Blessings, thanks and giving

I’m in a tiny cottage cooking Thanksgiving dinner for four.  The cottage consists of a sizeable kitchen, though ill-equipped, a table laden with blown-open apricot tulips and four slip-covered Parson chairs.  The living room hasn’t yet been furnished, waiting patiently for a fresh coat of paint. The bedroom is as sparse a monk’s sleeping quarters, only a bed in the middle of the room and a pile of candles to illuminate the night.

It is with this simplicity that I find a comforting sense of luxury. It’s a place where I come to as often  as I can to set aside the distractions of a too-fast paced life back home. I gratefully settle into the spaciousness of big sky nights and days that ask only that I stop and savor the beauty before me.

Yountville is a sleepy little farm town that has become home to some of the best chefs in the country.  Thomas Keller’s French Laundry is just a stone’s throw away.  My morning walk takes me over a creek bed to where I pause at a meticulously cared for urban garden across from the restaurant. Seasonal ingredients plucked from the earth will soon end up transformed into art and offering, providing soulful sustenance to the lucky guests who have secured a coveted seat at Mr. Keller’s table for the night.   I continue my sunrise journey, fed by the scent of freshly baking bread at another Keller creation and destination, Bouchon Bakery.  Loyal locals and out of town guests stand at the counter in casual conversation, waiting for their morning caffe, admiring the array of delectable desserts that have just come out of the kitchen.  Today, pumpkin brioche and bourbon pecan pie is the most popular order of the day. 

Bistro Jeanty is just a short walk up the way. It’s a popular place for the neighborhood foodie folk to gather.  This inviting and authentic French brasserie welcomes weekly regulars and worn out wine-tasting tourists daily with chilled glasses of bubbly and a tray of briny local oysters harvested from a bay not too far away.

There are other places in town to sip and savor, but these are just a few of the many that never cease to please.   And yet, for me, there is nothing more soothing and satisfying than coming home to my own kitchen to cook for the ones I love.  
I don’t think I’ve ever cooked a thanksgiving meal in my lifetime and yet somehow, this year, it feels just right.  I didn’t belabor the menu or concern myself with fanfare. This is going to be a simple feast.

Roasted turkey bones bubbling down to a savory stock.  Shitake mushrooms and apples sautéing with chopped bits of pancetta will become the stuffing of a butterflied turkey breast. Quince & cranberry sit simmering in a saucepan on the stove; hints of Ceylon cinnamon wafting through the house. These are the scents of someone who loves to cook and who can’t wait to share a meal with loved ones and treasured friends. I am thankful for the many blessings and grateful for this humble home away from home .

May you and your family & friends enjoy the blessings and bounty this day of Thanks and giving.
 Buon appetito!

Quince & Cranberry Sauce

12 ounce fresh cranberries
1 quince, peeled, cored + diced*
½ cup organic cane sugar
juice of 2 clementines {or 1 orange}
2 ½ cups organic apple juice
1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise
pinch of cinnamon

Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over low heat until the mixture starts bubbling, about 10-15 minutes.  Turn heat down to a simmer and cook until the quince is tender and the syrup has reduced into a nicely thickened sauce.  Taste for sweetness and seasoning.  Remove from heat and cool.  Serve at room temperature.

* I save the cores from the quince and cook them with my turkey broth.  

Roasted Butterflied Turkey Breast with Chestnut Sausage + Stuffing

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Have your butcher  remove the whole breast of the turkey from the breast bone. Leave the skin on the breast and reserve the bones for broth. 

4# Turkey breast, boned and butterflied, skin on
8 Tablespoons butter, cut into 1 Tablespoon pats
4  large fresh sage leaves
1 Tablespoon Citrus Fennel Salt
1 Teaspoon pepper
3 cups stuffing mixture

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

When ready to stuff the breast, open the breast and lay flat, skin side up, on a cutting board.  Loosen the skin around the breast and place 4 pats of butter inside each breast.  On top of the butter, nicely arrange 2 leaves flat under the skin of each breast. Turn the breast over carefully so it is skin side down.  Season the breast meat with half of the Citrus Fennel salt and pepper.  Place about 3 cups stuffing on the breast and spread evenly from end to end, leaving 2 inches uncovered on each end.  In the middle of the breast where there is no meat, place two sausages*  over the stuffing mixture.  Starting at one end, roll up the turkey breast tightly like a jellyroll.  With butcher’s string, tie up the breast tightly from end to end so it stays together and won’t fall apart during cooking.  Place in a roasting pan or on a roasting rack.  Place in the middle rack of the oven and cook for 15 minutes, until the skin begins to brown.  Turn the heat down to 350 degrees and continue cooking until the turkey is cooked through.  It takes approx. 20 minutes per pound. Check the temperature at least 30 minutes before you think it is done to not accidentally overcook.  The internal temperature should read about 165 degrees.  Remove the pan from the oven and let the turkey cool before slicing.

To make the pan juices, place the pan over medium heat.  Add 2 cups of turkey broth to the pan, scraping up the bits on the bottom with a wooden spatula or spoon.  Add the cooked shitake mushrooms {1/2 cup} reserved from the stuffing.  Cook the sauce over medium low heat it is reduced to a nicely thick consistency.

 To learn more about how to tie up meat or poultry using butcher’s string, go HERE

*Sausage for the stuffing is optional.  I found locally made boudin sausage with chestnuts from one of my favorite butchers, The Fatted Calf,  at the Oxbow Public Market in Napa.

Pancetta + shitake mushroom Turkey Stuffing

4 cups of cubed bread, a mixture of whole wheat and sour dough.
3 oz. pancetta, cut into small pieces {apple wood bacon is a good substitute}
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter + 2 Tablespoons butter
1 cup diced yellow onion {save the skins for stock}
1 -1/2 cups of chopped celery stalks {use the tender inner stalks and leaves}
1 apple, cored and chopped into a coarse dice
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1  cup sliced shitake mushrooms, stems removed and reserved for stock,  and sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon citrus fennel salt
½ cup apple juice
3 cups turkey broth *
1 whole egg

Place the bread stuffing mix into a large bowl. 
In a large sauté pan, cook the pancetta with 4 Tablespoons butter over medium low heat until the pancetta fat begins to render out and the butter is melted.  Add the onion, celery, apple, sage, garlic, salt and pepper to the pan.  Cook until the mixture is soft, but not browned, stirring often to keep the mixture from sticking to the pan.  When done, remove from the heat and place the mixture in the bowl with the bread stuffing mix.  Put the pan back on the stove and heat the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter.  Add the mushrooms, a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook over medium high heat until the mushrooms are nice and browned and all of the liquid has cooked off.  Reserve half of the mushrooms for the gravy and the remaining mushrooms to the bowl of stuffing mixture with the fennel salt.  Pour in the apple juice and turkey broth. Mix well until the bread stuffing mixture is well coated. Add an egg and mix well until the egg is incorporated into the mixture.  Taste for seasoning.
Place half of the mixture into an oven-proof baking dish and reserve half for stuffing the turkey breast.  Top the stuffing mixture in the baking dish with a few pats of butter. An hour before ready to serve, place the baking dish into a 350 degree oven and cook until the stuffing is warmed and the top is nice and browned, about 35-45 minutes.

Turkey Broth

Place the turkey breast bones on a sheet pan with a few stalks of celery and chopped carrots. Drizzle with a splash of olive oil.  Roast the bones until they are browned and the vegetables are caramelized.  Remove the pan from the oven and place the bones and vegetables into a stockpot with the shitake mushroom stems*.  Add the reserved onion skins and sage stems from the stuffing ingredients {or a quartered yellow onion} and fill the pot with cold water until it generously covers the bones.  Place the pot on the stove over medium heat until the broth begins to boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer until the liquid reduces by one third. This will take about an hour, depending on your heat.  Strain the broth and bones into a colander. Reserve the broth for the dressing and gravy. Don’t disgard the bones! Put them back in the pot, add the cooked vegetables and 1 quart of store-bought organic chicken stock. Cook over medium heat for about an hour.   Today’s stock, tomorrow’s soup.   Serve with cooked wide-ribbon egg noodles and plenty of buttered bread.

I’m not always frugal when it comes to food, but I don’t like to waste a thing in my kitchen.  

*optional, if  not using mushrooms.

Buon appetito!

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