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A Thanksgiving meal to remember 

click to enlarge thanksgiving-meal_press1.jpg

PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS

Every October, Janine and Tim Caschette plan their annual Thanksgiving celebration — choosing the menu, ordering ingredients, and stocking the bar — at Avvino, their contemporary American eatery in Brighton.

Since opening in 2014, the restaurant has consistently been one of the region’s best dining experiences in large part due to its commitment to quality ingredients, local sourcing, high-level culinary acumen, and genuine attention to detail. It has also been the setting for a holiday feast for the Caschettes’ friends and family.

The annual ritual started small, with just close family. But like the waistline on Thanksgiving, it expanded — first to extended family, then to friends. Now some 50 guests pass through Avvino on Thanksgiving in true open house format. They begin trickling in around noon, with some guests hanging around for 10 minutes and others closing the place down around 10 p.m.
click to enlarge Tim and Janine Caschette's Thanksgiving spread at Avvino is an open-house for the who's who of Rochester's dining scene. - PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS
  • PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS
  • Tim and Janine Caschette's Thanksgiving spread at Avvino is an open-house for the who's who of Rochester's dining scene.
“There’s a whole lot of selfishness going on here,” Tim said with a laugh, only half-joking. “This basically happened out of convenience. Hosting a dinner at the restaurant is so much easier than at home. We’ve got a much bigger kitchen, a dishwasher that has a 45-second cycle, a fully stocked bar, pasta cooker, four bathrooms, plenty of parking and all the dishware, flatware and barware we need, with the bonus of no mess at home!”  
click to enlarge Tim and Janine Caschette prepare their annual Thanksgiving feast at their Brighton restaurant, Avvino. - PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS
  • PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS
  • Tim and Janine Caschette prepare their annual Thanksgiving feast at their Brighton restaurant, Avvino.
The beauty of the day is its eclectic mix of people without the dysfunction. Regulars include wine reps, restaurant owners, mixologists, servers, and local celebs from the dining scene like Marty O’Sullivan (Marty’s Meats), Mark Cupolo (Rocco and Rella) and restaurant consultant Chris Grocki (the German House).

“It’s a great opportunity to see family, especially being in the restaurant biz where it’s hard to regularly connect with them,” Janine said.

Transforming the chic space into a homey yet elegant holiday backdrop is Janine’s jam. She has amassed décor, trinkets, and finery over time for an autumn tablescape to rival any Food Network holiday set. To illustrate the lengths to which she goes, Janine rents lounge furniture to create relaxing spaces and supplies arts and crafts and games for the kids. Nerf gun fights have been known to break out while “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and football battle for attention on TVs behind the bar. 
click to enlarge PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS
  • PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS

The menu belongs to Tim, who builds it with discerning palettes in mind and the same philosophy he employs year-round at the restaurant, whose motto is, “Locally sourced, fiercely seasonal.”

His slow-cooked Sunday-style sauce and pasta with oxtail, thighs of farm-raised chicken, and homemade sausage and meatballs is a winner with the kids, while the brined and smoked local turkey and basil potato puree are elevated twists on tradition that adults adore. His luxurious gravy is made with New York apple cider reduced down with drippings and chicken stock. The sausage stuffing recipe is equally decadent, baked with rosemary, thyme, garlic, celery, carrot and onion.

But he doesn’t shy away from introducing global flavors, such as local Delicata squash spiked with North African spices like clove, cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon. He might offer a vegetarian dish of curried lentils with Indian notes or creamed swiss chard with Ethiopian spices — keeping the tradition of Thanksgiving while ever so slightly playing with flavor profiles.

The first course comes out at 1 p.m. that day featuring a bountiful charcuterie board with smoked and cured meats, pâtés, local and imported cheeses, nuts, olives, pickled vegetables, breads, dips, and spreads. And then there’s the chilled seafood platter overloaded with lobster meat salad, stone crab claws, spiced shrimp and lobster claws.

A couple of hours later, second-course arrives and it is a true carnivore’s delight. It consists of a towering tray of simmered meats and colossal dishes of piping hot rigatoni pasta tossed with slow-cooked meat sauce served with homemade rosemary focaccia bread that is “last-meal worthy” and ready for dipping.
click to enlarge PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS
  • PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS
The main event is a buffet with something for everyone, including sliced smoked turkey and beef tenderloin, whole porchetta, caramelized Brussels sprouts with sautéed pancetta, potato purée, squash, rapini with garlic and lemon, curried lentils, salads, stuffing, and Avvino’s famous Parker House rolls.

Although Tim somehow finds the time to whip up a deep-dish pecan pie, dessert is largely pot-luck, with guests bringing the lion’s share of sweets.

Consistent with the casual vibe of the place, there are no pretentious wine pairings at the dinner. Janine, a certified sommelier, serves as the bartender and has been known to mix some signature cocktails, like a Concord Grape Martini (with grape infused vodka) or a crazy good sounding Clarified Apple Milk Punch with Calvados brandy, rum, maple syrup cider, lemon, and whole milk.

If it sounds exhausting, consider that Avvino is open to the public the very next day. Evidence that something went down the night before is subtle, but is there if you know where to look. A Nerf bullet sits in a corner of the room. A misplaced gin bottle mingles with the bourbon behind the bar. The extra Tupperware containers in the cooler.

“We love hosting this event just as we do with our regular guests,” Tim said. “We hope people feel comfortable, happy, nurtured and loved. That’s our goal.”



*If served together, these recipes should serve 8 -12 people.

Grandma Caschette’s Tomato Sauce

4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 quarts Spanish onions (fine dice)
2 #10 size cans (6 lbs 7 oz each) - San Marzano tomatoes (pureéd)
5 tablespoons thyme
6 bay leaves
6 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 ½ cups olive oil
3 lbs oxtail
2 lbs bone in short ribs
2 ½ lbs bone in chicken thighs
3 lbs bone in country pork ribs
10 basil leaves
6 oz parmesan rinds
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons red pepper flake

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Heat a heavy bottom stock pot heat to medium high heat. Liberally season the oxtail, short ribs, chicken thighs, and country ribs. Add vegetable oil to stock pot. Add seasoned meat to stock pot in batches (do not overcrowd). After all the meat has been browned, transfer to a braising pan. Drain excess oil form the stock pot. Add olive oil to the stock pot. Add the Spanish onions and thyme. Season with salt, pepper, and the red pepper flake. Cook the onions in the olive oil until they are completely translucent. 
click to enlarge PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS
  • PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS

Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the pureéd tomatoes, and bay leaves. Stir occasionally. When tomato sauce has come to a simmer, add basil and parmesan rinds. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour tomato sauce over seared meat in the braising pan. Cover with plastic wrap. Then cover with aluminum foil. Transfer braising pan to pre-heated oven and cook for 3 ½ hour, or until oxtail is falling off the bone. Remove all meat, parmesan rinds, and bay leaves from tomato sauce. Discard rinds and bay leaves and let meat cool on a cookie pan till just warm. With gloved hands, remove all bones and cartilage from cooked meat. Reintroduce meat to tomato sauce and mix well.

Turkey Brine

1 gallon water
½ cup salt
¾ cup sugar
¼ lb sliced raw ginger
1/8 cup coriander seeds
½ stalk lemon grass

Combine all ingredients into a large stock pot. Heat over high heat or until all salt and sugar is dissolved. Cool completely before using.

Smoked Turkey

(2) 5 lbs bone-in turkey breast
Turkey brine (see recipe)
5 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons shallots
2 tablespoons thyme
Zest on one lemon
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and white pepper to taste
2 large sealable bags
Souvide machine
Smoker
Hickory wood
Large plastic Cambro for sous-vide

click to enlarge PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS
  • PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS
Place turkeys in a large sealable container and pour turkey brine over until both are completely submerged. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Turn on smoker with hickory wood and pre heat to 220 degrees. Remove turkeys from brine and pat dry. Lightly coat turkeys with vegetable oil and season with salt and white pepper. Place on smoking rack. Place turkeys in smoker for 1 hour. Remove turkey and let completely cool. Fill Cambro with water and insert sous vide and set to 143 degrees. Add turkey, butter, shallot, thyme and lemon zest to sealable bag. Seal bag and submerge in sous-vide water bath and set timer for 2 ½ hour. Pre-heat over to 375 degrees. After turkey is cooked, remove from sealable bag and place on sheet tray with a resting rack. Lightly season with salt and white pepper and place turkey in oven for 12-15 minutes or until skin is golden brown and crispy. Remove from oven and place on a cutting board. Slice and serve.

Gravy

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons diced shallot
2 tablespoons thyme
1 tablespoons rosemary
1 tablespoons sage
1 ½ tablespoons garlic
3 cups apple cider
1 cup chicken stock
¼ cup all purpose flour
¼ cup soft butter

Add vegetable oil to a small one-gallon pot under medium heat. Add shallots, thyme, rosemary, and sage, and cook until the shallots are just translucent. Add your garlic and cook for a few seconds then add the apple cider. Reduce the apple cider until there is only a tablespoon of liquid is left in the pot. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. In a separate bowl combine the ap flour and butter and with your hands make a paste. Whisk in the flour and butter mixture into the boiling gravy until it thickens.

Brussels Sprouts

½ cup vegetable oil
2 lbs Brussels sprouts cut in half
¼ lb diced pancetta
3 tablespoons thyme
Salt and black pepper to taste

click to enlarge PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS
  • PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS
Heat large sauté pan to medium high heat. Place the Brussels sprouts cut side down and cover the pan without overlapping (you may have to work in batches). Add your oil to the pan and sear the one side of the Brussels sprouts till a medium dark brown color. Transfer the Brussels to a cookie pan with a resting rack to drain. In the same pan add your pancetta and cook until the pancetta is almost crisped up and has exuded its oil. Add the drained sprouts back to the pan with the pancetta. Add thyme and cook the Brussels sprouts until they are fully cooked. Salt and pepper to taste.

Vince Press is a freelance food writer for CITY.
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