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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Turkey Moussaka: Top Turkey Scholarship

My favorite time of the year is drawing near, Thanksgiving, and it got me thinking about all of the different places that I’ve celebrated this holiday through out my life.  One place in particular was the house that I grew up in, in Brooklyn.  We had a formal dining room with a large wooden table and eight chairs.  I knew that the holidays were near when my father brought up the extra leaves for our drop leaf table.  This act signified the start of the season filled with the trifecta of family, food and friends.

Now, I am a wife and a mother hosting my own Thanksgivings, albeit very far from the homes of my youth, which I think is why I put such emphasis on having my annual grandiose Thanksgiving in Bulgaria.  The first thing I do is research recipes. I start by gathering some of my favorite recipe books, old November issues of culinary magazines and my printed out Thanksgiving recipe file. My goal is to find a theme or common idea to bind the dinner together, one year my theme was Provençal flavors. This year will be no different, except for the fact, I will be visiting the US 2 weeks before Thanksgiving, so I will be able to stock up on research materials and if need be smuggle a few bags of Ocean Spray cranberries in my luggage (FYI – they travel well!)
While I am not certain what recipes I will be preparing for the actually Thanksgiving holiday, I do know what I am planning to do with the leftovers.  Like last year, I am entering The Culinary Institute of America’s Top Turkey Scholarship competition.  The only difference is that this year I need to win… Why you ask?… Well, I will make the formal announcement soon.  Stay tuned!
The premise of the competition is to come up with a fantastic recipe to make use of your leftover turkey meat.  Last year, I made Turkey and Cranberry Raviolis with Gravy but this year, I wanted to find a harmonious collaboration between my American heritage and my adopted homeland Bulgaria.  One dish in particular came to mind and that was Mousakka.  The dish would lend itself well to a day after Thanksgiving meal because of its simple preparation.  Now, before a cultural war breaks out between the Eastern European nations, this is not only a Greek dish, but Bulgarian as well.  All of the neighboring countries Eastern Europe or former Ottoman Empire share many similarities with their cuisines.  That being said, I first experienced Mousakka in August 2001, during my inaugural trip to my husband’s homeland. I finally learned how to make Mousakka when my mother-in-law lived with us in New York after my daughter Maya was born in 2003.  The recipe she shared with me was not exact, nor could we communicate in the same language, so in order to explain the dish to me she prepared the dish and I made notes and observations about her ingredients and technique. It was quite a interesting experience.

I adapted her original recipe to use turkey meat and thyme instead of ground pork and summer savory to capture the essence of Thanksgiving. I also added some dried cranberries because I love the way the tart sweetness blends nicely with the other savory elements.
18 oz (500g) ground turkey
18 oz (500g) potatoes, cut into ½” pieces
7 oz (200g) sweet potatoes, cut into ½” pieces
3.5 oz (100g) or 2 lg carrots, cut into ½” pieces
3.5 (100g) tomatoes, peeled and seeded, roughly chopped
1 large onion chopped
½ cup dried cranberries (optional)
1 tbsp thyme
1 cup chicken or turkey stock
4 eggs
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste.

Pre heat the oven to 350F (180C)

In a large pot, heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil on medium heat.  When hot add the onions and carrots cook till onions are soft about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat; add the turkey meat to the pot along with the cranberries and herbs.  Season with salt and pepper then pour into a 9 x 13 inch dish. Bake in the oven for about 50 minutes till the potatoes are soft.  Remove from oven.
In a small bowl, whisk the eggs together with the milk, season with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the dish and return to oven for an additional 10 – 15 minutes or till the egg mixture has set and has a golden hue.
Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 – 15 mintues before slicing and serving.
I would love to hear from my readers about some of your favorite Thanksgiving recipes, menus and memories.  Thanks for sharing!

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Tiara Roast of Pork for Bela

My “tiara” roast. It doesn’t look “half” bad.
On October 26, I got a strange Facebook message from my Dutch friend Koos. He asked me if I would be interested in doing a magazine article on cooking a Christmas meal for a Bulgarian woman’s magazine called Bela. Of course, I was super excited, but it had to happen before Angel and I left for Australia on November 1, so it gave me a small window of time.
Basically, I called Thedora, who would be writing the article and suggested my idea of making a crown roast. She was pushing for a traditional roast turkey, but here is the thing. In Bulgaria there are no fresh turkeys (if I am wrong, please correct me!), unless you live on a Turkey farm, which I don’t think exist here… so no fresh turkey… only frozen and it takes about 3 – 4 days to properly thaw a turkey. I had 24 hours, so I pushed the crown roast, which is visually appealing on camera. There was only one other hitch… I have never made a crown roast before.
Next dilemma, I needed to email Theodora the ingredient list, but I had no idea how to describe the cut of meat that I needed in bulgarian or english for that matter, so I Googled some images and attached them, so she could show the butcher. As for the description, I showed my mother-in-law the images and asked her to describe it in bulgarian as well to cover all my bases.
The next day, before I started work at the Hilton, I meet up with Theodora to get the meat, which I would marinate overnight in fresh herbs. After work, I opened up the meat to find some weird accordion-like, octopusy-thing. It had ribs and the meat was cut away from the bone, but they were spare ribs, not a roast……. breath…… breath….. panic. I called Theodora and let her know the situation, then I called Lyubov, who I should have called on Monday night, but I am dumb. I also realized that I will have to butcher the roast myself, so I googled “butchering a crown roast” and watched every video I could before I passed out from exhaustion.
At 9 am, I was the one of the first people at Piccadilly armed with my exact description (thanks Lyubov) and I headed to the meat counter. Success! I leave the store with a roast that has 11 ribs. With the shopping and the morning traffic, I manage to make it to Theodora’s before our 10 am scheduled time. I was feeling good and I got to work.
I began hacking away at the meat and it started to take form. I was pleasantly surprised with myself, but before I started to pat myself on the back, I needed to make the crown. I took my cooking twine and with all my might tried to bring it around… it wouldn’t budge. The bones on the bottom of the roast should have been buzzed off, like in the video, so I whacked my knife hoping to crack them, they do, but no crown. I started slicing off slabs of meat to make it round, but still no use. I should have purchased 2 and sewn them together, so it was only half…. a tiara roast. Dimitar, from Be Light Studio was our photographer, so the three of us decided to use creative angles to make the roast appear more crown-like.
Everything else seemed to go smoothly, especially for my first time preparing a crown “tiara” roast. Angel and his brother joined us to eat my creation, which wasn’t half bad. I am planning to make it again for actual Christmas, but now I know exactly what to ask for.
Me and my roast!
The magazine hits newsstands tomorrow in Bulgaria, but you can enjoy an excerpt, which is on Bela’s website. There are some creative liberties take with the article. I have never seen the show Top Chef, but I do have to account for the language barrier.
I am getting a disk of photos from the shoot, which I will post next Tuesday or Wednesday.
Please comment below on the blog. Please share your thoughts… not only with me 🙂

Turkey Talk: $15,000 scholarship for leftovers recipe

For those of you that are aware of my pending culinary school application, I need to raise substantial amounts of money i.e scholarships and financial aid. Being me, I chose the Harvard of culinary schools the CIA, which is not cheap.
They have an annual “Top Turkey Scholarship”. It didn’t cross my mind to enter, until I actually thought about some of the prizes totaling $15,000. The competition is only open to incoming freshman, so a couple of thousand people? How many actually enter? I felt good about my odds. Then there is the problem with an original recipe.
My favorite leftovers on Friday are a plate of whatever is left from Thursday. Not very original, I know! So, I put my eating cap on and got down to business. I tried to isolate the elements of the Thanksgiving dinner that I would want to relive the next day, next week, next month… and I came to turkey, cranberry sauce and gravy. These elements are things that I found myself craving even before the fourth Thursday in November. I also, wanted the recipe to have some degree of difficulty, but not distract from the flavors of the leftovers.
So, what I came up with is turkey, cranberry ravioli’s with gravy sauce.

Serves 4

1 favorite pasta dough recipe

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 lg. or 2 md. shallots, finely chopped

1 tbsp dry sherry

1 ½ cups of chopped turkey meat, white and dark

1 – 2 egg yokes

Salt and fresh pepper

½ cup of cranberry sauce, you can adjust the amount to suit your taste

1 cup of turkey gravy

Chicken Stock

Sage leaves (optional)

Fresh cranberries (optional)

Add butter to a skillet over medium high heat, melt butter and then add shallots. Let the shallots soften for about 2 minutes, then add sherry, let shallots absorb the sherry. Add turkey meat to the shallot mixture and cook till the chill is out of the turkey meat about less than 2 minutes. Place turkey shallot mixture in a bowl, if the pieces are large, put on a cutting board and chop till the mixture is fine. Add egg to mixture and incorporate well, season with salt and pepper, stir in cranberry sauce to taste.

Fill raviolis with the mixture and place in a pot of boiling chicken stock or water or both. The stock will give the raviolis more flavors. Be sure to salt the water properly. Boil for about 5 minutes till the raviolis float to the top. Serve with left over gravy, if the gravy is thick, thin it with some more chicken stock and some cranberry sauce.

I also made a video, which was not selected as a finalist, I am not really surprised as I threw this entire thing together in a few hours and I am still and nervous through out the entire video. Please check it out I took the trouble to make it, someone should see it. Let me know what you think. Not just of the recipe, but the video too!