Tuesday, November 13, 2012

It's a mini Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a big food event. But what if you've got a small family? What if you're flying solo? What if you want to save money by buying an extra turkey, but you don't want to eat another traditional stuffed bird in a month or three?

What if you don't want a traditional bird at all?

And what if you want to top it off with a small but decadent dessert?

This year, I think I fit the "all of the above" category. Or most of them, anyway. With my husband still in the hospital, cooking a big Thanksgiving meal is not on my radar. But I love turkey. And I love a bargain. So I bought a 14-pound turkey and went to work.

When it comes to poultry, I love dark meat. When it comes to turkey, my least-favorite part is the legs. Or, more accurately, they're my least favorite part on turkey that's cooked the traditional way. The meat is never tender and it's impossible to cut into nice pieces for sandwiches. I'd rather have thighs. Heck, I prefer breast meat, if it's not overcooked.

But if you treat those legs differently - cook them like the tough meat they are - well, you get nice, tender meat. It's still not great for slicing, but it's perfect for shredding. And perfect for ... TACOS!

Yep, turkey tacos. And they were incredibly good.

But before we get to making the tacos, let's talk about dismantling a turkey. If you've ever cut up a chicken, it's the same thing, only bigger. The bones are a sturdier. But it's the same thing. A good, sharp knife and a pair of poultry shears makes the job easier.

I really love the OXO shears for two reasons. First, they do the job well. And second, they come apart. That means you don't have to worry about bits of stuff sticking in the hinge. When you're dealing with raw poultry, that's a big deal.

When I was done, I had two legs, two thighs, and two breast halves. The back, wings, and the rest of the carcass went into the oven for roasting. The thighs and breast halves were wrapped and frozen.

Meanwhile, the legs went into the slow cooker, not quite covered with water, and I cooked them on low until they were fork tender - about 4 hours. I took the legs out of the slow cooker and let them cool a bit and then the roasted turkey went into the slow cooker (less some parts saved for nibbling) to make stock. That's not part of the turkey taco recipe, though, but if you decide to disassemble a turkey, it's a good way of handling it.

The turkey legs can be shredded immediately, or you can refrigerate them and shred the next day.

The sauce is based on a very simple pepper sauce that I make quite often, but this time I pushed it a little further with some spices and chocolate. It's not mole, but it flirts with the idea of mole.

You can find adobo seasoning in just about any store these days. Some have a lot of salt; some have very little. That's why you need to taste and adjust seasonings at the end.

When the tacos are assembled, you can add whatever toppings you like. I opted for some shredded cabbage and lime-pickled red onions. I also tried a some of my spicy pickled cauliflower on some. Avocado chunks or guacamole would also work well.

Turkey Tacos

2 turkey legs, braised until tender
1 cup Simple Pepper Sauce
1 teaspoon adobo seasoning
1 ounce chocolate
Salt, to taste

Shred the cooked turkey meat and add it to a small skillet. Add the pepper sauce, adobo seasoning, and chocolate. Cook, stirring as needed, until the liquid is mostly gone and you have shredded turkey in a thick sauce.

Serve on tortillas with your choice of toppings.

And now for DESSERT

Going with the theme of dinner for just a few people - or just one (with leftovers, which is the best part of Thanksgiving) I made a very small cheesecake - just four inches in diameter.

As much as I like cheesecake, most recipes are huge - for serving 8 or 12 or 14 people. That's way too much for me to make on a regular basis, and way too much even when we've got company.

Mini Pumpkin Cheesecake

For the crust:
2 graham crackers
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon butter

For the filling:
8 ounces softened cream cheese
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons canned pumpkin
1 egg yolk
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Have you ever used a ricer to crush crackers?
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Wrap the outside of a 4-inch springform pan with aluminum foil.

Crush the graham crackers. You should have about 1/4 cup of crumbs. If not, crush some more. Mix the crackers crumbs with the salt and sugar. Melt the butter and mix it with the crumbs until they're evenly moistened.

Press the crumbs into the bottom of a 4-inch springform pan. Set aside.

Cream the cream cheese and sugar together in a medium bowl. Add the pumpkin, egg yolk, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and vanilla extra. Beat until thoroughly combined. Pour this mixture into the springform pan.

Place the springform pan in a cake pan or other ovenproof container. Add about an inch of hot water to the cake pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes. When the cheesecake is done, it will still move a bit when you jiggle it, but it shouldn't be sloppy wet looking.

Take the pan out of oven (carefully! You've got really hot water there!), remove the springform pan, and let it cool for about 15 minutes, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours before removing the cheesecake from the pan and slicing.

Did I mention that this post is sponsored by OXO and that there's a really AWESOME giveaway right HERE? And I'll tell you about some of the tools I used and why I love 'em.

Oh yeah, you're going to absolutely love it!