Sunday, 25 November 2012

2012 Thanksgiving Cookery

In what Thanksgiving dish could apples possibly belong?
Quite interestingly, and now less unexpected as the years have pushed on, one of the questions that seems to accompany "what are you doing for Thanksgiving?" has been "so, will you be cooking for Thanksgiving?" I have no reason as to why I never seem to have an answer prepared for that one, but after getting back to campus, I can definitely say that yes, I did do a bit of cooking.

Friends is one of my favourite television shows of all time and with the holiday season upon us, a few channels had been airing all of the Thanksgiving-themed episodes. During this time of the year, I think of two in particular. The first is the episode containing Rachel's infamous "English trifle," which accidentally ended up being a cross between a traditional English trifle and shepard's pie; last year, I made my own version. The second is the one Thanksgiving episode I never saw, "The One Where Underdog Gets Away," you know.. the one where the potatoes are ruined, the potatoes are ruined, the potatoes are ruined. This time around, I aimed to prep potatoes that my sister (Toni), dad (Tony) and I would enjoy, without letting the potatoes actually get ruined. And as it turned out, we all like three different styles, so naturally we just had to make all three. Certainly having a 10-lb bag of red skin potatoes at our disposal would be of great help.

As we got seven potatoes (cut in half) boiling, I diced up a few more (three medium-sized) for dill roasted potatoes preferred by my dad. Unfortunately, we didn't have any actual olive oil around so I was relegated to using olive oil cooking spray. I clearly didn't have enough moisture in the baking dish, as after about an hour of baking at 350°F yielded potatoes that were barely cooked. And so, I took the potatoes that had also been seasoned with salt, ground black pepper, roasted garlic (see paragraph 5) and dill (of course), I transferred everything into a giant stir fry pan, browned them up a bit and got them back into the baking dish with a touch of water to finish roasting.

In the meantime, the potatoes that had been boiling were ready to go, and Toni smashed three of them and added six chopped scallions, three strips of crumbled bacon (which we had crisped as the potatoes were boiling) and about 1/3 c grated Dubliner cheese. Simple and delicious.

A few summers ago, a culinary potato experiment of mine yielded what I call potato puffs. To others, these are also known as Duchess Potatoes. In any case, I added to my mashed potatoes (using 4 of the potatoes we had boiled) the same ingredients as my sister's, along with 1/4 c rendered bacon fat (from the bacon that had been crisped earlier) and a half bulb puréed (1 --> 2 --> 3) roasted garlic (I had divided and roasted a garlic bulb in a bit of tin foil with salt, pepper and olive oil alongside the roasted potatoes; the other half bulb--the garlic I had alluded to above--went unpuréed with my dad's diced red skins). Inspired this time around by the Pioneer Woman's recipe for Restaurant-Style Smashed Potatoes, I finished off my potato mixture with a large dollop of sour cream.

Next, I quenelled the mashed potatoes (which on their own would've been great), topped them off with even more cheese and baked these in the oven until the cheese was nice and melted. To finish everything off, I set them under the broiler for a few minutes until the cheese became golden brown in colour. Because this is a pretty delicate dish, the cheese tended to melt a bit too much and softened the potatoes to the point that they began to lose their quenelle shape. To remedy this, while they're still warm and before they cool, carefully reshape them using a spatula and separate them. Light and airy, yet full rich flavour and depth from the sour cream and bacon, it's quite easy to get into the habit of eating them one after the other. For all of my pre-Thanksgiving Day photos, click here.

The next morning, i.e., Thanksgiving Day, my sister cooked up some sugared spiral sliced ham and prepped chocolate chip pancakes using this recipe. Alongside all of this early cooking, I worked on a dressing (known as stuffing to others, 1 and 2) to bring to the evening party, using some of Toni's leftover gala(?) apples. To start, I dried out an Italian bread loaf with that olive oil spray, oregano and garlic salt in the oven; while that was going, I also browned an onion (actually, I did this twice since I burned a majority of the first batch) and prepped ingredients for a slightly larger batch of potato puffs to be brought to a family friend's home in the evening.

Following a brunch break, I began to build the dressing, adding a package of microwaved mixed veg to the onions. To this, I added three apples I had diced and browned slightly in a touch of salted butter, followed by about half the bread loaf that I also diced. Combining very carefully, I finished up this batch by pouring in about 2.5 cups' worth of chicken broth (which I'm fairly certain was too much).

I then crumbled the rest of the bread and sprinkled some of the (then) breadcrumbs over the top and added a few small dollops of buter. Into the 350°F preheated oven this went, covered with tin foil for about an hour; in retrospect, it should have been put in longer and without the tin foil. Truth be told, I was worried it would dry out too much. (I would later, after the fact, get this back in the oven to dry out a bit more.)

As the dressing was baking, I worked on my final dish by beginning to make its crust which, for the first time for me, turned out extremely well. Combining the recipes and processes from this site and this one, I began by dicing two sticks of unsalted butter and got these into the freezer to chill for about 5 minutes. I added the butter into our hand crank food processor along with two cups of all-purpose flour and one teaspoon of salt, and combined the two together using the chopping blade. Alternatively, you could use a fork or pastry blender, but you definitely don't want to use your hands (as you would for making beskuit) or let the butter melt; you're aiming to incorporate small pieces of butter throughout the dough to create flaky layers. After you get something that looks like chunks of slightly damp sand, combine just enough cold (ice) water until the dough nearly takes shape. The last two photos in the above series show the difference between six and seven tablespoons (total) of water.

After that seventh tablespoon, shape your dough, wrap it up and get it into the freeze it for a few minutes. This will make it much easier to roll out. If you'd like, you can divide this dough in half before wrapping it, as this is enough dough for two crusts.

By this point in my cooking adventure, the dressing should be ready to be taken out of the oven. Again, in actuality, it was still a bit too moist, though nevertheless edible!

When the dough's ready to go (really, maybe another five minutes in the freezer), take it out, roll, shape and trim it into your pie tin. Repeat this for the second pie and get both of these into your preheated 350°F oven for about 20 minutes.

This would be a great time to add this little life lesson, and really I should have known better. Pie crust does have the tendency to bubble up and shrink, as shown in the above photo. To prevent this from happening, poke the bottom with a fork before baking, to allow for the steam to escape somehow. Also, fill the pie with some pie weights or even just aluminum foil, before the blind bake so that the crusts keep their intended shape.

As the pies were going, I worked on the filling to what would become my no-bake orange mango pie, inspired by this recipe and this one. For each pie (note: I made two pies), I put into a large bowl 1/4 c softened, orange sherbet, one 8.4 fl oz can of mango juice and 1 standard container of Cool Whip topping. After the pie crusts were taken out of the oven and cooled, I sprinkled throughout and onto each pie fillling one diced champagne mango, and then topped this off with the thoroughly combined sherbet-juice-topping mix. Both of these went into the refrigerator to set.

By the time we left for the Thanksgiving party, I had also quenelled and baked quite a few potato puffs to add to the potluck table along with my dressing and some of the caramels I had made in Granville.

Unfortunately, the orange mango pie hadn't had enough time to set, and so I kept this in the freezer until it was time for dessert, and even then it was only able to stay solid for a few minutes at a time before it would begin to melt at room temperature, as you can see in the above photos. But at least the flavours were there. I will note that I only brought one pie with me, leaving the second one in our fridge back at home. By the next day, it had set perfectly (despite it "looking" dry, it wasn't). For these and all of my other Thanksgiving Day photos, click here.

Oof, and if this wasn't enough food and cooking to last a while, here's a very quick recap of my post-Thanksgiving cookery: On Friday evening Toni tried her hand at hashbrowns, I fried up homemade potato and apple chips, French fries and chicken tenders using most of the remaining bread crumbs from the bread loaf used for the dressing. [By the way, a great tip for the future, if you're not already aware: soak your chicken in milk and a touch of salt for about 15 minutes before coating it and frying it up; the chicken ends up being super moist.] Saturday morning, fellow Albion alum Grace introduced me to Pronto! in Royal Oak where we had a great brunch (1, 2). And later that evening, I went with Toni and grade & high school classmate Hua to Sakana in Ferndale for an awesome sushi dinner; I'm still thinking about the 007 roll. Click here for my post-Thanksgiving photos.

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