Friday, November 21, 2014

Musing on Thanksgiving Meals

My sister's feast with family, 2010
As an aside, it has been slow going, as it usually is when returning from a trip. I always have a hard time getting back into my routine, meaning things I normally get to are left for last - like this blog. That does not mean I have not been cooking! At present I have enough new things made to write for days. However, with Thanksgiving looming on the near horizon, some time has been spent pinpointing the recipes I want to make for this holiday. To change a recipe I love? Or not? Just an adjustment?

Our feast with friends, 2011
I never stray too far from my usual. All the things I grew up eating, like roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes and cranberries are always on my menu. However, aside from the fact that I am making the same foods, none of my recipes are even comparable to what my Mom made.

I loved Thanksgiving at my Mom's table. She stuffed her bird, back before all the dire warnings of illness due to stuffing cooked wrongly, and I loved that stuffing best. It was made with a cubed loaf of bread, fried bacon, onion fried in the rendered grease, parsley, eggs and milk. Over the years things changed. As I learned more about cooking, I added things i thought would taste good. Making Mom's stuffing recipe, it seemed natural to add in some apple, some grated nuts, reduce some of the grease, try to approximate the flavors of stuffing in the bird - without stuffing the bird!  My stuffing recipe morphed over the years to become Better than Mom's Stuffing. This year it is morphing again, but I will get to that after the fact. My ideas at this point are to proceed as usual, but substitute cornbread for part of the bread in the recipe, and to add in a jar of whole chestnuts. 
Better than Mom's Stuffing

She made mashed potatoes with butter and milk, salt and pepper. Her sweet potatoes were canned, partially drained and cooked down with some butter and brown sugar as a glaze. Her gravy was delicious, though I cannot say how she made it. Cranberries were from a can and most usually the "jellied" variety, sliced. Did you know that there exists a silver cranberry server? Actually, it seems that in Victorian times this piece was to serve tomatoes, but there is nothing like re-purposing, right?

Tomato or Cranberry Server
I do not stuff my turkey any longer; have not for many years. I often rub some mixture under the skin for flavor, like my Herbed Butter for Turkey or Chicken. In many prior years, I just stuck sprigs of fresh rosemary & thyme, with some onion wedges and garlic cloves under the skin. 

I cook 2 or 3 parsnips with my potatoes and then rice them, adding cream cheese or goat cheese and chopped scallions or chives. I make a Sweet Potato Casserole I have been making since the early 1980s. My stock is made using extraneous bits and pieces of the turkey (gizzards, neck, wingtips, extraneous fat chunks) and is used as the basis for my gravy. The pan drippings get added to the stock later on, before making the gravy.
Cranberry Orange Relish

I make my own Cranberry Orange Relish. My recipe for many, many years is a variation on many out there using orange juice as the cooking liquid. This year I am changing that recipe again. I had a bottle of Ruby Port open since using some to make the Fall Fruit Compote to accompany Pheasant Alfredo. I wanted to use some of this Port as a part of the cooking liquid for the fresh cranberries, along with orange juice. My thought was to first cook the Port down to about half the amount, to concentrate the flavors and lend sweetness. An alternative I would like to try some day is using pomegranate juice instead of the Port for this recipe. I imagine it will give great flavors also, and I would recommend it for those of you who do not use wine at all.

Yesterday was the day for this experiment. I have never, ever put spices into my cranberry sauce, but this year I did add in a small Cassia cinnamon stick, plus a little cheesecloth bag of 1/2 teaspoon each cardamom seeds and allspice berries. The smell in the kitchen was just heavenly while the wine cooked down!
A cup of Port  |  cooking Port with spices  | peeled sections of orange rind  |  orange sliced julienne style

I still used orange juice for the rest of the liquid, but used less sugar, overall. I added in a cup of dried cherries, for that flavor element. Along with orange zest, I also added lime zest and grated fresh ginger. I took plenty of photos while making it, but did not display the finished product  to get great photos. Those will be added in later on. Meanwhile, this is my Cran-Cherry Relish with Ruby Port:

Cooked to Jam Consistency

Cran-Cherry Relish with Ruby Port

Makes about 4 cups 

1 cup Ruby Port
1/2 teaspoon whole allspice berries
1/2 teaspoon whole cardamom seeds
1 stick (4-inches) cassia cinnamon stick12 ounces fresh cranberries (about 3 cups)
1 cup dried cherries
1 1/4 cup orange juice
3 parings of fresh orange zest, about 1 x 3-inches each
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
zest of one lime or lemon
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

In a 4 - 6 quart saucepan, bring the port to a boil. Wrap the allspice berries and cardamom seeds in a piece of cheesecloth and add them to the pot with the cassia cinnamon stick. Boil the mixture on medium for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until it has reduced to half. If the prep is not yet done, remove the pan from the heat until it is all done.  

Grated lime zest    |    grated fresh ginger    |   dried cherries   |   all added to the reduced Port   |  and cooked to perfection
If the rest of the ingredients are prepped and ready, add all of them in now. Stir together and return the mixture to boil. Almost immediately, the cranberries will begin to pop. I like to mash them against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon, freeing the insides. This helps thicken the mixture. After about 8 to 10 minutes at a gentle boil, the mixture should have thickened appreciably, to a jam consistency. Remove from heat, cool. Pour into a container, cover and refrigerate. The relish will keep at least 2 weeks well covered in the refrigerator. A great Do-Ahead dish for a busy time!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.