Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Most turkeys taste better the day after, my mother’s tasted better the day before. ~Rita Rudner, comedian

Traditional Holiday Dinner - turkey version

A lot of us enjoy turkey on Thanksgiving, as did my family.  We actually bought two turkeys anticipating more demand than we had, so we ended up freezing the second one and I made it up for Christmas as well.  We sort of did the gathering in pieces and had part one at my daughter's home on Christmas Eve, where she served a beautiful ham and delicious home-made rolls and sweet potato casserole and green beans.  I brought the mashed potatoes, the cranberries, and some spiced nuts.  The Christmas day thing was just very low-key.  In fact, it was so low-key that we decided not to do a 'dinner' at all, but rather to treat the meal as the left-overs that we all know are so good.  We just had a lunch so we could all go home early and kinda crash.  I cooked up the turkey (explanation to follow), and removed all the meat from the bones.  We made sandwiches on nice bread and had a salad.  Then the day after Christmas, we had my son's brothers over for another round of holiday dinner yummies and some games.  (We highly recommend Apples to Apples!)

Let me explain it dish by dish...

First, the star of the show, the turkey.  Last year I followed Alton Brown's advice for roasting the bird and it came out great.  This year I saw Cook's Illustrated had a way to BRAISE the bird.  I love braised foods, so I had to give it a try.

First, I broke it down.  I got to pull out my really nice meat cleaver for this.  However, since this recipe is for parts, they actually suggest that you buy a turkey breast and turkey legs.  That would save you the butchery, if that bothers you.  It doesn't bother me.  Buying in parts would also save you time, but then you don't get the other parts, which are good for stock.  Your choice.
I took the legs apart and cut the breast away from the back.  The stuff in the black pan got further broken down (read: hacked up) and I made a nice stock with it.   The parts on the cutting board got brined for about 6 hours.

Here's the bed of veg for the turkey:
Carrots, celery, onion, garlic, parsley, dried porcini mushrooms (which I rinsed and rehydrated in warm water - that water went into the braising liquid, too).

You rub the bird with butter, then roast it in a 500 degree oven for about 20 min.  This was supposed to develop the crisp skin that's so desirable.  I loved most everything about this recipe, but this one area fell a little flat.  For me, though, it was no big deal since I removed the skin in the end anyway.  I guess you could roast it a bit longer if you were after the crispy skin.  After the roasting, you put in the stock and some wine.

Then they want you to cover it tightly with foil.  Well, it's awfully hard to wrap a HOT thing tightly with foil!  Of course I had on my mitts, but I had trouble getting the foil to really form to the pan.  Enter my Engineer Husband - "Why don't you use some of those black clips?"  Now, I use these clips ALL the time in my kitchen and I love 'em, but I hadn't thought of that till he said so.  Naturally, it worked perfectly.  This gets put back into a lower temp oven for about two hours.  I checked mine at 1:45 hours and it had reached it's temp.

I got these turkey lifters a few holidays ago, but they've been cumbersome to use with whole big birds.  With the bird already in  parts, though, these were perfect transportation vehicles.

I also followed their gravy recipe and it came out really nice - and I'm not a huge gravy person.  However, I accidentally left it at home so the family didn't get to try it.  :-(

That's where Cook's Illustrated leaves you - serving the hot bird.  But I made this bird the day BEFORE the gathering - we always do this in my family.  

I cut the meat off the breast as neatly as I could and placed it on the left.  I hand-shredded the dark meat and placed it on the right.  Then I shredded as much of the remaining white meat as I could and put it with the rest of the white meat.

Then I put the braising liquid back into the pan with the meat to keep it moist.

Then I just covered it up and refrigerated it till the next day.  We warmed it in the oven and made delicious sandwiches with it.

Save the crispy skin thing, this came out very nice and I'd definitely do it again.

Orange-Cranberry Sauce.  This was done in a pretty usual way - to a point.  Berries, water, and sugar in a pan.  But I read another CI recipe and gave this variation a try....Added the zest of an orange to the cooking. Then, off heat, added two tablespoons of Grand Marnier.  I was a little afraid of it being a little too... well, boozy.  But I had a spare set of ingredients and could recover if it failed.  But it did not fail.  It was quiet nice and I will be making it again.  Soon.

Mashed Potato Casserole.  In another recipe from CI, I made this nice potato dish.

It called for Russets, but I had Yukon Gold, so that's how it went.  In these potatoes are all the good things...cream, butter, garlic, chives, eggs (don't worry, this dish gets baked).  They gave me the hint to swirl it with a fork to make it look fancy and get crispy golden peaks.  Everyone liked 'em.

Spiced Nuts.  For munching, I made these spiced nuts which I made last year and were a big hit.  This is the cinnamon version from ATK Family Cookbook.  This is so easy.  You beat an egg white or two (depending on how much you're making).  Coat the nuts with the egg whites - thoroughly.  This is what will make the spices stick to the nuts, so they need to get moist all over.  Then you drain them off in a colander for about five minutes - we don't need the excess.  Then you coat the nuts with your spice mixture and spread it out on a rimmed baking sheet or two - I used two for two pounds.  Bake it, stirring up the nuts and rotating the pans halfway through. 

There are many ways you could go with the spices, there are several variations in the cookbook, but my family likes the cinnamon sugar version.  There are a few more spices than that, but that is what I think of when I think of these nuts.
I make two pounds for the holiday gatherings.  That lasts a couple of days.  I use equal parts walnuts, pecans, and almonds.  They are always a big hit with kids and adults alike.

Dessert.  I don't think there was a pie anywhere this season for us...But we had lots of other sweets around.  I made Mexican Wedding Cookies a.k.a. Russian Teacakes, but didn't get a picture of that.  I also made these Oatmeal Fudge Bars:

These are pretty rich, so I cut them into pretty small squares.  This is also the first chocolate recipe that I have tried where I also used a bit of espresso powder.  Now, I don't like coffee, nor do I like coffee-related desserts like Tiramisu or mocha ice cream.  But I keep hearing how just a little espresso powder 'enhances' the chocolate. So I gave it a try - and these are very nice.  The chocolate seems, I don't know...more sophisticated?  I will be trying other recipes using that espresso powder.

Well, that's about it for me.  Clearly it was a Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen holiday for me.  Darn them.  They keep putting out books and magazines and I keep thinking I don't need another one, but then I see the new issue and there's stuff in there I want.  Well, I do love what they do, and I recommend their TV shows and books to anyone trying to learn how to cook and/or bake.  They're on PBS as Cook's Country and America's Test Kitchen.

Hope everyone's holiday was lovely and filled with loved ones.  Merry Christmas!  and Happy New Year!


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