Saturday, November 25, 2006



Because this was going to be my last Thanksgiving in the U.S. for a while, I wanted to celebrate it twice. Well, I'm not sure that Thanksgiving is really a holiday for celebrating per se, but in the five years I've lived here, no one has given the traditional "let's be thankful for this, that and the other" speech, and no one appears to reflect on what one must be thankful for (the gas-guzzling? the waste in the landfills that we've created?). So, I'll just say here that I'm thankful for my experiences in the U.S. and the loved ones with whom I've been happy to share this period of time.

Mostly I'm just thankful for good food.

The first Thanksgiving meal was spent at our friend Suzanne's. It was especially glorious because our good friend, Ailene, celebrated with us (her husband has made the move out of state, and she is going to join him very soon), and Suzanne made turkey for the first time. She brined the 8 pound turkey for five hours before roasting it for a couple more hours. The baste consisted of butter, thyme, and lemon zest. Though there was no stuffing, the turkey's cavity was filled up with lemons and oranges, and they perfumed the succulent meat splendidly.

For my part, I made Roasted Root Vegetables with Honey, Balsamic Vinegar, and Fresh Goat Cheese and Pumpkin Pie with Candied Pepitas and Dried Fig and Coffee Ice Cream.

For the vegetables, I wanted a twist on tradition. I have had a million variations of roasted vegetables - after all, I'm from New Zealand, a land where The Sunday Roast is an institution that harks back to New Zealand's colonial days. I wanted to make something with big flavours and lots of style. To accomplish both of these, I turned to my angelheart Eric's favorite celeb chef (and one of mine, too), Tyler Florence. His new cookery book, Tyler's Ultimate, builds on the theme of his Food Network show in which he creates contemporary twists on traditional fare (not always traditional in the American sense, either, for some of my favourite shows include his renditions of paella, lasagne, and English roast chicken).

Roasted Root Vegetables with Honey, Balsamic Vinegar, and Fresh Goat Cheese (from Tyler Florence's Tyler's Ultimate)

3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into two-inch long pieces (5.5 cm)
2 medium beets, peeled and cut into sixths
2 medium turnips, peeled and cut into sixths
2 fennel heads, outer leaves stripped and cut into quarters
3 shallots, unpeeled, cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
4 oz chilled fresh goat cheese

1) Preheat oven to 350 deg. f. (195 deg. c.).
2) Toss vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper on a baking sheet. Spread vegetables out in a single layer once done.
3) Roast vegetables for 25 minutes.
4) Whisk together honey and vinegar, then pour onto roast vegetables and toss them together.
5) Roast vegetables for 20 minutes, or until they are fork-tender and caramelized.
6) Top vegetables with pieces of goat cheese.

I had never had pumpkin pie before this Thanksgiving, and because I knew no one was going to make it, I wanted to take a risk and do it myself. Besides, if I failed, I was not concerned with not being invited to a Thanksgiving meal next year since I'd be back in New Zealand. Admittedly, I was very nervous. Who best to turn to other than the undisputed queen of the American lifestyle, Martha Stewart? The Martha Stewart Living, November 2006 magazine is really quite fabulous, and I was beaming when I came across her recipe. I don't know if most recipes call for the spices she does, but I was thrilled beforehand knowing the mellow depth they'd add, and I looked forward to making my own graham crust. As for the candied pepitas, I didn't even know what pepitas were, so I figured it was a good opportunity to find out. They are hulled pumpkin seeds - so now we all know.

Pumpkin Pie with Candied Pepitas
(From Martha Stewart Living, November 2006)

For the graham crust:
2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup ground pepitas
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed

1) Combine flours, pepitas, salt, and cinnamon (either with a whisk or in a food processor).
2) Add butter and sugar and proccess I did this in a bowl with my own hands, but you can do so with a food processor).
3) When dough comes together, put in a 9 or 10 inch single-crust metal pie plate (I actually put mine in my 10" fluted tart pan), and then freeze for 15 minutes.

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin (or 1 small sugar pumpkin roasted cut-side down at 425 deg. f./220 deg. c. for 50-60 minutes)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of ground clove
1 1/2 cups evaporated milk

1) Preheat oven to 350 deg. f. (180 deg. c.).
2) Bake crust (after it has been in the freeze for 15 minutes) until dry and golden brown - about 20 minutes - and then let cool completely.
3) Reduce oven temperature to 325 deg. f. (170 deg. c.).
4) Whisk pumpkin and eggs in a bowl.
5) In a separate bowl, combine brown sugar, cornstarch, salt, and spices.
6) Whisk dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture.
7) Whisk in evaporated milk.
8) Tap firmly on counter to release air bubbles and let stand for 20 minutes.
9) Pour filling into graham crust; tap to release air bubbles.
10) Bake until set, approximately 50 minutes.

For the candied pepitas:

6 oz (2 cups) pepitas
5 tablespoons sugar (the recipe actually calls for 6 tablespoons)
1 large egg white, beaten
pinch of coarse salt, plus more for seasoning
pinch of ground allspice
pinch of cayenne pepper

1) Preheat oven to 350 deg. f. (180 deg. c.).
2) Stir ingredients together in a bowl.
3) Spread mixture in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
4) Bake until pepitas are golden and slightly puffed, approximately 10 minutes.
5) Season with salt.
6) Stir gently, leaving some clumps.
7) Let cool completely in a bowl before storing in an air-tight container for up to three days. Sprinkle a small handful over pumpkin pie and save the rest for snacking :-)

Of course, most people have cream on the side or on top of their pumpkin pie. I, of course, wanted something a little different. Tamasin Day-Lewis is very inspiring, and, like Nigella Lawson, has interesting dessert ideas. I was eager to make something from her latest book, Tamasin's Kitchen Classics,which is divided into the following sections: A Classic Start, the Main Course, Classic Cakes (interesting twists, such as Rhubarb and Ginger Crumble Cake and Upside-Down Pear and Spice Cake), A Classic Finish (desserts, such as Redcurrant Curd Ice Cream and Black Forest Trifle) and Basics (stocks and pastries). It is a gorgeous and hunger-inducing book - my latest "must have". Tamasin's Dried Fig and Hazelnut Ice Cream sounded like too much of a dream to pass up, especially since I had good organic dried figs on hand. I omitted the praline and substituted the vanilla base for one of coffee).

Dried Fig and Coffee Ice Cream
(Adapted from Tamasin Day-Lewis' Tamasin's Kitchen Classics)

9 large, whole dried organic figs
3 tablespoons squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons cognac
1 cup whole milk, well chilled
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons instant espresso or coffee
2 cups heavy (double) cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1) Chop the figs into small dice and soak them in the orange juice and cognac for 4-6 hours.
2) In a medium bowl, whisk to combine milk, sugar and espresso powder until sugar and powder are dissolved.
3) Stir in the cream and vanilla extract.
4) Put into ice cream maker with the liquid that the figs have not absorbed.
5) Once churned, fold figs pieces into the ice cream and freeze.

For the second Thanksgiving dinner, we ate at my angelheart's sister's with his mother, brother-in-law, and two-and-a-half-year-old nephew. On the menu were cornish game hens stuffed with bulgur wheat, raisins, and pine nuts (which you can read about here), sauteed spinach with garlic, and prosciutto-wrapped scallops and shrimp. Eric's sister's dessert didn't quite turn out, but she made Lemon Madelines during the day. It is a recipe from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, and I'm tempted to make them in the future because they were simultaneously fluffy and substantial, and the combination of almond and lemon in heavenly.

As for leftovers, today I made soup out of the Roasted Root Vegetables by blending the vegetables with some hot chicken stock and seasoning, topped with croutons that were rubbed with garlic.

Happy Post-Thanksgiving everyone!

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