Thanksgivings Supporting Cast

Typically the turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving meal, but everyone has different variations of what the traditional side dishes are.  I wanted to list some dishes that are less traditional accompaniments to serve alongside the turkey.  Since the Thanksgiving meal is usually so massive and heavy, I’m suggesting to try these lighter items.

Sweet Potato- Orange Purée– My mom used to serve this and it is very easy to prepare.  Roast the sweet potatoes until soft and mix with a little parsley, orange zest, and orange juice to taste.  If you want to get fancy- hollow out the flesh from an orange that has been cut in half, blanch the orange “cup” in boiling water, stuff with the sweet potato purée, and bake in the oven.

Wild Rice Pilaf- Cook the wild rice with sautéed onions and garlic and chicken or vegetable stock.  When the rice is fully cooked, toss in dried fruit, pecans or chestnuts, and fresh chopped sage.

Heirloom Squash Soup- Find an heirloom squash from a local farmers market (last year I used a French variety called Galeux d’Eysines), cut into quarters, scoop out the seeds and roast until soft, scoop out the flesh and purée with sautéed onions, roasted garlic, and chicken stock.

Mixed Green Salad- Toss fresh lettuce with dried cranberries, pear, apple, or persimmons, pomegranate seeds, and orange vinaigrette.

Raw Cranberry Relish- One bag of fresh cranberries, 3/4 cup of sugar, and 1 whole seedless orange.  Pulse in a food processer, or through a food mill, or for the best results, through a meat grinder.  Best when made one day in advance.

Steamed Green Beans- Simply tossed with a little olive oil and sea salt.

Talking Turkey

The countdown towards Thanksgiving preparation has begun.   The shopping lists are getting checked off, the menu is waiting for final approval, the guest list is being sized up, and the wine list is getting chosen.  Now we have to decide how we’re going to cook the turkey?

I have cooked many different turkeys in many different ways in the past.  I think the only way I haven’t cooked a turkey is on the grill (I still can’t see how the turkey would benefit from being cooked with the grills high and dry heat).  Last year I cooked some turkey parts sous vide with great success.  I have deep fried turkeys in the past but I can’t say that the outcome is worth the messy clean-up, excessive amount of oil it takes, or the risk of burning the house down.  I usually like to stay with the traditional method of roasting so you can get hours of great scents wafting from the oven.  I go back and fourth about whether or not to brine the bird which can be challenging with the sanitation issues and having a shortage of refrigerator space.  Last year I decided not to brine, so this year I’m back on board with that method.  I feel it’s worth the extra effort of brining to give the turkey that extra bit of moisture.  I have a smaller then average oven that benefits from less air surrounding the bird during roasting and it helps keep the meat from drying out and giving me a crispy exterior with a juice interior.

Next Post: The Side Dishes.

Review: “Chef’s Press”

The latest kitchen gadget that I have been testing out is the “Chef’s Press”, 9-oz. weights that are used for weighting down food while cooking or marinating.  These weights are sold exclusively at Williams-Sonoma in sets of three and are designed by Bay Area chef Bruce Hill.

The Things I Like: The weights are nicely designed to easily stack on top of each other for extra needed weight or you can overlap them to cover more surface area.  They also interlock nicely for convenient storage.  The vented holes are great for letting the steam escape and allowing the food items to get a nice sear or great grill marks.

The Things I Don’t Like: High and Low.  The price is high and the weight is low.  9 oz. seems a little light for most items that I’m cooking and at $25 for a set of three the price seems a bit steep to have a large collection on hand.  Cleaning takes a little bit of scrubbing to get all of the grease off.

Dungeness Crab Season

The official start of local Dungeness crab season opens today in Central California for commercial fishermen and it’s expected to be a better then average season after a few disappointing years.  The fishermen are holding up there boats from going out today after finding “soft crabs” but they should be ready to start pulling up the traps in a few days, so you’ll start seeing fresh local crab in the markets soon.

A crab appetizer makes a great starter before the heavy Thanksgiving meal.  I have always made crab cakes to serve as guests arrive accompanied with a nice California sparkling wine.  Other options would be to have a crab salad with avocado, chilled cucumber soup with crab, or just a whole steamed crab with garlic butter and some crusty bread.

Mushroom Season

Mushrooms are popping up around the markets just in time for Thanksgiving, and finally, the prices are becoming more affordable.  I have seen Chanterelles for around $20 a pound and they are a great addition to turkey gravy or just sautéed and put into a stuffing.

I picked up a beautiful Porcini mushroom at Far West Fungi for $28 a pound.  They are huge and perfect for roasting whole (I wish I had a pizza oven) or slicing and sautéing with a little olive oil, garlic, and shallots.

White and black Truffles are also around in the markets and they are coming from Oregon, France, and Italy ranging from $18 an ounce for the Oregon truffles to $187 an ounce for the prized white truffles from Piedmont, Italy.