Friday, November 25, 2011

A Very Eggy Thanksgiving

Despite a couple of kind offers, I chose to stay home and dine solo this Thanksgiving, in the company of my favorite kitty. Freed from the responsibility of cooking for other people’s palates, my menu options were so wide open it took a while to figure out what to fix. One of the multitude of holiday cooking shows I’ve watched recently mentioned that although turkey may not have been served at the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts, lobster and venison likely were. Aha! A starting point. I had a couple of lobster shells left from the recent sale at Lobsta Bakes of Maine, and I could pull a package of venison out of my freezer.

For my Autumn Seafood Stew, I made lobster stock with a chunked onion, the stalks and part of a bulb of fennel, four evacuated corn cobs, a healthy handful of fresh sage, and two lobster shells. I filled the pot with almost enough cold water to cover, then half a bottle of white wine. Trouble was, that was a lot of water and the lobster shells themselves didn’t give off much flavor. Next time I’ll try to remember to add some fish trimmings (or do what I did today to tweak the leftovers – I bought some lobster stock from Kevin at Lobsta Bakes – he has more fish trimmings and lobster shells to work with than I could ever hope to). Last night I took about a third of the stock, added clam juice, fennel seed, celery seed, and dried chipotle pepper and reduced it significantly, then added the other half bottle of wine and reduced some more, until it finally started to taste like something.

I fried a couple slices of Eckerlin’s double-smoked bacon, sautéed fennel, onion, garlic, and corn in the renderings, then quickly cooked some oysters. Part of this mélange went on my dinner plate and the rest, along with shrimp, lobster, and roasted red pepper, went into the reduced stock to which I added a bit of cream and brandy – a definite boost to my rather weak stock.

For my meat course, I went with an old favorite, venison carpaccio, which, I am thankful to say, went in a delicious new direction this time. First I thin-sliced a couple of these butterflied steaks.

I had in mind to do a little taste-testing with my carpaccio, so, using the corn as a colorful divider, on half the venison I used fleur de sel and Banyuls vinegar from Le Bon Vivant, along with some Meyer lemon and blood orange olive oils I’ve been hoarding since my trip to California last year. On the other half I tried three products from Stuarto’s Olive Oil Company I came across on my Wednesday night trip to Lexington: wild mushroom and sage infused olive oil, espresso salt, and espresso balsamic.

I will have much more to say about the magnificent dinner/cooking class I attended at Azur Wednesday night. For now I will mention that Azur chef Jeremy Ashby used Stuarto’s products in several of the evening’s dishes, and Stuarto’s owner Stuart Utgaard was on hand to talk about his products and offer some for sale. The first time I happened onto chef Ashby was at the Incredible Food Show in Lexington in October, and during his demo there he raved about one of Stuarto’s olive oils that he described as being an excellent all-purpose finishing oil. It was not available either at the food show or on Wednesday at Azur, but I had a moment to ask the chef for a recommendation. When I told him I planned to make venison carpaccio for Thanksgiving, he suggested the wild mushroom and sage oil (which I purchased), and then his eyes lit up. They weren’t among the products Stuart brought that evening, but Jeremy went into his kitchen and came back with these samples of Stuarto’s espresso salt and espresso Balsamic. Thank you, Jeremy! I would never have thought to mix espresso flavors with my tried and true carpaccio, but these were amazing, giving the dish a whole new dimension and depth!

I topped the seasoned venison with capers, sliced garlic, and, in place of my usual parmesan, shards of sheep’s milk cheese from another KY Proud company, Good Shepherd Cheese.

This dish made me so happy I didn’t think twice about not having turkey for Thanksgiving :)

It just wouldn't be right to have a holiday dinner without dessert, and I came up with one that entailed hardly any work. Last weekend at Jean-Paul's Paradiso, I picked up some house-made pumpkin sorbet.

I love chocolate with pumpkin, so I made some ganache. If you’ve never made your own ganache before, what are you waiting for? It is dead simple even if you, like me, are no pastry chef. Just chop some chocolate (Joy of Cooking says 8 oz.).

Bring some cream to a boil (Joy of Cooking says 3/4 cup).

Remove the cream from the heat and stir in the chocolate. That’s all there is to it (although I like to add a splash of Grand Marnier to mine). It keeps well in the fridge, and a few seconds in the microwave will return it to a creamy consistency. Don't let the fancy-sounding French name intimidate you – this recipe is almost impossible to mess up.

I drizzled a little ganache on the pumpkin sorbet.

Because it was a holiday, I added some toasted pecans. And then, my best idea of the evening hit me: I added a bit of that espresso salt from Stuarto's! What a magnificent match with the chocolate!

So there you have it, how I holiday cook when left to my own devices. And I enjoyed every moment of solo, stress-free self-indulgence. Of course I missed being with family and friends. But this just wasn’t the year for it. I’m still in overly protective mode since Scout returned from his 2-1/2 week walkabout and didn’t want to go off and leave him for the long weekend. But I am happy to report he has bounced back from his ordeal – so much so that today he went outside for the first time in a week. You can bring the kitty indoors, but Scout is one kitty you just can’t take the outdoors out of.

Thankfully, he came back in too.

Wishing you all the best of holiday weekends, and if you’re out shopping, please shop local and handmade.

xoxo, eggy


Joyce Pinson said...

Bought some of the Stuarto's Expresso Salt last trip through Lexington. The suggested pairing was Roasted Almond Oil and Expresso Balsamic Vinegar. It's a WOW! My favorite is the Blood Orange Olive Oil....wonderful on baked winter squash. So glad you had a good time at Azur!

Jen said...

I have questions! What is in the pumpkin sorbet? Is it dairy-free? Also, where do you get your venison? I've never eaten it but I'm curious!

Sharon Rudd said...

Joyce, thanks for stopping by! I will definitely have to try the Blood Orange Olive Oil.

Jen, I wish I had better answers to your questions. I'm not sure what is is Jean-Paul's pumpkin sorbet or whether it is dairy-free, but call the shop at (513) 231-2780 and I'm sure they'll be able to tell you. I get my venison from friends who are friends of hunters, but it looks like there are some online sources out there too. If you are interested in trying game, you might consider bison (another lean game meat). Eckerlin's at Findlay sells it, and I wouldn't be surprised if they get it from local Vista Grand bison ranch. I wrote about Vista Grand here:

theminx said...

I would much rather have eaten your dinner than the turkey and all the trimmings I had on Thanksgiving!

Jenny said...

hey, what happened to my comment from the other day? Boooo.

I love so many things in this post; the fact that you stayed home and took care of yourself and Scout... your food looks amazing and those pictures of Scout outside are also nice because he clearly wants to be out and keeping him in would be making him a prisoner of your fears (something I've done myself.)

LaDivaCucina said...

You are a brave lass for making venison carpaccio! It looked really good, well done. I find I get a lot of seafood flavor from prawn shells, esp if you can get them with the head but glad you were able to get the premade stock, why not? So much easier! And wonderful of you to spend time with your unconditional love pal Scout! I'm sure he was glad you stayed home too. You know, sometimes I feel more "lonely" with other people's families than being by myself for holidays and have no trouble being alone or with just hubby at those times. It can be very peaceful and satisfying, doing what you want when you want and eating what you want! (and if you don't wanna clean up, who cares?!) Good for you! xoxox

Velva said...

Beautiful, beautiful and beautiful again. This was an awesome post. You provided a gentle reminder that there is Thanks in being with yourself on Thanksgiving.

Happy Holidays to you!


Jenny said...

Eggy! I'm up with the next Culinary Smackdown. Could you kindly do your "Eggy Thing" and help get the word out? Thank you!!!