Monday, October 19, 2009

Jumping ahead


For anyone interested in getting a jump on holiday cooking I am devoting this entire week of posts to do-ahead Thanksgiving dishes that can be frozen. Thanksgiving seems to be one of the most laborious cooking holidays and I set aside at least two solid days of cooking for my own family's meal during that last week in November.
Many don't have the time nor the inclination for this kind of labor. In fact a reader requested that I come up with these freeze ahead recipes that can be tackled now and crossed off the to-do list for the big day.

I like to freeze things judiciously and find I rarely make meals in advance to be frozen because:
A- Then I have to remember to take them out of the freezer in time to get them hot for the meal and
B- I love cooking so much that it doesn't ever feel especially laborious to me to actually be doing it.

So the time crunch factor is what I am really responding to here. The recipes I am offering this week are not specifically designed to be frozen ahead, but if they strike your fancy, they can successfully be frozen ahead. I also encourage any one who can manage it to cook the day before Thanksgiving, allowing certain dishes to sit over night, where flavors can develop rather than making things weeks ahead and freezing. I'm just saying.

Hiking this weekend in Ellenville, trying not to think about Thanksgiving AT ALL!

I would like to come back to leeks because they are one of the real treats of Fall. This recipe, if I remember correctly, originated out of Gourmet magazine years ago and was adopted by my family as a "must have" every year. I usually figure on one large leek for two persons and I don't count the kids as people because I have yet to see any of them try one (I have four nieces, three nephews, two stepdaughters and two of my own children at the table every year, so I am an authority on generational divide when it comes to hot onions). Adults like this dish, but not the picky picky eaters. I LOVE IT. Good enough.

It is easy to prepare once you have cleaned the leeks and I am beginning to see the charm of being able to pull this out of the freezer Thanksgiving morning and shoving it in the oven without another thought. Other than trying to find oven space. Does it not seem that EVERY dish for Thanksgiving has to go in the oven and how the heck do you get everything in there and hot at the same time? Someone else will have to figure that out.

Amanda, what are we drinking?

Leeks Baked in Mustard Cream
for 8 non-picky eating adults

4 large leeks
1 1/4 cups of heavy cream
2 Tbs butter
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup of bread crumbs

heat oven to 400F
Trim the green tops from the leeks and the root end till you have just the white and palest green stalks. Score a shallow cut lengthwise a few layers deep into the leek and then cut them into 2"crosswise chunks. Put the trimmed leeks in to a large bowl of water and swish them around to loosen any sand and dirt caught in the layers. Let them soak in the water 10 minutes or so until the sand and dirt sinks to the bottom of the bowl. Remove leeks from the water and drain. Butter a baking dish with 1 Tbs. of the butter. Place drained leeks in the buttered baking dish in a single layer. Mix the cream, mustard, s & p in a cup and pour over the leeks to cover. Top with the breadcrumbs and dot with remaining 1 Tbs. butter.
Bake for 1 hour until the leeks are tender when you pierce them with a sharp knife.
Serve immediately
OR allow to come to room temperature, cover with foil and either
refrigerate overnight  to serve the next day OR freeze.
Reheat in hot oven till warmed through (timing will depend on how many other dishes are crammed in there trying to get hot. Half hour maybe?)

Thanksgiving is different when it comes to food and wine pairing. If you think about it, very few families are going to choose a different wine to go with each course. Yes, there might be wine-loving families who will do this. But the reality is, while you may have a few connoisseurs at your table, chances are the wine is not going to be the focal point of this favorite traditional feast. Take my family, for instance. They enjoy wine, but they are by no means "picky" and critical when it comes to my choices. (I am the wine provider at our family gatherings). No one is going to judge that a particular wine was great with the turkey but wreaked havoc on the stuffing. Or "how could she think that wine would work well with sweet potato topped with marshmallow"? To me, both avid food and wine lover, the gathering is more about the idea of enjoying a traditional meal with my family and close friends. In this case, wine takes a back seat. Don't get me wrong - I bring good wine. But I am less concerned with how it will "complement" the food. It's nice to take the time to perfectly pair recipes with wines, but only when you have a room full of people that are "into" this sort of thing. At Thanksgiving, most likely you will not need to ponder how the seasoning of the side dishes works with the wine. The majority of individuals are there for the food and the company, not a food and wine pairing. So, the pressure's off.

In the shop, we typically recommend wines that provide all-around enjoyment. Riesling is a "common" Thanksgiving wine. It's a very food-friendly, versatile white that can accompany a variety of dishes, which is really what you look for on Thanksgiving. It's a great wine to bring if you are the guest and are not sure how the Turkey will be prepared (if you eat Turkey of course). It could have a barbeque flare, as my brother's does, roasted on the grill and seasoned with coffee grinds and other interesting flavors, or it could be roasted with the traditional touches. Any way it is prepared, Riesling is a safe bet. Another sure hit is a white Burgundy. Stay away from over-oaked Chards from California which will be overpowering.

For red, there is the perennial favorite, Beaujolais. It doesn't have to be Beaujolais Nouveau which comes out every November just in time for Thanksgiving. If you are looking to impress, seek out a wonderful Cru Beaujolais. Still 100% Gamay, these wines are of higher quality and are still affordable, usually under $20. The Cru Beaujolais have more complexity and depth than a Beaujolais Nouveau or Beaujolais Villages. "Cru" means the wines are more site specific, which gives the wine higher status and assures the quality is superior. Pinot Noir is another Thanksgiving favorite. Soft, elegant, with a wonderful velvety mouthfeel, Burgundy is always a big hit. If you prefer something fruitier, and "bigger", and therefore probably more crowd-pleasing, look to California for this varietal.

My family enjoys wine, but they don't care if it's Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. So I don't put a great deal of thought into it. I buy something fun and different, that will please a variety of palates and I think they will enjoy. That's as far as I take it. And every year, we have a blast!

1 comment:

  1. That's it--I'm inspired. The leeks sound great and may end up on our table this year!


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