Post Thanksgiving: A Turkey Day Recap

This post may seem a little untimely, but I left my computer cable Sofia and was unable to retrieved it till this weekend, so I apologize for my Thanksgiving re-cap post about 2 weeks late!
Still full of Turkey Day spirit!
I don’t think the term shattered completely encompasses how I felt the day after Thanksgiving.  The mass quantities of wine ingested during the course of dinner probably didn’t help much or the copious amounts of food.  The meal was a success for the most part, but there were a few snafus along the way. Looking back on the meal, the cooking, the preparation, I feel the need to share a few things that I learned.

My Thanksgiving meal starts a few weeks before the actual day, when I begin gathering my research materials, which help me build my menu.  Usually, I try to find a theme to bind the meal together, but this year, I kind of winged it; selecting recipes and sides that sounded delicious, but also making sure that many colors were represented. I have a large selection of Thanksgiving recipe books and old November issues of culinary magazines, plus a folder of random loose recipes that I have printed out over the years.

I gathered my reading materials and started to sort through and tag with post-its possible 2010 contenders and managed to narrow it down to these lovely dishes, which I photocopied to preserve my books and resources (anal retentive… yes, I know):
Glittering Spiced Walnuts
Spinach Dip with Crudités
Spicy Three-Cheese Spread
Soup
Americano’s Chanterelle Mushroom Soup
Main
Sage-Brined Roast Turkey with
Whole Wheat Stuffing with Pomegranate bacon, Chestnuts and Parmesan
Potato Gratin with Mushrooms and Gruyère
Braised Chestnuts with Madeira Cream Sauce
Maple Braised Butternut Squash with Fresh Thyme
Chiffonade of Brussels Sprouts with Diced Pomegranate Bacon and Hazelnuts
Cranberry Sauce
Dessert
Apple Crostata with Cheddar Crust
Pear Crostata with Figs and Honey
Persimmon Pudding

Once I figure out the recipes, I begin to assemble a shopping list and schedule.  This year I decided to forgo typing my schedule, but keeping organize with my white board.  I think I prefer this method of organization because it is larger and allows me to really visualize what I have yet to do. Although my typed version is much more detailed breaking down recipes into various steps and elements.
This was my status mid-afternoon on Wednesday.

While Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday, including my birthday, which not technically a holiday, but does falls on Groundhogs Day (US), I always overdo it, just in different ways every year.  For example, the first time I hosted a Thanksgiving in 2000, I made 9 different pies for 9 adults.  For those of you who have trouble with math that is a pie a person… so, in retrospect I now consider this an unhealthy pie to person ratio. This year, while hosting only 4 adults and my 2 girls; created 3 starters, a soup, a turkey, 6 side dishes and 3 desserts, which wouldn’t be that bad, but I neglected to adjust the original serving sizes from 8 – 10 people.

The amount of food was insane.  I felt horribly wasteful.  Most of the leftovers were eaten over the course of a few days, but one of my pies just completely went to waste and got moldy before we could touch it!

R.I.P Apple Crostata with Cheddar Crust

TIP: Cook for the actual guests you in attendance, not the dinner party in your head.  Just because you are a glutton doesn’t mean everyone else is too!

A few days before Thanksgiving, I received some frantic phone calls and text messages about where to find a turkey in Bulgaria. I have never had a problem finding a frozen turkey in Sofia or Kyustendil.  They are available in the frozen meat section.

Пуешко месо (pu-esh-ko me-so) = turkey meat
For the last 4 years, Doux has been the only brand of bird that I have found.  If you are lucky enough to know someone who keeps live turkeys, then that would be your best bet for procuring a fresh bird.  My only concern is the storage and transportation of the bird after it has been killed.  Turkey is not something that Bulgarians eat regularly, so be mindful of salmonella and other such things. 
TIP: If you are buying a frozen bird.  Allow yourself at least 4 DAYS to thaw the bird in the refrigerator. So, this means you need to buy your bird on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  Most rapid thawing of frozen poultry lead to questionable flavors and textures.  If you have ever had rubbery/gummy chicken in a restaurant in Bulgaria, you know exactly what I mean.

All in all I would categorize the meal as a success.  I am certain next year will be my best Thanksgiving thus far.  I am already planning it now.  I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays thus far.  Do you have any holiday meal planning tips that help you year after year?

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Free-Form Apple Tart

The Monthly Mingle was started by Meeta at What’s for Lunch Honey. It is a monthly blogging event that I wish I participated in more frequently because it is nice to connect with European food bloggers! This month’s Mingle was all about fruit in baking, which is really apropos to the Thanksgiving season.  I have pies on the brain and with the abundance of harvest fruits, this seems like good fit.

I chose to make a Free-Form Apple Tart from November’s Food and Wine magazine. I have a love/hate relationship with pie crust and because of this I challenge myself constantly with improving my dough techniques. I had never attempted a this sort of crust, so why not, plus my husband has been hassling me make some snacks… desserts… whatever.

Here are some of my favorite pie crust tips:

1.) Make sure all your ingredients are cold! Butter… chilled, ice-water… icy, flour… cold, mixing vessel… in chilled. Why?  The cold ingredients is what makes you pastry flaky. If you let you butter melt, say from the warmth of you hands… the crust will be dense and crispy.

2.) Work quickly. Have everything you need ready, including your plastic wrap ready to go. If you ingredients get warm (see #1) your crust will disappoint.

3.) Take notes. There are many many pie crust recipes and not all of them work. Find what recipes gives you success and perfect upon it.You will come to see the similarities. For example, this recipe was nearly identical to my favorite Pâte Brisée from Martha Stewart, except it called for less butter and was for one tart instead of two crusts. I found this crust very easy to work with.

Free-Form Apple Tart adapted from Sam Mogannam

Dough:

2 1/2 cups (16 oz/ 454g)  all-purpose flour
1 1/2 stick (6 oz/ 170g) unsalted butter cut into (1/2″/1.25 cm) cubes
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup (6 oz/ 178 ml) ice water

Filling:

1/2 cup of sugar
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 lg egg white, beaten
2 tbsp, turbinado or raw sugar

Method:

For the dough, with either a food processor fitted with the metal blade attachment or a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar and salt and then pulse or turn on low to combine.

On a low speed, add the butter until it combines and is crumbly. With the machine running, add 1/4 cup of the ice water. This part is tricky… continue adding small amounts of the ice water till the dough is just evenly moist.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and kneed quickly, until it comes together. Pat the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap.  Chill of at least an hour or overnight.

Pre-heat the oven to 400F (205C). Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured work surface roll out the dough to a 17″ (44 cm) round, then trim it neatly to 16″ (40.5 cm). Transfer the dough to the cookie sheet.

In a medium bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar with the lemon zest and a pinch of salt. Add the apples and the lemon juice. Toss well. Leave a three inch (7.65 cm) border then begin layering in a circle. Then repeat and create a second layer of apples. Stuff any remaining apples in any large gaps. Fold the excess dough to create an over lapping rim. Brush with beaten egg white and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake for 55 minutes and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

This tart exceeded my expectations. The flavors were fresh and simple. I would easily make this again, but next time ease up on the lemon. I was a bit heavy handed. All in all it was a treat for the whole family. A little Monday night Thanksgiving pre-game!

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Chocolate Soufflé

This is the first time in many months that I have participated in a Daring Kitchen Challenge. Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose Soufflés as our November 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge!  Dave and Linda provided many of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate souffle recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s recipe found at the BBC Good Food website.

The only other time I had prepared a soufflé was after the IWC French cooking demo. It was a cheese soufflé and didn’t turn out quite as I imagined.  I had a hard time folding in the egg mixture to the cheese mixture.  I assumed that I did something wrong, maybe the cheese wasn’t cheesy enough or the eggs were to stiff and dense, what ever the reason, I wasn’t happy with my results.  When I read about the DK Souffle challenge, I thought this was my chance to redeem myself.

Of the types of soufflés that were suggested, the chocolate soufflé was easiest option to procure ingredients, and I had extra 70% dark chocolate bars, so there was nothing I didn’t have available, except; equipment wise. I didn’t have on hand the 8oz (240ml) ramekins, which the recipe called for, so I had to make due with 3 larger vessels, there was a 4th which had miraculously disappeared.

This recipe also provided me with another opportunity to try out one of Martha Stewart’s November Good Things, a powdered sugar shaker made with a Ball jar and cheesecloth.  

Here is Gordon Ramsey’s Chocolate Soufflé recipe, which is also found on the BBC Good Food

For the Dishes

2 tbsp (30 ml) 1 oz (30 g) unsalted butter, for greasing
Cocoa powder or finely grated chocolate

For the Creme Patisserie

2 tbsp (30 ml) (18 g) (2/3 oz) all-purpose flour
2 tsp (10 gm) (.35 oz) caster (superfine) sugar (regular sugar is OK)
1/2 tsp (4 1/2 g) (.15 oz) corn starch (aka corn flour)
1 md egg yolk
1 md whole egg
4 tbsp (60 ml) milk
5 tbsp (75 ml) heavy cream (or double cream)
3 oz (90 g) good-quality dark chocolate 70% cocoa solids, broken in pieces
2 tbsp (30 ml) (15 g) (1/2 oz) unsweetened cocoa powder

For the Egg White

6 md egg whites
6 1/2 tbsp (95 ml) 3 oz (90 g) superfine/caster sugar

Directions:

1. Heat the oven to moderate 375F (190 C)
2. Take four 1 cups/ 240 ml soufflé dishes and brush then completely with softened butter.  Tip a little cocoa or grated chocolate into each dish, roll the dish around tiliting it as you do so it is evenly lined all around.
3. For the creme patisserie, mix the flour, sugar and corn starch intoa small bowl.  Put egg yolk and whole egg into a medium siced bowl, lightly beat, then beat in half of the flour mixture to give a smooth paste.  Tip in the rest of the flour mixture and cocoa powder and mix well.
4. To make ganache, pour mild and cream into a pan and bring just to a boil.  Remove from the heat.  Add the chocalte and beat until it is melted and smooth with no lumps.
5. Gradually stir hot chocolate ganacu into the paste from step 3.
6. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks with an electric whisk.  Sprinkle in the sugar as you ar mixing.  Keep whisking to give stiff, firm peask to give volume to the soufflé.

7. Stir about 2 tbsp (30 ml) of the beaten egg whites into the creme patisserie.  Carefully fold in a third of the rest, cutting through the mixture.  Fold in another third (take care not to lose the volume), then fold in the rest.
8. Spoon the mixture into the dishes.  Run a spoon across the top of each dish so the mixture is completely flat.  Take a little time to wipe any splashes off the outside of each dish, or they will burn on while cooking.
9. Bake the soufflés for 15 – 17 minutes.
10. The soufflés should have risen about two thirds of their original height and jiggle when moved, but be set on top.
The consensus in the family was not very positive towards the soufflé.  My girls thought the chocolate flavor was too bitter and not sweet enough and my husband wasn’t too jazzed about them either.  I think I had the same problem as I did with the cheese soufflé, which was I didn’t get the two mixtures to incorporate correctly.  Also, since I didn’t have the correct size ramekin, I might have over cooked them a bit.  
Have you ever made a soufflé?  What are some tips that you can offer or what are some of your hesitations about making a soufflé?

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Lamingtons and Pavlovas: Kiwi Delights

For those of you who don’t recall, the family and I spent 10 days WWOOF-ing on an organic garlic farm this past summer. Our lovely hosts Graeme, a New Zealander (A.K.A “Kiwi”) and Jo a Brit, run a fantastic garlic business called Tears of Orphaeus. This weekend will be Graeme’s 40th birthday and Angel and I are heading back to Dabovo to help them celebrate and we are bringing along some Kiwi (not the fruit) treats.

The party invite gave a list of tasty confections that are popular in Oceania. I decided that I was going try my hand at Lamingtons and Pavlovas. I had only had Pavlovas or “pavs” once before. My Australian friend Vanessa had made some for a party. I remember the way they tasted almost dissolving on your tongue. It was a unique dessert and because it was made from meringue, I imagined it incredibly difficult to make, but it was quite the opposite. The recipe I used was from Martha Stewart’s Cooking School, but the recipe can also be found online here.

I was a bit nervous while beating the meringue, because I was using my Kitchen Aid Mixer and though I might over work it. Looking back that I might have under whipped the meringue, which is why I didn’t have as solid of a form as the recipe indicated, but still very delicious. It was served with some of my cherry preserves and cream.
The Lamingtons were easy enough to make but the assembly was a pain in the ass. The recipe that I  found was from the Joy of Baking. I made the cake the night before and refrigerated it. I figured I would ice and roll in coconut before we left for the party, but it took forever. The recipe had suggested spooning the frosting over each side till coated completely, but I think next time it would be better to dunk and they let the excess run off, then roll in the coconut. I ended up wasting a lot of icing, even if scrapped and reused.

Read all about our New Zealand Hāngi!

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Graham Crackers: An American Treat

As part of my recipe for S’mores I needed to make Graham crackers, which besides snacking, pie crusts and S’mores have no other culinary purpose. I had attempted to make them once before using a recipe from 101 Cookbooks, which could have turned out better, so this time I opted for an Alton Brown recipe. He is one of my favorite TV food personalities, because I love his use of science to dissect a recipe and demystifying the “magic” that happens in the kitchen.

8 3/8 oz (238g) graham flour
1 7/8 oz (53g) all-purpose flour
3 oz (85g) dark brown sugar
3/4 tsp aluminum-free baking powder (article about why go aluminum-free)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3 oz (85g) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch (.64 cm) pieces and chilled
1 1/8 oz (32g) molasses
1 1/8 oz (32g) honey
1 1/2 oz (.45ml) milk
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Combine all of the dry ingredients in a food processor fitted with the metal blade attachment.  Pulse to combine.

Add butter and plus to combine till you get a coarse meal.  Add molasses, honey, milk and vanilla and process till the dough starts to come together enough to form a ball, about 1 minute.

Pour dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and form into a thin disk, wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

After the dough has chilled, roll out between two sheets of parchment paper till about 1/8 inch (.31cm) thick.

Using a pizza cutter (which I didn’t have and you can see the coarse edges of my crackers) cut into  2 inch (5cm) squares and prick with the tines of a fork.  Bake at 350F (177C) for 20 – 25 minutes till the edges start to brown.

Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.  Once, cook break the pieces and store in an airtight container for 2 weeks.

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Chocolate Cherry Brownies

I went to our cherry orchard yesterday and picked 6 – 7 kilos of cherries, which I intend to use in a variety of ways. So, I decided to make brownies, which are not wild or crazy, but if the end result is delicious that is all that matters and these moist confections were phenomenal!

I was very fortunate to have some fantastic helper in the kitchen, who started eating and licking most of the ingredients, so my actual brownies have less chocolate then expected because pieces just kept going missing and nobody knew where they were… forget about the fact that the corners of their mouths were brown!

2 cups (340g) fresh cherries, pitted
1/2 cup (115g) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (115g) universal/ all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
6 oz (170g) unsalted butter
7 oz (200g) dark chocolate 70%, 
2 cups (340g) sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon

Method:
  • In a double boiler, melt butter, chocolate and sugar, until the chocolate and butter are combined.  You don’t need the sugar to dissolve. Let cool slightly.
  • Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time to the chocolate mixture, which should be slightly cooled.  Mix completely after each addition.
  • Add the vanilla extract.
  • Mix half of the dry ingredients into the batter, combine until just incorporated, then add the rest. Don’t over mix.
  • Fold the cherries in to the mixture.
  • Pour batter into a buttered pan, lined with parchment paper. Bake at 325 F for about an hour, until a tester comes out with only a few crumbs.

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Lemon Cream Pots

I have only heard about Donna Hay since I moved to Bulgaria and started hanging out with Aussies and Kiwis. I imagine Donna Hay as the Oceanic continent’s answer to Martha Stewart, but I could be wrong… Anyway, when I found out that Mardi at Eat, Travel Write was hosting the Hay Hay it’s Donna Day cooking event facilitated by Chez UsI decided to expand my culinary repertoire to include Ms. Hay.

Not being at all familiar with her recipes, I went online and found something simple Lemon Cream Pots.  Mardi had suggested trying the Cheesecake Pots she created, but I couldn’t find any berries beside strawberries, so I moved on to lemons. To say this recipe was easy would be an understatement.  The only tricky bit was the wafers, but not really.

2 cups (500ml) double (thick) cream *48% fat content
1/2 cup (110g) caster (superfine) sugar
1 tbsp finely grated lemon rind (zest)
1/4 cup (60ml) lemon juice
double (thick) cream, to serve

Note: I didn’t have the right cream. My cream only had 25% fat content, so it wouldn’t have thickened properly, so I added 1 tbsp of cornstarch. I wouldn’t recommend this in the future because it gave it a gritty texture.  

Lemon wafers

1/4 cup (35g) plain (all-purpose) flour
1/4 cup (40g) icing (confectioner’s) sugar
2 egg whites
40g butter, melted
2 tst finely grated lemon rind (zest)

Mise en place
Adding cream and sugar to a sauce pan.  Stir to dissolve.

Bring to a boil for 3 minutes, whisk in the corn starch (see note), remove from heat and cool slightly before adding lemon juice and zest. The citric acid could curdle the milk if it is too hot. During high school, I used to be a barista at a coffee truck in Brodheadsville, Pennsylvania and I have ruined many a cappuccinos and lattes due to my ignorance that citric acid curdles milk.

Pour the mixture into pots, cups or whatever you have laying around and refrigerate for 3 – 4 hours.

While the recipe undoubtably tasted good, personally, I have a penchant for complicated recipes. I feel a greater sense of accomplishment when I create something labor intensive and time consuming.  Sometimes I feel like cooking is similar to doing a puzzle. You could opt for a 500 piece puzzle and the results would be the same or you could choose the 5000 piece puzzle, which might make you temporarily loose your mind, but in the end you know you finished it… unless you find that one of the pieces is missing, but that is just how it goes.

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