Extremism in defense of tastiness is no vice.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanksgiving, Two Ways

Thanksgiving. It's the eatin'est day of the year. After all, what better way to give thanks than to gorge yourself on dry turkey, argue about politics with your drunken relatives, and then wake up early the next day to claw through your fellow consumers for amazing deals on flat-screen TV's and Tickle-Me Elmos at Wal-Mart?

I kid, America, I kid. You too, drunken relatives. Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday, accented with childhood memories of family, football in the snow, and stuffing, of which my family would make both kinds: crispy and moist. Best of all, it's a time when one can forget about concepts like "balance" and "flavor profile," let alone anything French. It's a time to dig in to a starchy, gravy-y mass of mom or grandma's handiwork and hearken back to a simpler time before Iron Chef had exposed you to the possibility of turkey ice cream.

... or not. Once you've done a less traditional, more food-centric Thanksgiving (is such a thing possible?) it can be harder to go back to some of the standbys. Below you'll find a few more upscale ideas, conveniently arranged into menu format.

But first things first--we will not be "talking turkey"--the bird. Intrepid time travelers will go back to before they're sold out and pick up an American Bronze from JenEhr Family Farm, whose poultry is some of the best I've ever had. Their chicken actually tastes like chicken, and unlike some purveyors they don't sell all of their product to L'Etoile. Be sure to protect Sarah Connor while you're at at. If, however, you're without the trappings of an H.G. Wells novel or Rocky Horror cast, you can still try Jordandal Farm, making sure to add some of their great pork to your menu, too.

Once you have the best ingredients you're on the right track, whether it's a traditional American event or a more modern affair. And if you're looking for a traditional menu, you're not going to find it here: that's what your grandmother's recipe book is for, and if you're looking for someone on the internet to tell you that his mashed potatoes are better than hers, you're a horrible, horrible person. All you get are a few common sense pointers:

1. Dry turkey is awful. Don't overcook the turkey; it's dead already.
2. Don't use dried sage. Fresh sage will make everything taste better, and more like actual sage.
3. If at all possible, use lard in your pie crusts.
4. Mashed potatoes love buttermilk.
5. Your family is still confused by your vegetarianism (see point three). Even though you've been a vegetarian for 12 years, it's just a fad that you'll grow out of. Forward them a recipe or two in advance to avoid explaining that vegetarian recipes don't traditionally use fish or bacon.
6. For the love of God, don't overcook the turkey.

Ultimately, whether you prefer the classics or something a little more modern, this is one case in which you can't go wrong crossing the streams. There's nothing better than a small dose of haut with a good helping of homey nostalgia.

A Seven Course Thanksgiving for the Kind of Person Who Reads (or Writes) Food Blogs

Pumpkin and Shrimp Bisque, (The Herbfarm Cookbook)
The Herbfarm, in Woodinville, WA is one of my very favorite restaurants. This fantastic autumnal soup comes from the restaurant's cookbook by Chef Jerry Traunfeld.

1 lb. large shrimp (16 to 18)

Shrimp Stock
2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock
pinch saffron
2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
4 fresh bay leaves, or 2 dried
3 3-inch sprigs fresh sage

2 cups pumpkin puree
1/2 cup heavy cream
scant 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbs lemon juice
1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp finely chopped fresh sage

Stock: Peel and devein shrimp, reserving shells. Cover and refrigerate. Heat the olive oil over high heat until smoking. Add the shells and cook, stirring constantly, until they turn deep orange and begin to brown, 3-4 minutes. Add the wine, boiling over medium heat until the liquid has evaporated. Add chicken stock, saffron, celery, onion, bay, and sage. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to the lowest setting. Partially cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve, pushing down on the solids to extract all the liquid. Rinse the saucepan and pour the stock back into it.

Soup: Whisk the pumpkin, cream, 3/4 tsp salt, and cayenne into the shrimp stock. Bing to a simmer, cooking very gently and uncovered over low heat for ten minutes. Stir in the lemon juice, taste, and season to taste with black pepper and salt. (The recipe to this point can be made up to 1 day in advance.)

Finishing: Pour the olive oil into a saute pan over medium head, adding the reserved shrimp and sage and cook, tossing often, until the shrimp is just cooked through, 2-3 minutes. Arrange the shrimp in warmed serving bowls or a tureen. Bring the soup back to a simmer and ladle it over the shrimp.

Pickled Beet and Endive Salad with Goat Cheese and Walnuts (Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home)
Sure, I may have ranted about Charlie Trotter's unfortunate "ethics" interfering with my enjoyment of foie gras, but the fact remains that he is quite possibly the best chef in the region. This salad from his excellent cookbook highlights some wonderful Midwestern flavors.

1 shallot, minced
1/3 cup sherry wine vinegar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 3 beets
2 cups pickling juice
30 small Belgian endive leaves
1 pear, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1 cup soft goat cheese, crumbled
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Vinaigrette: Place the shallots and sherry wine vinegar in a small bowl and slowly whisk in the canola and olive oils. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Beets: Peel the beets and place in a small saucepan with salted water. Bring to a boil and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain the beets and cool slightly. Julienne the beets and place them in a medium bowl with the pickling juice for 2 hours. Drain, discarding the pickling juice. Toss with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Salad: In a large bowl, toss the endive, pear, goat cheese, and walnuts with the remaining vinaigrette and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Arrange the salad in the center of a large platter and top with the beets. Top with freshly ground black pepper.

Cranberry Sorbet
Sorbet is incredibly easy to make and handles improvisation well. Plus it adds that dash of pretension to complement your top hat and monocle: "Oh. You didn't have any sorbet for Thanksgiving? I'll wager you watched that footballing match instead of taking the yacht out, as well."

1 1/2 cups & 1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 lb. (4-5 cups) cranberries, fresh or thawed
zest of one lemon and one orange (or blood orange)

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon (or blood orange) juice
generous splash Grand Marnier

Bring sugar and 1 1/2 cup water to a boil, forming a simple syrup. Add the cranberries, remaining water, and zest, and cook over medium heat until the berries pop, five to ten minutes. (In your head, in your head, they are crying.)

Cool slightly and puree
, straining into a bowl, and stir in the lemon (or blood orange) juice and Grand Marnier. Cool completely in the refrigerator.

Freeze in an ice cream maker. (Alternately, freeze until solid. Before serving, allow to thaw for 10 minutes and process briefly in a blender or food processor until the appropriate texture.)

Mashed Potatoes with Crème Fraîche
Almost everyone loves mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, and crème fraîche adds a rich touch.

5 lbs. Russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 lb. butter
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cup crème fraîche
1/2 cup leeks or scallions, sliced
chives, for garnish

Boil the potatoes in salted water until soft. Drain well and puree. Over low heat, add the cream, butter, and crème fraîche.

Remove from heat and fold in leeks or scallions. Garnish with chives.

Breast of Turkey Cuit Sous Vide and Roasted Leg en Ballotine
(Thomas Keller, via New York Magazine)
I could put anything here, since you know you're going to make a classic turkey. Oh, maybe you'll brine it or something, but you know there's going to be a roast turkey on your table. That's why I need to go for the inspirational big guns in the form of Thomas Keller. Chef Keller recommends Vermont's Four Corners Farm turkey, but our local farms are just as good. Immersion circulator optional.

18-to-20-pound free-range turkey
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
4 ounces foie gras
3 tablespoons butter
¼ head shredded Savoy cabbage

½ cup 1/2-inch diced brioche bread

4 tablespoons foie gras fat (available at D’Artagnan; butter can be substituted)

10 peeled roasted chestnuts, diced

1 egg

1 tablespoon chopped chives

2 tablespoons reduced chicken stock

Bell’s Seasoning, to taste

Caul, to wrap leg (or butcher string)

3 tablespoons canola oil

5 sprigs each of thyme and sage

2 cloves garlic

1 sprig rosemary

Remove breast and legs from the carcass and bone the legs, leaving the skin intact. Reserve the bones for stock. Place the meat from the legs flat onto a sheet of plastic wrap, cut the oyster from the edge of the meat and place in the hole in the center, remove any veins, and cover with another sheet of plastic wrap. Beat with a mallet to even out the meat. Trim the meat into a rectangle, reserving trimmings for stock, and season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Set the foie gras in an ovenproof skillet and roast for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove and let cool. Set in the freezer to harden, then cut into a 1/4-inch dice. Reserve the foie gras fat in the pan for the croutons. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in an ovenproof skillet until the butter starts to brown, add the cabbage, and toss to coat. Roast in the oven for about 10 minutes or until the cabbage starts to caramelize around the edges. Toss the diced brioche with 1 tablespoon of foie gras fat, set the brioche on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven for about 5 minutes or until crisp and lightly golden.

Combine the diced foie gras, cabbage, croutons, chestnuts, egg, and chives in a bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons of foie gras fat and the stock. Season with salt, pepper, and Bell’s Seasoning. Place half the stuffing down the center of each portion of leg meat, roll the meat tightly, and wrap in caul or tie with butcher string at 1-inch intervals. Season each leg with salt and pepper, and brush with foie gras fat.

Increase the oven to 400 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in an ovenproof skillet, add the stuffed turkey legs, and quickly brown on all sides before setting in the oven and roasting for about 25 minutes. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, take one half of the turkey breast, season with salt and pepper, lay it skin-side down, and brush the flesh side with foie gras fat. Alternate with 2 sprigs sage and 2 sprigs thyme across the breast, and nestle a clove of garlic in the center. Cut a sheet of cardboard the length and width of the breast, cover with foil, and set the breast bone-side down on the board (this will stop the bones from piercing the plastic bag). Place the whole thing in a heavy plastic bag and seal in a vacuum-seal machine. Repeat with the remaining half breast. If you do not have a vacuum-seal machine, the breast must be boned and prepared as above, and then rolled skin-side out. Lay out a 24-inch-wide square of plastic wrap. Set the breast at one end and roll the plastic wrap as tightly as possible around the breast. Twist the ends to tighten the package and tie a knot at each end of the plastic wrap, as close to the meat as possible, so the package is airtight.

Fill a large casserole or deep roasting pan with water and heat the water to 164 degrees. Place the two vacuum-sealed turkey breasts in the water and cook gently for 30 minutes. Make sure to maintain the water temperature at 164 degrees by keeping a thermometer in the water. If the water gets too hot, add more cold water; if it goes below 164 degrees, increase the heat. Remove the vacuum-sealed breasts from the water and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Remove the breasts from the bags, discard the herbs, and dry the skin with a paper towel. Season the breasts with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the breasts, and gently brown the skin and finish any cooking if necessary. Add a sprig each of thyme, sage, and rosemary to the pan along with 2 tablespoons butter. Brown the butter and baste the turkey breasts, turning occasionally. Leave the turkey to rest for 5 minutes, before slicing.

A Selection of Wisconsin Cheddars

A course of artisan cheddars is an elegant touch, but still has the robust flavors and rustic feel one expects from a Thanksgiving menu.

Carr Valley Cave-Aged Cheddar (aged 6-9 mo.)
Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar (British style, aged 18 mo.)

Hook's 10 (or 12) Year Cheddar

Pumpkin Custard Profiteroles with Maple
Caramel (Bon Appétit, November 2004)
Maple caramel
1 cup maple sugar
1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup bourbon

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pumpkin custard
3 cups whipping cream
2 1/4 cups canned pure pumpkin

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup sugar

9 large egg yolks

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup butter

1 1/2 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup flour

4 eggs

1 egg yolk

Maple caramel:
Stir sugar and butter in saucepan over medium heat until blended and smooth. Whisk in cream. Bring to boil, stirring until caramel dissolves. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in bourbon and vanilla; simmer 1 minute. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Pumpkin custard: Preheat oven to 325°F. Whisk cream and next 6 ingredients in heavy large saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Whisk sugar and egg yolks in medium bowl. Gradually stir hot pumpkin mixture into egg yolk mixture.

Pour pumpkin custard into glass baking dish and cover with foil. Place dish in a baking pan, and fill pan with hot water halfway up sides of dish. Bake until custard is set, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool completely. Cover and chill until cold, at least 4 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)

Profiteroles: Preheat oven to 425°F. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Bring 1/2 cup water, milk, butter, sugar, and salt to boil in saucepan. Stir in flour; cook over medium-high heat, stirring vigorously, until dough is smooth and pulls away from sides of pan, about 1 minute. Transfer hot mixture to standing mixer. Beat dough with paddle attachment at medium speed until slightly cool, about 3 minutes. Add 3 eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Beat in egg yolk until blended.

Spoon 16 mounds of batter onto prepared sheets. Beat remaining egg in small bowl. Brush tops of profiteroles lightly with beaten egg. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven to 375°F and continue baking until puffed and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool completely. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Remove from freezer a few hours before continuing.)

Rewarm caramel sauce. Slice profiteroles horizontally in half. Spoon 1/3 cup filling into bottom half of each profiterole. Cover with top halves. Drizzle with sauce. Spoon dollop of whipped cream atop profiteroles. Sprinkle with chopped pecans and serve.

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