30 November 2010

getting thanksgiving on the table

Though I had hoped to give the full Thanksgiving rundown today, after looking at all the photos, I realized that this would make for one loooooooong post. So instead, today it's all about how we get all of that delicious Thanksgivingy goodness on the table. Tomorrow we'll see the finished products and all the people who made it special. Of course, if you missed yesterday's post on our best pumpkin pie, that's worth a read too.

(NOTE: I did not use any Photoshop or similar software on these photos. The golden glow of the turkey is the untouched real deal.)

Any Thanksgiving prep starts with the turkey (well, maybe not vegetarian Thanksgivings, but I'm taking a little latitude here), and ours had started days earlier with a two-day thaw and a two-day brine. Thanksgiving morning, we pulled the bird out of the brine and let it air dry in the fridge for a few hours before stuffing lots of delicious truffle butter under the skin. While it doesn't have to be truffle butter, putting some kind of butter under the skin makes for some awfully tasty white meat, and some incredibly crispy skin since it's sort of getting cooked from the inside and outside.

Mark got to be a total pro at working underneath the skin. Just take off any jewelry first, and scrub your hands like mad every few minutes!

After that, the turkey got a spritz of canola oil (said to be the best for browning the outside), a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and into the oven she went.

I'm a big fan of making a note on exactly when the turkey goes in, just so there's no confusion if someone accidentally resets a timer.

We went with Alton Brown's method all the way -- 30 minutes at 500 degrees, and then another 90 to 120 minutes at 350, until the bird reaches 160 degrees. For our 15.5 pounder, that took exactly 2 hours, and we got to peek in at this amazing skin bubbling all the while.

In the meantime, we finished up the stuffing which we'd started two days earlier when we cut up the bread to let it get stale. For the cornbread stuffing, we added the sage pork sausage, the sauteed celery and onion, the fresh sage and the turkey stock which I'd socked away in the freezer earlier in the year. I also decided to add in a chopped up apple (which you can see Mark chopping while Dusan looks on) at the last minute, along with a dash of cayenne pepper.

For my soon-to-be-famous (at least in my own mind) sage stuffing, I mixed up the stale breadcrumbs with lots of fresh sage, the sauteed onions and celery, more of that delicious homemade turkey stock, a whole egg and a healthy splash of cream (though you could also use half and half). It's Thanksgiving, after all, not National Diet Day! :-)

Then it was time to set the table...

Mix up some cocktails (gin, St. Germain, prosecco, club soda and mint) for the group...

And yank the big bird out of the oven...

Check out that amazing, dark golden skin! And I'll go into more depth tomorrow about the perfection of the meat. Brining and buttering under the skin is DEFINITELY the way to go. We've tried a lot of methods, and this is the best in our book.

Check out last year's turkey, which had been our most golden to date...

It's no competition.

Here, Mark carves up our delicious hen. See the rest tomorrow!

Want to read about last year's Thanksgiving outcome? Check it out here. And visit here to read about several of our past Thanksgivings.

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29 November 2010

our best pumpkin pie ever

Happy belated Thanksgiving, everybody! I hope you had a great holiday and got to enjoy lots of food and quality time with loved ones.

Over here at our casa, we cooked what I believe was our best and most delicious Thanksgiving yet (wohoo!), and because we had more guests than in the past (three guests, five of us total), I would call it a resounding success.

Full recap of the meal coming tomorrow, but first here's a look at our best ever pumpkin pie.

First key step in our success: making the pastry ourselves. We followed the Cook's Illustrated pumpkin pie recipe, including their vodka-involving pie crust recipe for the lightest, flakiest crust possible. And flakiest is right! It barely held together to get mixed together, to get rolled out, or to make its way into the pie plate.

But somehow it actually came out looking pretty good in the pie plate, handmade fluted edge and everything. (That is, until we baked the crust and it looked like we never fluted it at all, but I'll save that for later.)

Next we made the base, also from the Cook's Illustrated recipe, and the same recipe we've made for three years now. Instead of using just pumpkin, it uses a mixture of pumpkin and sweet potato, along with some maple syrup and -- I believe this is the key -- fresh spices.

I know that for someone who has never freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon or ginger, it's probably a smidge intimidating. But seriously, with just a $15 microplane, you can make quick work of all three (plus lots of other things like hard cheeses, chocolate, and the list goes on).

Unlike the recipe off the side of the pumpkin can which, admittedly, I loved for many years, the Cook's Illustrated recipe has you cook the pumpkin and custard base to blend and intensify the flavors, and then everything gets strained. The past two years, Mark has labored to force everything through a fine mesh sieve, but that was hard, tedious work. This year, we decided to use the food mill instead, and the result was great, and a whole lot less work.

Next, into the pie shell, which has by this time deformed itself in the oven... where did all of my careful fluting go??? (This is another key to the recipe, by the way -- baking the crust first, and adding the filling to the crust while it's still warm. Prevents soggy crust!)

After a little time in the oven, voila! Notice, the center is still a little jiggly, but that's essential to prevent overcooking it. It firms up while it cools.

We also had enough leftover crust and filling to make a mini pie in a creme brulee dish, and we may have sampled it before guests arrived... we had to be sure we weren't feeding them something yucky, after all!

At last, dessert time came, and it was time to serve up the pie. Soooooo delicious!

We served it with a nice Tokaji, a Hungarian dessert wine that has just a tiny spiciness to it, perfect for the spices in the pumpkin pie. 

Of course, we also served the pie with some freshly whipped up whipped cream.

Though, let's be honest. I put a little more than that on my slice.

No wonder I feel like I need to hit the gym! Stay tuned for the full Thanksgiving recap tomorrow!

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23 November 2010

thanksgiving countdown

T-minus two days and counting. Thanksgiving, the bestest holiday in the whole wide world, is almost here!

Even though I felt like I got a late start, I like to think I'm pretty good at planning out big meals (what to serve, what I need to buy, when to buy everything, when to prep things that can be made in advance, etc.), but by far my best move this year was doing most of my shopping early this morning, before other shoppers had a chance to mob the supermarket.

Check out the pristine and solitary view in the produce section...

In fact, thanks to my handy shopping list and a virtually empty store, I felt a little bit like a Thanksgiving ninja this morning... in and out of the store in no time with everything I needed, then home to make quick work of some key prep work. (Did I mention I took this week off from work? Oh to have this kind of free time every day!) I'm hoping this good luck lasts, so that everything will turn out as we expect it to come meal time!

Searching for the bushiest, leafiest celery to make my favorite sage and celery leaf stuffing (I don't even like celery, but this stuffing is magical!)...

A lesson in potato economics... $.99 for ten pounds, $.99 for one pound, or $2.99 for five pounds. Factoring in our limited kitchen storage space, and the fact that neither of us is training for a marathon at the moment, I went for the $2.99 five pound bag. Since we only need two to three pounds for Mark's mashed potatoes, I just could not bear having seven to eight spare pounds of potatoes, no matter how good the price.

Out in under 20 minutes, which included some leisurely strolling...

At home, making a quick cornbread (from a boxed mix) to cut up for the cornbread stuffing... (Yes, we are making two stuffings. I know it's excessive, but everyone coming loves stuffing, and it's what always gets eaten first among the leftovers. So why not plan accordingly? It also means that one of the stuffings will have sausage in it, which you know makes Mark soooo happy!)

Cubing the sourdough with some of the crust cut off, for the sage stuffing... (I always think the stuffing tastes better if the bread gets two full days to dry out.)

And mixing together the wet brine, a modified version of Alton Brown's recipe (we'll probably try a dry salt like last year again next year, but we decided to try wet brine again to see how it works on the organic turkey)...

So now the turkey is brining, the bread is drying and all the other ingredients are in the house. Tonight we'll make the pumpkin pie and tomorrow we'll chop most of the veggies to that we can spend more of the day on Thursday watching football (and drinking... let's be honest), and less time endangering our digits around sharp knives in the presence of cocktails. (I already put a nice slice in the tip of my thumb while chopping an onion last night for a revamp of Coq au Vin like we made a few months ago.... don't need any more battle scars this week!)

Wanna see how last year's Thanksgiving meal turned out? Read all about it here. If you enjoyed reading this post, why not subscribe or follow? And please comment!


22 November 2010

dreaming of a ski house

Though Thanksgiving is REALLY upon us, ski season is very much upon us, too! Several mountains here in California have already opened, and most of the rest are opening in the next week or so. I live for ski season, even more than I live for entertaining. Let's just put it this way... if I had to choose between Mark, the absolute love of my life, and skiing, it would be a tough choice. I kid! I kid!

But seriously, I would really miss Mark a lot. Another joke!

Thinking about skiing from our place down at sea level, it makes me want to transport myself to a house in the mountains, curl up in a big blanket next to a roaring fire and sip on some hot chocolate and Bailey's. As Ina Garten might say, "How cozy is that?"

In my imaginary vision, here's some of what we might see...

Waking up to a view of the slopes

Even better

In the kitchen, lots of tools for a full ski vacation experience...

A waffle iron, mais oui, for Belgian waffles before first chair

Lots of tasty recipes inspired by this cookbook

Feet wrapped in these fantastic moccasin-style "Alana" boots from The North Face (the lace-up style is friendly to all calves and ankles, large and small)

I'm even feeling charitable in the style department, and I think I just might be able to live with a foosball table in the basement... well, so long as it is a somewhat stylish version. How about this mod model from Rene Pierre?

Or perhaps this Queen Anne version stripped and painted a glossy white? 

We're headed up into the Sierras this weekend, post-Thanksgiving, to explore whether a house in the mountains may be in our semi-near future. I'm crazy excited... how often do you get to explore house porn and go skiing in the same weekend? It's like a dream!

Images from Apartment Therapy (x2), Amazon (x2), shoes.com and American Super Sports (x2)

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