Thanksgiving success

Our Thanksgiving meal was, on the whole, another culinary success. Last year’s feast was all about experimentation and new recipes. This year was dedicated to perfecting the dishes our guests liked best.

What Made the Cut

Turkey. Last year’s turkey was a brilliant showpiece, so we tried to duplicate it near as possible. Loosely following the Good Eats Roast Turkey recipe (Gawd, I love Alton Brown), we brined our bird for just over a day before cooking it up in a 325 degree oven. While 2005’s bird was nearly 30 pounds, this year’s fowl came in at slightly under 17. It was moist and delicious, and well worth the $2 per pound for a fresh, free range, organic local bird. My version of the recipe follows.

Stuffing. I make a bread stuffing with cooked giblets, celery and onion, giblet broth, butter, and spices. It should be called dressing, however, as it does not cook inside the bird. I find stuffing the larger birds makes them take too long to cook, resulting in dry breast meat.

Mashed potatoes. A combination of redskins and Yukon Golds, along with copious quantities of dairy fats (milk, yogurt, cream & butter), makes a delicious pot of mashers.

Corn and Wild Rice Pudding. Recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse and Food TV. Yes, I like Emeril. His recipes, anyway. The cayenne in this dish gives it a nice – sorry, can’t be helped – kick. I ate some for breakfast today. Yum!

Sweet Potatoes. We had baked candied yams this year. Last year I made a sweet potato souffle’ which, while delicious, was obscenely sweet and rich, meaning you could only indulge in a spoonful or two. We had a huge casserole dish full of leftover souffle’ in our basement refrigerator for weeks, which soon became a casserole dish full of pungent, moldy souffle’. Yuck. The souffle’ was too much work, anyway. The baked candied yams were good, not too dessert-like, and relatively simple. To make: Boil your sweets, slip the skins off, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Toss with a sauce of boiled brown sugar & butter that’s been thinned with evaporated milk and seasoned with cinnamon & cloves, and put the coated potatoes in a baking dish. Top the whole thing with some chopped nuts. Bake about 40 min or so. Tasty, easy, and good.

Homemade Dinner Rolls. I got a recipe from Fleischman’s yeast for Bow Knot Dinner Rolls that’s quite good. Egg & sugar make them rich and also keep them from going stale too quickly. I wasn’t able to find the recipe online, so maybe I’ll post it separately.

Cranberry Wreaths. These are a fancy-looking sweet roll that involves making a cranberry filling, spreading it out over a rectangle of dough, and then using some intricate pastry origami to make little wreaths with red stripes of the cranberry filling peeking out. The brilliant color looks stunning in the serving basket, plus they’re very tasty. Be careful not to use too much orange peel in the filling.

And, of course, Pie. What holiday would be complete without homemade pie? I made two for the occasion; the obligatory apple (the ONLY kind of pie, according to DH) and a fun pumpkin pecan. Both were yummy. Being that we are avoiding trans-fats and hydrogenated oils, our pies were encased in a lard-and-butter crust that, in my humble opinion, was just heavenly. Now, before you get all in a tizzy about my rampant use of animal fats, please consider that a modest serving of a lard-crust pie is a lot better for you than one containing chemically-altered fats. Besides, pie is not a health food, anyway.

Recipes

Brined and Roasted Turkey

To brine:

  • A 16-20 pound fresh (never frozen), free-range, organic turkey
  • 3 gallons of water
  • 1 1/2 cups kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, dark or light
  • One lemon, scrubbed and cut into eighths
  • 1/2 cup or so of orange juice, or an orange, scrubbed and cut up
  • Several sprigs of fresh thyme
  • A tablespoon or so of dried rosemary
  • A cooler that will hold all of the above ingredients
  • Ice

Mix the brine in a big stockpot. Remove the giblets and neck from your turkey’s cavity, and put them aside to make giblet broth. Rinse the bird inside and out and place it in the cooler. You should use a cooler that’s just slightly larger than the bird. If you use one that’s too big, your brine won’t cover everything. Slowly pour the brine over the bird until it’s completely submerged. Add ice and put it someplace to rest for about 24 hours. You can, if you have the refrigerator room, put the bird in your stockpot or a clean plastic bucket to brine instead of a cooler, but I find the latter to be much handier.

To roast:

  • A 16-20 pound fresh (never frozen), free-range, organic turkey, brined 24 hours
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • One lemon, scrubbed and cut into eighths or quarters
  • A few carrots, scrubbed and broken into large pieces
  • Two smaller onions, washed, unpeeled, cut into quarters
  • Herbs, as you like: I used fresh thyme. Sage also goes well, as does rosemary.

Remove the bird from the brine and rinse well. Pat dry. Sprinkle the cavity with salt and pepper. Put lemons, vegetables and herbs into cavity and close by tucking the legs under the loop of skin (or truss, if necessary). Rub the bird all over with soft (not melted) butter. Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. Place breast-side DOWN on flat rack in roasting pan. Put in 325 degree oven and baste with additional butter every 20 minutes for one hour. Carefully flip bird over and baste again. Continue roasting until meat thermometer indicates desired temperature. I aim for 165 degrees for the breast meat. If wings get too dark before bird is done, cover the tips with foil to prevent burning. Let turkey stand on rack for at least 30 minutes before carving. Save the drippings for gravy… mmmm!

Lard and Butter Crust Pie

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small dice
  • 1/2 cup lard
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • Large, stainless steel bowl
  • 2 sheets of waxed paper
  • 1 T of milk
  • Pastry brush
  • 1 T of sugar

Whisk flour and salt together in the large bowl. Cut in fats with a pastry blender or forks. When dough is crumbly, sprinkle with the water and toss with a fork until it gathers into a ball. Divide in half. On a sheet of waxed paper, sprinkle some flour and then place one of the halves in the center. Press slightly with your hand to make a disk. Fold the paper over to make a little packet. Repeat with the other dough ball and sheet of waxed paper. Put dough disks in the refrigerator for approximately 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Remove one dough disk from fridge. Roll out, place in pie pan, and trim edges. Pour in desired filling. Roll out other disk, cover pie, and prick top crust with a fork. Use pastry brush to glaze top crust with milk. Sprinkle with the sugar. For apple pie: Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 350 and bake for another 30-40 minutes until browned. For pumpkin pies, follow the recipe for your filling of choice. Cool before serving.

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