Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Thanksgiving: Tweeking the Bird.

"Dad, I think it's time..."  Brendan was standing over me looking down on yet another futile attempt at checking email on AOL.  My 5 year old H-P laptop was once again on the fritz and I sat there cursing the Internet connection, clogged program arteries and the weather for it's slow speed. 

"Maybe you should really look at a new machine, I mean, this is like driving a Model A at Indianapolis,"  he continued with the sensitivity of a friend who knew I was grieving. 
"I don't get it, why can't this work like it always has?  An old Chevy can still get down the road and perform it's designed function, why not computers?" I followed, "Some things don't need to change; I've always been happy this way."

Personal reluctance to change is a trait some of us have in abundance and for others, they can trim their sails to progress as the winds dictate.  In the kitchen, keeping an open mind and palate are as important as maintaining traditions.  Question is: When and where is this appropriate?  When do I ditch the roasted turkey for a try in the fryer?  Should we do a salmon this year for out of town guests?  Is Mom's Green Bean Casserole finally going to retire to the faded pages of a Betty Crocker Cookbook?


Here's my suggestion: make one change per year and see how it goes.  Thanksgiving is such a holiday steeped in tradition, that to turn it on it's head is to invite family discord.  I'd like to offer some suggestions in sprucing up your Thanksgiving and making it a bit easier for the cook. 
If you'd like to find a dynamite recipe for gravy, look to previous November blogs.

Tweek #1:  Cut your bird in half
Seriously, carving a whole turkey can be daunting; like slicing meat off a 180 degree basketball.  If you want to carve at the table and are comfy with that, keep it whole; it's part of the show.  However, if you are serving meat on a platter or tray, it is much easier to roast your turkey after it is halved.  In the food service biz, we like to cut them down the back on one side of the spine and down one side of the breast bone.  You now have two flat sides to put on a roasting pan.  Easy fit in the oven, faster cooking time and half the weight to maneuver on a cutting board.  It's what I do. 

Tweek #2:  Fresh Cranberry Relish
"But Chef, I can just open a can and plop it in a dish, why go to the trouble?" 
This is a winner, can be done days ahead and really puts some 'zing' into your meal. 
Take a 1# bag of fresh cranberries and place in a food processor.  Add the juice and zest (the shaved outside peel without the pith) of two oranges with 1 cup of sugar.  Blast away till you have a fine puree'.  Place in a covered container overnight in the fridge.  The next day, the color will have bled into a vibrant red.
The flavor is refreshing and light, not cloying, with a welcome pop of color on the table, too.

Tweek #3:  Roasted Fresh Sweet Potatoes
Love, love, LOVE this!  Take your fresh sweet potatoes (not yams) and peel them like a regular russet potato.  Slice in cross-sections about the width of your index finger and place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 till fork tender, about 45 minutes.  Remove and place in a serving dish or tray, then, drizzle with browned butter (melted butter on the stove top that you reduced till it 'foamed' and browned on the bottom of the sauce pot) for a caramel-like flavor.  It is brilliantly simple and allows us to taste the incredible deliciousness of a naturally sweet potato. 

Tweek #4:  Garnish with Fresh Herbs
It's a small thing, but, when we have a full house and a raft of aromas competing for our senses, a shock of fresh herbs add color, texture and delicate perfume to our table.  Grab some fresh rosemary, thyme and sage, keeping them on the stems.  Keep them separate or combine in small bouquets for a natural garnish
that accents the simple, yet, hearty holiday. 

I know eventually a new computer is needed and adapt I must.  We've moved beyond marshmallows melted on yams and the Earth hasn't stood still.  Gas stoves have replaced wood-fired ovens and meals are still being prepared.  Mincemeat comes in a jar and the traditionalists haven't lept from dining room tables. 

All's well as traditions do evolve and change can be for the better.

Just don't attempt to put me and a 'To-Furkey' at the same table!

Take Care, God Bless and Remember:

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends;
the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"


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