Saturday, November 27, 2010

A New Home for an Old Holiday

November 25th was my first Thanksgiving ever. Well, not ever, but never before have I been in charge of planning the menu (however predictable that may be) and making all the food look and taste good. My mother always directed the flow of ingredients and often offered her subtle advice: “No!!! What are you doing?! Do you want to RUIN the turkey??!” Needless to say, I was a little nervous about making everything without constant supervision from someone with years of Thanksgiving cooking under their apron. But I was also kind of excited and even made a timeline for food preparation. I made the cranberry sauce on Tuesday and the stuffing on Wednesday; Thursday morning I made the rest. 
For my first Thanksgiving, I wanted to make mostly traditional dishes, but have an unexpected dish or two. I browsed through the November issue of Real Simple Magazine and decided on a couple of dishes from their 10 page special, “Show Stealing Side Dishes.” Everything looked so delicious and even the print was in a fancy script. So at the risk of stealing my own show, I decided to mix things up with the Mushroom Rosemary Stuffing and Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Grapes. They also had an article on how to make the perfect turkey. “You’ll never use another recipe” it promised. Perfect. 
I bought a fresh, brined turkey from Trader Joe’s and promptly named him Joe. I thought that was quite appropriate. We have a tradition in my family of naming any whole poultry that comes to visit our kitchen. Usually it’s a chicken or turkey or occasionally a cornish hen. I believe my first bird was a little organic chicken named Harry... Anyway, this year I decided to try cooking the turkey in an oven bag. I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical about the process. First of all, making your turkey in a bag is like going to the deli counter for your mashed potatoes and gravy. You’re cheating. You put the turkey in a bag and then just let in cook for a couple hours?? What?? No basting? No obsessing that it will dry out or get too browned? However, there’s nothing I dislike more than a dry turkey and these bags claim to make your bird moist. To my surprise, after 3 hours at 375, Joe came out with a nice, even dark tan. Magic. (I was worried he would look boiled and translucent.) The meat was moist and clean up was a cinch, thanks to the bag. 
Other menu items included mashed potatoes with a white wine sage gravy, cranberry sauce and popovers. I think my gravy could have used a pinch more salt, but other than that, everything was delicious. Mushroom fans, I highly recommend the Mushroom Rosemary Stuffing. You could even make it vegetarian if you use vegetable broth instead of chicken. Another variation could be with whole wheat bread. That would add a really great texture and flavor.  If you decide to make the Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Grapes recipe, I recommend cooking them for 15 minutes. I roasted them for 20 and found them just a tad bit too done (their flavor can quickly get sour). Here are some of the delicious recipes from my first Thanksgiving. They might just visit again next year.
Velez Family Cranberry Sauce 
(it’s also the recipe off the back of the Ocean Spray Cranberries bag)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 12-ounce package fresh cranberries
Bring water and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add cranberries and return to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently for 10 min., stirring occasionally. Place a wire mesh strainer over a mixing bowl (or a bowl that your will store/serve in). Pour contents of saucepan into strainer. Mash cranberries with the back of a spoon, frequently scraping the outside of the strainer, until no pulp is left. Stir contents of bowl. Pour into a serving container. Cool until completely at room temperature. Refrigerate until serving time. Makes 1 cup. 
*The more times you put the cranberries through the mesh, the more pulp you can get from them. I usually can get about 1 1/2 cups. If you choose to do this, have a small bowl nearby to put the pulp from the mesh in. Once you have mashed all the cranberries through the mesh, take the pulp and put it through the strainer/mesh again.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Grapes
Hands-on time: 10 min.
Total time: 35 minutes (or 25 if you don’t over cook them!)
Serves 8 (or 16 people who dislike vegetables)
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 pound red seedless grapes
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (dried is fine too)
(Kosher) salt and black pepper
Heat oven to 375F. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the Brussels sprouts and grapes with the oil, garlic, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Turn Brussels sprouts cut-side down and roast until golden brown and tender, 20 to 25 minutes. 
*15 minutes roasting time is a better choice.
yield 12 (if you do it in a muffin/cupcake tin)
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Combine eggs, milk, flour, butter, and salt in mixer bowl. 
Beat until smooth. 
Fill greased and floured tin 1/2 full of batter.
Place in cold oven and set heat to 450F.
Bake 15 min. Reduce heat to 350F and bake 20-25 min. longer.
Remove from oven and serve immediately.
Mushroom and Rosemary Stuffing
Hands-on time: 1 hour
Total time: 2 hours
2 pounds quartered Cremini or Baby Bella mushrooms
3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup sherry
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large loaf Italian bread (about 1 pound, cut into 3/4 inch pieces) 
2 medium onions, chopped
4 celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable)
2 large eggs
Heat oven to 375F. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Divide bread between 2 cookie sheets and bake until dry and crisp, 10 to 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions, celery, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until very tender and beginning to brown, 10-12 minutes.
Add the sherry and cook until evaporated, 2 to 4 minutes; transfer to a large bowl and let cool for 10 minutes.
In batches brown the mushrooms in the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the broth, bread, eggs, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the vegetables (mushrooms, onions and celery) and toss to combine. Transfer to prepared baking dish. Cover with buttered foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until browned, 20-30 minutes more.
*I substituted the sherry for dry white wine, and it tasted quite good; I used a combination of Cremini and Shiitake mushrooms. Also, mine could have used an extra 10 minutes in the oven.

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