Sunday, April 22, 2012

super belated thanksgiving: perfect apple pie, bacon brussel sprouts with mustard vinaigrette, spinach and onion quiche, and DEEP FRIED TURKEY

Where do I even start? That is a photo of one of the three and a half Thanksgiving dinners that I enjoyed last year. The first two Thanksgivings were hosted by friends of mine, and both dinner parties went all out: turkey, stuffing, gravy... the works! I contributed some delicious butternut squash to both meals, which were, coincidentally, both hosted in Astoria.

The third Thanksgiving was at my Aunt Cathy's apartment on the Upper West Side, and it was not quite as Thanksgiving-y, as there was no turkey, but there were plenty of other festive goodies. If you are all about the side dishes, then you would have loved this meal, because that was all there was. But then I'll get to that later...

The final Thanksgiving was up with Nathan's dad and step mom in Boston, and the lead photo up there is a picture of my plate. We made two kinds of stuffing, a delicious salad, mashed potatoes, gravy, brussels sprouts cauliflower and oh yeah, deep fried turkey.

Patricia's neighbors have a turkey fryer and offered us the opportunity to use it after they finished their turkey up. This made for a late dinner, but a great turkey with an awesome crispy skin. If you don't already know how wrong frying a turkey can go, I suggest you get thee to youtube (highly, highly amusing). Luckily, we averted disaster (which happens if the turkey is frozen or even just wet when it hits that hot oil), and wound up with a delicious if slightly overcooked bird. (My advice to you: thermometer. Use one; don't guess.)

And I carved that sucker! Because I am AWESOME! I ran across this awesome video where a Fairway butcher breaks it down-- literally, and well, you can see for yourself. I absolutely destroyed (in a good way) two turkeys with this technique this year. I never would have thought that I could handle a big bird, but I was so up to the task. Like I said, awesome.

Also, the obvious easy knock on a deep fried turkey is that there are no pan drippings from which to make gravy, but I found a good work around for that: I made a turkey stock with a mirepoix of onions, celery and carrots, the turkey neck, and a couple of the other organs (I can never correctly identify those suckers). I took the rest of the turkey offal (particularly what I guessed to be the liver) and diced it up as fine as I could, and then cooked it up in a little bacon grease. I added flour, cooked it up into a roux, and then added the turkey stock in small increments, letting it reduce and thicken. And there you have it: turkey stock, and deep fried turkey. You can have your cake and eat it too!

My other contribution to the meal was initially going to be these deep-fried brussels sprouts with pumpkin seeds, but we didn't have a frying basket so I settled for pan seared ones instead. I left out the queso fresco that the original recipe called for, subbing in some diced bacon. Anyone who's ever tried them together knows what a good combination brussels sprouts and bacon are, but a mustardy vinaigrette amps up everything to the next level. I am sure it would be awesome to deep fry these little buggers, but sprouts seared to a crisp golden brown in a cast iron skillet is an excellent alternative, and much more practical for the average home cook. I'll provide the recipe as it appear in New York Magazine, but know that I fried up the bacon, and then cooked the brussels sprouts in the grease.

Brussels Sprout Salad with Pumpkin Seeds  
recipe from Julian Medina of Toloache via New York Magazine
Sherry Vinaigrette:
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
4 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp shallots, minced
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Kosher salt to taste

Brussels Sprout
4 cups Brussels sprouts, washed and dried
4 cups canola oil
2 tbsp queso fresco, crumbled (optional)
½ cup toasted pumpkin seeds (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the sherry vinaigrette by whisking together the vinegar, canola oil, minced shallots, mustard, and salt in a bowl; reserve. Trim the ends of the sprouts, and halve them lengthwise. Heat canola oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over a medium flame until the temperature reaches 375˚ on a deep-fry or candy thermometer. When oil is heated, fry the sprouts in 2 batches until golden brown (3 to 4 minutes). Remove the sprouts to a serving bowl with a slotted spoon. Drizzle sprouts with the sherry vinaigrette, and toss in the queso fresco and pumpkin seeds. Season to taste. Serves 4.

My main contribution to my Aunt Cathy's Thanksgiving was to make an apple pie, which I'll get to shortly, but when I arrived I was also drafted into quiche duty, which actually turned out to be a total breeze. We used a prepared pie crust, so all there was to it was to pour in a mix of eggs, half and half, sauteed onions, a little grated parmesan, a handful of spinach and some salt, pepper and I believe nutmeg. I had a basic recipe that I glanced at, but the proportions were all off and Aunt Cathy's kitchen is a bit of a hodgepodge so I just winged it.

I'm happy to say it worked out perfectly, somehow. I'd always been kind of intimidated by quiches, but no longer. It couldn't have been easier, and even with just a little spinach and onion it was like a big, delicious omelet, and it set up really well. Cooked all the way through without being at all dry.

We ended the meal with a towering apple pie, recipe courtesy of Serious Eats. I've made apple pie probably four or five times now, with lots of success (although last year's could have been better), and this recipe was touted as "Perfect," so I had high hopes.

I used a basic pie crust recipe that's been treating me well as of yet which I have yet to share with you, but the only real trick is to make sure your butter stays nice and cold. It keeps the dough easy to work with before you bake it, and flakey and tender afterward. 

But what's a great crust without a great filling? This one was actually pretty perfect: not too sweet or too watery, the apples are really the star, with just a little bit of cinnamon and sugar to ramp up the fall flavor. Come apple season, this is what you should be making.

Apple Pie

4 to 4½ pounds baking apples, peeled cored, and sliced into ¼ inch slices
3 quarts boiling water
1½ cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling over crust
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 batches of pie crust
1 egg white, lightly beaten

Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and place a heavy rimmed baking sheet on it. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place apple slices in a large bowl or pot. Pour boiling water directly over top. Cover and set aside at room temperature for ten minutes. Drain apples well and transfer to a large bowl. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally. Add sugar, cinnamon, and cornstarch and toss until apples are evenly coated. Set mixture aside.

Roll one disk of pie dough into a circle roughly 12-inches in diameter. Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. Add filling. Roll remaining disk of pie dough into a circle roughly 12-inches in diameter. Transfer to top of pie. Using a pair of kitchen shears, trim the edges of both pie crusts until they overhang the edge of the pie plate by ½ an inch all the way around. Fold edges of both pie crusts down together, tucking them in between the bottom crust and the pie plate and working your way all the way around the pie plate until everything is well tucked. Use the forefinger on your left hand and the thumb and forefinger on your right hand to crimp the edges. Cut 5 slits in the top with a sharp knife for ventilation.

Use a pastry brush to brush an even coat of lightly beaten egg white all over the top surface of the pie. Sprinkle evenly with a tablespoon of sugar. Transfer pie to sheet tray in the oven and bake until light golden brown, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 375°F and continue baking until deep golden brown, about 25 minutes longer. Remove from oven and allow to cool at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.

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