Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Fair Garden

After a day of cooking Thanksgiving dinner, Ann blurted out to me in the way that only she can, "I don't want to ever live in another house without a garden where I can pick fresh parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme!" I found it amusing that the lyrics to Scarborough Fair are so ingrained in our culture that they always come out in this same order.

“Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine.”

This litany of herbs dates to the 19th century and although nobody knows for certain when this idea originated, it is very likely medieval or older. I am struck by the fact that although Ann is relatively new to fresh herbs from the garden, that she has come to value most highly four herbs that have been valued highly for centuries in Western civilizations.

I might add chives to this list, but certainly the canonical four herbs are the four that we use most out of our own garden. And they were certainly the first four herbs in the ground when we established our garden some two seasons ago. And fear not, my love, they will always be in our garden for we cannot cook without them. Fresh herbs are the sine qua non of all good cooking.

Thus from our fair garden even in this chilly season I give you:

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011—Spectacular Eats

Let's get one thing clear from the start. Although Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, planning the menu and executing it is Ann's thing. She plans and plans and plans and plans for at least two months for Thanksgiving. Me, in my officially designated role as The Kitchen Bitch, I just prep tons and tons of mirepoix, herbs, shallots, and vegetables and do all those things that Ann does not want to do. This is a long-winded way of saying that all kudos go to Ann.

And kudos are due her in spades this year. Our dinner, with family and friends, was spectacular; I would not have changed a dish and I would gladly eat this very same meal for years to come! And kudos are also appropriate for the table: she sets a gorgeous table as you see below.

And now on to the food:

We started the day just after noon with sparkling wine and oysters, a hardship to be sure! The oysters were super-briny Wellfleets from Cape Cod. I love these oysters, but the shells are very soft and are prone to flaking apart (just like Chincoteagues), making them a bit touchy to shuck. Sparklers included Bailly-Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne, Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, and Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs. As much as I like Schramsberg, I have to say that the Bailly-Lapierre blew it away.

Cindy Barry in the process of assembling her appetizers; here, green pea pesto on baguette.

And now for a couple of art shots before we proceed with the main meal.

A shot from the night before when Ann and I were prepping shallots and herbs for the big day.

And not to be forgotten, the 2008 SonVida Malbec from Mendoza. This is a great Thanksgiving wine. And the Williamsburg Pumpkin Ale for Bob. And a not so subtle plug for the restaurant.

And now for the guest of honor, before cooking. This free-range turkey was a bit small (12 lbs.) for the 12 people we were feeding, but it was delicious. A small bit of trussing helped open up the chest cavity for better air circulation. And we prepared it the same way as we have for the past three years because there is no better way: brined in apple cider for three days; stuffed between the skin and the breast with pancetta-sage compound butter, cavity stuffed with sage, thyme, and rosemary; and skin rubbed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon thyme.

And the after shot. Roasted at 300F with the fan on until it hit 140F in the thigh and then basted once more with olive oil and finished at 400F with the fan on for 10 more minutes to brown the skin. Rotated every 30 minutes. Total cook time about 3:15. The reason I know all the details: fooling with the turkey is one of those few tasks delegated to The Kitchen Bitch.

And because there is never enough dark meat on a turkey for anyone at our table, here are 8 more thighs, also brined and roasted, along with the roasted neck and gizzard, both of which went into the gravy.

Speaking of gravy, here is my masterwork in action. Pan drippings from the turkey and the thighs, the leftover pancetta-sage compound butter, turkey stock that we made two weeks ago in anticipation of gravy, extra pancetta and sage, turkey fat from roasting the birds, and flour. Super incredible! The only issue—salt. Because the turkey had been brined, the drippings were already salty. No need for salt in the gravy.

And the vehicle to carry the gravy: Ann's incredibly delicious bread and saltine cracker (yes, you read correctly) dressing. Because she made one with and one without mushrooms (thanks, sweetie!), I spent a good while the night before prepping leeks, celery, and onions for the stuffing. The result is well worth it. This is a dressing for the ages, light, airy, and incredibly flavorful. Primo stuff!

Here are the gorgeous baby carrots just out of the boiling water. Big thanks to Bob Aberegg at Stoney Lane Farm in Hedgesville, WV for these beauties! The only downside to baby carrots: the prep work. It took me 35 minutes to prep all these.

And here they are after Ann glazed them with butter and agave nectar. A fresh carrot is an awesome carrot and these were so incredible that there were none left.

And from Kent Barley in Marlboro come these spectacular baby brussels sprouts, blanched and sautéed with pancetta and sliced shallots. Never was there a finer thing to grace a Thanksgiving plate! The sprout crop has been terrible this year and beg, beg, beg I had to, to receive these. Kent, my hat is off to you!

Ann's "bistro" mash, half redskins and half sweet potatoes. I wasn't sure I was going to like this amalgamation, but it turned out super and the old chef has learned a new trick. Not, not, not that I am of a mind to serve mash at Thanksgiving. Mash at Christmas, yes, de rigueur; mash at Thanksgiving, weird. This has been an ongoing mock battle between Ann and me for weeks (years?). According to a non-scientific survey at the dinner table, I am in the minority. Just about everyone else expects mash at Thanksgiving. Weird, I still say!

For some reason, cranberry sauce was not in Ann's plan. But it got there in the end! This is my old standby recipe of oranges, cranberries, and sugar. There is no finer or easier cranberry sauce recipe anywhere.

And before we move on to dessert, here's Patty filling up her plate with all the delish veg. I should give a shout out here to Beth and Gene Nowak of Mayfair Farm in Bunker Hill, WV, who supply almost all our fruits and vegetables for home and for the restaurant. Any vegetable not attributed to anyone else came from Freight Station Farmers Market thanks to Beth and Gene.

Now I am decidedly not a dessert person, so dessert rarely figures into my holiday planning. Of course it would not be Thanksgiving without way too many desserts. Thanks, thanks, thanks go to Jen and Dewi for their handiwork that made a fine dessert table in the company of Ann's pumpkin cheesecake.

Ann pulling caramel swirls through her maple-pumpkin cheesecake with spiced wafer and pecan crust. The cake as it appeared on the dinner table had piped rosettes of sour cream around the top edge. Very light and delicious, though I am a bit jaded about cheesecakes, having turned out many hundreds in the last year. Great job Ann!

Jen's molasses cookies. These are incredible. They looked so good that I sampled a tiny bite of one and they are easily the best that I have ever tasted. Bravo.

Spice cake cupcakes, as delicious as they are pretty. I failed to get a picture of the beautiful gingerbread cake baked in a Bundt (remember My Big Fat Greek Wedding anyone?) pan with homemade lemon curd.

And finally, pecan pie truffles from Jen and Dewi who outdid themselves. Four desserts? Who makes four desserts to take to Thanksgiving dinner? Awesome.

Thanksgiving 2011—Good Friends

Thanksgiving 2011 at our house with family and friends.

Kelley, set to attack the mash.

Look at this spread!

Somebody grabbed my camera and got Carter in a picture, the only one of him all day, as he hid in the office and played games on the computer. He's as tall as his proud mama now. Nice bald spot on the chef.

Cindy's mom Jeanne looking great this year.

Jen holding court with Patty, Dewi, Marco Due, and Cindy all spellbound.

Dewi in action. A very rare photo of an empty Champagne glass. It would have been rude to start with anything else.

Girl chat.

Bob Chips, sunning himself. This is the best photo I took all day.

And Bob doing what he does best in the corner, out of the action.

Kelley and Marco Due. Note the vivacious and gregarious Marco.

What did Ann say to have Mary shaking her head?

The ladies playing Dance Party. Ed hiding behind the camera! Charlie making a rare appearance.

Linguini with Clam Sauce

It felt good to get back in the kitchen yesterday, if only for a few minutes to make a late afternoon lunch of linguini with white clam sauc...