Cooking Eating Dining Sharing

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tradition of Thanks

Eggplant and Pepper Wreath from Oak Hill Farm 

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year.  Who can resist the lengthy table sitting and nibbling until you are simply too full to move?   My sister Susan and I take turns hosting the dinner, every other year, partly because her married son alternates with his in-laws and partly this way it is never too much for either one of us.  It’s a nice thing to do, and I am always grateful when I don’t have to, just as often as I am happy to host when it is my year.  Its our perfect agreement. 

The only thing I find a little dull about Thankgiving is, that it is basically the same meal over and over every year.  You don't want to change certain things about it, but you want it to be tasty and fresh each time you cook.  Turkey remains the king of the holiday. I have rotisseried turkeys, brined them and just plain old roasted them.  I ususally buy 10-12 lb turkeys because they are easier to handle and we end up with more parts of the turkey that we all like, thighs and dark meat.  So what about the assemblage of side dishes that we can't live with out?  Brussel sprouts, squash, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, and stuffing are all up for grabs in my book.  Is it time for a makeover on your Thanksgiving dinner?  

To me, it’s not about having the same old, same old, its about mixing it up, adding something special each year and challenging myself to find new favorites.  I like brussel sprouts so much that if I am not having Thanksgiving at my house, I often volunteer to bring them.  Shredded or quartered, slightly blanched, tossed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper, they are perfection.  You can also saute them up a bit and add a little white wine instead of the lemon juice.  Try adding toasted hazelnuts that have been peeled of their skins and its even more tasty.   Don't over cook them or they will smell up your house and taste bitter.  

Squash is the easiest vegetable to cook, but it looks beautiful if you keep the colorful striated skin on and slice it and then toss in olive oil and salt and pepper before roasting in an oven.  If you like to take the meat out and whip it up, Delicata is delicious this way.   If you have leftovers, it makes a beautiful soup with a little stock and 1/2 and 1/2.  Sweet potatoes are controversial.  I like to serve them how I would any other potato, but I know many people that like to whip them up and add marshmallow to the tops.   This hides the flavor and adds unwanted calories to an already rich meal, plus I don’t like sweetness with my already sweet enough, sweet potatoes. 

Cranberry sauce isn't my favorite, but I recently made a cranberry chutney that I like quite well.  Still, I can't seem to put it on the turkey.  I save it for a grilled cheese sandwich a few days later.   Gravy, too I like to keep simple.  I use pan juices, if there are any and if there aren't, then I make a little roux of butter and flour and add chicken stock to it.  Its not as rich, but it works just fine.  

My favorite stuffing is cornbread mixed with chicken apple sausage.  It’s delicious.  I have been wanting to add oysters to this recipe for years, but my mother is not a fan of seafood.  Since she is away in Seattle with other family this year, I might sneak them in this year.   (That is the way it goes soon as you leave the room, you know the rules)

I know one thing, when I sit down with my family and friends, I am very grateful for what I have and that we can all be together.    I think I feel this way most of the time when I can share a meal with friends, but Thanksgiving just provides the moment to continue with those thoughts of gratitude.    

Besides my family and friends, I am grateful for many things. Not in any particular order, here are a few:  Fish tacos, fresh pasta, rainy days, acrylic and oil paints and a fresh canvas, a good writing pen that moves smoothly on paper, a furry animal at my side, colorful leaves in the vineyards, silver and gold (why not?), people that are different from me, buttons, bees, canvas bags, electricity, and so much more.....what are you grateful for? 

Tante Marie's Cranberry Chutney with Figs

2 12 oz packages of cranberries
2 oranges, chopped with skins (seeds removed)
1/2 cup chopped red onion
4 TBS fresh ginger, julienned
2 sticks cinnamon, 3 inches long, broken in half
1 tsp salt
3 cups sugar
2 tsp cayenne
2 tsp mustard powder
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup black figs, halved
1/4 cup currants

Combine all the ingredients in an enamel pan and cook over moderate heat stirring often, until the sugar dissolves completely and the chutney comes to a boil. Continue cooking until the cranberries pop.  Do not over cook or stir too much as the chutney will look unattractive.  Store chutney in tightly sealed jars in the refrigerator.  Keeps for six months.
"There is enough in the world for everyone to have plenty to live on happily and to be at peace with his neighbors."
Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) 33rd U.S. President

"For each new morning with its light, For rest and shelter of the night, For health and food, For love and friends, For everything Thy goodness sends."  Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American Essayist

" It is around the table that friends understand best the warmth of being together." Italian saying

Cider Brined Turkey 

I like brining so much because it adds moisture to the turkey that cooking for long hours sometimes takes out.   This can be altered to include your favorite herbs.  

The Apple Cider Brine:

2 TBS allspice berries
1 TB black peppercorns
2 QTS natural apple cider
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
zest of 2 oranges
3 cinnamon sticks
5 bay leaves
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 bunch thyme
2 large onions, sliced
10 cloves garlic, crushed
1 gallon, filtered water
4 lbs. Ice

In a medium saucepan over high heat, toast the allspice berries and the peppercorns until fragrant about 3 minutes.  Add one quart of the cider, the salt, brown sugar, orange zest, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, rosemary thyme, onions and garlic and bring to a boil.  As soon as the mixture boils, cover and remove from the heat.  Cool completely to room temperature.
With a plastic bag, line a container large enough to comfortably hold the turkey.  I like using a cooler and leave it on the floor of my mudroom.  The ice will keep the turkey cold, over night.  Place the turkey, giblets removed and reserved, in the bag.  Combine the cooled cider mixture with the remaining cider, water and ice to complete the brine.  Pour over the turkey and seal the bad, checking to make sure the brine covers the turkey brine overnight for 8-12 hours.

When ready to cook, simply rinse and pat dry.  Place Turkey in the oven at 350 degrees.  Cook for the amount of time per pound that is recommended, about 3-31/2 hours for a10-18 pounder.   Remember it will also depend on whether it is stuffed or not and keep in mind before carving, a turkey is best when it rests for about 15 mintues when it comes out of the oven.  It will continue to cook a little and then start to cool and hold the juices.  If you cut into it when its hot, all the juices will run out which can make the turkey dry inside.

From JimTown Store’s Peter Brown

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Leaving work last week.  Beautiful fall sky


Sandra said...

What a lovely Wreath, and the recipes are wonderful!

Tricia O'Brien said...

Thanks Sandra,
Hope you had a wonderful Holiday!