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A Colorado Thanksgiving

by AliMargo on December 2, 2014

Growing up in a Jewish family with parents who are atheists but intelligent enough to tell people they’re agnostic, Thanksgiving was always the biggest holiday of the year because of it’s pleasantly secular nature. Not only did my mom write off God, she was also not a big fan of cooking, especially for a large group of people.

“It’s my holiday too,” she’d say. “Why should I have to slave over a hot oven all day?”

She’d order several side dishes from a caterer in West Hartford that we’d pick up the morning of. She did cook the turkey in-house so “It would at least smell like Thanksgiving,” but she loved the ease of simply having to heat things up. No one ever complained because the food was delicious (it was prepared by a professional after all) and because we admired her hutzpah. All our crazy relatives from New York would come and everyone argued about politics or kvetched about their various ailments and neurosis. It was kind of like a Woody Allen movie–if we’d had a camera, all we would’ve had to do was hit “play.”

Ryan and I love to cook, and we definitely love to eat (thus the married woman’s version of “the freshman 15” that has affixed itself to my belly, butt and hips in the three years I’ve been married). Since we bought our first home in 2011, we’ve been proudly hosting Thanksgiving at the Margo A-Frame. When my mother announced, in her typical no-holds-barred fashion that she “does not like Thanksgiving dinner” I took that as a challenge to create something extra special that might balance the overload of rich, savory dishes that she doesn’t like. The first thing that came to mind was “spicy.” The second thing was “southwest.” Basalt, Colorado might not exactly be considered southwest, but considering we’re within driving distance to Santa Fe I put on my best Rick Bayless face and created a menu I love so much we’ve made it for three years running.

APPETIZER
Tuna Tartare with Mango Pomegranate Guacamole and Pumpkin Tortilla Chips

Pomegranate, mango and herbs ready to be folded into the guacamole

 

My first year hosting Thanksgiving, I was horrified when everyone ate and had cleared the table in 30 minutes. Since then, I serve my meal in courses and require everyone to sit for at least an hour. I invented this appetizer course for my mother: it’s light, flavorful, colorful and the sushi grade tuna is a delicacy people really enjoy. I know it’s not a typical Thanksgiving dish, but I don’t really care. The mango is an unexpected twist that provides a little sweetness and tang and the pomegranate seeds are not only beautiful, but sort of pop in your mouth for a texture that evokes memories of the Pop Rocks of our childhood (crazy to think candy like that was on the shelves).

 

INGREDIENTS 

For the tuna tartare:
1 lb sushi grade ahi tuna
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp lime zest
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp Asian chili garlic sauce
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds or Gomasio

Carefully chop tuna into bite size pieces with a very sharp knife, about 1/2″ and combine ingredients in stainless steel bowl and set aside to marinate.

Pomegranate Mango Guacamole
3-4 large ripe avocados
1 cup chopped mango (I used frozen because mangos are out of season)
1 cup pomegranate seed
2 tbsp cilantro
1 tsp mint
1/2 cup chopped white onion
the juice of 1 lime
course sea salt to taste (about 1 tsp)

Mash avocados with fork, leaving chunks. Fold in all the other ingredients to combine. Squeeze in the juice of one lime and add salt to taste.

To assemble the dish, use a round cookie cutter 2-3″ (if you don’t have one of these, you can cut the top off a beer can and use that, or whatever you have around the house that is hollow and cylindrical). Using a small spoon, fill in with guacamole about halfway (1″ tall or so) and then top with tuna. Pull the cookie cutter so you are left with a nicely shaped stack of avocado with the tuna on top. I use store bought pumpkin tortilla chips, which are often on sale at supermarkets around the holidays.

SALAD COURSE
Southwest Ensalada Especial with Maple Peach Vinaigrette

The acidity from the citrus dressing and peppery greens make this salad a nice counterpoint to all the rich and savory dishes to follow.

 

I love mixed greens and especially arugula with a savory meal. To make this salad special, I roast red, green and yellow pepper on the grill. Once it’s charred, I pop it into a ziplock bag to make it easier to peel. I’ll leave a little char on there for that charcoal grill flavor. You can play with the vinaigrette using different citrus like orange juice or lime juice.

 

 

 

 

INGREDIENTS
1 red bell pepper, 1 yellow bell pepper, 1 green bell pepper, roasted
roasted corn (I buy mine frozen at Whole Foods)
mixed spring greens
arugula
cherry tomatoes
sliced cucumbers
shaved manchego cheese

Combine all ingredients into large bowl except the cheese. Save that for plating.

Maple Peach Vinaigrette
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup peach balsamic vinegar (you can also use regular balsamic)
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp dried tarragon
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together in small bowl and toss with salad. Plate individually and top with Manchego cheese shavings. 

MAIN COURSE
Adobo Turkey with Red Chili Gravy

Rub the Adobo sauce all over the turkey before roasting and set aside 1/2 cup for gravy.

I found this recipe on Epicurious.com and love it so much we’ve made it three years running. The Adobo turns the turkey a beautiful red color and lends a complex flavor to what is otherwise a simple white meat. We use organic turkey (we find it has much better flavor and is still not that expensive) and brine it for at least 24 hours submerged in a bucket of water, orange juice, brown sugar and several spices, though I think the water, sugar and salt is the most important parts of the brine. You can throw all kinds of stuff into your brine: onions, oranges, peppercorns, and almost any dry herb you want. The best part of this recipe is the Adobo Red Chili gravy, which is made by combining your adobo sauce with regular gravy. We take our leftover turkey and marinate it in the gravy overnight for turkey enchiladas we make the next day. You can make your adobo sauce up to a week in advance. What makes it special are the roasting of whole spices and the dried guajillo and ancho chilis which are soaked and blended with garlic and oil (we were only able to find at them at a local Mexican market, so research this in advance). I also add a little orange juice to my adobo. Click here for the Adobo Turkey recipe.

Ryan is very masterful at carving and thought to add a little sage garnish.

 

SIDES
White Cheddar Sage Mashed Potatoes
This is the first year I made this dish and it was to-die-for. Another Epicurious.com find, it is not my recipe but it basically combines sage, butter, whipping cream, milk, and sharp white cheddar cheese. The combination of the cheddar and the sage is blissfull and so flavor packed I found myself spreading a little bit on each bite of turkey like butter on bread. This is not a light dish–it is packed with fat–but even Apple (the nickname we have for my mother, long story) loved it and didn’t ask, “How much butter is in this?” and didn’t make a face of disapproval, so that is success in my book.

Making the sage butter for the mashed potatoes ... yummmm

BLUE CORNBREAD AND SHRIMP STUFFING

The blue cornbread with serrano chili combined with shrimp give this dish a deeper, more complex flavor profile than your average stuffing.

 

The stuffing is my star dish. It is the most unusual stuffing I’ve ever eaten and I don’t think  I’ll ever stop  making it. What makes it really special is the blue cornbread I make from scratch in a big skillet. It’s made with serrano peppers and plenty of fat–a 1/2 cup of butter and a 1/2 cup of shortening–but the blue corn gives it a denser, stronger corn flavor than yellow corn does and is not quite so sweet. The savory, spicy bread is the perfect backdrop for the brininess of the shrimp (I buy fresh, wild caught shrimp at Whole Foods–the best quality I can find). The recipe calls for deglazing your onion/carrot/celery mixture with bourbon but we didn’t have any, so I used spiced rum instead and it was insanely delicious.  This is another Epicurious find, though part of a whole wild turkey recipe, and likely over the years I will start to modify and adapt it to make it my own. Last year, we substituted olive oil for the shortening, but this year we found a natural shortening at Whole Foods made from palm oil and coconut oil and it made a big difference in the texture of the cornbread. Email me: alisonmargo@gmail.com if you want the recipe.

Not Just Cranberry Sauce
This is another recipe I’ve improvised and added to over the years. It started with a cranberry pineapple chili sauce, but has evolved now to include cherries. My mother-in-law loves sour cherries, so I figured, why not? It’s still the same basic cranberry sauce recipe: combine a bag of fresh cranberries, a bag of fresh cherries (be sure to remove pits), 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water and simmer over medium high heat in large saucepan. Then add 2 finely chopped jalapeño peppers, 1-2 cups fresh chopped pineapple (I just cut up a fresh pineapple and use what I get) and simmer until sauce thickens. Remove from heat and let cool before adding chopped cilantro and mint (2 -3 tbsp cilantro and maybe 2 tsp mint). The result is a beautiful deep red berry sauce that has a little kick, a little zing, a little sweetness and can be eaten with just about anything, almost like chutney. You can make this dish up to a week in advance.

DESSERT
Berkley Bought Pie
Because enough is enough already …. once dinner is over, you just want to lie on your back and let the bloat go down ….

A FEW OTHER THINGS I’VE LEARNED
1) Don’t try to do everything at once.
This year I was the most organized I’ve ever been. I spread the cooking over three days and made everything I could in advance: the adobo sauce, the blue cornbread for the stuffing, and the cranberry sauce.

2) Prep and organize your ingredients in advance
This was the first year I did this. I chopped my veggies, pre-measured my herbs and spices, cleaned my shrimp, shredded my cheese, peeled and cut my potatoes and stored them either in small bowls or ziplock bags. Then, when I went to cook, I had everything ready. It made the process a lot more fun and a lot less tedious because the mindset of prepping and cooking are two totally different things.

3) Clean up often and a lot
Normally I am like a tornado in the kitchen but this year I made a great effort to keep my mis en place clean, even if it meant rinsing my cutting board 4 or 5 times with every dish. It made a huge difference, not only in my food, but in my state of mind.

4) Use your line cooks
I know I tend to get a little bossy in the kitchen, but delegating is important so you don’t get too overwhelmed. Let your family and friends help you with chopping, prepping, and cleaning. Maybe even let them be in charge of one or two dishes so you don’t have to do everything. Ryan does the turkey every year from start to finish, which takes a lot of time and attention and he’s getting better and better at it every year. Let someone have ownership over at least one other dish so everyone can participate in preparing the meal.

5) Outline your menu and make a plan
I actually spent time studying and outlining my menu so I could cook the dishes in an order that made sense. The day of Thanksgiving, I only had to worry about completing two dishes. Everything else was pretty much ready. It gave me more free time and less stress.

6) Serve your meal in courses
The art of dining has somehow been lost on Americans. Go to Europe and learn how to eat a family meal. They serve several courses and linger at the table for hours. We’re such an eat-and-go culture. I hate serving family style and I dislike eating that way because I tend to overeat. Breaking up your Thanksgiving meal into courses means more time spent at the table with your family and friends, more time to digest, and more time to enjoy this elaborate meal you prepared with so much love and care.

7) Be thankful.
Last but not least, don’t lose sight over the meaning of this holiday. The gluttony can be misleading and also make you forget why we do all this in the first place. I’m so thankful for my amazing husband Ryan and our families, who get along seamlessly and are the reason we have everything we have. We are also thankful for our cutest pug in the world, Gertie, and for the memory of our big German Shepherd George, who passed away on November 1.  We’ll never forget all the special times we shared with the Big Boy.

Lots of love to everyone, I hope you read this to the end.

Xxxx
Princess.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Elaine Murray December 3, 2014 at 1:57 am

WOW…I am impressed…..Keep me on your mailing list….I follow Aspen Princess but sometimes a few weeks late….this should keep me up to date. Love to you and Ryan….can’t wait to see you.

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AliMargo December 3, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Thanks, Vermont Mama! I need to get that mailing list going and figure out how to get subscribers. I love blogging, except that it takes a lot of time and I’m not getting paid for it. Starting to realize that for 99% of us, that’s what being a writer is. [sigh]. But I’m going to keep doing this blog anyway, and just see where it leads. Thanks for reading!! xoxoxo

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