Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving thoughts and holiday menu ideas

Whew….its over, I am exhausted but happy and thankful.  I am thankful for my family of course, for the warm words said around the table, for a chance to see people I don’t often do…. I am also thankful and happy for the fact that I executed the entire menu, that nothing burned and no one got food poisoning, that everything was more or less delicious and that I didn’t break a single glass while washing the dishes…  Here are a few lessons learned and some highlights:

If you have a chance to cure your own gravlax -  go for it, I discovered yet another recipe and honestly this was the best gravlax I ever made or tasted…. It will be in the next post so keep an eye out…

It totally pays off watching Iron Chef… I swiped the recipe for a modern clams Casino from Bobby Flay from the Thanksgiving battle he just did partnered up with Michael Simon… I tried to duplicate what I saw and this is a delicious dish with creamy clam, salty bits of pancetta, freshness from the pesto and crisp from the topping (recipe at the end of this post)…

Every Thanksgiving should begin by painting cookies with your child the night ( or two) before…it will be the last peaceful moment, you the cook will know until Friday morning…
If you going to invent a great appetizer, go all out... here is the roast of venison served on a crostini with truffled chestnut pure, sweet and tangy sauces, topped with crispy onions and enoki mushrooms 

Sometimes it does not pay to listen to Iron Chefs so much, I made the Cherry chili tart that won Alex Guarnaschelli the Iron Chef post and all I can say it was very creative if not delicious…. But now that I already made a trip to the city for Pastille chilies, I have another great idea for desert which is totally my own so look out Iron Chefs…

If you are going to make something like boudin blanc from scratch yourself, make sure you have at least once tried it made by professionals otherwise you will embarrass yourself… as delicious a the my white sausage and warm cabbage salad was… it was no boudin blanc…or so I was told by one of the guests who is in fact French. 

A great side dish... creamy polenta cakes with fall vegetables ragout...
If you decide to serve soup shots in chilled cucumber glasses, make sure you have a plan the real shot glasses...  Making shots out of cucumber only looks easy on TV
No pictures of the turkey or deserts because by the time the second and third courses are served, I am to tired, drunk to give a crap about the pictures… I always regret it later… because the bird was beautiful and delicious.  If you have a smoker and you are not smoking the turkey, it is a crime…. Only slow smoked turkey in my future, thank you very much (recipe at the end of the post)…

Thanksgiving should not be about the food, we all know that, but it is nice to know I can still make people cry for mercy as they crawl out of the dining room undoing the top button of their pants…

Baked Clams

12 large clams

4 tablespoons finely diced pancetta or bacon or spec or chorizo (I used pancetta for the clams and chorizo for the topping)

½ cup chopped fresh basil

1 garlic clove

¼ cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

2 tbs crème fraiche

For the topping

1 cup bread crumbs

2 tbs finely diced chorizo

2 tbs butter melted and cooled

Make the topping… in a small skillet crisp up the chorizo, than mix the rendered fat and melted butter with the bread crumbs ( food processor is very useful for this)… set aside

Scrub your clams, than place them in a shallow pot with ½ inch of water, cover with a lid and cook on medium for 1 minute or until they just slightly start to open up.  The idea is not to cook them but to open them.  With a dull or oyster knife, force open the shells, scoop out the clam meat and reserve the half shells.

In a small skillet crisp up the bacon or the pancetta, let cool.  In a food processor, make quick pesto by zapping basil, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper until the mixture is smooth and a little runny.  A little lemon zest is nice in here as well.  Chop up the clam meat, combine with pancetta, a little pesto and crème fraiche, mix well.  Stuff each half shell with the clam mixture, top generously with the chorizo bread crumbs and cook under the broiler for a few minutes until the toping is crispy and golden brown.  Serve immediately on a platter covered in thick layer of salt ( helps the shells stay in place and not rattle around)….
Smoked whole Turkey
The recipe is for a 20 lb turkey but can be easily scaled up or down.
For the brine:
1 gallon apple cider
1 gallon of water
2 large oranges cut up
2 apples cut up
1 lemon cut up
2 inch knob of fresh ginger cut up
1 ½ cup of kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
Whole head of garlic
A large bunch of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tbs of whole peppercorns
1 tbs smoked paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp mild chili powder
A large brine bag
Turkey stuffing (just aromatics and not meant as actual stuffing)
1 lemon cut up
1 apple cut up
1 stalk of celery
1 inch knob of fresh ginger
6 garlic cloves
One small shallot
A generous bunch of fresh parsley
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
Montreal Chicken Seasoning
1 tsp smoked paprika
¼ cup of olive oil
1 stick of butter cut in cubes

Basting liquid
2 ½ lbs of butter melted and cooled
8 oz of amber beer
8 oz of apple cider
4 oz of orange juice
1 orange
1 small red chili pepper ( seeds removed)
¼ cup maple syrup
½ tbs salt
A large cheese cloth
Make the brine… combine all the ingredients in a large stock pot, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes… Cool the brine completely.  Rinse your whole turkey inside and out, place in a the brining bag breast side down and pour the brine over it, submerging the turkey completely.  Tie the bag securely and  store in the refrigerator for at least 36 hours or up to 4 days. 
On cooking day, take out the turkey, pat it dry inside and out.  Salt and pepper the cavity generously than stuff with all the stuffing aromatics…  With your palm of your hand separate the skin from the breast (try not to tear it) and stuff all the butter cubes between the breast meat and the skin.  Rub the outside with olive oil, season with seasoning spices and let it sit out of the fridge for at least 1 -2 hrs before going in the smoker.
Prepare your smoker, add the wood chips and make sure you get the temperature between 250F and 260F degrees…. Soak the cheese cloth in the melted butter and wrap it all around the turkey, it will prevent the skin from going too dark.
Make the basting liquid, combine beer, cider and oj in a sauce pan, add orange, chili, maple syrup and salt.  Simmer for 20-25 minutes until the liquid is slightly reduced.  Discard the orange and chili, add the rest of the melted butter.
Smoke the turkey at approximately 250F for 5 -6 hrs, basting every  30 -40 minutes with basting liquid.  You need to keep the cheese cloth moist and buttery otherwise it will stick to the skin.  Remove the cheese cloth the last 30 minutes of cooking and the skin will be perfectly crispy.
Let the turkey rest for at least 30 minutes before carving, and if you have any basting liquid left over you can pour it on top of the turkey before carving.

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