Thanksgiving Recap 2010

We had quite a feast this year. I always take my time with dinner—we aren’t the sort of people who get up super-early so that their turkey will be cooked by 1pm—so part of the deal for us is a lunch of soup and fresh rolls. This year the chanterelle mushrooms at Costco looked good, so I did a repeat of the creamy chanterelle soup from a month or two back, paired with a batch of whole wheat walnut butterhorns converted for sourdough. Then it was on to the main event…

This year’s turkey was a 24-lb monster, easily two or three times as big as the ones we usually get. At 28 pounds soaking wet, my toddler just barely outweighed the turkey this year, a holiday first for us! The bird was so huge that for a few minutes there, I didn’t think I would be able to squeeze it into our roasting pan, but it just barely fit. We smeared some heavenly prosciutto-hazelnut butter under the skin, and I brushed a little more over the top in the last half hour of cooking, and after nearly five hours in the oven, it came out juicy, flavorful, and immense. At least three-quarters of the meat ended up getting packed away for leftovers, and Jeremy channeled Dexter long enough to hack up the carcass for stock—too bad we didn’t think to use Dexter’s room-wrapping technique first because I had to mop up all kinds of turkey grease and juices off the counter, the floor, and the appliances afterwards. 🙂

We skipped the traditional green bean casserole this year in favor of a creamy broccoli gratin. It was creamy and crunchy and pretty good, but nothing extraordinary. I got it ready to go when the turkey was half-done, and then popped it in a 375F oven with the other sides once the turkey was out.

I thought self-contained twice-baked yams would make a fun Thanksgiving side when I gave them a try a few weeks back. This version has more traditional, slightly sweet flavors with cinnamon, nutmeg and maple, plus some creamy yogurt for a little tang; the topping is buttery panko fancied up with hazelnuts and vanilla sugar. I would have preferred to use smaller yams, but the ones at the store were all huge. The recipe called for making boats out of just half the yam, so I ended up with some excess puree; I set it aside for baking, and we had sweet potato pancakes for breakfast the day after Thanksgiving.

I wanted to have at least one side dish that didn’t involve creamy/cheesy sauce or buttery bread crumbs, so I made roasted Brussels sprouts, tossed with pomegranate-vanilla butter halfway through. This was my tweak of a Bobby Flay recipe calling for a vanilla-pecan compound butter, plus citrus zests and pomegranate. I simplified it by stirring pomegranate molasses into the butter with hazelnuts and a drop of vanilla extract, and then tossing that with the sprouts halfway through their roasting time. Since I keep a pot of turkey stock simmering on the stove all day on Thanksgiving, I also poured in a ladleful of that to help the vegetables cook through more evenly.

I’m not a big fan of cranberry sauce, but Jeremy likes it; and since it could hardly be easier to make, I am happy to oblige. This year I decided to simmer my cranberries with a spiced apple cider reduction, since that bottle of cider was taking up valuable real estate in the refrigerator. Basically, I just dumped it into a saucepan with some whole spices—cinnamon stick, cloves, slices of dried ginger, dried orange peel, and some pink peppercorns—and let it reduce by about half; then I strained out the spices and added in the cranberries with some sugar. The resulting sauce had a nice sweet-tart and aromatic balance, and even though I didn’t eat it with my turkey, I am hoping there will be enough leftover when Jeremy is done with it to do some baking.

For our last side dish, I planned on the usual slow cooker stuffing. But while we were at the grocery store, I couldn’t keep my hands off the chestnuts, so I decided to roast some and throw them in, just for the holiday spirit of it. I’ve never actually roasted chestnuts before, but it wasn’t hard: an X cut into one side with a serrated knife, set cut-side up in a small dish sprinkled with water, and roasted at 425F for about 20 minutes, until the shell bursts back from the nutmeat. (I roasted some garlic cloves in their skins at the same time, to flavor the mashed potatoes.) Then you need to peel them when they are nearly too hot to touch, as the shell and inner skin harden up again quickly as they cool. I held them in a piece of paper towel to protect my fingers, and kept the bulk of the chestnuts sealed up in a foil pouch as I worked. In the end, I was able to extract about half of the chestnuts whole, and the rest had to be scooped out of their shells with a spoon. Since they were just going to be chopped up anyway, that was an acceptable compromise for me.

I’ve written about the slow cooker stuffing before. It is one of my secrets to a smooth Thanksgiving dinner, since I can prep it several hours in advance and it doesn’t require space on the stovetop or in the oven. This year I used my homemade sourdough bread, and in addition to the chestnuts, I dumped in the dregs of the chanterelle soup for a little extra moisture and flavor.

And of course, no Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without pumpkin pie. We were very happy with the pie I made a month or two ago, so I used the same sourdough pâte brisée crust and the filling from King Arthur, but perked it up with a streusel shot full of crystallized ginger. Jeremy loved this pie and ate almost half of it single-handedly over a few days. I thought it was very good, but the ginger was nearly too spicy for my palate.

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