Friday, January 2, 2009

A Perfect Ganache: Christmas with A Mouse Bouche

Dear Boo,

Happy New Year! I am just now finally getting around to sorting through the many Christmas photographs taken during our 3 days of cooking and eating. On boxing day, as you know, I flew down to Florida to be with the Boyfriend's family and continue the eating fest, so its been a busy holiday week. Much material generated for future entries, and far more calories ingested in the process. By now I am wondering if everyone is so holidayed-out that this post has missed its chance. They say a picture is worth a thousand jelly donuts (or something), so I'm going to let these do most of the talking.

While we missed you for the first day and a half of major cooking, I'd say it was actually a rather smooth Christmas preparation. This year the motto was, "its only dinner" which of course is a flat out fallacy if you know our family, nothing is ever JUST a meal, but served to remind us that if the citrus-glazed carrots didn't get made, locusts would probably not fall from the sky. Sure, there was the chocolate sponge cake buche that was tossed in the trash around 1am when we realized the cream of tartar really was an essential component, and there was the port glazed onions with 5 (FIVE!) bay leaves in the glaze which oddly resulted in a fishy and altogether unpleasant taste that bit the dust in favor of a simpler balsamic glaze. But all in all, everything came together smoothly, even with one crucial pair of hands stuck on a snowy runway in Chicago. A Christmas miracle.

And speaking of miracles, look what I got! What a coincidence that I posted a wish list on the internet for billions of people to read, and it just so happened that I got exactly these items for Christmas! ;) (and, in a move no one saw coming, the Boyfriend got me an immersion blender!)

Braiser on right, french oven on left. Gorgeous blue to match my kitchen.

Our Christmas Eve dinner, amidst the cooking frenzy. It's always a feat to get everyone to sit down together next to the twinkling tree for one quiet hour while the beaters and mixing bowls idle in the sink. Lobsters are an elegant and festive tradition with an alternate agenda--the market steams them for us so dinner is ready to go.

Every year I try to convince mom to brine the turkey after all the reading I've done on the gospel of moist bird. And every year we get sidetracked and then realize we don't have a bucket and end up doing the usual. This year I came home to mom saying, "I read this great article about salting the turkey which is supposed to be even better than brining!" Basically, it's a dry brine, or as our aunt pointed out, what you're doing is essentially koshering the meat. The nice thing is that you don't need to buy a bucket or find room for that in the already packed fridge. The morning of Christmas eve we made a combination of herbs and kosher salt, washed the bird and spread it all over, then wrapped with plastic and refrigerated while we waited for the transformation.
I had high hopes despite the fact that mom kept saying, elbow deep in the neck cavity, "I don't like the looks of this bird." The way she said it I half expected the turkey to pull out a deck of cards and try to hustle me for $5. But look how lovely it turned out!

No doubt the salting helped with the perfect all around browing you see, as well as the moist and flavorful meat and skin. To go with the turkey was of course, the gravy which as usual was tended to like the newest grandchild with all three siblings--Mom, Uncle, and Aunt, crowded around the stove cooing at the stockpot. Our cousin Sam disturbing threatened to pour himself a glass, it was so good.

But first--the appetizers:

I know how you feel about pate, but this was truly incredible. Chicken liver pate made by our mother, with mustard and cornichons on the side. My mouth is watering just writing this. I think we all left with our cholesterol elevated by a few points, but oh was it worth it. There was also Barefoot Contessa caviar dip for which our mother sent our aunt on a christmas day search through the city for dill. Delicious with chips. Rounding out the elegant trio was mushroom crostini, made by yours truly which was nice if not earth shattering. What did in fact, rock the very soil beneath us was the tray of lumpia, made by our cousin, which you missed at last year's celebration.

But back to the main event:
Turkey and Ham, of course.

Ina's sweet potatoes, adapted by our mother, the queen of the Yam. Topped with apples. So good.

The fated port glazed onions, almost saved by the last minute balsamic glaze.

Tasty tasty potato and fennel gratin made by yours truly. Could have used a little salt. Or maybe it was that we were short on gruyere. What's with me and gratins?

Okay, let me explain. What you see here is a spinach ring. Something, I gathered, was very popular in the 50s. What happened was, originally our menu looked like this: sweet potato puree, mashed potatoes with fennel, and spinach gratin. Also known as: orange creamy mushy thing, white creamy mushy thing, and green creamy cheesy mushy thing. Perfect for people with dentures, but for the rest of us, a little more textural variety was called for. We found the potato gratin which fit the bill, but that left us with two gratins on the menu which even I can't handle, despite my passion for all things covered in cheese. So what to do with all the frozen spinach? A souffle? There are a surprizingly limited number of recipes for frozen spinach that don't include cheese and cream as main ingredients. This is where the spinach ring came in. light, (despite the 9 NINE egg yolks after doubling the recipe), cheese-free, and texturally like a firmer mousse. Made in the bundt pan, it resembled the ubiquitous jello mold at so many family gatherings, but somehow, it worked.

Also on the buffet were citrus glazed carrots (they made it to the table), and a slightly tweaked version of my favorite red cabbage. And of course, of course. the stuffing. sigh.

And for dessert? Just a light sampling of:

Black bottom creamy pecan tart, key lime cheesecake (made by our aunt), the perfect ganache, suggested by mom, not to be confused with the Hindu elephant god despite Mom constantly referring to it as "the Ganesh," made Christmas morning on a last minute whim in a--gasp--toaster oven! by me. Linzer tortes and Dad's most favorite ever ginger cookies by our Aunt, and mexican wedding cakes made by me.

Full yet?

Oh, we've only just begun. What followed was days of Latin food, the biggest porterhouse steaks you've ever seen for New Year's Eve, and chili and cornbread for New Years Day.

2008: a tasty year. Can't wait to see what's on the menu for 09.


The Mouse


Sam said...

I think i DID pour a glass of that gravy to drink. Best. Gravy. Ever.

Arlene said...

Let's see if I can get on now....just curious!

Arlene said...

So it's working!
I suppose I was right when I said the 'airwaves' were too crowded last night!
What I said was......Williams Sonoma sells brining bags. They come 2 in a pack - one large and one small, and that's what I used for my absolutely fabulous (haha) turkey for Thanksgiving! It actually worked!
Love the the you guys.