Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Holiday Whirlwind

What happened to my Thanksgiving post?!  I had it all right here, in my head!  It was gorgeous! 

Oh wait, I didn’t write it down.  Dammit. 

Somehow after the busy night and day I spent in the kitchen culminating in a beautiful meal over my best wedding china with best friend Heather, her husband Chandler, his mother and their baby-on-the-way siphoning turkey from however those things work.  There were no epic fails, like Ina’s vegetable tartin that stayed raw forever at my aunt’s house a few years ago, or sweet potatoes that also wouldn’t yield their soft, cooked silkiness after a good dose of oven time last year.  There were some standouts though:

-The stuffing.  I thought I’d found a perfect stuffing recipe 3 years ago in (duh) Williams-Sonoma’s catalog.  They served it in the to-die-for Deruta hand-painted casserole dish, so it totally couldn’t go wrong.  That first year, it didn’t.  Made with homemade biscuits and bacon, it was a rustic dish with a fabulous saltiness.  Last year, the biscuits didn’t turn out right, which got the whole foundation of the stuffing off on the wrong foot.  Who wants stuffing made out of bad biscuits?  Oh, and you had to make the biscuits to make into stuffing.  I’m all for homemade, but that starts to get into the “grinding flour to make my bread” territory of hardcore that becomes impossible unless you’ve got some sweet I-don’t-have-to-work-I-can-be-an-urban-farmer! lifestyle setups.  How sweet would that be?  I don’t get up at the alarm clock, I get up at the sound of my heirloom chickens pecking around the deck for feed.  Then I’m going to water the tomatoes and research home-canned ketchup recipes.  As I can only dream, I was in the market for a new stuffing recipe.  I gave the Stuffing with Sausage and Leeks from this year’s Williams-Sonoma menu a try, which called for La Brea Bakery’s $15-ish a box stuffing mix along with an array of fresh ingredients.  Since I was already splurging on that little $12 bottle of Cider-Bourbon Roasting Glaze, I decided to cheat on the cheat and buy a bag of WinCo Stuffing Bread for $1.75.  Tossed with fresh sautéed leeks, herbs and New Seasons’ to-die-for garlicky Italian Pork Sausage, I can’t fathom telling the difference.  It was so well-balanced in flavor and texture—moist without being soggy, salty and herbaceous, good with gravy or independent.  It kicked out biscuits as my new stand-by stuffing.  My sanity thanks it; I don’t know how many more years I could bake scratch biscuits to let get stale and rip up for stuffing.  Even Martha Stewart has armies of staff, for christ’s sake.

-Brined turkey.  I have been brined.  I won’t go back.  Conditions could not have been more perfect for my soak-xperiment in poultry-bathing.  Last year, to hold his homebrew kegs, Matt took all of the shelving out of the garage fridge, which was an old thing that came with the house.  The guy who used to live there used it to store his bait and elk steaks, so I never use it for anything.  I think it smells icky.   But it made the perfect place to store a big orange Home Depot bucket, 3 gallons of water and a 22 pound turkey.  The brine mix and bird fit into the bucket perfectly, which fit into the fridge perfectly.  It was perfect.  After two days in the fridge, I just took the turkey out, rinsed and patted it dry, and placed it in my pride-and-joy All-Clad roasting pan.  I was a little skeptical with the lack of under-the-skin butter massages and herbs up-the-butt, but my fears subsided a couple hours earlier when I opened the oven door for a peek.  I could see a river of juice bubbling along the leg and thigh, decadent moisture flowing up and down the bird.  I pulled it out on instinct, after about 3 hours twenty minutes.  The tag wanted me to keep it in another 40, but I was going with my gut.  I let it rest under tinfoil while the stuffing, yams and green bean casserole got their moment in the sun and when Matt started carving, I gave myself a loud pat on the back.  I have never had a turkey, and have rarely had a chicken, that moist and infused with flavor right down to the bone.  The salt, rosemary, cloves and other brining spices had absolutely fused into the turkey, with the skin just crisped and flavored with the Cider-Bourbon glaze.  I need to contact Cost Plus and buy a pallet of that Brining Mix; I don’t want to risk ever, ever, ever being without. 

-Pumpkin hummus.  Who knew a quirky little appetizer would make such a big splash?  I’ve never made homemade hummus, mostly because I liked Sabra and Trader Joe’s versions so well, it didn’t seem necessary to go out, buy sesame paste, dirty the blender and all that crap.  A few weeks before Thanksgiving we were at New Seasons and they were sampling a Pumpkin Hummus that made Matt and I both raise our eyebrows in happy surprise.  I picked up one of the bright-colored recipe slips from the counter (can I even express how much I love New Seasons and their in-house weekly tastings and recipe slips?  No, I can’t) and headed over to find some tahini.  Every other year, whether I’m hosting Thanksgiving or not, I’ve made a sharp cheddar spicy cheese spread that I found in a kid’s cookbook when I was 7 or 8 years old.  I figured this would be a fresher option in multiple ways: healthier than the butter and cheese mix, and a surprise after a decade and a half of the same thing.  This crazy, fall-themed hummus totally stole the show, especially on Black Friday when I brought the leftovers in to my sulky co-workers who ALSO had to work.  Homemade hummus has a fresh flavor that accentuates each individual ingredient more clearly.  You can pinpoint the amount of lemon juice, cayenne and cumin in each batch.  The pumpkin puree worked in with the chickpeas was just plain fun, and gave it the color of pumpkin pie.  I have emailed this recipe out so many times in the last few weeks, and I don’t even have a picture to show you how pretty it was!  I always serve it like they do at my favorite Lebanese restaurant, Aladdin’s: in a bowl or serving dish with a well made in the bottom, well filled with extra-virgin olive oil and ringed around the sides with sprinkles of paprika and dried parsley. 

Food always tastes better on china with silver.  But maybe not worth the 2 hours of dishes. 

After this decadent dinner and leftover turkey alfredo, I’m more than a little nervous to step on the scale today.  Compounded by the fact that it’s now COOKIE SEASON!!!!  I’m hoping to have cute boxes of home-baked assorted wonderfulness to give to everyone I like a lot and will see the week of Christmas, but that list is growing.  Matt’s been hinting that he’s got some co-workers that are counting on Cranberry Bliss Bars, and my office social circle is growing as well.  The cookie boxes I covet are $3 apiece at The Container Store, x the ingredients and heavy labor to finish up the massive list of treats I’ve dug from my mountain of Martha Stewart and Bon Appetit clippings (plus one treasured favorite from The Vibrant Table who catered my bridal shower).  Right now I’m looking at a list of 16 people, two weekends and a LOT more butter to be bought.  Looks like my options are:

a.      a.  Lower my standards of variety and presentation (not really an option)
b.     b.  Cut people off the list (sad!)
c.    c.    Just suck it up and devote myself to the kitchen for some long upcoming shifts

I’ll be posting my first most-treasured recipe soon, The Oregonian Food Day’s dissection of Starbucks’ Cranberry Bliss Bars.  But I’m not giving you all my secrets!  You might just be on my list, after all!

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