Dinner for One: Fancified Leftover Thanksgiving Dinner

If you are anything like me (read: made a Thanksgiving feast large enough to feed 8 lumberjacks when only feeding yourself and your No. 1), you still have LOTS of leftovers to work through. This I expect.  But I don’t expect my readers to simply *hate* leftovers like I do.  Let me be clear: I LOATHE leftovers.  It has something to do with my childhood.  As such, it is very rare that I ever indulge in the same meal in consecutive sittings, and since I usually portion control pretty well, at most the husbandman (the aforementioned No. 1) gets to indulge his deep affection for leftovers with a single, but generous lunch within a few days of diving into the fresh stuff.  But the smallest turkey we could find clocked in at 12 pounds, which I roasted absolutely perfectly (if I do say so myself).  Given that we’re on a tight budget these days even I couldn’t stick my nose up at the abundant albeit cold deliciousness in my fridge, or the prudent economy of said deliciousness.  On Friday, I made some sinfully amazing Turkey Day sandwiches (which I regret not blogging about), and Clayton’s eaten a few more turkey sandwiches in the last few days.  Today I did my bit by assembling a little something something for myself.

Fancified Leftover Thanksgiving Dinner

Leftover stuffing, turkey, cranberry relish, and gravy
feta cheese
1 tsp flour
1 tbs butter
1 cup turkey stock
salad stuff

The other day, I cut some beer cans down to make an elegant stacked crab salad.  I hung onto those razor sharp accouterments for future use — like today’s.  I had an idea about a Thanksgiving themed tian, with a few additions from the larder.  But first, I spread some foil over a baking sheet, since unlike my last stack o’ dinner, which was served chilled, this stack I meant to bake.  Booyah!

Using my killer samurai edge’d cylinder, I cut a 1/2″ round of feta cheese from the block, and about a 3/4″ round of stuffing from the whole.  I made a very smooth cornbread stuffing — something more akin to a quiche or pudding than the more chunky varieties I usually prepare.  This made it very easy to carve out a perfect disc.

The first layer is the feta cheese.  Clayton wasn’t sure why I chose this cheese over others, but I quite rightly suspected that its saltiness, and the unique fluffy sort of way it “melted”, would be the perfect compliment to this preparation.

The next layer is a few spoonfuls of my homemade cranberry relish, prepared with long, thin strips of orange peel — nice and chunky and tart and bursting and juicy.

Next, I insert my layer of stuffing, and then top the whole tian off with a mixture of dark and light turkey, daubing some of the congealed turkey fat over the top to keep everything moisturized.  (Sorry the picture is so out of focus; I was having problems with the light tonight.)  I set the whole baking sheet, can in place, into a 350 degree oven to heat through for about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, I make a blond roux by first whisking my butter (melted) and my flour over medium high heat…

… before adding my turkey stock …

… and a few heaping tablespoons of my leftover gravy, which has also congealed.  See, I need to thin it out a bit, but just reheating it in the pan might burn it – so making a simple gravy base with the roux and stock before adding this super-potent homemade turkey gravy concentrate works best.  It maintains the fantastic flavors I harvested last Wednesday night by cooking down the neck and gizzards with fresh aromatics and butter.  There are even delicious bits of turkey neck meat still studding its smooth rich texture.

I bring this to a high heat so it will thicken, then toss a few more bits of shredded turkey into it so they can heat through and soak up all this flavor before I form a steaming standing pool of yum on the plate.

Said steaming pool of yum will envelop my now hot and ready dinner.  Admittedly, the feta squished a bit more than I’d hoped, and the cranberries ran, but using some gentle pressure on the turkey to hold everything together, and sliding a flat spatula between the filling and the foil, I remove my savory stack from its baking sheet.  I press down on the center of the filling while sliding the can carefully up, essentially extruding my whole turkey dinner into a skyscraper on my plate.

Oh, and I whip together a quick salad as an accompaniment (some iceberg, ranch dressing, slivered onions, and scallions.  It’s all I had in the house…).

All the flavors of Thanksgiving, vertically presented.  My puffed feta cheese nestles a vibrant layer of tart cranberry relish, and a pedestal of savory cornbread stuffing buttresses a steaming stack of unctuous tender pulled turkey, all draped with rich, smooth giblet gravy.  It’s the same meal I’ve enjoyed a few times already, but presented in oh such a sumptuous way.  And I daresay it tasted even better tonight, constructed as it was with such delicacy and respect.  Dropping absolutely no new dimes on this dinner by making it completely from leftovers and simple items from my fridge helped, too.  If all leftovers could be this elegant, I might eat them more often…

Slow Braised Lamb Leg with Goat Cheese Mashed Potato

After a miserably hot summer, August has proven to be quite mild this year – the other day dropping to the low 60′s.  Needless to say, I complained about the chill, which gave me a head  cold and has laid me up with the sniffles and whines.  But the cooler weather does mean I can use the kitchen more, whereas a few weeks ago even boiling water increased the ambient temperature in the apartment from unbearable to murderous.  It also means I hanker for more substantive meals – like tonight’s braised lamb leg and chevre infused mashed potatoes.  Hearty and stick-to-your-ribs, this rich, glorious, tender mutton was ideally paired with fluffy potatoes flavored with goat-cheesy gameyness, all topped with cooling cucumber tzatziki.  Even if my cold has gotten worse, the ingestion of such delicious stuff did make me feel better…

Slow Braised Lamb Leg with Goat Cheese Mashed Potato

2lb boneless leg of lamb
1 small onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic
2-3 cups small tomatoes
2 tbs fresh oregano leaves
chicken broth
EVOO
1-1 1/2lbs white potatoes
1/2 cup half & half
4 oz goat cheese
3 tbs butter
8 oz Greek yogurt
1 medium cucumber
1-2 tbs lemon zest
sea salt, cracked black pepper
2 tbs chopped chives

Usually, I make a larger piece of lamb so Clayton and I can make sandwiches with the leftovers, but today I just purchased what looked more like a 3″ thick steak than anything else.  It was rolled and tied, which I ultimately could have removed (since, as you’ll see, it unraveled on its own accord later), but for now I just dusted the whole hunk with salt, pepper, and flour before dropping it into my medium roasting pan with a glug of EVOO heated to high.

I sear each side, including the 3″ wide edges, until the meat is a nice golden brown.

These are some of our little tomatoes, grown on our wee roof-deck.  We’re calling them compost tomatoes, since they sprang unbidden from the compost-mixed-dirt Clayton filled the boxes with before actually planting any seedlings.  They’re delicious — very sweet and complex — although their skins are very thick and a bit tough.  Still – we keep getting scads of these, so I decided to use most of them to make a sort of tomato sauce for the lamb.

After the mutton joint is browned all over, I add most of my chopped onion (reserving about 3 tbs for my yogurt sauce), my oregano leaves, 2 crushed cloves of garlic, and my de-stemmed tomatoes to the pan.

Using the veggies as a sort of rack, I lay my lamb across them and add about an inch of chicken broth the the pan.

Even though it’s cool enough to use the oven, I decide to throw the pan, covered with foil, out into Little Red on the deck anyway.  I shut the lid, and let this braise for about an hour before checking on it.

Meanwhile, I remove the skin and seeds from my cucumber, trying to drain out as much liquid as possible.  Tzatziki shouldn’t be too wet, so I sometimes even salt the cucumber and let it drain some more if I fear it will leech too much into the yogurt.  I also mince some garlic very finely; I’ll only need a 1/4 teaspoon or so, since raw garlic is so very potent.

I mix the remainder of my onion, my chopped cucumber, and my garlic with some salt and pepper before adding my yogurt.

The final ingredient is lemon zest – which gives this sauce a bright flavor.  I put the bowl in the fridge to chill while the rest of dinner comes together.

At the hour mark, my meat is already tender, and I can almost pull it apart with two forks.  As you can see, it also wiggled its way out of the butcher’s net – so I fish that out of the pan and chuck it in the trash.  At this point, I remove the foil paper and close the lid on Little Red again, so that the meat can brown some more and most of the remaining chicken stock can boil off.

Clayton was in charge of the potatoes today, and he got them started before I could snap any pictures.  Luckily, I caught him in the act and snapped this little, relatively uninformative candid.  But basically, we peeled the potatoes, cut them into smaller pieces, and boiled them until tender in salted water.  Then he he added the half & half, butter, and goat cheese to the pan, and mashed everything up together real nice. A little salt and pepper was added, too.

After about 30 more minutes on Little Red, and the meat has nicely browned.  I remove it from the pan…

… which I put on high heat on the stovetop to reduce even further, stirring well to blend all the ingredients together.  This makes the tomatoes spill their guts into the hot oil and chicken fat, thickening the sauce to a red gravy.

The meat falls apart with nary a nasty look, and I add the chunks back into the pan and mix it well with the lovely tomato sauce, until everything is well coated.

A hearty helping of chevre mashed potatoes is layered with tender, juicy, flavorful lamb, the gameyness of which is cut by a perfect balance of tomato and creamy cucumber tzatziki.  I drizzle a little of the red oil leftover in the pan over the whole dish, and scatter some fresh chives for color and zip.  My heart is warmed through by the incredible taste, and my aching body thanks me for providing it with such sublime enrichment.  If I have more dishes like these on my winter horizon, I won’t mind it when the cold weather finally comes.

One final parting shot for my dear readers: the breathtaking Cambridge sky.  If only my camera could really capture all the magnificent beauty.  Dearest Uprooted Magnolia, where are you and your camera-eye when I need you?

Chicken, White Bean, and Tomatillo Stew

I love white chicken chili.  I’ve made it before on this blog, as a matter of fact — perhaps I should review that recipe to see if I’m just recreating it here.  Nah – what’s wrong with eating something twice?  And since I rarely use a recipe, per se, I venture to guess this one’s somewhat different than my past attempts, but it was still delicious.  It’s as warm and hearty as your traditional red beef and bean chili, but it seems lighter and less heartburn inducing than its more sanguine cousin.  There’s just something about the tart flavor of tomatillos simmered with the satisfying starch of cannellini beans that gets my motor running.

Chicken, White Bean, and Tomatillo Stew

4-6 fresh tomatillos (or 1 can of whole tomatillos)
3-4 cloves garlic
1 cup diced red onion
1 cup diced celery
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper
3 cubanelle peppers (if you like it hotter, go for habanero or jalapeno!)
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 qt chicken stock
1 can small white cannellini beans
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup shredded white cheese (this is American – but queso fresco would work nicely, too)
1 cup minced cilantro leaf
1 avocado, diced

Except for all the simmering, this is a fairly quick and easy dish to make, so I start by roasting my peppers.  I’ve whined before about my body’s inability to deal with spicy foods in comfortable ways, but I hate not having *any* of the pleasure peppers bring, so I’ve started picking less hot babies and roasting them to add to my dishes.  These cubanelle peppers were perfect – they’d bring me the full-flavored punch of pepper without any of the heat, and they are easy enough to roast.  I douse them in EVOO, sea salt, and pepper before laying them on a foil-lined baking sheet and tossing them in a 400° oven for 8 minutes.

They get turned once, then put back in the oven to finish roasting for another 8 or so minutes, or…

… until their skins are almost completely blackened – like so!  I reserve the flavorful oil on the pan, and …

… move the peppers to a paper bag, so that they can sweat off their tough papery skins.

Using the flat of my blade, I scrape off the skin, then I roughly chops the peppers, removing most of the spicy seeds.  I set this aside to add to the stew later.

I’ve washed and patted dry my chicken thighs before adding them to my deep wok to sear in the roasting-pepper EVOO I saved from before.

I brown them fully on both sides.

Once the chicken has a nice tan, I add my tomatillos – from which I’ve removed their paper and washed off their sticky stuff (you know they’re gooseberries, right?) – my onion and my garlic.  I let everything sautee for a moment…

… before adding my celery…

… stock and beans…

… and my roasted peppers.  It doesn’t really matter what order you add everything in.  I was sort of Swedish Cheffing this, but I got everything in there eventually.

Finally, I turn the heat down to low, cover my wok, and let the whole mess simmer for 30-45 minutes.

After the long stewage, I check my meat.  With barely a dirty glance, my thighs just fall right apart. (Provocative, no?)  The tomatillos have disintegrated, the peppers have melted into the stock, and the gravy is thick and rich. Perfect!

The last thing to do is slice my avocados…

… shred my cheese, and mince my fresh leaves of cilantro.

I forgot to grab some sour cream, which with I usually garnish this dish, so instead I infused some heavy cream right into the stew to cool down any heat and add the right amount of lactic acid to round out the flavors.  Served with some tortilla chips for dipping and sopping, this bowl of braised chicken thighs in whitegreen gravy garnished with peppery cilantro, cool silky avocado, and melting shredded cheese was just the right thing for my cold, rainy Sunday night dinner.  Bon appetit!