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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner Recipes: Turkey, Stuffing, Appetizers, Side Dishes & Dessert

For Thanksgiving we keep it simple. We don't brine our turkey or do anything exotic with seasonings.

Friends and family contribute desserts. Cousin Leslie makes a pumpkin pie. Cousin Ron (hopefully) will make homemade ice cream. Our friends Clay and Lesli are having dinner with another friend this year so we'll miss her mixed berry fruit salad.
I've been making miniature chocolate bars, which I think are very cool, so I'll make those as an addition to the dessert table.

We'll straighten up around the house. I'll finally throw out those stacks of newspapers I wanted to go through.

If we have time, we'd like to find a new tablecloth for the dining room table. But if we can't find one, the old one will do since there will be so many platters of food, plates, glasses and silverware on the table you'll be hard pressed to see the tablecloth anyway.

We'll cover the bottom of the oven with aluminum foil so clean up after the meal is easier. Cleaning out the refrigerator makes room for the turkey after we pick it up from the grocery store and so there's space for all those delicious left-overs after the meal.

Besides shopping at the grocery store we'll visit our local farmers market to pick up fresh vegetables for the sides dishes: beets, sweet potatoes, lettuce, celery, carrots, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, corn, leeks, and onions.

We'll buy an organic turkey and use the neck, heart and gizzard to make stock for the gravy and the liver to make a mushroom-garlic pate.

Even though Thanksgiving is a lot of work, the key is organization. Writing up a menu is the first step, pulling out our favorite recipes, making a shopping list, and finally creating a time-line for the day before Thanksgiving and the day of the meal.

STUFFING, TURKEY AND GRAVY

Corn Bread Stuffing with Sausages, Dried Apricots, and Pecans

The most important part of the meal is the turkey and no turkey is complete without great stuffing.

Over the years my wife has developed a crowd-pleasing stuffing with a contrast of textures: soft (corn bread), spicy (sausage), chewy (dried apricots), and crunchy (pecans).

Yield: 15-20 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 boxes corn bread mix
3 celery stalks, washed, ends trimmed, leaves discarded
1 pound mushrooms, brown, shiitake, or portabella, washed, pat dried, finely chopped
2 medium yellow onions, peeled, ends removed, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 stick sweet butter
1 1/2 cups turkey or chicken stock
4 Italian style sweet sausages
1 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Make the corn bread the night before and leave the pan on the counter so the corn bread dries out. Use any cornbread mix you like. My wife uses Jiffy. It's inexpensive and tastes great. The instructions are on the box.

Saute the sausages whole in a frying pan with a little olive oil until browned, remove, cut into bite-sized pieces, and set aside. Pour off the excess fat. Add the celery, mushrooms, onion, and garlic into the pan with the stick of butter and saute. Season with sea salt and pepper. Cook until lightly browned, then add stock and summer 15 minutes.

Cut the cornbread into chunks and crumble into a large mixing bowl. Add the apricots, pecans, and the saute. Stir well and set aside until you're ready to stuff the turkey.

Roast Turkey

The most difficult part about cooking a turkey is size. Even a 15 pound turkey is larger than any roast you'll ever cook, so it's important to have somebody around to help strong-arm the turkey.
The rule of thumb about cooking time is 15-20 minutes per pound at 325 degrees but there are so many variables, you can also use a roasting thermometer and, our preferred method, jiggle-the-leg and if it almost comes off, the turkey's done.

Yield: 20-25 servings

Time: 7-8 hours

Ingredients

1 turkey, 23-25 pounds
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Unwrap the turkey. Remove the packet with the liver, neck, heart, and giblet. Use a pair of pliers to remove the piece of wire that holds the legs. It can be a real pain to get the wire off. Wash the turkey inside and out.  Pat dry on the outside.

Reserve the liver to make a turkey mushroom-garlic pate

Put the neck, heart, and giblet into a large saucepan with a lot of water, at least five inches higher than the turkey pieces. Replenish whatever water boils off. Simmer for 2-3 hours or until the meat on the neck falls off if you touch it with a fork. Strain the stock and reserve to use for gravy. Pull the meat off the neck and save to make turkey soup. Use the giblets in the gravy.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

The next step is easier with a friend. Drizzle olive oil on the outside of the turkey. Using your hands spread the oil over the entire bird, front and back. Sprinkle sea salt and black pepper inside the cavity and on the outside.

To put in the stuffing, either my wife or I holds the turkey upright and steady while the other loosely packs the stuffing inside the large cavity, one handful at a time.

Use 8-12 metal skewers and kitchen string to close the large cavity. Carefully turn the turkey over so you can put stuffing into the top area. Use 6-8 skewers and string to close that cavity.

Use any kind of roasting pan. Whether you use a disposable aluminum foil pan or an expensive stainless steel roasting pan from William Sonoma, the result will be the same. The important thing to remember is the pan must be at least 2" wider than the turkey, otherwise as the bird cooks, its juices will drip onto the bottom of your stove and make a mess. To insure that the turkey browns evenly, you'll need a wire rack.

Place the turkey on the rack, breast down and put into the oven. After 30 minutes, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees.

After that, every 30 minutes, baste the turkey with the fat that drips down into the pan. If the skin starts to brown too quickly, put an aluminum tent over the top.

After 3 hours, turn the turkey over. With a large bird this is easier said than done because now the turkey is not only heavy, it's very hot.

Another set of hands is a big help here. My wife and I have choreographed this crucial moment. I lift the roasting pan with the turkey out of the oven, placing it on the cutting board. Michelle stands at the ready with a pot holder in each hand. 

As I lift the rack with the turkey, she removes the pan. I flip the rack with the turkey onto the cutting board, having first put a kitchen towel along the edge to prevent juices from falling to the floor.

We pour all the juices and fat from the pan into a basting bowl, scrapping off the flavor bits on the bottom of the pan to make gravy.

The rack goes back into the pan. The turkey goes onto the rack, breast side up. After a good basting, the turkey goes back in the oven, covered with an aluminum foil tent.

As the turkey continues to cook, if the wing tips and drumstick ends brown too quickly, wrap them in aluminum foil.

Continue basting every 30 minutes. When the turkey is finished, remove from the oven and let rest 5 minutes.

Carve the turkey on a cutting board, removing the wings first, then the legs, thighs, and the breasts. Either place the pieces on the platter whole, to be carved at the table, or sliced for easy serving. Open the cavities and spoon out the stuffing.

Mushroom-Giblet Gravy

While the turkey is cooking, start the gravy.

Yield: 15-20 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 medium yellow onions, peeled, ends removed, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 turkey giblet, cooked, grizzle removed, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, tarragon, or Italian parsley
1/2 pound mushrooms, brown, shiitake, or portabella, washed, finely chopped or sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups turkey stock made with the turkey heart, giblet and neck
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Place the turkey heart, giblet and neck into a large sauce pan and cover with water. Simmer for 3-4 hours or until the neck meat is falling off the bone. Add water as needed to keep the turkey parts covered. Reserve the giblet for the gravy. Pick the meat off the neck for the gravy as well. Discard the heart.

Sauté the giblet, onions, garlic, fresh herbs, and mushrooms until lightly browned. Add turkey stock and the flavor bits you scraped off the roasting pan, simmer and reduce by 1/3. Taste and adjust the flavors. If too salty, add more stock and a pat of sweet (unsalted) butter.

Reheat before serving.

Turkey Stock

When you're eating Thanksgiving dinner, odds are you aren't thinking about your next meal, but I am. 

Admittedly, it's a bit obsessive, but before I sit down to join the dinner, all the bones and scraps go into a large stock pot filled with water. By the time we're clearing the table, the stock is finished.

Turkey stock is rich and flavorful. Perfect for making soups, stews, and pasta sauce, and like chicken stock, freezes beautifully.

Yield: 15-20 servings

Time: 1 hour
Ingredients

1 turkey carcass, skin, scraps
Water

Method

Put the carcass into a large pot. If any of stuffing makes it into the pot, all the better for flavor and richness. Cover the bones with water. Simmer 1 hour. Strain and refrigerate. Pick the meat off the bones to use in a soup or stew.

The stock keeps in the freezer for six months.

SIDE DISHES

Side dishes need to be flavorful and easy to make.

Everyone has their favorites. Here are ours: Roasted Whole TomatoesArugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, and Avocadoes, Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad, Blackened Peppers with CapersRoasted Brussels Sprouts, and, my new favorite, baked sweet potatoes stuffed with a garlic-mushroom sauté.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Sautéed Shallots, Garlic, and Mushrooms

I prefer sweet potatoes that have a bright orange flesh. Find ones that are slender, appropriate as a single serving. For a dinner party, pick ones that are about the same size.

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 2 1/2 hours

Ingredients

4 sweet potatoes, washed, skins on
2 teaspoons sweet butter
1 cup shallots, peeled, thinly sliced
1 cup brown or shiitake mushrooms, washed, dried, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves only, washed, finely chopped
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
Cayenne (optional)

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap each sweet potato in tin foil, place in the oven, turn every 30 minutes. Depending on your oven and the size of the sweet potatoes, they can take anywhere from 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours. When the sweet potatoes are soft to the touch, they are done.

While the sweet potatoes are in the oven, drizzle olive oil in a frying pan, season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and sauté the shallots, garlic, parsley, and mushrooms until lightly browned.

Remove and discard the tin foil. Take a sharp paring knife and slice each sweet potato open the long way. Using your fingers, push the sweet potato in from the ends so the cut section opens like a flower. Add 1/2 teaspoon of butter and a light dusting of cayenne (optional). Top with the shallot-mushroom sauté and serve.

DESSERT

We always have a half dozen desserts, ranging from custards to apple pies with crystalized ginger crusts but my absolute favorite is a light and chocolaty banana cake.

Banana Cake with Chocolate Chips and Walnuts

For a festive presentation we use a castle mould and dust the top with powdered sugar to give the cake a happy snowy look.
Yield: 8-10 servings
Time: 90 minutes

Ingredients

4 ripe bananas
1 1/2 tablespoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sweet butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup half and half or 1 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 cups white flour
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of cayenne
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Method

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and paint the inside of a 9 x 3 round cake pan, then put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes. (The frozen butter prevents the batter from sticking to the pan.) On a cookie sheet bake the walnuts in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes or so; let cool, roughly chop, and set aside.

In a bowl mash the bananas with a fork, add the baking soda and vanilla. stir well and set aside. In a mixer use the whisk to cream together the softened butter and both sugars. Add the eggs, mashed bananas, half and half (or cream) and whisk until blended. Mix in the flour half a cup at a time, being careful not to over-beat. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Use a rubber spatula to blend in the walnuts and chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the buttered cake pan; it will only fill the pan half-way.

Bake the cake in a 350 oven for 60-70 minutes, turning the pan every 20 minutes so the cake cooks evenly.  Test to see if the cake is done by inserting a wooden skewer. If the top is browning too quickly, lightly lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the top. When the skewer comes out clean, take the cake out of the oven and place on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan, putting it back on the wire rack to finish cooling.

Just before serving, dust the top with powdered sugar and shaved chocolate. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Planning Thanksgiving So You Don't Make Yourself Crazy

If you are hosting the meal, Thanksgiving is the best of times and the worst of times.

For my mother, Thanksgiving was the best holiday of the year and I agree with her whole heartedly.
Thanksgiving gives us time to pause and enjoy our family and friends.

But hosting the meal can seem daunting. So many details to take care of, so much food to get on the table and so much to clean up.

How do restaurants and caterers deal with the stress of putting on big events?

They plan out every detail so there are no surprises.

The Guest List


Start with the guest list. Most importantly you'll need to know how many people are coming. That will tell you how many chairs you'll need and how big the dinning room table has to be.

These days, many people have dietary restrictions, so it is good to know that as well. Along with the invitation, ask if there are ingredients or foods your guests need to avoid.

If you expect a lot of children, decide where you want them to play and organize that space as carefully as the dinning room.

Recipes


Write up the menu.

If friends and family want to contribute to the meal, work out who will bring what. Give people assignments so you don't end up with three platters of green beans and no pumpkin pie.

Organize your recipes and do the math. Most recipes are written for 4 servings. Given the number of your guests, make the appropriate multiplication.

Go through the ingredient lists for all dishes and write up a master ingredients list. For example, if the stuffing recipe calls for 1 cup of mushrooms and the gravy recipe needs 1/2 cup of mushrooms, you know you need a total of 1 1/2 cups of mushrooms for the meal. Put that on your ingredients list.

Once you have a master list, divide up which ingredients you want to buy at farmers markets, specialty stores (like bakeries and cheese shops) and the supermarket.

We rely on farmers markets for fresh produce. In our neighborhood, four days from Thanksgiving, we'll shop at the Sunday Palisades farmers market for produce that can last most of a week: root vegetables like beets from Underwood Farm or yams and sweet potatoes from Yang Farms and G Farms for pluots and oranges.

For us, the Wednesday Santa Monica farmers market is a good place to pick up leafy greens, berries and fresh fruit. Any farmers market the day before Thanksgiving is going to be crowded, so get there early before the crowds.

If you want a specialty turkey (organic, kosher, heritage), it would be good to order your bird now from your local butcher or supermarket.


Time Line


Just about as important as settling on the menu is understanding what needs to be done and when.
Put into your time line details like when you will clean the house, wash and dry the tablecloth, check and clean all the dishes, silverware and glasses you want to use and, if you don't have enough, when you will pick up what you need to borrow from a friend.

Do you have enough chairs? If not, when you will pick up extra ones and from where.

Also indicate when you will pick up flowers and the turkey.

If you are ordering a cake from a local baker or a ready-to-serve dinner, put that into your time line, and check when they open and close. You wouldn't want your guests to miss enjoying your turkey because you arrived after the store was closed.

To figure out the time line for your menu, sit down at the dining room table with a pad of paper, a pen and a glass of wine or cup of tea and organize the dishes in terms of preparation and cooking time.

Some dishes can be prepped or made the day before. For instance, we always serve a roasted beet salad that we make on Wednesday. We also wash, dry and wrap in aluminum foil the sweet potatoes and baked potatoes that we will cook Thursday.

If you are buying a ready-to-serve meal, you still have to allow time to reheat the dinner. If you are cooking the entire meal, which we love doing even if it makes the day crazy-hectic, you need to account for every minute of the day.

Our kitchen is the size of a New York closet, which I like because I don't have to move much when I want to go from the sink to the stove, but when there are two or more people in that small space, it can get kind of hectic.

In our small kitchen, we have a Wolf stove. I love the six burners, which helps big time on Thanksgiving but because there is only one oven, we have to strategize when to bake our pies since the turkey will monopolize the oven for most of the day.

Planning out the day in as detailed as possible, helps keep the craziness manageable and fun.

We write up a schedule for the day that looks something like this:

6:00am wash and prep the turkey
6:15am saute onions, Italian sausage, shiitake mushrooms, parsley and garlic for the stuffing
6:30am preheat the oven to 350F degrees
7:00am put the turkey in the oven
7:30am make the cranberry sauce

And so on, going hour by hour, we backtime each dish so we know when it has to be cooked so it will be on the table at 3:00pm when we want to serve dinner.


Clean up

Don't forget to preplan clean up.

Work out who will be doing clean up during the meal. As courses are finished, serving platters and plates need to be cleared.
Since our house is small and the kitchen is open to the dining room, we clean as we go. After each course, we are joined by members of the dinner party who help bus the dishes and silverware into the kitchen. After they help clean up between courses, they reset the table with clean plates.

We have a tradition of taking a walk with our friends and family walk around the block after the entrees, before desserts are served. A selected few remain behind to clean up the dining room and kitchen so when everyone returns, desserts are on the table with fresh plates and silverware.

Having organized clean up as part of the meal, the kitchen is in good shape and we can enjoy dessert. With a little bit of planning, Thanksgiving is a lot more fun.