Over the river and through the woods . . . actually it is Central Park!
Why memoirs? These are notes to remind me of my 2010 T-Day experience. You know-What went right and what went wrong! Organization is key to get everything done. A few helping hands is really, really nice. Cooking techniques and recipes are something I am always working on. I am a chronic meddler so I always have to change something up or bring a new, untried recipe to the table. (I can hear the groans as I write!) I almost brought two this year, but then I thought am I seriously nuts. Stay with what works! My family looks forward to what is served on T-Day and that anticipation should not be messed with. This is the only time of the year we have a whole roasted turkey, cornbread dressing, mushroom gravy, cranberry sauce and my Granny's homemade rolls. If it works and they love it - don't mess with it.
I did not go over the top making too many dishes this year. No soup for a first course or prepared appetizers. All the dishes were made ahead of time including the Brussels sprouts. This year was more relaxing than most.
Here is what was on the menu this year:
Appetizers: Dried pears and mangos, chocolate covered coffee beans and roasted almonds. Light snacks=save room for more later! And who doesn't need a caffeine boost on this day.
19 lb. fresh Turkey (a fresh frozen turkey, you know one that is partially frozen) that was brined for 12 plus hours. Brining the bird is a must. The ratio of sugar to salt in the brine stays the same. What doesn't stay the same are the flavorings which are usually influenced by the flavorings in the stuffing, gravy and side dishes. This year the ingredients were apple cider (1 qt) plus 1 3/4 gallons of water, peppercorns, parsley stems, sage, thyme, an onion, 2 celery stalks, one carrot, one cup of kosher salt to 1/2 cup of brown sugar.
Cornbread dressing flavored with fresh sage, thyme, leeks and prosciutto and made with homemade cornbread, a loaf of oatmeal bread and a small loaf of sour dough.
What is the difference between stuffing and dressing? I am glad you asked! One is stuffed and one dresses the table. I am not sure where I heard or read this but it makes perfect sense. I thought it was a southern/northern thing. Maybe it is. I do not come from a family of stuffers, we are dressers! Always have been and always will be. I have experienced the result of "stuffers" and I am determined to stick with dressing on the side!
Shitake Mushroom Gravy flavored with a bit of sage and thyme, the beautiful drippings from roasting the turkey and a touch of cream.
Cranberry Chutney with orange, apple and spices. This was completely consumed this year. Usually cranberry sauce/chutney is left over and gets tossed after a few days. This is the basic recipe that I might change slightly each year. The recipe I used for this year is here.
Granny's fresh rolls or biscuits. They are actually a bit of both and we love them and her. She is responsible for many, many, many Sunday dinners supplied by my Poppy's garden when I was growing up. I only now know how seriously amazing all that was. Her influence is always at my T-day table (and every other dinner I have ever made).
Roasted Brussels Sprouts flavored with olive oil, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese. Simple and very delicious.
Smashed Roasted Sweet Potatoes with streusel topping flavored with maple, chipotle and orange. This was the new dish that I concocted. I have to admit I was a little nervous about it but it turned out to be a favorite.
Sauteed White beans with Kale, Chard and garlic. I know this does not sound as good as it tastes and you will see it soon as a blog post. It is as delicious as it is healthy. I like throwing in healthy, tasty stuff just to balance the richness of the meal.
For Dessert (as if you can eat another bite! God willing . . .) :
Chocolate pecan pie and Pecan pie. These are our favorites. Serious Yum. Served with maple flavored whipped cream.
Pumpkin pie with rum and spice. This was a new recipe and it was pretty good. It needs some tweaking. I added some finely diced crystallized ginger over the whipped cream just like in the pumpkin cheesecake. So nice.
We actually have chocolate pecan pie left over.
I was very satisfied with all above. Notice no mashed potatoes. I have heard that mashed potatoes has to be at a Thanksgiving table. What is that about? I seriously have never heard of such a thing. Sweet potatoes is another story. And the sweeter the better. Candied yams or casseroles with added sugar and spices and then, as if they are not sweet enough already, you top them with marshmellows or a streusel topping with more sugar, nuts and spices. Everyone loves this stuff. To this day I will not eat these types of sweet potatoes. They are just too sweet for me. Oh, maybe one bite just to know what I am missing. Roasted and savory is another story.
Another aspect of the meal that I was very happy with was the wine. In fact, I should have bought more. Our guests are not big drinkers and neither are we so I thought two bottles would be enough. These wines were a good match with this meal and there wasn't enough. I have been taking some wine classes lately and am really interested in pairing wine with food. I have found a reputable wine shop that carries a fine selection of wines in all price ranges and they make terrific recommendations. In Pa this is no small feat, but then the wine shop is not in PA. I have been told I could get arrested for crossing the state line for liquor so don't tell anyone.
The 2008 Predator Zinfandel was a very drinkable, fruity medium-bodied red that was a great lead in to the meal. I almost didn't choose this wine because, frankly, it sounds like one of my son's games. The vineyard is sustainable and they use ladybugs and predator mites to combat the destructive aphids instead of pesticides, hence the name Predator. Nice.
Josephine Dubois 2007 Pinot Noir Grande Reserve had a lovely cherry fruit flavor that was slightly earthy and acidic. This wine complimented the roasted turkey, mushroom gravy etc.
These wines really completed the meal and were not expensive, $17 and $14 respectively. I hate spending a lot of money on wine and then not really enjoying it Never underestimate the power of a good wine and price is not necessarily a good indicator!
Now for the mishap. You knew there had to be one. There always is. I did not estimate the cooking time of the bird correctly and overcooked it. OMG! I always roast my bird at 425 degrees which takes 2 1/2 to 3 hours for 20 lbs. For some reason, I turned the oven down to 400 degrees and figured about 3 1/2 hours. These are the types of things I am prone to do and they still allow me in the kitchen. When I put the instant read thermometer in, it registered 190 in the thigh (OMG!) and about the same thing in the breast (OMG, OMG!!). I was looking for 160-165 degees and I was getting 190, yikes. So I pulled that turkey out knowing the temperature was still going to rise another 10 degrees (OMG)!!! The funny thing this year is I was worried but I didn't flip out. See I am getting more mature.
So I bet you are wondering how the bird turned out. It was really, really good. I always put some stuffing under the skin over the breast and a bit over the thigh area which adds flavor and keeps the breast moist and this year was no different. (Thank goodness!). It was not as juicy as it usually is, but wasn't dry. The moral to this story is brine your bird, stuff under the skin over the breast and thigh area and get a damn oven-probe thermometer with an alarm. After as many years as I have cooked turkeys, you would think I would have one by now. Gravy is always a must!
Now it is time for a quick cat nap. Right?! That is part of a proper Thanksgiving day. At least these guys think it is!
Govan and Guthrie
Now I am going to go jot down some notes and recipes for next year. Find some cooking timetables with 400 degrees included. I am sorry, not everyone cooks their bird at 325 degrees. And take another nap!