The ATK Massive Holiday Post

Ok, so I haven’t written up any recipes for this blog since before Thanksgiving. I handmade the majority of my Christmas gifts and so the whole month between Turkey Day and Christmas was lost to that. But I was cooking the whole time, and I have lots of recipes to discuss. I’m going to put all the holiday recipes in one post, for my sanity and hopefully yours.

For Thanksgiving I found myself tasked with cooking everything but the turkey. The dressing is a secret family recipe, and my famous squash casserole recipe originally came from the web. But for everything else I used America’s Test Kitchen recipes. For Christmas, I reversed the deal and made the turkey while my in-laws made everything else.

Candied Sweet Potato Casserole
I have actually made this before, for last year’s Thanksgiving. I love sweet potatoes, but am not too fond of the tradition canned yams topped with melted marshmallows. This recipe is a great improvement, using fresh sweet potatoes and a candied pecan topping. The only complaint I’ve gotten about it is that it is too sweet or too much like a dessert. I don’t consider this a problem. In fact, it would make a good dessert substitute. This is also a pretty easy recipe to make ahead of time and finish right before the meal. You peel the potatoes and cut into cubes. They are cooked in butter, brown sugar, water, salt and pepper on the stovetop for 45-60 minutes. I did this the day before, then transferred it to a baking dish and refrigerated it until the next day. The topping is pecans, brown sugar, egg white, salt, cayenne pepper, and cumin. You mix all that together, put it on top of the potatoes and throw in the oven for 10-15 minutes. (The instructions for making ahead have you microwave the potatoes for 3-5 minutes before putting in the oven to bring the temp back up. I did this and it worked fine.)

From ATK Blog

Apple Pie with Double Crust Pie Dough
I’ve never made an apple pie, and I’ve never made pie dough from scratch. But since there’s a whole pie section of the book, Thanksgiving was a good time to start. The pie dough was pretty easy, actually. It calls for using a food processor, but mine is tiny, so I had to use the hand mixing method. This involves grating frozen butter into the dry ingredients with a box grater and then using two knives to “cut” the mixture until coarse crumbs form. Rolling it out was a bit trickier. It didn’t end up exactly round, but I eventually got a blobby shape that would fit the pie pan with some maneuvering. The Book recommends using pyrex pie pans to get a perfectly crispy crust every time. So I bought two.

The apple filling wasn’t very hard either. It calls for McIntosh and Granny Smith apples, sugar, flour, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. I couldn’t find McIntosh apples at the store so I bought Fuji apples since they were on sale and in season. Since I ate quite a few on their own I can confirm that they were yummy and sweet. To bake, you preheat a baking sheet and then put the pie on that, baking on 425 for 25 minutes and then at 375 for 30-35 minutes. The pie looked gorgeous when it came out. Unfortunately, it wasn’t perfect. The bottom crust was gummy and not crispy and the filling was very tart. It was edible, and I tend to like some tartness in pies, but it was too tart. I assume it was the lemon juice/ zest and not the apples. I’m not sure why it ended up that way when I followed the recipe. Next time I make an apple pie (and I will because I love apple pie), I’m going to try Alton Brown’s recipe.

From ATK Blog

Pecan Pie with Single Crust Pie Dough
My husband and I have made a bunch of pecan pies for holiday celebrations in the past. We’ve usually used the recipe in the Betty Crocker cookbook, although last year we used the recipe Neil Gaiman called “The Best Pecan Pie Ever.” (That was disappointing.) The single crust pie dough recipe was easy after the double crust recipe. The only problem I had was not having enough edge to make a pretty rim. The crust is pre-baked. I don’t have pie weights or a bunch of pennies (as the book suggests) but I used dry beans as recommended by Alton Brown.

The pecan filling requires a little more fiddling than the average pecan pie recipe. You use a glass bowl set in a skillet of barely simmering water. You melt the butter in this bowl, take off the heat, add sugar, salt, eggs, corn syrup and vanilla, and then return to the skillet of water. You stir until the mixture is shiny and hot to the touch, or 130 degrees on a thermometer. I guesstimated since I didn’t have a candy thermometer then. Then stir in the pecans, pour, and bake. The result was really good, definitely the best pecan pie we’ve made.

From ATK Blog

Roast Turkey
I’ve never cooked a turkey. But I’ve been doing pretty damn good at chickens recently, so I figured it couldn’t be much harder. My mother has always make great turkey using a plastic basting bag, but I told her I wanted to do it the ATK way. The Book recommends buying a fresh, natural turkey and brining it yourself. But it says that if you don’t want to brine, to buy a Butterball “self-basting” turkey. I sent Justin to the store with instructions to buy a 10-12 lb Butterball. Unfortunately, the only butterballs they had were 25 lbs. And there’s no way we needed a turkey that big. Luckily, he found a 15 lb fresh natural turkey. Unfortunately, that meant we had to brine. I’ve had brined turkeys that were way too salty. The Book says that happens from brining too long. It recommends 6-12 hours of brining for a turkey. So I decided to only brine for 6 hours. My turkey didn’t fit in my largest stock pot, so the only way I could figure to brine was in a cooler. Unfortunately, this meant that the 2 gallons of water in the turkey brining instructions didn’t really cover the turkey. Even after packing ziplocs of ice around it. I added more water and salt, but I still didn’t end up with a totally submerged turkey. So I’m not sure that the brining really was very effective.

The actual roasting was way easier than the brining. The recipe calls for putting carrots, celery, onions, fresh thyme, the neck and giblets into the bottom of the roasting pan for later gravy use. I have limits to dealing with icky meat and so I left out the neck and giblets. The turkey is roasted in a V-rack covered with foil after being smeared with butter. You start the bird upside down to get the bottom browned and keep the breast from drying out. After an hour you flip the bird upside down and roast until the thighs reach 175 degrees.

The results were pretty, but I found the meat itself pretty chewy and a bit dry. It might have been the actual turkey, rather than the cooking. It’s hard to say. Next time I need to figure out a way to do a proper brine.

From ATK Blog

Easy Turkey Gravy
The gravy is made from the strained pan drippings plus added chicken broth. But first you have to make a roux with butter and flour and cook until dark brown, 15 minutes. White wine, the broth, then roasted veggies, bay leaves and thyme are added and simmered for 25 minutes. Then the gravy is strained. It was quite tasty, but the lengthy cooking time made Christmas dinner late. So if you plan to make this gravy, leave plenty of time.

Big and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
I’ve made this recipe before. The Book describes this cookies as “the ultimate home-baked chocolate chip cookie.” The big difference from the usual cookie recipes is using melted butter and extra egg yolks to make them soft. They are also super thick and jumbo. The recipe calls for dough balls of 1/4 cup. The resulting cookies are huge. They stay soft, with a cake-like consistency. This time I think these cookies were way too big. They were practically chocolate chip muffins. And they were disappointingly dry. I think they would have been better had the dough balls been mashed a bit prior to baking to thin them out. There was also a flavor missing from these cookies that Tollhouse cookies have. My husband had made a batch of Tollhouse to take to work the week before and they were too thing and crunchy, but had a good flavor.

Since making these, I’ve found the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. It’s from the same people behind the ATK cookbook. It’s the Cooks Illustrated Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie. The recipe is a bit more demanding, but the cookies it produces are the best I’ve ever had. Crispy on the outside, chewy in the middle, caramelized flavor, perfect texture. This is the recipe that should be in the cookbook, but it hadn’t been invented yet. There’s no point making any other recipe again, in my opinion.

Ok, so those are the holiday recipes I made this year. I’ve still got a stack of recipes to write up, but this gets rid of a bunch of them. How did everyone else’s holiday cooking go?

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