Monday, December 9, 2013

Rancho Guajalote 2013

Once again the annual Turkey Day gathering commenced at Rancho Winslow, with fairly decent weather and an abundance of spirits. The usual suspects were present, with a couple of exceptions. Everyone’s favorite retired veterinarian/bon vivant and Rancho Winslow regular Robert “Empty Leg” Abraham was MIA, reportedly somewhere in the hollers of NorCalina. But as an unexpected bonus, and no slouch in the appetite department hisownself, Jeffrey Barnes, the saxophone virtuoso of nuclear polka Grammy-band Brave Combo, and his charming better half Gina, were dropping in. Aviline, CBoy’s mom, who had just celebrated birthday number 95, came with her compadre and fellow mom, Nancy Barnes, mother of Princess Di. Daughter Havalah showed up with number one daughter spawn, and Christian, her charming ex. R popped out a little later with her son Ross, making his first RW appearance. It was a small but solid crew, dedicated to giving some thanks, celebrating, and chowing down.

Princess Di, the Martha Stewart of Manchaca, and I had been cogitating about the menu, and made some grandiose plans, but as the day approached, we came to our senses. The turkey was originally going to be brined, spatchcocked, and grilled, but our head griller, CBoy, insisted on non-grilling. It didn’t get butterflied and brined because it wasn’t thawed in time, so instead, it got its cavity stuffed with celery, carrots, onions, garlic, thyme, sage, and parsley, and then settled down to a long, warm golden-brown slumber at 350°F, with a frequent basting of butter and turkey schmaltz. The ham got crisscrossed-slashed and baked, and then got a finishing glaze of habanero-pineapple jam, apricot jam, German mustard, brown sugar, and roasted garlic.

I fought my way into the SuperHEB in Kyle and procured the last few packages of fresh turkey thighs, and
a package of chicken necks. They would join the turkey neck in the pot with celery, carrot, garlic, onion butts, and herbs, for some rich, slow-simmered turkey stock. I used it to make the dressing, this year made with sausage, onions, roasted garlic, celery, sage, thyme, parsley, walnuts, dried cherries (plumped in the turkey stock), day-old French bread cubes, a couple of bright gold-yolked RW yard eggs, and that turkey stock. CBoy declared it the best dressing he had ever eaten, which speaks volumes, considering his advanced age.

There was a dish of baked sliced red sweet potatoes and apples, topped with toasted pecans and a spiced topping of butter, honey, brown sugar, and dark rum; a nice little combo. Di made her famous slaw of cabbages and broccoli stems, sweet onion, and a ginger-lime dressing, garnished with toasted sesame seeds. I blanched some beautiful green beans for 6 minutes, and then sautéed them with butter, turkey fat, thick-sliced mushrooms, and then finished them with roasted garlic and touch of turkey stock. There was huge platter of fresh fruit (strawberries, raspberries, pineapple, and red grapes).  Nancy made some of her wonderful cranberry relish, to go with the canned cranberry jelly that Havie insists on (not bad on a PB and J by the way). While all that stuff was cooking, Nancy had thrown together a nosh of her famous slow-cooker chile con queso, scooped up with Frito’s.

There was plenty of Old Forester, an inexpensive ($18 per fifth) and very highly-rated bourbon, which I heartily endorse and recommend. Di and Gina had a big bottle of Monoplowa Vodka and the makings for cosmos. Monoplowa was originally made in Poland (the name means “State Monopoly”) but has migrated to Austria. It’s made from spuds and is a bargain at the low price ($12.50 for a fifth), if you happen to be a vodka drinker, which I am not. Vodka is watered-down Everclear and LOTS of overblown advertising.

I had brought some Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, one of the finest India pale ales, to go with CBoy’s Shiner White Wing (which is pretty damn good in its own right).  I brought a box of Big House White, a bottle of Borsao Garnacha (an old standby Spanish red at a great price), and two of Silver Range Malbec (excellent, considering the $8.50 price tag). I wanted some white, just in case there were white drinkers, and Spec’s NEVER has the better box wines (I went there looking for Jack Tone White, Silver Birch NZ Sauv Blanc, or R. Müeller Riesling; Big House Great Escape Chard was the fallback, and they didn’t even have that, not that Big House White is horrible). Di had grabbed a bottle of Apothic and a Beaujolais, so we were set.

There were store-bought rolls to pop in the oven and some soft butter for schmearing, and Nancy brought one of her famous pineapple upside-down cakes, to go with one of HEB bakery’s finest pumpkin pies (and some Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla). Sorry, no dessert pics; I was in a tryptophan, Dogfish Head, Old Forester, and Malbec haze by then.

The turkey came out very moist and tasty; ditto for the ham. The meat from the turkey stock turkey thighs was saved for some turkey mole enchiladas further down the calendar a bit. The dressing was superb (as declared by CBoy), and the accompanying gravy rich and luscious. All of the side dishes soared above expectations; same for the accompaniments. We put a serious dent in the spirits supply, and the crowd was especially jolly. UT even beat Tech. Many thanks were given, and old friends reconnected, and epoxied together with new friends. Nobody hit deer or got hit by deer on their way out. All things considered, Turkey Day at Rancho Winslow was a huge, delicious success.

Stuffing with Dried Cherries, Sausage, and Walnuts:           
serves 6 to 8

1 medium onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup celery, minced
2 tablespoons butter
8 cups bread, cubed, let air-dry
1½ cups rich turkey or chicken broth (homemade, highly preferred)
¾ cup dried cherries, plumped 30 min in hot turkey stock, drained
1¼ cups cup cooked sausage, chopped coarsely
1 cup dry-toasted walnuts, chopped
¼ cup parsley, chopped
3 eggs, beaten
½ teaspoon sage
½ teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon salt (or a little more, to taste)
½ teaspoon pepper

Cook sausage in skillet until browned, breaking it up as it cooks. Sauté onions, garlic, and celery in butter until soft. Transfer to large bowl. Moisten bread with broth and add to sautéed vegetables. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. If the mixture seems a little dry, add a bit more broth. Transfer to buttered casserole and bake 35 minutes at 350°F.

Sausage can be ground breakfast sausage, Italian sausage, or any type of cooked link sausage. To make it extra special, use the amazingly good smoked turkey sausage from Billy Inman, of Inman’s Ranch House BBQ in Marble Falls.

Mick Vann ©   

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