Eight days and counting. Have you decided what your Thanksgiving menu is yet? The food sections are bursting at the seams with tips and recipes to make your life easier, and hopefully get that old green been casserole off your table. Today I'm organizing my post a bit differently, by course. Hope this helps guide you to what you need to make your Thanksgiving meal the best ever.
There are a myriad of turkey recipes out there. To brine, to marinate, to inject, to salt, to do nothing...how's a cook to decide? Russ Parsons, of the LA Times, thinks a dry brine is best. This is a 3-4 day rest in the fridge with a salt rub on the bird. The bird is put in a plastic bag where it will release some moisture then reabsorb that liquid as the days go along. He then gives it a final bag-free rest in the fridge just to ensure the skin is nice and dry (helps it get ultra-crispy when you roast it). A la Judy Rogers, of Zuni fame, he's trying it this year with flavored salt, which I like. I've used this method on a roasting chicken but never on a turkey. Russ does his testing and when he says a recipe works, it works. The SF Chronicle has published a version of the Chez Panisse brine for years. Taking a cue from this dry-brining trend, they finish their brine a day early then give that bird an overnight rest in the fridge to dry it out. I've used this brine many, many times and think it works beautifully-great flavor and the meat stays incredibly juicy. For a more straight-forward, unbrined, and less fussy version, try Jaque and Julia's version from today's Washington Post. The recipe breaks down their stuffing, stock, and gravy too but I was focusing on the bird. They roast theirs with the backbone cut out-a fantastic trick for speeding the cooking process. The turkey lies almost flat in the roasting pan so everything cooks faster, leaving the white meat juicier and still cooking the legs and thighs to perfection. Your butcher can do it for you or use a sharp set of poultry shears. It's a great trick. Mary Risley, owner of Tante Marie's Cooking School, came by my class last night. Her favorite way for cooking turkey? Throw it in the oven and forget it! "It's just a turkey, now come on!"
On to the sides. Vegetables, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and rolls. Since many families have their traditional ways of cooking the bird, sides are a perfect place to try a new recipe or two. Oh Mark Bittman! You've won me over in the NY Times yet again with another "101" list. I'd swoon but that might just be a bit over the top. This time it's "101 Head Starts on the Day"...dishes you can make in advance so you're night fighting for stove and oven time when crunch time kicks in. Dishes like Apricot Tomato Chutney, Sausage and White Bean Soup with Escarole, Cranberry Polenta Cakes, Spinach and Cheese Pie, Onion Rosemary Skillet Bread, and even a few desserts like Chipotle Britte all come together with short simple paragraphs, basically cooking without a recipe. If you can't find a new, simple side on this list, you're done for! The LA Times has a recipe for Southern Stuffing-cornbread stuffing with very simple seasoning. Looks moist and crispy at the same time, just how stuffing should be. I also love the look of the Stuffed Acorn Squash (basically stuffing baked in the squash-brilliant and lovely). I think they'd be perfect if you're doing dinner for a small group. Finally, I love Brussels sprouts that don't actually taste like Brussels sprouts. I know, I teach cooking and write about food so I probably shouldn't admit that but growing up smelling those little heads of steaming cabbage in the kitchen turned me off on them all together for a long time. I'm back but like my sprouts shredded, crunchy, and mixed with other ingredients-brown butter, lemon, capers, etc. In today's Washington Post they go out on a limb saying they have the Best Brussels Sprouts Ever recipe. You'll have to try it and decide but with 1 pound of bacon to 2 1/2 pounds of Brussels sprouts, I think they might just be right.
If I could have Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, I would but, that's me being selfish. I know people love it but as a huge pie lover myself, I can think of dozens of other fillings I like better. My aunt always froze her blackberries in the summer to made me a blackberry pie at Thanksgiving-loved that. In the LA Times today they propose a light and airy looking Lemon Chiffon Pie. Lemon desserts are so refreshing after a big meal, I'd eat this one in a heartbeat if I thought there wouldn't be anarchy at my table. Gingerbread Cake with Lemon Glaze sounds seasonal and tasty too. You'll find it, along with Caramelized Apple Pecan Cake in the NY Times, where they suggest a break from rolling out dough this holiday season. If you must do it, and I know most of us must, the Washington Post has a recipe for Pumpkin Mousse Pie that takes the dense filling to a lighter place. How? By adding silken tofu. I've had this in similar desserts and, surprisingly, what it does for the texture is amazing. It doesn't add the tofu flavor but gives the filling a great consistency. You don't need to tell anyone it's there...your secret is safe with me.
I'd love to hear about your Thanksgiving table. Any new ideas or are you stuck with traditions?
Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!