Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Pot (Luck) Pourri

It’s not really a pot luck Thanksgiving dinner. As the final menu is tuned somewhat. But everyone coming is contributing something. Which, as the dishes are determined by the people coming, are announced to everyone so that a reasonable variety of final dishes can be assembled. For 26 people. Mostly family, some friends. Coming to enjoy this most lucky of pot-luck-pourris.

Being a bit in stress, as this is a week of both soccer championships (TeenBoy’s team), and the California State Cross Country Running Championship race, for which TeenGirl has qualified, being one of the fastest high school girls in California (this is also the reason that my postings have been a bit infrequent over the last few weeks - all this sports takes up a lot of time!), I was not the first to pass on a list of proposed dishes that I would be contributing to this event. In fact, looking at the current list, I am probably about the last.

It’s being hosted this year at my brother’s new house, as he certainly has by far the most room for so many people. So his family will contribute the turkey, and will be stuck with most of the mess. Been there done that many times. Usually fun until the wine buzz wears off and the mountain of dishes and assorted broken things looms. Of course everyone helps clean after dinner, but it seems there is always another mountain of mess after everyone has finally left.

Some day, I am going to just roast a turkey when it’s not a holiday. This will certainly be a shocking event for everyone here. As there seems to be some unwritten food law that roasted turkey happens only twice a year, max. And those occasions must be holidays. But everyone is raving about salting the turkey before roasting, for maximum crisp skin and juicy meat. This being the next logical progression beyond brining. Which is now apparently passé. A salted roast turkey with fig, chestnut and sage dressing? Not to mention turkey soup the next day made from the remnants. Something I want to try soon. Well, we can all dream…

So, the infamous green beans baked in the Campbell’s mushroom soup are coming. (First dish announced. Can we cancel this holiday? No? Too late?) Along with the sweet potatoes and marshmallow mixture. Another blast from the past (curse that Betty Crocker!!). At least edible. There will certainly be good things as well. Some killer mashed potatoes. With lots of butter. There are usually interesting desserts. The gravy is always one of the highlights. And, being a dark meat lover, and in the distinct minority on this issue, despite the proven fact that the dark meat is moister and infinitely more flavorful, I will have almost the entire bounty of dark turkey meat all to myself. On a 24 pound turkey, that is a pile!

So, the question becomes, what will we contribute?

For some reason, I’ve had Brussels sprouts with bacon and chestnuts on my mind for a while. My idea is to render the bacon, and roast the chestnuts and Brussels sprouts in the bacon drippings in the oven till tender and caramelized. Maple syrup may also become involved somehow, not quite sure yet. Then toss it all with the rendered bacon. Then eat a large pile of it. As vegetables are usually not the big sellers at these events, so there should be lots for me. Is it bad form to bring something you know pretty much only you will like?

To this end, I found Italian chestnuts. These being the current foodie rage as the best tasting chestnuts. At least the sign said they were Italian. Maybe the sign is Italian and the nuts are from the tree out behind the vegetable market?

Plus some super fresh looking Brussels sprouts. And some apparently high quality thick slab bacon.

Another dish we are looking to make is a sort of fall root vegetable roast, with beets, parsnips and carrots, all roasted together with some apples for moisture. Sounded good. Again, however, something I fear will have limited appeal to the guests, being basically vegetables.

Even though sweet potatoes, mashed together with marshmallows (really!) are coming, I intend to offer my infamous sweet potato pie with pecan crust. Maybe put some candied pecans on top for decoration. This stuff has a little fire to it (cayenne pepper), and is intended for dinner, not dessert. And is delicious. Smooth and creamy. I figure that since my sweet potatoes are so different from the others, I can get away with this. On the plus side, I would be happy in no one ate any of this, and I could take the entire thing home again (more bad manners?).

On the dessert side, an apple galette, maybe soaking the apples in calvados, which is an apple brandy produced in the Calvados department of Lower Normandy, France. With some sort of flavored Crème Frâiche to go on top.

Hopefully, this is neither too much nor too little. And I am sure we do not have to worry about duplicate entries for any of these dishes from other guests. As these dishes either contain vegetables, or are a bit of work to prepare.

The sweet potato pie and the apple galette will be made today. They will keep overnight. The vegetable dishes will be made tomorrow morning, and heated through just before serving.

So here’s our proposed offerings:

Bacon Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts (with Maple Syrup?)

Roasted Fall Root Vegetables and Apples

Spicy Sweet Potato Pie with Pecan Crust and Candied Pecans

Calvados Apple Galette with (Whisky?) Crème Frâiche

Hopefully some pictures and recipes later today and tomorrow as these things start to appear from our kitchen.

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