With Thanksgiving approaching at gigabit speed, we’re all gearing up for the big day with a main course of stress, and side dishes of angst and doubts about menu choices, modes of preparation, presentation (and dinner guests). To help make this feast a delightfully memorable one, I’ll now take your questions and offer cooking tips.
My family doesn’t like turkey. Would it be un-American to sub another main course for the traditional fowl?
How turkey became the rock star of the Thanksgiving table is a culinary mystery, since the inaugural feast at Plymouth in 1621 had a nice mash-up of protein dishes from roasted venison, duck and swan to lobster, mussels, oysters and eel, with wild (not even domestic) turkey an afterthought.
There were plenty of vegetarian options, too, including peas, beans, pumpkin, cornmeal, spinach, plums and cranberries. So have at it — be an innovator creating your own modern Pilgrim-inspired feast with roasted herb-coated rack of lamb and cranberry mint jelly, butternut squash lasagna, or a hearty seafood cioppino with wild-caught salmon, lobster, mussels, deep-sea scallops and assorted fingerlings. Add a salad loaded with baby greens, dried cranberries, candied nuts and roasted roots for a fiber-rich oomph to balance the logy carbs.
The turkey skin on my bird always looks flabby and anemic. Any tips?
If yours hasn’t browned nicely toward the end of roasting, simply slather some white vermouth over the skin for a bronzy glaze thanks to the sugars in the fortified wine. Or to ensure a crispy golden skin, generously brush olive oil or melted butter (I prefer goat butter) over the turkey prior to roasting, and remove the tenting from the bird during the last half hour of cooking.
How can I add a pop of color and punch of flavor to boring beige vegetable dishes?
Simply incorporate a confetti of fresh herbs and spices. Sassy Brussels sprouts pair well with garlic, mustard, caraway and thyme; mild-mannered cauliflower with parsley, mint, fennel and cumin; carrots love ginger, cinnamon and cayenne, while green beans need only a dash of pink Himalayan sea salt. Multi-tasking potatoes are divine with chives, rosemary, thyme and smoky paprika, while sweet potatoes are enlivened by nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and sage.
Use woodsy rosemary sprigs, delicate thyme branches, and aromatic basil leaves to decorate the turkey platter, enhance cornbreads and biscuits, garnish pies, and frozen delights.
My cranberry sauce is too sweet. Any suggestions?
Simply temper the sweetness with a squirt of lemon juice and zest. Maple syrup, honey, agave and date sugars are less cloying alternatives to cane sugar. As a backup, keep a can of organic whole-berry cranberry sauce on hand, and dial it up with tangerine segments, candied ginger and toasted pecans.
Often, my gravy has more lumps than a caravan of camels. Any preventions or cures?
A few little bumps can be easily camouflaged with some diced giblets or crimini mushrooms that also add a robust flavor. Or try pureeing the lumpy gravy with a hand-held blender. As for your ounce of prevention, prepare a roux blending pan drippings or melted ghee butter with equal parts flour. Whisk wine or stock with the roux until smooth. Fingers crossed; it should be lump-free.
How can I prepare a traditional feast, yet still wow my guests?
By mixing things up a bit, and pairing strange bedfellows. Start with a pumpkin Vichyssoise served in acorn-squash ramekins; season the turkey with sriracha marinade, the mashed potatoes with golden saffron strands; or whip up a wild mushroom Wellington (see recipe below), port-glazed Brussels sprouts, French chestnut, shallot and brioche stuffing, and pumpkin pie with mounds of pecan-praline-coconut whipped cream.
My turkey is so rubbery it could be used as a basketball, my mashed potatoes resemble Gorilla Glue, and my pie crusts cardboard. Any advice?
Have your dinner catered, or do Chinese take-out. In the meantime, sign-up for some cooking classes.
Recipe: Mixed Mushroom Wellington
• Ingredients: 2 sheets Artisan puff-pastry; 1 pound assorted mushrooms (Your choice: Portobello, crimini or shiitake); 1 1/2 tablespoons butter or virgin olive oil; 4 tablespoons white wine; 1 teaspoon each of chopped Italian parsley, sage and rosemary; 1/4 teaspoon each of smoked paprika, turmeric and ginger; 2 shallots, minced; 1 garlic clove, minced
• Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a skillet, heat butter or olive oil on low. Sauté shallots, garlic and mushrooms for 1 minute. Add wine, herbs and seasonings. Cook until tender. Strain liquid and reserve.
Place puff-pastry layer on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Spread mushrooms evenly on pastry and drizzle some reserved liquid. Place second pastry sheet on top, pinching edges to close gaps. Make three slits with a sharp knife. Brush with egg wash and bake 20 minutes or until golden. Slice and enjoy hot or chilled.
— Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and see more recipes at freerangeclub.com