Prepping for Christmas October 11, 2017 The Other Not-So-Common-Ingredient for your Christmas Pudding Adventure: BEEF SUET

Atora Shredded Suet 200G

I am in the process of Doing the Work so that the Christmas holidays this year are extra special. It is so true that what you put into a thing is what you get out of it. I have most definitely found out that, hoping for something to happen is very different from, making something happen. I am in the making-things-happen mode of my life right now and one of the things on my list is that Christmas this year isn’t a disappointment. I have control over so much of what happens and food plays a major role. I have experienced all sorts of Christmases, and the ones that were the most fun and memorable were the ones where I worked hard in advance. Some say that happiness can be attained by achieving a goal, but also that the end result is not an isolated type of joyous accomplishment. The joy is elevated by all the things that made what you wanted possible. In other words, the laborious task of say making something like this Christmas Pudding, becomes part of the joy. So my looking on this as a pain-in-the-butt project (and it is a little) will only serve to making me hate the whole process. What’s the point in that? When I think about the joy factor that will come with it (me carrying it beef fat_000017219051_Small.jpglit to the table after our Christmas Dinner feast, and then getting to taste it), I can make this with a very happy heart. Oops, the cornball in me is rearing its ugly head, but no apologies for that whatsoever.

 So, one of the other things you will need, that you almost positively don’t have on hand (along with a Pudding Basin/Mold), is a packet of Beef Suet. Sounds awful right? It is that magical mystery ingredient that is used to make traditional pudding-based foods such as Yorkshire Pudding, soup dumplings, chicken pot pie crust, as well as this Christmas Pudding, moist and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. It is an odd-looking and very solid slab of fat. It is unlike the fat from drippings (the fat collected from cooking something such as bacon and can be used to flavor dishes and fry with). Suet is the hard fat that surrounds the kidneys and has a very high melting point. Because of its consistency and chemical make-up, it has so many uses  It is used in products from shaving soap, lubrication for engines, to leather conditioners, as well as making a dynamite shortening for this Christmas Pudding!

chocolate toffee pudding with fresh cream and toffee sauce

Chocolate-based Christmas Pudding with Freshly Whipped Cram and Toffee Sauce

When you make your pudding, you will disperse little flakes of it through the batter (as you might use butter to make a flaky pastry). This is why it is best to grate it into the batter OR do what I do: buy it already made into little gravel-y bits that you simple mix into the batter.

You can probably find this in your supermarket (but like shopping for a Pudding Basin in person and not buying it via a website, asking where it might be/or if it is in stock, is 99% pointless. “Hello, can you tell me what aisle the beef suet is in please?”. See what I mean).

You can find Beef Suet on a short list of websites (I know Amazon carries it), but peruse your supermarket next time you are there just in case.

Turkey 1

Turkey: another labor of love at Christmas

So get your pudding basin and beef suet and we can get on with the task of making happiness happen!

 

 

 

Christmas Dinner prep October 10, 2017. What is a Pudding Basin and Where can I get One?

 

Well, if you live in Ireland, England, Australia, India even, or wherever the English have influenced culture, you probably do not need me to tell you what a Christmas pudding basin is. However, the majority of the United States (where I live now) is pretty much clueless, and that’s not me being mean. It is the cooking pot used to make a dessert made once a year, (literally).  Beyond that, unless you are some pudding-making addict, this object sits in the nether regions of your cupboard until around this time of year (I usually have to hunt for it because I never remember where I stash it).

chocolate toffee pudding

Christmas Pudding with Brandy Butter (Hard Sauce), and Fresh Cream

This is a pudding my mother made each and every year when I grew up and it was always a bit of a mystery to me. I never helped her make it. The kitchen was not very big and with six children ( yes, six!) underfoot my mother didn’t have the time or the patience to squeeze in cooking lessons on top of everything else she had to do. But I watched my mother cook for years and when she did let me cook (and it was pretty often after the ripe old age of seven), I had full reign of the kitchen. It was all or nothing: I suppose she rightly figured that two was too many cooks at one time, so she would plant me in our tiny kitchen and walk away.

I would try my hand at anything, and everything I made was my attempt at trying to make things that were staple meals my mother made or I would find a recipe somewhere and follow it to the letter. At that time there was no such thing as computers and I don’t think my mother even owned a cookbook, so I used to find recipes in my mother’s weekly magazine (I think it was called Woman’s Own?) and later I used my Home Economics school book as another source of inspiration and instruction (and in those days only girls were taught that subject, the dark ages indeed)

batter for christmas pudding

Mixing Pudding Batter

But I never got the pudding recipe. This time of the year would roll around and I would see my mother mixing flour with spices and various dried fruits, and there was that sweet smell of cinnamon, mixed with ground cloves and other mysterious sweet things that wafted through the whole house when this laden pudding cooked for hours on the stove. The only hand I had in it was every couple of weeks she would give me a bottle of sherry and I had to pour a little of it over each pudding (since she went to the trouble of making one, she decided it was just as practical to make 3 or 4!) to “cure it”. I didn’t even know what that meant…what was wrong with it that it needed curing?

I wasn’t really in love with Christmas Pudding when I was young. It was thought of as a grown-up dessert. I hated the candied mixed-peel fruit that my mother used in the batter, and the addition of sherry made me winch. No child likes the taste of alcohol and so as far as I was concerned, the sherry was the nail in the coffin. I never bothered to ask how it was made as I never though I would ever want to make it. 

Trifle for  Crappy Kitchen Goes to Italy

Trifle was my favorite Christmas Dessert growing up (this is the version I make)

Well that turned our to be wrong, so a little word of advice here: ask as many questions as you can of your parents and relatives about everything and anything, because one day they will be gone, and like me, there will be moments when you say to yourself, “why didn’t I ask about that when I had all the opportunity in the world?”

Not that I wanted to make my pudding the same way as my mother. I still do not like sherry in desserts and store-bought candied mixed peel is still a tragic way for any fruit to end its life! Suffice is to say that I have been making Christmas pudding for several years now in the spirit of my mother but with my own sensibility.

I will talk about what this pudding consists of  later but first you will need to get yourself a pudding basin! This pudding is steamed and it needs to be in a tight-as-a-drum container and withstand four to five hours of low bubbling in a pot of water, that constantly needs to be topped up. It’s a simple thing but kind of hard to find if you decide to trek around town looking for it. And forget about asking for help as no one will know what you are talking about. 

You are looking for something like this (above is a metal basin. I have this kind and it lasts forever). This one is from Fox Run Craftsmen: Pudding basin/mold

https://i2.wp.com/www.jarrold.co.uk/userdata/root/images/products/kitchen-craft/17/142/kc-basin-1pt570ml-1.jpg

Or like this. This is a Plastic Pudding Basin and is just as effective.

If you want to make this completely amazing and different Christmas dessert, this is the first step The other thing you will need and is not a common ingredient anymore), is SUET, and I will talk about that next. When you are schooled in these two not-so-common things, we can make our pudding together.

*AND I RECOMMEND A 3 PINT PUDDING BASIN*

 

 

 

 

 

Let Me Focus on Something Else: Christmas Pudding. Please Please Make One with Me!

I was driving home the other day with my daughter when she started to sing Jingle Bells out loud! “Oh my God”, I said, “please not Christmas songs already!” She said she knew it was a little ridiculous but that the song just popped into her head. She loves Christmas for all the reasons one should (okay, I know it is a religious holiday too, but am not focusing on that right now) : Family, Food, Wintry Weather and a mountain of Presents under our over-decorated garish Christmas tree. 

Christmas tree 2014

Jingle All The Way

We have had a bit of a tough year and it seemed like if I focused on this lovely final event of the calendar year, it could be a time when everything is put to rights. I think my daughter was thinking the same thing when she said right after her belting out Jingle Bells, “I want this to be a good Christmas”. I think we both simultaneously decided to pin our hopes on a time in the year that has always been magical for us all, and we could use all of that good stuff to propel us into a great 2018, or something like that…

Baby Back Ribs For Tom's Christmas Party

Evidence of Santa’s existence

For that to happen, something else would need to happen! There is a line that I have always loved and quoted (half-joking, half in earnest to get my point across during one of those annoying motherly conversations when I’m trying to make my kids understand  that nothing in life is free, or is just handed to you) from the movie Julia and Julia where she, Julia Child, and her two partners are sitting together discussing how one of the partners is not pulling her weight but is still demanding equal share when the book they are writing is published. Julia and Simone Beck, (one of the partners), are politely trying to tell Louisette Bertholle, (the other partner), that she is not doing enough to merit a third of the share of the profits. But, as Julia is talking, and being way too politic about it, Simone Beck gets exasperated and cuts through all the bull and yells in a very polite but firm tone, “YOU DON’T DO THE WORK!” Well , that ended that conversation and everyone was crystal clear.

christmas crackers

dessert would not be complete without Christmas Crackers!

So…If I didn’t feel motivated to write about anything all year, focusing on something that my daughter wanted badly, A Good Christmas, was motivation enough for me to “DO THE WORK!”

And this is the perfect time to make that very traditional dessert that you absolutely love or you absolutely abhor: Christmas Pudding. I will use food, as I have done so often, to inspire me to plan, make, and write my way to Christmas Dinner, December 25th, 2017. Stay tuned for Pudding recipe (now I need to go out to buy ingredients that I certainly never have on hand!)

getting the christmas tree

Time to Work

 

 

 

Meat Chowder (serves 6) A Great Dinner Party Main Course!

I haven’t posted a recipe in quite some time because frankly I either have made nothing that I haven’t posted already or, on a day when I made something perfectly splendid, I had not bothered to take pictures!

However, this dinner that I whipped up last night (whipped not really the right word here as it was a slight bit persnickety to prepare) was blog worthy and I knew this ahead of time so was also camera, and pen and paper ready!

Glorious Meat Gumbo

Glorious Meat Gumbo

It was wholly inspired by a Jamie Oliver recipe for meat gumbo but as usual I changed things along the way to suit what I had on hand and because following a recipe to the letter is just not necessary. I think the one thing any chef will say about having to document a recipe is how they hate having to give exact ingredients and amounts and having to be super specific with instructions. Chefs don’t cook like that in real life and nor should you. Spontaneity is usually where the magic happens! In other words, consider my recipe here as a mere guideline and let your own culinary juices flow.

This is a great dish to make if you are throwing a dinner party as it can be made ahead of time and is so easy to serve!

_______________________________________________

What you need:

1 lb spicy sausage – cut into 1″ pieces (Italian, Chorizo, Andouille, or even a mild spicy sausage will do here)

4/5 chicken drumsticks

4/5 chicken thighs (bone-in, skin on)

1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (if you don’t have smoked, use what you have got!)

1 tsp cayenne pepper flakes

1 tsp salt

olive oil for frying everything

4/6 slices smokey bacon – cut into large strips (whatever bacon you have on hand will do)

1 med/lrg sweet onion or yellow onion – diced

1 green pepper – diced

1 red pepper  – diced

1 yellow pepper – diced

3 celery stalks – large dice or sliced

5 tbs all-purpose flour

2lbs sweet potatoes  – peeled & diced (about two large)

4 large garlic cloves – peeled and minced

6 (or so) springs fresh thyme (Jamie picked the leaves, I say there is no point as they come off during the cooking and it’s a pain to do!)

6 cups chicken broth (have two more cups on hand just in case)

Chopped parsley for garnish if you have it!

Pot of cooked basmati rice (enough for six people so about 6 to 8 cups cooked rice, which translates to about 3 1/2 to 4 cups raw)

Method:

1 – Prep Everything first!

Dice the veggies, season the chicken

Dice the veggies, season the chicken

Mince garlic and dice sweet potatoes

Mince garlic and dice sweet potatoes

2 – Season chicken with the salt, paprika and cayenne pepper flakes. Put large pan on high heat and add olive oil. Fry chicken in batches until golden brown. Remove to a plate or bowl.

Sear chicken in batches on hot pan

Sear chicken in batches on hot pan

3 – Sear the sausages. Remove to a plate or bowl.

Sear sausage pieces

Sear sausage pieces

3 – Add bacon and fry for about a minutes before adding the peppers and onions. cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat.

Saute the pepper, onion & bacon

Saute the pepper, onion & bacon

4 – Add the flour and lower heat slightly. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly.

5 – Add the sweet potatoes, garlic, thyme stalks and broth and turn heat to high. Add the meat. When it boils, lower heat and cover. Simmer for about 1 hour (until chicken is fork tender and falling off the bone). Stir occasionally while it simmers.

Add the sweet potatoes, garlic, meat and broth

Add the sweet potatoes, garlic, thyme, meat and broth

Take the meat off the bone and return to gumbo (if you don’t want to do this, don’t bother!). Let this sit for about 10 minutes before serving. Serve with rice and garnish with chopper parsley. This would also be good with a dollop of sour cream and a dash of hot sauce!

Serve Meat Gumbo with chopped parsley and a dollop of sour cream and hot sauce if you like

Serve Meat Gumbo with rice, chopped parsley and a dollop of sour cream and hot sauce if you like

 

My Favorite Rice Noodle Brands for PAD THAI and other noodle dishes

Our favorite place to eat was Thai Orchid for thier Pad Thai

Pad Thai

 The noodles you use when making Pad Thai (or Pho, or any other Asian dish) is a very important recipe ingredient, just as pasta is when making some glorious Italian dish. Here are some of my favorites and between them, you should be able to find one in your region. You can also order online (but unless you buy in bulk it is a more expensive route). These rice noodles are no more expensive (and in lots of cases cheaper) than domestic brands so you will not have to feel guilty about buying them!

Roland Pad Thai Noodle Brand

Roland Pad Thai Noodle Brand – These noodles cost anywhere from $2.49 to $3.49

 This brand imported by the Roland Company is a product of Thailand. This company is a great place to find lots of really wonderful food products from around the world.

Rice Noodles

Rice Noodles  – These noodles are Erawan Brand and this company has a huge variety of noodles that are fun to experiment with. They are great value at $2.49

I can get these noodles from a supermarket that is pretty close to me. They come in S,M or L and this refers to the width. Sometimes I like the thin variety in soups and the widest (L) works great for Pad Thai, but it really is a matter of taste and your mood.

The large style from the Erawan Brand Noodle

The large style from the Erawan Brand Noodle

The packaging is exactly the same when it comes to all of these noodle brands but each width is a different color. So, if you put this item on your shopping list and like me, send your man out to the store (no real attention span when it comes to grocery shopping), make sure to note the color of the package or this simple task will become a nightmare.

Pork Pad Thai

Pork Pad Thai

Most of the packages say to prep the noodles by soaking in warm water but I find that this isn’t enough to get the texture I’m looking for. I don’t like soggy noodles by any means but the soaking method can leave the noodles hard on the inside and sort of gummy on the outside. My method is to plunge them into boiling water and let them cook until just al dente (have a toothsome bite) and then rinse in colander with lots of cold water. I can then toss them into my pan for Pad Thai or into a cooked soup. They warm up very quickly. You will have to experiment a little, depending on the brand (then it’s a good idea to write  what worked for you).

Main ingredients for Pad thai

Some of the key ingredients for Pad Thai (scallions, beansprouts, carrots, limes and of course, rice noodles

 Also, don’t limit yourself to Pad Thai and Pho. I use rice noodles for lots of other dishes that have a tenuous at best, Asian twist (which might only be soy sauce or sriracha sauce). It is lighter than pasta and for those Gluten Free people out there it is just the ticket.

This is the medium width from the brand Asian Best distributed by EastLand Corp

This is the medium width from the brand Asian Best distributed by EastLand Corp

I hope this has taken a little of the mystery out of buying rice noodles, but if in doubt, buy a brand with Thailand’s most revered animal on the package: the elephant.

Stir-fried beef with rice noodles

Stir-fried beef with rice noodles

  Once you try noodles from a country where it is a diet stable, you will never buy domestic noodles again!

Rice Noodles

Three Elephants Brand Rice Noodles

MUSHROOM CREAM – A GREAT PANTRY ITEM. Forget Campbells – Make your own!

Who uses Campbell’s Condensed Mushroom Cream Soup as a flavor agents, or sauce enhancer?? It does have the power to add a burst of flavor to a dish but it is not some magic elixir that you cannot make and freeze yourself and have ready to use at a moment’s notice.

Passing these georgeous mushrooms in Rome made me long for my kitchen awaiting me in Cortona

 Took this gorgeous picture of  mushrooms in Rome (you can make your mushroom cream from exotic mushrooms like these, but using what you can find near you is fine too, and what I did this time around)

OR, have you ever made a stew, soup or sauce that felt lacklustre and needed a flavor booster of some kind? This can be frustrating and sometimes it ends up with you adding possibly too much salt to compensate and ruining the dish. A concentrated cube of mushroom cream is a great foil for situations like this and I am going to give you an easy recipe and a handy way to have some on hand – yeh!

add cream and stock

Making Mushroom Cream Enricher is easy and simple cream and stock

Make a big batch of this when you are in the mood to potter in the kitchen or you are trapped there watching something in the oven but have nothing to do besides. It will become a little lifesaver!

Handy cubes of mushroom cream

Handy cubes of mushroom cream

These cubes are good thawed and served over steak, lamb or chicken. They make a great filling for little vol-au-vents or a filling for little pastry appetizers. They are a good base for a sauce (just add more cream or stock to the cubes and you have an instant pasta sauce). They be used to boost and bolster the  flavor of a stew or soup (just add a cube or two and taste).

Cook for 3 hours at 275*

Adding a couple of cubes of mushroom cream to a beef stew for example can boost and enhance flavor

 

Mushroom Cream Stock Cubes (makes 32 large ice-cube-sized cubes)

You will need:

2 tbs unsalted butter

1 sweet or yellow onion – finely chopped

2 cloves garlic – finely chopped

1lb mushrooms (use all different kinds together or one kind – anything will work) – sliced

1 cup (have more on hand) heavy cream

salt and freshly ground black pepper (for seasoning)

optional fresh herbs: 1 tbs freshly chopped parsley, I tsp chopped thyme leaves

Method:

1 – Put large saute pan on low to medium heat and add a 1/2 tablespoon of the butter. Add the onions and garlic and cover with lid. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove to a plate

2 – Add a tablespoon of the butter and half of the sliced mushrooms. Season with a sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Turn heat up to high (or just below) and cook mushrooms until they brown. Remove and add the rest of the butter and mushrooms (remembering to season with salt and pepper), and continue to cook until they are done.

saute mushrooms in batches in butter until browned..

saute mushrooms in batches in butter until browned..

3 – Return the onions and cooked mushrooms back to the pan along with the cream and herbs and let it come to a simmer. Turn off pan and let it cool.

4 – When it is warm or totally cooled, add the mushrooms in batches with a slotted spoon (so as not to fill up your processor with liquid) to your food processor or blender and pulverize to a rough texture. When it is all blended, mix back into the cream and stir to distribute.

add cream and simmer for 5 minutes...

add cream and bring to a simmer.

5 – When it is cold, spoon into two ice-cube trays and place in the freezer. (I got some of the cheap plastic kind from my supermarket and they worked great). When frozen, pop them out and into freezer bags. They can be stored for up to 6 months in your freezer and used whenever you need them.

Roast Chicken with stuffing & veggies.

Can be added to your roast Chicken pan sauce

 OR

top with a sprinkle of the cheese of the gods! (parmaiagiano reggiano)

Add to pasta to make a quick and delicious pasta sauce

Thanksgiving 2015 and a Great Roasted Turkey Recipe for any Festive Occasion

I never really thought that it was important to do the exact same thing every year when celebrating a holiday or event. I still make a point of changing up the food on occasions like our  Christmas and Easter dinner. However, I have found that since having children, there are certain things that I cannot mess with, and if I do, I will ruin or mar their experience and expectations

Our Thanksgiving Turkey cooked by yours truly (recipe below and is great for amateur turkey cookers like myself)

Our Thanksgiving Turkey cooked by yours truly (recipe below and is great for amateur turkey cookers like myself). Try it next time you have the daunting task of being in charge of the focal point of your next big festive dinner.

On our way home in the car from my mother-in-laws house last night my daughter said, “Thanksgiving wasn’t as good this year” and her comment took me by surprise. The whole clan probably turned out the best food in years and surly that was the most important thing? Well, not the case according to my kids (at this point my son had piped in his agreement of it “not being the same as before”).

We all have a stash of pieces of paper like this right? Where you jot down a recipe over the phone or from your mother in a hurry so you can make that special recipe that you gre up with. You have plans of course to catalog it properly for the future but it ends up in a little bag or stuck in some recipe book and pulled out once a year. It becomes this very precious and treasured slip of paper, which will one day find itself in the leaves of a cookbook you handed doen to one of your kids and they will pull it out each year, perhaps forgetting where the recipe came from but

We all have a stash of pieces of paper like this right? Where you jot down a recipe over the phone or from your mother in a hurry so you can make that special recipe that you grew up with for a special event. You have plans of course to catalog it properly in the future but you never do and it ends up in a little bag or stuck in some recipe book and pulled out once a year. It becomes this very precious and treasured slip of paper, which will one day find itself in the leaves of a cookbook you hand down to one of your kids and they will pull it out each year, perhaps forgetting where the recipe came from, but counting on it completely when its time to make this pie or that special beef stew your mother used to make when you were little.

Since moving closer to my husband’s family 12 years ago we have always celebrated Thanksgiving at my husband’s parents house. I never really wanted to take on this holiday because growing up Ireland I did not know about Thanksgiving, nor had ever seen, let alone eaten, pumpkin!

Pumpkin Pie yesterday made using the recipe from Dave's grandmother

Pumpkin Pie yesterday made using the recipe from Dave’s grandmother

My introduction to this holiday was a long time ago at my friend Dave’s friend’s house in a town in upstate New York. They were an older couple, and when I sat at their Thanksgiving table the spread before me felt habituated in tradition and familiarity. They offered me sweet potato pie with white fluffy marshmallow on top like they ate it everyday. So many of the dishes were so alien to me that I did not really know how to approach or even enjoy the meal.

sweet potatoes fries are a great alternative to a sweet potato pie

sweet potatoes fries are a great alternative to a sweet potato pie

It turned out that this particular Thanksgiving dinner was only one take on Thanksgiving food, and what is cooked varies from generation to generation and from family to family. I landed myself in an era and in a house that added a lot of sweet elements to practically everything, from the broiled marshmallow topping to the jello which accompanied the turkey meat. The only remote similarity to anything I had ever eaten was mint jelly with lamb (and that was extremely rare as it is more of an English than an Irish tradition – a bit too posh for us!) and mango chutney on my cheese and toast (another english thing which came from the British Empire expansion into India) which I love to this day to the disgust of my kids who find it distinctly unappealing and adds one more thing to their list of what makes me a weird mother (in a good way I think).

Add butter, parsley & salt to potatoes and serve with chicken (optional)

simply boiled potatoes with chopped fresh parsley 

Over the years I have been to quite a few houses for Thanksgiving and each one had their own unique style of celebrating. The elements that are key however are the same across the board, even if cooked in very different ways. There is always turkey, some kind of sweet potato, yam or squash dish, cranberry relish/dressing, corn in one form or another and pumpkin pie. After that, you can add things like green beans, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, meat or bread stuffing and perhaps a salad with something sweet added, like dried cranberries.

the Cranberry & Ginger relish by my sister-in-law Beth...

My Sister-in-law’s Cranberry & Ginger relish

When we moved closer to my husband’s family, it was so much easier to settle into their traditions than try to create my own version of Thanksgiving. My mother-in-law always makes the turkey, mashed potatoes and her mother’s meat dressing (sort of tastes likes an aromatically spiced Shepard’s pie). Our family and my sister-in-law’s family work out the rest of the sides between us. Even though Diane likes to plop out a gelatinous can of cranberry sauce onto the table, my sister-in-law began making a fresh cranberry sauce/relish infused with fresh ginger a few years ago which is sublime (and now she always makes extra for me to take home for my cheese and toast breakfasts) and now we expect her to make it every year.

This was heavenly on my turkey, but works equally well on countless other foods!

This relish was heavenly on my turkey, but works equally well on countless other foods!

I have ended up making various vegetable side dishes (and I always make my mother’s bread stuffing that we had every Christmas day growing up) while Dave makes the pumpkin pies. My sister-in-law’s husband ( I still do not know how I should refer to him, but Bob is his name so I’ll go with that) Bob grew up with an Italian-American mother and so he always brings an unctuous pasta dish that feels celebratory to him. I look forward to this dish because there is always something magical about a dish that someone has been making their whole life that you can never copy, even if you follow the recipe to the letter. I am still trying to unlock the secret to my mother’s bread stuffing and have yet to capture the essence or soul of the dish.

Barly remenbered to take this picture before it dissapeared!

 My version of my mother’s bread stuffing

This year was different because my lovely mother-in-law Diane was under the weather and we insisted that she not darken the door of the kitchen this Thanksgiving and that we kids would take care of everything! That left me in charge of some of the more important components of the meal, namely the turkey – yikes. My strategy was to look at lots of roast turkey recipes to get a sense of things and what would work best for me. There were all sorts of decisions to make: marinate or not marinate, brine or not to brine, barbecue perhaps??? Anyway I went with a slow-cooked method with lots of basting but pretty straightforward. That way, while the turkey lazily cooked, I could get on with all the other dishes I committed to preparing, (and I was severely committed).

Baked onions, a new Thanksgiving side dish

Baked onions, a new Thanksgiving side dish

I stuck to what I knew about roasting chickens and adjusted for the weight (15lbs, small really by Thanksgiving standards). I used a very basic mirepoix (celery, carrots and some fresh herbs from my garden, along with a lemon from the grocery store!) and white wine and it was pretty darn wonderful. So much so that I want to share it with all of you who might have to tackle this job on the 25th of December.

Turkey Melt with Hot "Slaw"

Leftover Turkey Melt with Hot “Slaw”

But back to why my kids were disappointed yesterday. When we got to Diane’s house she was lying on the couch and asked if it was okay if she didn’t join us at the table and we could hang out with her after dinner. Of course, but we felt bad and made a seating adjustment to make sure she was not left out completely. Some of us sat around the ample kitchen table and the rest set up a makeshift table in the living room with Diane, and this is how we ate our Thanksgiving dinner. The dining room felt so much further off so this was a good compromise. (I liked it better in some ways as the food was all right there with no schlepping dishes to the center of the dining room table and the usual running back to the kitchen for forgotten items).

I finished off my baked onions with a fresh cream, thyme and cheese sauce

I finished off my baked onions with a fresh cream, thyme and cheese sauce

I asked why it was not “good this year” and she told me that it was not the same because we were not all sitting together in the formal dining room. I didn’t even think about this. She said she missed the food running down the center of the table in lovely bowls and the big ceramic turkey (that Grammy insisted on being there) right in the middle of it all, and how we all went around the table to say one thing we were thankful for (always a dreaded moment for some, including me – so hard not to sound cliché). She said the food was good but that it didn’t taste the same from the plate sitting on her lap on the couch.

Yesterday I roasted sweet potatoes with whole garlic cloves which we could the slather over

Yesterday I roasted sweet potatoes with whole garlic cloves which we then slathered over the cooked potatoes – truly yummy

Wow – I completely got it of course. I am the one who always insists, no matter how many people are crammed into our house for any kind of party, that we use real glasses and real plates. I cannot stand eating from paper plates and drinking wine from a plastic cup! The dining room at her grandmother’s house is so different from her own. It is filled with heavy dark wood which is carved and serious-looking. The seat and seat back of the chairs are all covered in a rough tapestry fabric with dark wood to match the side boards and table. There is a chandelier hanging from the ceiling and we eat in this room exactly once a year, each Thanksgiving.

My turkey roasted on this makeshift rack of veggies

My turkey roasted on this makeshift “rack” of veggies

This room has become the very heart of Thanksgiving for her, and my son. When they get excited about this holiday they picture the turkey with all of the trimmings, and that dining room. And she was right. It was different for me as a grown-up whose life has been made up of making adjustments and juggling my way through unforseen obstacles. I did not think anything of shifting from the dining room to the kitchen and the couches and chairs in the living room. However, it did make a difference to them and I felt sorry that their experience was lessened. I told them that we didn’t think about the implications but that next year we would make more of an effort (even if someone is sick, we can prop them up in a comfy chair!) to all sit around the table and eat together. And now that I think about it, we never did say what we were all thankful for either.

Sweetcorn always makes an appearance on the Thanksgiving table (this year in the form of corn bread)

Sweetcorn always makes an appearance on the Thanksgiving table (this year in the form of corn bread)

I don’t think it was a total disaster by any stretch, but I just wanted to comment on how we count on things when we are young. It was very poignant to hear my kids talking in this way and made me more aware of how we unconsciously shape their childhood memories. I will tread more mindfully in the future. After all, I don’t want them to end up on some psych couch blaming me for all of their problems (that’s a joke folks). 

So here at last is the ROAST TURKEY RECIPE (serves 12-15)

You will need:

1 12-15lb turkey (whatever quality bird you can afford)

1 head garlic – peeled and finely minced

1/2 salt

1 tbls fresh thyme leaves

1 tbs tomato paste

1 tbs honey

juice of 1 lemon (save the juiced lemon for the cavity)

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

several grinds black pepper

3 sticks of celery, broken in half

2 cups baby carrots or 3 carrots cut lengthways and cut in half

2 to 3 stalks of sage with leaves

bunch of fresh thyme with stems

2 cups white wine (Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon blanc)

2 tbs all-purpose flour

2 tbs soft unsalted butter

Method:

Preheat oven to 400*

Each pound of meat will take 14 minutes to cook so write down the time you put your turkey into the oven and calculate the time it will be done and write this time down also. It will save you guessing and being confused later!

1 – finely chop the garlic with the thyme leaves, salt and pepper until is looks paste-like. place in a small bowl and add the tomato paste, honey, lemon juice and olive oil. mix together.

Mixture to season turkey

Mixture to season turkey

2 – pat the turkey dry and then run your hand between the skin and the flesh to separate. Take some of the mixture and insert it between the skin and the flesh, covering as much of the area as you can open up. Rub it very well. Rub about 3 tablespoons of the mixture all over the outside of the bird.

3 – put the thyme leaves and the juiced lemon halves into the cavity.

4 – Arrange the celery, sage and carrots in the bottom of your roasting pan (like a rack – see picture in this blog post) and set the turkey breast side down on top.

5 – Turn the oven down to 325* place into oven. Cook for 30 minutes and then pour a cup of the wine over the turkey and cook for another 30 minutes. Pour the last cup of wine over the bird and continue to cook. Baste turkey every half hour or so.

6 – one hour before your turkey is cooked, remove from oven and turn turkey over so it is breast side up. Baste and cook for the last hour basting once halfway through.

7 – remove from oven when your turkey reads 175* and remove to platter and loosely cover with foil. Rest for 30 minutes.

8 – strain the turkey juices and skim off as much of the fat on the surface as you can. Place back in roasting pan or into clean saucepan and bring to a low boil. Mix 2 tablespoons of soft butter and 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour together until you form as paste (called a roux)

whisk roux into pan juices..

whisk roux into pan juices..

9 – Add the roux to your gravy and stir quickly with a whisk to disperse. Stir for about 2 minutes and cook for about 5 minutes more so the flour cooks into the gravy. Taste gravy and adjust for salt.

Remove to platter and cover. rest for 30 minutes before carving

Remove to platter and cover. Rest for 30 minutes before carving

Carve turkey and serve with gravy.