Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Bentley House

Hillsboro MO.

Thanksgiving 2009

The Place:
It’s just like home, well, it is home.
Purchased unfortunately at the apex of the housing bubble in 2006. The modern comfortable home sports three bedrooms, three and a half baths, a large open living room, dining room and kitchen and a fully finished walkout basement on five acres of rural land just five miles outside Hillsboro MO. Somewhat secluded it sits back about four hundred heavily wooded feet from the road. No trick-or-treaters have ever approached, likewise there’s simply no point in hanging exterior Christmas lights. (Win-win!)
The dining room was furnished with a light oak table and matching chairs. A dark antique hutch, a family heirloom of some sort, overlooked the dining area and during the holiday season serves as the display platform for the owner’s large, pointless, but colorfully festive collection of nearly seventy nutcrackers.
The carpet was worn and plain. The large windows allowed the option of plenty of light, shaded by custom-made violet/purple/dark red vertical blinds. The walls were white with textured tones of silver and / or beige.
A few steps away were the open kitchen and pantry. Many meals are made in the small but accessible kitchen, few actually consumed in the dining room.
In the adjoining living room the large TV whispered an old episode of ‘Mythbusters’ and a fire crackled in the tarnished, glass enclosed fireplace.

The Food:
The holiday fare was traditional. Turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, corn, deviled eggs, olives, dinner rolls, and of course, the specialty of the house; gravy. For dessert two pie choices. Angel and Adam to shared the pumpkin, I got the apple. I made the apple pie with my own two hands, carefully opening the frozen box and removing the plastic covering all by myself. Great effort was extended turning the oven to 400 degrees and setting the timer for fifty five minutes exactly. Midway through the cooking cycle foil was wrapped around the edges to keep the crust from burning.
Two small turkeys were prepared. One a day ahead of time, the other fresh out of the oven. The dressing was special this year, rather than from a box, it was homemade from an old family recipe, with dried bread, sage, celery, and whatever else goes into dressing. The mashed potatoes were made from actual potatoes, the dinner rolls were name-brand ‘brown and serve’ a family favorite. The gravy was as always homemade with the drippings from one of the turkeys, flour, and… well that’s pretty much it. The deviled eggs were piled high with filling and placed in the crystal deviled egg platter, another family heirloom. In the center of the eggs was a crystal bowl filled with black olives freshly plucked from a new, un-dented can.
I made my own tea, Luzianne, of course, Angel and Adam drank something, I don’t recall what.

The Service:
Angel decided to nap that morning and did not leave me any specific instructions. I obliged by not doing anything. The house smelled great though. Once she finally got up and started the final preparations, things moved quickly. There were few fatal accidents and most of the prepared food made it to the table.
The turkey was carved, one by Angel the other by me, with all the skill and finesse of an old-west saloon knife fight. The carcasses were decimated in the carnage and reduced to brittle steamy bones in very short order. The meat went into either the large Tupperware-like box container or a one gallon freezer bag. The box would serve as the starting point for subsequent meals. Some of the better bits were plated and served at the table. The bag went into the freezer for use in future meals and snacks.
Once dinner was called at about three thirty P.M. the meal went fast.

One of the turkeys was a little dry so we mixed and matched batches. Gravy cures this problem easily if applied liberally. The dinner rolls were darker on the bottom than the top as I had failed to move the oven rack up to the center before heating them. The potatoes were a bit watery, but once again gravy punched through that issue as well. The deviled eggs were exceptional, the corn was fresh from a can and microwaved with a bit of butter. In other words, perfect. The real star of the show though was the dressing. Angel had pulled back a little from the recommended amount of sage which turned out to be a good thing. The texture and taste were simply perfect. Angel has reminded me that there was also some asparagus. I assume she cooked it somehow and enjoyed it, I really don’t care. I’m pretty sure asparagus is what the Donner party finally reduced themselves to eating after they ran out of people.
The apple pie was cooked late deliberately. I planned to stuff myself with proper vittles at dinner and then savor dessert much later. Adam made the pumpkin pie which was a good life lesson for him. He removed the tin pie pan prior to putting it on the baking sheet. Admittedly the instructions on the box were a bit vague. This resulted in what could be described as a pumpkin pizza, which was every bit as good, so they tell me, as if it were still in the pie pan. I despise pumpkin pie and would have been no more concerned about how it turned out had it exploded and turned into boiling acid.
As holiday meals go, this one was as near to perfect as I can recall. Sure some individual items were a little off, but they were all made with purpose, devotion and love and then topped with gravy.
Dinner in a warm, comfortable place, surrounded by loved ones, the total tab: Priceless.
We highly recommend this place and will certainly return again and again. Final score 100%.

Bonus track: Leftovers!
The reason for making so much food was so we would not have to prepare another meal for the remaining three days of the holiday. Below is a collection of some of the meals made independently at unpredictable and irregular times.

Barbecue Turkey Sandwich.
Select pieces of white and dark meat, sautéed with lots of onions. Barbecue sauce is thinly applied in the skillet and allowed to caramelize. Served on toast with a side of lima beans and potato chip crumbs.

Turkey Rice, Asian Style.
Regular white rice made in my prized rice cooker. Veggies, onions, peppers, celery, etc sautéed with select chopped bits of turkey. Once the rice maker pops, mix everything in a large bowl with a chopped fried egg and douse with soy sauce to taste.

Classic Turkey Sandwich.
Bread, mayo, turkey. Done. Cheez-Its round off this quick meal perfectly.

Breakfast casserole.
Turkey, a little dressing, onions, heated in a skillet till hot. Add in two to twenty eggs to taste, partially frying them then mixing with the turkey, etc. until coated and done. Some bacon pieces would have been good had I remembered that we had some.

Poor (lazy) Man’s Casserole.
Take some of everything leftover; turkey, dressing , mashed potatoes, corn and pile it high in a cereal bowl. Nuke until piping hot, smother it in reheated leftover gravy. This meal best served to people already wearing holiday sweat pants or loose fitting bathrobes.

Deep Fried Thanksgiving Balls.
Angel saw this one on The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”
Take some Turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and mix together in whatever proportion you like, using the mashed potatoes to bind it all. Make 2 inch diameter balls out of them and dip them in a beer batter ( 1 ½ cup flour per 12 oz beer, ½ tsp salt, mix the flour/salt into the beer). Deep fry until golden brown. We topped ours with gravy. Use any remaining batter to make some tasty onion rings.

Turkey Potato Pancakes.
The morning after we made the balls, I pondered about the best way to reheat them. I flattened a couple pancake thin then reheated them in a skillet along with some of the leftover rice. Mmm.

Basic Turkey Midnight Snack.
Take some turkey from the box and put it in a plastic bowl. Sit down in front of the TV and enjoy. Excellent when accompanied by a fresh box of Chardonnay.

Angel also reminded me to mention the Turkey Pot Pie. Which is turkey, boiled potatoes and I imagine carrots or something like that in a thick stock that she made out of broth or something. Instead of pie crust, just make some biscuits. Angel decided to try a new recipe off the web. Bad idea, they weren’t very good but they sure were flat and hard. Regular biscuits (canned) are better, and so were a couple of those leftover turkey balls. Anyway, cook the broth with the turkey and potatoes, etc, and pour in a bowl over whatever carbohydrate / starch delivery device you prefer.

Thanksgiving Chili.
By day four we were running low. Angel broke down and made traditional chili. Angel’s a bit timid when making chili so I usually end up spiking it a bit, much like I do with my Sunday morning canned chili brunch. This time I kicked it up holiday style.
Chop up the remaining, picked-over turkey bits including those dry ones stuck to the side of the box. Chop up one stalk of wilting celery and the limp end pieces of the onions that rolled to the back of the crisper. Then add those diced bell peppers and jalapenos from the bags in the freezer. Sautee in olive oil since all the canola oil got used up making the turkey balls.
Spoon in more of the plain chili than you can possibly ingest at one sitting. Simmer while your Luzianne tea steeps. Crack open the last, stale package of generic saltines. Once all is done sit down, hunch over and read a book while gorging yourself . Ignore everything and everyone else for the next hour or so. Eat all of it.
For desert: ‘Tums’ and regrets aplenty.

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