do is get the egg white incorporated so that it lightens the dough some. The rest of the egg white will live a happier life because of it.

Gently fold in the rest of the egg white.

Hope you were preheating the waffle iron during all of this; I was.

I rarely make waffles without pecans. Close the lid and seal the deal. Have syrup and more butter waiting in the wings.


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