Deconstructing the Thanksgiving Meal

***Dean Neff ~ executive chef and part owner of PinPoint

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“At Thanksgiving I get a lot of ‘why don’t you sit down’ and ‘you’re supposed to be off’ but I always say, no, this is where I actually enjoy myself the most—it’s being here [in the kitchen] helping out and cooking,“ says Dean Neff, executive chef and part-owner of PinPoint, the restaurant recently opened in DeLuxe’s former location downtown. He and his team have crafted their menu with collaboration in mind. They work with local farmers, fishermen, oystermen, and shrimpers to bring fresh, seasonal dishes to the table. “It’s hard to create a menu until you make those local connections,” Dean says.
Using local ingredients also forces them to get creative. “Recently, some local organic herb farmers brought us these giant shiso leaves…and it was like ok, we’ll take them, but now we have to figure out what to do with them,” Dean recalls. He also says it’s important to consider the season and the region you’re in when deciding what to buy or serve. “The problem with shopping in a grocery store is that there is this blurred vision of what is actually available because they’re sourcing out-of-season foods from below the equator.”
For good Thanksgiving stuffing, Dean recommends using ingredients available to you and to consider paying a little extra in the places that count. To avoid “that soggy ball” stuffing, don’t cook it in the bird, but use a pan instead to give the stuffing an equally crispy texture throughout. “Ten years ago I brought stuffing for the first time to [my family’s] Thanksgiving dinner. I used really good bacon…and I put chestnuts on it because I had a chestnut tree close to my house. My brother-in-law, he’s one of the pickiest eaters—eats like meat and potatoes and that’s it—he squirreled it away at the end of the meal so that he could take some home…and every year after that he would tell my sister to call me to make sure I was bringing stuffing. I’ve made it every year since then.”
Want to have your own flavor brainstorming session? Dean recommends The Flavor Bible by Karen Page.

Lydia Clopton ~ pastry chef at PinPoint

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“At holidays, I don’t think we ever had anything that strayed from [the basics]—the pecan pie, the pumpkin pie—but now I always bring something different…because I know those others are always going to be there,” says Lydia Clopton, pastry chef at PinPoint. We’re sitting in the low-lit dining room of her restaurant chatting in between the lunch and dinner shifts. The sound of clanking dishes drifts from the kitchen as the PinPoint team prepares for dinner, occasionally humming along to the radio or peeking out to ask Lydia a question.
“The buttermilk pie is kind of like a blank canvas—you can add all kinds of fruits or sauces, or even a little cocoa powder or maple syrup,” Lydia explains, mentioning that it’s helpful to vary your ingredients according to the season. “That’s what’s fun about baking—getting excited about the new fruit that’s in season and figuring out what I’m going to do with it,” she says. Right now, it’s figs and apricots.
“I’ve worked places where you’re doing…little bite-sized desserts and using all kinds of crazy scientific techniques, but that’s not really what [PinPoint] is…the desserts have to complement the menu.” Her style, she says, is more homey and comforting, variations of traditional desserts that evoke nostalgia for childhood.
When asked for baking advice, she says, “Be patient. Follow the recipe.” Then she laughs, “I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many people think they know what they’re doing, but they just don’t read the recipe…in baking you have to be very precise…if you throw something in there without having a lot of knowledge, it’s probably not going to turn out.” She suggests following the recipe exactly the first time, then trying to change it up once you know how it’s supposed to look.
The key to the buttermilk pie, she says, is the homemade crust. “If you don’t have a good crust, it’s not going to be a great pie. It doesn’t matter how good the filling is.”
For bakers looking to expand their skills, she recommends Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and How Baking Works by Paula Figoni.

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Sour-dough Stuffing
Serves 6-8

4 qt. sourdough croutons 1” cubes, lightly tossed in olive oil and toasted @ 350°F until golden brown and crisp, but still slightly soft in the center. *(See cornbread recipe for gluten allergy or intolerance)
3 Tbsp cold butter *(substitute olive oil for dairy intolerance)
2 C minced cleaned leeks
1 C minced cleaned celery
3 C low sodium stock vegetable or poultry
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano
Black pepper to taste

To me, the best part of the stuffing is the crispy surface that has been exposed to the oven air. By not stuffing our bird we are actually winning in two ways. First, our stuffing will have more crispy surface area for all, and second, we will not have to overcook our bird trying to get the internal temperature of the stuffing to a safe temperature.  
Preheat your oven to 350°F.  In a large stockpot or Dutch oven over low-medium heat, add the cold butter. Add the leeks and celery and gently cook while stirring constantly (about 5 minutes or until the leeks and celery start to become translucent). Add the croutons, and toss to coat with the melted butter, leeks, and celery. Add the 3 cups of stock and the bay leaf and deglaze. Transfer the crouton mixture out of the pot and into a baking dish. Add the fresh herbs, season with salt and pepper, and transfer into the oven to bake uncovered for 12-15 minutes or until the top surface has become golden brown and crisp.  Serve as is or supplement.

Supplements for stuffing…
Crisp shiitake *(Toss the de-stemmed shiitakes with olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper. Bake on a sheet tray in a single layer until completely golden brown and crisp, about 10 minutes.)
Apple smoked bacon*(Crisp the bacon of your choice and crumble. We love Nueske’s and Allan Benton’s)
Plumped Apricots *(gently simmer apricots for 5 minutes in enough liquid to cover of water, honey, and a small pinch of lemon verbena)
Fried sage*(In a large pot, heat 1 inch of oil until 325°F. Quickly fry whole sage leaves until the bubbles slow and the leaves become slightly translucent. Remove from the oil and drain on a clean paper towel to remove any excess oil.
Chestnuts or Walnuts lightly toasted
Roasted apple*(Brush thick slices of apple with honey and bake on a buttered sheet tray at 350°F for 12-15 minutes.)
Baked Eggs *(Crack eggs into the baking dish with the stuffing and bake until done to your liking.)

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*Gluten free cornbread recipe
2 C cornmeal
2 C buttermilk
3 large eggs
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp sugar (optional)
4 Tbsp melted butter
1 tsp baking powder
Preheat oven to 350° F

In a mixing bowl, mix all ingredients except 2 tablespoons of the melted butter. Heat a small-medium cast-iron skillet over medium heat, and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Add the cornmeal batter and bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.
Sage and Lemon Roasted Turkey
We could easily cook a large pork roast using this exact method by modifying only the internal temperature to 135-140°F. We will season this bird in a way that will make it go well with all of the other sides that you may see this time of year. Simple is best.

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Lemon and Sage Brine
1/2 gal. water
1 gal. of ice
3 ½ C kosher salt
1/2 C white sugar
4 Tbsp whole yellow mustard seeds
1 large bunch of thyme
1 large bunch of sage
5 bay leaves
3 lemons halved steeped squeezed and quickly removed

Bring all of the ingredients (except the ice and lemons) to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the lemons. Steep for 2 minutes, squeeze the halves, and remove. Add the ice and stir well. Once the brine is cold throughout, pour over the bird. Make sure the bird is totally thawed, and that the container in which you will be brining the turkey will fit into your refrigerator securely.  The bird will need to brine for 24 hours.

The day of…
2 C chopped yellow or white onion
1 C peeled and chopped carrot
1 C chopped celery
Small bunch of sage
Small bunch of thyme
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Cold butter

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Pat the bird dry with a clean towel after removing it from the brine. Place the bird breast-side down in a large roasting pan. Fill the cavity and the perimeter with the chopped vegetables and herbs. Drizzle a liberal amount of olive oil over the top of the bird. Put 3 tablespoons of the cold butter around the perimeter of the bird. Cook the bird until the thickest part of the turkey (the thigh joint) has reached 110°F. Carefully flip the bird, baste it, and cook for the remainder of the time breast-side up. The thickest part of the bird should reach 165°F. Take the bird out of the oven and allow it to rest for 20-30 minutes before carving. This will allow the juices to redistribute, which will result in a much juicier bird. 

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Buttermilk Pie
Filling
1 C (225 g) buttermilk    
3 ea. eggs, well beaten    
1 C (198g) sugar
Lemon zest from 1 lemon
¼ tsp salt 

       
Whisk everything together. Pour into a pre-baked pie shell. Bake at 325 degrees until set. This can be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour depending on your oven. Cool until room temperature.  
**Variations on filling:
Cocoa powder (add 2 Tbsp to filling)
Maple syrup, sorghum syrup (replace sugar with 2/3 cup syrup + 2 Tbsp sugar)
Spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger: ¼ tsp ea. blended spices, or 1 tsp individual spice)
Vanilla extract (add 1 Tbsp)
Sub brown sugar(packed)
Sub greek yogurt for buttermilk
**Additions:
Garnish the pie with candied fresh cranberries.  Coat cranberries with pasteurized egg whites, roll in sugar, and place on drying rack overnight.
Candied nuts, candied pumpkin or winter squash, caramel or chocolate sauce on bottom of crust before baking.
Crust
2 C (250g) flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 C (225 g) cold, cubed butter      
½ C (113 g) ice water

     
Everything must be ice cold before proceeding. Sometimes I will even put the flour in the refrigerator beforehand if the kitchen is hot.  
I like to use a food processor, but you can use your fingers or a pastry blender.  
Add the flour, salt, and sugar to the food processor. Pulse once or twice to mix.
If you start out with pea-sized butter cubes this goes very quickly.
Add butter to food processor. Pulse until everything is a sandy texture or a little coarser.
Add the water a little at a time as you pulse, just until the dough starts to come together.  It is very likely that you won’t use all of the water.
Form dough into a smooth disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
Roll out on a well floured surface. If the dough doesn’t seem relaxed, place in fridge for another 20 minutes before lining pie dish.
Place in pie dish and trim the edges with clean scissors so no dough hangs over the edge. Crimp edges or make a decorative pattern with the tines of a fork. Chill.
Blind bake the dough in a 350 degree oven by lining the inside of the crust with tin foil and filling with dry beans of any variety.  Bake until edges start to turn golden brown.  Carefully remove foil, dock bottom with a fork and bake just until the bottom of the crust starts to get some color. Let cool.
**Variations on crust:
Buckwheat (replace half of flour with buckwheat flour),
Rye Flour (replace ½ C of the flour with 2/3 cup rye flour),
Cornmeal (replace ¼ C flour with ¼ C fine cornmeal),
Chocolate (substitute 1/3 C of flour for 1/3 C cocoa powder),
Gluten Free (replace flour with a gluten free all purpose flour like Bob’s Red Mill)
Oat (replace ½ C flour with ½ C oats)

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