Monday, November 24, 2014

My Year in Food: Practice Thanksgiving, November 22, 2014

My dear friend, Andi, is from a family that has a wonderful tradition this time of year. The weekend before Thanksgiving, they invite friends over for a Practice Thanksgiving. They've been doing this for decades. I've been invited, but have never gotten to attend. So, Jeannene and I decided we'd really like to do the same kind of thing. She also wanted to have her management group over for dinner, so we thought it'd be nifty to invite them for our own Practice Thanksgiving. It was so very much fun & the food was outstanding! I spent the week cleaning, cooking, and crafting and had a ball doing it! We have some serious foodies in the group and I think they had fun choosing dishes and creating them. We invited folks to bring either a traditional favorite or a creative twist on a classic dish, something they would like to play around with, but wouldn't necessarily serve on actual Thanksgiving.

I did a classic green bean casserole, a new favorite sweet potato dish with cranberries, an Indian-spiced turkey breast, a spiced cranberry sauce, rosemary cayenne walnuts, a cheese plate, marinated Castelvetrano olives, a derby pie with a twist, almond crack (at Jeannene's insistence) and crudités in the shape of a turkey, found on Pinterest. Except, I absolutely can't take credit for the last. I was going to do it, then Jeannene offered to be my sous chef. She got the veggies cut up and I was going to take over, but Ken is happiest with a task, so he offered. He did an absolutely wonderful job! I should add that his desire always to have a task led to his insisting on washing dishes, too, despite my protests---that's my kind of dinner guest!

Ken & Meghan love all things food & she especially loves to play with dessert-making. She found some really cool ideas on Pinterest and executed them impressively. She brought an amazing 3 layer pumpkin spice checkerboard cake, with "Happy Thanksgiving" spelled out in cookies on top and little turkey cookies around the sides. She made some adorable turkey cupcakes for the kids, too, with cookies and candy for decoration. She kept saying they didn't turn out right, but I thought they were completely cool! As for the main event, they did an orange-brined turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cheesy hash browns. Yum! They also brought appropriate wine and beer pairings, for which I was thankful, as I know next to nothing about wines or beers (although more, oddly, about beers, even though I don't touch the stuff). I did pick up a bottle of Beaujolais and a bottle of Prosecco, at least, and made a pot of hot spiced cider.

Kelvin & Pat brought an impressive platter of shrimp, surrounded with cheery lemon wedges and served with Kelvin's homemade spicy cocktail sauce. Pat made pumpkin brownies and half-apologized for the swirl not working out properly. Had she not mentioned it, it would not have occurred to me that they weren't exactly as they were supposed to be. People, stop apologizing for your food! Chances are, just as with flubbed lines in a play, nobody but you will realize the food is in any way flawed.

Glenn & Kim brought delicious old standbys, mashed potatoes and corn pudding. Mashed potatoes are one of those "It's not Thanksgiving without _______" dishes for me and their version was creamy and perfect. The corn pudding was awesome, too. I somehow missed it when I was fixing my plate, so I had to snag a spoonful with dessert.

Dang & Vi & their adorable kids brought a huge platter of spring rolls (fresh), one of egg rolls (fried, but in spring roll wrappers), from-scratch tiramisu, and a gorgeous fruit sculpture---a pineapple adorned with skewers of grapes, pineapple, and strawberries sticking out of it all around. I, for one, was especially excited to see the Vietnamese egg rolls. They took me back to my childhood, when our Vietnamese friends would come for holiday dinners and commence making egg roll after egg roll. I hung out in the kitchen and devoured as many as I could get away with snagging. Anh, Si Anh, and Mui were quite generous with their wares and I ended up burning my mouth and stuffing my belly every single time. But they were so good.

Frank & Connie brought cornbread stuffing with jalapeño and andouille, which was incredibly flavorful, and corn muffins with jalapeño, perfect for breakfast the next day. Frank loves to cook and it's always fun to see what he'll come up with. I am anxiously awaiting the recipe for the pork stew he brought to game night earlier this fall. They also brought bottles of Gewürztraminer & Riesling.

The cheeses we chose for our cheese plate were a Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, black pepper Bellavitano, Maytag blue, Cypress Grove Purple Haze, and Fromager d'Affinois, one of my favorite French double-cream cheeses. These were accompanied by Medjool dates (if you think you don't like dates, try these!), Marcona almonds, Castelvetrano olives (if you think you don't like olives, try these!) I'd marinated in olive oil with orange zest strips and red pepper flakes, and my rosemary cayenne walnuts,  from Laurie Colwin's recipe:

Rosemary Cayenne Walnuts
5 tbsp. butter
4 tsp. crushed rosemary
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cayenne
16 oz. walnut halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in a rimmed baking sheet. Add seasonings and toss with the walnuts. Spread out so the nuts are in one even layer. Bake 8-10 minutes. 

The idea for the turkey crudités came from Pinterest, which links to this page. I used red leaf lettuce and Ken subbed cranberries for the black olive eyes. I liked the cranberries much, much better! I think it turned out wonderfully!

The turkey breast turned out beautifully, with simply gorgeous color and very juicy. Jeannene and I toyed with making an Indian-spiced turkey for actual Thanksgiving, but decided to go with a more traditional, sage-infused version, instead. We have plans for another Indian-spiced turkey breast sometime this winter, though. 

Indian-Spiced Turkey Breast
2 c. Greek yogurt (you could use any plain yogurt, but I would go with full-fat for this. My favorite yogurt is Greek Gods and that's what I used for this, knowing I would be enjoying the rest with granola and fruit)
1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic
A 1" knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
8.5 lb. bone-in turkey breast, with skin (you could do a smaller one and simply adjust cooking time as needed)
Salt & pepper
3 tbsp. butter, melted (you could sub olive oil or ghee)

Purée all the ingredients up to the turkey in a blender or food processor. Rub on turkey and under skin, in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate 24 hours. Remove from fridge about an hour before roasting. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Put turkey in roaster, skin-side up. If you discover, as I did, that your rack has gone missing between uses, you can wad up a bunch of aluminum foil into a rope and make a spiral on which to place the turkey for roasting. Sprinkle the turkey with salt & pepper, then drizzle with butter. Roast 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees and roast another 45-60 minutes, removing from the oven when it has reached 165 degrees on a meat thermometer. Tent with aluminum foil and allow to stand a minimum of 10 minutes before carving. 

If you've grown up in the States, you've probably had green bean casserole before. It's a ubiquitous holiday dish. It wasn't a staple in my family, but I tried it at someone else's house when I was in my early 20s and right away decided I would add it to our Thanksgiving menu, as well. It has been present ever since. You can find the recipe just about anywhere in the U.S. this time of year. I've always just used the recipe from the French's onion can, but this year, I finally wrote down what I actually do and popped it into my recipe binder right by the derby pie. While I usually prefer fresh vegetables for most recipes, I have tried this with fresh green beans and I didn't like it as much, to my surprise. So, I always make it with canned green beans. If this is anathema to you, by all means use the fresh sort! In case you're not somewhere this dish is popular, here's the recipe:

Classic Green Bean Casserole
1 can cream of mushroom soup (I use the healthy version, with lower sodium and reduced fat, and find it just as tasty---I figure I might as well cut those things where I can, since I'm going to eat all kinds of unhealthy stuff, anyway)
3/4 c. milk
A good grinding of black pepper
2 cans cut green beans, drained (some people prefer French-style---whatever you like!)
1 1/3 c. french-fried onions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix soup, milk, and pepper into a creamy, smooth sauce in a 2 quart casserole dish. Stir in green beans and 2/3 c. onions (sometimes, I use a whole cup). Bale half an hour. Stir, then top with 2/3 c. onions (sometimes, I use a cup). Bake another 5 minutes to brown the onions. Serves 6 as a main side dish, but on a Thanksgiving buffet, it's more than adequate for a crowd of 15 or so. 

I have never liked sweet potatoes and have never understood why anyone would. Until I discovered, in my Gooseberry Patch cooking project, this recipe. At least, this is my version. It evolved because when I first made it, I realized I'd only gotten one can of yams, instead of the two called for by the recipe. So, I was going to halve the entire recipe. Except, when I started to mix in the butter, I realized I'd used the whole amount. Well, shoot! I had to go back and double the rest of the streusel ingredients, so I ended up with twice the streusel the recipe wanted me to use. It was delicious, so when I made the full amount of yams and cranberries, I doubled the amount of streusel. What you see here is my version. Not remotely healthy, but sinfully good---much more a dessert than a side dish, really and truly. If you want less streusel, as the original recipe recommends, just halve the amounts of flour, brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, and butter. 

Cranberry Yam Bake
1 c. flour
1 c. brown sugar, packed
1 c. oats
2 tsp. cinnamon
2/3 c. butter, chilled
2 17 oz. cans yams, drained and slightly mashed (I couldn't find plain yams the first time I made this, so I used candied yams---use whichever you prefer)
2 c. cranberries (I usually use an overflowing 2 cups, as I love cranberries)
1 1/2 c. mini marshmallows (and if you only have the big sort, feel free to use those, although the minis are most aesthetically pleasing to me)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, sugar, oats, and cinnamon. Cut in the butter, using a pastry blender (or, if you don't have one, a fork or 2 knives---you just want to make sure the heat of your hands doesn't warm the butter and make it melty) until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Toss yams and cranberries with 2 cups of the crumb mixture. Put in a lightly greased 2 qt casserole dish. Sprinkle with remaining streusel mixture. Bake 35 minutes. Top with marshmallows and broil until golden brown. Keep a close eye on this! The first time I made this dish, I got distracted and burned the marshmallows. Luckily, they came off very easily and I had more to try again. As with the green bean casserole, this serves 6 as a main side, but will suffice well for a crowd with other side dish options. 

I cannot imagine Thanksgiving dinner without the cranberry sauce. Many people see it as dispensable or use only a dab to flavor their turkey. For me, it's one of the very best parts of the meal. I don't want it canned, either. The canned whole berry stuff is acceptable for everyday meals, I suppose, but I cannot imagine why you wouldn't just make it from scratch. It's so very easy and quick, too! Of course, if you must have the canned stuff, you must! And the homemade version certainly won't slice. I've wanted for quite awhile to try Chinese 5-spice in my cranberry sauce and I finally did. This has all kinds of exotic yumminess in it. It may sound weird, but it's really good!

Spiced Cranberry Sauce
A smidge of water in the bottom of a saucepan
12 oz. cranberries
1 tbsp. peeled, minced fresh ginger
2 c. dry red wine (I used Gnarlyhead Cabernet Sauvignon because it's what I had on hand)
1 c. sugar (mine was a scant cup)
3 tbsp. chopped crystallized ginger
1/4-1/2 tsp. curry
Large pinch Chinese 5-spice

Heat water on medium-high heat. When it starts to bubble, add berries & fresh ginger. Cook, stirring, until the berries begin to burst. Add wine and sugar and cook at a boil, stirring, until mixture is reduced to about 2 1/2 cups, about 15 minutes. Add the rest and stir well. Allow to cool at least 3 hours or overnight. Serves 6 as a main side, a whole crowd as part of a large buffet. 

A couple years ago, I tried a recipe called "Almond Delights," for the first time. My wife, who adores nuts and has a terrible sweet tooth, fell completely in love with the cracker/cookie/candy confection and has a very hard time keeping her hands off them. So, we have dubbed them "Almond Crack." 

Almond Crack
40 buttery crackers like Townhouse or Club (I had Townhouse on hand the first time I made them, so that's what I usually use now)
1 c. slivered almonds
2 sticks butter
2/3 c. sugar

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, then spray with cooking spray. Line the crackers up on the foil-lined, sprayed sheet. You do not want to skip the foil or the spray. They are your friends. Trust me, it's not just for ease of clean-up, in this case. I could imagine that this could be ruined, fairly easily, by skipping this step. Scatter the almonds over the crackers. Now, melt the sugar and butter together, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once it's dissolved, stir at a boil for another 3 minutes. Spread over the crackers & almonds. It doesn't have to cover fully or evenly, just mostly. I was worried the first time I made them because I couldn't make it cover everything. It was absolutely fine, though. Bake 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and cool completely. Once they are cool and the coating has hardened, cut into squares or rectangles (or, heck, just break them up randomly). This will vanish, possibly mysteriously in the night. 

When I was a kid, the pies at Thanksgiving were always pumpkin and mince, neither of which I liked. At all. So, when I was a young woman living in Nashville and discovered derby pie, I began to make that for Thanksgiving. Derby pie is basically pecan pie with chocolate chips and a little bourbon added---true purists would say it must be Jim Beam or another Kentucky whiskey to be real derby pie and would be appalled at my use of Jack Daniels, but it's cool. For my cousins, now, it's not Thanksgiving without my derby pie. My wife, however, who hates all bourbon or whiskey-laced anything, is always asking me to make a chocolate pecan pie without the liquor. For Practice Thanksgiving, I'd planned to make my regular derby pie. Then, I realized I finally, last Thanksgiving, used up the bottle of Jack Daniels I bought ages ago for pies and bbq. Note: whiskey purists will be appalled that I keep such things on hand for so long, I suspect. I know. I do it anyway. For my purposes, it doesn't matter. I didn't want to dip into my son's Jacob's Ghost and I had my liquor-hating wife in mind. I almost left the alcohol out altogether, but then I thought, "Hmm, what if I used Kahlúa, instead? or Patrón XO Cafe?" I went with Kahlúa and, oh, man, was it delicious! Jeannene loved it, too. A new tradition? Maybe I'll call it Matador Pie, since it's absolutely not derby pie.

Matador Pie
2 pie shells (if you make your own, bully for you! If not, no big. I sure don't)
2/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. butter, room temperature
1 c. light corn syrup
2 tbsp. Kahlúa
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs
1 c. pecan halves
1 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix sugar, butter, corn syrup, Kahlúa, salt, and eggs together and whisk smooth. Put chocolate chips and pecans in pie shells (that have been placed in pie plates and crimped). Pour the sugar & butter mixture over them. Bake, with a baking sheet underneath just in case, 40-50 minutes. 

Oh, in case you want to make cute place settings, I made shimmery chocolate spoons for people to take home as favors, then tied a sprig of rosemary and a brown tag place card (the edge of which I'd used a lace punch to make pretty) to each one (wrapped in a little plastic treat bag like you use for lollipops---available at craft and baking supply stores) with orange raffia. They looked great. To make the chocolate spoons, you just melt chocolate chips (I did a batch of Ghirardelli dark & one of Nestle semi-sweet), stirring, on the lowest heat you can. Then, tip up the pan and dip plastic spoons into it, so that the bowl of the spoon is covered. Place them on waxed paper to harden. When they are hard, brush with edible shimmer. You can also sprinkle them with cute cupcake confetti while they're still soft, if you want. 

No comments: