Cooking with Lady Smokey: November Feasts & Hangtown Dancehall

We’re a little strange when it comes to holidays. I don’t like having to celebrate things when everyone else is celebrating. It’s just the way I am. I love family and friends and the whole idea of tradition but I just want to honor it and celebrate on my own terms. I do not like being forced into it and despise all the stress and anxiety that arises from so many expectations. (If you’ve ever worked in retail or food service around the holidays, you have certainly had your fair share of this.) So, because of this, it has never mattered too much to us that often times we have to work more around the holidays. Luckily, our families are very understanding and laid back with this. We just celebrate at other times and make whatever time we decide to celebrate special. It is sort of fun to break traditions and start new ones.

All this rambling to say that I’ve been thinking all month about what we should cook for Thanksgiving and racking my brain to come up with some alternate ideas that still seem festive and celebrate the abundance of the season. Don’t get me wrong, I love a perfectly cooked turkey and all the trimmings but just maybe we will do something different this year. These two meals, whose recipes I am about to share, seem to fit into that category quite well. Both so delicious and we had so much fun preparing them.

Grant and I had an entire weekend off together recently with not too much planned. One night during that weekend, he created this really yummy and satisfying pork roast and after we ate, I felt like the whole weekend had been a holiday. It was then that I realized this would make a perfect Thanksgiving meal. It really highlighted what’s in season. We got a pork tenderloin from our neighborhood butcher and still have an abundance of sage in our garden. Here’s what he came up with…

Big Smokey’s Autumn Feast 2013
Serves 4
• 1-½ lb Pork Tenderloin
• ¼ cup + 1 tsp fresh Sage Leaves, chopped
• 5 cloves Garlic
• 5 Tbsp Olive Oil
• Sea Salt & ground Black Pepper
• 2 Russet Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 ½” cubes
• 3 Carrots, cut into 1” rounds
• 1 Onion, cut into chunks
• 1 Tbsp Bacon Fat (or butter or oil of your choice)
• 2 cups Chicken Stock (homemade, if you are a badass like Grant!)
• 2 Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
• ½ cup White Wine

Mix the sage and 3 cloves (crushed and chopped) of the garlic together in a small bowl. Add 3 Tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper. Rub mixture onto all sides of the pork. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Preheat oven to 400. Heat a large Dutch oven on medium heat. Add 1-2 Tbsp olive oil. Add the potatoes, carrots, and onions and stir. Add 1 tsp sage and the garlic. Stir. Add a little more salt & pepper. Cover. Place the Dutch oven in the oven for 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes. Just before the 30 minutes are up for the potatoes and carrots, heat a skillet on the stove on high. Place the bacon fat in the pan. Place the pork in to sear it on each side.

Take the Dutch oven out of the oven and pour in the chicken stock. Once the pork has browned on both sides, remove it and place it in the Dutch oven on top of the vegetables. Place the Dutch oven back in the oven for about 20-25 minutes, or until the pork is cooked all the way through. While the pork is cooking in the oven, add the apples to the same skillet that the pork seared in. Add the wine. Stir. Cook the apples on medium until they are soft. Pull the Dutch oven out and remove the pork. Cover it with foil to keep it warm. Strain the vegetables, reserving the liquid. Add the liquid to the apples. Place the vegetable in a separate bowl and mash them. Stir the apples and mash with the liquid to form an apple sauce gravy. Slice the pork. Place the potato mash on the plate. Lay a couple slices of the pork on top. Top with the applesauce. Garnish with a sage leaf.

(Serve with roasted Brussels sprouts cooked in a little butter or ghee, on the side.)
(Wine Pairing: Joseph Drouhin Chorey Les Beaune, Red Burgundy)

Then this past weekend, I was racking my brain trying to come up with a perfect Sunday dinner. My friend and co-worker had mentioned that she made a whole roast chicken stuffed with apples and onions and I could not get that thought out of my head. We had a couple chicken breasts that needed to be eaten, though, so I decided to flatten those and make stuffed chicken, incorporating that same idea. As we ate, I thought, “This would make a perfect Thanksgiving dinner!”

Harvest Stuffed Chicken with Bourbon Pecan Gravy
Serves 2
• ½ cup finely diced old bread (I used 4 slices of a baguette)
• 1 tsp Fresh Rosemary, chopped
• 1 tsp Fresh Sage, chopped
• 1 small Apple (or half of a big one), finely chopped
• ¼ Onion, finely chopped
• Salt & Black Pepper to taste
• 2 tbsp Butter
• ½ cup Toasted Pecans, ground
• ½ cup Flour
• 1 cup Chicken Stock
• 2 tbsp Bourbon
• 1 tbsp Maple Syrup
• 2 Chicken Breasts, pounded flat
• 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
• Kitchen Twine

Preheat oven to 375. In a bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, herbs, apple, and onion. Heat a skillet. Add 1 Tbsp of butter. Once it has melted, saute the mixture together. Salt and pepper. Set aside. In a separate pan, toast the pecans. Once they are toasty and slightly cooled, grind them finely and mix with the flour in another bowl. In a cup, mix together the stock, bourbon, and maple syrup. Set aside. Pound the chicken breasts flat. Spread the bread apple mixture out onto each breast. Roll the chicken up carefully trying to keep the stuffing inside and tie with kitchen twine in two places to hold it tight.

Heat a skillet on the stovetop on medium high. Add the olive oil. Roll the chicken bundles in the flour mixture well. Cook the chicken enough to brown on each side. Add ¼ cup liquid to pan and cook about 25 min in oven, add ¼ cup more liquid half way through. Place the chicken on a plate. Heat the skillet on the stove and add 1 Tbsp butter and some of the flour mixture to make a roux. As it brown up, add the rest of the liquid (and you can add a bit more stock if you need to) to form a bourbon pecan gravy. Place a spoonful of the gravy on each plate and then place the chicken on top.

(Serve with sauteed green beans.)
(Wine Pairing: Barista Pinotage from South Africa)

Speaking of family and tradition, not many people know this about me but I grew up going to musicals. My Mom, big Sis, and I would take a trip to the big city of Atlanta (2 hours away from where I grew up in South Carolina) every summer to stay in a hotel, go to a fancy dinner, and see a musical for my birthday. Full confession: I saw Cats 3 times (once in NYC even) and I had a Cats t-shirt that I proudly wore all throughout high school. Yes, I was that awkward geeky kid that maybe you made fun of. The thing is, though, as much as I loved the theatrics and the production, I never really loved the music of most musicals. I mean I could totally appreciate the songs in every way possible but it wasn’t really a genre of music I connected with deep down in my soul. Which brings me to my current, present-day musical suggestion.

The CD includes original artwork by Julie Sola of Fat Crow Press.

Our very talented friend, good cook, and neighbor, (Grammy nominated!Eric Brace, has created what he is calling a “folk opera” about the California gold rush with his talented friend Karl Straub who resides in D.C. This folk opera, titled Hangtown Dancehall, was a decade in the making and it has finally come to fruition. They premiered a live show recently and we were lucky enough to get to see it. Wow! We loved it. All the songs are very well crafted and can stand alone but together, with all the wonderfully talented musicians, I left feeling like I had just seen a great musical with music I really connected with.

Hangtown Dancehall’s performance at 3rd & Lindsley in Nashville. November 2, 2013.

The live cast was top-notch. Both Eric and Karl have strong lead voices. Joining them on vocals were the fabulous Kelly Willis from Texas, the lovely and talented Andrea Zonn who also played fiddle, Tim O’Brien also on fiddle, one of my all-time favorite voices Jon Byrd, Peter Cooper, and Brian Wright. Mike Parker narrated to keep the story flowing. The band was filled with many Nashville A-listers including  Pat McInerney who I remember first seeing at least 20 years ago in Nanci Griffith’s Blue Moon Orchestra. That man is one talented percussionist. There were guitars, fiddles, trumpets, violas, cellos, a piano, a pedal steel guitar, a banjo, a mandolin and even an accordion! At times there were nearly twenty people on stage at once. It was quite a display of musicianship.

The cd has some vocal heavyweights, as well- Eric and Karl are joined by Kelly Willis, Tim O’Brien, Andrea Zonn, Darrell Scott, Jason Ringenberg, and John Wesley Harding. The official cd release is not until January of 2014 so put it on your list and plan to start your new year off with a bang by buying one up. Also, I just found out that you can buy it early on the Red Beet Records website beginning December 2nd. In the meantime, you can check out all the other artists on the Red Beet Record label. And listen out for Hangtown Dancehall. I expect very big things from this lovely musical project. I’ll close with this song featuring Tim O’Brien which is on the cd.

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