Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Thanksgiving 2012 was to be an adventure. A close friend wanted to do the "grand opening" of her newly redecorated dining room. Lovely new furniture, light fittings, elegant placeware, etc.

So we were to be 12 people for thanksgiving itself, and I was deputised to at least cook the main course.

Some guests brought pies (cheesecake, pecan, pumpkin)


and some fantastic devilled eggs.

Jim Brewer was pressed into service to eat, be witty and take pictures. He excelled on all counts. The pictures in the attached posts were all taken by him.

Our hostess made a salmon ball, and stuffed celery, which we ate with aforementioned devilled eggs and some cheese  on while final touches were made to the formal part of the dinner. Wines from the very helpful Heather at Veritas helped everyone along! The cheeses were all from Scardellos in Dallas and comprised a Twig Farm raw goats washed rind cheese. a Tallegio, Cabot Cloth Bound Cheddar and the centerpiece looking like a mound of snow, a whole Pierre Robert - a triple cream with brie flavors.

And so to the sit down part of the dinner The first course was Butternut Squash Soup with Cinnamon Croutons. And then the main course....

Roast Turkey
Roasted Potatoes

Home made ciabatta rolls
Cornbread wild mushroom dressing
Green beans with almonds

Swet potatoes
 And the wines?
Veritas supplied the majority. With appetizers a rose cremant de Bourgogne, NV. With the soup and into the main course a Pinot Blanc d'Alsace from Paul Blanck 2009 For the main course a robust Hahn GSM. And then a vintage sherry with dessert. A 1985 Pedro Ximenez Bodegas Toro Alba.

Thanksgiving - sweet potatoes

Where would thanksgiving be without sweet potatoes? But I am not wild and exceted about overly sweetened, overly flavored sweet potatoes. I like foods to have their own flavors, accented by spicing, etc. This method takes advantage of the water already contained in the sweet potatoes - and uses no other water. However, it does use cream as the cooking liquid. Not much, but enough to get it kick started. This recipe if the full 12 person version.

Photograph by Jim Brewer


6T unsalted butter
6 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced evenly into 1/4inch slices.
1 cup cream
1 spice packet (4" cinnamon, 6 cloves, 12 black pepper corns, 12 allspice berries in a cheesecloth bag)
Any left over cinnamon sugar (in this case about 1T from the cinnamon croutons)
salt/pepper to taste


In a wide pot, melt the butter, place the spice packet and the sweet potatoes. Stir to coat the sweet potatoes. Pour the cream over the potatoes. Simmer gently over low heat, stirring occasionally until the potatoes are soft and mashable. This may take as long as 30 minutes.
Remove the spice packet, check the seasoning and add salt/pepper as needed.
Place in a gratin dish unvovered in a cooling oven (on its way down from 425 perhaps) to keep warm and develop a slightly dry crust.

Thanksgiving - green beans

Easy green beans without a lot of glop! Wanted to make sure we had something of a different color to put on the plate. Everything was from the earth tones side of the color wheel, otherwise.

Ingredients - Serves 4.

1/3 cup sliced almonds
2 T unsalted
12 oz green beans. Topped/tailed and cut into 2 inch lengths
1/2 cup water
1T lemon juice (fresh)
Salt to taste


Toast the green beans in a 325 oven until just brown - about 15 minutes. Melt the butter in a large saute pan- until foamy. Add the beans and toss to coat. Add the almonds. Add the water. It sjould hiss a bit. Place the lid on firmly and simmer for about 7 minutes. The beans should be bright, glossy and slightly firm. The should have all but disappeared. Squeeze the lemon juice over the beans once they are in the serving dish.

Butternut squash soup

This was the first sit down course at Thangsgiving 2012. It is my go to soup when I want something silky and elegant, with the slight possibility of it being healthy. This recipe was adapted from the aproach I saw in America's Test Kitchen. Fortunately it keeps really well over night so can easily be made ahead of time. The white pepper in this recipe gives some heat but without the visual of the black peppercoorns, nor the distinctive pepper taste.

This is for a 4 person serving. I trebled everything for the 12 personThanksgiving sit down


1 Large butter nut squash (around 2 lbs)
2 oz unsalted butter
1 medium shallot finely minced
Freshly ground WHITE pepper to taste


Cut the bulb end off the butter nut squash, and scrape out the strings and seeds. Set them aside. Cut the butternut squash (unpeeled) into quarters. Do not bother to peel/
In a dutch oven or large saucepot over low heat, melt the butter and saute the shallot with the strings and seeds. This takes about 10 minutes. Once the strings and seeds are cooked, add about 3 cups of water to the pot, set a steamer basket into the pot and then place the rest of the squash in the basket. Return to the heat, and steam the squash until fork tender. About 15-20 minutes. When the squash is cooked, remove, set aside and allow to cool. Strain the liquid off the strings and seed, throw away the strings/seeds - they have given their all.
When the squash is cooled, peel the skin off and reserve the chunks of squash. Blend the chuncks with minimal water in the blender (better not to use the food processor unless you want to change your kitchen color scheme - and no I don't have that experience). Blend in batches until smooth, adding liquid as necessary to get the thickness you want. You want to end up with about 20 oz (1 pint + 1 cup - US) of liquid for 5oz portions
Once blended, strain through a fine meshed strainer to ensure the soup is silky smooth. Add salt (up to 1t of kosher salt), white pepper, and maybe a few drops of sherry vinegar. I did not add the vinegar this time but have in the past.


Serve piping hot in heated bowls with a few croutons artfully arranged on top.

Cinnamon Croutons

We made these especially to go with butternut squash, but they are so tasty, they might be worth having around as a snack anyway. Fortunately they are easy to make.


6 slices white sandwich bread (thick sliced if possible), crusts removed.
4T melted butter
3T cinnamon sugar.


Set  oven to 375, tray on lower middle rack. Butter both sides of each slice of bread, then coat with cinnamon sugar. Cut the bread slices into cubes, and place the cubes evenly on a sheet pan in a single layer. Place into the oven for a total of 10 minutes, inspecting and rotating after 5. Once they are hard on the outsede, remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. When cold, store in an air tight container until ready to use.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving - Roasted Potatoes

My sister, Alison, is the "roast potato queen." She does them better than anyone I know, but I think I may be catching up! Certainly the guests at dinner last evening couldn't get enough of them!

Photograph by Jim Brewer


6lbs russet or other starchy potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
4T kosher salt (divided use)
4 oz unsalted butter


Set the oven to 450F. Par boil the potatoes in salty water, using 1/2 of the salt until nearly cooked - about 12 minutes. Drain the potatoes and dry them in the saucepan. Place a roasting pan into the oven with the butter in it and allow to get got. While the butter is heating, shake the saucepan containing the potatoes firmly to roughen the outsides. When the butter is hot, tip the potatoes into the roasting pan and immediately toss to coat with butter. Place the pan into the oven. After 30 minutes, check on the potatoes, turning them over with a spoon. Return to the oven for a further 30 minutes - or until golden brown. Immediately shake some kosher salt onto the potatoes and turn out into a serving dish.
If you are serviong these with beef instead, you could use the beef fat for an even more delicious flavor and omit the butter. Duck fat or goose fat  are the absolute best, however! Turkey fat, not so much.
Note, these potatoes are just as good when cooked with eggs the next morning for breakfast!


Thanksgiving - Wild mushroom and pecan dressing

For Thanksgiving 2012, we made a cornbread/wild mushroom/pecan dressing. Tarted up with bits of turkey unmentionables. It was pretty popular with the gathering, so is probably a keeper. The herbs are all fresh. The Mexican oregano is in the ingredient list because we have a whole lot of it growing. Marjoram would be equally good.
Picture by Jim Brewer


6T unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion - diced finely
6 ribs celery - chopped small
1 fresh red cayenne pepper, chopped finely
4 cloves garlic - crushed to a paste
4 large carrots, grated
4 oz Shiitake mushroms chopped
4 oz oyster mushrooms chopped
1 oz dried porcini mushrooms reconstituted and chopped
2 portabella mushrooms - peeled and chopped
1 hot pepper (cayenne preferably) minced
1 cup toasted pecans roughly chopped
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup Mexican oregano chopped
3T thyme - finely chopped
2T sage - finely chopped
8 cups sweetened cornbread, made at least 1 day ahead - 2 packages of Jiffy or equivalent
3 cups whole milk
Finely minced, cooked liver and heart of the turkey (after making the giblet stock) (optional)
1/2 cup giblet stock
1/2 cup turkey pan drippings
salt and pepper to taste.


In a large skillet, soften the onions, celery, carrot, cayenne pepper and garlic. The onions should become translucent. Add the chopped mushrooms, some salt (1/2t) and pepper. Cook until the pan is dry. Allow to cool to room temperature.
About an hour before serving time, combine the mushroom mixture, pecans and herbs. Crumble the cornbread into the mixture, stir and add the milk, giblet stock and turkey liver/heart. Season with salt and pepper. Place into a greased casserole dish. Pour the turkey pan drippings over the top. Cover with foil and bake at 425F for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake for a further 20-25 minutes - until the top is golden brown.


In many ways the turkey is the easy part of thanksgiving provided a few basics are adhered to. I have tried just about every method known for roasting and serving a whole turkey. High heat, low heat, wrap in cheesecloth and soak in butter, bacon on the breasts, wet brine, dry brine, stuffed, not stuffed. The list is endless. However, I have settled on the simplest approach that I have found so far. And now having done it 2 years in a row, I am hooked. 2011 we did a small one (12 or so lbs). This year a monster (22+lbs) Diestel. It is (of course) the well named “Judy Bird” which I found here. What I am about to describe is my take on that – including the inimitable Alton Brown’s method of trussing the bird. My goal is to produce a perfectly cooked bird that could grace the cover of a magazine. And yes, the pic above is the one we did this year - the picture kindly taken by my friend Jim Brewer.

I start this on Monday at midday prior to the Thursday Thanksgiving feast. The time doesn’t depend on the size of the turkey.


1 22lb turkey (this is for a fresh turkey, no comment for a frozen one)
5T Kosher salt (master recipe calls for 1T for every 5lbs of turkey)
3 large yellow onions
½ head celery
6 large carrots
1 lemon quartered
1T unsalted butter
3T flour (more or less as needed)

Remove the giblets, plastic bags, clips and any other strange items that you might find on the turkey (including that irritating pop-up device). Remove the wishbone (to make for easier carving – you will thank me later)
Rinse the inside and outside of the turkey with cold water. Dry the inside and outside thoroughly. Sprinkle 1/3 of the salt onto the breast of the turkey, ¼ on each thigh/drumstick and the remainder on the back. Place the turkey inside a large bag, seal closed and place in the refrigerator for 2 days. It is now Wednesday at lunch time. Remove the turkey from the bag, and set uncovered in the fridge to dry out. This helps the skin brown when cooking.

Cooking time should be (in total) less than 12 minutes/lb. But you are advised to pay attention to the rate at which it is cooking. Use a probe thermometer to ensure that you are doing it right! See this post. That's why I am so opposed to the little pop ups. You want to know when it will be done, as well as when it is done!

At least an hour before you want to start cooking the turkey, remove it from the fridge. Pat dry (it will in all likelihood be completely dry anyway, but it is safer to ensure it. Slide some sage leaves up between the skin and the breast – just to make it look nice. Put a chopped onion and the quartered lemon into the cavity.  Truss the turkey as mentioned above. Follow the Alton Brown video carefully.
Heat the oven to 425F. Into a roasting pan put 1 remaining onion, rough chopped, ½ of the celery toughly chopped, 4 carrots roughly chopped and 2 cups of water. The water helps moderate the heat at the bottom of the pan and prevents burning of the initial drippings.. Place the turkey on a V rack, breast side down over the onion/carrot/celery in the roasting pan. Place the pan into the oven, and cook for 20 minutes (small turkey) or 30 minutes (large turkey). Remove from the oven, and turn the turkey breast side up, and set the oven to 325. Roast the turkey uncovered until the temperature reads 160 or so in the thickest part of the breast. Carry over heat will take it to the 165 temperature recommended by the FDA.

While the turkey is cooking, dice one onion, and the remaining carrot and celery. Soften in the butter until the onion is translucent. Dice up the giblets, heart, neck and other unmentionables from the turkey, add to the onion mixture and sauté until browned and fragrant. Cover with water and simmer over low heat for 2 hours. Of course you can do this the day before - especially if you plan to use some of the unmentionables in the dressing as we did.
Remove from heat, strain the pan liquid and discard the onions and giblet solids (retaining the liver and heart for adding to the dressing if you like). Allow the fat to rise, and separate it. This fat will be used as the basis of the roux for the gravy.

To make the gravy, take the remaining fat, the remaining onion, diced and sauté until translucent. Add the flour and cook for about 10 minutes watching carefully to prevent burning to make a light brown roux. Add the reserved giblet stock, stirring constantly to remove lumps. This will be very concentrated, so thin to desired thickness with water. Bring to boil to thicken.
When the turkey is cooked, remove from the pan and stir some of the roasting pan juices into the gravy. It will darken it a bit and add extra richness. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Casserole or Gratin

Whether you call a dish a casserole or a gratin may rather depend on whether you like it or not. Needless to say there is some history around tonight's offering. A whole lot of unrelated events combined to make this a must do.
First, there had been the threat of cold weather and we had a massive amount of basil. Needed to get it in so it wouldn't go to waste. I made basil oil from it. Second, we had some stale bread - no surprise there given the amount we make. Third, Fine Cooking came and it had some gratin recipes. Fourth. Madame has said that she would like more veges. 5th, we had some zucchini, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and onions left over from a farmers' market trip.
Now making vegetable gratins is a bit of an art. because the veges can have a lot of water, it is possible to end up with a rather sorry puddle of water with some limp vegetables lying in it. Now that is a casserole!
The trick for this dish is to roast the watery vegetables first in a pretty low oven - not so much for browning, more to drive off some liquid.


3 Tomatoes, chopped into medium dice.
1 sweet potato peeled and sliced very evenly and thinly
1 large zucchini, peeled and sliced more thickly than the sweet potato
2T neutral oil
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced and squeezed
1/4 cup heavy cream
6 thyme sprigs
1/2t pepper
1/2t kosher salt
a little adobo from canned chipotles in adobo
1 cup breadcrumbs (freshly made from stale breadmentioned earlier)
3T basil oil
2T chopped parsley


Place the tomatoes, sweet potato and zucchini on an oiled baking sheet, add the thyme, salt and pepper sprinkle with oil and bake at 250F for 90 minutes - uncovered. Just to dry out. When dried, remove from pan, remove the thyme sprigs and place in a bowl with the raw onion. Add the cream, stir and allow to cool so the flavors come together.
About 45 minutes before serving, heat the oven to 450F. Place the vegetable/cream mixture in a grain dish. Warm the basil oil slightly. Combine the breadcrumbs, chopped parsley and basil oil and toss. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top of the vegetable mixture. Bake at 450 for about 30 minutes - covering with foil if the top browns too quickly.
Allow to cool for about 10 minutes and serve.
As you can see there was no nasty pool of liquid. Also, Madame pronounced it delicious (not, "We can serve this to people" delicious though).
Bottom line - definitely a gratin