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applesauce cake

adapted from Gale Gand's Applesauce Cake 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened to room temperature 2 cups brown sugar (dark or light), ...

Monday, December 25, 2006

it’s all about Christmas dinner

hi folks. I’m thrilled to say that I got to cook Christmas dinner for the first time in years! my soon-to-be-ex-husband (I can’t BELIEVE we’re not yet divorced!) always insisted we have Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner with his mother, who in turn insisted we go to her friends’ houses for dinner, and who never let me cook more than breakfast in her kitchen). this year, I’m taking back Christmas dinner.

my cooking = a decent amount of skill \times \!\, the best ingredients I can find. I like to work methodically, taking time for and paying close attention to each step, operating with the greatest care AND using the choicest ingredients possible -- from the primary components (turkey, for example) all the way down to the salt (kosher or French sea salt) and peppper (Tellicherry) -- cooking with that level of care makes a world of difference in the finished product. here’s the menu, complete with comments -- it's fairly standard, with a few flourishes from me:

*roasted turkey with herbs (first brined in kosher salt and demerara sugar, then drained, with herb/shallot butter rubbed underneath the skin, roasted on a bed of carmelized onions, celery and carrots): this was great. I brined the turkey for two days ahead of time, which worked out beautifully. the butter mixture was compounded of finely chopped shallots, parsley, chives, salt, pepper and a pinch of poultry seasoning. I roasted it at 350 degrees F for about three hours (an eight-pound bird, I believe), which was not perfect, IMO. next time, I’ll try 375 degrees F for less time. the bed of caramelized veggies, however, was a complete success, adding flavor and aroma. yum!

*homemade gravy: made with roux, pan drippings and turkey stock. my twist was to add the caramelized veggies from the turkey roasting process to simmer in the gravy. I then used my food mill to puree a bit of the veggies into the gravy. GOOD STUFF.

*sourdough and cornbread sage stuffing with dried cherries: I ended up using a rustic country loaf, rather than sourdough (which was a good move), but the stuffing was still a bit too complex: onions, shallots and celery sauteed in butter with fresh parsley and sage, deglazed with sherry, with toasted cornbread and rustic bread shreds. I added a handful of delicious dried cherries, turkey stock, poultry seasoning and some of the turkey gravy to taste. it was very tasty, but next time I’ll use a white bread with less character and a softer crust, as well as a slightly higher ratio of white bread to cornbread. perhaps a bit less fresh sage, as well. still, it was very tasty.

*cranberry orange marmalade (made less sweet/somewhat tart to serve with dinner; I added more sugar to the leftover amount and finished it into a marmalade for toast, etc. afterwards): nice and fresh-tasting; a great accompaniment to the meal. a simple sauce of cranberries, frozen apple juice concentrate, sugar and lots of thinly sliced orange. I also used some plain (unsweetened) cranberry juice I had on hand. can’t wait to taste it on toast for breakfast, now that it’s real marmalade.

*roasted acorn squash (served with chive butter): just fantastic, but I should have started roasting it a bit earlier. it seems to take a little over an hour (to be on the safe side) to cook properly.

*scalloped potatoes (Julia Child’s old recipe with nothing but potatoes, cream, garlic, salt, pepper and a fine dusting of Reggiano on top): rich. too rich? possibly. good, but I wish I’d spread the potato mixture out a bit thinner in a bigger pan to broil the top. the more delicious browned area, the better.

*green beans: blanched in salted water. perfect and plain.

*cornbread muffins (per request): I made the cornbread from a mix! really!!! I used one envelope of Pioneer sweet corn muffin mix and one envelope of Pioneer cornbread mix. delicious!

*fresh lemon/toasted almond sponge cake with chocolate/orange ganache: this was the sleeper. I had wanted to make a buche de noel, but had no room in the fridge. the sponge cake recipe had 6 eggs (yolks and whites beaten separately), 1 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from an actual lemon, of course!), the zest of the aforementioned lemon, 1 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 cup of toasted almonds that had been mostly pulverized in a blender. I baked it at 325 degrees F for about 50 minutes, and it was delicious. rolled it around the ganache, I then covered that with Valrhona chocolate shavings and toasted cake crumbs.

all in all, a bit rich but good! I’d like to make simpler potatoes (mashed, probably) next time, and the aforementioned stuffing changes. this was a fabulous holiday meal; with the aforementioned adjustments, it may well come close to perfect.

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