Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Let's Get Cookin'!

The day before Thanksgiving and the house is full of delicious aromas!  Here is our family's Thanksgiving Dinner menu:

Roast Turkey with Champagne Gravy
Mashed Potatoes
Country Stuffing with Apples, Sausage and Pecans
Orange-Ginger Cranberry Sauce
Bourbon-Glazed Sweet Potatoes
Green Beans Almondine
Sweet Corn with Bacon and Onion
DJ’s Green Bean Casserole
Autumn Salad with Granny Smith Vinaigrette
Deviled Eggs
Homemade Rolls

Pumpkin Pie with Spiced Whipped Cream
Apple Pie with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Maple Cream Puffs
Lemon Bars
Caramel Corn
Sugar-and-Spice Nuts
Sparkling Cider
Stumptown Coffee with Cream or Eggnog
Hot Mulled Cider
We don't have a lot of women in the family.  Growing up, it was mostly women, so there were many hands to cook and do dishes.  When I married and entered the Wells Family, it was a 50/50 split.  But now it falls mainly to me, with my mom being a good help.  I'm trying to get my daughters more into the holiday spirit, but it's actually my son who loves to cook.  This year he said to me, "I'm going to cook with you on Thanksgiving Day."  I think those may have been the most exciting words of the season to me!  And, he's already planning our Christmas Dinner menu!  Justin works at The Painted Lady, the finest restaurant in all of Oregon and winner of a multitude of awards.  In the whole world there are only 18 restaurants that have a Zagat score of 29, and The Painted Lady is one of them.  So, when Justin tells me he has a good idea for our holiday menu, I listen!!
Turkey is turkey...or is it?  To brine or not brine, that is the question.  I've brined and I've wrapped and I've basted and I've roasted.  Every time my turkey turns out delicious, so I've decided to go with what is easier, which is roasting and basting...this year with a champagne stock.  I take out my big naked bird and put him in the kitchen sink for a bath like a baby.  Then I take him out and pat him dry.  Then I rub lotion...I mean butter...all over his pink skin.  I actually separate the skin from the meat and slide my hand into the space to rub butter and herbs beneath the skin, which moistens the meat and gives the skin extra crispiness.  Then I stuff him and stick him in the oven.  I still stuff my bird, even though all the magazines and cook books say not to.  I make a lot more stuffing than will fit in the turkey, and the rest of the stuffing is baked, so that batch has a beautiful texture and visual appeal.  The stuffing from the turkey is mushy and bland-colored but full of flavor.  So when the turkey is done, I take the stuffing out and mix it with my baked stuffing so I get great flavor and great texture.  My family isn't really into stuffing.  Jeff and Justin like it, but the other kids don't.  I, on the other hand, LOVE it.  It is my favorite element of the whole meal (and pumpkin pie is my favorite dessert...with those two dishes, I am pretty content).  Because no one loves stuffing like I do, I figure I can do with it whatever I like.  This year I am making a tri-bread stuffing...cornbread, multigrain bread and white bread.  I break up the bread into chunks and let it sit overnight to get stale.  Then the next day I slowly toast it in the oven until it is dry and light as air.  Then tomorrow I will mix in sauteed onion and celery, crumbled sausage, finely diced apple and chopped toasted pecans, and a good sprinkling of fresh and dried herbs--parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme---and salt and pepper and fennel.  Then the whole mixture is dampened with rich turkey stock and butter and then baked to moist but crispy perfection.  I could eat it every day!
The side dishes are pretty important to me, because I'm not a real meat lover.  When I was a kid, I hated gravy and I hated my food to touch.  Now that I'm old, I love my turkey, potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce to mix together with a touch of rich gravy.  Mmmmm.  Potatoes are the one dish I don't mess with, because two of my kids are potato purists.  I've prepared the make-ahead recipe with cream cheese and sour cream and I like it, but my kids think I've ruined them, so I'm back to good ole russet potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed with butter and milk.  I'm also the only one who likes sweet potatoes, so again, I get to do what I want.  This year I'm making mine with a bourbon glaze.  Now, I had to go to the liquor store to buy the bourbon.  I felt so evil coming out of that store with my little brown bag without a label.  Funny thing, though, is that I had Anna with me.  When I bought my little tiny bottle of bourbon, the cashier carded us both.  I thought it was just protocol and I wasn't flattered.  Anna didn't have her ID with her, so the cashier said she couldn't sell us the alcohol.  I said, "Really?  Well, Anna, why don't you go back to the car."  The cashier said she needed both our IDs.  I'm thinking, "There is no way I pass for under 21."  I'm not that naive!  I pulled out my driver's license and said, "This is my daughter."  Then the cashier did a double-take.  "No!  I never would have guessed that.  This is your daughter?!"  Well, then, I can sell it to you.  But when friends come in, if even one friend is underage I can't sell it to any of them.  So, then I was a little pleased that she thought I was Anna's friend and not her mother!  So back to the sweet potatoes, they have just 1/3 of a cup of bourbon in the glaze, as well as espresso and maple syrup.  I think they sound delicious and I can't wait to try them.
The vegetables are necessary, and I do eat them, although I know none of my kids do.  My mom is making green beans because she found beautiful, fresh beans.  But she is also doing (gulp)...Green Bean Casserole.  Just the other day I saw a Campbell's soup ad in a magazine and the dish they featured was the "classic" green bean know, the one with the cream of mushroom soup and crispy onions on top?  I said right out loud, "Oh, gross!" because, of all the dishes in the world, that one brings back the worst childhood memories!!  I hated that dish!  But my mom would always make me take some.  I'd pick the crispy onions off the top and eat them, and then push around the beans in the slimy, soupy sauce, hoping my mom would think I'd eaten enough of it.  I haven't eaten that casserole since I left home 25 years ago!  But this year my brother actually requested it!  And my mother was glad!  Oh, well.  I'm grown up now...she can't make me take even one little bite!  Besides the fresh green beans and the infamous casserole, I'm making corn for all the Wellses.  They love their corn.  To me, it's not a vegetable; it's one more carb that competes with my love for carby stuffing, so out it goes.  But because it's everyone's holiday, I'll make it for them.  I have a friend who makes hers a little differently, and I thought it sounded like a welcome change.  I'm using super-sweet frozen niblets and then adding butter, crumbled bacon, sauteed onion and a splash of whipping cream.  (I think I might even put a little on my plate!)
Salad is another item that I think my family wouldn't miss if I didn't make it, but I love a really good salad stuffed full of goodies, so it's always on the menu.  This year I'm using mixed greens with a little arugula, spinach and romaine and then tossing in pomegranate seeds, roasted pumpkin seeds, diced apple, green onion, feta cheese and toasted hazelnuts and then drizzling on a homemade Granny-Smith apple vinaigrette.  My mom will bring another childhood staple (this one I did like), which is Ruby Salad (actually Emerald Salad, but that one is green....this one is red, so we call it Ruby Salad).  It's a classic 60's Jell-O dish of red jello, cool whip and cream cheese.  I never eat Jell-O any more, but like the corn, I'll probably put one tiny spoonful on my plate.
Then there is the relish tray.  Pickles have never tickled me much, whether sweet or dill, and I really dislike green olives.  But I love black olives.  Still to this day I'm tempted to put one on each finger and eat them off my hands!  And then there are marvelous deviled eggs.  I only like my mom's recipe.  She doesn't put pickles in them and her secret ingredient is a dash of horseradish.  Gives them just a faint finish of zip.  Sooo good!
Finally, I'll bake some homemade rolls.  Again, I rarely eat a roll with dinner...too many carbs and too filling when I want to be full of I usually just buy rolls.  But this year I thought I'd get a little adventurous and make my own.  My sister sent me her favorite recipe and I rolled out some pretty nice looking little buns....half whole-wheat and half white.  I just might have one of those this year too!
Here are pictures of dinner preparations:
My game plan...Menu, recipes, grocery list, prep schedule
and Big Day order of events.  My mom and my sister and I
sat down together over coffee and via Skype to plan our
holidays together.  So fun!
Dry bread ready for dressing

Dinner rolls ready to rise

Processing the apple for the vinaigrette
When dinner is done, we'll do dishes in 10-minutes shifts and everyone will take a turn.  Then we'll put on some grubby clothes and head outside for a mean game of football to burn off a few calories.  After getting thoroughly wet and dirty, it's back inside for dessert!
Every year is pumpkin and apple pie.  I make my own pumpkin pie from scratch, starting with roasting the pumpkin.  Many years ago, my dear sister-in-law made the pumpkin pie for the Wells family each year and no one liked it.  She roasted the pumpkin and went to all the work of a homemade pie and then no one ate it.  One year---and I'm not sure why---I made a pie too (Libby's canned pumpkin), and everyone ate mine but not hers.  So then her feelings were hurt and she refused to make another one.  That's when I found out she was buying her pumpkin at the grocery store...just a regular carving pumpkin.  I enlightened her that she must use a pie pumpkin, not a carving pumpkin, for her pies.  Pie pumpkins are fleshy and rich, carving pumpkins are watery, stringy and tasteless.  It's hard to find good pumpkins in Alberta because it is a frozen wasteland in the winter, so that's why I had always fallen back on dependable Libby's canned pumpkin.  But one day my sister-in-law was visiting a friend in Ontario and there was a pumpkin patch.  She bought two pumpkins and carried them home to Alberta on the plane in her carry-on and made excellent pies for our Thanksgiving Dinner...and won rave reviews from all!  She was happy (and so were we!).  Here in Oregon, pie pumpkins are abundant and delicious, so I buy a few every fall right from the pumpkin patch!  When Jeff and I went to the Hood River Apple Festival a few weeks ago, we picked a big bucket of apples for pie.  I love my pie with lots of spices.  No bland, sugary apples for me!  I like lots of cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg and even clove.  And always real pastry for the pie crust, with a wonderful flake and sugar-crunch top. 
After the traditional and mandatory pumpkin and apple pies, I like to switch it up.  This year I decided on maple cream puffs.  I found a recipe for maple custard, which I will fold into freshly whipped cream and then fill my little puffs.  My mom is bringing lemon bars and homemade caramel corn, which everyone loves.  It's addicting...I actually have a hard time stopping myself from consuming too much!
Then to wash everything down, we'll sip Martinelli's sparkling cider with dinner and then make a good pot of Stumptown coffee with a splash of eggnog or hot spiced cider with our dessert.  The rest of the night is board games.  Everyone plays, and it's a great way to end the day.  The football game was on TV all morning and early afternoon while dinner was being prepared, so the guys are "good sports" and turn off the TV and join the family for the rest of the day, and everyone is happy!
Here are pictures of dessert preparations:
pumpkins in the oven, ready to roast

After 1 hour, I cut them in quarters to continue roasting
(easier to cut through the hard squash after it's softened a bit)

Roasted pumpkin meat

Pureed pumpkin meat, draining

Pie crust rolled out, making leaf cut-outs to decorate the pies

pumpkin pies

Apple pie
Cream Puff pastry

Cream puffs ready to be filled

1 comment:

  1. All I can say is...UNBELIEVABLE! Sounds like a wonderful dinner. A few things I could do without, but overall...sounds, and looks great.
    Have fun Karyn. I do miss not having you all with us. Maybe another year.
    Love you, Sasa