Wednesday, November 24, 2010
The Game Plan
This year we're hosting my best friend Heather and her husband. She's 8 months pregnant, and cooking a marathon dinner isn't exactly in the cards. Luckily, I'm always looking for more unsuspecting victims to make sit through my courses (bwahahah!). I love getting out the top-tier Lenox china and all the pretty platters and serving things I got as presents from our wedding registry. Sigh... getting married is awesome. I miss those little "I want this one!" scanners. I guess it's okay, though. I came out with a ton of heirlooms-in-waiting.
Last weekend I finalized our menu and created the Shopping Schematic (organized by grocery store department, natch) and Master Timeline. First item? Taking our 22 pound turkey out of the freezer and into the fridge on Sunday to start the thawing process. I needed it to be ready for its Tuesday night brine.
Between Costco, New Seasons, Trader Joe's, Williams-Sonoma, Cost Plus and WinCo I got everything checked off the list. Why so many stops, you may ask? Because I am insane. No, although that is part of it. Because they all have their own strengths, of course! Costco has the best bulk basics for cheap, like huge cartons of heavy whipping cream, milk and butter. You're not going to find Tahini outside of New Seasons, along with our all-time favorite Italian sausage and the best-looking leeks. Also, we just love going there. I get to ogle designer socks, and Matt has his pick of microbrews. We both leave happy and broke. You just have to go to WinCo for prepacked basics at the lowest prices, like huge bags of Russet potatoes for $1.79 and cans of cream of mushroom soup for Matt's way-way-back-to-basics Campbell's green bean casserole with crunchy onions. We all love our traditions.
Williams-Sonoma and Cost Plus hardly count, because they were only for one ingredient each. The Oregonian's Food Day named Cost Plus's Turkey Brine mix "The Best", so of course I had to have it. I wandered around the store for about 20 minutes looking for salty packs of deliciousness before I finally broke down and asked an associate. She went over to a shelf and reached for a top-shelf cardboard stock box.
"Oh, they're in the boxes I didn't think to rummage through," I said.
"We keep them for people that ask because we only got this little box in," she explained. So, there you go. ASK FOR THE BRINE! It's a secret foodie code.
Much of my menu was inspired by the Williams-Sonoma Cider-Bourbon Glazed Turkey with Shallot Gravy. Which - surprise! - calls for their $12 bottle of Cider-Bourbon Roasting Glaze. But from year's past, I know that I spend at least that on specialty ingredients to flavor the turkey from super-scratch (pancetta, liqueors, fresh tarragon, et. al.). So, whatever. I got the last jar at Washington Square last weekend, right out of the grasp from some West Hills debutard. Take that, universe.
I was able to make the Cranberry-Pomegranate relish on Sunday night, which Martha Stewart promised could be made up to a week ahead of time. I always have two cranberry sauces on the table: something fun and exotic that I've made, and Ocean Spray's Cranberry Sauce a' la Bart for Matt.
I think that cranberries might be one of the most fun things to cook. They pop when you cook 'em! I love watching them slowly deflate, their defiant counterparts going out with a juicy POP!, all releasing their natural pectins to thicken up completely naturally. They're made to be sauce. Sure, juice is nice, but when you give a cranberry the chance to be a relish or chutney, you've elevated them to their true potential.
As I tasted the simmered mix of cranberries, pomegranate juice, lemon and shallots off the stove, Matt got curious. "Can I try it?" he asked. I handed him a spoon, and he took a generous bite. "I like it," he concluded. "I'm gonna eat that."
Well, I'll still put out the Ocean Spray Jelly Special... just in case.
Tonight, along with blending up Pumpkin Hummus and Mascarpone cream for my Cranberry Mascarpone Tart, I made my very first-ever pumpkin pie. I used the recipe from Cooks Magazine, where things went so well with the Chocolate Cream Pie. It called for a mixture of pumpkin pie and canned sweet potatoes, for a less cloying and more natural taste. Mixing in maple syrup, nutmeg, cinnamon and fresh ginger made me just want to bathe in the stuff. It smelled like orchards and kittens and fall and home. I've noticed I've been doing a lot of straining in my baking lately, and the results are mesmerizing. A simmered mixture looks and smells good enough on its own, but when you run it through a fine-mesh strainer, you distill it down to its most flavorful bits in concentrated smoothness.
Pumpkin Hummus with Toasted Pitas, Crudite and Crostini
Cheese Selection a la Heather
Cider-Bourbon Glazed Turkey with Shallot Gravy
Buttermilk-Chive Mashed Potatoes
Maple-Struesel Garnet Yams
Traditional Green Bean Casserole
Rustic Dinner Rolls
Cranberry-Chocolate Mascarpone Torte