Monday, December 6, 2010

I Yam What I Yam

Sorry--I couldn't help the pun. 

I did the math and this year marked the 23rd Thanksgiving dinner that I've cooked.  Although not necessarily on the Thursday.  When I graduated from college, I moved into a house in East Hampton with three guys.  Yeah, my Mom was thrilled.  But they were truly wonderful men and to this day, I hold all other men to their standards.  We moved in on Memorial Day weekend.  We had a great Fourth of July party (we had the perfect lawn for it), on Labor Day we had a big bunch of friends over for a barbecue.  But, then (minor chord), along came Thanksgiving.  It was our first real family holiday--and we were a family--that we weren't going to be spending together.

So the Sunday before Thanksgiving we made a feast.  We invited a few friends over and ate until we were stuffed.  And then we had pie.  And then the next year, on the same Sunday, we invited more friends.  And the next year there were more friends.  And so on. And so on.

And we had rules. 

1.  I cooked.
2.  We all ate one table.
3.  Real plates, glasses, silverware, etc.
4.  Everyone was welcome.  The door was open. 

And it was good. 

The last year we had it, just before we all moved on our separate ways, we had 85 people.  We borrowed tables and cloths and all the things we needed from people's parents and aunts and the VFW.  The table actually wound through the house from the dining room, through the living room, down the hall and then spiraled around the TV room.

So, if you haven't gotten the picture yet, I love Thanksgiving.  To me, it is a generous, welcoming holiday with no other baggage attached to it.  There are no gifts, no obligations, no worries.  And really, cooking for it is really easy.  Basically, you stick a turkey in the oven and you boil water.

Unless you're me. 

If you're me, you give yourself a theme every year.  Last year, all the side dishes were from Silver Palate cookbooks. They are my absolute favorites, and sadly, one of the authors had died.  The year before that, my theme was sweet and savory in the same dish. 

This year, the theme was "the pantry".  I went really simple this year with some hopped up pantry basics.  Corn (but with leeks--holy crap it's so good), peas (but with prosciutto and onions), simple roasted brussels sprouts. 

I think the simplicity of the meal this year was really driven by the fact that November 25th was a completely loaded day.  If you've been a reader for a while, you know that I lost a good friend last year.  He died the night before Thanksgiving so, my big celebration day, was the anniversary of his death (someday remind me to tell you about Halloween).

Every year, there is at least one recipe that is my own creation, and this year I decided that it would be in honor of him.  He was a smart, Southern man who loved a good glass of bourbon.  So that was my inspiration.

And here you have it.

Peel five pounds of yams and cut them in chunks,.
Peel one nice onion and cut in in chunks.

Dump them in your big pot, cover them with water, throw in a good handful of salt and set them on a high flame.  When you poke them with a fork and they fall off the fork, they're done.  Drain them and put them all (yams and onion) back in the pot.  Add two cans of sweet potatoes in light syrup (drained please) and half a can of pumpkin puree (leftover from pumpkin cheesecake) into the pot.  Give it a good pinch of ground ginger and about 1/2 a teaspoon of ground cloves, a stick of unsalted butter and about a cup or so of heavy cream.   Whip it up with your hand mixer until it is smooth as silk.

Now take your big skillet and toss in a bag full of chopped pecans.  Put them over a high flame and toast them just until the kitchen starts to smell like pecans.  Drop them in a little bowl and put the pan back on the flame.  Start melting another stick of unsalted butter. Add about 3/4 cup of brown suger and swirl, swirl, swirl.  Don't stir it.  Just swirl it.  And don't walk away from it.  As soon as your kitchen smells like Willie Wonka has just arrived, you're carmel is golden and you're a little afraid that the sugar is going to burst into flames, turn the stove off and add 3/4 cup heavy cream.  It's going to bubble up like mad but that's a good thing.  Add in a 1/4 cup (or so, ahem) of bourbon.   Turn the flame back on, grab your wisk and melt all the carmel into the cream and bourbon.  Add a little tiny pinch of salt along with the toasted pecans.  Let it simmer for a few minutes until it gets a little thick. You'll know when it's just right.  Take it off the flame and let it cool a little.

Spread half the yams into your big pyrex dish and smooth it was a spatula.  Pour the caramel and nuts over the yams and then top with the rest of the potatoes. 

At this point, you can put it in the fridge until you are ready to finish it.  I made it the day before and it held up great.

When it's about a half an hour before you're going to serve, put the dish in the oven at about 300 or 350 and warm it gently.  Five minutes before you're ready, drizzle the top of the potatoes with some more bourbon (added fire power) and put a scattering of mini marshmallows on top.  Pop it under the broiler and watch it like a hawk.  As soon as the marshmallows catch fire, it's ready.

And it's delicious. 

Almost as good as BadKitten Day 26.  I refuse to fight with YouTube so I'm just giving you a link.

No comments: