Fall is here, the times they are a changin’ – literally!  The time changed yesterday, and after adjusting to the early morning wake-up call with my son, I couldn’t wait to get into the kitchen for this month’s edition of The Pass – “Too many leftovers…Thanksgiving 2.0”  I love Thanksgiving, spending time with family, eating food all day {and I mean all day}{especially the carb loaded items, stuffing, pie, mashed potatoes, noodles}, and I love making the traditional Thanksgiving foods.  About 10 years ago, I took over making the main points of Thanksgiving – the turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffings/dressings, a couple of veggie sides, the rolls, and sometimes a dessert.  My family members then fill in the gaps with casseroles, salads, side dishes, crudite and cheese platters, and anything else they are hungry for and want to bring.  Typically things are the same year after year…traditions are strong in our family!  

Our typical Thanksgiving Day looks like this – cook in the morning, go to Grandma’s, snack on veggie and cheese trays, eat the main meal at lunch time, eat desserts/snacks/drink caffeine all afternoon, we re-heat leftovers at dinner time, then head home stuffed and exhausted.  Then the next day, I have a fridge full of miscellaneous leftovers, and I am borderline too tired to cook.  {Say, what?!?}  This is where my dilemma always comes in – I have miscellaneous scraps of leftovers, but I don’t want to eat them in the same way again.  I want them to be transformed into something else.  I want them to feel like a different meal.  To be honest, this is how I feel about most foods/dinners that I make – I want them to have another “out”, another option, another purpose, another future.  For example, I make a pot of chili – I want to have chili one night, I want chili mac one night, and later I want a chili dog or chili cheese fries.  Haha!  But to have chili in the same form potentially 3 nights in a row, nuh uh, no way!  I just can’t!

I haven’t exactly narrowed down why this is the case, but it must be the chef in me.  I want options, I want change, I want new flavor combinations, new textures, I want it to be re-invented especially if I am going to eat it multiple times.  I get bored easily, I guess.  My husband could eat the same thing every day {in fact, he basically does}, and he does not have any issue with it – and I take 5 bites of something and I am already thinking about how I could improve it, how I could turn it into something else, how I could add something to it – so that I will eat it again and look forward to eating it again.  And this is where this month’s edition of The Pass comes in!  If I were to re-make Thanksgiving leftovers into something else, what would it be!?!  Well, folks, here it is – my version of Thanksgiving revamped, rejuvenated, and really pretty easy – Thanksgiving 2.0.

I wanted this meal to be easy and realistic with the same components of Thanksgiving and with a few upgrades.  I wanted it to be able to be made without making a huge mess in the kitchen, too.  For those of you that spend the whole day, or two days, in the kitchen making food for 10+ people – the last thing you want to be doing is making the kitchen a mess, using up a bunch of dishes, etc. in the days that follow.   I also wanted it to be “all encompassing”, in a way that you could use several ingredients, and use said ingredients no matter the quantity of the leftover situation.  So, I hope that this meal offers a few ideas, but also offers a lot of flexibility as to the options that can be used in it.  I am going to explain what I made, and why – but also offer some options and suggestions that might work well with this dish, too.  It all really depends on your family’s traditions and, of course, the odds and ends of leftovers that you come home with.

To help delineate between the Thanksgiving food prep, versus the Thanksgiving 2.0 version – I have put some of the following text in Italic.  The Italic version are the steps/process that I made from the original Thanksgiving meal dishes – i.e. the leftovers – the 2.0 Version, if you will.

So, let’s get started – Sweet Potato Gnocchi {with Star Anise Brown Butter}, Bacon Braised Brussels Sprouts, Turkey ‘Confit’, and Cranberry Aigre-doux.

Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up, so – Sweet Potato Gnocchi.  On Thanksgiving, I always make standard mashed potatoes, and some sort of sweet potato.  When it comes to mashed potatoes – I am a traditionalist – I like Russets or Yukon Gold {or a combination}, I like them with lots of milk/cream, lots of butter, some salt, and I like them with some lumps in them.  {Like my grandma used to make}.  However, when it comes to sweet potatoes, I want them to be smooth, creamy, with little to no butter, and a light salt and spice.  I like them to taste like sweet potatoes.  And, I always have to plan my sweet potato preparation based on oven or stove space, timing, etc. with all of my other à la minute prep-work and my other holiday duties.  

It also helps if I can prep things the day or the evening before – I like to make my bread or rolls the night before and let them proof overnight, and I get the turkey brined overnight, and I like to get whatever work done ahead of time that I can.  To roast the sweet potatoes, I wrapped the whole potatoes in a piece of parchment, then in a layer of aluminum foil – then I roasted them in the oven at 400* for 30-40 minutes, until they were softened.  Then left them wrapped up, and let them cool.  When I opened them up, the steam from the packaging made the sweet potato skins peel right off in my hands {Yay, quick and easy!}.  I then ran them through my food mill, because like I mentioned earlier, I really like velvety smooth sweet potatoes. The food mill is perfect for this, because it makes them kinda fluffy and light, and so smooth and luxurious.  I wanted to keep them very simple to really let the sweet potato shine.  I added a pinch of salt, and some cinnamon and nutmeg to taste.  Voila – delicious and easy sweet potatoes.  {They are also good for all of the baby’s/kids we have at my family meals this year.}

After they are seasoned the way you want them, serve them for Thanksgiving!  Then, with the leftovers – here is how I made them into Sweet Potato Gnocchi.  First, I put about 1.5-2 cups of AP flour on my table/counter top.  I then put the sweet potato puree into the middle {like the eggs in a flour base making pasta}.  I sprinkled a generous pinch of salt across the top.  Then just started folding over, and gradually mixing the flour into the sweet potato puree.  You may need to add more flour, so be sure to keep some within reach.  Always work with a floured surface, so the dough doesn’t stick.  With gnocchi, you want to make sure not to over mix it, but you want to make sure the ingredients are well incorporated and the texture is not too tough {chewy}, and not too soft {dissolves in water when cooked}.  So, once the flour is nicely incorporated, let the dough relax and let the flour absorb some of the moisture from the potatoes, for just a couple minutes.  Just let it hang out on the counter, and bring a pot of salted water up to a boil.  When the water was boiling, cut off a small piece of the gnocchi dough, and drop it in the water.  I cooked it for less than a minute (it was a small piece), and when it floated to the top – YAY!  It held together, and tasted delicious!  Success!  Had this not worked, and it had fallen apart in the water – simply work some more flour into the dough with your hands.

Using my bench scraper, and keeping some flour close at hand – it was time to form the dough.  I cut the dough ball into 4 pieces, then each piece I rolled into into roughly equal lengths, about 1-1½ ” thick.  Cut them into ¾” pieces, using the bench scraper – on a well floured surface.  Give them a gentle toss in some of the flour, to keep the ends from sticking together.  Generally with gnocchi, it is common to roll them onto a fork to create some grooves on each piece.  It is a nice step, because it helps the gnocchi to soak up some sauce, but because I wanted this meal to be relatively quick and painless to produce, I skipped this step.  And with the Star Anise Brown Butter Sauce, there wasn’t a lot of sauce to ‘hold’, really just sauce to ‘coat.’

Place the gnocchi into the boiling/salted water, and cook until they float to the top, approximately 3-5 minutes.  When they have all bobbed to the top, they are done.  Scoop them up and transfer them to a tray – I lined mine with a dish towel, to absorb some of the excess water to prevent splattering and sticking.  I knew that I wanted to toss them/saute them with some brown butter – because that is my favorite way to eat/make gnocchi.  I then put mine in the refrigerator for a few minutes, in the meantime I was working on other things and getting the pan heated up for the remaining dinner preparation.   They weren’t in the fridge long enough to really cool down, just to kinda dry off the outside.  Also, I reserved some of the cooking liquid, it is always good practice to save some pasta water – it helps with the sauce, combines flavors, thickens sauces, and is just a good habit to get into to avoid dry/sticky pasta…

On to the other components; let’s start with the Brussels Sprouts.  My family has a lot of picky eaters, so veggies can sometimes be a hard sell with all of the other options on the table.  One way I get around this hurdle, is bacon!  I love brussels sprouts, and I love bacon, thus – bacon braised brussels sprouts.  I cut up the bacon with my kitchen shears, and get it started in a cold pan on the stove.  This helps to render out the fat slowly, and I wanted the fat to saute the shallot and sprouts in.  I cooked the bacon lardons until it’s crispy and took them out of the pan.  I poured out some of the bacon fat , and reserved it for later.  Doing this always makes me think of my Grandma Moo, I remember she always had a metal coffee can of bacon grease on the back of her stove.  I don’t do that, but I always think about my grandma when I am reserving bacon grease.

I put in the sliced shallots, and cooked them until they softened, then added some minced garlic.  Then the brussels sprouts {I cut them in half, some into quarters, because I wanted them to be approximately the same size}.  I tossed them around in the pan for a minute or two, until they got a little color on them, then added a few splashes of chicken stock to deglaze the pan and steam the sprouts.  I put the lid on, and let them steam for a few minutes.  I then seasoned with salt and pepper, added the bacon back in, and turned off the heat.  Finally, I hit them with the juice of a lemon and voila, veggies my family will eat.  Well, most of my family anyway.  

I am a firm believer of brining turkey.  It imparts a lot of flavor, but also it keeps the turkey from drying out, basically giving you a little more wiggle room in the cooking process.  I prefer to brine overnight, at a minimum.  So, generally when planning my Thanksgiving menu, the turkey brining is toward the beginning of my prep – I have a tendency to change the brine ingredients from year to year.  But with a brine, the most important part is the water/liquid to salt ratio.  1 C Kosher Salt : 2 Gallons of Water/liquid is an easy way to remember.

For this turkey brine, I used apple cider (½ gallon) and (½ gallon) water.  I heated those with the kosher salt, black peppercorns, brown sugar, fresh thyme, orange zest, an onion (quartered) and a few smashed cloves of garlic – basically brought it to a boil, until it was fragrant and the sugar and salt were dissolved.  {I have also used other ingredients in my brines throughout the  years – maple syrup, whole citrus, beer, bourbon, etc…the possibilities are endless!}  I then put 6 cups of water and approximately 10 cups of ice cubes in a brining bag/turkey bag/large pot.  I like to use ice, because it cools the brining liquid down faster.  When the brine mixture on the stove is ready, add it to the ice water mixture, to cool down.  When the brine is cooled put the turkey in, and let it sit overnight or up to 24 hours.  After the time has passed, remove from brine and rinse under cold water.  Pat dry with paper towels, and get it ready for roasting.  

Over the years I have cooked turkey several different ways – whole, breast only, in-pieces, on the grill, in the oven.  I was always looking for the best, most efficient way for me to get it to the table, with the use of a single oven.  And I now feel I have found the best way for me, and results in the best turkey for my family – and that is to spatchcock a turkey, and roast it.  Spatchcocking is a great technique that drastically reduces the cooking time, which then frees up the oven for other things – a win-win!  Essentially, you cut out the backbone of the turkey, and break the breastbone so the turkey can then roast “2-dimensionally instead of 3-dimensionally”.  I like to roast it on top of chopped onion, carrots, celery, garlic, fresh herbs, and/or citrus to impart more flavors into the meat.  I rub the outside with softened butter, and rub some under the skin, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.  It is then time to roast it.  

Here is a video from Alton Brown on Good Eats.  Before roasting, let the turkey stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, then roast at 450* for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer reads 155° {when taken in the thigh of the turkey}.  Allow the turkey to rest 20 minutes before carving.

When serving a whole turkey with my family, I realized quickly that my family are “breast people”.  The white meat always seems to go first, and the dark meat remains on the platter.  I am equal opportunity turkey, but like it the most when it is revamped with other things.  I like it in turkey tetrazzini, I like roasted turkey and cranberry and dressing and goat cheese sandwiches, and I like it in this recipe – where it becomes kind of like a turkey confit ;-).  

I know what you are thinking; what is Aigre-doux, and how did it get to the plate?  Well, good question.  I made the Aigre-doux with my original Thanksgiving prep, and we use it as our cranberry relish.  I first learned about Aigre-doux a few years ago, at my previous farm-to-table job.  Chef Paul Virant, from Chicago, came to our farm and did a ‘guest chef’ meal.  He brought his spectacular Blueberry Aigre-doux with him.  He used it in the dinner for the cheese course {it paired expertly with our farmstead goat cheeses}, and he also made a signature cocktail with it – a Shrub.  Dual purpose condiment!  Aigre-doux means “bittersweet, or sweet and sour”, and it is just that – tart, sweet, complex, ‘pickled’, and perfect.  It is simple to make, and with a quick added step instead of canning like his cookbook suggests – I turned it into the cranberry relish my family would enjoy.  It is the epitome of the season.  Paul’s recipe, can be found in his fantastic cookbook “Preservation Kitchen”.  The cookbook focuses on pickling, and preserving the seasons.  Check it out if you get a chance!

I heated the wine, vinegar, honey, peppercorns, star anise, and vanilla bean together, and brought it to a boil.  In hindsight, I should have put the herbs into a sachet or something, but I later sorted out just the anise pods and vanilla bean pods, and left the peppercorns in there.  They softened up in the cooking, and added a nice pop of spice to the now cranberry/Aigre-doux/relish.  I then added the cranberries, and brought it back to a simmer/boil until the cranberries popped and hissed a bit – which only takes a few minutes for cranberries to burst open.  I then removed it from the heat, let it cool, and put it in the fridge, covered, overnight.  The Aigre-Doux thickened up wonderfully from the pectin in the cranberries and it was dark and glossy, with sweet and tart cranberries and spicy peppercorns – absolute perfection.  

Aigre-Doux is great with cheese, and as I mentioned, the liquid is great in a cocktail – a Shrub to be exact – the aigre-doux liquid mixed with some vodka or gin, and soda water.  Delish!  And a cocktail could be necessary to get you through the Thanksgiving prep and all the family time! 😉

To put this dish together for Thanksgiving 2.0, you can put a smidge of the reserved bacon grease into the pan and add the sprouts.  Warm them through, and saute them a bit.  Remove them from the pan, set them aside and cover them to retain the heat.  Using this same pan, deglaze with a splash of chicken stock, I used maybe about a half to three quarters of a cup.  I scraped up any browned bits from the pan, and added the pulled pieces of turkey.  Doing this not only rehydrates the leftover turkey and helps evenly cook it through, but also creates more depth of flavor from the fond {the browned bits of flavor from the bottom of the pan}.  I cooked the turkey in the chicken stock, and reduced it down.  I let the pan get a little dry {au sec}  and then crisped up the shredded turkey.  I put a little of the reserved bacon fat in, to make it umptious, and like “confit” – the bacon fat was the “with fat” part of the “confit”.

I hate to let good fond go to waste, so I deglazed the pan again with a little more chicken stock and reduced it to au sec with a few star anise pods.  I then added the butter to the pan, approximately 3 T.  I like to add some herbs to the brown butter, to add another layer of fall flavor.  And there was anise in the Aigre-Doux, so the slight anise in the butter will complement nicely.  After the butter was bubbly, and smelled nutty, I added the gnocchi.  I let it go on medium high, for a few minutes just to get them coated evenly with the butter and allow the to crisp up a smidge.  And everything is ready!  Time to plate up!  Gnocchi {check}, brussels sprouts {check}, turkey “confit” {check}, and finally top with some cranberry Aigre-Doux and drizzle with the cranberry sauce.  

Well, folks, I think that about sums it up!  Leftovers – revamped and rejuvenated — Thanksgiving 2.0.  Housemade gnocchi comes together in less than 30 minutes, and the rest of these things come together in one pan – for one fantastic dish.  This meal also offers more flexibility in the way that you could make the gnocchi with your regular mashed potatoes, or with the sweet potatoes, like I did here.  You could also add ricotta or egg to the gnocchi if you want to – but the potato/flour/salt way works well too.  The brussels sprouts could easily be substituted with green beans, or broccoli, or something along those lines – in the case that your family doesn’t like broccoli.  The turkey could be any turkey meat (white or dark), or ham, or turducken, or tofurkey – whatever is your tradition.  The cranberry Aigre-Doux could be sweetened with a little more honey to taste, it could be cooked down and pureed, it could be spread on a sandwich as is or mixed with a little mayonnaise (like a quick cranberry aioli), put on your cheese/charcuterie plate, it could be turned into a cocktail, and on and on.  If you don’t want to make this cranberry recipe, any cranberry relish will work  – you could even use the “canned cranberry”, if that is your tradition – heat it up a little in the pan, and serve it as a drizzle over the top of the dish.  You could even toast up some bits of stuffing/dressing in a pan or in the oven for some seasoned, crunchy, buttery, tasty breadcrumbs for the top.  As you can see, the possibilities are endless!

 

Turkey Brine:

1 ½  Gallons Water

½ Gallon Apple Cider

Small handful Peppercorns

Zest/peel of 1 Orange

3 Bay Leaves

1 C Kosher Salt

¼ C Brown Sugar

6-8 Cloves Garlic – smashed

 

For the turkey, I purchased a Broad Breasted Bronze – Heritage Breed Turkey – from a local, organic, farmer at our Farmer’s Market.

 

Sweet Potato Gnocchi:

1#   Sweet Potatoes (I used one large one, and one smaller one…I didn’t actually weigh them…)

1 ½ C – 2 C   All Purpose Flour (may need more, if necessary)

½ t   Kosher Salt

And I had put some Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Salt in the ‘original’ Sweet Potatoes, after I ran them through the food mill.  These spices are to taste.  I like them to taste like sweet potatoes first, then spices – so I went fairly light on the spices – less than a teaspoon of each – but feel free to add as much or as little as you like.  

 

Brussels Sprouts:

½ -¾#   Brussels Sprouts

3 slices   Bacon

1   Shallot, sliced into thin rings

2 cloves   Garlic, minced

½ C   Chicken Stock

 

Cranberry Aigre-Doux:

2 C + 3 T    Red Wine

¾ C + 2 T    Honey

¾ C + 2 T    Red Wine Vinegar

2 t    Salt

2 t    Black Peppercorns

4    Star Anise

7 C    Fresh Cranberries

1 Vanilla Bean