Friday, November 28, 2008

Reason for Thanks: A Classic Gravy, Brussel Sprouts and Parsnip Chips

There are so many reasons to be thankful this year.

A new president. A new president I like and like to listen to. And this year, we have so many friends who've come back to the Bay Area, plus of course, the fabulous food. So by the time we dug out from under the election melee and moved into menu planning for T-Day, all I could think of was how much better life is looking, despite all the bad news from economic sectors and from India.

Here's a sample of our menu for this year.

We were welcomed again this year at the immaculate house of the Pajama Queen and Mr. Tarte Tatin, for which I was heartily grateful, as our numbers have swelled from eight to twelve.

We have a lot of talented cooks on the list though as the photos below will attest.

For my part I made the dressings again, including a Focaccia Chanterelle dressing made with dry vermouth because I forgot to get a dry white wine. I also made the usual sausage and raisin dressing which is one of my favorites.

I also contributed a braised brussel sprouts recipe that was the epitome of the phrase "work around." It was meant to be Caramelized Brussels and Chestnuts a la Martha Stewart. But shelled chestnuts were not to be found (I hate shelling chestnuts) save in one place where we saw a jar for $19. I balked. I don't need to pay nearly $20 for chestnuts. We'd do something else, I said.

I have inadvertently bought three leeks (to replace an onion) in the turkey stock recipe and then put in the onion by mistake. So I sliced up all those leeks and we added some cider vinegar and cooked the heck out of them. I was against serving them because they looked just terribly overcooked and grey, but everyone seemed to like them, so here forthwith is the recipe. You don't need to cook the brussels for so long, they'll keep that nice bright green color better if you don't go too long.

Braised Brussels and Leeks

1 stick butter
2 lbs brussel sprouts, cut into quarters lengthwise
3 small leeks, slice across midsection

1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1/4 cup sugar

Pour the butter in a large skillet or sauteuse and heat over medium. When it's hot, add in brussels and leeks and cooks for a few minutes until the brussels begin to brown. in the mean time, mid vinegar, broth and sugar. Stir into the vegetables and let cook until the brussels are still crisp but cooked thoroughly.

Ms. Art Attack and Mr. Art Attack provided the spread of hos d'oeuvres or as she likes to say, "whores-dervishes."

Pictured here are (from left to right) Pond-Hopper cheese, Montgomery Cheddar from Neal's Yard, Lamb Chopper, Midnight Moon and on the green plate, a Cowgirl Pierce Point, along with a selection of olives, nuts and fig paste.

Potato Kale soup from the Madonna-with-Poodle and the FANTABULOUS fan rolls from Mr. Bunyup who also provided us with Pumpkin pie and his oft-requested (by me!) Apple Pie, which has a fantastic gentle aroma of spices.

I don't think of us as terribly traditional types, really, but when it comes to T-day there are certain proprieties that must be observed. Things really aren't right, for instance, if we don't have The Good Boy's Southern style sweet potatoes with the essential browned and crispy toasted marshmallow topping.

Beyond these non-negotiable traditional elements though, there's always room for experiments. This year, we got the biggest dayboat scallops you've ever seen in your life from Swan's Oyster Depot, and My Omnivore made some of his Maple-Smoked Seared Scallops as an appetizer, which I augmented with a scattering of homemade Parsnip, Red and Gold Beet Chips. (See below for recipe) And Devushka, fresh from St. Petersburg, contributed a delightfully crisp Green Bean Almondine along with deadly pecan pie that I couldn't help sneaking bites of throughout last night and this morning.

As to wine, Mon Oncle Sumi (who sadly informed us that Ma Tante Sumi is closing next week!!) brought us a fantastic selection, as did Steamboat Willie, who brought along a pair of Byingtons to add to our bamboozled potpourri. My personal contribution was a bottle of Le Snoot, which we found for $4.99 at (no joke) the place where you can buy wine that's fallen off the back of a truck or been in a train accident. Strangely that bottle never got opened last night.

In the NY Times last week, Julia Moskin put together the case for a terrific homemade gravy. I can't emphasize enough though, that the only thing that matters is a good stock. We've made quite acceptable gravies with pre-fab stock, in fact our vegetarian option this year was made with store-bought vegetable stock. But for SPECTACULAR gravy--the best kind-- homemade stock is the only way. It's not hard, it just takes time and planning. Start a few days ahead because you can always freeze the stock and then use it to make up the actual gravy later.

The Best Homemade Turkey Gravy

4 tablespoons butter and 2 Tbsp olive oil
5 lbs turkey necks (you can also use legs and wings, but necks give the most flavor)
Salt and black pepper
1 medium onion, peeled and stuck with 3 cloves
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
3 stalks celery with leaves, trimmed and cut into large chunks
2 bay leaves
12 black peppercorns
1 cup dry vermouth

12 tablespoons ( 3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
Salt and black pepper.

(To left, the elusive "Loch Ness Poodle")
To make the stock, Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt 4 tablespoons butter and mix with olive oil. Sprinkle the turkey necks with salt and pepper, place in roasting pan and brush with melted butter. Roast 2 hours, basting with butter and oil every half hour.

Return of the "Loch Ness Poodle.")
Transfer roasted turkey to a stockpot and set the roasting pan aside. Add onion, carrots, celery, bay leaves and peppercorns to stockpot. Add cold water until there is 1 inch of water covering the vegetables and turkey, bring to a simmer and cook, slightly uncovered, about 6 hours. Check it to make sure that the simmer is low and small bubbles are apparent.

In the mean time, place roasting pan on top of stove and bring juices to a simmer over low heat. Pour in vermouth or wine, stirring and scraping to bring up browned bits. (If using wine, simmer at least 5 minutes.) Pour all the liquid into a bowl and refrigerate. When the deglazing liquid is cool, lift off the top layer of fat and reserve. Add the deglazing liquid to stockpot.

After six hours, the entire house should smell great, and the stock should be golden and flavorful. Strain--using a chinois preferably--into a large container and refrigerate. When the stock is cool, lift off the fat and mix it with reserved fat from deglazing liquid. Reserve 3 quarts stock for gravy and refrigerate or freeze the rest for another use.

To make the gravy, in a deep skillet or large heavy pot, melt 12 tablespoons ( 3/4 cup) reserved turkey fat over medium heat. If you do not have enough turkey fat, use additional butter to make 3/4 cup. Gradually whisk in the flour. Cook, whisking, until golden brown and toasty-smelling, 3 to 5 minutes or longer for darker gravy. Personally we prefer the darker, more flavorful roux.

Whisk a small amount of stock into the roux (this prevents lumps), then add the remainder more quickly and whisk until smooth. Simmer, continually whisking, until it thickens. If it becomes too thick, thin with more stock or a little wine and simmer briefly. Season with salt and pepper and lemon juice if needed. If desired, whisk in a few tablespoons cold butter to smooth and enrich gravy.

"Hey, it ain't gourmet if all you did was open a bag of taro chips!" Ms. Art Attack jibed down the Thanksgiving Day table.

"I made very single one of them lovingly by hand," came our riposte. And it's true. To go with Eric's fantastic Maple-Smoked Seared Scallops, this time we scattered the plate with parsnip and beet chips for a little salty crunch against the sweet dayboats.

Parsnip and Beet Chips

1 large parsnip, peeled
1 large golden beet, peeled
1 large red beet, peeled
canola oil for frying
sea salt to taste

Using a vegetable peeler, peel thin ribbons off the parsnips lengthwise.

In a heavy medium-sized pot, heat 2 inches of oil over medium high heat.

When the oil is hot, drop in one ribbon. If it immediately bubbles, then the oil is ready.

Fry the parsnips first, then the golden beets, then the red beets (The beets will discolor the oil). Fry them in small batches for about 60 seconds or until golden brown and the bubbling has subsided. Remove them to a large plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt to taste.

Repeat with remaining ribbons until you have fried all the batches.

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