a little turkey…

Thanksgiving…turkey, turkey, turkey. Brined turkey, roast turkey, fried turkey.

I’m not talking turkey yet. Today, I pay homage to Turkey’s more ubiquitous little brother, Chicken. In America, chicken is the go-to meat. It can be found anywhere, cut anyway, and it is always affordable–especially if you’re willing to do the dirty work yourself. I am a fan of buying whole chickens; you pay the same amount that you would for pre-sliced, deboned, deskinned chicken breasts (which is essentially chicken sans flavor). A whole chicken, whether roasted in its entirety or braised in pieces, is a filling crowd-pleaser.

Inspired by the rotisserie chickens in the deli by my office, I decided to roast a chicken for dinner. I had two big boys to feed, and as I would soon be leaving for the holiday, I wanted to clean out my pantry as much as possible. Thus, a menu was born–roast chicken with mashed sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli. I figure you can’t get much healthier while eating so heartily.

After cleaning the bird and putting the innards into water for chicken stock (to get the most bang for my buck!), I began to rub it down with salt, pepper, and thyme. After slicing garlic into slivers, I cut into the thicker parts of the meat to stick the garlic in. Lacking kitchen twine, I used thread to tie the bird together. The bird, along with three aluminum wrapped potatoes, were put into a 425 degree oven for a hour and twenty minutes (the bird weighed about 5 pounds), and I left it alone. At the twenty minute mark, I cut up the broccoli and threw it into the steamer.

We set the table, threw the broccoli into a bowl after rinsing it in cold water to stop the cooking process, mashed the sweet potatoes with skins on in another bowl, threw a little kosher salt on both, all while the meat settled. I carved up the chicken, we sat down, and twenty minutes later, plates were cleared and stomachs were full.

If only Thanksgiving were that easy…but then, where would the fun be?

Louisiana Wedding

I have not had as much fun or as much food as I had this past weekend in quite some time. I went down to a wedding for an old family friend (well, she’s young, but the friendship is old) in Shreveport, Louisiana. The wedding was the perfect Southern affair, spanning several days, requiring several changes of outfits, and most importantly tasting several different elements of Louisiana cookin’. And I brought an Italian along for the ride.

G and I arrived in Shreveport on Friday afternoon and found ourselves, along with the rest of my family, the welcome house-guests of the father-of-the-bride’s brother and his wife. We were put up in their guest cottage, which was outfitted with more breakfast/lunch/snack food than one family could consume in a weekend, even if there weren’t meals planned. We unpacked, hung our nice things so they could de-wrinkle, and set about to resting before the rehearsal dinner.

That night, at the Shreveport Club, the groom’s family (out-of-towners from Austin) hosted a lovely surf-and-turf dinner–beef tender and shrimp in a cream sauce. The rehearsal dinner, I learned, is traditionally given by the groom’s family for close family members and out-of-town guests, and I figured we were a bit of both. The wine was a little bit on the weak side (more acid than umph), which was unfortunate as it was the night where we sat through many a speech! One outfit and one meal down.

We went to bed so that we could get up and do it all over again. Friends of the bride’s family hosted a pre-wedding brunch. We were welcomed into their gracious, palatial home–rather reminiscent of Monticello–with a choice of mimosa or bloody mary. I went for spice over sweet, and the bartender threw in a special something, a pickled green bean, the likes of which I’d never before seen in a bloody mary. It was a nice change from celery. Brunch was served buffet style–cheese grits, the most moist fried chicken I’ve ever tasted, asparagus with a gremoulade sauce, and meat pie, right out the fryer. We took our plates outside to sit in the sun, attacking the chicken with our hands. The dessert that followed was just as good–homemade palmiers, coconut and blueberry bars, and the famous Louisiana praline (nothing but sugar, pecans, vanilla, and butter). All of it was sweet enough to make your teeth curl. Two outfits and two meals down.

The wedding was at 4pm, so we had a bit of time to explore the town and drive by the big, majestic homes of a Southern town that hasn’t exploded like my hometown of Atlanta, whose growth has encroached upon the once large and luscious lawns. We then changed to make it to the church on time. Like a true Episcopalian service, the processional was longer than the ceremony, leaving me enough time to tear up but not enough to cry. Then, we headed back to our place, as that’s where the reception was to be held.

We drove up to a big brass N’awlins band playing. It was much colder than everyone had expected, so many of the in-town women broke out their fur coats as we stood outside to wait for the bride and groom to arrive. We all grabbed glasses of champagne, as well as the (warmer) spicy crawfish beignets and espresso cups of mushroom soup splashed with cognac. We finally migrated to the back of the house, to the tent, so that we could all get warm under the heaters, and be dancing, imbibing, and eating.

The father-of-the-bride had chosen the wine–a Crucillon garnacha that is big and fruity, with a little kick. It’s his favorite because it’s both good and affordable (even though they don’t sell it in his town). My mom got him hooked. Different stations were placed around the edge of the tent–pasta with shrimp and taso (a Louisiana sauce based on the type of sausage of the same name); wheels of cheese; mini-burgers; grits with a crawfish cream sauce; and lamb and beef tender. The cakes were cut and passed around. The groom’s cake was a black forest cake, made predominantly of meringue, while the wedding cake was made of layers, alternating white and red velvet. Everyone ran around, tasting and dancing, until the band quit playing so they could head back to Houston. Three outfits (and a coat) and three meals.

Sunday morning brought Sunday brunch and a last chance to get together and say goodbye before the bride and groom left for their honeymoon and the before the guests headed home. This meal–the most simple of all–was the most divine. The furniture in the bride’s family home had been cleared out for the most part and replaced with little dining tables. Everyone headed toward the dining room buffet and stocked up on grits, green beans, and grillades. I had never heard of grillades before yesterday, but this spicy round steak stew, when served over grits, is the most delicious hang-over cure ever. Especially when followed by lemon squares. Too bad we had to get on a plane after that…although it’s probably better for my waist-line.

Oh, and for the record, that’s four outfits and four meals. In a two day span.

**for more information on Louisiana cuisine, check out John Folse’s “The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine.”

Getting creative with beets

Since I’ll be changing apartments in a week, I’ve been trying my hand at creating new recipes based on the things that I have lying around in my kitchen. One such ingredient is canned beets…what the heck are you supposed to do with those!? I’ve never been a huge fan of beets and don’t really know how to use them outside of a salad, but as of yesterday I had two cans in my kitchen (stocked by Giorgio’s mother back in August). As I am not one to waste, I decided to see what creative and edible invention I could come up with.

I decided to make pasta. We were having a few people over for dinner, and homemade pasta is always a hit. While Giorgio kneaded the pasta dough, I drained one of the cans of beets and threw the contents into the food processor. After adding a bit of salt and ricotta, I pressed “puree.” The result was a thick, deep purple mousse–beautiful on the eyes but still a little harsh on the palate. I kept my fingers crossed as we rolled out the dough and cut circles into it using the beet can.

From the time the pasta dough is kneaded, you have to work fast as you manipulate it. To make ravioli or agnolotti (stuffed pasta in the shape of a half-moon), you must add the filling, being careful not to overfill, and seal the edges with water before it starts to harden. Otherwise, it is more likely to come apart in the boiling water. A teaspoon of the beet mousse went onto every pasta cut-out. I then wet the edges with a bit of water and pressed the sides together, creating little half-moons. Some stuck to the surface as I tried to transfer them to the drying cloth–these, I had to sprinkle with extra flour to absorb the moisture.

While the pasta dried, I assembled the rest of the meal. I washed and sliced the endives, added a bit of gorgonzola, and topped the salad with some oil and balsamic vinegar. With the first course ready to go and the table being set, I peeled a few pears to roast in the oven in a pan full of watered-down orange juice. I made a makeshift double-boiler to melt butter and chocolate chips, to which I added some stiff egg whites. When the water started to boil for the pasta, I sat everyone down at the table, basted the pears, served the salad, and tossed the agnolotti into the water.

The endive salad was a light precursor to the main course. The agnolotti came out beautifully–the flavor of the beets was more subdued, balanced by the sage and walnut butter which I had drizzled on top. We poured a bit of Valpolicella into the glasses to enjoy alongside our meal. After we cleared our plates, having sopped up the extra butter with bits of baguette, I served the pears, topped with the chocolate glaze. All in all, a delicious meal made with the things I had lying around the house–canned beets, sage leaves, walnut pieces, flour, eggs, pears, and chocolate chips–and every course left me wanting to lick my plate clean.