Thanksgiving Status Report

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I’m not sure what I’m more stressed about: cooking this dinner for sixteen people or writing this post! There’s a lot to talk about so I’m just going to shoot this out like an email and hope for the best… are you ready? Here we go…

Sunday night the cooking began with the biscuits. Believe it or not, I read all my comments and so to the reader who said I shouldn’t make all three, just pick one, I hear your point–so did my mom (“Did you read that comment? You don’t need to make all three!” she said) but I was determined to do it and since the dough was so easy to make (butter, flour, buttermilk) it didn’t seem like it’d be that big a deal to add the extra flavor components. I started with the savory cranberry walnut (click those words for the recipe) and since I was concerned about having enough of each kind for 16 people we cut them with cute little shot glass kind of things and made cute little biscuits. Check them out:

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Aren’t they adorable? Here’s Tali, my brother’s girlfriend, brushing their tops with butter:

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Into the freezer they went and on I went to the next biscuits: Herb-Gruyere. [To find these recipes, just google “biscuits food & wine”] It was here that I made a discovery: the recipe calls for “one and a half sticks of butter; 10 Tablespoons.” As anyone who’s made love to a stick of butter knows, a stick of butter is 8 Tablespoons. So one and a half sticks of butter would be 12 Tablespoons, not 10. So the recipe has a clear error but in which direction: should one use 10 Tablespoons or 12??

For the 2nd and 3rd types of biscuits (Herb-Gruyere and Lemon Poppy) I used the 10 Tbs amount and after freezing them all night (that’s why I chose these biscuits, you can freeze them until Thanksgiving and then just pop them in the oven for 20 minutes)…

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I did a test run the next morning (Monday) with one of each kind of biscuit and concluded that the cranberry walnut were best. Was it because they had more butter? Perhaps. But to the reader who said she made these and they were terrible, I understand your criticisms: didn’t rise, too buttery. I don’t think these are the best biscuits of my life but they’re still super tasty and I think they’ll be a nice treat before the meal on Thursday.

Now we’re up to Monday (yesterday) and we can call this day The Day of Cooking Food in Pots.

Tali, who proved to be an awesome helper, helped me make the pear ginger cranberry chutney (check my PDFfor the recipes):

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It has great ingredients–lemon zest, orange zest, lots of chopped ginger, red chile flakes, pears, all spice, cloves–but that ginger packed heat and the end product is super hot. But I like it. I think. I can’t decide. I keep tasting it and feeling the wallop and smiling and sniffing and sneezing and crying and writing letters to the Pope asking him to tear my picture in half. What? Sorry, I’m tired.

Now call me Super Ambitious Adam but I decided that for the soup (butternut squash), for the stuffing (cornbread) and the gravy it’d be nice to have homemade chicken stock. Who’s with me??? I didn’t want to make a flimsy stock, though, I wanted to make a super killer ultra golden brown stock and for that I turned to my guru of BIG FOOD with BIG FLAVOR, the goddess caterer herself, Miss Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, whose stock recipe calls for–wait for it, wait for it–THREE WHOLE FIVE POUND CHICKENS. I know, crazy, right? To put 15 pounds of chicken in a pot only to extract all their goodness and throw them out? (She says throw them out in the instructions and I thought that was super wasteful until I tasted the chicken after 4 hours of simmering and it was so rubbery and bad I wanted it to throw me out). Here’s my stock on the back burner:

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It made the house smell lovely and homey and later, when it was done, it was a gorgeous golden brown. So boo on Ina for waste but yay on Ina for awesome stock.

What else did we cook in a pot yesterday? Well we didn’t cook, we melted: chocolate. Bittersweet chocolate and white chocolate melted together for our Gingerbread truffles.

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On the back burner you’ll see cream infusing with molasses, cloves, allspice, ginger, and cinnamon. That was later strained into the chocolate, mixed together and refrigerated. Then, hours later, we rolled that chocolate into little balls: that’s what you see my mom, Tali and I doing in the lead photo of this post.

Would all this effort be worth it? Oh, loyal readers, I have to tell you: the end result is gorgeous. Check it out: this morning I dipped the refrigerated balls into more melted chocolate–bittersweet chocolate–and then, after refrigerating again all day my mom and I did the final step: we melted white chocolate, dipped half the chocolate in the white and put a piece of candied ginger on top. Tell me you’re not dying to be invited to my house this Thanksgiving:

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As we dipped, mom said: “I have Willie Wonka for a son.”

Last night, I baked two almond cakes and it was most peculiar. Almond cake is my staple; the recipe stolen from “Cooking For Mr. Latte,” I’ve made the cake a million times and it always comes out exactly the same way each time.

Not so this round. I bought a new springform pan from Bed, Bath & Beyond so I’d have two and I could make two cakes (you can never have too much dessert for 16 people, no?) and in each pan went the exact same batter and both pans went into the exact same oven at the exact same time.

You can’t really tell from these photos, but the first came out the normal way: perfectly round, sunken in the center.

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The second rose like a souffle:

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See how the cake is going over the edge a bit? That’s so weird! That’s never happened to me before. Also, this cake was really jiggly in the middle after an hour and so I had to keep cooking it until it was set: it took an extra 15 minutes, while my parents waited for me to show up for dinner. (Thanks to them for being patient).

I hope cake #2 isn’t overcooked: my plan is to serve cake #1 first and if there’s a demand for more, we’ll serve cake #2. Maybe we won’t need it; especially with the truffles and the pumpkin parfaits I’m making tomorrow.

Now then.

Today, in the morning, I roasted some butternut squash:

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Into the oven it went for an hour and an hour later it was soft and cooked. I prepped all my soup ingredients (I think it came from Bon Apetit; check my PDF): ginger, fennel, onions. Into a pot they went with butter and then the cooked squash went in along with my delicious homemade chicken stock.

They simmered for 20 minutes covered, then 10 minutes uncovered. I added two cans of coconut milk, then blended it expecting fireworks: think of all that went in there. Ginger! Fennel! Coconut milk! My mom’s engagement ring! But, I have to say, upon first taste it was pretty blah. I tasted again and it was still blah. I added some salt and then it got better, but still blah-ish. I added nutmeg, some brown sugar and some cayenne pepper. Still just ok.

Our neighbor Karen P. came over and she’s a great cook so she tasted and said, “Needs more salt and pepper.”

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After adding another healthy dose of salt and a twist or two of pepper, the soup really jumped into shape.

“I always say, food needs love,” said Karen. “People need to put love into their food: that’s what makes it taste good.”

I then postulated that what love really amounts to is salt. “People don’t put enough salt in their food,” I countered. “I think when someone does a recipe and says it didn’t come out, it’s because they didn’t season it enough.”

So it was with this soup. After adding just enough salt, it tasted great. I just had to be braver with that salt. You should be braver too.

Look at my lovely soup, don’t you want to kiss it?

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Alas, after the soup was in the fridge, it was time to brine the turkey. That was a whole ordeal and I’m too tired to go into details, but you can meet our turkey. Here he is in his wrapping:

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That’s 22 pounds of goodness. And here it is naked:

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Tali and I had quite an adventure getting the brine to cover the turkey:

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But I’ll save that story for another time.

And that, my friends, is our Thanksgiving status report. There’s not much else to say except there was leftover chocolate when I coated the truffles this morning, so mom and I used the extra chocolate to coat a banana which we placed in the freezer.

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Tonight, dad opened the freezer door and said, “Why is there a black penis in here?”

Happy cooking, Thanksgiving cookers! To those who aren’t cooking: be grateful to those who are making dinner. It takes work.

46 comments

  1. Have a great Thanksgiving, Adam! Those truffles look great!

    To chime in about Ina….what is wrong with her? I love her to death, but to waste food like that… She should know that chicken stock does not get its best, richest flavor from chicken meat…it comes from the bones, innards, necks, etc. She actually had you leave perfectly good chicken breast meat to boil away to rubber in a stock? Ridiculous. The breast meat would add nothing to flavor the stock, anyway.

    Classic cooking techniques would only have you use an entire bird to cook in a stock if the bird was an old hen; its tough meat would benefit from long, slow cooking, so you wouldn’t be wasting anything. Using the typically young and less fatty birds that the typical supermarket offers today in such a matter is not only a waste of good food, it really doesn’t add anything to making a good stock.

    Next time, use a recipe that has you use chicken bones, innards, necks, etc. to make the stock. You won’t waste perfectly good food, and it will taste just as good as Ina’s.

  2. tom is right about the stock, but… you do get *some* flavor from leaving some meat on the bones. I would completely remove the breasts (that would add exactly no flavor to your stock), then I would leave the wings and gizzards and some fat, but remove the thighs and legs to be eaten.

    Then, here is the key, brown those bones (with some meat clinging to them is ok) and your stock will be as good, if not better than Ina’s with little waste.

    happy thanksgiving!

  3. Go, Adam, go! The truffles – oh the truffles! – if I wasn’t so well-behaved I would hop on a plane and join your dinner. Everything looks wonderful. Good luck to you and Happy Thanksgiving.

  4. I make stock the Ina way too, with the meat, etc. For your almond cakes – I’ll bet the humidity in Florida affected them a bit. I live in SC, and sometimes my baked goods turn out differently than they are supposed to. I’m sure they’ll still taste delicious, though. Thanks for your reports!

  5. I made two batches of the herb-gruyere biscuits last night and I think part of the problem is with the technique of adding the butter. The first batch didn’t rise and the butter leaked out and spilled all over the oven…big mess…then my sister-in-law told me more people were coming for dinner, so I made another batch which came out better. I used a trick from a back issue of Cooks Illustrated – instead of adding the butter in 1/2 inch chunks and cutting it in with a knife, I cut it all smaller and pressed it into the flour with my hands into nickel size flat peices. Biscuits came out much flakier. Still not perfect, but they rose better. Their flavor is amazing. Good luck with the rest of the cooking!

  6. Oh, you’re such a fabulous, hardly amateur, gourmet! I love your Turkey Day Planner PDF, which makes me feel less anal retentive about my huge lists and organizational zeal. I wish you a fabulous Thanksgiving and hope that your guest appreciate all the heart and soul that you’ve put into this meal!

  7. I send Tom’s remark above. For making stock in the future, if you live near a good butcher/poultry shop, you can get chicken backs for $1.00 per pound or less. Roast them for about 40 minutes at 400°, flipping them once, or brown them in the pot with a little bit of olive oil before you add the liquid. If you can’t find chicken backs, use wings.

  8. I’m with Sharon, brown the bones with a little meat on them. This is what I’ve always read about stock–beef, chicken, veal–brown the bones and the vegetables in the oven before simmering to deepen the flavor.

    Good luck tomorrow!

  9. I second Tom’s remark above. For making stock in the future, if you live near a good butcher or poultry shop, you can get chicken backs for $1.00 per pound or less. Roast them for about 40 minutes at 400°, flipping them once, or brown them in the pot with a little bit of olive oil before you add the liquid. If you can’t find chicken backs, use wings. You’ll save a lot of money and end up with a better stock. The bones and skin have all of the collagen/gelatin in them, which is why they make the stock so rich.

  10. Ooh, It’s nice to see the Cranberry Pear Ginger Chutney in your blog. I’m making that tonight, and it’s nice to see it come to life in the pictures

  11. Ok, so I made the cranberry chutney last night – and it’s like an apple cider vinegar stink bomb went off in my apartment.

    I keep going through instant replays in my mind and I thought I followed the recipe to a T… The taste isn’t bad (if you can stand to have your nose that close to the chutney without the whole coughing, sputtering and eye-watering thing happening). Did I do something wrong? Are there better brands of apple cider vinegar than others?

    I’m giving the chutney some space and letting it cool off in the fridge for now…

    (I did use the apple cider brine and it smelled amazing!!! My little turkey is happily soaking away.)

  12. I followed you in your cider-brining ways. I was going to just put it in a bag, too, but I ended up putting a bag in a smaller-ish trashcan and then pouring the brine around it. I had to add some extra water and cider, though. I took out all the drawers in the fridge to make room for that bad boy, so it better be good because I don’t know if I can get the drawers back into the fridge.

    The truffles look great! I love gingerbread. I can’t wait to hear how they turned out.

  13. Good stock requires both bones and meat in nearly identical weight. The gelatin in bones is necessary for what is called the “mouth-feel” of the stock; without bones there would be no body; the meat provides depth of flavor.

  14. Adam,

    You are one sick dude! Everything looks fantastic! Good luck with the rest of the cooking. Thanks for sharing that with us.

    Have a fantastic and tasty gourmet holiday!

  15. I think the inconsistency in the success if the 3 different kinds of biscuits is the flour not butter!

    In the cranberry walnut recipe you use 2 cups of flour but in the Herb-Gruyere and Lemon Poppy biscuit the recipe asks only for 1 1/4 cups….

    So, after some experimenting I used 2 cups of flour and 1 1/2 sticks of butter.

    Most important when you cut the dough don’t twist around the cookie cutter but only cut down. I read somewhere that the twisting and turning of the cookie cutter prevents the biscuit from rising, I thought it was just pompous gourmet talk, but it actually works!!!!!!

    Adam, I agree with you that this are not the best biscuits ever, but they are puffy and yummy. I can pop them in the oven in the last minute without getting flour all over my black party dress.

  16. I think the inconsistency in the success if the 3 different kinds of biscuits is the flour not butter!

    In the cranberry walnut recipe you use 2 cups of flour but in the Herb-Gruyere and Lemon Poppy biscuit the recipe asks only for 1 1/4 cups….

    So, after some experimenting I used 2 cups of flour and 1 1/2 sticks of butter.

    Most important when you cut the dough don’t twist around the cookie cutter but only cut down. I read somewhere that the twisting and turning of the cookie cutter prevents the biscuit from rising, I thought it was just pompous gourmet talk, but it actually works!!!!!!

    Adam, I agree with you that this are not the best biscuits ever, but they are puffy and yummy. I can pop them in the oven in the last minute without getting flour all over my black party dress.

  17. Your Thanksgiving is not just a day, it’s a marathon! I’m exhausted just reading about it. But mostly I’m very jealous, as being Canadian, my Thanksgiving is already a distant memory. Enjoy your day!

  18. I may be insane, but I think all this pre-Thanksgiving prep looks fun. I like helping in the kitchen the day of the big dinner–racing against the clock, taking in the cooking smells, sneaking in a bite here and there..

  19. A) Your dad sounds like a riot. B) You’ve got such great helpers!! Lucky you. C) I think all this feasting prep, mistakes and all, is really what Thanksgiving’s about! You’ve got food, family, friends and strangers commenting on it via computer… now what is more traditional than that???

  20. Thanks for the frequent Thanksgiving posts! It’s very fun to follow along with how you’re doing. I’d enjoy hearing the story of your brining “adventure” – I used a Reynolds turkey bag lining a stock pot, but my stock pot wasn’t quite tall enough, even though my turkey is only 13 pounds. (I’m cooking for just five – can’t imagine cooking for sixteen!) So a little bit of the turkey, and the bag with brine, was bulging over the edges, and then just before I moved it to the refrigerator, the bag burst! So I had to start over… boo. I hope the flavor makes it worth it!

  21. The emptiness of your freezer somewhat frightens me. Mine is the stereotypical open it and something will fall out, that us until we got the freezer on the bottom drawer type unit.

    The truffles look amazing!

  22. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving Adam. You are hillarious! I can’t wait for your day after post!

  23. My friend Patsy has been reading your fabulous blog since your Atlanta Days,now she’s got all of her friends reading it. I loved your book, The Amatuer Gourmet. I keep sending your blog onto friends. I actually read your menu in detail and this sounds like a new chapter for your next book. I’ve been inspired to cook again. I went to Whole Foods and bought goodies to make for Thanksgiving for my family. Maybe you should consider opening a restaurant, you have plenty of Atlanta follwers.

  24. Umm LOVE the comment your dad made about the banana! Haha, he sounds like a funny guy (per this post and per him having pasta flung at him from the story in your book – yes that makes HIM funny for some reason).

    Happy Thanksgiving! Great spread you’re gonna have!

  25. You go, Adam! Your meal will be perfect – because with the great personality, sense of humor, and love for food you have, you simply can’t fail!!!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Melanie

    Atlanta GA

  26. Wow looks like quite the feast. One thing about butternut squash soups is that just like a lot of stews and sauces it actually tastes a lot better the next day.

    It was really discouraging the first few times I made butternut squash soup, but I soon discovered that the touch of nutmeg, brown sugar (and I also add cumin), and all the other flavours really come together the day after.

  27. Whew – I think I need my “after Thanksgiving dinner” nap right now.

    What a crazy, entertaining blog, but seriously, I’m exhausted for you.

    Hope you will be paying the piano for us after dinner again.

  28. Whew – I think I need my “after Thanksgiving dinner” nap right now.

    What a crazy, entertaining blog, but seriously, I’m exhausted for you.

    Hope you will be paying the piano for us after dinner again.

  29. Adam,

    Your Thankgiving dinner looks fabulous. Thanks for taking the time to update us on your developments. I’m going to try the biscuits again, but after tomorrow. Carol, thanks for the suggestion on the flour.

    Bon Appetit! Have a great turkey day!

  30. It’s not too often that I laugh out loud at something I read online but your dad’s black penis remark really cracked me up! Happy thanksgiving, Adam. And thanks for the laugh!

  31. It’s not often that something I read online make me laugh out loud but your dad’s remark about the chocolate banana prompted a loud guffaw! Have a happy thanksgiving, Adam!

  32. We actually don’t use the brining bags – we use the 5 gallon cooler method (ala Alton Brown). I feel it stays cooler, doesn’t waste precious refrigerator space and comes remarkably clean with bleach after the holiday. I’ve brined small and large birds with this method and it works like a charm.

    We also like making jokes about having a “Turkey shooter” while it’s up on the counter.

  33. I do have to say, the dinner was fantastic beyond compare to anything I have ever had before.

    Although my favorite things had to have been the Soup and Truffles, next on the list of favorites would be the Turkey and beet salad.

    I hope you do this again next year with dishes that surpass this years!

    On a side note, I am gonna try to make the truffles some time and I might “try” to add some heat to them with some kind of powdered pepper(s). I’ll let you know how it turns out! =D

    ~Cousin Matt

  34. High five for the free-range turkey!

    I make truffles as gifts every Christmas, and I think you just gave me my awesome new recipe. Thanks!

  35. Hi Adam!

    I made these biscuits because you made them sound so good and they were a HUGE hit. I think that maybe you added too much butter…the recipe online says 1 1/2 stick of butter–10 TBSP. for the dough, 2TBSP. for melting snd brushing. Not all 12 TBSP. was supposed to me mixed in.

    I did a cranberry, a buttermilk and a white cheddar and they were fantastic!

    Congratulations on a great meal!

  36. This all sounds crazy delicious! Especially the biscuits. Oh, biscuits, why are you the best thing ever?

    Sounds like it must have been a really nice time!

  37. Adam,

    I made a butternut squash soup too…

    http://www.messycuisine.com/blog/2007/11/23/thanksgiving-highlights/

    Your recipe using the coconut milk, et al., sounds very interesting. I too think the seasoning had to be right with my recipe before things “came together.” I had made this recipe i came up with several weeks before, with a far thicker soup… but this one was simple and great. The flavor of bacon was superb… it got many rave reviews.

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