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The Big Bad Feast



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The Big Bad Feast
(December 2000)

Why would I think you might be interested in an ongoing Thanksgiving
Feast two weeks before Christmas? Easy. Your family tradition might be
the same as ours. Your Christmas Feast may be simply a variation on the
Thanksgiving theme. That is the case with many folks. Or so I’m told. In
which case, this information may be of assistance to you.

Or, how about this? The Major (remember him? I suspect he has migrated
to Mars by now,,,) hosted The Big Bad Feast. Ahah! Just as I suspected.
Now you are really curious! You cannot help wondering what the mad
chef was up to this time, right? Right! Wonder no more…

Here is what The Major had in mind:

Tuesday – Lemongrass Soup with Shrimp (recipe follows)

Wednesday – Pork Chops with Crawfish and Cajun Noodles

Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) – Turkey and all the trimmings

(Translation: 3 deep-fried turkeys, his signature smoked oyster dressing
and turkey gravy, Rum-Glazed Sweet Potatoes, Potato, Leek, Gruyère
and Oyster Mushroom Gratin
, and Brussels sprouts. It would not be
Thanksgiving without
the obligatory pumpkin pie. And, just because I
wanted to, I threw in a delicious Mocha Rum Cake, which actually
had nothing to do with Thanksgiving.) Okay?
Oh yeah. Almost forgot. Also at my request, there was an appetizer of
The World’s Best Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms. Just had to do it. So we
would have something to nibble on while we were cooking, of course.

FridayChef Keegan’s Crab and Mushroom Bisque

Saturday – Steak, Red Wine and Shiitake Risotto

Sunday – Soup

Mercy, mercy, mercy! Mouthwatering, no? You may be wondering how
many people The Major was planning to feed. And, perhaps, how many
refrigerators he has. You would not believe me if I told you, so just don’t
worry about it.

This is the way it was:

TuesdayThe Major's creation (probably with a little help from his
To die for. Absolutely. You really must give this a try.

Lemongrass Soup with Shrimp

3/4 pound shrimp
1 shallot, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, pressed
3 stalks lemongrass, bottom third only,
cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 pound white mushrooms, sliced thinly
1 pint [2 cups] chicken stock
[or canned chicken broth if you must]
2 tablespoons fish sauce
3 limes, juice only
Dash cayenne pepper
1 package oriental wheat noodles
(or regular fettuccine)

Peel shrimp, reserving shells. Place shrimp in cold, heavily salted water.
Sauté the shallots and garlic in one tablespoon oil or butter until lightly browned. Add chicken stock, lemongrass and shrimp shells. Bring to a
boil and simmer 20 minutes. Strain through colander to remove shells,
etc., and return to pan.
Add mushrooms, fish sauce and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.
Cook noodles and add to stock. Add shrimp and cook until pink (about 3 minutes). Serves 2. Magnificently.

Wednesday – (still on schedule) Pork Chops with Crawfish and Cajun Noodles… The Major reports:


“This, actually, is not that big a thing. [Easy for him to say…] Fry up the
pork chops. Season the crawfish with a bit of Emeril's Creole seasoning, or equivalent. Sauté them up in butter until just heated through. Toss in about
2/3 cup heavy cream. Continue heating. Just before a low boil, reduce heat and stir in a couple of tablespoons of cold butter, little chunks at a time.
This will thicken up and make a nice sauce to pour over your pork chops.
For the Cajun Noodles, boil up some fettuccine. While that is going on,
heat 2 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon Cajun Blackened Seasoning and
one tablespoon soy sauce in a small pan. Drain the pasta and toss with
the sauce. Different and delightful.”  [Indeed!]


Thanksgiving Day – Yes, the man actually did fry 3 turkeys. Truly.
Here is how that goes:


“First, you have to check the weather forecast. This is something you just really can't do in the rain (or snow, I would expect). You want to set up
your turkey fryer well apart from the house, and somewhere you don't
care about getting a fair amount of oil spattered on. Like the lawn.
About four hours before cooking time (and we are going to figure three
and a half minutes per pound, if you are calculating table time), inject
your turkey(s) with the chosen marinade. I went down to the local Tractor Supply shop and bought a genuine equine syringe (horse needle, for you Marines). Works better than what they sell in the grocery store. What you
put in it is a kind of personal thing. I go for about half a cup of olive oil, a
quarter cup soy sauce, maybe a tablespoon or so of Cajun Blackened
Seasoning, a little hot chili and sesame oil. Warm it up on the stove, strain
it through a tea strainer. Inject liberally.
The turkey itself is dirt simple. Wear your grungy clothes. Fire up the turkey fryer. Add oil. Peanut oil is best, but expensive unless you are doing more
than about six turkeys. Otherwise, go for the cheap stuff. I used four gallons this year. Heat the oil to 350 degrees F. VERY carefully, lower in the turkey (which you have carefully dried with paper towels, right?). Watch the tem- perature closely. Keep it between 325 and 350. Forty, forty-five minutes. Drink beer while you do this.  [What else? Distinctive beer, though, if you please.] That's it.”


Thank you, Major. And now, sir, would you be so kind as to enlighten us about the preparation of your signature dressing and gravy, as well. (God knows I have tried to document his every move - notebook, pen and wine glass in hand - but the Major can be very hard to follow…


“Dressing. Basic, simple. Cheat. Start with a bag of Pepperidge Farm
Stuffing Mix. [See there. He is not the purist you may have thought him
to be. He is flexible!]  Make up according to package directions, sort of
[Ahah!]  Substitute chicken broth for at least part of the water. Add at
least three tablespoons rubbed sage and a couple teaspoons salt. Goodly
grind of black pepper. And two or three tins of smoked oysters. Don't
bother to drain them.

For the gravy, start with the giblets and neck pieces from the turkey(s).
Toss these in a pan with a little salt and pepper and a goodly tablespoon
of rubbed sage and cook the hell out of them. Gentle simmer for about
an hour should do it. The test piece here is the gizzard. When that is
tender, all else will be as well. Pull the meat off the neck, chop the other
stuff into small pieces. Set aside.
Gravy could be a problem with fried turkeys. Forethought here. [Ahem.
It just so happens that I absolutely insisted on turkey stock, fried turkeys
or no.  Okay?] Bought a couple of turkey legs dirt cheap; everyone wants
the breast (is there something Freudian there, or what?). Tossed them in
the oven in a shallow pan with some carrots and leeks and whatever and
cooked it down for a couple of hours. Discard the vegetable, pull the meat
and add it to the gravy fixings. On the stovetop, heat the pan. Add two tablespoons flour and stir until the flour just begins to brown a tad. Add
one quart milk. Adjust color  with Kitchen Bouquet. [See. He is cheating again. Not at all the stuffy perfectionist!] Season with salt and pepper.”
[He did not bother to tell you that he uses sea salt and that he has 3 or 4 pepper grinders to achieve just the right degree of texture and flavor. The
man does have his standards.]


Okay. Me again. The Rum-Glazed Sweet Potatoes were good. But. In
my opinion, not outstanding. (All due respect and my humble apologies
to Marcelle Bienvenu.) The Major and I were wondering, for example,
what happened to the rum. Not even the faintest hint could be detected.
Why bother??? I just gotta tell you though, the Major's four-year-old
grandson absolutely loved them!

Potato, Leek, Gruyère and Oyster Mushroom Gratin. Yes. Delicious. But
not the showstopper I expected it to be. For one thing, even shopping at
one of the best supermarkets around, we could not get fresh oyster mush- rooms.  That was not the problem, though. We bought an excellent assort- ment of fresh mushrooms – crimini, baby portobellos, and a pre-packaged
mixture that actually did include a few of the oyster variety. Other than that,
I must say that I followed the recipe to the letter (knowing that I would be
reporting on it). There was far too much liquid to be accommodated in the
baking dish, so naturally, I did not use all of it. A baking dish will only hold
as much as it will hold, right? And yes, I did use the size called for in the
recipe. Sheesh!  Perhaps next time I will try adding the remaining liquid a
little at a time during the baking process. This is certainly not a recipe to
be discarded. But, in my humble opinion, not to die for. If you are
interested in a decadently creamy potato dish, try this:


Gigi’s Potatoes, Onions and
Mushrooms au Gratin

Cook 5 pounds new potatoes in their jackets. Cool, peel, and cut into
slices about 1/4 inch thick.
Peel 24 small white onions and boil them in salted water to cover about
5 to 10 minutes, just until they are tender. (Or, if you must, you may
substitute two 15-ounce cans small white onions, but they will tend to
break up.)
Heat 1/2 cup butter in a large saucepan. In it, sauté 1 pound fresh
mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and quartered, until tender and just
beginning to brown. Stir in 1/2 cup flour and cook, continuing to stir,
for several minutes. Whisk in 4 cups milk, 1 cup heavy cream, and
one 10 1/2-ounce can condensed consommé. Add 1 teaspoon seasoned
salt, 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, a good pinch of cayenne, and
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce. Cook the sauce, stirring, until it is
smooth and thickened. Remove from heat. Add the onions, stirring
gently to combine.
Grate 1 pound sharp Cheddar cheese.
In a large baking pan (4-quart capacity) layer the potatoes, covering the
bottom of pan. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Cover the potatoes
with half of the mushroom-onion mixture and half of the grated cheese.
Repeat the layers. Bake at 350 degrees F. about 1 hour, or until bubbly
and golden. Serves 12.

 The Brussels sprouts, I am sorry to say, fell by the wayside. By the time
we normally would have cooked them, we were too tired to tackle any-
thing else. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it would not have been that much trouble,
and it would not have taken that long.
I know what you're thinking. WHAT ABOUT THE VEGETABLES?
I hear you! That is just the way it was. You would not want me to lie
about this, would you? Gimme a break!

Whoops. Almost forgot about the crab-stuffed mushrooms. Ohmigod. I
do believe I outdid myself. There is a funny story here. This is one of
the I-don’t-know-how-many recipes that started out scribbled down on
a piece of scratch paper in what once was a Delta Air Lines reservations
office in a mid-size metropolis somewhere in the Deep South. Back in
the old days.
This usually happened on the night shift. Things would start to slow
down, we would begin to chat between calls, and sooner or later, the
talk would turn to food. There was a very petite, very beautiful, very
Southern, blue-eyed blonde, relatively new in the office, who had
quickly established the reputation of being VERY blonde. The kind
of blonde brunettes love to hate. You get my drift, no? And, shame
on us, we tended to dismiss her as being, well, blonde. (Not to worry,
I have already asked to be forgiven for this pompous, intolerant stance
many, many times. And I have reformed. Okay?)
Well. Lo and behold. All of a sudden, somebody says, “I have the
most fabulous recipe for stuffed mushrooms imaginable! And you’ll
never guess who gave it to me!” “Who?” No way!  Way. You got it.
The Blonde. THE Blonde. The one with the long, fluttering eyelashes.
Knocked our socks off. Turned out she was a very fine cook. Knew
her stuff. That just goes to show you, never judge a cook by her
peroxide. Or something like that...


The World's Best Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms

24 large fresh mushrooms
1 cup grated Romano cheese
3 cups fresh lump crab meat
[or, if you do not choose to spend half your
salary, an equal amount of well-drained
canned crabmeat can be substituted]
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups half-and-half
Italian bread crumbs
Garlic [I use 4 cloves, peeled, minced]
Fresh parsley, minced
1 bunch scallions, trimmed, diced,
including some green
Butter Sauce (recipe follows)

Make a white sauce using 2 tablespoons butter, flour and half-and-half.
In skillet sauté scallions, garlic and parsley in 2 tablespoons butter. Wash
and stem mushrooms, reserving the stems. Dry the mushroom caps with
paper towels. Chop the stems and add to scallion mixture. Sauté till mushrooms are just tender.
Add to the white sauce the scallion-mushroom mixture and the Romano cheese. Blend well and season to taste with salt and pepper or Cajun seasoning. Add the crabmeat, blending carefully. Add enough Italian
bread crumbs to just hold the stuffing together - should not be too dry.
Stuff the raw mushrooms. (Can be covered and frozen at this point if
you wish.) Bake at 450 degrees F. about 15 minutes. Then pour butter
sauce over mushrooms. If desired, broil several minutes to brown the
stuffing. [ I do not find this necessary.]  Enjoy! Call 911...

 Butter Sauce
1 cup butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon minced parsley
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
[I add a splash or two of dry white wine]

Melt butter. Add all other ingredients. Heat, don't boil. Pour over stuffed
mushrooms. This sauce is also very good with 3 lbs. shrimp - pour over
shrimp and bake at 400 degrees F.

Pumpkin Pie. Good grief, how I do hate to admit this. I did not make
the crust from scratch. And, yes. Shame on me, as The Major would
say. Enough already. For years and Years and YEARS, I would never
have even considered the possibility of cheating. I was a purist. And it
took me years, literally, to learn how to make a really excellent crust. I
have paid my dues. And I am recovering. And it turned out rather well
anyway. So there.
Besides which, I do believe that if you are going to cheat, you might as
well Cheat. I used that Pillsbury refrigerated dough that all you have to
do is unfold it and put it in the pie plate. It was not bad. The filling is
my dear grandmother’s recipe, God rest her soul. I still consult the
3 x 5 card, written in her hand. It has become somewhat illegible...

We were going to bake a mincemeat pie, too. But somehow we just
never got around to it. Go figure...

Friday. Okay. You don’t really think we made Crab and Mushroom
Bisque, do you? We just looked at each other and said, “What were
we thinking?!?!?”  And ate leftovers like everyone else in the country.
Are turkey sandwiches not the best part of Thanksgiving, anyway? Of
course. The Major insists that his sandwich be made on Jewish rye bread
with caraway seeds. No mayo, no butter, no condiment of any sort. Just
bread, piled high with turkey and slices of smoked oyster dressing about
1/4-inch thick, and lots of salt and pepper. But of course. Freshly ground
black pepper. This is the MAJOR, after all. Period.
I, on the other hand, do not like caraway seed. At all. Yuck. So I had
my turkey sandwich on plain rye with mayo (of course!) and cranberry-
range relish. The Major did not say what he was thinking as I consumed
it. And that is just as well.

Saturday. We thought about it. A lot. Truly. But we could not justify
it. Especially knowing that we still had a fridge full to overflowing. And
that no matter how good the risotto turned out to be, we would not be
able to eat all of it. And besides, I was still full from Thursday. So we
went out socializing for a while and wound up dropping in at a simply wonderful cantina for Margaritas (not going to tell you how many),
guacamole (lots!) and enchiladas. Hit the spot.

Sunday. I was absolutely determined to make some soup. I had thought
about my mother’s split pea soup (Potage St. Germain), but it occurred
to me that a more practical solution would be another all-time favorite:
George’s Smoked Turkey, Broccoli and Black Bean Soup.
 George's at
the Cove, La Jolla, CA
 Mercy, mercy, mercy… Yummy, although
I must admit this was not my best batch. Because the turkey was not
smoked? Because I used too much (or not enough?) artificial smoke
flavoring. Not sure. But do be sure to try it. Very much in its favor
was the fact that this soup would make good use of some leftover
turkey and the excellent rich turkey stock. (And after all, making this
stock is the highlight of my Thanksgiving celebration.)

And that, my friends, was that. Merciful Father, what a feast! Even
if we did have to leave out about half of it. 

Be well, stay safe, and express your love for each other.
God bless us every one. As Ole Blue Eyes would say,
"Have yourself a merry little Christmas."
And until next time, remember,

"Each and every act of kindness done by anyone anywhere
resonates out into the world and somehow, mysteriously,
invisibly, and perfectly, touches us all

- The Editors of Conari Press, from Random Acts of Kindness


"It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love,
are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think
of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I
am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the
love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and
fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one."

~ M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating icon icon




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