I cooked my first Thanksgiving turkey when I was 18. I had no experience. I’d hardly learned to roast a chicken properly, and handling this huge 20 lb. dead bird with wrinkly skin and giant everything just seemed so ridiculous. I didn’t want to reach in to my elbow to pull out the turkey’s detached organs. I didn’t want to rinse big-bird in my sink. Gross.
But, even at 18, I was culinarily inclined, determined to learn the secret ways of real Susie Homemakers (whom my mom was not) and I forced myself to do it. I found that I had it in me, completely. I made it through. My turkey was, well, turkey. And that’s my point: Roasted turkey is kind of boring. Surely we don’t have to make it every year, do we?
I talked to some chefs around town, who handed over some recipes that should help you shake it up a bit, and I threw in a couple of my own. Enjoy!
I believe in beginning and ending a Thanksgiving meal with sweets. Is that okay? Of course it is. I wouldn’t recommend eating that way every day, but Thanksgiving is special. We’re commemorating our universal ass-holed-ness and the fact that, before we pillaged and pilfered and otherwise degraded the native culture of America, we convinced them to eat with us. Good strategy, I always like to make sure that before I completely decimate an entire culture, that we’ve had some food first.
But in honor of what Thanksgiving means for most people today – getting together to enjoy a home-cooked meal with family or friends – I’m sharing my mom’s recipe for Date Cookies because I love them, and, okay, every once in a while she kind of did an impression of Susie Homemaker and these cookies were my favorite.
(sometimes called Skillet Cookies for the way they are prepared)
1 cup chopped dates (my mom always used the pre-chopped grocery store variety)
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1 egg, whisked
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups crisp rice cereal (yeah, baby)
3/4 cup chopped pecans
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
Mix dates, sugar, butter and egg in heavy skillet. My mom always used an electric skillet. Melt over low heat; cook for about 5 minutes on medium-low, until bubbly (make sure you keep the mixture moving so the egg cooks evenly, acting as a binding agent for the dates rather than scrambling – scrambled egg cookies would just be weird). Remove the mixture from the heat; add vanilla, rice cereal and chopped pecans. When the mixture is cool enough to handle, roll it into a log on a surface dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Wrap in a long piece of waxed paper, dusted with more confectioner’s sugar and allow to cool completely. Unwrap, slice into rounds, and serve. Voila.
*Note: when cooking the date mixture, make sure you don’t cook it too hot or too long. The further the sugars get down the candy-making stages, the harder the final cookies will become. We’re looking for soft to medium ball stage, not hard crack. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check the interwebs or a cookbook for reference. I’m pretty sure even Betty Crocker has been teaching this stuff since the 70’s.
With mustard sauce, brown-butter poached apples, and candied sage
I picked up some brats from Chico Locker & Sausage the other day and made this as an appetizer. I served the brats sliced on a bias, topped with the mustard, apple, and sage. It was lovely as an app, but also makes a nice entree. It’s about as simple as it gets and totally delicious. The best part: you get to forego turkey gizzard extraction.
Fresh sage, one bunch
1/2 cup sugar, plus an extra 1/4 cup, set aside in a small dish
1/4 cup water
8 good quality bratwurst sausages
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) butter
3 apples or asian pears (I used a mix of pink ladies and Asian pears)
1/4 cup good quality yellow mustard
2 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
Good sea salt
Begin by candying the sage. Pluck shapely leaves from their stems and set to one side of a large plate. Mix 1/2 cup sugar and the water together in a small saucepan over low heat until the sugar has completely dissolved. You’re making a thick simple syrup with a 2:1 sugar to water ratio.
Brush both sides of a sage leaf with simple syrup, then coat both sides of the sage leaf in the extra sugar. Place on a rack to dry.
Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Lay the brats out on a baking sheet and roast until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F, about 30 minutes.
Melt the butter over low heat in a large saucepan. Yes, it’s a copious amount of butter. Take on a Paula Deen accent if that helps, y’all.
While the butter melts, thinly slice the apples or asian pears, removing the seeds and inner membrane. Once the butter begins to bubble and brown (you may need to inch the heat up to make this happen) drop in the apple slices and poach until cooked through and beginning to caramelize on the outside. Remove from butter with a slotted spoon, sprinkle with sea salt, and set aside.
Whisk the mustard with the white balsamic. Drizzle over the brats and apples. Top with candied sage leaves (crushed or chiffonade sliced, if you prefer). Serve hot.
This side dish comes to us from Gabe Jenson, part-owner of Chico’s much beloved Donut Rising, and Red Room Tattoo. Gabe is also a chef, my buddy, and an always-innovating-brainiac.
Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes)
2 lbs. cleaned Jerusalem artichokes
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1/4 cup grated parmesan (optional)
Chop all chokes in half. Mince garlic. Toss all ingredients besides cheese into a mixing bowl and toss till all chokes are evenly coated.
Preheat oven to 375. Place chokes face side down on baking sheet. Roast in oven for thirty five to forty five minutes depending on oven. When chokes will release from pan either turn oven to broil and sprinkle cheese over chokes and broil for four to five minutes. For vegan chokes remove and serve.
Creme Brûlée is, of course, a classic. This recipe is from John Dean, the new chef at Tin Roof, who submitted this one because he believes people simply don’t make enough custard these days. Amen, brother.
Simple, Perfect Creme Brûlée
1 half-sheet pan, standard (high sides)
metal mixing bowl
Ramekins (7-8 oz. each) *tip: shop the dollar store for ovenproof ramies.
2 qt. saucepan
Propane Torch (yeah baby!)
Fine mesh strainer
2 qt. container with a spout for pouring egg/cream/vanilla mixture into ramekins.
1 qt. heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split (cut down the center)
1 cup sugar
6 large yolks
2 quarts water
*make a day before serving
-Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
-Place oven rack in center of the oven
-Bring water to a boil
-Over medium heat, bring cream to a soft boil with vanilla. Set aside for 15 minutes to infuse vanilla flavor.
-Mix yolk with sugar in stainless bowl and whisk until combined.
-Return cream and vanilla to heat, stop when the mixture comes to a boil. Pour the cream through the strainer into the yolk and sugar mixture and whisk until combined.
-Strain into 2 qt. container for pouring, reserving the vanilla bean (the bean husk can be washed and dried, then added to any reserve sugar you keep on hand, infusing flavor and creating vanilla sugar).
-Arrange the ramekins, equally spaced on a 1/2 sheet pan.
-Add 7 oz. of the cream mixture to each ramekin.
-Place sheet pan with ramekins on center rack in the oven.
-Pour the just boiled water into the sheet pan so the water surrounds the ramekins. Stop just short of the lip of the pan.
-Bake until gelatinous, about 40-45 minutes.
-Chill until needed
-Shake a thin layer of granulated sugar on the tops of each baked and cooled brûlée. Torch until golden brown.
All this talk about Thanksgiving made me remember something else from my childhood. My dad, in all his dorky benevolence, gifted the world with an invention called “Turkey Talk.” It was like pig-latin, only weirder. To speak Turkey Talk, you had to “obble” the consonants and say the vowels, so my name (Jen) would be pronounced “Jobble-e-nobble.”
Memories, they’re what Thanksgiving is all about.
Whether you’re spending Thanksgiving with family, friends, working at a homeless shelter, or curling up with a book, try some new recipes. Feel the joy of inhaling the scent of food cooking in your oven. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a pro. Then, head to Synthesisweekly.com and tell us how you celebrate Thanksgiving. Pick a favorite dish from this menu; tell us what you’re making, who you’re spending time with, or your favorite Thanksgiving memory. Just talk to us dammit! We love you!