Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Let the annual extravaganza begin!

This year, we got fancy with the tableware and bought ourselves a set of honest-to-goodness French onion soup crocks, complete with lions' heads on the sides.

Of course, this is only a fraction of the china needed to plate this no-turkey feast:

Note the miniature onion soup crocks in front of their big brothers. We used these to serve our amuse-bouche, which was a modern twist on that quintessentially American food, popcorn:

What's the twist, you ask? We dressed the popcorn with butternut squash seed oil from The Filling Station. It's the most amazing stuff; tastes a little like roasted squash and a little like peanut butter. No joke.

From here, we transitioned to a classic first course: a salad of endives, walnuts, and Roquefort.

Salade d’Endive
walnuts, vernières frères roquefort

Yeah so we were thinking about going vegan, but, you know, Roquefort!

Our second course was inspired by the very first meal that we were served on our honeymoon in Beaune, France. (Awww.) Frankly, I think the chef didn't quite know what to do with a couple of vegetarians, so he made us what would be called in English "scrambled eggs." But, this being France, these weren't just any scrambled eggs --- they were oeufs brouillés, stirred for a long time over very low heat and incorporating what tasted like a pound of cream. The result was an astonishingly rich pile of tiny egg curds, dressed with perfectly cooked vegetables and drizzled with truffle oil.

We didn't want to make eggs for our dinner, since timing is everything in getting the right consistency, and that's a little difficult to pull off in the face of 12 hungry people. We also wanted to honor the produce that was fresh and in season. So we replaced the eggs with parsnips.

Parsnips are one of those vegetables that often get short shrift, lumped in with carrots and turnips and relegated to a secondary role in stews and soups. This is a real shame, since fresh parsnips can have quite a complex flavor, with notes of earthiness and vanilla, and a texture that can only be described as velvety. The truly amazing thing is how easy it is to get them to taste good: Boiling in water, straining, and then puréeing in a blender pretty much does the trick. No cream or butter required. Sometimes, it's the simplest things that are the best.

But since this is Thanksgiving, and we didn't want to make things too simple, we layered the parsnips with four different kinds of sautéed mushrooms.

Parsnip Brouillé
chanterelle, lobster, trompette du mort, and cremini mushrooms

Again in the sprit of expressing the best of the season, our next course featured delicata squash. We got this in our CSA box once and it's been a fall staple ever since. It's incredibly easy to prepare, since unlike other winter squashes, its skin is soft enough to eat. And it looks a bit like an overgrown yellow zucchini, so it makes beautiful crescent-moon shaped slices once it's scooped out.

Taking this as our base, we dressed it with a beet coulis (which, let's face it, is just a fancy term for "sauce"). As a bonus, the rich red of the beets made an awesome color contrast with the squash.

Because this dish is made of just vegetables, which don't bring much if any fat to the table, we wanted to dress it with some delectable nut oil, which would add both flavor and mouthfeel. We quickly settled on pistachio oil, since we were using hazelnuts elsewhere and since walnut oil is boring. It turns out that pistachio oil is the biggest pain in the ass to find. We looked everywhere in Philly with no success. Finally, we had to resort to getting Michael's parents to import it for us from the small-country-sized Whole Foods near where they live. It was worth it, though, since the oil was a delicate shade of green and complemented the squash perfectly.

Delicata Squash Moons
beet coulis, roasted pistachio oil, fleur de sel

For our main course, we decided to honor the American heritage of the holiday, so we turned to a classic Mexican sauce, pipian. The main ingredient in this sauce is roasted pumpkin seeds, which again fit well with our seasonal theme.

The mise en place:

The seeds are mixed with freshly ground spices, including cinnamon and epazote (Mexican oregano); sauteed onion; and dried and reconstituted chiles.

Then the whole mess is whizzed in the blender to the consistency of peanut butter and slowly simmered with some broth to make the right texture.

Normally, of course, pipian is served over some sort of meat dish; we used marinated seitan (wheat gluten) instead.

A lightly pickled onion relish (escabeche) rounded out the dish, providing a sharp bite to cut through the richness of the pipian.

Seitán en Pipián con Escabeche de Cebolla

After that heavy course, we included a salad as a palate cleanser. Asian pears are a favorite around here for salads, since they have a pleasant, fresh crunch and don't turn brown after being cut as apples and pears do. We tossed them with toasted hazelnuts and a dressing made with Asian plum wine.

Asian Pear & Hazelnut Salad
plum wine vinaigrette

[camera shy]

Finally, it was time for our traditional piece de resistance: French onion soup with homemade baguette croutons and Gruyere cheese.
Yes, that is over three liters of caramelized onions.
Yes, that is over a gallon of soup.
Yes, that is over five pounds of cheese.
Yes, we made those ourselves. (No, we don't mess around.)

Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée

Never ones to stop at that when dessert can be had, we took on a new challenge this year: chocolate truffles. Turns out that they're insanely easy to make, and a ton of fun, since shaping them allows you to literally get your hands dirty in chocolate. We rolled half in cocoa power and half in coconut. What's not to love?

Hand-rolled Truffles

Never ones to stop at that when even more dessert can be had, we supplemented the truffles with two different kinds of cupcakes from our beyond-awesome local bakery, Betty's Speakeasy: apple cider and pumpkin chocolate. We rounded things out with a traditional English farmhouse Cheddar from Neal's Yard Dairy and a Cardo from Sleight Farm.

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling kinda hungry now.