Monday, November 12, 2012

Thanksgiving Extravaganza 2012!

This turkey's waving at us! Photo credit: Levent Neyse
Thanksgiving is coming up on us quick and all I can think about is how incredible it is going to be! So many happy people in the house, anticipating delicious food, laughing and munching on some hors d'oeuvres before the turkey comes out of the oven. I'll most likely have the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade playing in the background (recording it earlier in the morning). I heard some people even start playing their Christmas music at this time. I reserve that for the day AFTER Thanksgiving, when we can plow through full-on decoration mode while being nourished by mountains of leftovers!

Oh, I can smell the rich perfume of a turkey roasting in its juices, wine, and aromatics, the Glühwein simmering away on the stove, the pies taunting me on the windowsill (does anyone else do that to themselves?). You know, the sense of smell is the strongest sense attached to memory, and I can tell you that the fragrance of Thanksgiving brings back some lovely memories from Thanksgiving here at home in Louisville as well as the holiday I bought along with me to Austria and Spain. You can always find loving people to share a glorious meal with, even when you're far away.

I know I'm waxing poetic and you can probably see the stars in my glazed over eyes, but seriously this holiday is a dream for me. People often find it stressful, what with all the relatives and friends coming over, wrapping your head around a double-digit guest list, and preparing the meal of the year for at least a full day, if not two. If you're worried about any of the above (plus any other grievances you might have), my advice to you is to relax and don't freak out! If something doesn't turn out right, chances are you have 15 other choices to make someone happy. If you have a list of dietary restrictions to take care of, don't worry--there are plenty of substitutes to make sure everyone is full. Finally, whether this is your first or 50th Thanksgiving, remind yourself that we are all fortunate to be able to share a great meal together, in peace and good company. So, take it easy! There's no need to stress. Here are some tips to get you through the holiday:

Planning is key! Check out Insider Louisville for Preparation & Decoration suggestions Follow this link: 
Louisville Lady Gourmet's Thanksgiving Special Part I: The Game Plan

Collect and organize your recipes into a menu. If you have never tried a recipe before, it would behoove you to put it through the test kitchen before unveiling it on the table.
Here is my menu for this year with some extra suggestions (I'm not really making ALL of this):

Assorted Cheeses and Homemade Crackers
Cheese Straws
Candied Pecans
Roasted Chestnuts

First course:
Root Vegetable Terrine
Celery Root and Apple Soup
Autumn Salad 

Main course and sides:
Herbed Buttered Turkey
Cornbread Stuffing
Sourdough Sage Stuffing
Roasted Potatoes and Apples (AMAZING)
Sweet Potatoes with Bourbon and Maple
Sweet Potato Soufflé
Braised Red Cabbage
Homemade Green Bean Casserole
Cauliflower Gratin
Roasted Assorted Squash (Butternut, Acorn, Pumpkin, etc)
Roasted Cranberry Sauce
Fresh Baked Rolls

Derby Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Chess Bars


So, I clearly won't be able to give you all the recipes (you'll have to wait a few years for the release of my cookbook, hah!). However, the suggestions featured in bold will be written out below, and the linked recipes are already on the blog!

To tackle this day, it is smart to plan which recipes you can make ahead and which recipes you must make day-of. Desserts can all be made the day or night before Thanksgiving, and that frees up your oven. Much of the food can be prepped the day before, like chopping and grouping ingredients together by recipe. If you can set out your mise en place ahead of time, your assembly will be much much easier to handle.

So, for every recipe you can measure out the spices and reserve them in bowls with labels, chop up all the onion you need and put it in a bag in the refrigerator, then measure out what you need from there. Same thing goes for your carrots, celery, etc. Float your chopped carrots and celery in water though, so they don't try out. I've done this before and it makes the Thanksgiving flow much easier to handle, and the kitchen is cleaner throughout the day. Plus, you are more relaxed ahead of time, so you are less likely to miss ingredients in a mad rush.

Herbed Buttered Turkey
Butter, softened
Aromatics (rosemary, thyme, sage)
Root vegetables (parsnips, carrots, potatoes)
White wine
Turkey Stock
Sea salt

I have been fortunate enough to never have a dry turkey on my Thanksgiving table, and I give my thanks to this wonderful recipe (and the patience to wait for the turkey to soak up all its glorious juices). I buy my turkey fresh, not frozen, every year. Many people chose to brine their bird to seal in the moisture, but I have neither the patience nor space for that, so I use this herbed butter rub to prepare my bird.

Spanish Turkey: Photo Credit: Levent Neyse
Preheat the oven to 425º

First you need to wash and dry your entire bird inside and out. Reserve the "nasty bits" including the neck for your gravy or for turkey stock. 

Mix together about a stick of softened butter and your choice of aromatics. I think an herbes de Provence mix would be nice, and I use a mixture of rosemary, thyme, sage, salt and black pepper. Season to taste.

Then you slather that turkey in the butter. Separate the skin from the breast and liberally distribute the butter under the skin to protect the precious white meat (this is where most people experience dry meat).  Coat the rest of the bird, wings, legs, bottom, everything in the herbed butter. If you sprung for fresh sprigs of your herbs, throw them in the cavity of the bird so you can get flavor from the inside out. Also rub some of that butter in the inside cavity. Bonus!

Put the turkey on a roasting rack and distribute the onion, garlic, root vegetables, 1 C wine and 1 C turkey stock in the roasting pan. SO. MUCH. FLAVOR!

Follow Tom's turkey ritual by following the link above. You do lower the temperature after the first 20 minutes or so and make a foil tent, so don't freak out--it's still low and slow. I am cooking a 14 lb bird, so it will probably take 3.5-4 hours. A meat thermometer is indispensable in this case--especially if you want the Norman Rockwell bird and not something that's been hacked into 1000 times.

Roasted Potatoes and Apples
Red potatoes
Granny Smith Apples
Olive oil
Sea salt
Fresh black pepper

This was a magnificently easy recipe, whipped up with whatever I had laying around the house before my next shopping trip. I had red potatoes and green apples and I saw the beautiful and festive color combination, then I tried to imagine the tastes together in my head: red potatoes with their wonderful texture and complementary flavor, roasted green apples evolving from tart to deep sweetness, and the opportunity to marry those flavors in the oven...yes please!

Preheat your oven to 400º

I probably cooked up 5-6 red potatoes about the size of my fist and one granny smith apple. This ratio worked out because the green apple was able to make a pleasant surprise without overwhelming the red potatoes. Every other bite I would run into a sweet, tart roasted green apple delicately kissed with olive oil and thyme and it was so lovely. The trick here is to cut the potatoes smaller than the apples so that everything cooks about the same--the apple, due to the sugars, will roast quicker and become soft before the potatoes, so give it a chance to compete!

Mix the olive oil, sea salt, black pepper and thyme together and pour it over the chopped potatoes and apples in a roasting pan. Now get your clean hands in there! Your hands are the best mixer ever, no wooden spoon can compete (unless you're turning hot things in the oven), and this way you can make sure that every piece is covered with the olive oil mixture. Your hands are waterproof, so just wash them afterwards--if you do this with salad dressing too, you'll never go back!

Roast away in the oven and turn every 10-15 minutes until they reach your desired golden happiness. Great accompaniment to the Thanksgiving spoils!

Braised Red Cabbage
1 Head red cabbage
4-5 Garlic cloves, crushed
Olive oil
White wine -or- Apple cider vinegar 
Sea salt
Garnish: fresh chives

This recipe can be made ahead of time and reheated, but it will not take up room in your oven on Thanksgiving, so you can choose what to make of it. It is a delicious alternative to cranberry sauce next to the turkey for those looking for something less sweet, but still with that incredible color!

Chop the head of cabbage into two and remove the core. Then you simply slice off thin strips of the cabbage until you've cut it all up. Then crush your garlic cloves and you're ready to go! Easy prep, easy cook.

In a large pot, heat about 2 T of olive oil until it is shimmering and add your cabbage. Toss and turn that cabbage until it is well coated and has a chance for every piece to get some heat. Throw in the garlic and stir with the cabbage until you smell those warmed cloves release their fragrance. By this time you might have a few pieces sticking to the bottom...never fear it is time to add the wine or apple cider vinegar! About a 1/4 cup will do, if you need more then just add more, there really isn't a measurement. Now listen to that hiss...and scrape up the brown bits at the bottom--they add such a wonderful flavor to the entire dish. At this point you can stir well and put a top on it, checking periodically if the liquid has dried up and tossing the cabbage up a bit. The top will help cook everything through, and deal with the quantity of cabbage because a full head can be a big deal.

Braising means slow cooking, so you can cook as long as you want to. Keep tasting the cabbage until it reaches the desired braise, sweetness, and color you are aiming to achieve. Serve with a garnish of fresh chives.

Homemade Green Bean Casserole
  • 1 lb fresh green beans, washed, trimmed, and cut in half
  • 3 T Olive oil
  • 1 Onion, sliced as thin as you can manage
  • 1 lb Mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
  • 1/2 C White wine
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 2 Whole cloves
  • 2 C Half and half
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 2T Flour

I love love love The Splendid Table, and this recipe has changed me forever on Green Bean Casseroles. I am the one who strategically places herself next to the green bean casserole on Thanksgiving in order to sneak bites directly out of the casserole dish. That's love. What Lynne has done with this recipe is add some real surprises like flavoring with bay leaf, clove, and nutmeg...and it seriously changes the dynamic from wonderful to mind-blowing! My only suggestion would be to make a roux and stir it into the cream of mushroom as a thickener. If you follow the link above, she actually gives you another recipe for Cream of Mushroom soup, and perhaps that will come out thicker. Either way, the flavor is so phenomenal that I could sacrifice the gloopy soup for that delightful cream sauce. 

As you can see, the ingredients do not include French's French Fried Onions, and you may scoff, but I think I've moved on from that point in my life. These thinly sliced onions crisped up in olive oil add the perfect flavor to this dish. I'm aiming for as much non-processed food as possible, and I found that my beloved Green Bean Casserole was the first to be revamped! Couldn't be happier that I chose to do that!

Your first step is to blanche the green beans in boiling salted water for a little under 5 minutes. They will bloom into a bright green color and swell a little bit. At this point, drain the beans and set aside in a colander.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat with the olive oil. Wait until the olive oil is shimmering and then add the onions, they will sizzle and start to caramelize after about 3 minutes if you sliced them thin enough. Cook them to your desired shade of golden awesomeness without burning them, strain and remove them from the oil and lay them on paper towels or cheesecloth. Reserve. 

Preheat your oven to 375º at this point.

Prepare the cream of mushroom by reheating the olive oil over high heat, and adding the quartered mushrooms. The quartered mushrooms are incredible in the final product--even non-mushroom lovers have commented on how great the taste and mouthfeel are! Brown the mushrooms in the skillet. What will happen is the mushrooms will release their water and start cooking in their juices, when the juices evaporate and redistribute, the mushrooms should be brown enough. Then it is time to add the bay leaf, cloves, salt and pepper, then deglaze with wine, scraping up the bottom of the skillet. 

If you are making a roux, do so while the wine is reducing. Heat a skillet with a bit of olive oil over high heat and add 2T of flour, then cook until your desired color, which will be pretty light for this dish. Add the roux at the end as a thickener. 

Allow the wine to reduce almost completely and then pour in the half and half. Heat on medium heat now until the half and half thickens. Go fishing for the bay leaf and clove and remove them, then season with salt, black pepper, and nutmeg. You can add your roux now and thicken up the soup. Throw in the green beans and get everything mixed up. Then turn into a baking dish and bake for about 20 minutes in the oven. Then put the onions on top and cook another 3-5 minutes until warmed.

NOM NOM!!!!!!

4-5 Bottles red wine (quality is negligible)
3/4 C sugar (see why it's negligible?)
Peel of 1-2 Oranges
2 Cinnamon sticks
5 Whole cloves
1 t Ground ginger
Optional: additional spirits like bourbon, rum, cognac, vodka, etc.

I fell in love with Glühwein when I lived in Austria. This drink is typically served at the Weihnachtsmarkts or Christmas Markets--and yes, they are as magical as they sound. Because I associate this warm drink with a happy holiday, lifelong friends, and soaking up the culture of the "Old World", it has become a staple to my holiday season. So here is the recipe I brought back with me, along with many happy memories.

In a large pot, combine all of the ingredients together and heat until the sugar has dissolved. This is the perfect time to serve the Glühwein, but you can keep it heated over low heat or even in a crock pot--open for self service. If you are adding additional spirits to give this mulled wine a little kick, stir it in while the Glühwein is heating. Serve in festive mugs and I can guarantee merry-making will ensue.

Turkey napkin: folded at my home workstation :)

And that, dear friends, is my guide to a Happy Thanksgiving! If you have any questions, don't hesitate to send me a comment. Also, check out my planning and decorating suggestions:

“The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things…” (thank you Lewis Carroll) of turkeys and stuffing and cranberry sauce, of pies and napkin rings!
Thanksgiving is the kickoff to the greatest time of the year, in my humble opinion–although I have a feeling I’m not alone. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I absolutely love planning Thanksgiving: from menu selections to compiling recipes and grocery lists, from decorations to pulling off that epic meal. I cannot wait to have my home full of friends and family.
I do have a few Thanksgivings under my belt, serving small crowds from 10 to 21 hungry guests, and enjoying every minute of it. So in the pursuit of happy holidays, I do have a few recommendations, and especially some advice for Thanksgiving in our fair city. The first part of Louisville Lady Gourmet’s Thanksgiving special will give a guideline to shopping and decorations as well as organizing a so-called game plan for the big day.
The Turkey
If you’re going for a vegetarian or vegan, pescatarian or turkey-alternative thanksgiving, I’ll point you in the direction of Rainbow Blossom, Fresh Market (awesome fish selection), and Kingsley Meats respectively.
For the rest of you, let’s get down to logistics: you should buy a turkey that weighs about a pound and a half per person attending your meal. Sure, nobody is going to eat a pound and a half of meat along with all of those sides, but you are paying for the bones as well. If you have an emergency cancellation, no worries, leftovers are a celebration in and of itself (I’ve only managed that one year…).
As for where to purchase your turkey, I highly recommend a fresh Heritage bird or an Amish bird. These turkeys taste legitimately richer, they aren’t injected with saline solutions or chemicals for preservation’s sake, and preparing a healthy bird is a true way to celebrate our harvest–respecting everything that comes to our tables. Two of my prime recommendations for fresh turkeys are available right in Louisville: Grasshoppers CSA and Kingsley Meats.
Grasshoppers is currently taking orders for local farm-raised, organic Thanksgiving turkeys 14-25 lbs at $4.25/lb to be picked up on Nov. 19th or 20th between 10AM-6PM. I love the Grasshoppers CSA people; they are truly doing something great for our city–and now for our holidays. They also offer accompanying Thanksgiving sides, produce, and tested recipes, available for order.
Kingsley Meats is where I have personally bought my turkey for my Thanksgivings in Louisville, and they offer Amish turkeys based on whatever size you request. The Kingsley Meats people are always pleasant to do business with, and I was able to schedule my pick up time (very helpful for Thanksgiving madness). They run $3.69/lb and you can order in person at their 2701 Taylorsville Rd. location or order by phone like I did at 502.459.7585.
**Note, if you are getting a fresh bird, try to make your pick up within a day or two of Thanksgiving day. This gives you enough time to brine the bird if that’s the way you go and keeps the bird in the safe zone for refrigeration.
If you’re not into cooking the turkey (say what?!?!), I recently heard that our local Mark’s Feed Store is selling 12-14lb smoked turkeys for $29.99. They also have sides available. Orders for the turkeys have to be in by Sunday the Nov. 18, and they can be picked up before Thanksgiving (they’re closed on Thanksgiving day). This offer runs all the way through the season until Christmas Eve (also due the Sunday before).
Now that the bird is arranged for, I suggest you make a list of recipes that you are going to use on Thanksgiving. Try something new, gather some traditional recipes, or dig in those food memories and call up a family member who would love to pass on a Thanksgiving favorite. This is the best part of preparation, and it is what gets the ball rolling for the rest of your planning. Break the recipes up into make-ahead and day-of preparation…the more you can prepare ahead of time the better, but consider refrigeration space.
The Grocery List
Next, you need to build your grocery list from your recipe collection. Include measurements so that you buy enough, and don’t forget that ingredients often repeat in other recipes. Break your shopping into two trips if you need to: first trip you can go to the farmer’s market or the local grocery to buy ingredients for dishes you can make ahead of time, and the second trip will be for the rest of your ingredients and whatever you forgot (you will forget something, no matter how much you plan). This is a good point to decide who your kitchen wingman/wingwoman will be, because you’ll need to call on them for prep assistance/damage control/emergency grocery runs.
Festive Decorations
Food is the first priority of course, but there are other important aspects of the holiday celebration including decorations and how you will plan the meal. Centerpieces or cornucopias are traditional, but I think some smaller details like candles and flower arrangements can make a great ambiance. Going to the local florist can be a great way to get this started. I love getting ideas from someone who knows what they’re doing, and you can choose something unique. I use Pinotti’s Florist on Bardstown Road by the Twig and Leaf.
You need to decide how you want to serve your meal, if you want to serve in courses, family style, or buffet style (or plan a pot-luck…I’ve never done it, but it does require some organization and commitment from your guests)–all have pros and cons. I think serving in courses is a good pace for the host because everything can come out hot, and it gives the turkey time to rest while the guests can start with a salad and terrine or soup. It really depends on the number of people and how you want to plan the meal.
Also, you should consider place settings. Setting a festive table will make everyone feel like it’s a special occasion. A simple way to accomplish this is by folding your napkin in a turkey shape (yes, I’m that nerdy), or finding autumnal napkin rings. Also you can set the table with all of the silverware necessary to plow through the meal–it will be easier on you and make for a nice presentation.
My final idea is to have a Thanksgiving tablecloth runner or wall tapestry where your guests can write down something they’re thankful for. My family did this and every year we could look at what we were thankful for–it’s nice perspective to remind ourselves who and what is important in our lives.
I think that’s enough to chew on for this part of the Thanksgiving special. I’ll be back later this week with some menu suggestions, recipes, and an outline for having a really Happy Thanksgiving! Can you feel my enthusiasm yet?

The happiest of holidays to you and your gathering of friends and family. It's sure to be delicious!

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