I feel it in my toes…the Holiday Season is upon us! I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve been so busy shopping and cooking and baking and decorating that it’s taken me almost a week to de-brief my Thanksgiving weekend! I’ve spent the last few nights decorating my apartment and trimming my tree. It looks so pretty. I might have to have a Christmas party just so everyone can see my decorations!
But, I’m getting a head of myself. I still need to divulge the details of my Thanksgiving feast! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend. Mine was spent primarily in the kitchen, and I loved every second of it. Not only did I cook a massive menu on Turkey Day, I also whipped up another big meal when we had my aunt and uncle over on Saturday. I was just so excited to be home cooking in my parents massive kitchen, and I think I got a little carried away with some of the dishes. I was also psyched to be able to use whatever ingredients my little heart desired without the consequence of paying for it (cue me making New Zealand rack of lamb for 7 people).
As I said in my Thanksgiving Prep post, I had very little time to do prep work since I flew back to Chicago Wednesday night. I was able to work out my menu and make my “event time line,” which was a lifesaver, and I highly recommend using one when you are making a complex meal in a limited amount of time.
I woke up VERY early Thursday morning to stuff my turkey full of aromatics (I never stuff it with actually stuffing, it dries out the bird, a makes the stuffing soggy) and get it in oven. By 9am I was downstairs making coffee and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. One of my favorite Thanksgiving memories is watching the parade while the smell of onions and celery (being prepped for the stuffing) waft in the background. This year the parade was especially exciting because I knew someone in it! If you watched the cast of Memphis preform right around 9:15 and saw a cute guy in the lime green shirt, well I know him! His name is Bryan and he is living my life long dream of being a Broadway star…sigh…
So, back to the food. The night before I had cubed the bread for the stuffing, prepped the potatoes, and made the Chocolate Gnache. So that just left…um…everything else. As I perused my menu while watching the Memphis performance on repeat, I thought hmm…there are more side dishes for this meal than there are people eating it. Maybe my menu was overly ambitious? Well, too late now, time to sharpen my knives and get to work.
I had so much fun chopping and sauteing and drinking mimosas, catching up with my mom, secretly feeding scraps to my little doggie, getting grilled by my dad about getting married, (after all what’s a holiday without some awkward family convos eh?) and finally, sitting down to dinner and gobbling up all of my hard work.
Even though I don’t want to make any of my dishes feel bad about themselves, I am going to pick favorites. Let’s start with the creamed onions. This little guy used to be so far from the top of my list that I almost didn’t make it this year. But it’s my brother’s favorite and he’s pretty adamant about keeping the traditional menu intact. I wanted to jazz it up a bit and transform it into something I’d be excited to eat. So I decided to do creamed onions au gratin…and oh my gratin…they were fantastic. I thought about doing a few different cheeses but I ended up using just Parmesan and I was oh so happy I did. It had a really fantastic bite to it. It was the perfect consistency. It browned really nicely on top…it was a little bit of cheesy heaven.
My second favorite dish was also an Elizabeth Malinowski original, my pear and sausage stuffing. First of all, I don’t mean to sound judgmental, but Stove Top stuffing is a blemish on the face of Thanksgiving. It’s a mushy, over salted, under seasoned, freeze dried, excuse for stuffing. Repeat after me, step away from the box and go get your self some fresh sour dough bread. Making your own bread crumbs is probably the easiest thing in the world (it’s just cutting bread into squares and letting them get stale) and it makes an enormous difference in the over all taste and consistency of stuffing. I apologize for my little out burst but hopefully this will make any remaining Stove Top users see the light. Now, once you have the base of your stuffing taken care of, the real fun begins. The beauty of stuffing is that it has endless possibilities, you can saute any combination of veggies, fruit, meat, seafood (oyster stuffing anyone?) toss it with bread crumbs, moisten it with chicken broth and bake. I did some onions, fresh herbs, roasted pears, and sweet sausage. It was sooo yummy that thinking about it later that evening motivated a 1am fridge raid for some leftovers.
The meal was much easier to prepare then I thought and I never really felt stressed or overwhelmed. My family were great sous chefs and we had such a nice relaxing meal just the five of us. After dinner I passed out on the couch for a good two hours in one of the most glorious tyrptophan induced naps I’ve ever had. The night was capped off by pie and chocolate gnache and our annual Thanksgiving night screening of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I still cry when George Bailey reads Clarance’s note to him at the end of the movie. “Dear George, Remember no man is a failure who has friends.” Gets me every time. Here’s some more Thanksgiving food porn…
On Saturday, I decided that since I had made relatively simple dishes on Thanksgiving, I would step it up a notch for dinner with my uncle and aunt. They live a short drive away and I love having them over for dinner because it gives me a reason to make a really special meal. They are very good and appreciative eaters, so I always try to pull out all the stops for them. I usually like to do a hearty appetizer that we can eat in the family room while watching football and chatting. I made two kinds of pizza, one with caramelized onion and Gruyere, the other with mozzarella and soprressta. Both were very tasty…and very filling. For dinner I made a truffled Waldorf salad, mustard and rosemary crusted rack of lamb, shaved brussel sprouts with a bacon vinaigrette, and cauliflower au gratin (since I had demolished the creamed onion leftovers and still had a craving for veggies wrapped in melted cheese.)
The lamb was divine, but the real show stopper were the brussle sprouts…who would have thought? I think my aunt put it best the second she took a bite, she immediately gasped and said “Oh my god…that is SO good!” That’s the kind of outburst that fills every chefs’ heart with joy.
I had to practically roll myself back to New York. All that cooking, all that food, all that traveling…On Monday night I looked at Matt and simply declared “I can’t cook tonight.” It’s not that I didn’t want to, but I think it would have been physically impossible for me to lift a spatula. Fortunately I’m now re-energized and I will be blogging like a mad woman for the rest of the week to make up for my hiatus.
Coming up this week: Chicken Marsala, Greek baked pasta, and a trip to Long Island for a lesson in gravy from my favorite Italian aunt!
Barefoot Contessa Pizza Dough
1 1/4 cups warm (100 to 110 degrees F) water
2 packages dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons good olive oil
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Mix water, yeast, honey and olive oil in a large bowl. Add the salt, and then flour, a cup at a time, mixing with a wooden spoon after each addition. When the mixture becomes dough-like, knead it with your hands. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, knead and stretch for five to seven minutes until smooth and elastic. Place in a well oiled bowl and cover with a damp kitchen towel. Let rise for 30 minutes. Then divide into 2 equal sized balls and let rise for an additional 10 minutes..
Roll out pizza dough into ovals. Cover a cookie sheet with a thin layer of bread crumbs to keep the pizza from sticking. Place dough on a cookie sheet, top each pizza with desired toppings. Drizzle each pizza with olive oil and bake at 500F for 10-12 minutes until the crust is golden brown.
For the Carmelized Onion and Grueyre pizza
Slice two large sweet onions into thin pieces. In a large skillet add onions and sauté over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until onions are soft and light brown (approximately 20-30 minutes.) Finish with a few splashes of sherry. Top the pizza dough with grated Grueyre cheese (about 1 cup), the carmelized onions, and a sprinkle of fresh thyme.
For the Sopressatta and Mozzarella pizza
Slice mozzarella balls into 1/4 inch pieces. Cube sopressatta into half inch cubes. Top the pizza with the cheese and sprinkle on the mozzarella.
Truffled Waldorf Salad & Shaved Brussel Sprouts (both of these came from a cookbook I left in Chicago, I will track them down and post soon!)
Mustard and Rosemary Rack of Lamb (adapted from The Joy of Cooking) Serves 8
4 frenched racks of lamb
1 package fresh rosemary, chopped
1 cup dijon mustard
3 tbsp olive oil
In a large bowl combine the mustard, rosemary, olive oil, and juice of them lemon. Divide into two zip lock bags. Place the 2 racks in each bag, seal and coat with the marinade. Allow the lamb to sit for at least 1 hour. Heat olive oil in a large high sided skillet. Sear the racks on both sides. Transfer to a 425 degree oven and cook for 15 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 125 degrees. Let stand for 10 minutes before carving.