Savor: On the Side

BY Cory Mac Pherson

America loves turkey; theres no debate about that. Last year for instance the National Thanksgiving Turkey a charmer named May (after the Mayflower) was pardoned by President Bush in the White House Rose Garden and then flown first class to be the grand marshal of Disneys Thanksgiving Day Parade in Orlando. After the parade May retired to Mickeys Country House in the Magic Kingdom not bad for a big brown bird.

Presidential pardons for turkeys may seem a tad over the top (though Benjamin Franklin suggested the gobbler as our national bird) but turkey has been the center of attention at Thanksgiving tables for millions of families since Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation for the first national Thanksgiving in 1863. More on that in a minute though because before there was the first national Thanksgiving there was The First Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving didnt always involve the Detroit Lions versus the Chicago Bears on the big screen. The First Thanksgiving called the “days of thanksgiving” by the pilgrims in Plymouth is supposed to have happened in the autumn of 1621 when 53 surviving pilgrims gave thanks for their successful harvest. They were joined for the weeklong feast by the Wampanoag Native Americans and their leader King Massasoit. Garlic mashed potatoes had not yet been invented.

Nor was professional football around on November 24 1864 when President Lincolns proclamation took hold. Like the pilgrims celebration the holiday was intended to give thanks for a bountiful harvest but also to offer hope that the nation would soon be united. One year after Lincolns directive Union troops came off the battlefield to a Thanksgiving dinner of turkey stuffing chicken pies cakes bread and cider.

Now like then turkey is the obvious star of the meal 46 million birds are carved each year and the main course of course. So the real question (besides Lions or Bears) is what to serve with it? No matter how tempting or convenient instant mashed potato flakes boxed stuffing and can-shaped cranberry sauce may seem three top local chefs suggest that this is the year to try something different.

Thierry Moity chef and owner of Caprice Bistro in Historic Downtown Wilmington began celebrating Thanksgiving 30 years ago when he and his wife Patricia moved to America from France. The French dont celebrate Thanksgiving but Chef Moity felt it was important for his son who was born in America to be a part of the long-standing tradition.

Although Chef Moity doesnt always keep the restaurant open on Thanksgiving his home is always open. “When we close we have at least 50 percent of our staff the ones that dont have family or cannot go to their family they come dine with us in our home ” Moity says.

Keeping turkey as the centerpiece the Moity family has integrated French accents into their Thanksgiving menu. Chef Moity likes to serve his guests recipes with chestnut (his chestnut pure recipe follows) which he says “is not used a lot in this country but its different and its good to have something different” at a holiday meal like Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a busy time of year for NoFo the popular eatery in the Forum at Landfall. Last year general manager Sue Shankland spent three consecutive days in the restaurants kitchen preparing turkey roasted garlic mashed potatoes sweet potatoes cranberry relish green beans and spiced pumpkin bread. NoFo prepares dishes for a long list of customers who are too busy to cook Thanksgiving dinner for their family but still want to have a tasty traditional American-style meal.

On Thanksgiving Day Shankland finally gets to take off her chefs hat kick her feet up and enjoy time with her family. While she still agrees to prepare the turkey her children help out by preparing the sides. She describes her Thanksgiving dinner as very normal. Green bean casserole cornbread stuffing apple pie and ice cream are the dishes Shankland looks forward to the most.

The Seasoned Gourmet is the perfect place to try a new recipe before the big day. Along with teaching weekly hands-on classes and doing demonstrations throughout the year executive chef Susan Boyles also teaches Thanksgiving-themed cooking classes. “The classes attract people who are tired of classic meat and potatoes and want to learn something a little more interesting ” Boyles says.

Growing up in Pennsylvania Chef Boyles early Thanksgivings consisted of Stove Top stuffing and a turkey that was “usually dry.” Chef Boyles has since reinvented her Thanksgiving traditions many times; her cornbread sage dressing has become a family favorite. But beyond the bird the sides and the homemade cherry pie Boyles believes that Thanksgiving is “one of those holidays where its all about family and friends; thats the most important thing. The food is just the force that brings you together.”

This Thanksgiving may the force be with you.

Chef Susan Boyles Cornbread Sage Dressing

Serves 12-16

1 cup butter divided
3 cups white cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoons Kosher salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
7 large eggs divided
3 cups buttermilk
3 cups plain bread crumbs
2 medium (2 cups) yellow onions diced
1 large bunch (3 cups) celery diced
cup fresh sage finely chopped (or 3 tablespoons dried rubbed sage)
2 packages classic roasted chicken demi-glace
1 tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Melt cup butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Combine the cornmeal flour sugar baking powder salt and baking soda in a large bowl. Whisk in 3 eggs and the buttermilk. Pour the hot butter into the batter stirring until blended. Pour the batter into the skillet and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in the pan on a rack. When cool crumble cornbread into a large bowl combine with bread crumbs and set aside.

To create the chicken stock add the 2 packages of chicken demi-glace to 8 cups of water in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

Melt the remaining cup butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and celery and saut until tender. Stir in the sage and saut for an additional minute. Combine the vegetables 4 eggs chicken stock and pepper with the crumbled cornbread mixture. Pour evenly into a lightly greased 16×10-inch glass baking dish or two 8-inch glass baking dishes. Cover and chill overnight (mixture will be very wet).

Bake uncovered in a 375-degree oven for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown. Cut into desired portions and serve hot. (Chefs tip: Dressing can be cooled tightly wrapped and frozen for up to a month. Defrost and reheat in 350-degree oven.)

Twice-Baked Acorn Squash

2 acorn squash halved and seeded
10 ounces soft goat cheese
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons fresh chives chopped
sea salt
fresh cracked black pepper
cup unsalted butter divided

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Slice a small amount of the root end of each squash half so they sit flat on the baking sheet and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Place a teaspoon of butter in each squash cup. Bake for 20 minutes or until tender enough to scoop out the flesh.

Heat the heavy cream remaining butter brown sugar and nutmeg in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

Remove the squash from the oven and cool until you can handle them. Scoop the flesh of the squash into a large bowl reserving about of the meat inside the skin of the squash. Set squash cups back on the baking sheet.

Add the heavy cream mixture to the squash flesh and mash with a potato masher until well combined. Add 8 ounces of the crumbled goat cheese and chives and fold to combine. Scoop the mixture back into the squash cups dividing evenly. Top with a sprinkle of remaining goat cheese.

Squash can now be cooled covered and refrigerated for up to one day. Bring back to room temperature and bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until heated through. Serve hot.

NoFos Cauliflower and Broccoli Flan with Spinach Bchamel

2 cups cauliflower florets
2 cups broccoli florets
2 6-ounce bags spinach leaves
6 tablespoons butter
cup flour
2/3 cup milk
cup grated parmesan

Cook the cauliflower and broccoli in water until tender but still crisp. Drain and reserve 2/3 cup of the cooking liquid. Rinse the spinach and toss in skillet over medium heat until just wilted. Drain cool and finely chop. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the milk and the reserved cooking liquid until the sauce thickens and boils (about 3 minutes). Stir in the spinach and cheese. With your hands coarsely crumble cauliflower and broccoli into a bowl. Add the spinach bchamel sauce and stir to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Butter a 1 quart casserole dish and spread the vegetable mixture in the dish. Bake for 25 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

Cranberry Relish

16 ounces of fresh cranberries
2 cups sugar (honey can be substituted)
cup cranberry juice
cup orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the berries pop open (about 10 min). Watch carefully not to burn the liquid. Skim the foam off the surface and discard. Cool to room temperature.  Cover and refrigerate (for up to 3 months). For a more orange-combo flavor toss in a few orange quarters along with the cranberries. Then remove as the mixture cools.

Chef Thierry Moitys Chestnut Pure

Serves 8

16 ounces vacuum-packed whole chestnuts (or canned)
1 cup chicken stock
cup cream
1 tablespoon butter softened

Cook the chestnuts in the stock for about 15 minutes until they are soft then pure in a food processor until smooth. Add the cream butter salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Roast Apples with Cranberry

Serves 8

4 Granny Smith apples
3 tablespoons butter
cup brown sugar
ground cinnamon to taste
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
cranberry jelly

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Peel core and cut the apples in half. Roast in a pan lined with foil for about 40 minutes. Serve hot and top with cranberry jelly.