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Turkey Day Trials 2016

16 Nov

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Here we go again, folks!  It’s Turkey Day Trials, 2016!

I’m going to invite the teacher to the blog for a moment and grace all of you with a brief history of the tradition.  Turkey Day Trials dates all the way back to November 2010 with culinary experimentation to prepare for the most anticipated foodie day of the year.  It started with prepping for the first Thanksgiving I prepared, lead to grocery store meltdowns, microwaved turkey breast, Kindergarten Turkey cooking (ironically, the frustration of being volun-told to cook for an elementary school “feast” taught me how to make the best bird), appetizers and dips galore, berry mistakes, and finally, comfort food leftovers.  There have been ups and downs, but all have been fun (except last year when I had the stomach flu and could barely scarf down the stuffing).

Clearly, I love Thanksgiving.

So this year’s Turkey Day Trial kind of happened on accident.  By my husband.

Yes, credit is due where credit is due and Chef Robert II (Chef Robert I is my dad.  And it’s pronounced Ro-BEAR by the way) came up with a most fantastic, keep in the fridge all season long, use on everything Pumpkin Butter.  It’s really amazing.

The other day, I just happened to add a bit of spice to that Pumpkin Butter and used it with some braised greens and mushrooms, making one of the best accidental Thanksgiving-worthy-yes-it-will-be-on-my-fancy-table-this-year side dishes ever.  Yes, I said it – EVER.

Sig (the dog) would disagree, but pumpkin by itself isn’t all that flavorful.  It’s a little musty and calls for brightening.  Sweetness and warm spices give pumpkin its quintessential autumn flavor, and in this recipe, water is added to turn the clumpy pumpkin into that silky, smooth, glazy texture fruit “butters” are known to embody.

The Pumpkin Butter is easy: 1 can of pumpkin puree, 1 c of water, 4 tbsp sugar, ¼ c brown sugar, ¼ tsp each of nutmeg, cinnamon, and pumpkin spice.  Mix all together in a sauce pan, and heat until the puree and the water have formed a smooth, silky consistency.  That’s it! 

Now, I did mention that I spiced this baby up.  To ¼ a cup of the Pumpkin Butter, I added 5-6 dashes of my favorite hot sauce: Tapatio.  Honestly, the chili spiciness mixed with the sweetness and nutmeg-y goodness is a flavor I can’t get enough of.  Granted – important note from Chef Robert II here – if you are going to use this Pumpkin Butter in coffee for an excelled Pumpkin Spice Latte, please omit the Tapatio.  That would just be silly.

So, onto the Turkey Day Trial side dish.

Southerners loooooove their braised greens.  Collards, actually, and I just can’t jump on that bandwagon.  This isn’t for lack of trying – I’ve had collards every which way.  But I simply do not like them, Sam I am.

But, in an accidental mix up of wild mushrooms and kale, a bit of sherry vinegar, plumped dried cranberries, and a drizzle of salt and honey, I found a sturdy cooked greens dish that could kick the chlorophyll out of those darn collards any day.  Also, it speaks heavily to my Scandinavian roots and Pacific Northwest taste buds, so there’s that for the sake of full disclosure.

Kale, basking in its endless superfood limelight, is softer than collards but still cooks well keeping integrity (it doesn’t disappear like spinach) and offering a bit of sweetness.  The mushrooms, oh the mushrooms, when those buggers are cooked till they just can’t be cooked anymore, they are amazing.  Browned, nutty, addictive; they taste like the smell of the woods next to the ocean after it’s just rained.  It’s a trick I’ve learned from my mom – let the mushrooms be.  Well, my mom and Paul McCartney.

Then – wait for it – I drizzled the Spicy Pumpkin Butter over the greens.

Un.  Bel.  Ievable.

I turned that one dish into a couple different things (Thanksgiving leftover ideas coming!  Hint hint, wink wink!).  I poured the greens on top of creamed barley for an earthy grain bowl, and I also pulled out a breakfast by shmearing some cream cheese on toast, topped with the greens and pumpkin butter, then “garnished” with a fried egg.  Again – delicious.

Time is running out on Thanksgiving countdowns, but luckily these gems are no fuss.  Rob’s Pumpkin Butter and my Mushrooms and Kale are perfect for your holiday feast.

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Mushrooms and Kale
(makes a lot, but you’ll need a lot)

  • 1 bunch curly kale (usually 7-8 stalks are in a bunch), leaves only, thinly sliced
  • 1 pint crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 pint shitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 pint chanterelle mushrooms, sliced
  • ¼ c sherry vinegar
  • ¼ c water
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg (freshly grated is better, but do just a bit less)
  • ¼ c dried cranberries
  • 1 tbsp really good local honey
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • s&p

In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add all the mushrooms and DO NOT yet season.  Stir the mushrooms, let them absorb the butter, and then finally release their own juices (without the help of salt).  Once the mushrooms start to caramelize, lower the heat to medium-low, and stir occasionally, letting the mushrooms brown, and then brown some more.  Once they are fully caramelized (and considerably smaller) lightly season with s&p.  Turn up the heat to medium, and pour in the sherry vinegar to deglaze the pan.  Once the vinegar has reduced to almost gone, add in the water and the kale.  Season with a bit more s&p, nutmeg, and add the cranberries.  Once the kale has cooked (it will wilt a bit, still look wrinkly, and have a dark green color), and the cranberries have plumped, turn off the heat.  Drizzle over the honey, and serve. 

Enjoy!

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Turkey Tetrazzini

30 Nov

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Wow. Sigh…. Phew. Did anyone else have a whirlwind of a Thanksgiving? This year, it felt like Thanksgiving plain right snuck up on me. Also, coming down with the stomach flu the week of the biggest food holiday of the year was less than ideal. But despite the craziness of the holidays at work, and the flu, the worst part of the whole shooting match is that I didn’t do any Turkey Day Trials!

For any long-time readers, you know the joy I’ve had with practicing and perfecting my Thanksgiving foods for the big day. This year, I did do a Sweet Potato Turkey Roulade that stole the show on a random Friday a few weeks back, but that was about it.  By the day of Thanksgiving, even though my mom and I were splitting the cooking for the day, I had not pre-prepped anything leaving me a stressed hot mess on the day. My standard Bourbon Butternut Squash Soup curdled, my Bacon Wrapped Dates didn’t get wrapped, and I was still cooking things when my guests arrived (my personal pet peeve).

The turkey, however… was delicious.

I tried something new this year with my farm fresh turkey. Instead of brining (what a mess), and stuffing (that never works), or even brown-bagging the bird (my mother in-law swears by it!), I simply tented the turkey with foil for the first hour of cooking, then let the thing hang out at 350, uncovered, for the last 2 hours. The only seasonings were salt, butter, and white pepper, and I used a bit of chicken stock on the bottom of the roasting pan for some basting. My standard for resting is 45-minutes to an hour to create the perfect temperature for, well, handling, but also for carving. And I have to say, even without Turkey Day Trials, this year’s bird took the gravy.

Now, it’s back to the grind. My students were so excited to tell me that they saw the “big Tom” and the “leg kicking ladies” on the televised Macy’s Day Parade, and North Florida is back to its supernatural-for-this-time-of-year 80-degree weather. With Thanksgiving, back to the grind also translates to leftovers.

Like many, I am a huge fan of the extra-mayo, turkey and cranberry sandwiches. There’s nothing wrong with those buggers, but there is something better: it’s a standard, it’s a classic, it’s perfect for lunch at work, it’s the infamous Turkey Tetrazzini.

I’m not a huge casserole lover (simply because I like having a diversity of food during the week, and when there are only two mouths to feed, those mouths get a little tired of the same thing 5 days in a row). But when it’s Turkey Tez, it’s no holds barred. This is an easy casserole, and one that nixes the 1985 canned mushroom soup rendition. Also, with the switch from regular to whole wheat spaghetti, the added structure and nutty taste compliment the turkey perfectly. A word to the wise, though: make sure the casserole has cooled a bit before serving. Once when my mom served up a healthy-right-out-of-the-oven scoop to my dad, it cracked the plate!

This one is simple and satisfying.   If there is any turkey left in your house, give this recipe a try and savor the start to the next holiday season (omg, it’s here already!).

Enjoy!

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Turkey Tetrazzini
(makes 1, 9-inch square casserole)

  • Leftover turkey meat, shredded, and however much you’ve got! (I used the meat from 2 legs, and the rest of the breast meat, about roughly 4 cups)
  • ½ package of whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 5 stalks celery, sliced into half-moons
  • 2 pints cremini mushrooms, stems removed, sliced
  • 5 springs fresh thyme, leaves removed
  • 8 oz sour cream
  • 2 c chicken broth
  • 2 c shredded mixed cheese (I like the shredded Mexican blend)
  • 4 tbsp butter, plus 1 tsp for greasing
  • s&p

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-in x 9-in baking dish with the tsp of butter.

In salted boiling water, boil the spaghetti noodles until they have just left the crunchy stage. They should still have some bite to them, and will continue to cook in the oven. Drain the pasta, and set aside in a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, heat the butter. Sauté the onion, celery, and mushrooms, season with a pinch of s&p, until they start to soften. Off the heat, stir in the thyme leaves and sour cream. Transfer the veg to the bowl with the pasta, and mix to combine. Pour in the chicken stock, mix, and then pour into the greased baking dish. Even out the mixture in the dish, and then evenly top with the cheese. *Note, you may want to put the baking dish on a sheet tray, just in case the mixture bubbles over a bit.

Bake until golden and bubbly, and bits of sticking-out pasta have become browned and crunchy (oh those are so good), about 30 minutes. Let cool a bit before serving (don’t crack a plate!), pour a buttery chardonnay to pair, and savor the season.

Enjoy!

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