Spoonin' some slurpy stuff about the world's drippiest drool

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgivukkah 2013

I am fairly anal when it comes to Thanksgiving.  It is my favorite holiday - family, friends, lots of cooking, and no presents required. I spend a good bit of time thinking about the meal, planning the menu and then choreographing the cooking.

This year added a twist.  Chanukah began before Thanksgiving, opening up a whole world of food possibilities to the our dinner.  How do you merge a meal centered around oil with one centered around turkey.  Ok, the obvious is to fry the turkey and be done, but that would be too easy, and I might end up burning the house down.  No, this required more thought and creativity - and for me, a lot of notepaper.

Chanukah Cooking and Traditions

When Jacob was little, we would give him clues to find his present each night.  The number of candles that night equaled the number of clues he would receive, sometimes they were math, sometimes geographic, sometimes in French, occasionally they involved friends or even making a phone call to get the next clue.  Thankfully, Jacob outgrew the treasure hunt - we were running out of ideas for clues.

Our food traditions have stayed fairly constant; latkes of some sort, jelly donuts every so often, and the heart stopping, stomach swelling crispy, deep fried spare ribs.  The recipe calls for pork ribs, but that just seemed wrong for Chanukah, so I used beef back ribs.  Braised until they are falling off the bone, coated in flour and quick fried, then coated in a thick Asian style barbecue sauce, even if they kill you, you will die with a smile on your face. It was clear to me, that this years menu had to include those ribs.

I like to start Thanksgiving with a soup - usually a thick, squash based something or another.  A recipe for pumpkin sage matzo balls intrigued me though, so a clear soup made more sense.  I opted for a simple chicken consumme - a double cooked broth, in theory perfectly clear - except when you put fluffy matzo balls in it whose molecules are held together by a few eggs and a lot of prayer. Truthfully, these did not wow me (I knew I should have added Vodka), but the consumme, rich with chicken essence and a nice splash of sherry was a worthy vessel.

Latkes were also a no brainer.  I knew we would be having lots of starch in the Thanksgiving portion of the meal, so I opted for root vegetable pancakes - carrots, parsnips, onions and potato.  And hate me if you will, I fall on the side of sour cream with my latkes, so that is what I served.  Period.

As for jelly donuts, that tradition needed a slight modification.  Many pies and cakes would be arriving with our guests, guests whose pastry skills make anything I try to bake look like it came from an Easy Bake oven.  I bowed to the master's and went the savory route instead - Cod Beignets.  Salt cod, soaked, cooked in a milk broth, then added to an herbed batter to be fried o a golden brown and served with an herbed yogurt sauce.  No grape jelly oozing onto our laps, but otherwise a nice addition.

Thanksgiving Cooking 

With the added interest of Chanukah in the mix, it made sense to keep the Thanksgiving recipes pretty traditional.  Our turkey is made on the grill, stuffed with onions, lemons and herbs.  Giblet stock, roasted garlic and pan drippings make for a succulent gravy.  Turkey selection has varied over the years.  Butterballs gave way to organic, with the somewhat ironic emphasis on the quality of life of the bird.  I prefer a bird with a pop up timer, which is stupid - those timers often fail to pop, or as happened this year, pop up prematurely (I am smiling, but will not make the obvious joke).

Grilling the turkey, frees up the oven for other uses, speeds up the cooking process, and makes for a moist, flavorful bird.  I use a poultry thermometer to double check the pop up - 180 degrees at the thigh and done.  Just make sure you have a full propane tank before you start.

No turkey is complete without a dollop of cranberry whatever - the 2013 version of which combined cranberries, orange and Chambord (instead or cranberry juice).

The sides were predictable; Brussell Sprouts with Bacon and Lemon (can I just give a plug for Fresh Market - their smoked bacon is ridiculously good),

Sweet Potatoes with Mini Marshmallows and Pecans

and, of course, Mashed Potatoes.  I can confirm that the key to great mashed potatoes is warming the cream and butter before adding them to the cooked potatoes.  I would also suggest using a ricer to mash the potatoes - the less stirring, the fluffier the potatoes.

And stuffing.  What a wonderful invention.  Ours was sausage, fig and chestnut.  It was flavorful, but had I to do it again, I would double the sausage.  Having fig in every bite is fine, but even better if it is accompanied by a chunk of sausage.

Cooking And Choreography

With a thick stack of recipes in hand, and stored on the computer for posterity, timing needed to be considered.  My goal, make as much as possible in advance and then reheat, leaving Thursday free for last minute cleaning, table setting and hopefully a shower.

My schedule:
Monday - Cranberry Relish
Tuesday - Soak cod, make chicken stock, braise ribs
Wednesday - Make beignet batter, make consumme and matzo balls, bake stuffing, assemble sweet potatoes
Thursday Morning - Make yogurt sauce, make latkes, make brussel sprouts, bake sweet potatoes, make mashed potatoes
Thursday Afternoon - Make turkey, fry beignets, roast garlic, make giblet stock, reheat the crap out of everything.

Let me say two things about this.  One, if John Hartranft was not an amazing human with an incredible knack for organizing and cleaning pretty much the entire house, this would not have been possible. Two, if Cheryl Hartranft was not a mind reader, anticipating my every need as the afternoon progressed as well as being a dish washing demon, I would still be asleep.

Did I mention I caught myself on fire at one point?  In a complete Bugs Bunny moment, I checked the oven to see what was burning, because it sure smelled like something was on fire.  Thank you Cheryl for pointing out that the something was me.  Thankfully, while my favorite apron was rendered useless, I was left intact.  On the plus side, the apron was from the gift shop at The Inn at Little Washington - I guess I will have to go back.

One more note - thank you to Christine Brehm for teaching me to properly carve/attack a turkey.  I must admit, I have always been tentative about grabbing drumsticks and cracking joints, but with a few deft moves, Christine had legs and wings separated, and both turkey breast sides off in one piece, ready for carving.

With the dark meat added to the platter, into the soup pot went the carcass, onions, lemons and all, with some fresh herbs to make turkey stock.  A few years ago, our dog Ginger actually dragged the carcass out of the trash can, so this is both a cost effective approach and a means of keeping the house clean.

With the Chanukah and Thanksgiving entrees and sides on the table, what a relief to turn over the reigns to those who have the patience to create pastry marvels.  Pumpkin, pecan, apple (that Jacob hid in the basement fridge and we didn't remember until too late), pumpkin cream, and peanut butter, chocolate cake.  Oh how I love other peoples desserts!

So, here are most of the recipes I worked from.  The grilled turkey recipe is not online, but is simple - wash it, rub it with oil, stuff it with a cut up onion, a cut up lemon, rosemary and thyme salt and pepper inside and out, toss it in a roasting pan (on top of a rack), and grill at 350 ish, basting every 30 minutes or so.

Basic Brown Chicken Broth
Pumpkin Sage Matzo Balls
Salt Cod Beignets With Herbed Yogurt
Root Vegetable Latkes
Crispy Deep Fried Spare Ribs
Perfect Mashed Potatoes
Candied Sweet Potatoes with Pecans
Sausage, Chestnut and Fig Stuffing
Cranberry Relish
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemon and Bacon

I hope you all had an fun filled Thanksgiving. and I wish you a holiday season full of miracles.  As for me, I have some leftovers to reheat.

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