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29

2004
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Thanksgiving, November 25, 2004 You may have noticed the discrepancy sometimes between the dates that denote the particular moment the post is published versus the date which the event I'm describing actually happened. Aside from the confusion of having two separate dates, the observant among you will have also put two and two together and noticed that I'm 7-8 months behind in posting. I'm busy describing meals that we ate awhile ago. Luckily my notes are good, the photos help a lot, and the best dishes stay fresh in my mind anyway. But by the time I got around to describing what we did for Thanksgiving last year it was already this summer and frankly nobody needs me to describe a huge meal with an enormous turkey in the heat of July. So this year I am reporting on our eating a little out of order. And what follows is a basic description of the "little" meal we cooked up last Thursday.

There is a unique combination of disorders that result in the activities that get documented on this site (not to mention the fact that things get documented at all, and in such detail). Allow me to explain. What do you get when you get a bunch of friends together, who are curious, eager to try new things, obsessed with food, over-focused on details, love to understand how things work, love to explain endlessly once they understand things, love to be right, are competitive, with a solid does of geek/nerd underlying the whole bit? You get me, my friends, and this website. So for the last three years we have been following a DaVinci Code like path hunting for Thanksgiving treasure. Did we shamelessly rip off Dan Brown and put a treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence? We're no Jerry Bruckheimer (or Nick Cage). We shamelessly ripped off Jeffrey Steingarten and his description of the three superhuman challenges that one must go through to experience all a turkey has to offer.

Two years ago we deep-fried a turkey. These days this may seem commonplace, but back then it was novel. (OK, maybe not even back then.) While we didn't burn the house down, we did completely underestimate how long it takes to heat a huge pot of boiling oil. We ate quite late. Last year we (and by "we" I mean Alex) made a Thompson's Turkey. Five billion ingredients. The most complicated turkey and stuffing ever made. This year, there was only one thing left to do... (and I mean that figuratively) the Turducken.

Take a chicken, stuff it into a duck. Take the very same duck, and stuff it into a turkey. Mortar between each layer with three different stuffings. Cook for 8-10 hours. While we're not searching for the holy grail, the deep-fried, the thompson's, and the turducken are the essentially the Thanksgiving trinity. And this thanksgiving is when the hats hit the ice.

Now most people would take on the Turducken and figure that some basic mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and a salad would be nice accompaniments. But most people are not me and my friends - feeling compelled to go overboard. I suppose when it comes to gatherings where there is cooking to be done, our strategy is typically "shock and awe".

Things started off with Gruyere Gougeres which Leslie made from the recipe in the French Laundry Cookbook. These were delicious... all airy and cheesy but crisp on the outside. Kat came through with Crostini with Chevre, Fresh Fig Compote (made from figs in Alex' garden) and topped with a Cranberry "Coulis" that was supposed to be gelled cranberry sauce but it never gelled. There were also Lebanese Spinach Turnovers from DebDu. Little yummy phyllo surprises.

The main dishes was of course the Turducken which Alex made from Paul Prudhomme's recipe. This was quite good. We can't find the quote (though we think it was Steingarten) who said the turkey makes a perfect vessel for cooking a delicious duck. And in fact our turkey was a touch dry, though it was beautiful to look at, and the skin was perfection. The gravy helped. But the duck inside was juicy and delicious. The stuffings were great as well, with the shrimp and hot pepper version as the most delicious.

But again, the group personality disorder served the crowd well as one triple main dish wasn't enough. This was the genesis of the Three Pork Surprise. The surprise is that there are three kinds of pork. Ok, not much of a surprise given the name. Basically it's a Pork Loin Stuffed with Andouille Sausage, Wrapped in Bacon, Smoked, and Grilled. And while it was good, I think more creativity is in order here for next year - anyone for Seven Pork Surprise?

Oh yes, and Lauren brought her standard Tofurkey. (This one seemed particularly downtrodden. No Presidential reprieve for him.)

What to do for cranberries? The debate raged, but suffice it to say (that since I'm writing down what happened) the fans of the Cranberry with Flavo-Ridges won the day. I don't need some fancy cranberry sauce on my turkey. Alex succumbed a little bit and got the organic cranberries in a can at Wholefoods. (By the way not only does Chris deserve credit for "Flavo-Ridges" but he also gets credit for all the photos this time. He has his own write-up of  our Thanksgivinganza at his blog.)

No shortage of sides. Alex made Chipotle Sweet Potato au Gratin, Bobby Flay's recipe. Debdu brought Tunisian Squash Puree (she used Sugar Pumpkin instead of squash), and Moroccan Orange Salad with Olives which was one of the most interesting flavors we had all night. Both were from the Saffron Shores cookbook. Walter and Mary-Alice brought Marjoram Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding. The recipes was from an as yet unpublished cookbook from Jerry Traunfeld. (Mary-Alice got it when she took a class at Sur La Table.)

I made a few sides myself. First was the Pearl Onion and Shallot in Port Glaze. This was from the latest issue of Bon Appetit. Simple to make and delicious. The next was Joel Robuchon's Potato "Puree". Carefully but forcefully combine two pounds of potatoes, one pound of butter, and some milk. What results is as best I can describe a perfect potato milkshake. I mean this in a good way. Every time we've tried to make this recipe we've chickened out before adding as much butter as the recipe says. This time I was determined. In addition to the food mill, we also had a tamis, which is absolutely critical to really breaking down the potato atoms into their respective potato electrons. I've had this dish in at Robuchon's restaurant and it was delicious. Mine (with help from Leslie, Peyman, and Walter) were damn close. If anything they were slightly less buttery. Though I'm not sure that more butter would have necessarily resulted in a more buttery flavor. But trust me, they were not the least bit greasy.

I also embarked on the next chapter in my eternal quest for the perfect macaroni and cheese. I won't get into all the details, as I have not finished my quest. But that said, imagine penne, in a shallow pan (so it maximizes the amount of crusty goodness, drenched with a mix of a super-sharp cheddar and an ultra-creamy Italian, studded with huge chunks of extra-thick bacon, and topped with breadcrumbs. This was good. Alex has been eating hte leftovers and says it's awesome frozen food. I was not happy (and btw, none of the kids at the meal liked it). Onward and upward.

Finally, Leslie rounded out the desserts with a delicious Apple Cranberry Ginger Pie from a Williams Sonoma recipe; a yummy Pumpkin Cheesecake - here's the recipe from Frank Stitt's Southern Table courtesy of Hsao-Ching Chou of the Seattle PI; and some delicious and interesting Sugar Cookies which she got from the King Arthur Flour Cookbook (she added orange oil to give it a unique flavor).

All in all, a pretty successful Thanksgiving I would say. A little crazy, but that's the fun. When we compared the Turducken, the Deep-Fried, and the Thompson's, the Deep-Fried seems to be the best deal in terms of flavor divided by effort. So you would think we would try that again next year, but in fact Alex just a few minutes ago sent me mail with a link to an article about and a recipe for a Smoked Turkey (free registration required). I suppose deep frying another turkey would just have been boring anyway.

 

     
     
     
     
     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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