Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 9: Sprinting to the Finish

I swam competitively from the time I was nine years old until my sophomore year in college. I was a formidable long distance backstroker and freestyler; not because I was necessarily faster but because I was patient and liked the mental game of long distances. I would let my competitors sprint off the block and even build up a one lap lead, giving them time to settle down into a pace that allowed me to put myself into the middle-rear of the pack. Then, about half way through the race, I would begin to move up slowly. Until, on the very last two laps, I was stalking the leaders, one or two body lengths behind. When we would hit the wall for the last turn, I would always kick it into overdrive and, normally, over take the leaders for a win. It would frustrate my rivals (and my coaches/team mates) because after a while the other girls I swam against regularly would know my game and try and open up even larger leads at the beginning of the race. They would only find that at the last turn I would still force them into a mad dash for the finish. Preparing for this year's Thanksgiving dinner has been a lot like swimming 5000 meters; minus the wet hair and chlorine.

I got up this morning with good intentions to jump right into making the dough for the Parker House Rolls, followed by the crust for the pumpkin pie, boiling the turnips and carrots for the turnip carrot puff, making my great-great-grandmother's cranberry chutney, and still have time to play. Somehow, the morning got away from me. MBH had to work and instead of my usual dash from the coffee shop to the gym at 6AM, I lounged around the coffee shop long enough to read two days worth of the New York Times, drink a second cup of coffee and day dream about the time off I have for the next several days. I didn't get to the gym until almost 7:30am and by the time I finished my work-out, it was almost 9 O'Clock!! I high tailed it home to shower and then somehow got distracted by working on my website, reading blogs, IMing MBH, and dashing to the front door to watch our neighbors scramble to avoid getting towed for parking on the wrong side of the street on a street cleaning day. Around 1pm this afternoon I finally got motivated enough to start cooking.

I started off by making my great-great-grandmother's cranberry chutney. I like making this for a couple reasons. First, it is just delicious. A true, old fashioned chutney full of apples, oranges, cranberries, nuts, and celery.

Second, I get to use two of my kitchen appliances that I don't normally use very often, my blender and my mini-food processor. My great grandmother, grandmother, and mother all used/use an old fashioned hand meat grinder to make this chutney. In fact their method usually results in a much finer, more uniform chop than mine, something more like a puree than a chutney. But that is ok! I like my interpretation of the recipe with the uneven chunks of cranberry, apple, nut and celery resulting in a very nice texture and crunch.

After I had mixed the chutney together and set it into the refrigerator to chill, I chopped the turnips and carrots into small cubes to boil with some salt before mashing them with butter.

I wasn't planning of completely finishing the turnip/carrot puff today as I don't have room in the refrigerator for all the dishes and knew that I need to rely on nature's icebox (our back hallway)to keep a few things cold. Since the puff recipe calls for milk and eggs, I felt it was best to get the turnip/carrot mash done and finish the dish tomorrow; even with the predicted upper 20's/low 30's night time temperatures. By this time it was almost 3pm and I hadn't even begun the pumpkin pie.

I have a love-hate relationship with pie crust. I love really flaky homemade pie crusts. My mother is a master pie crust maker. I use her recipe but for some reason, my crusts NEVER turn out flaky the way a good pie crust should. I think it is because, as a bread maker, I have this natural urge to over handle the dough, thus working out the little bits of butter/lard that make pie crust shatter when you cut into it with a fork. This year, I was bound and determined that I would master pie crust. I started by putting the metal mixing bowl, the pastry cutter, and the butter/crisco already cut up into little chunks, into the freezer. I followed my mother's recipe to the letter but when the prebaked pie shell came out of the oven, it was overdone on the bottom (oops, rolled it too thin there!) and not flaky at all. It was almost lead like in fact. Back to the drawing board...

As much as I love my mother's recipe, I decided that enough was enough and I WAS NOT going to resort to buying a pie shell. I was going to master flaky pie crust if it was the last thing I baked. Browsing through Dorie Greenspan's Baking from My Home to Yours, I found a pie crust recipe that looked promising if a little unorthodox. I marked it and kept reading. The King Arthur's Baker's Companion's recipe was pretty close to my mother's. Since I wasn't having luck with my mother's I suspect I would get similar results with their's. After looking through a few more cookbooks, I decided to use a combination of the recipe/steps called for America's Test Kitchen's Baking Illustrated and the recipe from Baking from My Home to Yours. The result was perfect! It took a little more time to do than my mom's recipe (her recipe doesn't call to freeze the pie crust before baking it) but worth it. The crust is flaky and buttery without being too heavy. I used the recipe I've been using for years for the pumpkin pie filling, the one off the back of the One-Pie pumpkin can. The pie smells and looks super yummy!

It was almost 7pm when I finished making the second pie crust and I hadn't even begun to get the brine ready for the turkey or cook the sweet potatoes and I was starting to wind down. MBH suggested that maybe we didn't need sweet potatoes, after all, he wouldn't be eating any and it seemed like a lot of work to do for just me. I have to admit, I agreed with him at the time but changed my mind a little later. Finally, about an hour ago, after peeling the sweet potatoes, slicing them and putting them into an orange juice/brown sugar bath for the night, I got the turkey into the brine and settled down with a little Coke and a whole lotta rum to write this post...sprinting to the end.

My Great-Great-Grandmother's Cranberry Chutney
note: the original written recipe called for boiling 6 pigs feet and 6 tails to get the gelatin. My great-grandmother started using Jello gelatin in the 20's and my grandmother used cherry Jello (what I call for in my version and my mom uses).

1/2 lb fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
2 apples (one red, one green) peeled, cored, and chopped coarse
1/2 cup coarse chopped celery
1/2 cup nuts (I use walnuts or pecans)
2 oranges, peeled and seeded (reserve some peel or zest them before peeling)
1 small package cherry flavoured gelatin

Put the cranberries, apple, celery, oranges, and peel/zest into a food processor and chop using the pulse until chunky (you can also do this in a blender or hand grinder, one ingredient at a time and mix the ingredients into a large bowl). Stir in the cup of sugar and set aside. Mix 1/2 cup boiling water with the cherry flavoured gelatin and let cool. Add to the cranberry mixture, stirring well and put in the refrigerator for at least two hours or until set. Best made several days ahead of time and freezes really well!