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Monday, November 20, 2006

Thanksgiving countdown: Day 1


This Thanksgiving is a big deal for me because it's the first one on my own in about eight years. Usually we get together with the same large group of friends. Last year we went to Utah to celebrate my father-in-law's 80th birthday. Having been thrown of orbit last year got me thinking about what I really want out of Thanksgiving, and I decided I wanted to pare it down to its essentials this year. So I'm doing the cooking and we're having just one other couple and their 2 1/2-year old as guests.

I also want to make my own damn turkey. It's a right of passage for cooks! I'll also make the dish I always make every year, spiced sweet potatoes with maple syrup, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, a cornbread stuffing from Martha Stewart, cranberries with orange zest, and gravy. I'm asking our friends to bring a salad and appetizer -- maybe Lu (who is Argentine) will have time to make her heavenly empanadas.

Rule #1 is Don't Be a Thanksgiving Martyr. That means don't take the joy out of cooking. So if it's between going the extra mile (wearing myself out) or doing just enough and conserving energy, I have to go with the latter. I'm making my pumpkin pie with last year's frozen lard (isn't it enough to render your own lard every other year?) and canned pumpkin instead of fresh. And there will be no mashed potatoes. Why, when I have stuffing and sweet potatoes and we're only feeding four adults?

Today we skipped Jasper's preschool so I could do the big shopping trip at the Coop during prime hours. I could have schlepped to Carroll Gardens, dropped him off, run back to the Slope, shopped, put all the groceries away, run back to Carroll Gardens, and dragged us all back home. But I came down with a cold this weekend and the rushing about probably would have made it worse. Instead we enjoyed a little extra sleep we needed and had a leisurely breakfast. The Coop was not crowded like it will be later in the afternoon/evening and the rest of this week (horrible, you've no idea...) and I had my pick of the turkeys!

After the shopping and some lunch my neighbor invited Jasper up to play so I could get started on the pie crusts. In case you didn't catch it in the New York Times last week, Melissa Clark did an excellent article on lard pie crusts and concluded that the best crust is made with 30% lard and 70% butter. Herewith, her recipe. And enjoy the totally unrelated photo of my son. He's a lot better looking than the pie dough in my refrigerator.

1¼cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, preferably a high-fat, European-style butter like Plugra, chilled and cut into ½-inch pieces

2 to 5 tablespoons ice water.

1. In a food processor, briefly pulse together the flour and salt. Add butter and pulse until mixture forms chickpea-size pieces (3 to 5 one-second pulses). Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until mixture is just moist enough to hold together.

2. Form dough into a ball, wrap with plastic and flatten into a disk. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before rolling out and baking.
Yield: One 9-inch single pie crust. Recipe can be doubled for a double crust; divide dough into two balls and form two disks before chilling.

Variations: You can experiment with textures and flavors by substituting 3 to 4 tablespoons shortening, lard, beef suet, duck fat or an unsweetened nut butter, such as hazelnut butter, almond butter or mixed nut butter, for 3 to 4 tablespoons regular butter. All should be well chilled before using.

Prebaked Crust: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out pie crust to a 12-inch circle. Transfer crust to a 9-inch pie plate. Fold over any excess dough, then crimp edges. Prick crust all over with a fork. If you have time, freeze crust for 15 to 30 minutes; otherwise skip this step. Cover pie with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights (you can use pennies, rice or dried beans for this). Bake for 15 minutes; remove foil and weights and bake until pale golden, 5 to 7 minutes more. Cool on rack until needed.

4 comments:

Janet M. Kincaid said...

If turkey is a cooking rite of passage for you, pie crust is mine. I have yet to make one. And now that you've posted a recipe, I'll have no excuse (despite years of a subscription to Cook's Illustrated.)

Your recipe for spiced sweet potatoes intrigues me. That's my cooking assignment for this year's dinner. I found a recipe for Apple Cider Roasted Sweet Potatoes from Wild Oats Natural Marketplace that I'm going to try this year. Would you be willing to share your recipe?

shaunamama said...

I must try the pie crust. It's my turn for the entire meal this year. I'm not shaking in my kitchen slippers...just when it comes to the stuffing.

Adriana Velez said...

Janet, if you do a search through last year's November posts you'll find my sweet potato recipe, but I'll be posting it again soon. It's a little time consuming so I'm getting started on Wednesday and finishing them on Thursday.

Shauna, I'll post the stuffing recipe as well, in case you're interested. It's cornbread, mushrooms, and pecans. Still debating weather I'll actually stuff the turkey or just cook it as a side...

janeannechovy said...

I'm going to render my own lard this year! Not for Thanksgiving, obviously, but my farmer's market pig guy said he'd be happy to bring me some organ fat if I just e-mail him. Awesome. I think I'll use the Cook's Illustrated method of rendering it in the oven at a low temp.