Monday, November 24, 2008

Turkey Day Recipe Ambush

Not going to go off on my usual multi-paragraph introductory tangent. Just getting down to business for everyone's favorite gastronomical throwdown and typing up the recipes for three items I'll be contributing to this year's smorgasbord. But I would like to take a moment to reflect on how very economical Thanksgiving can be. First of all, a turkey is not exactly a highfalutin' bird. It feeds a ton of people and leaves behind a carcass big enough to make a whole vat of delicious stock. Secondly, the sides are almost as proletarian as the main course. In no other American holiday do homely tubers and root vegetables play such a starring role. Thirdly, these homely tubers and root vegetables often originate in cans, and are then sprinkled with marshmallows and served in casserole dishes. And fourthly, gelatinous sliced cranberry sauce. That sentence doesn't even need a verb.

Above picture stolen from but at least attributed to the Dallas Morning News

Recipe: Sweet Potato Chips (not pictured above)

These are kind of labor intensive, but everyone loves them. And they are a lot less labor intensive now that I have a mandoline. Mine's kind of fancy (Cuisinart -- it was a gift) but, even so, it was around $30 according to the gift-giver. And now that there's, you know, a recession, you could probably find one a lot cheaper than that. Terra Chips, be damned!

Serves about six people sitting in front of a football game. No matter how many chips you make, there ain't never enough!

2-3 large yams or 5-6 sweet potatoes
1/3 C olive oil
2 T cumin
2 T nutmeg
peanut oil for frying - as much as you need to fill your pot 1.5 in.
sugar for dusting
salt for dusting

Peel the yams/sweet potatoes as thin as you can without slicing off your fingers. Roll them around with the olive oil, cumin, and nutmeg, so all are fairly evenly coated. "Marinate" them for a couple hours or up to 24 hours. Heat the peanut oil in a heavy pot at medium-high heat. You'll know it's ready to go when you drop in one of the smaller chips and it immediately sizzles. Fry the chips in several batches to avoid overcrowding in the pot. You definitely don't need to fry them in just a single layer, but be prepared to do some stirring around so they don't stick to each other. Each batch should be done and crispy in about 3 minutes. Remove the chips from the pot with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel on top of a plate. Add the next batch and, while it's frying, sprinkle the chips that are drying on the paper towel with salt and sugar. Once they seem fairly dry, transfer them to a large bowl. Change paper towels every couple of batches. Repeat these steps with the remaining batches. Very good with cilantro-garlic yogurt sauce as dip.

Addendum, or On The Joys of Peanut Oil:

I've used other oils to make these, but peanut oil definitely works the best. I find that canola and vegetable oil can be hard to control, and the chips end up either soggy or charred, plus they taste too much of the oil and not enough of sweet potatoes. Olive oil is absolutely out of the question for deep frying. However, peanut oil is not all that cheap (I usually find it on sale at Safeway for around $17), and I think people are hesitant to buy it since it only comes in monstrous jugs. What if you never need to use it again?!?! Well, my friend, once you start frying in peanut oil, you will never go back. Its good qualities are its mild flavor and high smoking point. Its bad qualities are none, except maybe the price. But let's think about these sweet potato chips as an example: all you really need to buy are 2 yams ($1?). To fry up a large batch, you will use roughly a quarter of the jug of peanut oil -- less if you use a pot with a smallish diameter. So, really, this awesomely impressive appetizer that serves a crowd of football-frenzied, hungry Owen men costs about $5. An impressive feat, to say the least.

UPDATE: Shopper's sells peanut oil for $12! So now you really have no excuse to avoid it.

Recipe: Sausage and Cornbread Stuffing

I made this for the first time last year, and it was a hit. Unfortunately, I cannot locate my original source for this recipe. If you've ever heard me harp on some of my former students' sneaky ways, you know that nothing boils my blood like a plagiarizer, but I hope you will forgive me this one indiscretion.

My family also still serves the
Joy of Cooking's traditional bread stuffing, since Owens can be somewhat hunkerous about their traditions. Hence, the cloying sweet potato casserole continues to feature prominently, despite my years of protest. But this stuffing was quite popular among the more progressive members of the family. Yes, I realize sausage and cornbread stuffing is not exactly newfangled, but we're a gelatinous sliced cranberry sauce kind of people.

Serves 12-14.

5-6 hot Italian sausages
4 T olive oil
2 C chopped carrot
2 C chopped celery
1 C chopped onion
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/2 C fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 13" x 9" pan of cornbread, double Mark Bittman's recipe or use two boxes of corn bread mix
6 eggs
1 C chicken stock, plus more if needed

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove sausage casings and heat 1 T olive oil in large pot over medium-high heat; add sausages and break up and brown them. Remove from pot, drain sausages on paper towel, and set aside. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the same pot, and add the vegetables, salt, pepper, and sage. Cook about 10 minutes, until veggies are slightly soft. Crumble the corn bread in a very large bowl and add to it the sausage, veggies, egg, and chicken stock. Stir everything together. If it seems dry, add a bit more chicken stock. Transfer to a 2-quart baking dish and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or till browned and crispy.

Recipe: Flourless Chocolate Cake

I've already overdosed on the pumpkin desserts, so I will be bringing this cake. I have not made it before, but the recipe comes from the Cook's Illustrated Holiday Baking Book (on sale today at grocery stores nationwide!), and was created by Alice Medrich, aka the Queen of Chocolate, so I know it's going to be fabulous. I love that it requires only three ingredients: eggs, butter, and chocolate.

In all
Cook's Illustrated recipes, the cook/author has an extremely specific goal in mind, and tests as many versions of a particular dish as necessary to meet that specific goal (after all, they do work at America's Test Kitchen). Alice describes her vision of the perfect flourless chocolate cake as follows:

"I wanted something dense, moist, and ultrachocolaty, but with some textural finesse. I wanted a texture somewhere between a substantial marquis au chocolat--that dense, buttery, and just slightly aerated chocolate mousse with a characteristic dry but creamy texture--and a heavy New York-style cheesecake. I wanted the flavor and character of good, eating-quality chocolate to reign supreme, with no unnecessary sweetness and not even a grain of sugar on the palate. In short, I wanted an intense bittersweet "adult" dessert -- no sticky kid's stuff."

Wow. While I'm happy if any dessert I make is merely intact, Alice's lofty goal yet inspires me to do better! Her description also puts to words exactly how I think a flourless chocolate cake should be. The family will no doubt be blown away by the ultrachocolaty finesse of this intense bittersweet "adult" dessert, so long as I take extra care not to miss some important step.

Serves 12-16. Best made a day in advance, and stored in the refrigerator overnight.

2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, plus extra for greasing pan
8 eggs, cold
1 lb semisweet chocolate, chopped coarse
1/4 C strong coffee or coffee liqueur (optional)
powdered sugar or cocoa powder for dusting (optional)

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line bottom of 8-in. springform pan with parchment paper and grease the sides of pan. Wrap outside of pan with 2 sheets of aluminum foil and set in large roasting pan. Bring a kettle of water to boil.

Beat eggs in large bowl (preferably with whisk attachment, if your mixer has one) at high speed until the volume doubles, about 5 min.

Meanwhile, melt chocolate and butter (with coffee or liqueur, if using) in large heatproof bowl set over pan of almost simmering water until smooth and very warm (about 115 degrees on instant-read thermometer), stirring once or twice. Using spatula, fold one-third of egg foam into chocolate mixture until only a few streaks of the egg are visible; fold in half of remaining foam, then last of foam, until mixture is totally homogeneous.

Scrape batter into prepared springform pan and smooth surface with rubber spatula. Set roasting pan on oven rack and pour in enough boiling water to come about halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake 22 to 25 minutes, until cake has risen slightly, edges are just beginning to set, thin-glazed brownielike crust has formed on surface, and instant-read thermometer inserted halfway into center reads 140 degrees. Remove cake pan from water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

About 30 minutes before serving, remove sides of pan, invert cake onto sheet of wax paper, peel off parchment paper, and reinvert cake onto serving platter. Sieve light sprinkling of powdered sugar or cocoa powder over cake, if desired.

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