Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Entertaining

This Thanksgiving I'm making a couple recipes that I found on the Internet and have tested out one or more times with good results so I thought I'd share my contributions to the family Thanksgiving meal.  Also, I cooked my first Thanksgiving meal last year as we hosted it at our house.  I'll share with you some lessons learned.  I find that cranberry sauce is not as hot of a commodity on the Thanksgiving table as some of the other sides, but it's one of my favorites.  I'll never forget my first Thanksgiving with D's family when I saw them slicing the gelatinous goo out of the can with a look of horror.  Cranberry sauce has always been my job in my family.  I typically follow the back of the cranberry bag's directions exactly, but since I'm sharing this talent with D's family, I decided to dress it up a bit with this recipe.

Cranberry Sauce

Gourmet Magazine November 1991
  • a 12-ounce bag of cranberries, picked over
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar, or to taste
  • two 3-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste
  • 3/4 cup water


In a saucepan combine the cranberries, the honey, the brown sugar, the cinnamon sticks, the cloves, the nutmeg, and the water and simmer the mixture, covered, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the cranberries have burst and the mixture is thickened. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and let it cool. The sauce may be made 2 days in advance and kept covered and chilled. Serve the sauce at room temperature.

According to the Internet, cranberry sauce freezes really well so I plan on making it Monday night and then allowing it to defrost Wednesday night in the fridge.

I tried the next recipe for D's birthday and he gave it rave reviews.  Since we'll be staying in a cabin and somewhat "camping" this year for Thanksgiving, I thought this was a perfect dessert.  I use store bought graham cracker crusts because I think making crusts from scratch are a fool's errand and that no one can really taste or appreciate the difference, so why bother unless you're going for something very specialized?

Chocolate S'more Pie

Gourmet November 2006

For chocolate cream filling
  • 7 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not more than 70% cacao; not unsweetened), finely chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature for 30 minutes

For marshmallow topping
  • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (from a 1/4-ounce package)
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Vegetable oil for greasing


Make chocolate cream filling:
Make graham cracker crumb crust and reserve.
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Put chocolate in a large bowl. Bring cream just to a boil in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan, then pour hot cream over chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then gently whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Gently whisk in egg and a pinch of salt until combined and pour into graham cracker crumb crust (crust will be about half full).

Cover edge of pie with a pie shield or foil and bake until filling is softly set and trembles slightly in center when gently shaken, about 25 minutes. Cool pie to room temperature on a rack (filling will firm as it cools), about 1 hour.

Make marshmallow topping:
Sprinkle gelatin over 1/4 cup cold water in a large deep heatproof bowl and let stand until softened, about 1 minute.
Stir together sugar, corn syrup, a pinch of salt, and remaining 1/4 cup water in cleaned 1- to 1 1/4-quart heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then boil until thermometer registers 260°F, about 6 minutes.
Begin beating water and gelatin mixture with an electric mixer at medium speed, then carefully pour in hot syrup in a slow stream, beating (avoid beaters and side of bowl). When all of syrup is added, increase speed to high and continue beating until mixture is tripled in volume and very thick, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla and beat until combined, then immediately spoon topping onto center of pie filling; it will slowly spread to cover top of pie. Chill, uncovered, 1 hour, then cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap (oiled side down) and chill 3 hours more.

Brown topping:
Preheat broiler.
Transfer pie to a baking sheet. Cover edge of pie with pie shield or foil and broil 3 to 4 inches from heat, rotating pie as necessary, until marshmallow topping is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Cool pie on a rack 10 minutes. Slice pie with a large heavy knife dipped in hot water and then dried with a towel before cutting each slice.

I plan on making the chocolate portion on Monday night.  Unfortunately, I'm planning on lugging my stand mixer along (I have a more portable hand mixer, but 5 or 6 minutes of holding that thing seems like torture.  I know, I'm spoiled.) so I can make the marshmallow topping the night before Thanksgiving.  I plan on popping it under the broiler right after dinner to make the marshmallow the perfect amount of gooey. 

Lessons Learned From Last Year
  • Do not try to brine a Butterball turkey, it will come out too salty.
  • If you do brine your turkey (and you really should, it makes a world of difference if you do it right) pay careful attention to the brining time and salt quantity indicated versus the weight of your bird.  I really messed this up last year and our turkey came out so salty it was practically inedible. 
  • A good apetizer you can get super easy is baked brie.  My local HEB carried ones already wrapped in puff pastry with fruit topping between the pastry and the brie.  This appetizer really wows and all you have to do is dump the thing in the oven and slice up some apples, carrots, cellary, and lay out some crackers.
  • If you're doing a cheese tray, include a nice variety of cheeses, both hard and soft and a mix of fruit are a good combination.  I also recommend you include a wedge of honeycomb.  You can order one from Savannah Bee Company, one of the vendors I tried recently at A Christmas Affair.  They always include a little honeycomb on my favorite cheese tray at Cru, which is where I got this idea.
  • Most of all, relax, it's Thanksgiving.  Sometimes it goes off without a hitch and sometimes after weeks of planning you totally ruin the turkey in a freak brining accident.  Just chalk it up to a good story you'll all laugh about someday.


Jill said...

Big thanks for the brining tips. I've been considering doing that for my first turkey (which is butterball) this week and probably wouldn't have realized all that. Gracias!

Janet said...

How did cooking go while camping? I would have had to plan ahead and bring all of my own cookware, but then again camping Barbie is a Rockstar ;-)