Posted tagged ‘Thanksgiving’

Pie Party

November 28, 2013

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So with all the best intentions, I made a schedule for today that involved starting to make pies at 9:00. But when I woke up at 6:30, like a kid on Christmas morning, I realized that there was no way I could wait to start making pies. By 8:00 all three pies were well underway, and I had used a prodigious number of eggs for such an early hour.

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By 9:15 all three pies were cooling on the counter, pecan, nutmeg maple cream, and pumpkin. I love making pie, because it’s such a homey activity, and pie makes people happy in a way that cake doesn’t. Pie says wow, you made that for me? Pie says my grandma used to make that. Pie says eat me.

DSC_7761Three pies and a narcissus blooming on the counter, that’s a great start to Thanksgiving morning. I can always find many reasons to be thankful, but today, because we’ve had so much bad medical news lately, I’m most thankful to Shel for staying on the planet and making my life complete. So here’s to Shel, the best thing that ever happened to me, even though he refuses to eat pumpkin pie.

And here’s to all of you, may your day be filled with love and good food. Because really, that’s what it’s all about. And pie.

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Turkey Trot

November 26, 2013

DSC_7734Cruising at a trot all day today, heading into a gallop tomorrow. What I can suggest: if you’re making Jean-George Vongerichten’s Squash on Toast, be careful about what kind of squash you get. I chose the banana squash for its outer beauty, but it turns out that an oranger, drier squash would have been better. Try a kabocha, for example. This makes a sweet and sour squash and onion mixture whose flavor is alluring, but mine looks pretty terrible. I’ll be using the mint garnish heavily.

DSC_7739However, after all the peeling and seeding, my compost bin does look terrific.

DSC_7743We’ve had Thanksgiving in France for so many years recently that I can’t do it without the sweet and delicate flavor of olive oil from Moulin Paradis, imported in my suitcase for this very cook-fest. I used it, among other things, to make the wildly popular Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad, which has the advantage, reportedly, of tasting better after a day or two in the fridge. It tastes pretty darn delicious right now, so if it continues to get better it will be dynamite.

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I used this fabulous Cougar Gold aged cheddar in my Low Carb Cauliflower Stuffing, which is basically this recipe, although I omit the sausage to make it vegetarian, use fresh herbs and amp them up, and add a couple of teaspoons of poultry seasoning.

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And I made Rosemary Roasted Nuts, which is basically this recipe, although I use half again as much butter, and a couple of spoonfuls of piment d’Espelette instead of the cayenne. This recipe is a real low carb doozy, because it’s one of the few herb-roasted nut recipes that doesn’t contain any sort of sweeteners. It’s addictive.

And there you have it, another day in the kitchen. Hurray for one more tomorrow.

Thanksgiving Tempest

November 25, 2013

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I’ve been cooking up a storm the past couple of days, and I imagine that you have been too. I love to spend five days cooking for Thanksgiving, the vexing problem being that we only have one fridge in our new house, so there’s a lot of strategizing involved, not to mention freezing and thawing and putting stuff outdoors, even though it’s above 40° in the middle of the day.

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The cranberries turned into Spiked Cranberry Relish, made with a generous pour of Grand Marnier and awaiting a last-minute dose of toasted pecans.

DSC_7692Turkey parts and various aromatics turned into Michael Ruhlman’s heavenly turkey stock, which takes forever to make but is no work at all. The ferry threw itself into the photo for free, but it makes my stock look oh-so-Northwest.

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I’ve made, blind baked, and frozen

DSC_7714-001pie crusts for pumpkin and Nutmeg Maple Cream pies, and for a pecan tart that is one invariable part of our holiday. It’s funny about those pies. Although I don’t even taste them, I really wanted to try something new this year, just for the fun of making a new pie, hence the addition of the nutmeg maple concoction. It sounds like you couldn’t go wrong with that combination, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

The turkey is spatchcocked and dry brined and resting hugely in my not-gargantuan fridge. I’ve also made and frozen the base for Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Aged White Cheddar (Cougar Gold 3 year aged, the best!), and made the cornbread for my famous Family Harmony Stuffing, the one stuffing that finally ended the “but my Mom didn’t make it like that” wars. And I made a beautiful little porcini sauce for the low carb and vegetarian eaters who shun my normal gravy. And toasted a lot of nuts, but that probably doesn’t count.

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I haven’t decided yet whether to include these gorgeous peppers in our Thanksgiving meal, or whether to let them be part of the holiday decor and then turn them into lecso, to lighten things up a bit after the feasting in done.

So whew, and back at it again tomorrow and the next day. I hope you’re having as much fun in the kitchen as I am – cooking, it’s something for which I can really be thankful.

Gathered Round

November 24, 2012

The pies have disappeared, the guests departed. The house still looks festive, with berries and candles strewn about, and the fridge stuffed with the carcass of our 18 lb turkey (which shocked me by cooking to perfection in just 3 hours). Beppo is resigning himself to a life without a houseful of admirers, and Zazou is relieved to get her own private world back, free of intruders, however friendly. Shel and I are thinking that the house is very quiet, and that it’s time to start looking forward to Christmas.

It’s such a delicate balancing act, being empty nesters. It’s a joy to have a house full of people to feed and sit in front of the fire with, talking for hours, and it’s also nice to not have to get dressed if we don’t want to, and to not have to run three loads of dishes a day.

Since 2007 this is only our second Thanksgiving in America, all the rest having been spent in France.  So of course there was no need to substitute ingredients, which took a little of the sport out of it but produced reassuringly familiar results, or to explain the origin of the holiday, always a challenge when describing the relations between Pilgrims and Native Americans. No need to discuss politics at all, in fact, since we all agreed that the outcome of the election was splendid. We celebrated Washington’s legalization of recreational marijuana, and of same-sex marriage. As stimulating as differing opinions can be, it’s wonderful to be able to relax with like-minded folks, and in our case, free of any familial tensions whatsoever. It was kind of a charmed holiday, actually, and it didn’t even rain.

I could not ask for more.

Un Grand Merci

November 21, 2012

Thank you Shel, for staying on this planet with me for yet another rich and full year, and for sharing another Thanksgiving Day with me. And for washing the dishes three times a day for a week, without complaint, in pursuit of that one memorable feast with family and friends.

Thank you, American people, for seeing through the veil of hypocrisy and lies and giving us another four years of hope and change.

Thank you, Superstorm Sandy, however terrible, for putting the specter of climate change squarely in front of a brainwashed and doubting public (see thank you number two).

And thank you family and friends, old and new, near and far, in America and in Europe, for the love and support you’ve proffered throughout the year. You’re what it’s all about.

Stuffing Wars

November 20, 2010

Now comes that murky time just before Thanksgiving, when battles are silently waged. If you’re cooking for a spouse or family of choice, as opposed to your birth family, the stuffing wars are undoubtedly raging.

I grew up in a bread stuffing family.  My mother never used a recipe, so making the stuffing involved lots of tasting along the way.  Raw eggs weren’t a concern in those days, and we tasted merrily for salt, sage, pepper, and whatever exotic ingredient she had decided to add that year.  My mother was a bit of a freewheeling cook, not too far out, but she did like to add one new ingredient to the stuffing each year, just for fun.

There was always a countertop covered with drying bread for the two days before stuffing making began.  Sliced white bread, no special kind. We’d break up the dry bread into a huge bowl, add in eggs and chicken broth (from a can), plus sautéed onions and celery.  Sage was in there for sure, and lots of melted butter, and then there might be pecans one year, or water chestnuts, or regular chestnuts, or even pine nuts.  We stuffed some in the turkey and baked the rest in a pan. There was never meat of any sort in it, and we liked the the stuffing soft, moist, almost custardy.  I would eat it cold for breakfast the day after Thanksgiving and count my blessings.

Later in life I married Shel, who had a completely different notion of stuffing. His Mom’s stuffing was based on cornbread, with stuffing cubes added.  The recipe called for 1/4 teaspoon of poultry spice.   There was sautéed celery and onion, butter and broth, all in all it sounds not too different from the stuffing I had grown up with.  But it baked in a pan into a sort of firm cake-y texture, and I found it bland and dry.  Shel and Eric, however, adored it, couldn’t have Thanksgiving without it, and yes, Eric ate it for breakfast the morning after, just as I had as a kid.

So our first year together I made both kinds, each part of our blended family stubbornly clinging to tradition, while Jordan, a lifelong vegetarian, continued to scorn all stuffing equally.  As I recall there were a couple of years where I made only Shel’s Mom’s stuffing, thinking it a good excuse to eat more pie and less stuffing. I know that one year I made only my Mom’s stuffing, but the reproachful eyes of Shel and Eric over that dinner haunt me still.

And then, I started trying to find a compromise. There were several years where I anxiously scanned recipes, trying a new one each time if it looked at all like it might work in the interest of family harmony.  By then both Shel and Eric had broadened their food horizons and were willing to give it a try.  But I never settled down and stuck to one recipe, until finally, we were in France for three Thanksgivings in a row, and I had to find a real solution, using ingredients that were available there.  Also, I wanted to show our French friends, who had never tasted anything like an American stuffing, what it was all about.  I needed the mother of all stuffings, something that could pass on any table in the land.  And I think this is it. I think that Shel and I each still miss our own family stuffing, and in fact I no longer eat stuffing at all, thanks to my diabetes-induced low carb lifestyle. But this is a stuffing we can agree on, and serve proudly, and I think everyone will find something familiar in it to love.  It’s not bad for breakfast, either.

Family Harmony Stuffing*

1 lb sliced white bread, your favorite, not too sweet
4 cups coarsely crumbled cornbread ( I use the buttermilk cornbread in the recipe link below, but you can use your favorite, again, not too sweet)
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh sage
2 tsp poultry seasoning
1-2 tsp salt, to taste
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 sticks butter
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped celery
2 eggs
2 cups turkey stock or chicken broth, preferably home made
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup Madeira (optional)

The day before you plan to make the stuffing, spread the sliced bread out on a counter or table and let dry.  If you don’t have the space, you can dry it in a very low oven, but I think the texture is better when air dried, plus it makes the house look like Thanksgiving.  Crumble the cornbread and let it dry as well, either on the counter on a baking sheet, or in the oven.

When dry, place the cornbread crumbs in a large bowl.  Rip the dried bread into small pieces and add them to the bowl, along with the parsley, sage, poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper.

Put all of the butter in a large skillet and sauté the onions, celery, and garlic gently over medium low heat for about 10 minutes, until it’s tender and translucent but not browned. Let cool to room temperature.

Add the vegetables to the bread and mix well. Beat the eggs with the heavy cream and add the mixture to the bowl along with the turkey stock or chicken broth, and Madeira if you’re using that. Unless you’re worried about your eggs, taste the mixture and rectify the salt and pepper.

Butter a 9×13″ dish, a pretty one that can go on the table if possible, and add the stuffing, patting it gently into the dish  Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake at 325° for 30 minutes. Uncover and baste the top with a good squirt of turkey drippings from the bottom of the roaster. Bake for another 30-40 minutes, until the top is browned and firm.

* adapted from this recipe


A French Thanksgiving

November 17, 2010

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This will be our first Thanksgiving in America for several years, and in looking back at some of our past French Thanksgivings, I thought that some of the newer readers would enjoy seeing how it’s done in France.  Or at least, how I did it when far from my native land in a place where cranberries don’t grow.

So have a look at our 2008 Thanksgiving as you’re making your own preparations, and next time I’ll show you the stuffing recipe I put together to show our French friends what a purely American Thanksgiving food tastes like.  And let me just say that in general the French have heard of Thanksgiving, but they have no idea what it is, why we do it, what we eat, or why we eat so much all at once!

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If I ever get tired of cooking I can always open a spa for turkeys.  But for now, all I actually have in mind is to try poaching my bird before roasting it for our belated but much anticipated Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.  And here’s where we run into problems like “if we really and truly lived here I’d have a (insert missing item here: big enough stockpot, turkey lifter, 9×13″ pan, or whatever) but since we’re only visitors I’m trying to make do with what we’ve got.”  And we also run into the “why did I think I could have a seated dinner for 15 people in a rented house with a rock band playing in the living room?” problem, but that one’s easier to answer.  I’m nuts.

Contrary to appearances, after being subjected to several unnatural contortions, the turkey can be stuffed into the pot, albeit with ankles waving in the air and a back that will be shivering in the cold.  But since nobody really eats the ankles and the back, I’m not too worried about that.  I’m more worried about whether there will be any room in the pot for poaching liquid, and whether there will be enough meat for 15 people.  A 7 kilo turkey should feed 15 in theory, but it’s got legs as long and breasts as small as any Rockette, so I’m making lots of vegetables to flounce around it.

We do have enough tableware (thank you dear landlord), even if it doesn’t match, but what we are lacking is chairs.  In fact, after rearranging all of the furniture in the downstairs yesterday in order to a) create some combination of tables that will seat 15, and b) empty the living room so that the rock band Shel loves to play with can set up all their amps, microphones, and other gear in order to serenade the cook for a couple of hours before dinner, we still had to beg for a couple of folding chairs.  I’d have begged for a fainting couch too, but I don’t know where we’d put it.

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Once a motley assortment of tables was in place I rummaged for tablecloths and napkins.  Of course we don’t have enough matching stuff for 15, but I spent time choosing the patterns that clashed the least.  Reasonably satisfied with my selection, I went to the kitchen to oversee the toasting pecans, only to come back to the sight of Beppo and Zazou approving of our new arrangements.  It’s just like them to sprawl on the clean linen while we are under the furniture ferreting out the bits of feathers and other previously hidden evidence of their tireless hunting.  Not to mention the scorpion hibernating under a carton of wine I’d planned to serve. I must say that he had good taste, that scorpion, he chose the Chateau Calisse.

Today will be a giant puzzle.  If I make this dish ahead, I’ll have more oven space tomorrow, but there’s no room in the fridge to keep it overnight.  It’s gotten quite chilly recently, so in theory I could leave things outside to chill, but given the size of the rats that our little tablewarmers have been bringing in this week, I don’t think I’ll leave a tempting pan of corn pudding out to attract them.

Geometry was my worst subject in school, and it’s really being tested today.  And my next worst subject was typing.  Did I mention that the table formerly known as “my desk” has now become part of the meal plan?  Typing on my lap the good old fashioned way is really a chore.  I think I’d rather go peel a big heap of potatoes and start the court bouillon for the poaching pot.  But although things seem a bit desperate at the moment, I swear I’m not crying, I’m chopping onions!