22 November 2012

Thanksgiving in DC

Thanksgiving is usually not my thing. I don't really like turkey, green bean casserole should be banned, and cranberries rate pretty low on my fruits I like list. In fact they're not even on the list. The only part of Thanksgiving I've ever really liked is Lauren's sweet potato souffle. In fact, that was my plan for today. Make sweet potato souffle and eat it while watching whatever was on TV. The arrival of my friend Eva, who needed a place to stay until the Spanish Government gets around to giving her a student visa, meant that it wasn't just me anymore. I've never been happier to have my plans change.

The beginnings of herb butter
Since it was just the two of us (and neither of us like turkey all that much) we decided to make Cornish game hens instead. And while that solved one problem it also brought up another-who was going to touch the hens. We're both ok handling raw meat but the minute you throw in skin...ew. It's just gross.

Um, ew.
I was so happy to discover that the inside bits had been put in a bag. We were really worried that we'd have to fish them out ourselves. To be fair we decided each one of us would do our own hen so we could spread around the fun of touching the ickiness.

Trying to loosen the skin
Several hours before starting we mixed the herb butter to let the flavors meld together. We chopped fresh sage, rosemary, thyme, and garlic and mixed them together with butter. That was the easy part. Then we had to rinse and dry off the hens to flavor them. We both managed to loosen the skin over the breasts enough to slip some butter between skin and meat and then we massaged the hens, completely covering them with herb butter, inside and out, before sprinkling them with salt and pepper.

Eva shoving butter under the skins
It took us forever to figure out if we were supposed to cook them breast up or down. The packing on the hens just said cook for an hour and I almost resorted to calling my mom before Eva's Googling suggested we cook them breast down but turn them occasionally.

It was gross but we managed
After those went into the oven Eva began putting together her chestnut stuffing. We both did some prep work yesterday which for Eva included covering most of the flat surfaces in my kitchen with cubed bread pieces.
Drying out bread 
I also helped her shell chestnuts. I have never before shelled chestnuts and can pretty confidently say that I'm not ever doing that again. There's a blister on my left thumb from doing it! Eva also did all the necessary chopping and sauteing yesterday so today all she had to do was combine everything.

The stock pot was the only pot big enough
The stuffing went in the oven in two batches because her crazy recipe was enough to feed a good two dozen people. While the stuffing was in I started Lauren's sweet potato souffle.

Once again using ingredients off the list
It's amazing that a recipe this simple is so darn good. The original recipe (below) makes a 9x13 pan full but with just two of us, and me leaving tomorrow for a week, it didn't make sense to make so much. I did make a full recipe of the topping though!

I love having a camera person!
We did really pretty well on timing and getting everything into the oven in the correct order. Even after 12 or so years away from my parents I'm still a little flabbergasted as to how people cook with just one oven. Growing up we always had two. And two refrigerators and two deep freezers. One of the deep freezers is dedicated to meat. It's a beautiful thing even if most of the meat is venison.

There was a lot of chopping
In lieu of pumpkin pie I made ice cream for dessert. It was supposed to be a sweet potato ice cream, but I underestimated how many cups of pureed sweet potatoes I needed and didn't quite have enough. So I ended up with a sweet potato/pumpkin ice cream. Which turned out to be a pretty decent idea.

Want to taste?
Like Eva, I did my own prep yesterday for the ice cream. Making ice cream is always at least a two day process for me as I find that the colder the custard is before putting it in the ice cream maker, the better it freezes.
I've never had that happen before
The custard was already really thick when it went into the machine so I let it run extra long, basically until the ice cream maker refused to rotate anymore. I scooped everything into a tupperware and put it all in the freezer until we were ready for dessert.
Digging out the rest of the ice cream
I also pan dry roasted some asparagus, adding a little rough sea salt and black truffle oil at the end. But that only takes about 12 minutes so I did it as we pulled things out of the oven. Until it was time eat we took a nice break to watch TNT's Castle marathon. It doesn't matter that I own all the seasons and have seen every episode multiple times. I love you, Nathan Fillion. We'd be perfect for each other...you're Canadian, I'm...from a state near Canada. Sigh.

Yes I've already decorated. Wanna make something of it?
And because I love the opportunity to use all the crazy stuff I have, I set the table with chargers and cloth napkins and napkin rings.
My table looked pretty
Since we eschewed the traditional turkey we also felt no need to buy a beaujolais regardless of how traditional it may be. Instead we drank one of our favorites, a Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel (available at Trader Joes for $8.99!).

And then we proceeded to do ourselves proud. We both decimated our hens and put a respectable dent in both the stuffing and the sweet potatoes. The asparagus, in addition to being scrummy, also let us pretend that we were being mildly healthy. Never mind that every other dish is full of butter.

It was such a nice, low-key dinner. Thanksgiving usually seems fraught with pressure to make a huge dinner, or impress your family/friends. Eva and I certainly got ahead of the game by prepping so much the day before and she's a good laid back foil to my hyper tendency to panic.

Sweet potato/pumpkin ice cream
After our stomachs returned to a normal size it was time for dessert! I have to say, the flavor for the ice cream was really nice. I was worried that the pumpkin would over power the sweet potato, but not so. The only thing I didn't like...texture. I may have to make this again and see if I can get it smoother. Eva likened it to the texture of a frozen pumpkin pie.

Also to accompany dessert, wine. But not just any wine. Pumpkin wine. That's right!

Clay Ave Cellars pumpkin wine
I found this wine with my mom on a trip to Muskegon, Michigan. Clay Avenue Cellars winery specializes in fruit wines and all the fruit is sourced from local farmers in a 30 mile radius of the winery. We did a tasting at their shop (and I bought a bunch of wines) and they told us they had a heck of a battle with the FDA over the label. Apparently the US Government isn't willing to recognize that pumpkin (like tomatoes and avacados) are a fruit.

The wine didn't go over so well. I think I recall buying less because of any awesomeness and more because I was amused by it. But everything else went well so this one little miss wasn't too upsetting.


Eva's Chestnut Stuffing:
(I havlved her recipe here so you should end up with a normal amount)
  • 2 onions
  • 3-4 stalks celery
  • sage
  • thyme
  • rosemary
  • parsley
  • 1 loaf thick cut bread (like a country white)
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 3/4 pound chestnuts
  • salt and pepper
Ahead of time, cut bread into cubes and leave out to dry. Eva did hers nearly a full 24 hours in advance. alternatively you could put them in an oven that's on the lowest setting possible to help them dry out. Also ahead of time, carefully cut an X into each chestnut and boil for 20-ish minutes. After draining them let them cool until you can handle them, but not too much because they're far easier to peel when hot. Good luck here.

Finely chop onion and celery and saute until soft. Then finely chop all the herbs and combine the vegetables, herbs, dried bread cubes, and chopped chestnuts. Combine well then  add chicken stock salt and pepper.

Pour into greased pan, at least a 9X13, and cover with tinfoil. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes, remove the tinfoil and bake another 20 minutes uncovered.

Lauren's Sweet Potato Souffle:
  • 4 cups cubed sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 4 T softened butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 t vanilla
It's up to you if you want to go through peeling and cubing and roasting the sweet potatoes. More power to you if you go that route. I totally cheated and used canned potatoes. So basically, just mix all that together until it's smooth. I used a little less than twice the amount of vanilla and also added 1/4 t ground vanilla bean.

Pour into a greased 9x13 pan.

For the topping:
(I've already doubled this for you. You're welcome)
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1-1 1/3 cup chopped pecans
  • 6 T softened butter
Mix well until everything is a little squishy and crumble over the top of the sweet potatoes and bake at 350 for roughly 35-40 minutes.

Sweet Potato Ice Cream:
  • 1 cup pureed sweet potato (or 1/2 cup potato and 1/2 cup pumpkin...or all pumpkin I suppose)
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 3/4 brown sugar
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
  • clove
Heat cream, milk, and sugar until hot. In a separate bowel, whisk the eggs yolks. Once the milk is hot, add about a cup to the eggs and whisk well then return everything to the pan. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring or whisking constantly, until it thickens. This is the part I hate because I'm mad impatient, but it really is important otherwise you run the risk of having the eggs curdle and that's gross.

Once it's thick, or you're fed up with the stirring (Eva and I took turns and I still didn't make it too long), add the puree and spices. Let cool in fridge a few hours to overnight then freeze in ice cream maker.

And so the post ends on an up note...I remembered that the wine makers at Clay Ave Cellars said that if you microwave the pumpkin wine for 30 seconds it tastes like pumpkin pie. So I tried it, why not, right? No. That didn't help. Clay Ave Cellars has a lot of very very good wines though so if you ever find yourself in western Michigan, check them out!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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