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Our Oddball Thanksgiving

Just about every family has a unique recipe that’s always part of their Thanksgiving spread. So in celebration of one of our favorite holidays, we challenged members to show us their most unusual recipes that, for them, it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without. Whether it was Grampa’s cookie casserole or Aunt Margie’s curious take on ham, we wanted to see the special, edible traditions that would be on your table this week.

We put together a panel of some of our most discerning judges to taste through finalists, and some of us at Lot18 headquarters affectionately dubbed the event “Weirdsgiving.” A team of three staff volunteers prepared the dishes, and each was rated based on ease of preparation, originality and, of course, deliciousness.

And if you’re still planning your Turkey Day menu, take a look at the recipes below for some oddball inspiration.

To kick things off, Elizabeth, Wynn and Audrey presented their home-cooked dishes: Zinfandel spiced cranberry sauce, five spice roasted turkey with pomegranate glaze and blueberry congealed salad.

The three chefs then explained their process to the panel.

Elizabeth: “Mine was really easy. The only problem I ran into was that I couldn’t find whole allspice. I thought this was really good — I served it with pork chops last night.”

Wynn: “The biggest problem I had was that it was hard to find a turkey. I went to five grocery stores, and finally had to start calling around. For the stuffing, which calls for oranges and onions, I wasn’t sure from the recipe whether or not to peel the oranges. I decided not to. The pomegranate reduction smelled delicious — I doubled how much the recipe called for, and I still wish there was more of it. Since this is a smaller turkey I cut the temperature called for in the recipe — 350 at first, then down to 325. it took about three and a half hours to cook.”

Audrey: “The blueberry congealed salad was really more mixing than cooking. I couldn’t find blackberry-flavored Jell-O, so I had to go with mixed berry. The only confusing thing was that the recipe I followed contradicted the recipe on the box. I also opted to cut the sugar down from 1/2 to 1/3 cup.”

Katy, our Gourmet Curator and resident epicure, chimed in with “We got the 1950’s recipe! Tradition doesn’t die.”

The Expert Tasting

Katy, Wine Curator Alexis Brock and Editorial Director Eric Arnold sat in to judge the entries. The three eyed that blueberry congealed salad with suspicion.

Katy couldn’t resist — she reached out, giggled and gave the plastic container a shake. The panel was mesmerized by the gelatinous wobbling.

Katy thought the cranberry sauce was awesome, and asked if there were other types of berries in it. (Answer: No, the whole bottle of Zin just added a whole lot more fruitiness). She commented on how deeply colored the turkey meat was, but had a different reaction to the congealed salad’s hue. “It looks and tastes very fake. It would be great if we caramelized the nuts and just didn’t use the gelatin. It’s like a weird take on blueberry cheesecake.”

When Alexis got to tasting, she asked, “Why don’t they serve turkey wings at bars?” She noted that even the white meat on this bird was tender. When she tried the congealed salad, she commented that “it’s just really not good. It’s like going to a state fair or something.”

Eric thought the cranberry sauce was “a little boozy” but that the turkey was “just really incredible — it’s hard to cook one this well.” When he got to the congealed salad, however, he cringed. “The color is just horrifying.”

The Final Judgement

As for that uniqueness criteria, the otherwise unpopular blueberry congealed salad won hands down. For ease of preparation, the cranberry sauce was victorious. But as for tastiness, it took some debating. While the turkey was incredibly moist and unusually delicious, the judges were ultimately taken with the distinctly unusual tastiness of the Zinfandel cranberry sauce.

The Recipes

Zinfandel Spiced Cranberry Sauce

1-3/4 cups Zinfandel

½ c sugar

½ c (packed) golden brown sugar

6 whole cloves

6 whole allspice

2 cinnamon sticks

1 3-inch x 1- inch orange peel strips

1 12 oz bag fresh cranberries

Combine all ingredients, except cranberries, in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced to 1-3/4 cups (about 10 minutes). Strain syrup into a large saucepan. Add cranberries to syrup and cook over medium heat until berries burst (about 6 minutes). Cool. Transfer sauce to medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate until cold. Cranberry sauce can be made up to one week in advance (keep refrigerated).

Alexis suggests pairing with: A sweet red because of the high level of sugar in the dish, or a dry red only if this is going to garnish a meat like turkey or pork. These include Ruby Port, dry OR late harvest California Zinfandel (an obvious choice because its a key ingredient), sparkling Australian Shiraz or Italian Amarone della Valpolicella. Try it with 2008 D-cubed Howell Mountain Napa Valley Zinfandel Duo 

Five Spice Roasted Turkey with Pomegranate Glaze

1 16-20 lb organic turkey, thawed, rinsed, and patted dry

1 tbsp Chinese five spice

1/2 tsp ground white pepper

2 tsp sea salt

2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened

1 navel orange, quartered

1 small white onion, quartered

1 c pomegranate juice blend

1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place the turkey on a roasting rack situated in a large roasting pan.  In a small bowl, stir together the five spice, white pepper, and sea salt.

Use about a third of the spice rub to coat the inside of the turkey cavity, and mix the remaining rub with the softened butter.  Use the spiced butter to rub the exterior of the turkey, working some of the butter between the skin and the breast meat.

Loosely fill the cavity with orange and onion quarters.  In a small saucepan, cook the pomegranate juice and tamari until reduced to about a half cup.  Whisk the remaining butter into the basting liquid.

Roast the turkey for 3-4 hours, basting with the pomegranate mixture about every 40 minutes.  Roast to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, then remove the turkey and let it rest before carving.

Alexis suggests pairing with: Aromatic white wines. Because of all the hard baking spices in the rub and the fragrant orange citrus stuffing, you’ll want to look to wines like Chenin Blanc from Vouvray in the Loire Valley, or a Riesling or Pinot Gris from Austria or Germany. Try it with 2009 Ress 501KM Dry Rheingau Riesling

Blueberry Congealed Salad

Ingredients

2 (3 oz) packages blackberry gelatin

2 c boiling water

1 (15 oz) can blueberries

1 (8 oz) can crushed pineapple, drained with juice reserved

1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened

1/2 c white sugar

1 c sour cream

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 c chopped pecans

Directions

In a large bowl, dissolve the gelatin in boiling water. Drain the liquid from the blueberry and pineapple cans into a measuring cup and add enough water to make 1 cup of liquid. Stir the juice mixture, blueberries and crushed pineapple into the gelatin and pour into a 2 quart mold. Refrigerate until firm.

Mix together softened cream cheese, sugar, sour cream and vanilla and spread over the congealed gelatin mixture. Sprinkle cream cheese layer with chopped pecans. Chill for approximately 30 more minutes, invert and serve.

Alexis suggests pairing with: A dessert wine — but something lighter without too much residual sugar. Moscato d’Asti, which is lightly sparkling and lightly sweet. Try it with the forthcoming 2010 Rinaldi Moscato d’Asti. 

Have a happy Weirdsgiving!