Charles Siskin: Welcome To The Holiday (AKA Eating) Season

Monday, November 19, 2012 - by Charles Siskin
 Fresh cranberries ready to be made into relish
Fresh cranberries ready to be made into relish
- photo by Charles Siskin

It’ s here a bit earlier each year but now that the voting blitz has passed the holiday blitz is upon us. My wife was busy yesterday cutting out coupon after coupon and I arrived at our local Belk’s store before the 8 a.m. start time to purchase a new turkey roasting pan. 

We’re enjoying a family Thanksgiving this year with our Iowa family plus a visit from our oldest daughter from Atlanta and close friends whose entire family of five will also be at our table as well. 

My wife called recently to tell me she had seen a recipe for steamed turkey. I tried to visualize steaming a turkey. All I could imagine was this colorless cooked bird sitting forlorn on a platter surrounds by steamed guests. Sure it is healthy but to me not a festive picture nor to my assembled guests who would be thinking of a graceful exit to a nearby restaurant. 

Actually, there are a number of options when it comes to preparing a turkey. One that will remain the most outstanding was the year our late close friend, John Tallman, actually deboned the entire bird and we presented this amazing turkey in tack without bones to our assembled guests who were totally blown away when I began carving this exquisite bird and they realized that , “this turkey ain’t got no bones!”

At my office, Gary, my cooking soul mate, who is also my computer soul mate, I’d be hard pressed to differentiate which is the most important, is a master barbecue maven.

Gary is also a poster boy for the NRA.  He is a true fire arms enthusiast. All types of guns enthusiast. He is my personal Channel 49, aka, the Outdoor Channel. Consequently I am very careful not to criticize Gary when he shows up with pictures of his latest barbecue cooking extravaganza but fails to accompany it with tasting samples. 

Since I was never a big fan of scratch and sniff ads, I can assure you, wonderful readers who occasionally send me complimentary emails, pictures don’t always tell the story. I should point out that Gary’s succulent barbecue beef deserves better than mere pictures.  

I’m thinking that beef needs to be layered between two pieces of white bread just like they do down in Tuscaloosa at Dreamland. An oversize biscuit like your grandma used to bake would be acceptable as well. (Actually my grandma could only make chicken fricassee and who wants to put that between two pieces of white bread?)

Gary built his own smoker and his knowledge of meats is impressive having spent a number of years connected with a large supermarket chain. When he fires up the grill he generally lays down several cuts of meat and ribs. His brisket is excellent. He also makes his own rub which I think is as important as slow cooking the meat. 

With Thanksgiving and Christmas on the horizon smoking a turkey might be a very special non-traditional way of making this holiday a bit more memorable. I know many people have come to expect an oven roasted bird, but it is possible to have both by planning ahead.

Instead of one of those whopper 16 pound suckers, opt for a couple of smaller turkeys. A 6-8 pounder would be ideal, unless you are having a large crowd and then you might want to reconsider the traditional one and go larger. Gary says smaller is better, a man after my heart. 

When it comes to the side dishes to go along with the turkey I’ve noticed that fresh veggies are becoming even more expensive. I realized this the other day roaming around the fresh produce department at the supermarket. I was thinking how I can stretch my dollars by not buying the $3.99 a pound asparagus and instead doing the zucchini as matchsticks. It’s green, too, you know. 

In this era of awareness about not stuffing your family or relatives, I was surprised to read in one newspaper’s Sunday magazine about having several pies plus a cake at your holiday dinner. Gee why stop there, how about large individual bowls of ice cream too?  No wonder obesity isn’t slowing down. Yeah, I know, it’s the holidays so knock off the lecture.

Lectures aside, a dressing heavy on dried fruits and not so much bread to hold it together might be a perfect accompaniment for “Big Bird”.  (Wrong choice of words as the real one has not been axed after all).

A carrot pudding perhaps instead of mashed potatoes would add color and brighten your eyes as well. Of course sweet potatoes are super healthy, if you could just hold down the butter and brown sugar. 

I don’t really have a substitute for a healthy dessert because I’m addicted to sweets throughout the holiday season. There is little I would turn away from my dessert plate but one dessert would really suffice.  Honestly most people aren’t fans of pumpkin pie so at my house we might have our sweet potatoes as a pie instead.

We have a lot to be thankful for here at our house this year as do many of you, however let’s not forget those poor hurricane victims many of whom lost everything. Perhaps the money you might spend on that extra dessert could be sent to one of the many relief funds or to the Wounded Warrior fund as well. 

As we say over here on the coast, “have a blessed holiday season.” 

Cranberry Relish

The nice thing about this recipe is that the relish will keep for a period of time so it can be used for Thanksgiving as well as over the Chanukah-Christmas Holidays as well.

Ingredients
2 packages (32 oz) fresh cranberries rinsed
1 to 2 cups packed brown sugar (depends on how sweet or tart you like your relish)
1 small sweet onion diced
½ cup raisins 
½ cup water (add more as needed)
2 teaspoons cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (optional)
¼ cup dark or white Balsamic vinegar

Preparation
Heat brown sugar and water and stir until sugar is dissolved
Add cranberries and diced onion plus cinnamon and ginger cover and simmer
The cranberries will begin to pop, don’t uncover until the popping stops.  If you need to stir then take off heat and let sit for a moment so when you do remove the top berries don’t splatter you. Best to just shake the pot with top on.
Let simmer and keep stirring or shaking so mixture doesn’t stick 
Add raisins and vinegar and continue to simmer- a slight bubble is good.
Taste at some point but be careful you don’t burn your finger or tongue as the mixture will be seriously hot
Correct or adjust seasoning as needed.
Store in glass jars.  Makes a nice house gift for the holiday hostess as well. 

Afterthought:  Before sealing the jars you might want to add some pecan or walnut pieces which makes it even more festive!

Gary’s Rub for Barbecue Turkey
Ingredients can be adjusted according to the size of your turkey 
¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
¼ cup sweet paprika
3 tablespoons ground black pepper
3 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons celery seeds
1 teaspoon cayenne powder

Rub the turkey both on the outside and inside of the skin with the mix and let sit for several hours before putting in your smoker.

charlessiskin@mediacombb.net




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