Friday, November 23, 2007

The bird is the word

This is my last "visit" to Maryland. After this, I will be living here and visiting Chicago. Elijah and I (yes, that's the Amazing E's name) had Thanksgiving together yesterday. I have to say, it was a nice way to spend our last time together until we are married next weekend.

This is E himself doing his best GQ pose while sneaking more leftovers tonight.

I cooked. E helped. He did! Don't tell him, but he did most of the scut work like peeling things. However, he did make one of the dishes, and it was fabulous. On the menu was an Empire Kosher turkey breast, mashed potatoes (a la E), sweet potatoes, green beans, potato rolls, and home made apple pie.

Let me stop here to thank Elijah. When I make mashed potatoes, they are a shame on my Irish heritage. Mashed potatoes produced by my hand turn into glue and are truly revolting. E's were light and fluffy and totally awesome. Congratulations, E.

The turkey was not so nice. It was juicy and perfectly done. However, the meat had been freezer burned, so it had a funny taste and was a little spongy. Shame shame.

I want to give you to recipes. Well, actually two cooking guidelines. I cook by taste, and don't really measure things. When I took over cooking for my family on holidays a few years ago, I made it my mission to replace a couple of recipes. Those being the gravy (which had for years come from a foil pouch) and the sweet potatoes. I hated both gravy and sweet potatoes most of my life. The gravy was just weird and the sweet potatoes too sweet, like candy. I beg the forgiveness of my family for saying this, and don't ever wish to besmirch the memory of my grandmother, but I didn't like her gravy or sweet potatoes. After trying some other recipes, I've settled on two replacements. Port Gravy and Pecan Sweet Potatoes.

For the gravy:

Pan drippings
1 (or so) cups of water or turkey stock. Use chicken broth if you must, but use canned and not the godawful cube. You can make a weak stock from the neck if you have a free burner.
1 tsp-ish taragon
a little thyme
1/4 cup (or more) of port wine. Tawny is best.
1/4 cup whipping cream. This is not a Kosher recipe.
Salt and pepper to taste

Take the bird from the pan, draining any juices into the pan. Put the pan on the burner over medium heat, adding a little of the additional stock or water. Deglaze the pan well, scraping the brown bits with a spatula. Allow it all to simmer for a moment.

Pour the liquid, any veggies in the pan, and the turkey schmutz through a mesh strainer into a Pyrex cup or fat separator. Smash the solid things a little to release any good liquid hiding there. Discard the solids. Remove as much fat as you can from the broth. pour the broth into a 1 or 2 quart saucepan and add more liquid to make up two cups. Add the seasonings to taste. Turn on the heat and bring the stuff to a simmer.

Add 1/4 cup (or a little less) of the port. A little really goes a long way here, so you may want to add half, taste it, and add more. Drink any leftovers, if you're a mind. Don't waste good port; it will enhance your appetite for the meal ahead.

Mix a flour and cold water thickening mixture in a separate cup, making sure to break up any lumps. Over low heat, add a little at a time while whisking until the gravy is thick enough. The alcohol from the wine should be gone now. Remove from heat and whisk in the cream.

Serve over your favorite Thanksgiving vittles. Whew, this is rich stuff.

For the sweet potatoes:

3 pounds of sweet potaotes, peeled and cubed
8 ounces pecan halves
1 egg white
1/4 cup plus a little more brown sugar
a couple pats of butter
a sprinkle of cinnamon
a sprinkle of cumin
a sprinkle of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste

Place the sweet potatoes in a saucepan big enough to hold them, and put them on over medium-low heat. Add the butter 1/4 cup brown sugar, cinnamon, and a little salt and pepper. Cover the pot and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the biggest pieces are tender. Stir occasionally during the cooking to keep the bottom from burning and to slightly mash the potatoes. At the end of cooking, you want some whole pieces and some mashed. While cooking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Take the pot off the heat and spread the potatoes in a small baking pan. Mix the nuts, a tablespoon or so of brown sugar, salt, pepper, cumin, cayanne, and the egg white in another bowl until everything is well coated. Spread the nuts over the potatoes and bake for 15 minutes until the nuts are crunchy.

Makes a nice sweet and savory dish.
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