Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rewind: Thanksgiving 2009

It's the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and I'm beginning to think through what my menu will be this year. How nice is it to have a blog to see what I made last year. I include my post below, in case it will help you plan your Thanksgiving menu.

I know for sure that this year we'll go back to frying two turkeys. Fried turkey is the best. My brother Ed is going to make cranberry stuffing and an apple pie. Sister Marichelle is making her cranberry-pineapple relish and bringing pies. My mom is bringing two Filipino mocha cakes (to die for!) and other Filipino treats. Uncle Pros will come with Chinese duck and roast chicken, Chinese puto, and who knows what else.

Now I just need to decide what I will do. Do you have your menu set?

"The Love of a Family is Life's Greatest Blessing"

I have the privilege of hosting Thanksgiving every year. My parents fly in and stay with us during the week. My siblings come in with their families, and my Uncle Pros and his family come. We don't see each other that much, maybe a couple times a year, so it's a real treat to get together.

We fall into our roles. I shop and cook most of the meal. My brother Ed sets the table. My Auntie Nanette always jumps in to wash dishes during the cooking process -- there are always lots of dishes! My mom supervises. My husband and the guys fry the turkeys. My dad always carves.

Then there's the series of horrible jokes from my Dad and Uncle Pros, running political commentary, story after story of our childhood, my nephew Christian who makes us laugh til we cry, and arguing about passages in the Bible. There's a lot of laughing and some yelling.

You know. Family.

This year was a little different, because my sister and family couldn't come (sad), but my older brother and his family came for the first time (happy!).

Brother Ed went about his task of setting the table, not easy in this decoration-less house. Edward always makes the table beautiful, making use of what the trees and bushes have to offer outside.

Turkey, Turkey, Turkey, Turkey So Fine

Then there's the turkey. As long as I've hosted, we've fried the turkeys. Fried turkey is the best! But this year, my husband was ready for a break, so we did something radical -- we roasted it.

The last time I tried to roast a turkey, it was disastrous. I called my Irish-American mother-in-law in a panic ... where to stick the thermometer? She tried to tell us, but we obviously couldn't follow directions. We took the turkey out, thinking it was cooked. It wasn't.


Luckily, we had fried a turkey -- the fried turkey was supposed to be the experimental turkey that year -- so we ate that.

This year, I had the opposite problem. I bought a 20-pounder, and I brined it as usual. I highly recommend brining. I was gleeful, thinking I was going to smoke this big boy over hickory wood on my new obsession, the Big Green Egg.

Alas, it and the roasting pan didn't fit into the Egg.

Plan B was to cook it on the Weber Grill. I figured it would take about 6 hours, so I started the turkey in the oven, using Anne Burrell's roasted turkey recipe. Anne's recipe is delicious, by the way, and the apple cider in her recipe and cooking the turkey at high heat for the first hour made the bird burnished and browned.

Four hours in, I pulled the turkey out and put it on the preheated grill, so I could use my oven for other things. Even though the turkey had one of those popping button things to tell you when it was ready, we decided to stick a thermometer in to check it. My brother actually knew how to use the thermometer on a turkey.

Uh oh.

It registered 170F in the breast. It was done, two hours ahead of schedule. Actually over done. And the popping button thing was still unpopped.

Luckily the brine saved the turkey. It was moist and flavorful if not the juiciest turkey in the world.

Then again, it's hard to beat the juiciness of a fried turkey.


Since we were planning to serve dinner around 6 pm, we had some light lunch fare.

The Italian Wedding Soup was a big hit, such a big hit that I don't have a picture. Italian Wedding Soup is a soup with little meatballs floating merrily in chicken broth, with some kind of green vegetable (I used spinach, but kale and escarole are also used) and sometimes shredded egg.

My mother made this soup the first time she cooked the Thanksgiving meal, when I was in college. We were all pretty sure she was going to mess up Thanksgiving -- I mean, a woman you have never seen cook your whole life is going to cook the biggest meal of the year? -- but that's another story.

It was also good fortune that I made Italian Wedding Soup as my sister-in-law Tina, who is Italian-American, shared with me that her mom makes the soup every year for Thanksgiving.

I also made a Butternut Squash Soup served with pepitas, for the vegetable lovers among us.

In addition to the soups and refreshing clusters of grapes, clementines, and cherries, we had a tray of salami, prosciutto di parma, provolone cheese, and sliced tomatoes lightly dressed with balsamic vinaigrette, served with freshly sliced Tuscan bread. I made the mistake of asking the Italian deli man if I could try samples of the domestic prosciutto ($10/lb.) and the Parma ham ($22/lb.)

Duh. As if there was even going to be a contest.

Finishing up the lineup was an offering of triple creme brie cheese, strawberry rhubarb jam, candied walnuts, and water crackers.

Ah man. Were these good. The creaminess of the cheese, the sweet-tart flavor of the jam, and the crunch of the nuts and crispness of the crackers were irresistible.

I wish I had taken pictures of this lovely spread -- the deep and vibrant red palate of the jam, grapes, cherries, and tomatoes; the pop of orange from the clementines; the creamy whites of the cheeses, bread and crackers, the sugary brown of the walnuts, and the rosy prosciutto and salami. Pretty and a delicious preface to the main event.


I was perfectly on time most of the day. Until the turkey decided to be done two hours early.

Let's say the turkey got a good rest as I finished the rest of the meal, with the help of my sister-in-law who took over the salad, and my older brother who volunteered to make the gravy.

I threw a melange of cubed sweet potatoes, celeriac, carrots, acorn squash, and parsnips which I had tossed in olive oil, shallots, thyme, and salt and pepper to roast at 425F in the oven.

I quickly assembled the stuffing -- cubed Tuscan bread and crumbled cornbread, chicken broth, and a saute of onions, celery, apples, butter, and herbs -- and threw that in another oven.

I boiled the potatoes which Sergio had peeled and cut earlier in the day, and Tina helped mash them while I added a puree of leeks, chicken broth and butter I had made the day before, sour cream, and milk.

While my dad carved the turkey, I quickly made a sauce of shallots, white wine, orange juice, and chicken broth and tossed in haricots verts which I had blanched earlier in the day, to warm through and finish cooking.

Time for Dinner!

Salad of Goat Cheese, Candied Walnuts, Roasted Beets, Arugula & Mesclun with Balsamic Vinaigrette (pictured above in the far left).

Brined, Herbed and Roasted Turkey with Apple Cider Gravy

Stuffing with Cornbread, Sausage, and Apples

Mashed Potatoes with Sour Cream and Leeks and Apple Cider Gravy

White Rice, of course.

Sauteed Haricots Verts with Orange Sauce

Not pictured but still yummy:

Cranberry-orange-maple sauce
Roasted root vegetables


The best thing about dessert is I didn't make any!

We had:

Filipino cashew boats, courtesy of my mom who brought them with her

Pumpkin pie and apple pie, courtesty of my older brother
Pecan pie and apple crumble pie, courtesy of my work
Ricotta cheesecake and carrot cake, courtesy of my aunt and uncle

Final Thoughts

While this post is mostly about food -- this is a food blog, after all -- Thanksgiving isn't really about the food. It's about taking the time to reflect about all that we have -- family, friends, a roof over our heads, food to eat, gifts of our hearts and hands to share -- and to open our eyes and take in the great beauty that quietly surrounds us and that we sometimes take for granted. How lucky we are.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rewind: Roast Chicken a la Thomas Keller

I am a huge Thomas Keller fan. I am absolutely ga-ga over his restaurant Bouchon. When I last went to Las Vegas, I ate there every day. To see why I went there every day, click here. I also have the French Laundry, Bouchon, and Ad Hoc Cookbooks, and they have an honored place in my kitchen.

Thomas Keller's high heat roast chicken is one of his famous dishes, because it's easy and flavorful. My friend Tania, after learning this recipe from me, says she makes it every week.

Since I'm making this chicken tonight, I will share again my post on this chicken. I hope you will try it!


On the way home from school, I stopped at a local grocery store to pick up a rotisserie chicken.

My younger daughter said, "You say the chickens are really small here, and they're expensive."

I replied, "Well, I'm not going to drive to Costco to get a cheaper chicken."

But when I went into the deli section and found my hand hovering over the $7.99 miniscule, wrinkly chicken, I knew that my wise daughter was right. She knows me very well.

I came out with a farm-raised, no antibiotics whole chicken.

What a great opportunity to try out Thomas Keller's legendary roast chicken, which uses only salt, pepper, thyme, and a 450 degree oven. It cooks under an hour.

Whoa, this chicken is divine! A must try. Crispy. Succulent. Delicious.

I served it with pommes frittes (well, they were frozen Ore-Ida french fries aspiring to be pommes frittes - :)), leftover pan-grilled vegetables, and a gravy I made from the pan juices.

Kitty also got a gourmet meal out of the chicken liver in the giblets package, which were simmered with peas and orzo and then ground into a yummy cat mash.

Kitty reading Thomas Keller's Bouchon Cookbook, which I got for my birthday.

A few notes from the cook:

1) An organic or farm-raised chicken is a must, 3 lbs. max. Those mega-brands pump liquid into the chickens, and the natural chicken tastes much better.

2) A dry chicken is a crispy chicken. Make sure you super dry the chicken off.

3) Don't skimp on the salt. A good amount of kosher salt (1 tbs. or a little more) is needed to flavor the whole chicken.

4) Be prepared for your oven to need a run of the self-cleaning cycle after you make this spatter-inducing chicken.

Thomas Keller's Roast Chicken

One 2- to 3-pound farm-raised chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. fresh thyme, minced, or 1 tsp. dried thyme

Rinse the chicken, then dry it very, very well with paper towels, inside and out. Let the chicken sit out for 20-30 minutes before roasting, so that it gets to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Generously salt the chicken with kosher salt, inside and out. Remember that the salt needs to flavor the whole chicken. If you're using dried thyme, sprinkle thyme on the chicken and rub it in with the salt. Season with freshly ground pepper.

Truss the bird and put on a rack. (I used a silicone rubber band to tie the legs and then I put crumpled aluminum foil under the sides of the bird, which helped push the wings against the body. The foil also acted as an impromptu rack.) Put it in a roasting pan.

Roast it until it's done, 50 to 60 minutes. When it's done, the chicken will register 155 degrees with an instant thermometer between the thigh and leg. When it rests, it will reach a temperature of 165 degrees.

Remove it from the oven. Baste the bird several times with the juices. If you're using fresh thyme, add it to the juices before you baste the bird. Let it rest 15 minutes.

Cut and serve.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Leftover Maven: Beef Barley Soup

Oh my, the smell of beef, onions, tomatoes, and thyme coming from this soup is intoxicating.

I had some leftover beef pot roast that I had cooked in the slow cooker with 1/2 can of fire roasted tomatoes, one onion I had caramelized until it was golden brown, a couple glugs of cabernet sauvignon, and 1 can of beef broth. It cooked on high for 5-6 hours until the beef was tender, and we enjoyed it with rice and roasted brussel sprouts.

Since I had a couple cups of leftover "pot liquor" and a few slices of beef, I decided to make some beef barley soup.

Soup is so easy. All you need is some stock, some diced veggies, and a little meat and/or starch (barley, pasta, rice, etc.) if you're so inclined. You don't need to measure with precision -- just add as much or as little as you like of the ingredients, and cut the veggies in big, rustic pieces, or in a petite dice.

In this case, I cut the beef in smaller pieces and poured the "pot liquor" and the beef into a pot. I added some more beef broth, the rest of the can of fire-roasted tomatoes, a couple spoonfuls of tomato paste, and big-dice carrots, celery, and potatoes. Fresh thyme and oregano, salt and pepper, and 1/2 cup of rinsed barley to finish it off. Cooked until the veggies and barley were tender. Added fresh cut parsley for a burst of color and fresh flavor. Done.

The smell is so good that you almost don't even have to eat the soup to be fulfilled.

Well, almost.

Looking for a real recipe? There are plenty to choose from at Foodgawker.