We definitely put the double-ovens to use this year. Wall-to-wall food – and most of it came out of the oven at the same time. It was one of the easiest get-on-the-table meals I’ve had the pleasure to do.
My normal Thanksgiving routine is 20 minutes before dinner to tell everyone to get the hell out of the kitchen. I do not want your help or your company. It’s not that I don’t love everyone, it’s I just don’t want to kill someone or have anyone end up at the ER because they got nailed with a pot of boiling water while standing in the middle of the kitchen trying to be helpful. It’s a chaotic ballet honed from many years working in chaotic kitchens. Victor and I can dance extremely well in a kitchen together but well-meaning friends and relatives don’t often share the same dance-steps. It’s for your safety and my sanity.
This year, however, the menu fell into place a bit differently. At the crucial three minutes before sit-down, the only things on the stove were potatoes and gravy. Everything else came out of the oven and onto the table in its serving container. It was calm and totally civilized. Almost unnatural.
The downside of this, of course, is there are a lot of hot dishes on the table that can burn unsuspecting hands. Fortunately, the family is smart enough not to grab bubbling and steaming plates without a quick cursory touch. It was win-win because everything hit the table at once and it was all hot. And no one was injured. You know your own family. Maybe little red picks or something if they’re not clever enough to keep from burning themselves…
The 2013 Menu
We started off with just a few appetizers this year. I really tried to cut back on the overall food production because we had a smaller group than usual. It was a success in that I only cooked for 20 instead of my normal 40. We had 12 at the table.
We had 2 Baked Brie in Puff Pastry. One with fig jam and walnuts the other with bacon jam.
The baked bries were actually quite simple. Cheese and filling wrapped around store-bought puff pastry and baked in the oven.
The one above was brie and bacon jam. OMG GOOD!
Katja’s Bacon Jam
- 1 lb smoked bacon
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- Tabasco sauce to taste
- 1 cup coffee
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup real maple syrup
- black pepper to taste
- extra water, as needed
In a non-stick pan, fry bacon in batches until beginning to brown and get crispy. Once cool, cut into 1″ or so pieces and set aside. In SOME of the rendered bacon fat, sautee onions and garlic until translucent. Transfer all of the onions and bacon to a heavy based pot or cast iron pot and all the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine; simmer over med-low heat for 2 hours. Every 25-30 mins, stir pot and add water (as needed). “Jam” should be thick and void of liquid when finished. Let cool for about 20 minutes. Using a food processor, pulse to desired texture. Serve almost any way you can think with bacon: on a burger or chicken burger, on a BLT, on any sandwich, really, etc.
This particular brie had the fig jam and walnuts. It spilled over into my already-dirty oven and when I put all the dishes in the oven to heat before dinner, it caught fire. I scooped the burning cheese out of the oven using a long spatula and dropped pooling masses of flaming lava into the sink as the kitchen filled with smoke. Another reason why it’s smart to stay out of the kitchen when I’m cooking – you could get seriously burned from a flaming oven.
Next was a Pork Pie with Mushroom Sauce.
I actually made this a couple of weeks ago and put it in the freezer. I made pork pies for dinner and had leftover filling and pie dough. It froze great. This is a rustic tart with a single crust that is folded over the filling, leaving a center vent section.
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 onion, minced
- 1 carrot, minced
- 1 stalk celery, minced
- 3 tbsp parsley, minced
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp sage
- Pie dough
Preheat oven to 375°.
Butter 9″ tart pan.
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients.
Roll out the dough and center in tart pan fill and then fold the excess dough over the top, leaving a vent hole.
Bake until the crust is browned and puffed slightly, about 45 minutes.
Next were Pumpkin Meatballs. It’s a variation of a recipe I created at work many years ago.
I made my own meatballs. Feel free to use frozen. I also added about a cup of canned pumpkin to the mixture because I only used a half-can for the rolls. Waste not, want not.
- 1 jar pumpkin butter
- 1 cup pumpkin
- 1 cup steak sauce
Mix ingredients and pour over cooked meatballs. Cook until heated through.
I did stove-top but these can easily be done in a crock pot. And as I sit here and type, I’m wishing we had some in the ‘fridge right now. I’d eat them cold.
Our 4th hors d’oeuvre was a Bruschetta with Pesto, Chevre, and Roasted Red Pepper.
Victor makes pesto every year from the plethora of basil we grow. It goes into the freezer in small containers and we pull it out in winter when we need the tastes of summer. For this, he toasted thin baguette slices covered them with pesto, then herbed chevre, and finally a roasted red pepper strip. Yummy simplicity!
Pesto alla Genovese
- 6 cups loosely packed basil leaves
- 1/3 cup pine nuts, preferably Italian
- 1/3 small garlic clove
- 1/2 cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
- 2/3 cup pecorino romano cheese
Place blender jar in freezer to chill. Soak basil in a large bowl of cold water; let stand 5 minutes. Lift leaves from water. Repeat two more times using a rinsed bowl and fresh water each time. Rinse bowl again and fill with cold water. Soak the cleaned leaves in the water, 15 minutes or quickly blanch and immediately plunge into ice water.
Combine nuts and garlic in chilled blender jar and add the olive oil. Purée until nuts are very finely chopped and mixture is creamy. Add salt.
Lift a handful of basil from water, shaking off excess water from leaves and add to blender. In four additions, Use 3 or 4 short pulses and purée just to combine (do not over-blend). Add cheese, then, using 2 or 3 very short pulses, purée just to combine.
Place in bowl and cover with a thin film of oil.
The Main Event
The place to start is with the Turkey and Gravy.
I wrote this description elsewhere with some friends… When roasting the bird I first pour a bottle of red wine into the roasting pan. Yes, a full bottle. Of reasonably good wine.
I don’t futz much with the bird, itself. I melt a cube of butter and pour it over and rub it into all the cracks and crevasses. Salt and pepper, maybe a pinch of sage. Into the oven it goes. Stuffed.
Meanwhile, I have the neck, liver, gizzard, and heart simmering on the stove top with a few quarts of turkey broth. I boil it down and let it all concentrate…
When the bird come out, the roasting pan goes onto two burners. ALL of the accumulated juiced are used for gravy. I add maybe a cup of flour – more if it’s a juicy bird – and let it simmer and thicken. I mince the giblets – all of them – and add them to the mix. I add enough of the simmering broth to make it the perfect consistency, and then I strain the whole thing into a pot so I end up with the most silken and flavorful gravy on the planet.
It’s definitely commercial kitchen gravy-making. I don’t concern myself with lumps or stray bits of dressing or whatever in the pan because it’s all going to be strained out in the end – but it all adds flavor. I rarely ever need to season.
I make a vat of gravy because I will NOT run out of gravy. Period. Any leftover gravy is used for hot turkey sandwiches, turkey pot pie, or added to the soup. It’s the least-expensive part of the meal – and the best.
The turkey comes out of the oven at least an hour before dinner. It has plenty of time to reabsorb those juices and I have plenty of time to make the gravy in advance. It then just needs to be reheated while mashing the potatoes.
After the bird is Nonna’s Stuffing.
I don’t have a recipe for her stuffing although I’ve made a reasonable facsimile of it in the past. It’s a bread dressing with ::drumroll:: chicken livers and Jimmy Dean sausage. Yeppers – chicken livers. You don’t distinctly taste either but they add a richness that is really good. Pretty good stuff, indeed.
Colorful Carrots with Honey and Dill
Carrots simply blanched and then drizzled with a mixture of butter and honey, and topped with a bit of dill, salt, and pepper. Cover and into a hot oven.
This was okay, but not really worth the trouble. The nice thing is it can be made in advance. I think the recipe came from an old Woman’s Day or some-such magazine.
- 4-5 cups small broccoli florets
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cube butter
- 1½ cups panko bread crumbs
- 2 tsp. dried sage
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
- 3 tbsp flour
- 2 cups milk
- 2 tsp mustard
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- 3 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add broccoli, and cook until just tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and transfer to a 9″ x 13″ baking dish and set aside. Heat oil and 2 tbsp. butter in a 10″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, and cook, stirring, until browned, about 5 minutes; transfer to a bowl and set aside. Add 3 tbsp. butter to skillet and melt. Remove from heat add bread crumbs and sage; season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Heat remaining butter in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion, and cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add flour, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add milk, mustard, and nutmeg, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream cheese, 1 cup cheddar, mayonnaise, and eggs until smooth; season with salt and pepper and set sauce aside.
Pour sauce evenly over the top of the broccoli. Cover and bake about 20 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle bread crumbs on top and return to oven until crumbs are browned.
As I said, good – not stellar. I’ll be making something else next year.
But here’s something that was pretty good – a Wild Rice Pilaf!
I was looking for a vegetarian side because while not everything I make has meat in it, a lot of things have chicken broth. I adapted this one from Bon Appetit.
Wild Rice Pilaf
- 1 stick butter
- 1 cup chopped shallots
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 cup wild rice
- 1 cup black barley
- 1 cup whole grain brown rice medley
- 5 cups vegetable broth
- 1 tbsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups red seedless grapes
- 1 1/2 cups green seedless grapes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 1/2 cups walnuts, toasted, chopped
- 1 tbsp finely grated orange peel
Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and celery. Cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Add wild rice, black barley, brown rice, and a pinch of salt. Pour in about 5 cups broth and thyme and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer about 45 minutes – maybe a bit longer.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°. Drizzle grapes with olive oil and roast until beginning to wrinkle, about 15 minutes. Transfer to bowl and drizzle with vinegar.
When rice is done, add grapes and any juices, walnuts, and orange peel and toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
This came out pretty good. The downside of most vegetable broths is they lack the punch that a good chicken stock has. Next time I make this I will boil down a couple quarts of vegetable broth to concentrate the flavor. But it worked quite well as it was – and there were leftovers to put in the turkey soup.
And then there is one of my most-favorite dishes – Marie’s Sweet Potatoes.
I only get them at Thanksgiving because that’s the only time she makes them. They’re worth their yearly wait. I don’t have a recipe but they’re a mashed sweet potato with a caramely-brown-sugary-pecan topping that is heaven in a casserole dish. A definite hit. I used to make a second sweet potato dish but really see no reason to. Like her Jelly Strips, these are the gold standard.
No Thanksgiving would be complete without Pumpkin Rolls. I’ve been making these for 20 years, I think. They are the best.
It’s a really simple recipe that can be made the morning of Thanksgiving without a lot of fuss. They make great turkey/stuffing/cranberry sauce sandwiches and are also great dipped into turkey soup.
- 1 package dry yeast
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup warm milk
- 7 to 8 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup cold unsalted butter
- 1 egg
- 2 cups pumpkin
- egg wash made by beating 1 large egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water
In a mixing bowl proof the yeast with 1 teaspoon of the sugar and the milk for 5 minutes. Combine 7 cups of the flour, nutmeg, salt, and the remaining sugar and blend in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the egg, the pumpkin puree, and the yeast mixture and mix until it is combined well.
Using a dough hook, knead — adding as much of the remaining 1 cup flour as necessary — for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Form the dough into a ball, transfer it to a well-buttered large bowl, and turn it to coat it with the butter. Let the dough rise, covered in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until it is doubled.
Turn the dough out onto your counter, divide it into 24 pieces, and form each piece into a ball. Place the balls onto a buttered sheet pan and let rise, covered with a kitchen towel, in a warm place for about 45 minutes or until they are almost double in size.
Brush the rolls with the egg wash and bake them in the middle of a preheated 350° oven for 35 to 45 minutes or until they are golden brown.
And finally, we have Cranberry Sauce. This year, I made the basic and also made a Cranberry Orange Relish that was really good.
The relish is in front with the sauce in back. The relish recipe called for part of it to be pureed, but I didn’t read the recipe very well and put all the cranberries in t once so I stopped at a coarse chunk. It came out great. Nice and tart.
- 12 oz pkg cranberries
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
In a heavy saucepan combine the cranberries, sugar, and water. Simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the cranberries have burst and the sauce is thickened. Cool and refrigerate.
- 1 1/4 lb cranberries
- 1 large orange
- 3/4 cup sugar
Place cut-up orange – with peel – and 2 cups cranberries in food processor with 3/4 cup sugar and process until pureed. Place in sauce pan and bring to a boil. Stir in remaining cranberries and cook until cranberries pop and sauce is thickened.
Serve warm or cold.
Now we’re talkin’! This is my most-favorite part of the meal. I really had to pare down the offerings this year. Only 12 people. I could easily make 12 desserts and not bat an eye. I really wanted to make an Italian Sour Cream Cake that is in my mom’s cook book, but Victor reminded me that we were only 12. Three desserts was excessive as it was. And we knew Marie would bring another. I did let him know, though, that he would have to eat half of the cake because there weren’t going to be a lot of others to share it with…
First up is my mom’s Walnut Pie.
I like this better than Pecan Pie – and I love Pecan Pie. Mom switched out corn syrup for maple syrup and created a total winning dessert.
- 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
- 3 tbsp flour
- 1 1/4 cups maple syrup
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 2 cups walnut halves and pieces
- pinch salt
- 1 unbaked 9″ pie shell
Preheat oven to 375°
Mix flour, brown sugar, maple syrup, butter, and a pinch salt in saucepan. Stir and heat just until butter melts.
Beat eggs with vanilla. Add sugar mixture. Stir in walnuts.
Pour into 9″ unbaked pie shell.
Bake in lower third of oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until center is set. Cool.
It doesn’t even need whipped cream – and I love whipped cream.
Next up was the Sweet Potato Cheesecake. That I forgot to put the sweet potato in. What can I say?!? It was still an awesome cheesecake.
Yeah – Sweet Potato Cheesecake sans sweet potato. This has a nice pecan crust. I usually use walnuts in my cheesecake crust but this came out really good.
Sweet Potato Cheesecake
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans
- 1 pkg graham crackers
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 5 tablespoons melted butter
Mix pecans, graham crackers, and sugar in food processor until finely blended. Add melted butter and pulse until well-mixed. Press mixture evenly over bottom of pan. Bake at 375° until lightly browned all over – about 10-12 minutes. Reduce oven to 325°
- 1 cup sweet potato puree
- 3 8 oz pkgs cream cheese
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1/4 cup whipping cream
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 2 tsp tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp ginger
With mixer, beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in granulated and brown sugars until mixture is well blended and smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until blended. Add sweet potato mixture, the whipping cream, sour cream, maple syrup, and spices. Mix on low speed until well blended.
Wrap bottom of cheesecake pan with heavy-duty foil, pressing it up the sides. Pour batter over crust. Put cheesecake pan in a roasting pan at least 2 inches deep. Set pans in 325° oven and pour enough boiling water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of cheesecake pan.
Bake until cake barely jiggles in the center when gently shaken, about 55 minutes. Remove from water bath and cool on a rack, about 1 hour, then chill until cold.
And, of course, there was Pumpkin Pie.
Deep-dish, tender, flaky crust. It was good. Victor had me make two of these because it’s his favorite.
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 2 large eggs
- 1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
- 1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated milk
- 1 unbaked 10″ pie shell
- Whipped cream
Preheat oven to 425°. Beat eggs, sugar, maple syrup, and spices in large bowl. Add pumpkin amd mix well. Gradually stir in evaporated milk.
Pour into pie shell. Bake at 425° F. for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F.; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Top with whipped cream before serving.
And, last but certainly not least, Marie’s Bundt Cake.
She got this really fun bundt pan with stars on top that – while fun to look at – does not always cooperate when trying to get the cake out of the pan. We had one years ago that we finally threw in the garbage we had so many problems with it. But Marie was not going to let a pan get the better of her. This time the cake came out perfect – and tasted great.
So… another gastronomic holiday has come to a close. We had a great time, ate a lot of food, had fun conversations about a variety of topics, and just relaxed and had fun.
Just the way Thanksgiving should be.
And the Turkey Soup?!?
Stellar. Mom would have been proud.