Sunday, December 2, 2007

Thanksgiving Redux

Due to popular demand, I thought I'd post about my most recent culinary adventure: cooking for Thanksgiving at my parents' house in Westford, Massachusetts. Luckily for me, I was put in charge of everything from turkey to dessert, and didn't stop baking/brining/cooking/roasting from Tuesday evening until mealtime on the big day.

I won't bore you with the all the turkey-day details, since most of you have probably moved on from T-day to bigger holidays at this point. However, I'll give you a brief rundown of the menu, some important tips that I discovered while preparing it, and my favorite picks. And for your enjoyment I offer a mental image (no photos were taken, unfortunately): I decided to brine my 12-lb. turkey, which meant a whole lot of wrestling with my raw little bird, trying to get it just right in the brining bag and the big, plastic bin I had readied for the job. Twelve pounds only seems small - trust me, it was a struggle.

So, here is my menu:
Curried butternut soup with wild rice
Fennel and orange salad with black olives
Smashed peas with mint and walnuts
Roasted, Indian-spiced sweet potatoes with chick peas
Sauteed brussels sprouts with shallots and chestnuts
Turkey, brined and basted with butter and riesling
Cornbread stuffing with apples and chestnuts
Cranberry-fig sauce
Carrot and sage cornbread mini-muffins
Pumpkin mascarpone pie
Chocolate amaretto torte with candied almonds
Vegan apple tart
Almond biscotti

The most notable aspect of my cooking experience was brining the turkey. I followed a Martha Stewart recipe for the brine and for the roasting process itself, which involved unheard-of amounts of butter and an entire bottle of white wine. The turkey was indeed moist and incredibly delicious, although I must admit that I'm not convinced that this was due to the brining process. Since roast turkey is something I have only once a year, it's hard for me to accurately assess the value of the brine, but my mom also suspects that an equally delicious turkey can be had without the wrestling involved with brining.

As for the rest of the menu, my big tip is not to do brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving. I love brussels sprouts, but they are really best eaten fresh - directly after sauteing or roasting. Unless your Thanksgiving schedule allows for immediate eating (mine didn't, and the result was slightly bitter sprouts), I'd say save the sprouts for more laid-back occasions.

What were the favorites, you might be wondering? My favorite dish was probably the soup, but as has previously been established, I am obsessed with all things squash. My aunt Caren raved about the sweet potatoes, which were moist, spicy, and a nice change of pace from traditional Thanksgiving sweet potato dishes that are loaded with butter, cream, and sugar. The cornbread stuffing (made with homemade cornbread) was also a hit. The apples were the perfect touch. Two more of my personal favorites were the cranberry-fig sauce and the cornbread mini-muffins.

I made the cranberry sauce with fresh cranberries, red wine, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and dried black mission figs. I also added a tiny bit of orange juice, and seasoned it with cinnamon sticks and cloves. The flavors were strong and just barely sweet enough, and the leftovers were perfect smeared on crackers...or straight from the Tupperware. The mini-muffins were a last-minute idea, and I improvised the recipe. Fresh sage and a bit of parmesan cheese made for cute and savory little morsels, which went well with the soup.

And then there was dessert. The pumpkin mascarpone pie, which I took straight from Bon Appetit's Thanksgiving issue, was hands-down the best pumpkin pie I have ever had. I made the crust, and my sister Emma made the filling. The chocolate amaretto torte was also a hit. It turns out that you can't go wrong with high-quality chocolate, absurd amounts of butter, and liquor. Who knew? I, however, am partial to the biscotti, because I can eat an infinite amount of them and not feel like barfing. Not so with the torte. Trust me.

Oh, and the apple tart: My cousin Matt, who eats vegan, came for dessert, so I needed a Thanksgiving sweet that did not include butter, eggs, cream, or chocolate. Yikes. I bought a vegan pie crust from Whole Foods (shh, don't tell anyone!), let it thaw until pliable, and used it as the base for a free-form apple tart made with honeycrisp apples. It was incredibly simple, and turned out quite well.

So, there it is: Thanksgiving 2007. I can hardly wait for next year.


Katie said...

you left out the pumpkin cake! minus the parmesean, the mini muffins were my favorite out of the handful of things i sampled.

PS, thanks for the image of you wrestling with a turkey- i'm not sure that an actual photo could have done the situation justice...

Mitch said...

Whole Foods brined turkey. Need I say more?

Anonymous said...

I have a request for next year: pics of the turkey in the bath.