Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Huge Wine Tasting Event Featuring Full Thanksgiving Spread…What a Grand Idea!

Ever witnessed an idea so fine, you wished you thought of it yourself? That’s how I felt about the Thanksgiving Wine and Food Gala put on by Doris’ Italian Market. I hope they do it again next year. As soon as the store closed for regular business hours last Friday night, the doors opened wide to about 150 wine lovers; ladies were handing out wine glasses like long stemmed roses, and everyone was encouraged to head straight to the Thanksgiving banquet built around—and because of—the 62 wines available for tasting.

As you can see from this photo, a full, traditional Thanksgiving dinner took center stage, giving guests a chance to try pairing all sorts of wines, to see what worked best.

There was a wine specialist on standby, answering all the typical FAQ, like, “turkey can be so bland. Are there any wines that bring out its flavor instead of just overwhelming it?” To which Mr. Oenophilia answered, “all of the wines here today were carefully selected to pair well with turkey and all of the classic sides for Thanksgiving Day.”

The specialist was also asked what HE would be drinking on Thanksgiving, and he motioned toward this bottle of grapes:  

The Chateau Ste. Michelle Canoe Ridge Sauvignon, adding that it was “just lovely.” On the wine point system it ranked close to 100, the best a wine can get. At over $30 a bottle it did hover just a little bit above the suggested $25-per-bottle-maximum a lot of Thanksgiving wine tips tell you to set. The reason caps are set fairly low is for quantity reasons. You really should have a bottle of wine for every 2 guests, which, on Thanksgiving adds up quick.

A less expensive wine that popped up as the wine specialist’s “Next Best Thing” (My Sunday Best book fans will know why I inserted a smiley face here : ) ) is the St. Michelle Indian Wells Red Blend. I tried both wines and they were—just as the specialist said, really, really, lovely and nice.     

I knew I was going to pick up a bottle of red, white and at least one dessert wine—but not until I’d tried as many as I could; these wines, besides the 2 mentioned above were the clear standouts:

  • 667 Pinot Noir (This was just so fantastic with squares of parmesan cheese that I could go on for pages….) If you’re having a round of appetizers before your big turkey meal, this is really the way to go—but it tastes great with the main event, too.
  • Morning Fog Chardonnay: Just read the description in this picture. Get in my cart, you rascal!
  • Gnarly Head Authentic Red: The labeling looks like a scene out of The Legends of Sleepy Hallow; it’s got a concentrated dark fruit flavor and comes from a city in California (Lodi) where the vineyard vines really are gnarled.
  • Dreaming Tree Everyday White: This was the driest white wine to ever cross these taste buds—and I could see a lot of people liked that at this tasting. Guests were standing at end caps in the store, balancing their holiday plates on crates stacked high with Dreaming Tree. The dry and subtly sweet nature of the wine went so well with the roasted turkey breast drowning in Doris’ gravy.
  • Frostbitten Ice Riesling: This emerged as the event favorite; the store ran out of this awesomely sweet-but not too much—wine in the first hour and, as of yesterday, is still sold out! It comes in a beautiful bottle with a snowflake on it, and is such a great pairing with all the holiday pies you’ll comes across in the next 3 months that I wholly advocate it as a stocking stuffer. Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz was the next best thing.

So, what did I learn at this event? The short answer is that Pinot Noirs, Rieslings and Chardonnays are some of the safest bets when you’re talking turkey. Give some of them a swirl (in your tasting glass!) and you’ll see what I mean.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Let’s Talk Turkey!

Different holidays prompt the funniest questions from home chefs. I came across one at Easter that admitted to having to google how to make hard boiled eggs, year after year. That got me thinking that the same might be true when it comes to turkey prep on Thanksgiving.  The truth is, not many people roast a magnificent, heavy bird on a regular basis, and come November perhaps some of us have forgotten how. This 2nd blog in my 2013 Thanksgiving series is on brining and other important steps in roasting your turkey to perfection.

So without further adieu….

I prefer fresh, organic turkey. It’s hardly a shock—but I find they cook in half the time of a frozen bird and are tender and juicy, beyond compare; the best bird I ever had was a 24 pounder we nicknamed Harry. He was fresh off the farm and overflowed the roasting pan. I prepared him using my age-old recipe in At Home in the Kitchen for Herb and Sherry Roasted Turkey with Savory Gravy—click the recipe link for step by step instructions with juicy photos!

This year I ordered mine from New Life Farm in Boon, NC—way, way in advance of November. I called New Life just to chat with the farmer-in-chief about how hard it is to come by a fresh turkey for Thanksgiving. It turns out, he sold out in September! He says that the average weight of (one of his) free range turkeys is around 16 pounds. He raised and sold about 50 turkeys this season, and saved one for his family, which he plans to brine for up to 2 hours in salt and herbs and smoke on a Green Egg grill. YUM! He recommended Bare Essentials as another place to find a competitively priced bird, at around 3.95 per pound.  If you’ve ordered through New Life, you can pick up the star centerpiece to your Thanksgiving at the Watauga Farmers Market, or simply pick it up at the farm. These birds really must be good, as Cory told me that he’s been asked to supply Bare Essentials with all their turkeys next year. Congrats to New Life! I’m proud to be a customer : )

Here are some other places (in North Caroline & beyond!) that know how to talk turkey:

·         --The Fresh Market (click the link to start an order)
·         --Whole Foods
·         --Trader Joe’s (hey, South Florida friends—have you checked out the 1st TJ’s in Pembroke Pines??)

All that being said, I realize not everyone could lay hands on a fresh turkey and may have to welcome a frozen one; just make sure to follow the USDA guideline of thawing it properly, in the refrigerator or very cold water, around 40 degrees; the formula for thawing is one day for every 4 to 5 pounds. In cold water, rather than the fridge, you can cut that time in half—about 30 minutes per pound; a big cooler with ice just might do the trick.

Here are some other important things to remember when you’re talkin’ turkey….  

     Add flavor to your turkey with moisture! Get a juicy finished product by making sure that most of the flavor enhancements going into your turkey are moist, i.e. honey, butter, molasses, citrus juices and broths. I’ve always rubbed the turkey up and under with herbed butter. Soaking the flavor in a brine solution works wonders too. 
·        Let your turkey rest about 1 hour after it comes out of the oven. It’ll be moister and easier to carve once you’re ready to dig in.   About brining….You want to soak the turkey in the brine for about 1 hour per pound of turkey, adding 1 ½ cups salt per gallon of water. The water must be cold—once again, at about 40 degrees.

This Simple Brining Solution Makes for a Really Juicy Outcome!

Use 3 cups cider, 2 gallons cold H20, 8 sprigs fresh rosemary, 5 cloves garlic, ¾ cup Kosher salt, 2 cups brown sugar, 3 tablespoons peppercorns, 5 whole bay leaves and about 3 quartered oranges with the  peels still on.

My turkey roasting technique…

I preheat the oven to 450, place the turkey in the oven and immediately reduce heat to 325 degrees. Cooking time is 15 to 20 minutes per pound. Add five minutes per pound if the bird is stuffed—for some excellent variations on stuffing, check out this link on the Food Network, who snagged me with their cranberry, caramelized onion and goat cheese stuffing recipe—might just have to try that one, in addition to my foolproof White Raisin Stuffing that I can’t wait to try with a bottle of Pinot Grigio. For the gravy, I defer to my blog post from November, 2011.

So get crackin’, home cooks and call or write immediately if you want my help—I’ve cooked my share of turkeys. In fact, an exact number of how many might just depress me. Good thing, I’ve got another blog on choosing the perfect wine on the November blog publishing schedule—look for that one on November 23, 2013.  Cheers!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

How to Give Your Thanksgiving Cranberry Sauce the Attention it Deserves!

In a parody about Thanksgiving cranberry sauce (I posted it to Facebook), one line about the notorious, obligatory, sweet n’ tangy side dish got stuck in my head; it was the cranberry sauce saying: “ I’ve got feelings, I’m scrumptious, and I deserve more.”
You know what, cranberry sauce? I couldn’t agree more. I know that a lot of people remember sad little cans of the stuff served in the Thanksgivings of their childhood—even then it wasn’t terrible, but I’m here to tell you it can be infinitely more than just OK. If anything, cranberry sauce is the perfect palate for early winter fruits, spices and late autumnal flavors—pomegranate, maple soaked, cinnamon flavored notes that can hit the palate just right…that is, if you’re willing to prepare your cranberry sauce with love.

Everyone familiar with my entertaining style knows that, whenever possible, I like to make up food in advance. Cranberry sauce is something you can check off your to-do list as early as 2 weeks ahead of Thanksgiving. Your typical recipe for it yields so much ruby-colored sauce that you’re well advised to divide up half of it, seal it for the freezer, and enjoy the rest at Christmas dinner. It’s great for so much more than taking up that reserved, compartmentalized space on your plate, near the mashed potatoes. When you futz around with the recipe, thinking of last minute thickening agents like molasses and orange segments, you can dial up cranberry sauce’s texture to be a relish or a chutney, great for slathering over sandwiches, or serving atop a cracker with melted goat cheese.
I produced a saucy version when I made it this week, and enjoyed my cranberry sauce a number of ways. I whipped up a Cherry Crumble Cake from Sunday Best Dishes and used it as a sweet cranberry syrup over the top. I mixed a half cup of it with champagne in a punchbowl (YUM!). I even whisked a little red wine vinegar in, at one point, and made a vinaigrette for a strawberry and chicken salad. I’m telling you, it’s a very versatile side dish and prompted me to look at how different celebrity chefs make their’s. The Pioneer Woman basically reduces cranberries with pure maple syrup and a little cinnamon; that’s all. Alton Brown likes to blow through a lot of oranges, and Martha Stewart sets her’s apart by featuring the seasonal freshness of pomegranate seeds in (one of many) her version. Some famous chefs call it a day with the simplistic approach of using just cranberries and red currant jelly—it’s a delicious result that may be simple, but beats emptying a can with the ridges still showing on the sides of the cranberry sauce, am I right?           

The cranberry sauce recipe, I’m featuring in today’s blog was done with lots of refreshing citrus zest; the maple syrup I swear by in a pancake recipe from Sunday Best, and a fair amount of lovely green Anjou pears because they are a staple for me this time of year.  I also used a splash of dry red wine, which “classes up” cranberry sauce like nobody’s business.  My results were sweet and tangy enough that I’m upgrading the dish I typically use for cranberries this Thanksgiving.  It’s a side dish that should be wearing its Sunday Best, even if we’re celebrating Thursday night!

Thanksgiving Cranberry Sauce

2 (12-ounce) bags fresh cranberries
2 large, ripe pears, peeled, cored and diced
1 medium apple, peeled, cored and diced, about 1 cup
Zest of 1 medium orange, about 2 teaspoons
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated, about 1 tablespoon
½ cup dry red wine
1/3 cup natural cane sugar
¾ cup Molasses
1/3 cup honey
1 cinnamon stick

·       Place the cranberries, pears, apple, orange zest, ginger and dry red wine in a stock pot and bring to a boil.
·       Turn heat to medium. Stir continuously until cranberries start to break open, about 15 minutes.
·       Reduce to a simmer and pour 1 cup water and sugar over the cranberry mixture. Stir in the  molasses and honey. Add the cinnamon stick.
·       Simmer 10-15 minutes; remove cinnamon stick after cooking.
·       Remove cranberry sauce from heat, and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator 4 hours or overnight.
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