Thursday, November 25, 2010

Emmo's Thanksgiving Recipes 2010

I hurriedly jotted down some notes on the dishes I made last year at Thanksgiving, and I found that they took a lot of interpreting to remember what exactly I had done. That's fine on things that weren't quite right (like my cranberry sauce), but was unfortunate on things that had gone well. Thus, I'm posting the recipes I used this year, if only for my own benefit... but maybe you'll like them, too. (To save typing, I'll link to recipes where possible and just explain changes I made.)

Reading through Canal House Cooking Volume 2, I came across a recipe for dry-brined turkey. I wouldn't have been able to do a wet brine this year anyway (as I did last year) because my 25-pound bird was too big for my largest pot, but it turns out dry brining is totally and completely awesome. The Canal House recipe is a take on the recipe published in the LA Times here, and following either recipe should give you the same moist, delicious, crispy-skinned result. On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I rubbed the turkey with kosher salt (1 tablespoon salt per 5 pounds of bird), wrapped it tightly, and put the wrapped bird in a garbage bag in the fridge. I turned it over every day, then took it out Wednesday night.
I unwrapped the turkey...
... then put it in the roasting pan in the fridge, uncovered, until it was time to cook on Thursday.
Just before putting the turkey in the oven, I brushed it with a little rendered turkey fat for extra crispiness. I inserted my remote digital thermometer in the deepest part of the thigh (not touching the bone), and threw the turkey in the oven.
I started with a half hour at 425°F before dropping the temperature to 325°F until the thermometer measured 165°F. At some point during that time, my oven broke. (Awesome!) Luckily my bird made it to temperature before residual heat was gone, but I missed out on some of the browning I would otherwise have had. Nonetheless, the turkey was amazing.
The skin was extremely crisp, and the breast meat (which is the part I tried for dinner) was tender and juicy. This is the only way I'll do turkey from now on.

Cranberry Sauce:
My cranberry sauce last year was good with dinner, but was too strongly flavored to go with my sandwich the following day (and that sandwich is, of course, the only reason I make the damn cranberries...). I decided to simplify things this year and based my cranberries on a recipe from Saveur for Cranberries with Port. I ended up modifying this a bit. I had 32 ounces of cranberries (I get carried away at Russo's sometimes...), which is almost 3 times the amount called for in the recipe, but I only used 1.5 times the amount of sugar (1.5 cups) and twice the port (2 cups) plus a cup of water.
I simmered the mixture until the liquid became like a syrup and cranberries were popping...
... then tossed it in the fridge until it was time for dinner.
These were delicious and will be great on my sandwich, but next year I will probably scale back the sugar even more. I like my cranberries a little more tart and a little less sweet, but this is definitely a good starting point.

Did I mention that I was dealing with a sinus infection while doing all of this cooking? Because I was, and it resulted in a couple mistakes. The one that worked out best was an error in baking cornbread for the stuffing. I was planning to make a double batch of cornbread from boxed mix, but when I poured the second package in with the first it turned out that the second package was actually buttermilk biscuit mix. It was too late to do anything about it at that point, so I decided to bake it anyway (adding one egg and a scant cup of milk, then baking at 400°F for 20 minutes). The result was sort of awesome, and was great in my stuffing. I think I'll do this on purpose next year.
I found another box of cornbread mix in the pantry, so I baked that up, too (wanting there to be "real" cornbread as well as my weird combo bread in the stuffing).
The other ingredients are celery, onion, leeks, (Amish) butter, sage, thyme, and water chestnuts.
I substituted some rendered turkey fat for some of the butter, since I wasn't planning to stuff the bird (for timing reasons)... and I guess not stuffing the bird officially makes this "dressing" rather than stuffing... but whatever.The bread is all cubed, which should give you about 12 cups of bread cubes.
Into a pan goes 6 ounces of butter and 2 ounces of turkey fat. When these are melted, I add 4 cups of chopped celery, 2 cups of chopped onion, 3 cups of chopped (cleaned) leeks, and 3 mounded tablespoons each of thyme and sage. When the veggies are soft and everything smells fantastic, I throw in the sliced water chestnuts and stir to combine.
This mixture is combined with the bread cubes and put into a dish to bake. (It would be fantastic in the turkey, too, of course.) Unfortunately, I put the stuffing/dressing in the oven (along with the Brussels sprouts, below) after the oven had broken but before I realized it had broken. There was enough residual heat in the oven (particularly in the pizza stone, on which I set the baking dish) to heat the stuffing/dressing through, but not enough to get the top extra crunchy like I like it.
I think this is the best stuffing I've made yet (inspired, as always, by the stuffing my mom always made). I am quite happy to have made such a big batch so I can enjoy the leftovers... Mmmm...

Brussels Sprouts:
I decided to switch up my usual Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Shallots and try an actual recipe this year: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Pancetta from Epicurious. I suspect this is a decent recipe, but it's hard to fully judge since my oven was broken when the sprouts were supposed to be roasting (so they turned out a bit on the raw side). I don't mind mostly-raw Brussels sprouts, but it was non-ideal. I'll try to roast the leftovers in the toaster oven today and see if it's not too late to fix things. It's a simple recipe, with every ingredient except salt, pepper, and olive oil in the title of the dish.
The pancetta is chopped and the garlic minced, then everything is tossed together with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
These would look nice and caramelized if they'd been able to roast in my broken oven, but instead they aren't particularly amazing-looking.
The garlic dominated the dish, which may also have been remedied by proper roasting. Still, I think I prefer the smokiness of Blood Farm bacon to the pancetta and the subtlety of shallots to the aggressive garlic, so I'll be going back to Emily-style Brussels sprouts in the future.

I wasn't even going to make potatoes, but I had to make gravy for the stuffing anyway so I figured I might as well. Once I found the recipe for Whipped Mashed Potatoes with Celery Root, though, I was actually looking forward to my potatoes. I love celery root, and the addition of cheese (I substituted Parmigiano-Reggiano for the gran padano in the recipe) and thyme was kind of brilliant.
The (peeled, diced) celery root is simmered in half and half and butter along with the thyme for about 20 minutes, while the (peeled, diced) potatoes (I substituted Yukon Gold for the Russets in the recipe because... well... I love Yukon Gold potatoes and don't care for Russets...) simmer in salted water until just tender. The potatoes are drained and the thyme removed from the celery root mixture, then everything except the thyme and cheese is passed through a food mill. I added the cheese to the bowl once there was a layer of potatoes there so that it could start melting but not stick to the bowl when it did so. (The recipe calls for the celery root mixture to be puréed in a food processor, but after a long day of cooking and cleaning I was in no mood to clean my food processor again and decided to just pass everything through the food mill instead. I have no regrets.)
The mix is stirred together and seasoned with salt and pepper (I used black pepper, because I saw the flavor pairing better with this dish than the recommended white pepper).
I kept the potatoes warm over a double-boiler until it was time for dinner, then dished them up.
These were totally awesome. I love the complexity that the celeriac and cheese added to basic potatoes, and will make this as a side dish again in the future for sure.

So, that was my 2010 Thanksgiving Feast (other than dessert, which will has its own post because it was so awesome and adorable). I'll be baking homemade focaccia (in my toaster oven, I guess) today for sandwiches (like I did last year) and will be making Turkey Pozole again with the turkey stock I make with the carcass. (Look for that recipe here in the next couple days. It's awesome.) Good stuff...

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