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:
Aren’t they adorable? Here’s Tali, my brother’s girlfriend, brushing their tops with butter:
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)…
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):
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:
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.
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:
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.
The second rose like a souffle:
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.
Today, in the morning, I roasted some butternut squash:
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.”
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?
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:
That’s 22 pounds of goodness. And here it is naked:
Tali and I had quite an adventure getting the brine to cover the turkey:
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.
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.