Ravioli, er, Thanksgiving Update

Thanksgiving came and went and, oh, goodness. I couldn’t have predicted how well the squash ravioli would taste. True, it ended up more squash lasagna after baking, but, oh.

The sauce was a very basic sherry cream sauce. About 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots, sweated in 2 tablespoons butter and more salt than I’d have used if I’d remembered to put any in the filling. Add 2 cups sherry, turn up the heat, and breathe through the nose (oh) while it reduces to about 1/3. Add 2 cups stock, then two cups heavy cream. Whisk thoroughly and pour over a 10 x 12 baking dish full of frozen ravioli. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes or so.

That went (quite well) with the rest of the meal:

- Two grilled turkeys, one stuffed under the skin with garlic and rosemary, one with jerk seasoning
- Gravy from drippings and milk (about a cup of honey wine poured in the bottom of each pan pre-grilling kept the drippings from burning and caramelized nicely), made with a roux while the turkeys rested
- Potatoes mashed with sour cream and butter
- Steamed broccoli topped with melted cheese
- Sage dressing with sunflower seeds and dried cherries
- Grandma’s cranberry relish (ground cranberries, a tiny bit of sugar, crushed pineapple and mini marshmallows, folded with stiff whipped cream)
- Chewy, whole-grain bread with homemade elderberry and cherry jelly
- For thems as wanted it, a nice chardonnay that stood up to all those flavors better than it had any right to
- For thems as didn’t, fresh, unfiltered apple cider

Dessert was hours after dinner, by long tradition and popular demand.

- An apple-pecan pie from the orchard
- Spicy pumpkin pie (fresh nutmeg, ginger, Ceylon cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and plenty of all of it) from fresh pumpkin
- Cinnamon ice cream to go on top

Everything was done when expected and at the same time. Everyone was cheerful except my niece, who had a good excuse and mostly slept it off on the couch. Everyone brought something, so we only provided the turkey, gravy, cranberries, ravioli, and pumpkin pie.

(I keep telling myself that I’ll learn to make good dressing someday, but I don’t believe it. Fundamentally, I just don’t believe in bread pudding. I think it knows that somehow. Or maybe I simply can’t make myself put that much butter and that many eggs into a single dish.)

Later, we were asked to show our vacation photos. Then we introduced folks to Super Rub-a-Dub, a PS3 game involving rubber ducks and wind-up toy sharks. Brutally simple and highly addicting. Even Ben’s mom and her boyfriend had to play.

All in all, we couldn’t have asked for the day to turn out better.

Oh, the Cheer

I walked into the lobby at work this week to find a barbershop quartet singing “Cabaret.” I winced. Then I made a bet with myself. There would be no Elsie in this version of the song.

Remember Elsie, who “rented by the hour”? Well, no, unless you like the musical, you probably don’t. Popular versions almost exclusively leave her out, despite her being central to the message of the song.

I hate the beigification of music. Kander and Ebb’s musical was (and is) popular because it wasn’t sickly sweet sap. “Cabaret” is a powerful song about defiantly grasping moments of joy in a grim life–until you take out Elsie. Then all it says is, “Party on, dude.” It’s like turning Mack the Knife into the next best thing to Robin Hood by leaving out the verses about rape and burnt children. Or taking “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” up tempo and major key. It’s a special sort of sacrilege.

Not that I have anything against good covers. Insane Clown Posse’s “Let’s Go All the Way” is a sheer delight (and their only song that doesn’t make me giggle–I’m so not their target market). My favorite Siouxsie and the Banshees album is Through the Looking Glass. I highly recommend the new Madness, The Dangerman Sessions. Covers that do what covers are supposed to do are beautiful things.

What are covers supposed to do? One of two things: pay tribute to the original or add to it. Smash Mouth paid tribute to “I’m a Believer” by saying it didn’t need updating to be worth listening to today. Cake’s “I Will Survive” updates the original by stripping off the polish to emphasize the anger and determination. Both rock. Covers that merely render a song down into pablum? Blegh.

Of course, I won my bet. No Elsie. Not even a “cradle to grave.” Double blegh.

Thanksgiving Prep/Savory Squash Ravioli

I know it’s a little early, but I started cooking for Thanksgiving today. We decided, oh, about the time that winter squash came into season that we wanted to serve squash ravioli for one of the vegetable dishes. So today I picked up a couple of small acorn squash and baked them in a tiny bit of water until pliable.

I like squash ravioli in restaurants–for about the first four ravioli. Most places use a filling that’s essentially squash, butter and nutmeg. It gets cloying. I wanted to do something with more complex flavor and texture. Into the food processor went about 3/4 cup chopped pecans. I dug in the pantry a little further. I’d originally thought dried cranberries, but how many cranberry dishes do you want in one meal? Ooh, smoked dried tomatoes. Just a very small handful.

Then it was on to the spice drawer. I wanted rosemary, but I saw the oregano on the way, so I grabbed both. I did my favorite test to determine which spice to use. Sniff the squash. Sniff the oregano. Not bad at all. Sniff the squash. Sniff the rosemary. Also making my mouth water. Repeat. They were both equally appealing after repeated tests, so I went with a very healthy pinch of oregano. One of the turkeys will likely get rosemary and garlic stuffed under the skin pre-grilling.

I ran the processor a bit to break down the tomatoes, then scooped in the squash. It wasn’t quite both of them, because I decided I wanted about 1/5 squash for myself. No fun in cooking only for other people, you know. And I’d just been sniffing the stuff. I ran the processor again to mix it all up, then threw it in the fridge while I made pasta.

It will make about five dozen medium ravioli–once I get more eggs and make more pasta. That’s okay. I can only freeze so many comfortably at one time. Based on the taste test, I achieved my flavor and texture goals. There’s just a bit too much smoke when eating the filling on its own, but that should be perfect when I bake the ravioli in a sherry garlic cream sauce.

Yum. I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving.

Dance of Diplomacy

I had one of those moments today, when the big details of planning the next book start popping up and falling into place. The darn thing’s been simmering for months (since before I finished the last book last December) but hasn’t really felt substantial until now. I felt like I was short a subplot.

Yesterday I realized I was telling a story that put a nineteen-year-old boy and a sixteen-year-old girl with very different backgrounds in close proximity for a long period of time. Even with an alien chaperone, they’re going to at least explore the idea of romance. Duh. There will be flirting or fighting or (ideally) both.

Fourth plot line in place, I think I’ve got a book. Today seems to have proved it, as all the plot lines started to fill out and jostle for position. I’m not ready to start it yet (good, since I have a couple of shorts I want to finish before starting another long project), but I know where it all has to start. It won’t be long until I’ve figured out the order in which everything has to happen.

Now I just have to get that hula research done.