Friday, November 27, 2009

pistachio macaroon and a turkey-filled afternoon

Thanksgiving in Austin, although a short-lived affair, was a holiday to remember full of culinary cheer. After a fully-pampering morning complete with facials and hairstylings (oh my!), my mom and I met my aunt at the quaint Walton's Fancy and Staple cafe and general store to fulfill all of our lunch-bound dreams.

We began staring in awe at the frosted clear case full of sweet delights, fresh-made salads and snacks. Mom opted for a freshly-made egg salad on wheat with a mixed field greens salad with pomegranate. My aunt chose deli ham on pretzel bread and soup of the day: Niman Ranch pork chili. I was craving a bit of spice- the spicybird sandwich with chewy whole grain, wood grilled chicken, roasted tomato and an avocado spread was the natur
al choice.

After our delectable sandwiches, my mom and aunt split an individual pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream- tender crust and not too sweet. I was eyeing the Parisian macaroons all afternoon- between vanilla pumpkin and pistachio blackberry, I went for the pistachio macaroon with blackberry buttercream- delish.

After an eventful day, I hit the hay early with visions of Thanksgiving delights (and a full day of cooking) lurking in my head. I awoke to begin the feast! First things first- getting our herb and garlic marinated turkey in the oven. After our valiant main course was roasting away, I created a flavorful, beautiful and "easy as pie" appetizer to prepare:

Toasted Hazelnuts with Thyme, Orange Rind and Garlic
1.5 c hazelnuts
julienned rind of 1 medium orange (To do this, peel your orange zest with a peeler careful not to include the white pith. Carefully cut portions into 1/8 inch thick slices.)
1 T olive oil
1 t red pepper flakes
1 T honey
1 T turbinado sugar
1 T fresh thyme leaves
salt to taste
Heat olive oil in a saute pan on medium heat. Add red pepper flakes, orange rind slices and thyme. Saute to release natural oils. Add hazelnuts and toast with aromatics until fragrant. Add honey, turbinado and salt- toss to combine. Spread warm mixture on a sheet pan to dry out, approximately 30 minutes.

Along with this simple hors d'œuvre, I made a rich, decadent side dish to dismiss any cravings for plain ole' mashed taters.
Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese with Smoked Gouda Sage Béchamel and Panko Breadcrumbs
For this rich cheese sauce, I first made a classic béchamelwith simmered whole milk, white roux and an onion piquet to impart a subtle flavor (onion half with a clove-pierced bay leaf attached). After my béchamel thickened, I added shredded smoked gouda, white cheddar, parmesan, salt, pepper and fresh chopped sage. This sauce was combined with al dente elbow macaroni and chunks of roasted butternut squash with crispy sage. I then spread the mixture in two casserole dishes and topped them with panko and shredded parmesan to bake until brown and bubbly.

After creating such a rich dish, I created my second dish with an attempt to impart flavors through cooking techniques and fresh ingredients with minimal fat:
Roasted Brussel Sprouts with a Balsamic Reduction and Pomegranate

This dish was so incredibly delicious! I cleaned and halved my brussels then tossed them in a light coasting of olive oil and salt. I roasted these at 400 degrees, tossing frequently for approximately an hour until crispy and browned. For the balsamic reduction, I reduced a cup of balsamic vinegar with salt and a bit of sugar until reduced my half and syrupy. To plate this dish, I spooned the reduction over the crispy brussels then topped them with sweet, tangy pomegranate seeds.

For dessert, I took the easy route and no one suspected! After running tight on time, I decided on using puff pastry for my pastry dough instead of a homemade, flaky tart crust.

Asian Pear, Candied Ginger and Maple Tart

The flavor combinations in this tart were quite nice. I'm not a fan of overly sweet desserts so the combination of tart pears, spicy sweet crystallized ginger, syrupy maple and buttery puff pastry was intoxicating!

I began by thinly slicing my pears, slicing my crystallized ginger and defrosting the puff pastry. After rolling out the puff pastry, I brushed the intended fruit area with maple syrup. Next, I carefully arranged my pears and topped them with slices of candied ginger and a sprinkling of turbinado sugar. Before hitting the oven, I brushed the crust edges with an egg wash. This tart baked at 375 degrees for approximately 40 minutes. While still warm, I glazed the tart with heated apricot preserves for shine. Voila!

After packing the car with our finished dishes (don't forget Mr. Turkey!), we headed to my Aunt and Uncle's home for a lovely evening. Along with my contributions, our incredible Thanksgiving spread also included:

Sweet Corn Pudding
Green Bean Casserole
Cranberry Orange Relish
Cranberry Sauce
Cornbread Stuffing
Waldorf Salad
Brown Sugar Pecan Sweet Potatoes
Ginger Orange Sweet Potatoes
Soft White Rolls
Parmesan Cheese Straws
Raspberry Cream Pie
Pumpkin Layered Cake
Lemon Pound Cake

What's Thanksgiving without taking advantage of hefty leftovers the next day? For an impromptu brunch with my parents, I assembled a quick fix that was nothing less than delightful:

Thanksgiving Turkey Melt with White Cheddar, Hot Pepper Jam, Cranberry, Red Onion and Carrots

On thick slices of wheat bread, I spread hot pepper jam and arranged turkey slices with white cheddar on top. These toasted at 400 degrees for about 5 minutes then were topped with jellied cranberry slices, thin-sliced red onion and shredded carrots. Yum!

That evening, my entire extended family was in desperate need of a post-Thanksgiving Tex-Mex fix! We met at Dos Salsas, a family-owned joint in Georgetown and waited for a table amongst space heaters and sweet margaritas with a splash of orange juice to also keep us warm.
Although I ordered a Tex Mex combo, I was instead content with my Aunt Becky's tortilla soup and pulled chicken flautas complete with ripe avocado slices. Everything was delicious- especially our honey-soaked sopapilla ending.

Once back to the real world in Fort Worth, it was time for my culinary school final! a notion that was so surreal to me until I finally accomplished it! After our written final, my class trooped into the kitchen for challenging-timed technique drills including: knife drills, roux making, whipped cream, french onion soup, eggs benedict, 45 second no-spatula omelette, risotto and a poached chicken tarragon entree complete with a stark white sauce.
The final went well and I was thrilled! Beside my hollandaise being a bit thin- everything else was fabulous! A champagne toast to celebrate was a perfect ending to our final and yet another big venture in my life.



L A C E Y said...

so after these finals, are you done with culinary school??

everything on here looks so good. you are soo talented and creative!

Callie Salls said...

Thank you Ms. Lacey! Yes, i'm finished with school now! I really appreciated your sweet Christmas card. Let's grab drinks after the holidays!