Sunday, November 29, 2009

thanksgiving report

The Turkey:

Mmm. Brined and bronzed. Alton Brown's Good Eats recipe proved delicious, if a bit precarious. (Pray you have a self-cleaning oven.) But the crispy, Peking-duck-esque skin and moist flesh were worth all the smoke and splattering. Plus, it was really, really ridiculously good looking.

The Stuffing:

Prior to this year, I was a serial dater when it came to stuffings, perpetually playing the field. No longer. This stuffing, adapted from Silver Palate, is the equivalent of a culinary soul mate. It deserves its own holiday.

The Sides:

Our buffet included the familiar line-up of Thanksgiving sides, from Brussels sprouts to butternut squash puree. These glazed pearl onions may seem like an afterthought, but they've become a perennial favorite.

The Desserts:

Yes, five desserts (four plus one duplicate) is a bit optimistic for 12 people. But it's not a holiday for moderation. I can't take credit for the pies—two very tasty iterations of the Thanksgiving classics—but I can direct you to the recipes. The pumpkin is particularly of note, both for it's easy press-in shortbread crust, and it's bold spicing.

My contribution was a pear and chocolate cake, which seemed appropriately autumnal and wasn't at risk of redundancy. The pears and chocolate (who knew they made such tasty bedfellows?) sink during baking, enveloped by delicious brown butter cake.


Good Eats Roast Turkey
Adapted from Alton Brown

1 (14 to 16 pound) frozen young turkey

For the brine:
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger
1 gallon heavily iced water

For the aromatics:
1 red apple, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water
4 sprigs rosemary
6 leaves sage
Canola oil

2 to 3 days before roasting: Begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees. Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.

Early on the day or the night before you'd like to eat: Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine. Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.

Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey's cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.

Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.

Corn Bread-Sausage Stuffing With Apples
Adapted from Silver Palate Cookbook

We opted for an out-of-the-bird approach this year, which left the stuffing (or, in this case, dressing) moist and crisp in perfect proportion.

Serves 10-12

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups finely chopped yellow onions
3 tart apples (we used Mutsu and Honeycrisp), cored and chunked; do not peel
1 pound lightly seasoned bulk sausage (breakfast sausage with sage is best)
3 cups coarsely crumbled corn bread
3 cups coarsely crumbled whole-wheat bread
3 cups coarsely crumbled white bread (French or homemade preferred)
2 teaspoons thyme
1 teaspoon sage
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 cups shelled pecan halves

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Melt half of the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and cook, partially covered, until tender and lightly colored, about 25 minutes, Transfer the onions and butter to a large mixing bowl.

Melt the remaining butter in the same skillet. Add the apple chunks and cook over high heat until lightly colored but not mushy. Transfer the apples and butter to the mixing bowl.

Crumble the sausage into the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring, until lightly browned. With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to the mixing bowl and reserve the rendered fat.

Add the remaining ingredients to the ingredients in the mixing bowl and combine gently. Cool completely before stuffing the bird; refrigerate if not used promptly.

If you do not wish actually to stuff the bird, spoon it into a casserole. Cover the casserole and set into a large pan. Pour hot water around the casserole to come halfway up the sides, Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, basting occasionally with the cooking juices from the bird or with the reserved sausage fat if necessary.

Brown-Braised Pearl Onions
Adapted from Julia Child

Please don't be discouraged with the prospect of peeling these little guys. Once you blanch them, the skins slip right off... kind of.

18-24 pearl onions, about 1 inch in diameter
1½ tablespoons butter
1½ tablespoons olive oil
½ cup brown stock, or more [you can also experiment with dry white wine, red wine, or water]
Salt and pepper to taste
4 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme

To peel the onions, cut off the stems with a paring knife and cook in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and immediately plunge blanched onions into a bowl of ice water. Squeeze each onion gently at root end; the skins should pop off.

Heat the oil and butter in a skillet. Add the onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. (You can't expect them to brown uniformly.) Be careful not to break their skins.

Pour in enough liquid to come halfway up the sides of the onions, season to taste, and add the herbs. Cover and simmer slowly for 30 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herbs, and serve warm. [The onions can be cooked hours in advance, and reheated before serving.]

Easy Pumpkin Pie with Press-In Shortbread Crust
Adapted from Martha Stewart

For the crust:
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt

For the filling:
1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Whipped cream, for serving

Make the crust: Stir together butter and sugar in a medium bowl. Stir in yolk. Add flour and salt, and stir until mixture is dry and crumbly. Press dough into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie dish. Freeze until firm, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bake, rotating halfway through, just until crust turns golden brown, 20 to 22 minutes. Let cool in dish on a wire rack.

Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Make the filling: Whisk together pumpkin, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and eggs in a large bowl. Pour filling into prepared piecrust.

Place dish on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, rotating halfway through, until filling is just set and slightly puffed but still a bit wobbly, 65 to 70 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool completely. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 6 hours. (Pie can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.) Serve chilled, topped with whipped cream if desired.

Torta di Pere [Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake]
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who cleverly convinced Al Di La restaurant to share the recipe

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
3 pears, peeled, in a small dice [I used Bosc]
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with flour or breadcrumbs.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. [This will take at least 5 minutes, depending on your equipment.]

While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Place the rest of the butter in a medium saucepan. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise down the center, and using a paring knife to scrape the seeds and pulp onto the butter. Add the vanilla pod to the pan, and cook the butter until the butter browns and smells nutty, about 6 to 8 minutes. Scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Set aside. Remove the vanilla pod and discard.

Add the sugar and vanilla to the eggs and whip a few minutes more. Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to loose volume, turn the mixture down to stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined — no more than a minute from when the flour is first added — and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It is very important not to over-whisk or fold the batter or it will lose volume.

Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes, or a tester comes out clean.


  1. Onions and stuffing: so good, they're keeeling me. And your comment about the bird just gave me an idea for next year: HOISIN.

  2. That is a pretty bird indeed!

    So, what I want to know is, did you prefer the pumpkin pie with shortbread crust, or is the classic style crust the way to go?

    -ChristinaMason (chow)

  3. Christina, I was totally on board with the convenience of the shortbread crust, and it was legitimately delicious. I did miss the appearance of the ruffled perimeter, though, and the extra crust it provides. So, it's kind of a wash. I'd probably go with the classic crust if you have the time...