Friday, November 23, 2007

How We Grubbed

The LowerManhattanite Family Thanksgiving Spread


We didn't do the CRAZY spread this year, as my house wasn't Turkey Day Central this time around. The wheel of hosting fell to my sister—“da lawyah” for '07. But, at “Casa De LM“, we still did our own smorgasbord of yumminess for ourselves, the kids and a couple of friends whose folks were too far away to get to.

Okay, I still did the smorgasbord of yumminess. The wife, for all of her superhuman abilities, is vulnerable to the kryptonite of large-scale, high-intensity cooking. She's of the Rachael Ray quickie-dish school. Tasty stuff, but not the style conducive to major, multi-burner, multi-course pot-rattling.

That's my forté.

I've always found cooking relaxing. I can sink into the zen of sous-work—chopping and dicing, measuring an 1/8 of a teaspoon of this or a 1/3 of a cup of that. The timing out of things so all comes together within minutes of each other for servability...that kind of mental exercise is good for me, as it just pushes all the annoying workaday and “awful-world-around-me” stuff to the periphery of my mind—and stokes the creative me as I get to create tasty “art” that my family and friends seem to appreciate.

So, as per usual on Thanksgiving, I did the shopping on the weekend before, so I could limit my last minute runs to little things like a replacement Lemon Extract for the one that evaporated in the cupboard, or a small, travel-sized bottle of cognac for a sauce (as most sauces that require a spirit call for less than a cup of it, the “airline” bottles are a godsend). Everything went perfectly. The cooking started the night before at midnight, when I did the pies and macaroni and cheese (BAKED!) so the oven would be freed-up for the main cooking of the following day, and not run the risk of stray basting juices and conflicting aromas mingling there and tainting conflicting meal elements.

With that, here's the rundown of the menu—which I just had lunch today from leftovers of—YUM!

A.) Da boid! An 11 lb. EMPIRE KOSHER TURKEY. Got turned on to these decades ago as my mom and dad gew to hate the homogenized, bland taste of the ultra-ubiquitous “Butterballs”. A butcher friend gave my Dad a couple of Empires and said, “You'll thank me.” We tried them, and Daddy did come to thank the man. The Empire's being kosher means they aren't pumped up with the same preservatives and hormonal junk that the Butterballs are, plus, they have a “gamier”, meatier flavor, and appear to have actually been a real “bird” at some time, as opposed to a pen-bred, mechanically-stuffed “fowlenstein”. The dark meat from an Empire turkey will make you close your eyes and think of all things good. Man, what a bird! Prep was simple—night before, (after a day and a half on the thaw), unwrap, remove in-cavity neck-bone, wash in cold water inside and out, and pat dry. Get a stick of butter and either room-temp soften or microwave on low for 15 seconds to soften up. Get out your Kosher Salt, black pepper (I use a grinder), Lawry's seasoned salt, and most importantly— SMALL BOX OF BELL'S POULTRY SEASONING! Sprinkle about a half-teaspoon of salt, 1/8 of one of pepper, and a shake or two of the Lawry's over the melting butter. Then, shake on a big fistful of the Bell's. Let that set for a few minutes. Go to your turkey...and make sure your hands are washed and your nails trimmed for this part—using the tips of your fingers work at the skin's edge near the top of the breast and ease your fingers between the skin and breast meat. Once you've got that started, take your time and work your way down slowly nudging to get that separation of skin and meat—down around the sides and so on. You can do the same coming up from the bottom cavity opening and work around into the drumsticks. Flip her over and do what you can with the back, too. YOU'RE NOT REMOVING THE SKIN, just creating a secondary seasoning space. Once you've as much of the turkey done (you don't have do this with the wings and entire legs and back) as you can, go back to your butter and spice mix and mush it all together with your hands until it's a darkish paste.

Rub that all over the Turkey, AND IN BETWEEN THE SKIN AND MEAT IN THE SEPARATION YOU'VE CREATED. This allows for the seasoning to not merely settle in on the exterior, but settle in meat-deep and permeate as it slowly cooks. Rub the mixture in and on till you've exhausted the paste, put the boid on a platter and Saran wrap it and refrgerate for the next day's roasting. Come the day, take her out, put it in the roasting pan (breast side-up), and stuff it. (if desired.) Set the oven for 450º degrees and cook for 15 minutes. Flip it breast side down fr another 15, and then flip back to breast up for the remaining 1 1/2 -1 3/4 hours at 325º-350º degrees (for a 10-12 lb. bird—follow general length instructions for weightier fowl), basting with pan juices every 20 minutes until done. Poke breast with a fork—when no clear juices erupt from the puncture—she's a' done. Let cool for an hour or so before picking bits off to taste as I know you will.

B.) SAUTEED KALE WITH GARLIC AND TURKEY BACON. I'm apparently the only Black man in the country who does NOT like collard greens. I just don't like wet, sloppy, olive-colored greens on my plate. And kale holds up better under heat, is tastier and has a higher vitamin enrichment, so...I go with kale. Pick the leaves off the stem, wash em and dry 'em. Three tablespoons of olive oil in a pan—medium heat, toss in the kale and cook for a couple of minutes, nudging it around. Season with salt, pepper and Lawry's. Toss in your garlic—finely chopped—NOT FROM A JAR! and cook for another couple of minutes, nudging it around and mixing. It's gonna smell great. Lastly, toss in some crumbled turkey bacon bits for color and extra flavor at the end. Let that cook for another 90 seconds, still nudging and mixing. Remove from pan to a paper towel to drain away the excess oil and you're done. It's delicious, and even better the next day. (TIP: toss a teaspoon of olive oil in a pan the next day, and quick sauté the remainder for a minute , which will lightly crisp the kale. The texture is beautiful and the flavor wil have totally set in.) Mmmmmm-mmmmmm!

C. STUFFING/DRESSING. Call it what you wanna, I call it good! I use a cornbread stuffing in lieu of bread crumbs. You can use the pre-dried bag variety (a 14 oz.bag and a half), or bake your own home-made, or quickie Jiffy™ mix variety. Either way, make sure it's sufficiently cool and dry when it's time to whip this up. (crumble the pan-mixed and baked kind by hand of course) Sauté 3/4 of a cup of chopped onion, and 3/4 a cup of celery. Get some italian-style turkey sausage, remove three links from their casings, crumble and sauté as well. Mix in with the celery and onion. Toss in a half-cup of slivered pecans (or walnuts, if you like). In a large pot bring to a boil a cup and a half of water with a stick and a quarter of butter. Remove from heat. Mix in the cornbread chunks, and then the celery/onion/pecan/sausage mix until the liquid binds the concoction together nicely. Toss in a fistful of white and brown sugar, a diced Granny Smith apple and a 1/3 of a cup of apple juice. Keep mixing to bind, and then stuff what will fit into the bird. What remains goes in a baking pan and you tamp this down to fill and even the height.

Stuffing cooks in the bird, while the panned portion is put in the oven next to it for about an hour or so to bake up. I hereby absolve myself from all responsibility for your weight gain from this carb treat.

D. BISCUITS. A basic biscuit recipe—typical flour, cold water, butter and oil thingy— except I use coconut oil as it gives them a sweet, nutty little taste on top of the flaky goodness. Throw in a pinch of sugar, too.

E. CARMELIZED, CINNAMONED GREEN BEANS WITH SLIVERED PECANS. Wash and trim your beans, dry 'em, and toss 'em in a pan with two tablespoons of butter. Season with a little salt and pepper, then toss in your pecan slivers. Then hit with a teaspoon of cinnamon, another pat of butter, and then altenate tosses of white and brown sugar—A-B-A-B, all the while nudging and coating the beans in the cinnamony, sweet butter glaze under medium heat. This'll take all of ten minutes, and be worth every Goddamned one of 'em. Trust me!

F. BAKED MACARONI AND CHEESE. The bechamel vs. straight cheese sauce wars are right up there with Sunni vs. Shia, so take what you will from this. I favor the classic Mueller's baked recipe, available here. I also lean towards the corn starch base version, as the flour-based one tends to super-quickly thicken. And the rapper Big Daddy Kane gave me this next tip years ago (we shared cooking tips—he's a damn good cook himself—while working on a TV show together)—he uses a tablespoon of either French's yellow mustard, or Hellmann's Dijonnaise in addition to the dry Colman's mustard the recipé calls for. It gives the cheese (PLEASE USE A GOOD-QUALITY SHARP OR PREFERABLY EXTRA-SHARP) a nice extra bit of bite.

G. WHIPPED POTATOES. Easiest thing in the world. Peel 6 potatoes, dice 'em. Boil until soft to touch. Drain, Use manual masher to pulverize—BOOMP! BOOMP! BOOMP! Add whole milk—the hell with 2% and skim—while still mashing. Maybe 1/2 a cup until texture gets a little creamy, but still stiff enough to hold shape alá Richard Dreyfuss in “Close Encounters”. Add butter—maybe half a stick or so, and sprinkle salt to taste. Get your wire whisk and whip that son-of-a-bitch until softened a bit more. Maybe a minute. If needed, add more salt and butter till taste is perfect. You'll know when.

H. OLD SCHOOL NATION OF ISLAM-STYLE BEAN PIES. I know, you think it sounds nasty, but Goddamn if there's almost anything better with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and a cuppa joe. Won't give the recipé here, 'cause it's actually a family secret. My Dad was the perfecter of the pie's recipé in the 1960's, along with his aide Lana Shabazz, who would leave my dad's place to become Muhammad Ali's training-camp chef. All I will say is that it is a custard-based pie using eggs, sugar, extracts, spices, special milk, a thickener, and pureed, cooked navy beans, amongst other things and a special prep-order key to the pie's turning out properly. If you ever taste a store-bought Bean Pie, it's based on a large-scale translated version of this recipé, but invariably misses a couple of the special ingredients, and always the key prep-order my Dad mastered. That prep-order is what keeps the pie colored a certain way—mahogany brown exterior/golden, glisteneing interior, as well as balancing the flavor notes—sweet, nutty, with an warm afternote of the spice/extract blend.

Put it all together, and you get the LowerManhattanite Family and Friends Holiday Spread. Now, of course, I stayed up until 5:30 a.m. on the pies, mac and cheese and sous work, got up at 9:00 a.m. to do the main cooking and finished at 3:30 in the afternoon. We ate an hour later. I had a “Hyman Roth” (Dr. Brown's Black Cherry Soda, Bacardi Rum, splash of lime juice, sprig of mint over ice), and passed out until 1:00 a.m. (The all-nighter, and old Hyman put Papa away but good) today. Then had a slice of pie and slept until 10:00 a.m. Coffee and pie for breakfast...

...and then some of the spread leftovers for lunch. Sis and Mom came by for their pies, and some of the unpictured BAKED SWEET POTATOES WITH MAPLE PECAN BUTTER. Split sweet potatoes with a knife, then poke holes all around 'em with a fork. Rub 'em down with butter and place in foil wraps and place in oven for an hour. Get a stick of butter, softened slightly, an ounce of maple syrup and 1/2 cup of chopped pecans. Pop 'em into a food processor or an Osterizer™ and pureé 'em down into a soft mixture. Spoon out into a bowl or Tupperware case, cover and place in fridge for 45 minutes. It'll re-harden as butter does—but will be infused with maple syrup and pecan taste. (!) When taters are done, pooch the ends to open the middles, and hit with the special butter you just made.

Ohhhhhhhh, my!

And that folks, is how we got down grub-wise! I tripped over my son who was sprawled on the floor in front of the couch at 1:00 a.m.. Daughter was zonked in the easy chair. All was as it should have been, post feast. :) Will post more as the tryptophan/all-nighter induced sloth wears off.

My best to every one of you,

How'd your own feasts go?