Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thinking About Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is literally just around the corner. Excited is an understatement. Since I want to share with you my ideas for recipes before Thanksgiving so that you can actually attempt them for the actual holiday, my personal photos wont apply. But I have referenced recipes from other chefs, for you, that I would trust with a feast for kings.

Unlike most holidays, Thanksgiving meals don't give that much room to play. It's very traditional. The turkey, the pies, the green beans. So this Thanksgiving my plan is to reinvent the classics.

Turkey: Lets start with the turkey. I think we, Americans have come a long way from the old fashioned, dry as a bone, turkey, smothered in gravy, so that it will actually slide down your throat. Never really understood how peoples turkeys turn out dry. Mine is juicy every year, and I don't know how because I still don't know how others cook theirs. Mine is pretty simple. I make a crap load of basting sauce, something savory and delicious and baste the turkey often. My bastes are not too liquidy. I would call it more of a thin glaze. Just like your skin, water can actually pull out moisture so you want to make a baste is thicker in consistency, instead of watery. I also cook my turkey completely covered in foil until the last 20 to 30 minutes. It results in a super moist turkey that also has that gorgeous golden crust on top. For stuffing, see the next paragraph, but just to note that I don't  cook the turkey with traditional stuffing. Instead I fill the cavity with citrus and herbs like lemon and or orange wedges, rosemary sprigs or sometimes an herbs de Provence bundle, and garlic. This technique infuses the whole turkey with amazing flavors, not to mention is a great aromatic for your home when the guests walk in.

Baste: Like I mentioned in the turkey section, I prefer a thicker baste. I prefer one that is not based on water or stock, rather than juices and flavors of actual foods. Here are a few different flavor bastes which will be the flavor for your entire turkey, so choose wisely
1) Citrus and Ginger Glaze: This is a glaze I use many times on chicken but I fancy it up with fresh herbs and flavored olive oils. The recipe is right HERE, from my post The Five Sauces You Should Know By Heart. Add to this mixture an extra virgin olive oil that is infused with flavor. Today they sell everything from rosemary olive oil, to lemon, to lavender. The possibilities are endless and they really do give your food immense flavor. My favorite is Tuscan herb which can be easily found in a specialty store like Whole Foods. Also add your own herbs. Rosemary would do wonders combined with the honey in this. Sage would be great too.
2) Balsamic and Honey Marinade: Also from The Five Sauces post, is the balsamic sauce. This not only will cause your guests to act inappropriately, licking their fingers, but creates a stunning golden brown skin on the poultry. Balsamic and honey sauce.
3) Red Wine with Carrots and Mushrooms: The carrots give sweetness, the mushrooms earthiness and the wine, rich luxury. Start by frying 3 large onions in a pot until translucent, and then adding the 5-6 large chopped carrots. Cook stirring often until the carrots have slightly softened. Add about 1 to 2 cups of  cremini mushrooms or baby portabellas and saute until the vegetables brown a bit. Add an entire bottle of  good red drinking wine. Something semi dry like Merlot or a well rounded Cabernet. Lower the heat and simmer until the wine has  reduced by half. Season your turkey well with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with chopped Italian parsley and baste with the sauce. Pour about 1 cup over the turkey and using a pastry brush, soak up from the bottom of the pan and brush generously, massaging into the skin. Cover and bake. Baste every 30 minutes.

Stuffing: As for stuffing, I go for one that people will actually eat. It's not cornbread based. It's just simply delicious hearty, and juicy vegetables. Lots of carrots, lots of celery, lots of garlic, lots of caramelized onions, maybe some nice croutons mixed in. All cooked on the stove top and only after the turkey is done, do I spoon it in, after I have removed the citrus and herbs. Sometimes I replace the croutons with quinoa or farrow. Adding a starch or grain is crucial as it will really create a stockier stuffing. So remember, the key to a great stuffing is cooking it separately. Some even serve it separately, but stuffing the turkey is one tradition I like to keep. So stuff it later, no one wants to eat soggy stuffing.

Sides: If you like tradition and want to do green beans and mashed potatoes, at least give them a makeover. Surprise your guests with green beans cooked with dried cranberries or dates. Fry some shallots in sesame oil, add your dried fruit (dried apricots would be incredible here too) and let the oil and juices that has been released by the onions reconstitute the fruits. Add your green beans, cook until just aldente and add in the sesame seeds. Get fancy and throw in white and black sesame seeds! If you really want to pull out all the stops. Place some scallions in a hot water bath to wilt. Tie them with a bow around little bundles of the green beans and place all the bundles on a platter, so everyone could just grab an individual package!

If you love the idea of soft mashed potatoes, keep the soft and toss the mashed. This is my recipe I call Tuscan Scalloped Potatoesmandolin blade, I slice potatoes paper thin. Toss them in a large bowl with an infused olive oil and lots of herbs. Think, rosemary, sage, dill, Italian parsley and oregano. Make sure to really get every potato coated in oil and herbs. This might require a lot of oil. Hey, everybody knows thanksgiving isn't forgiving! Pour the potatoes into a casserole dish and cover with foil. Bake on 350 for an hour and then uncover under the broiler on high for 10-15 minutes or until crisp and brown. This will be gone before the turkey, I guarantee you!

For those of you who can't get enough butternut squash on the holidays, here are a few nutty suggestions. Butternut squash soup is always a pleaser, but why do a carrot and butternut squash soup with ginger, or how about 2 soups poured into one bowl for a wow effect. Cook butternut squash soup and beet soup, (here is the recipe for Velvety Beet Soup from Food & Wine. Place each soup into a large glass measuring cup. Holding one cup in each hand, pour the soup into each bowl simultaneously. Half the bowl will be a curry yellow, the other a deep crimson! And another idea I love is trading your ceramic or porcelain bowls for seasonal squash, like gourds or round squash, but cutting the top of and carving out the inside. Another optional decor idea- using a toothpick, zig zag down the middle of the soup to make an artsy effect. This dish is both delicious and beautiful.

Dessert: When you think of thanksgiving dessert, you automatically think of pumpkin pie. Don't skip the pumpkin pie. In my opinion it's not thanksgiving with out some simple traditional pumpkin pie. Buy it if you have to, but don't leave it out. But what about combining all the greatest flavors of fall and decedent desserts. I think I will be leaning toward this recipe for my holiday!  Pumpkin Spice Is Twice As Nice as Nice from How Sweet It Is.

These are just some of the things that are on my mind for thanksgiving. I will be sure to update you when I get more, or come across ones that I have to share. Until then, happy holidays to everyone!

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