Monday, November 29, 2010

An Off-the-Hook-Rook Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is, of course, one of the best holidays of the year, especially for a foodie. Almost every holiday is an opportunity to cook copious amounts of food, but Thanksgiving revolves around it. Families and friends come together, create a mess in the kitchen, and cook enough food to feed an army. This year Thanksgiving dinner was definitely off the hook at the Rook house.

So what was on the menu? Tasty snacks, bread and butter, salad, soup, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, cranberry relish, ambrosia, banana pudding, and raspberry bars. Yes.

The turkey was going to take about four hours to roast, so around noon I popped open a beer and prepared the guest of honor, cleaning it, patting the skin dry, coating it with my special combination of butter, sage, rosemary, and thyme, and stuffing it with apples, onions, garlic, herbs, carrots, and celery.

While I got the turkey ready, Tara put out a nice repast of cheese, crackers, olives, and cocktail shrimp. No Thanksgiving is complete without snacks to munch on throughout the day before the big meal.

This year we decided to break up the meal a little bit. When I took the turkey out the oven to rest for a while before carving it, we devoured a first course of bread and butter, soup, and salad. Tara baked the bread--it was fabulous. The bread was hearty, warm, and perfect for dipping into the amazing soup that Tara also made. 

The soup was a combination of vegetable stock, carrots, buttercup squash, butternut squash, apples, and a variety of spices. After allowing all the ingredients to cook through until soft, Tara pureed it and served it with just a little bit of sour cream on top. It had a hint of spiciness and lovely flavors that invoked the autumnal season.

My mom prepared the salad--a waldorf salad with a bed of romaine lettuce that was topped with green grapes, apples, celery, and walnuts. The light dressing she tossed it in was delicate and refreshing. Again, it was a perfect representation of fall flavors.

All in all, the bread, soup, and salad were a perfect way to pregame for the main course. We also opened up a delightful bottle of red wine to start off the meal.

Next up was all the traditional fixings for a Thanksgiving meal. The turkey turned out just the way I like it--the skin was nice and crispy and the meat was still moist. I carved it successfully and served it up, snacking a bit on pieces of skin along the way.

Sonya is the queen of mashed potatoes, and as usual she prepared a perfect dish of creamy mashed potatoes. She uses red potatoes and leaves the skin on, also adding some garlic and half-and-half to make it the right consistency. As always it was delicious.

Last year I made a cranberry relish with a recipe that my friend Melissa gave me, and it was so good that my mom requested I make it again this year. The recipe consists of bourbon, shallots, orange zest, sugar, black pepper, and cranberries--it's slightly sweet but still has a nice bite from the bourbon, shallots, and orange zest. This year we decided to try it with spiced rum since we already had some on hand and it added a little different flavor but was quite delightful.

Tara made the ambrosia salad this year. Ambrosia is kind of a 1950s' throwback, but we still make it every year. It's definitely a Rook tradition. Our ambrosia consists of mini marshmallows, shredded coconut,  sour cream, mandarin oranges, pineapple, and maraschino cherries. Somehow this year the maraschino cherries didn't make it in the ambrosia, but as always it was sweet in that way that only ridiculous doses of high-fructose corn syrup can create. An American classic.

We always make the stuffing (or dressing rather since we don't cook it in the turkey) using our Grandma's recipe. The recipe isn't written down anywhere, we just do it by intuition. The basics are bread, pork sausage, celery, onions, salt, pepper, and Bell's seasoning. This year I took over preparing the stuffing--tearing up chunks of wheat bread and mashing it together with the other ingredients until it was combined evenly. When it was done the top was lightly browned and crispy and the inside was soft, hearty, and perfectly seasoned. It might have been the best stuffing I've made yet.

We usually try out different vegetable sides every year, so my mom made a brussel sprouts dish using a recipe by Chef Ric Orlando. She opted for the balsamic roasted brussel sprouts, tossing the little strange vegetables in olive oil, garlic, shallots, balsamic vinegar, rosemary, salt, and pepper and then roasting them until tender. It was a lovely new addition to the more traditional aspects of our Thanksgiving dinner.

I had completely forgotten about gravy until I went to carve the turkey and saw the the gravy boat was sitting on the table. I was about to give up on the idea of making gravy but instead placed the giblets and turkey neck in a small sauce pan and covered it with water, allowing the water to come to a boil while I carved the turkey. I melted some butter and added flour to create a rue, removed the giblets from the water, and mixed it all together, hoping that it would reduce quickly. It didn't get as thick and flavorful as I would have liked it, but when it was close enough I poured it into the gravy boat and we were ready for dinner. 

After dinner we were so stuffed that there was nothing else Tara and I wanted to do except lie around and watch Labyrinth. After an hour and a half of David Bowie, psychedelic scenery, and wacky Jim Henson puppets, we emerged to find out parents noshing on dessert. Ever had banana pudding from Magnolia Bakery? If not, you need to try it. The pudding is nice and creamy with pieces of banana and Nilla wafers mixed throughout it. Covering the pudding was a layer of whipped topping. We were promised it would be phenomenal, and it definitely was. Tara also made some delicious raspberry bars. Normally we would have some sort of apple or pumpkin pie, but this year the pudding and raspberry bars were more than enough.

Thanksgiving is a great holiday for eating rich food, raising a toast, and giving thanks for all that we have in life. I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving as much as we did. Cheers!

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