Sunday, November 25, 2007

Home again, home again: Mexican Turkey Dinner Featuring Stuffed Kohlrabi

So we landed in Baltimore on Saturday without event. Let me just say that the pre-Thanksgiving mania seemed designed to whip everyone into a frenzy over the potential travel nightmares that were sure to ensue. Well, our experience was fortunately nothing but smooth (except for that accident at 11:00 p.m. on MD Route 50 that HALTED traffic for an hour as we were on our way to my sister's to spend the night nearer to the airport on Wednesday night, but that is all but forgotten, really!). In fact, even though I live in Washington, DC and always prefer National Airport because of it's proximity, after this trip, I'd definitely choose BWI over Dulles if the flights out of National are too expensive. Our main worry was that since we were flying out on Thanksgiving morning, BWI's long term parking lot might have been full (it wasn't), but then we saw on a CNN travel report that it's possible to reserve a parking spot at a satellite lot that isn't affiliated with the airport. A quick google search later, we had reserved parking at Park 'n' Go and when we arrived at the parking lot (at 5:00 a.m.!) the shuttle bus was driving around the parking lot, picking up passengers and handing out slips of paper indicating where you'd parked. On the return, we were the only ones on our shuttle so we were promptly dropped off at our car, and on our way out of the lot in mere minutes. There was no waiting for an airport shuttle, no trying to remember where we'd parked, and no schlepping our stuff back to our car. For $7.60/day, it was cheaper than parking at the airport facility and the service was as good as a taxi!

So, in a rather buyoant mood, we decided to stop at our favorite organic grocery store, David's in Odenton, MD. This place is a welcome alternative to the frenzy of shopping at Whole Paycheck, but frankly I'm not sure how this store stays in business. It's a full size grocery store in a small town where there really doesn't seem to be a strong market for organics, but I must be wrong because the place has been a going concern for a number of years and has two other locations. Not surprisingly there were few people shopping on Saturday early evening of Thanksgiving weekend, so we had the store to ourselves. Let me say that because I get the bulk of my groceries delivered by Peapod (which I will never give up because it's so convenient) and I usually shop at my local farmers market on the weekend, I actually like to visit the brick and mortar stores for the hands on experience of it all. If I've got the time, I like to go up and down every aisle, seeing what's new and comparison shopping and picking up new items that I've read about but haven't yet tried. This trip it was agave nectar which is a stand in for honey I gather.

When we happened by the meat case, what did we see but the free range, never frozen turkeys! Ruefully, I recalled our braised 25 pound butterball that was delicious but all the leftovers went to my cousin. I started inspecting and moving around the smaller 11 pound birds (which would have been perfect for our Thanksgiving for eight down in Orlando, BTW). Half-kidding my partner says to me, "We should get one. I love turkey and we don't have any leftovers this year." Not believing he was serious I said, "But we just had turkey. Do you really want more?" Then, recalling that I have a Mexican cookbook with a roast turkey recipe, I got excited about roasting the turkey but going in a different direction and not really repeating the whole mashed potatoes and gravy, bread stuffing, green beans and canned cranberry sauce thing. And kudos to my partner for pushing his point. After all my catterwauling about not getting to really cook much this year, he offered me the opportunity to make a turkey dinner after all! And going with a Mexican theme would guarantee no repeats from last week.

Normally I'd have started with the brining the the night before, but after getting home and winding down all I wanted was to have something light to eat and call it a day, which turned out to be leftover homemade pizza with smoked mozzarella, sliced turkey cutlet and artichokes. Feeling tired of course didn't stop me from poring over my cookbooks to come up with a menu. In addition to the above mentioned Mexican Cookbook by Sue Style, I also have Rick Bayless's Mexico One Plate at a Time, both of which are go to sources for my Mexican repertoire. Following Sue's recipes is like cooking with your favorite aunt. She's knowledgeable, a bit bossy even, but she knows her stuff. (Think Giada de Laurentiis being schooled by her Aunt Raffie.) Sue's book has a certain formalism to how things are supposed to be done and she's right there to guide you through the steps and let you know what to expect as you cook. Plus she is well beyond introducing recipes for the familiars that we've all seen at our local "Mexican" restaurants. She has at least eight recipes for chiles rellenos, only one of which is breaded, fried, and filled with cheese. In fact I've marked off a bunch of her recipes that use ingredients like chard, kohlrabi, and cauliflower, as well as avocado used for something besides guacamole or salad.

I soon settled on an ambitious menu but I'm a perpetual early riser and was genuinely looking forward to getting started in the morning. My menu would be:
  • Pavo al horno (Roast Turkey) with an orange sauce and sausage stuffing
  • Enchiladas de alcega (Corn tortillas filled with chard)
  • Chayotes Rellenos de Veracruz (Stuffed chayote though the recipe also suggested kohlrabi)
  • Wild rice blend

I chose this menu because I had most of the ingredients on hand or knew that I could get them from the Dupont Farmers Market on Sunday. I'd never made any of these recipes before, and all are a complete departure from anything I've ever seen served at Thanksgiving. Surprisingly they all came from Sue Style's book, as I discovered in my perusals that Rick's is short on vegetable side dishes. I can't remember the last time I prepared any meal let alone such an ambitious one, using a single source. Partly it was dictated by the fact that I'd had four kohlrabi kicking around in my vegetable drawer and knew that I could find onions, chard and even fresh tomatoes at the market.

The first three dishes are all "al horno," which like the Italian "al forno" just means cooked in the oven. I thought I'd be saving some time by preparing the two sides after putting the turkey in the oven, but alas my partner and I ended up hitting the gym after I put the bird in the oven, and even though I'd prepped some of the other dishes, the interlude at the gym set me back with moving things along. Anyway the sausage stuffing wasn't cooking so quickly so had to be removed from the turkey cavity and cooked separately. This was all OK as the results were all really outstanding! I LOVED all the dishes especially the sausage stuffing. This from a man who grew up on bread stuffing and only recently moved toward cornbread stuffing. The sausage stuffing was made with one pound of sage sausage that I removed from it casing and mixed that with the cooked combo of garlic, tomato, onion, raisins, apple, banana(!), and almonds. This stuffing went perfectly with the wild rice mixture. The stuffing had sweetness, crunch and richness from the pork fat that was a perfect complement to the rice. I continue to be fascinated by the combination of fruit with meat in so many dishes. (I love to make a braised beef rib recipe that has apricots and prunes in its sauce.) The banana just melted into the stuffing and only contributed a bit of sweetness, while the other fruits provided a wonderfully subtle sweetness that contrasted to the richness of the sausage.

I ended up making the enchiladas with "vitamin greens," as my favorite green grocer at the market was out of chard, though vitamin greens looked and tasted just like Swiss chard. It's a simple preparation that begins with making salsa de jitomate (tomato sauce). If you've ever felt like making Italian style tomato sauce was a bit of a labor, Mexican style sauce is much easier. Instead of sauteing your sofrito in olive oil you char the onions (skinned and sliced in half through the root end) under the broiler for ten minutes along with garlic cloves in their skins and jalapenos to taste, turning halfway through to cook evenly. Chop the onion into large chunks, peel the garlic and jalapeno(s), and place all into a blender. Add two 28 ounce cans of whole tomatoes and puree. Heat about two tablespoons of olive oil to near smoking in a four quart sauce pan. Add the sauce all at once being careful not to splash yourself with the hot oil. The mixture will sizzle and roil and then settle down. Cook for at least 10 minutes on medium until the sauce thickens and bubbles like lava.

The stuffed kohlrabi was also delicious. After boiling the kohlrabi for 20 minutes to tenderize them and then cooling in ice water, I sliced off the tops and bottoms (so they would sit flat in the baking dish) and scooped out the flesh leaving about a quarter inch intact to hold the stuffing. This scooped out flesh was added to onion and garlic sweated in olive oil and finished with half a small can of tomatoes or one medium chopped tomato. Sue recommends pureeing this cooked mixture in a food processor with two eggs and a quarter pound of crumbly cheese (I used feta). However, I don't like things pureed to the consistency of baby food, so I coarsely mashed the mixture with my potato masher and then stirred in the eggs and cheese. I filled the hollowed out kohlrabi with the mixture and topped with some additional cheese. Baked at 350 degrees for half an hour, the stuffed kohlrabi was delicioso! Buen Provecho!

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