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
Americano’s Chanterelle Mushroom Soup
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
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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The Soul of Dinner Party

For the third challenge, which I didn’t advance to, I was really grasping at straws for and idea worthy of the Project Food Blog competition.  My first two entries, I thought were sound and felt confident that I did a good job, but every idea that I had come up with for the third round sounding lame and gimmicky.  I had just finished reading The Soul of a Chef, by one of my favorite authors Michael Ruhlman.  As I find all of his books, it was very inspiring and thought provoking. When I reached the end of the book there were some soulful recipes from the three outstanding chefs featured in the book: Brian Polcyn, Michael Symons and Thomas Keller.

Because of this book, I decided to apply the idea of soul to blogging and participating in the Project Food Blog competition.  Of the 1888, people who entered only 655 actually took the time to submit an entry for the first round.  Why? I am sure there are numerous reasons: ideological differences, time commitments, feelings of inadequacy etc… but for those of us that did place themselves on the chopping block, what was the common thread that bound us together?  Did we are share the soul of a food blogger?  Would that soulful element shine through our words and images and liken our fellow blogger to cast their votes for our entries? We are all pushing through this competition for a variety of reasons be it finding a new audience, getting more page hits, exploring fresh ideas, cash and glory etc… Regardless why we are here the winner will possess this incalculable element that is not on the judges scale, soul.
The key to successful party planning is preparation and organization.  While I am proficient in the preparation, I am just average in the area of timing and execution. I blame this on my perpetual habit of overdoing it and making things more complicated than necessary.  So I decide only 3 courses!
“Caesar Salad” – Parmigiano-Reggiano Custard with Lettuce and Parmesan Crisp (Adapted from The French Laundry Cookbook)

Spicy Smoke-Roasted Pork Loin with Green Apple-Horseradish Sauce
(Adapted from Brian Polcyn)
Cream of Walnut Soup
Once I identify my recipes, I print them out and in this case photo copy them to be placed in a binder.  I hate getting my cookbooks or notebooks dirty.  I then go through the recipes and make a cumulative shopping list sorted by category: produce, dairy meat, pantry etc.. 
Next, I start brainstorming a schedule, analyzing what items can be made ahead and ordering the steps I need to do chronologically. The time I spend preparing the schedule is really the key for me to make complicated menus for large parties, particularly Thanksgiving, which I begin research and prep in early October. 
Where I get dans la merde is my timing.  I quite often under estimate the time it will take me to compete certain tasks and I know I will improve with experience, but I often neglect to include pauses to clean up. I have this weird tick that I can’t cook in a messy kitchen.  I need a blank canvas so to speak before I can begin the next task.
Once I found out that I didn’t make it to the 3rd round, I gave up my photographic efforts and focused on  enjoying a great meal with friends. Everything turned out fantastic, with only one small snafu.  The parmesan custard didn’t solidify well.  When I unmolded it it was cooked, but not formed.
Good luck to everyone who advanced to round 3.  I will do my best to read as many posts as possible and cast my votes.
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