A Very Misanthropic Thanksgiving–and a good turkey recipe

I know, I know, Thanksgiving was like, so last week.  But, I have a good recipe to share and wanted to do it before the next round of holidays…in case you wanted to try it.

This year TD and I very quietly snuck in a nice, mellow, thankful Thanksgiving.  As both of our families now live out of state, traveling is a little tough.  So, it was just the two of us.  While the pleasure was a little guilty and bittersweet (Thanksgiving is, after all a family and friends holiday), we thought we’d take the opportunity this year knowing that 2010 may be our only Turkey Day for Two.

We’ve hosted Thanksgiving for the past few years and each year have done the meat a little differently.  We’ve grilled, baked and roasted.  And let’s not forget last year’s Baduckey.  This year we tried slow cooker turkey breast.  And you know what–it was great!

Around 7:00 the morning of, I threw an eight-pound bone-in turkey breast into the cooker along with a slew of aromatics–onion, celery, apples, lemons and a handful of herbs along with a couple of cups of turkey stock.

Then we set about enjoying our day.  This included one or two of our new favorite cocktails from Alison over at A Girl A Market A Meal.

We’re all adults here right?  I mean that literally–you are over 18 correct?  I hope so because I really can’t help sharing this natural twig and berries arrangement.  Almost as good as seeing Jesus or the Virgin Merry in my libation.

Moving on…

The good thing about a Thanksgiving for two is that you get to have exactly what you like.  For us, this included a mushroom and sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes that have been painted with butter and broiled like a twice baked potato and simple roasted vegetables. Oh.  And a Thanksgiving Tree.

Yes, you read that correctly.  A Thanksgiving Tree.  I’m pretty sure this idea isn’t original and I’m completely sure it’s a little more than “Hallmark Channel” if you know what I mean.  But.  It was fun.  Throughout the day, TD and I added notes on what we were thankful for this year.

After the reading of the tree and the eating of the turkey, we completed the meal with a slice of orange velvet cake.  Orange velvet cake is red velvet cake.  Only orange.

And that my friends, was our very thankful, very relaxing Thanksgiving for two.  I sincerely hope you were all lucky enough to have Thanksgivings full of blessings, laughter and good food.

And now that the holiday season has officially begun.

Slow Cooker Turkey Breast

Unfortunately, this recipe does not yield a golden bird.  In fact, the final product is rather anemic-looking.  Not to worry though–the breast meat is very moist and juicy!

  • 6-8 lb. turkey breast, bone-in, skin-on
  • Your choice of aromatics–I used carrots, onion, celery, apples, lemons and a mixture of fresh sage, rosemary and thyme.
  • 2-3 C turkey stock, cider or even white wine

Place breast in slow cooker, skin-side up.  Add in aromatics and stock.  Cook on high for 5-7 hrs until juices run clear when breast is pierced (about 180 degrees).

Rivalry Cookies

If you didn’t catch it the first 2,347 times I’ve mentioned it, I work for my alma mater’s biggest rival.  Most of the time this isn’t an issue. I try not to broadcast my collegiate pedigree and really, my coworkers could care less. Except for one weekend each year in early December.  And then all bets are off.  There is trash talking.  There is posturing.  There may or may not be the subtle wearing (or not wearing) of certain color combinations and/or temporary tattoos.

It really doesn’t matter that my own college’s football team has struggled a bit to go 500 in the last few years while the football team of my employ has played in a couple of national championship games recently.  This game can and has been, anyone’s.  Crazy things happen at these games.

Which brings me to baked goods.  Back in 2006 I made rivalry cookies for my office.  The week of the game, I delivered luridly colored sugar cookies in the shape of footballs and helmets.  And we–my team–won the game.

For a variety of reasons, I haven’t repeated this cookie delivery since (mostly because they are labor intensive and I’m in the middle of my holiday baking binge right when this game is scheduled).  Sadly, my team hasn’t been able to deliver another rivalry “W” since that game in 2006.

So I thought I’d make some rivalry cookies again this year.  Just in case it makes a karmic different.  I still won’t have the time to put into intricately decorated cookies, so I’ve been playing around with some less time-consuming ideas.  I think I may have come up with a suitable proxy.

Like I did in 2006, I started with the always successful sugar cookie recipe. And then I had some fun with food gel.

The idea was that by coloring the dough before it went into the oven, I wouldn’t have to do it when it came out.

Looks like PlayDoh doesn’t it.  I know this can’t be true but when I was working with it–I swear–it also smelled like the stuff.  If you haven’t already caught-on at this point, the colors represent the respective college colors.  The schools share yellow in common so I rationed-out the dough as 1:2:1.

I then rolled out sheets of each color and then combined the colors by placing one on top of the other.  Here it is with my employer’s colors.

And here with my college’s.

After this I tried various ways of rolling the dough into a  log.  Rolling from the short end yields a bigger but shorter dough log.  I opted for rolling from the long end–I have a lot of cookies to hand out.  With the dough on parchment, I began the roll by grabbing the edges of the parchment and folding over the dough at the edge.

And then repeated the action.

Until I got a log.

Then, the log went into colored sanding sugar. For a nice coat of sparkles.

Finally,  into some parchment for a couple of hours in the fridge.

Once the dough logs were firm I just sliced them up into disks and into the oven they went. The result?  Rivalry cookies!

So here is the plan.  The week of the game I’ll bake up a batch and deliver them to various offices here at work.  Then, I’ll let the great football gods take care of the rest.

Go Bruins!

My so called French Macaron

French macarons are the Jordan Catalano of cookies.  They’re beautiful and rather elusive.  And that makes you want them.  Pine for them.  So get you to know them a little.  And they shine their special brightness on you a bit which you like. A lot.  Then, in nearly the same breath, they treat you like crap.  Which makes you like them even more. Sure, you court.  However, unfulfilled expectation becomes the hallmark of your relationship.  Before you know it, you find that you’ve been strung along, nourished only by the occasional favor of a half vacant smile or  frilly foot. Wait…we are talking about cookies right?

We all have our Jordan Catalanos both in real life and in pursuit of making good things to eat.  I just spent a weekend with mine.

There are quite a few pretty awesome primers, 101s and FAQs on French macarons.  Tartelette and Not So Humble Pie are incredibly useful and gorgeous to look at.  As such, I’m not going to go into painful detail here on how to successfully master the French macaron.  Besides, to do that would mean that I’ve mastered the little buggers.  Which, I have most definitely not.  Instead, let’s pretend just for this post that I am Angela Chase and you are Rayanne Graff  or Rickie Vasquez and I’m gossiping/venting/ fantasizing to you about Jordan.  I mean macarons.

Lets start at the beginning.  Almond flour is the basis of the macaron shell.  I ground my own in the food processor and then, under the advice of several recipes, sifted it.  Here we see the unsifted stuff.

And here it is sifted.  While it is certainly more aesthetically uniform, I really don’t think it made a difference to sift at this stage.

Then there are the egg whites.  The consensus is that they need to be aged.  Some say 24 hours. Some say five or six days.  So I did both.  I separated-out three dozen egg whites, covered them and let them sit in the fridge for several days.  Then, 24 hours before I was to make the shells, I pulled them out of the fridge and let them sit.  While I realize this sounds gross, consider that many countries do not bother to refrigerate their eggs at all.  My understanding is that aging the whites dries them out a bit.  Makes sense I suppose.  However, About 12 hours into my little adventure, I ran out of aged egg whites and, gasp, used some fresh ones.  You know what?  They worked just fine.

Now let’s talk a bit about the meringue.  I think I got it right.  You don’t want it too sloppy and you don’t want it to break.  Check.

Some recipes tell you to add the meringue to the dry ingredients while other tell you to do the exact opposite.  Since meringue is delicate stuff, I went with the latter and added it in three stages.  One really great tip I did pick up was to test the batter along the way.  Batter that doesn’t spread slightly needs a few more folds.  Batter that spreads to quickly has been over folded and you are pretty much out of luck.

Since I’m not exactly a pro with the pastry bag, I actually drew the recommended 1.5” circles on a dozen sheets of parchment (you then flip it over and use the un-marked side).  While this gave me some confidence in my spherical shaping task, I eventually ran out of the pre-drawn sheets and the resulting disks were no less round than the traced ones.

Next up in the macaron lore is the aging of the batter before it goes into the oven.  Several recipes agree that 30 to 60 minutes is good.  While I agree that about 30 minutes is good, the weather that weekend was so dry that anything aged longer cooked lopsided—as if the feet got stuck.

If the macaron flow chart wasn’t sufficiently complicated at this point, there is also the issue of how hot the oven should be.  The recipes I looked at ranged from 280 degrees to 350.  Seventy degrees is a substantial swing, particularly for something so purportedly picky.  I stuck in the middle at 300 and double panned each batch.  That is, until the batch that I forgot to double pan came out much cleaner than the ones before.  Then it was single pans going forward.

Between batches that cracked, stuck to the parchment, didn’t raise, raised too much and just plain decided not to be circles, my success rate was about 50%.  And we haven’t even gotten to the filling yet.

I made the shells on a Saturday but didn’t need the cookies until the next Thursday and so into the freezer (very carefully) they went.

I ended up with five different kinds of macaron shells (though four of the five came from the same recipe).  This means that I needed five different kinds of filling.  Here was the line-up:

  • Blue vanilla with vanilla bean ganache
  • Chocolate with nutella ganache
  • Raspberry with a raspberry mascarpone filling
  • Pumpkin saffron with a pumpkin spice cream cheese filling
  • Lemon with a lemon zest cream cheese filling

The beauty of macarons is that you can fill them with anything.  However, as is true with teenaged relationships, some fillings are more stable than others.  While delightful on the palate, by the time I went to serve the raspberry mascarpone macarons, the liquid in the filling had turned the cookie nearly to mush.  The shells with the cream cheese and ganache fillings held up much better.

When you go to fill the macarons, match up and lay-out each of the shells in advance.  I also suggest chilling the filling a bit, this will make it cleaner to distribute.

And prettier in the cookie.

I obviously did not do this with the chocolate.

I read in a couple of places that macarons like to rest a day or two before serving.  So I did just that.

And I think it worked well.

Not wanting to waste the hundred or so that turned out, I brought them in to work for our annual Thanksgiving Potluck.  We’re supposed to label our dishes so everyone knows what they are eating.  I’m good at following instructions.

Unfortunately, I got all wrapped up in arranging the macarons and forgot to take pictures before I, well, wrapped them up–which leaves us with a fairly unsatisfactory final shot.

Oh wait…let’s end with this one.  Can you guess what the blur is?

My work here is obviously not done as I still haven’t figured out how to get more than 50% consistency.  However, I will have a couple more opportunities in the coming weeks with  gingerbread and an egg nog macaron attempts.

The recipe for the chocolate macarons can be found here: Chocolate Macarons.

The following is the basic macaron recipe I used for the other flavors.  All credit goes to Tartlette.

Basic Macaron Recipe

Slightly adapted from Tartlette

For me, this recipe yields about 40 1.5″ shells.

For the shells:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees, position rack in the middle of the oven.

  • 90 grams egg whites
  • 30 grams granulated sugar
  • 200 grams confectioner’s sugar
  • 120 grams ground almonds or almond flour
  • food coloring

Either age the whites or don’t, just make sure they are at room temp. before you begin.  Grind together confectioner’s sugar and ground almonds in the food processor until fine.  Sift into a large bowl and throw out what remains in the sifter (this is why I’ve upped the almond amount just slightly).  Meanwhile, in a standing mixer with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on low until frothy.  Add in food coloring if desired.  Once egg whites are frothy, increase whisk speed and gradually add in granulated sugar.  Meringue is ready when it will hold a peak.

In three parts, gently fold the flour mixture into the meringue. Just when the dry ingredients are combined, begin testing the mixture–I use a teaspoon and clean plate.  The batter should flow like magma and when tested, spread gently.  If it keeps its shape, give it a couple more folds.

Fill a pastry bag (or large zip lock) with batter and pipe onto a parchment covered half-sheet.  Let sit 30-60 minutes if desired (more if you are in a humid environment). And then, into the oven they go for about 10 minutes.  At this point, begin checking for doneness by slightly giggling pan.  Shells are done when the meringue does not shift.  Remove from oven, let cool slightly and remove from parchment.  Can be stored in freezer for several days.

When you are ready to fill, your choices are nearly unlimited.  I’ve included links to the recipes I used here.

Vanilla Bean Ganache

Chocolate Ganache

Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese Filling

Lemon Cream Cheese Filling

Bon Appetit!

Some fillings for French macarons

Vanilla Bean Ganache

Will fill about 40 1.5″ macarons

  • 12 oz white chocolate (chips or chopped)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 C heavy cream

Split vanilla bean. Add vanilla seeds and cream to a small, heavy saucepan. Heat mixture until the edges barely simmer.  Add white chocolate swirling pan until everything is covered with cream.  Let sit for one minute.  Whisk melted mixture until smooth.  Store in fridge until ready to use.  Ganache will be very thick and be beaten to add air before piping into macaron shells.

Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese Filling

Will fill about 40 1.5″ macarons

  • 1 oz canned pumpkin
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2 C confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • orange food coloring if desired

Cream cream cheese in a standing mixer fitted with a paddle or hand-held beater.  Add-in pumpkin and combined.  Mix in confectioner’s sugar .5 C at a time until frosting reaches desired consistency.  Start with .5 tsp of spice and add-in until reaches desired taste.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before filling macarons.

Lemon Cream Cheese Filling

Will fill about 40 1.5″ macarons

  • 4 oz cream cheese softened
  • zest of a large lemon (1 TBish)
  • juice from a large lemon
  • 2 C confectioner’s sugar

Cream cream cheese in a standing mixer fitted with a paddle or hand-held beater. Add in zest and about half of the lemon juice.  Mix in confectioner’s sugar .5 C at a time alternating with lemon juice until frosting reaches desired consistency. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before filling macarons.