[Editor’s Note: For the past 8 years Dan and Mrs. Dan have had a Thanksgiving Thrown Down where they compete to see who makes the best dish. It started with turkeys but with only 3 people 2 turkeys was a bit much in the leftovers department. It was changed last year to be a side dish competition. This year the In-Laws joined the competition.]
Les Andes Crémant de Loire | Loire, France and Fess Parker The Big Easy
T hanksgiving morning started with a meeting of the Rules Committee. That is actually a committee of one and that’s Mrs. Dan. She had charted the oven/stove time for each contender so that everyone could produce the competing dish in time to hit the table and still be hot. The key here was working around the time oven #1 has the turkey.
Mrs. Dan’s entry was a Mushroom Pancetta Risotto. Mrs. Dan-in-Law had a green been casserole. I had Roasted Parmesan Herb Sweet Potato. (I also prepared last year’s winner, bacon and maple syrup brussels sprouts. The Rules Committee said a previous entry can not be entered into the competition).
The competition had two periods. The hors d’oeuvre phase at 1:30 and the meal period at 3:30. Mr. Dan-in-Law had a Cranberry, Crab Meat and Cream Cheese app as his entry. We served a really nice Les Andides Crémant de Loire Brut from Lidl. This French sparkler matched up nicely with his entry. Nice sparkler that people who don’t like too many bubbles would like. It has nice sparkle but the bubbles doesn’t give you that “I want to burp” feeling. Not sweet, not too dry.” Mrs. Dan-in-law liked it. That’s good enough for me. A lovely sparkling rosé. I think this might make a great Christmas party sparkler. This phase was nice as we got to relax a bit during the 5-hour competition prep time.
Mr. Dan-in-law worked his fingers off on this entry. He prepped the cranberry sauce, whipped up the crab meat and cream cheese. Got blasted in the face with searing heat when he opened the oven. He was hoping by presenting his entry earlier it would stand out and win before the meal even started. In the end he admitted the crab meat didn’t stand out enough. He might have held off the salt too much. The cranberry sauce was excellent on the turkey later.
Mrs. Dan’s Mushroom and Pancetta Risotto was actually one of my favorites. I’ve been enjoying the leftovers. She had a Sun-dried Tomato & Garlic Cream Sauce to accompany it. This was a great topping on everything.
She altered the risotto recipe just a bit. She used bacon instead of pancetta (I cooked up a huge pack of thick sliced “european” bacon from Costco. We divided it up between my brussels sprouts, Mrs. Dan’s recipe and Mrs. Dan-in-Law’s casserole. She wanted to add some white truffle oil to add a bit of oomph but we couldn’t find it. Not something you go to Walmart on Thanksgiving Day to buy. (I didn’t hide it to sabotage her entry because I didn’t even know she was going to use it). I missed out on much of her handywork as I decided it best if I go outside and grill the bacon and then roast/saute the brussels sprouts (and drink a beer).
Mrs. Dan-in-Law made a traditional green bean casserole using an old family method. If you were judging green been casseroles this one would place in the top four. Notice I said she used an old family method, not an old family recipe. She was trying to make up her mind how to make it. She asked if we had a can of Cream of Mushroom soup. I handed her the Campbell’s can from the pantry and she used the recipe on the back label as she was getting the green beans prepped. She had no clue as to what it was going to taste like. Someone threw out the can so I don’t know which exact Campbell’s recipe it was or how closely she followed the recipe.
Mr. Ben was disqualified because all he wanted to do is make his Atomic Mac ‘n Cheese from last year. The Rules Committee ruled against him. Beside he was too busy playing on the iPad and because he refused to taste any of the entries, because they weren’t Mac ‘n Cheese, he was not allowed to vote either.
I was still pouting about not being able to enter the brussels sprouts. I was pouting because last year it was just me and Mrs. Dan and she gave in when her recipe (which is all but forgotten) went to hell in a hand basket. I argued that with a larger competition I should be able to enter it again. I have been fairly successful making sweet potato fries so I decided to find a sweet potato recipe. And at 49 cents a pound I win in the affordability department.
I found a simple recipe from pumpkinandspice.com. Here’s the link. The only change I added was to prep the cubes about 2 hours before my assigned oven time (I took over the turkey oven when it came out to rest). I got them all coated then put them in a plastic bag and shook then and put them in the little fridge along with the marinating brussels sprouts. I turned them over every 15 minutes or so. I placed them on a parchment paper when the bird came out and baked them at 400 for 35 minutes. They didn’t crisp up much as the recipe predicted but that was okay. I also didn’t use the parsley garnish.
Once again I win. Even with the extra competition of the Mrs. Dan-in-laws I prevailed for the second year in a row. The winning side-dish was my parmesan encrusted sweet potatoes. Actually the real winner was the turkey which was a team effort. Mrs. Dan and Mrs. Dan-in-Law voted for my sweet potatoes. Mr. Dan-in-law voted for the Mushroom Risotto although he said if he could vote the brussels sprouts if he could. I can’t vote for myself but then again I don’t want to lose either.
The real winner was the turkey, a Maple Bourbon Glazed Roasted bird that the Mrs. Dan-in-Laws saw on ABC one morning. Mrs. Dan used Noah’s Mill Bourbon for the glaze. This bird requires a bit of work especially when you have to remove a 17-pound bird and need to flip it over with an hour to go (you start with it upside down). This bird was still steaming hot at the end of the meal. Super juicy. It ate one wing with the skin and it was heaven.
The other winner was the wine. We decided to forgo a traditional turkey wine. We went with oomph. I had bought a bottle of the CoCo Wine Festival Best-in-Show winner The Big Easy by Fess Parker. This 2014 was a $39.99 wine from Wine World that I purchased with the 10% discount during their 45th Anniversary Sale. One big bold red blend. There is a reason why this wine won. Dark, super smooth oak flavors. I think it went well with the turkey, the dressing, the risotto and my sweet potatoes.
Their website describes this wine as 74% Syrah, 16% Petite Sirah, 10% Grenache. Aged 21 mo in 46% new French & American oak. The flavors are black cherry, boysenberry, plum, milk chocolate, Kirsch liqueur,smoked meat and vanilla. The aromas are black plum, blackberry, tar/smoke, grilled meat, dried tobacco, vanilla and black pepper.
Here’s my brussels sprouts recipe. I wanted to make a bacon/brown sugar brussels sprouts like Wicked Weed in Asheville makes. The waiter told us they use brown sugar and bacon. I found a simple recipe that said it was from Wicked Weed but used maple syrup instead and listed the ingredients (but no measurments) and simply said saute the brussels sprouts in oil with cooked bacon then toss in the ingredients. I looked at several different recipes that including blanching or roasting decided that all sounded too much like work. I pretty much made up my own.
2 lb bag of brussels sprouts
1/2 cup of maple syrup
1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
5 thick sliced bacon strips chopped into tiny pieces
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3 oz or so of grapeseed oil
The brussels sprouts varied in size from huge to tiny. I trimmed the grey stubs off all of them. The large sprouts I cut in half and sometimes into quarters. I put the maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt into a gallon freeze bag and simply shook the sprouts in the mixture. Then placed them in the little fridge. They marinated for 3 hours. I flipped them over every 30 minutes or so and gave them a shake.
When it came time to cook them I did something weird. I didn’t want to use a lot of oil because there was a lot of the syrup/vinegar mix. I used the large frying pan that I had cooked the bacon in on the side burner with just a little of the left over bacon grease (Mrs. Dan stole most of it for one of the dishes… not sure which one). I let it cool then wiped out most of the brown bacon scum in the pan. So I placed half of the brussels sprouts in the pan and the other half onto a flat grilling surface on the main grill. I sprinkled on some grapeseed oil on the grilling surface and set the burns at medium heat. So, I used just a little bacon grease to saute 1 pound and the grapeseed oil for the other pound. After they started getting hot I sprinkled in the chopped up bacon. The pan was much bigger than the burner flame underneath so I kept moving them in and out of the hotspot. On the main grill I just kept pushing things around. At some point I was worried the stuff on the grill would caramelize too much and burn so I transferred them to the pan. Then keep stirring. At about the 8 minute point I was worried the maple syrup was cooking down too much before they were soft enough so I added a bit more maple syrup. In hindsight I would probably have used a bit of water instead. Once I felt that the sprouts were getting soft enough (at about 10 minutes) I pulled them off and placed them into the serving dish and covered with foil. I started cooking them at the 3pm mark while the sweet potatoes were in the oven.
All and all this was one of the best Thanksgiving meal ever. I think the Throw Down added a bit of excitement (next year we are going to give participation trophies like Mr. Ben’s soccer team). The Rules Committee planned it perfectly. Everyone was at the table at 3:30 and all the food was hot, tasted great and was still hot when we went for seconds. That has never happened before. Usually Mrs. Dan would have to hit the microwave on something. The Big Easy was fantastic (there were no leftovers).
For winning the competition for the second year in a row my reward was to clean all of the pots and dishes with some help from Mrs. Dan-in-Law. By the time I was finished and the others were watching La La Land on HBO I snuck off to the tasting room and had a sip of the Noah’s Mill that had been on the turkey. The end of a perfect day.