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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Salt-Baked Trout: International Incident Party

For November’s International Incident Party, our fabulous host Jeroxie: Addictive and Consuming has challenged up yet again, but this time with Salt.  For those of you who are familiar with her site, salt makes a regular appearance on her blog.  She even held a giveaway for a fantastic book all about salt aptly named The Salt Book.I was a little stumped about what do do for this event.  My mind veered toward salt preserving and curing, but I am still in my infancy with those procedures.  I had already tackled preserved lemons in a previous post and my charcuterie skills leave much to be desired. Then suddenly the idea of fish baked in salt popped into my head.  I found a recipe in Martha Stewart’s Cooking School, but it called for more kosher salt than I had on hand and used fish that are unavailable in Bulgaria or atleast not available in the quality and the freshness required. I decided on trout baked in a mixture of sea salt and kosher salt… but here is the thing…  I am extremely fish-squimish!





It started back when I was a little girl.  We used to spend our summers on a lake in Pennsylvania, about an hour and a half from our house in Brooklyn.  Being city kids, my brother and I liked to fish for “sunnies” or bluegills because they were ridiculously easy to catch.  Our method was this, toss some bits of white bread in the water and then they just jump onto your hook.  Literally that easy.  Sometimes we could catch over 50 a day, but then toss them back when we were done.  Growing up, my family didn’t eat fish, unless it was frozen and in stick form and even still it was rare.  I was once told that part of being a fisher person is taking your own fish off the hook, which I have never done… to this day.  My only attempt was wearing a baseball glove, which probably killed the fish in the long run.  As a budding chef, I know the time will come, when I have to touch and gut a fish.  Yes, I have touched fish, but it was a salmon filet, which didn’t require me to touch the whole fish.  I don’t know why I am so excited to carve up a cattle carcass, but horrified at the thought of touching a dead fish.

Back to the party, I purchased 3 whole trouts, which had been gutted already (phew!) that I need to clean a bit then bury in salt.  I was literally talking to myself and giving myself a pep talk… “you can do this!” I  finally bit the bullet and took the fish into my hand.

I don’t know if it was the fact that the fishes were intact including head that freaks me, but I felt like it would start wriggling at any moment or its scales would poke into my hand…  One of the fishes jaw started flapping as I ran it under the water and I felt a little shiver down my spine.
Salt-Baked Trout adapted from Martha Stewart Cooking School
3 whole trout – 800 – 900g (1.5 – 2lbs), gutted and cleaned
5 cups (1.5kg/lb) Sea Salt
5 egg whites
3/4 cup water
1 lemon
a bunch of fresh thyme sprigs
a bunch of fresh parsley sprigs
Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 450F (235C)
Rinse the fish under running water till clean and no blood remains.
Whisk together the egg whites and water till frothy.  Add the salt and combine, it should feel like coarse wet sand.
Pour 1/3rd of of the salt mixture on the bottom of a 9 x 13″ baking dish. Layer the 1/4 the lemons and herbs on top of the salt mixture. Stuff the remaining lemons and herbs equally inside the trout.
Cover the fishes in the remaining salt mixture, then bake for 30 – 35 minutes.  When finished, let rest for 5 minutes, then carefully remove the salt crust.
The finished fish was moist and had a delicate lemony herb flavor.  I would probably make this dish again, but use kosher salt, which the recipe originally called for.  My only hesitation is the fact that there is a lot of wasted salt.  I felt a tad guilty about throwing it all away. 
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CIA Greystone Cooking Demonstration

It had been 5 years since I had been in California, the last time was in Los Angeles, when Angel and I decided to move to Bulgaria. I had added additional days to my visit to incorporate the Foodbuzz Festival and a trip to wine country; Napa and Sonoma.  About a month before my trip, I reserved a space for a cooking demo at The Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone Campus.  I had not previously had the opportunity to visit any of the CIA’s campuses and I was quite excited about being surrounded by culinary greatness; to my surprise, I was about the one of the few who attended the demo that felt that way.

This was the second time in my life that I had crossed over the Golden Gate bridge, the first being with my husband on our honeymoon in 2000. The weather was less than stellar on my most recent crossing, but that didn’t stop me from commemorating the event, which was bittersweet without my hubby! The drive through the Napa Valley towards St. Helena was gorgeous.  Route 29 was lined with vineyards and estates, which I was informed you could visit and taste for anywhere from $10 – 30 USD, which would be put toward a bottle should you happen to purchase one. Being that I was on a budget that portion of the tour would need to be saved for the next trip.

We arrived at the Greystone campus early.  My friend Ross Cobb winemaker from Cobb Wines ended up joining me demo, which was nice.  I had originally anticipated going it alone.  The demo was supposed to start at 1:30, but because 44 of the 48 seats were reserved by a team building retreat for Bank of America, they changed the time till 2:00 and we still needed to wait for the tour bus to arrive.  
While waiting, I had an opportunity to speak with the chef, Harold Imbrunetti.  I asked him the most important question, which was where was the best spot to sit and he suggested second row center.  You don’t get to have the first taste, but the best vantage point for the action.  When I told him that I was a blogger, he had asked if I had written to him about getting some gourmet organic rubs and marinades from his company Wine Country Chef for a giveaway.  Maybe he will provide me with some after this post.

Our recipe for the day was Frittata with Crispy Potatoes, Spinach and Truffle Essence.  Chef Imbrunetti provided us with a recipe, but he said that he has never made the same one twice and then proceeded to make changes to the printed recipe we were given.

Frittata with Crispy Potatoes, Spinach and Truffle Essence: 
by CIA Chef Harold Imbrunetti

2 sm russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4″(.63cm) thick
3 tbsp olive oil (he used a hot/spicy Spanish variety)
1 white onion (sweeter in contrast to the leek)
1 lg leek, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
20 eggs
2 oz (59ml) water
1 sm bunch of spinach leaves, washed and stemmed
1/4 cup finely grated Vella Dry Jack & parmesan reggiano (any hard cheese)
3 – 4 tbsp (60g) unsalted butter, cold (I think he used more… a lot more)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 oz (29ml) white truffle oil

Method:

  1. Preheat an oven to 350F (180C)
  2. Place potatoes in a pot with 1 qt (950ml) cold water and 1 tbsp kosher salt.Bring the pot to a simmer and cook for 3 minutes, or until the potatoes are just done through, fork tender.  Drain the potatoes carefully, towel dry excess water and set aside.
  3. Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a sauté pan over a medium burner, make sure the pan is hot before adding the oil.  Add the onion and leek, and sauté for two minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Remove from the pan from heat and allow it to cool to room temperature.
  4. Beat the eggs and water together in a bowl.  Add the cooled onion and leek, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  5. Heat a 9-inch nonstick skillet with an oven-safe handle over a medium burner. Add the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil and arrange the potato slices in the pan in a single layer.  Season the potatoes with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and cook for three minutes, or until golden brown at the edges.
  6. Add chunks of cold butter to the egg mixture, then carefully pour half it over the potatoes.  Arrange the spinach leaves over the eggs.  Cover the spinach with the remaining egg mixture, and sprinkle the surface with the grated cheese.
  7. Transfer the pant to the oven, and bake for 35 – 45 minutes, or until the eggs have set completely.  Remove the pan from the oven, and turn the frittata out onto a large plate.
  8. Cut the frittata into eighths, and drizzle with white truffle oil just before serving. Serve either hot or at room temperature.

The tour bus arrived and our missing audience filled into their seats… only problem, this was the 4th stop on their wine tasting tour and some of them were a little past tipsy.  I knew this was going to be an interesting demo when someone in the back of the room yelled “Bam” as Chef Imbrunetti seasoned the potatoes with salt, to which Chef Imbrunetti replied, even Emeril doesn’t even use that anymore! The lively audience didn’t stop there.
This was a difficult post for me to write because I feel like a bit of a food snob.  Now I understand that not everyone shares the same passion for food and cooking as I do, but I think people should be respectful of the craft.  I happened to be sitting next to one of the most infuriating people in the audience.  She was aghast at the number of eggs in the dish, the amount of butter and cheese and she was quite vocal about it…  “How many calories is in that?” “How healthy is that for you?””I’m not eating that?” and then the icing on the cake… when the chef was layering the spinach into the dish she shouts “That a lot of spinach!”  Needless to say, she and her friends refused to try the dish.  This gave her more time to finish her game of hangman, the answer was GET CRUNK!

Some other choice audience quotes: “Is that frozen?”, “What’s leek?”,”Not a green onion?”, “Is their a secret to cracking and egg?” Chef: “In half.”
Overall the demo was good.  My only grievance was the camera work.  There were two television monitors on either side of the kitchen to give close up details of the action. There were two people controlling the cameras and they were awful.  Their timing was off and they were unable to capture the action on screen.  If the Chef was chopping something the camera was stuck on a potato or an empty dish. Good thing we had good seats! I did however learn some new tricks like:
  • drying to potatoes to help with the browning
  • add the butter cold to the egg mixture, so it slowly dispersers through out the dish and helps give the eggs a better texture
  • don’t add the potatoes raw because then you have no control over them
  • kosher salt helps to bring out the brightness in a dish not saltiness
  • when the oil becomes wavy, before it starts smoking, that is the right temperature to crisp the potatoes.
Thank you Chef Imbrunetti! If you are going to be in the Napa area and would like to schedule a demo please call (707) 967-2320 or visit www.ciachef.edu/california
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