Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lessons Learned: Thanksgiving

The family is gone now, the dishes cleaned, the oven still a bit dirty, and leftovers are ready to make paninis or whatever other leftover goodies you could imagine!

I felt like this year was a bit anti-climactic, as I was hoping everything would be perfect, or rather that every year I could see a noticeable improvement in my cooking.  This year, even after having practiced much of the cooking techniques, I felt that some of the food was rather hit or miss.  Below I will review, using the four things I have been learning through LCB as a reference:

1. Roasting--I am going to roast the turkey, as I always do, however I hope the practice will continue to improve the end results. The turkey was pretty darn big (26lbs) and barely fit in the oven.  Because of this, it was very easy for parts of it to dry out as it was cooking.  The flavor was excellent, I think one of the best I have cooked, however I have done a better job in the past with a better cooked turkey.  It is pretty obvious that the way you carve also has a big impact.  My grandfather usually carves the turkey (and I found out this was so he has an excuse to not make gravy).  He sliced one side of the breast really thin, like a traditional way, then he and I worked together to carve the second breast in one piece.  He liked how easy that was, and I liked seeing how much better the breast meat held its moisture and didn't fall apart.

2. I am going to cook the dish Petits Pois a la Francaise--SPRING PEAS WITH LETTUCE, CHERVIL, AND ONIONS from Lesson 1. I think this will make an excellent dish to go with the Thanksgiving meal. I will not bother with pearl onions because I liked my white onion substitute and know they are easy to find and easy to work with. I overestimated the amount of peas, as I pretty much doubled the recipe and then overcooked the peas because there was so much going on. The peas tasted fine, just a bit overdone.  I still like this recipe a lot and will make it again.

3. I will be making stock use with a recipe I created for roasted butternut squash soup that I called "Thanksgiving Butternut Squash Soup". Last year I used chicken stock, but I may make vegetable stock so that I can have the flexibility to make it vegetarian if desired.  I made stock for everything, and am sure glad I did!  I didn't make the soup, as we had more than enough food and would have had way too much, as this soup could double as a meal on any normal eating day.

4. Successfully use a liaison to thicken a sauce--gravy. I tried to use corn starch as the liaison to thicken the gravy, and it had an interesting result. My grandmothers all use flour, and I worried it would get too lumpy. Their experience, however, is something that I am lacking, but will earn/learn with age. We had quite a discussion, and they let me sink or swim with the corn starch. If you have never used corn starch with kids to make Ooblek...corn starch and water that has properties of a liquid when no pressure is applied, but properties of a solid when pressure is applied...I'd recommend trying it's lots of fun, and I think helps me think of the end results of the gravy.  I used the corn starch and water slury a little at a time.  What was interesting to me is that when added to the broth, the broth became cloudy, milky white, but once cooked for a bit, the gravy returned to its original color. This is the first difference that I found between using corn starch and flour. The second was the final consistency, as  I wasn't sure how much corn starch to use, I had to add a bit at a time until it was thickened. As it was thinkening, I could tell the consistency had a sort of gelatinous feel/look to it. This was clear when my dad took a bite of his mashed potatoes and the gravy just stayed in the middle without flowing out. The consistency was therefore a bit think, and a little jelly-like, but had a nice light color to it. More practice, much more practice needed.

I didn't really take pictures, mostly because I didn't take the time to do so, but also because my mom usually has her big camera out.  For some reason she didn't have her camera shooting pictures, so I don't have that much to share this time.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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