As I mentioned in the master roundup of last week's consumption, Thanksgiving Day was an uncharacteristically small affair for us, just DPaul and me. For years, DPaul has lamented that we don't get to cook a Thanksgiving dinner of our own, but the reason is not necessarily what you might think. His beef is that, since we are eating Thanksgiving at other people's houses, we don't get the pick of the leftovers, and therefore never have the proper makings for what is in his estimation the most important part of the Thanksgiving meal: The sandwich composed of cold turkey pulled from the bone, a sweet-tart smear of jellied cranberry sauce (from the can, thank you very much) and a sizable dollop of stuffing. Well this year, things were different.
But as it was just us, a whole bird would have been an abomination. No one needs that much leftover turkey hanging around, even if you do get a year's worth of use out of it. We opted for a good-sized turkey breast, far more manageable.
Several weeks ago, DPaul tried marinating a half a chicken in pomegranate juice, and then roasting it. The result was quite good, so we decided to try the same thing with the turkey breast. We started with one whole pomegranate, extracting the arils.
Too often on cooking shows I've seen this stupid method for removing the arils from a pomegranate. They cut the thing into quarters, then invert the cut side and tap the rind with a wooden spoon or something heavy, dislodging the seeds one at a time. Aside from being phenomenally tedious, this strikes me as being a really good way to make a big mess. There is a much, much easier way. Score your pomegranate several times longitudinally, just enough to weaken the skin. In a big bowl of water, submerge the pomegranate and pull it apart. Then, gently work the arils out from the pith. Aside from preventing geyser-like sprays of the most stainariffic juice on earth, the water has an added benefit: The seeds drop to the bottom, and the pith floats. Once you've gotten all the arils out, just skim off the pith and drain the bowl.
(Photos: DPaul Brown)
Once we had our pomegranate all separated, DPaul ran the seeds through the food processor, making a brilliant magenta paste. This went into a big Ziploc bag along with the turkey breast, skin removed. A couple hours later, we were rewarded with this gorgeously purple piece of meat, that looked strangely cardiac, like the heart of a humpback whale.
Now, while this makes for a lovely color and a gentle sweetness (it doesn't penetrate very deeply -- if we had marinated for longer I am sure we would have gotten more), it does little or nothing to protect the white meat from going dry, which of course on turkey takes little more than a furrowed brow and a scowl. We had removed the skin so as to marinate. When in doubt when it comes to moistening dry meat, we always turn to our friend the pig.
Bacon. I mean seriously, is there anything it doesn't make better? I suppose maybe dessert, but until proven otherwise I'm skeptical. Our baconated purple heart went onto a bed of aromatic veggies in a big pan, and into the oven.
Of course, with just a breast there's not really anything to stuff (I know, you can stuff a breast, but we didn't.), so we did stuffing on the side. We combined the remains of an Acme loaf we had been working on all week that had gone just stale enough and half of a cornbread that we made specially for the occasion, along with some sweet Italian sausage, cubed butternut squash and other typical veggies and -- yes -- bacon.
Next in the parade of bacon-enhanced foods came the Brussels sprouts. This is a vegetable that I didn't learn to love until my adult years. This is remarkable, because I was one of those weird children who actually liked vegetables, really more than meat. There were very few that I could not tolerate, much less actively love, and Brussels sprouts topped that list for the first three decades of my life. That is, until our friend Kathleen made them for us once. Whereas every sprout I had had in my life up until that point had been boiled, releasing copious amounts of stinky, cabbagey gas, Kathleen roasted her sprouts, quartered and tossed with a little olive oil and, most importantly, bacon.
This was a revelation. For the first time, Brussels sprouts took on a rich, earthy, smoky flavor, and retained their firm texture instead of going all squidgy. Brussels sprouts catapulted from rock-bottom to one of my favorite vegetables in no time flat.
Our sprouts ended up being a tad overdone, which is perfectly fine by both of us. They were crunchy and delicious. In fact, we were remarking that the individual leaves that had shed off were especially crispy and delicious, perfect maybe for a salad. Are you listening, Carlos?
OK, so we cheated on dessert, but we had already spent all day cooking our own dinner, and were all set to spend a chunk of time Friday to make a bunch of pies for that day's orphan's Thanksgiving at our friend Hugh's. And anyway, the little pumpkin cheesecake and lemon tart from Noe Valley Bakery so did not suck.
All in all, a delicious, quasi-traditional meal and a romantic evening for two. And the best part?