Thanksgiving Menu Plan

19 11 2009

I was in a bit of a funk earlier this week.  I wasn’t even excited about Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday.  But last night, Nick suggested we get our menu plan written down, and all of a sudden the excitement showed up.

The Menu:

Roast turkey
Turkey gravy (Remember the velouté? That’s pretty much it, with pan drippings added at the end.)
Wild mushroom bread pudding (Original recipe from this book, but now I wing it.)
Kick-Ass Cranberry Sauce (recipe below)
Sour cream and green onion mashed potatoes
Brussels sprouts with caramelized onions
Potimarron pie with (time willing) pine nut-sage brittle

Pop!

So enthused was I that I took a long detour on the way home from work today to pick up a bag of overpriced cranberries.  Last year I was unable to find fresh cranberries, and made do with a jar of Ocean Spray, but I missed the homemade stuff.  My recipe, for cranberry-orange-ginger sauce, has been a hit since its inception five years ago, and since I get to have it this year, I figure you should, too, if you want.

Just right

This year I was low on granulated sugar, so I used cassonade, aka raw sugar.  I think it’s made the sauce especially delicious, but I know from experience that it is just fine made with white sugar.  I also saw the bottle of Cointreau looking lonely on the shelf, and thought it might want to join in the fun.  I think some people like having whole cranberries in their homemade sauce, but I can’t help popping them.  Cranberry sauce is like the culinary equivalent of bubble wrap.  Once those little red jewels heat up, all it takes is a bit of pressure from the wooden spoon, and pop!  It is so intensely satisfying, and I can’t stop myself.  Before I know it, all the lovely berries are gone, and I’m left with a gorgeous, garnet-red, jammy sauce.  Still tastes good, though.

Jewel-toned and super tasty!

Before I get to the cranberry recipe, I’d like to give you a few more ideas for your Thanksgiving spread this year.  I think any of these would be welcome additions to the holiday table.

Balsamic roasted beets with bacon and chestnuts
Potimarron-fingerling gratin with cider-braised leeks
Roast parsnips and apples
Cumin-maple sweet potatoes with spiced pecans
Date crumble bars
Brown butter ice cream (try it with apple pie!)

And now, the cranberry sauce…

Kick-Ass Cranberry Sauce

The first year I hosted my own Thanksgiving dinner, I had a grand total of three people at the table.  That didn’t stop me from going all out.  (Needless to say, we had leftovers for days.)  I wanted to give the cranberry sauce a bit of a kick, and I thought orange and ginger would do the job nicely.  They did – to quote my friend who shall remain nameless “Wow, Camille, you kicked my mom’s ass!” – and I’ve never since gone back to plain cranberry sauce.

1 bag (340 g) fresh cranberries, rinsed and drained
1 cup / 250ml water
1 cup / 200g granulated sugar or cassonade (raw or turbinado sugar)
A pinch of salt
Juice and zest of 1 orange
2 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
A splash of Cointreau (optional)

  1. Bring the water and sugar to a boil. You don’t have to do this first, but I like to hear the cranberries pop when they hit the pan.
  2. Add the cranberries, orange juice and zest, salt, ginger, and Cointreau (if using).  Return to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer until thickened and a deep garnet color, about 25 minutes.
  3. Transfer to a serving vessel and cool.  Chill, covered in plastic wrap, until needed.  (The sauce will keep for up to two weeks in the fridge.)

Makes about a pint – more than enough to accompany a turkey dinner for eight.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Aubergines Farcies à la Bolognaise

21 05 2008

What to do with leftover Bolognaise sauce?  This is what I found myself wondering after Nick pulled the remaining Bolognaise out of the freezer earlier this week.  I wasn’t in the mood for pasta.  But wait!  I just bought an eggplant at the épicerie across the street.  I had no plans for it, but it was so beautiful and perfect that I just had to buy it.  What if I were to stuff this eggplant with the Bolognaise?  That sounds pretty tasty… with a little green salad, maybe some goat cheese… I’m doing it.  I’ll just make it into a filling with some breadcrumbs, Grana Padano, and an egg.  Piece of cake.  Except I don’t have any breadcrumbs.  Nor do I have a food processor.  Or even a half-eaten baguette to grate.  Hmm.  I’ll just get a cheap baguette, tear it up, dry it out in the oven, and smash it with a rolling pin.

Pre-breadcrumbs

This plan actually worked pretty well.  It would have worked beautifully if the plastic bag I put the bread in to contain the crumbs wasn’t so darn flimsy.  After cleaning up the mess I made, I still had plenty of breadcrumbs to make my filling.

First, however, there was the matter of the eggplant.  I cut it in half, then scored around the edge of each cut side to create about a 1/2 inch-thick shell.  I scored the centers into cubes and cut/pulled them out and placed them in a colander.  I salted the shells and placed them face-down on a paper towel.  I salted the extra flesh as well, and left it all to drain for about half an hour.

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Tagliatelles à la Bolognaise

1 05 2008

Yeah, I spelled it the French way.  Luckily, when I was researching the dish, Google was quick to correct me and thus turn up many more articles than my original search provided.  After cross-referencing Cook’s Illustrated with several of Mario Batali’s recipes, I came up with my own French-ified version.  (As one of my old teachers used to say, “the Italians invented cooking, and the French made it better.”)

I started with some poitrine fumée from the butcher, cut it into small pieces, and put it in a Dutch oven over low heat along with a little olive oil and butter.  While it rendered, I harnessed my knife skills to cut onion, carrot, and celery into a small dice.  By this point the bacon was starting to crisp, so I added the mirepoix, salt, pepper, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and fresh thyme.  I stirred it around and let the vegetables cook down until they were very soft and about half their original volume.

Good old mirepoix

Then I added ground beef (freshly ground to order by the butcher) and stirred constantly in order to break up the lumps of meat for an even-textured final result.

Beef for Bolognaise

When the beef was nicely crumbled and browned, I added some minced garlic, and then the long, slow simmering process began…

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Mac N Cheese: A Classic French Dish

17 03 2008

One of my first homework assignments in culinary school was to make macaroni and cheese using a cheese I had never heard of before and a pasta shape I had never used before.  Having recently returned from my first stint in France, the cheese thing posed a bit of a challenge.  I ended up bringing in Pennette Zamorano, being less well-versed in Spanish cheeses.  (The pasta was a bit of a cop-out, as I had used penne before – pennette being merely smaller penne – but Trader Joe’s wasn’t exactly overflowing with exotic pasta shapes.)  The results: good choice of cheese, overcooked pasta, sauce a little thick, broke when I reheated it.

Since then I have refined my macaroni and cheese recipe, but the principle remains the same.  The most important part of the dish is the béchamel sauce.  It must be creamy, not too heavy or starchy, and thin enough to accommodate large quantities of cheese.  In classic French cuisine, a béchamel with cheese (specifically Gruyère) incorporated into it is known as Mornay sauce.  Pour this over roasted or steamed cauliflower and you have Cauliflower Mornay.  Use pepper jack and cheddar and you’ve got yourself some upscale queso (or nacho cheese sauce, as it’s known to non-Texans).  Add it to pasta, and you have mac n cheese.  Over time I have come to the conclusion that a mixture of half sharp cheddar (preferably Tillamook) and half gouda is my preferred mac n cheese blend.  I also like a bit of smoked sausage, like kielbasa, mixed in for texture and flavor contrast as well as protein content.

I had pretty much resigned myself to going cheddar-less while in France, so you can imagine my surprise when, on a recent supermarket jaunt, I saw a wedge of red-waxed orange cheese prominently labeled “cheddar.”  Of course I had to buy it.  When preliminary taste tests determined that it was, in fact, real cheddar cheese, and not some weird French interpretation thereof, I knew I would be making mac n cheese in the near future.

So on Saturday, after a long afternoon fighting crowds at the BHV sale, I went to gather my mise en place for the mac n cheese.  Gouda is no problem to find here, nor is milk, pasta, or sausage.

Mac N Cheese Mise

I brought it all home and came to a horrible realization: I don’t have a whisk here.  Nick, ever confident in my culinary abilities, convinced me to make the béchamel using a wooden spoon.  I was also stressing out over the ratio of butter to flour to milk, and he (wisely) suggested that I stop being a baker for the evening and wing it.  So I melted some butter, added some flour, and stirred it over medium heat until it darkened ever so slightly and no longer smelled raw.  I then added milk a tiny bit at a time, stirring furiously and constantly with my spoon so as not to have any lumps in the finished sauce.  When I had incorporated enough milk to make a fairly thin sauce (it will thicken later), I threw in a bay leaf and seasoned the sauce with salt and pepper.  After about 15 minutes of simmering, stirring constantly, I had a nice béchamel about the thickness of heavy cream.  Into this I stirred the grated cheeses, tasted for seasoning, wished for a pinch of fresh nutmeg, and my Mornay was  ready.

Meanwhile, the pasta had been cooking, the sausage browning, and the camera malfunctioning.  I folded the pasta and sauce together, sliced the sausage with my brand-new Sabatier knife (yay!), and stirred that in as well. 

Mac n cheese

And got the camera back up and running.  As hearty a meal as this is, I thought we could use a nice salad alongside.  We had some green beans in the fridge, and I had just picked up some tasty cherry tomatoes, so I decided to combine them into a salade tiède.  I quickly sautéed the green beans in a little olive oil and removed the pan from the heat.  Then I halved the tomatoes and added them straight to the pan.  Another drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of sea salt, a few twists of black pepper, and some freshly chopped parsley, and we were in business.

Salade tiède de tomates cerises et haricots verts

Thanks in no small part to the brightly colored salad, it made an attractive plate.  (And my mother always told me that a colorful plate was a healthy one.)

Mac n cheese dinner

Oh, yeah, and it tasted good, too.








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