囍 Thanksgiving 囍

In food on 11/26/2010 at 11:18 am

Our Taiwanese friends hosted Thanksgiving this year. We brought the Pilgrim pride; they provided the Asian ambience and sides. As a cultural aside, residents of Flushing do not travel for this holiday. We discovered this fact whilst circling ’round and ’round for street parking.

The illustrated menu:

Mister Turkey was purchased at our grocer this year, Señor Sobsey. We picked it up the day before, fresh, along with the rest of our essential T-day items. To us, Thanksgiving means turkey, unstuffed stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. I would include some sort of potato, but given the other half’s proclivities, it was missing this year. Our Taiwanese friend offered to make mash straight from the box, but we deferred that for the coming nuclear-holocaust-bomb-shelter-dinner bill of fare.

Sobsey’s brother-in-law recommended a high heat method of blasting the turkey, claiming that it would seal in the juices. Since we had no time to brine the bird, we thought we’d give it a try, 450 degrees for 30 minutes, then 350 degrees for the rest of the time, 20 minutes per pound. Lo and behold, the white meat was perfectly succulent, but the dark meat was raw in the middle, after 2.5 hrs. In order to have perfectly cooked turkey next time, I think we’ll have to sacrifice the beauty shot and deconstruct the quarters before hand.

Two key methods: butter or goat cheese smooshed and stuffed under the skin, and baste with a simmered stock/butter/wine reduction every 30 minutes.

Unstuffed stuffing this year consisted of a crusty baguette, Lady apples, fatty pork, good Greek olives, dried cherries, raisins, fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage) and enough stock to soak the bread. Bake for 30 minutes after the turkey comes out of the oven and is resting in its foil tent.

Can’t beat a fresh bag of cranberries simmered in water, with a heaping tablespoon of sugar and cinnamon to cut the tang. Easy peasy. My contribution to the only meal of the year I don’t have to cook. I really overextended myself this time.

The other half decided to make pumpkin pie from scratch this year for choir. They had a ‘bake sale’ within the group, so it was time to put up or shut up. I was duly informed that canned pumpkin is really 90% squash. Scandalous! Our resident baker explains:

From Scratch Pumpkin Pie with Flaky Lard Crust

Pie Crust:

My favorite go-to pie crust used to be my butter – cream cheese crust from Joy of Cooking. I’ve found a new favorite. While not as tangy as the butter – cream cheese, the butter – lard crust is so flaky and tender, making it my new favorite. And it’s so easy too! For the first time I tried using my food processor to make pie crust. Now it really is easy as pie. 🙂

I made this crust 2 ways: straight butter/ lard/ water, and butter/lard/cream cheese/milk. Because I didn’t want to reduce the amount of lard which creates all the nice flaky tenderness, I adjusted the butter amounts slightly and added in 1 Tablespoon of cream cheese. I couldn’t really taste the extra tanginess with that small amount and I didn’t want to lose the butter flavor, so I’m scrapping the cream cheese. The milk or cream is a nice extra if you have it lying around, but again, water will work just fine.

Some people say that supermarket lard has an off taste, and that real lard crusts are made from leaf lard which you process yourself from the fat that surrounds the kidneys. I’m sure that makes a wonderful pie crust, but with the small amounts of lard in this crust, I didn’t have that problem. If it worries you I hear you can find rendered leaf lard at some specialty stores, and maybe your local farmers market, but be prepared to pay extra for it. The lard can also be replaced with any rendered animal fat you wish!

Adapted from NY Times

1 ¼ cup flour
Heaping ¼ t salt
1 T sugar (to taste)
7 T cold (high fat) butter – cut into small cubes (I like ¼ T cubes)
3 T cold lard (using a teaspoon measurer works well for a smaller drop)
1-5 T cold water/milk/cream

1.       Using your food processor, pulse together flour, sugar and salt. Add in the cold butter and lard, pulsing together as you add them.

2.       When the mix is crumbly and the butter and lard are around pea sized, slowly drizzle in the liquid. Start with less than a tablespoon.

3.        When the dough just barely holds together, dump the crumbles and all onto a piece of parchment or plastic wrap and fold up into a loose ball. Don’t worry if the dough doesn’t stay together at this stage. As the dough rests in the refrigerator, the flour will slowly absorb the fats and liquid and will form a ball. Chill for at least an hour.

4.       Press ball into a disk shape and place between two pieces of parchment or plastic wrap and roll out a ¼ inch disk. Because you are using parchment, no flour is needed, and it’s really easy to transfer the crust to your pie pan.

5.       Flute edges as you like, leaving them overhanging the edge a little and chill for at least 15 minutes before blind baking or filling.

6.       Blind bake at 400F for 30 min. Poke the bottom and sides with a fork or use those expensive pie crust weights. Because this is a droopy pie crust when it cooks, I have not had good luck with using other things to blind bake the crust.

From Scratch Pumpkin Pie Filling

Pumpkin pie from scratch seems daunting. Instead of buying that can of pre-cooked “pumpkin,” buy the right pumpkin, cut it, de-seed it, cook it and then mash it?!? It’s really not that hard. Look for the small, 6-8 inch pumpkins. You can ask your friendly neighborhood grocer if the small pumpkin in your hands is indeed a pie pumpkin.

Wash your pumpkin, and cut it into a few large pieces, scrape the seeds and the strings out. You do want to make sure you get rid of those strings. Steam, boil or roast your pumpkin pieces until soft. I steamed mine – it took about 35 min. Once they are soft, scoop the pumpkin from the skin into a colander and let it sit to drain any excess water. Once the pumpkin has cooled, blend it. Do you have an immersion blender? Yes? use that. It’ll take about 2 minutes. If not, use a blender, a hand mixer or a food mill – those will work too. That’s it. Now you have real pumpkin mush.

Do you know what’s in the canned pumpkin? Squash! There’s nothing wrong with squash pie. I’ve heard that butternut squash makes a really tasty pie. But it’s no pumpkin pie. For that you need a real, just-from-the-ground-picked-pumpkin. And it will make the best pumpkin pie you have ever had. It will not be that spongy, watery stuff with the horrible mouth feel. Instead, the texture will be custardy, smooth, almost like cheesecake.

3 cups puréed pumpkin (An 8 inch pumpkin makes about this amount. The exact measurements are not important. My pumpkin was about 2.5 cups and it was still great.)
1 cup brown sugar, sugar, sugar/molassas/maple syrup, or ¾ cup honey
2 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground allspice
1 t ground nutmeg (fresh if you can!)
½ t ground ginger
½ t ground cloves (optional, we don’t use it!)
½ t salt
3 eggs*
1 12oz cans of evaporate milk. Heavy cream can be substituted in the same amounts.*

*For a lighter and fluffy pie use 4 eggs and 1.5 cans milk.

1.      Blind bake your flaky pie crust for 30 minutes at 400F.

2.      In a large bowl combine above. Blend again with your blender of choice. This gives you a super smooth custard like pie.

3.      In a heavy sauce pan, gently heat your pumpkin. Cook for about 10 minutes of light simmering stirring the whole time! You don’t have to cook the custard first, but it shortens cooking time and you don’t have to wait for the pie crust to cool as much.

4.      Reduce heat to 350F, pour pumpkin custard into pre-baked crust and cook for 45 minutes.* If you don’t pre-cook your pie crust, bake at 400F for 15 minutes, reduce to 350F and cook for 60 minutes.

5.      Pie is done when a knife inserted 2 inches from the side comes out mostly clean. The center will continue to cook and set as the pie cools. If you wait until the pie doesn’t jiggle and the center is clean your pie will be overcooked and grainy!

*Blind or pre-baked crusts will give you a pie crust that is cooked all the way through on the bottom and a super flaky crust throughout. It takes a little more time, but can be done a day ahead, and makes a huge difference. If you are pre-baking your crust ahead of time, let the pie filling cool slightly before using as directed above.

Now the Taiwanese contributions of Thanksgiving thought:

Ginseng chicken soup with dried dates, fructus litchi, shittake and truffle mushroom. This was a woodsy, herbal, earthy, and fresh clean start to an otherwise butter and fat-laden meal.

A stir-fry duo: Buddha’s mushroom vegetable medley in the foreground and spicy shrimp with more veggies in the background. I have never witnessed a more complex hour of vegetable preparation.

There’s a special knife technique employed on the fresh oyster mushrooms. Slice the giant stalks into scallop-sized discs. Then cut cross-hatches into both ends and fry in dark sesame oil to get that ‘caramelized’ meaty look. The ‘scallops’ open up a little bit to increase the QQ factor and the texture turns out to be en par with a Madame Tussaud’s version of the shellfish.

A third stir-fry: hot pepper free-form omelet.

I thought after the ultimate pumpkin pie, all the nooks and crannies in my belly were filled, but then came this secret weapon imported from Taiwan: black tea jelly made from a special processed powder. Just boil, cool, and serve with cream. OMG. This is bubble tea Jell-O. The concentrated pow of black tea causes pandemonium in my mouth. A palate cleanser in the form of dessert. It is so amazingly special we were not privy to any parting packets to take home. The other half is currently furiously investigating this matter of high stakes culinary importance.

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