Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Very BCD Thanksgiving

by Xani and Erin

We needed a few days (ok, a week) to recover from cooking Thanksgiving dinner before we could write about it.... Now that's we've finally digested everything, and all the leftovers are gone, we can bring you what so many have been asking for: a blow-by-blow, dish-by-dish run-down of the BCD Thanksgiving 2008: Turkey on the Shore! The menu was as follows:

  • Cocktails

  • Olives, nuts, and crudites with homemade blue cheese dressing

  • Dry-brined, roast turkey

  • Giblet gravy from scratch

  • Oyster stuffing

  • Mashed white potatoes with cream cheese

  • Thyme biscuits

  • Brussels sprouts with toasted pecans

  • Roasted autumn vegetables

  • Orange-port cranberry sauce

  • Apple tarte tatin

Of course, the researching and planning started way ahead of time and included an elaborate shopping spreadsheet (per our usual) as well as a pre-ordered, pastured turkey from Springfield Farms, in Sparks, MD. We had a really fun adventure up to the farm the Saturday before T-day, where we picked up the turkey and some other yummy treats, including delicious salted butter and spiced cider! Xani began brining the bird using the LA Times dry-brining method on Monday, and then the REAL cooking started Wednesday, after a lovely, traffic-free drive out to Blackacre.

Mom had already prepared the cranberry sauce, using this recipe from Food and Wine, and the blue cheese dressing (her own, super-secret family recipe), so that was two things we could cross off our list right away. But starting Wednesday night and all day Thursday, we cooked and cooked to create this fabulous meal! On Wednesday night we sat around and caught up, made giblet gravy, and created a game plan for the big day. We made lists of tasks per dish, time of day per task, which dishes were stovetop, oven, or both, and which oven to use for which dish and at what temperature and when. For once, we did this using just pen and paper (legal pad, obvi) so no link!

The list during cooking - complete with grease stains

Xani ponders the list mid-cooking

Cheers to our first Thanksgiving at Blackacre!

Snacks and drinks:

For many, many years we spent Thanksgiving at our grandparents' house where they served the same pre-dinner nibbles every year. We stuck with tradition and served olives, nuts, and a few crudites with Mom's stellar blue cheese. We also sipped a few "Pom-Bellinis", a champagne cocktail we created by combining some champagne, pomegrante juice, and homemade pomegranate vodka that Xani had been infusing for a few weeks (normal!), and topping that off with a few fresh pomegrante seeds. Delicious!

Irresistable blue cheese dressing...

The Big Meal:

Tom Turkey

The star of every Thanksgiving table is always the turkey. This year, having never cooked a pastured, farm-fresh turkey, and having never dry-brined, we were dealing with a good handful of X-factors. The dry-brining method meant seasoning the turkey with kosher salt, sealing it in an over bag, and leaving it in the fridge for 3 days, giving it a little massage each day. Before cooking the bird, we slathered it with a little butter (because a little more butter can't be a bad thing, right?). It roasted in exactly the right amount of time and came out perfectly cooked, thanks to our instant-read thermometer (even though the beeping of the thermometer makes Gellie absolutely CRAZY, and we used it so much on Thanksgiving that he spent most of the day hiding in Xani's room-- poor guy!).

Gellie meets Tom

No tail!

Getting a butter massage

When it was all said and done, the turkey was good, but not the best turkey ever. It was leaner and tougher than a regular grocery store bird. In the future, we would consider cooking this type of bird in a moister environment (by putting some sliced citrus fruits in the cavity, or a pan of water/broth underneath) to help keep the bird juicy.

Also, travesty of travesties: you'll see above that our bird had NO TAIL, which was really sad-- that's the best part! The chef's treat! We reckon some lucky Springfield Farms employee went home with a whole mess of turkey tails, and had himself a feast!

Giblet Gravy

Another downside of Tom Turkey was that he did not have much fat on him at all, and therefore created minimal (okay, zero) drippings. So, Xani made do and made gravy using Julia Child's recipe, some chicken fat (that Mom keeps on hand at all times) and the giblet stock we'd made the night before. It was simple but delicious, and perfectly smooth. Yay Xani!

Oyster Stuffing

Xani found this recipe in Savuer magazine a few weeks ago while getting her hair done, and was instantly SOLD. So many wonderful flavors: oysters, shallots, thyme, rosemary, port, and of course, bacon. We used toasted baguette and pre-shucked oysters from Kool Ice. And the end result was...perfection. It looked just like the one in the recipe, and tasted amazing! Very comforting and intense flavors, and the oysters, surprisingly, were perfectly cooked and did not overpower the dish.

Key ingredient to anything delicious: bacon

After you cook the bacon, you add butter to the bacon grease...holy cow

Veggie mixture plus dried out baguette cubes

Baked to perfection!

Mashed Potatoes with Cream Cheese

We don't know about other families' Thanksgivings, but in our family, its not a REAL Thanksgiving unless there's at least one minor disaster. In years past there have been numerous trips to the hospital, keys breaking off in rental car locks (with our grinders [what they call subs up in CT] trapped inside!), ovens failing to regulate their temperature and therefore soaring to 500+ degrees no matter what and incinerating everything, etc. This year, it was the death of our parents' dear old KitchenAid mixer. After 36+ years of reliable service (it's been in their kitchen for 36, and they got it used!), it up and died just as we were getting ready to mash the potatoes. R.I.P.

So, instead EP riced the boiled potatoes by hand before mixing them with copius amounts of butter, cream cheese, heavy cream and whole milk, per this Martha Stewart recipe. We kept them warm in a double boiler until it was time to serve. They were so rich and wonderful, and super-comforting just the way mashed potatoes should be. Not sure if the cream cheese version can ever take the place of Grandma's chicken-fat version, but excellent, nonetheless. (Note: like Grandma's version, we found that these potatoes were a lot tastier the following day, so this may be a good make-ahead recipe for the future.)

The potatoes were boiled whole and then their skins peeled off while extremely hot

Yum! Creamy and delicious

Thyme Biscuits

Another dish that was meant for the mixer, but had to be done by hand. We used this Barefoot Contessa recipe and substituted thyme for chives. Xani used a pastry blender to combine all the ingredients, then rolled the dough and cut out the biscuits with an empty, thouroughly washed can of green chiles, because we didn't have a biscuit cutter. It worked perfectly!

After chilling in the fridge, we brushed them with egg wash and baked them just before serving. The came out perfectly light and flaky. They didn't rise quite as much as we expected-- not sure if this is due to the chilling before baking or maybe outdated baking powder, but they tasted great!

Brussels Sprouts with Buttered Pecans

Since so many of our other dishes involved sooo much butter, cream, bacon, etc., we decided to go light on our veggie for the evening. We used this recipe from Epicurious, which was relatively simple: clean and halve the brussels sprouts, then boil them in water until tender, then shock to stop cooking. Then put them in a pan to brown up and get a little crispy, and toss with some roasted, buttered pecans. Okay, so there was SOME butter in this dish, but it could've been WAY worse.

Roasted Autumn Veggies

This was the only recipe we made that we had done in the past (last year, to be exact). We used this Epicurious recipe, which is very simple and so delicious. We used butternut squash, acorn squash, and parsnips (forgot completely about the yams!), tossed them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and some cayenne pepper, and roasted them until soft and caramelized. Then we tossed them with some finely chopped red onion, chives, and some apple cider vinegar. A very nice combination of flavors - sweet, spicy, tangy, and just plain good.

We put the BCD parents to work prepping veggies and herbs

Cranberries with Orange Zest and Port

When choosing a cranberry sauce recipe, this one caught our eye because of the cup of port it calls for. Like we said earlier, BCD Mom took care of this recipe the day before we arrived, so when we walked in it was ready for a taste. It was sweet and tart, and you could really taste the port.

We had a beautiful table, thanks to Mom.

Gellie helped set the table

Mom's collection of depression glass makes its debut

Wow, we're full just writing all of that! What a meal - it was traditional but new and unique at the same time. The winners were the stuffing, the biscuits, and the autumn veggies.

But still there awaited the true champion of the meal...

Apple Tarte Tatin

As you may have noticed from this previous post, Xani is on a bit of a Julia Child dessert kick, and after reading this post on Michael Ruhlman's blog, she requested that we make the classic French dessert, Apple Tarte Tatin, for our Thanksgiving sweet. This was definitely a challenge, but it was SO worth it - it was one of the best apple-related desserts we've ever had. We used the recipe from The Way To Cook, which suggested that the tarte be made in a heavy, cast-iron skillet. Of course our cast-iron skillet is about 12-in wide (instead of the 9-in pan the recipe calls for), so we did some quick math and decided to double the recipe.

The recipe called for peeled, cored Granny Smith apples cut into eighths, soaked in lemon juice and sugar to draw out the liquid. Meanwhile, we made caramel by melting butter and sugar together until it was a relatively dark caramel color.

The beginnings of the caramel...

Then we added the apples in a "decorative pattern" as instructed, and then piled the rest of the apples on top. Since we couldn't mix up the apples (it would mess up our pretty apple design!), we basted the apples on top with the caramel to cook them.

Decorative, no?

Cooked down apples in caramel

We then rolled out two sheets of puff pastry (the recipe says you can use puff pastry or pie dough) so that it would fit over the apples in the pan. We placed the dough over the apples and tucked it in over them like a blanky. Then we put the extremely heavy pan filled with molton lava caramel in the oven and let the pastry cook until it was brown and puffed.

Tucked in snug as a bug

All puffed and golden

Then came the truly scary part. We had to flip over this aforementioned super-heavy pan filled with boiling hot lava/caramel! We had practiced before we started anything to determine the best way to do the flip. We used a pizza pan because it has no sides and fit nicely over the top of the cast iron skillet. We asked BCD Dad to help (i.e., we made him do it because we were too scared). The result? It worked! He flipped it perfectly and it was BEAUTIFUL! We were not expecting the steam that came off when we lifted the pan, so that was a bit jarring (and painful) but in the end, it turned out GREAT!



The apples and caramel were so sweet, and the apples weren't too mushy. The dough was not sweet at all, which was good since the caramel was very sweet. We served it with a little bit of vanilla ice cream on the side, and it was a perfect end to a great Thanksgiving meal.

We did it!

The next day, we of course made turkey stock per Michael Ruhlman's article.

We are so thankful for our amazing parents and for each other. We are also so thankful to YOU, our loyal readers (all six of you). We love that you love this blog and we have lots of great posts coming up!

The view from Blackacre as we sat down for dinner...

Gobble gobble,

X & EP

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