Friday, November 28, 2008

A Small Thanksgiving

Here's an epic post for an epic meal...

Well, it wasn't really an epic meal at all, but a rather small one (as far as Thanksgiving goes), since it was just us, and a couple of our bachelor friends. Everything went perfectly this year as far as timing, preparation, and choice of recipes. Despite a minimal amount of advanced preparation, some last-minute recipe decisions, and a few minor setbacks, everything flowed smoothly along and made for a (mostly) delightful meal.

Per our agreement to a "cooperative" meal, the girls made the pies, doing 90% of the work themselves. I was standing by to guide them and help out with the trickier parts (like transferring the very-full-pumpkin-pie to the oven, etc.)--I'm pretty sure the pies were THE high-point of the meal!

The bird itself was a bit disappointing; though it was a humble 8.5 lbs, and I refrained from filling it with stuffing, it still took almost 4 hours to cook(!). It may have not been fully defrosted (there were still some ice crystals lingering in the neck cavity, even though it had been in the fridge for three full days prior), but I'm starting to wonder if it has to do with the altitude--since I don't adjust most recipes for our high altitude, I never considered whether or not roasting a bird would be impacted. Although the USDA's reference site claims this is not a factor, every bird I've ever cooked takes longer than it should. Maybe it's time to switch to Mark Bittman's 45-minute approach, which would be more economical and use less energy and probably easier to get a more consistent doneness. The flavor was good and it was nicely moist, though.
I neglected to pull the rolls out of the fridge early enough, so they didn't have enough time to rise sufficiently to be soft, and were instead, dense and doughy...but nobody complained! And I used a new pie crust recipe/technique this time, and although it was also very flaky (as touted), it was tough and crispy instead of light and tender. Plus, it was so buttery that the excess butter dripped out of the pie crusts onto the bottom of the oven while baking and fumigated the house! In fact, when my daughter noticed it was foggy outside at the same time, I was accused of causing the whole forest to smoke up!

But, here's what DID work superbly and will surely be recreated again (and again...).

Pumpkin Pie with Chai Spices

After combing cookbooks and computer for pumpkin pie recipes, I settled on a combination version based on what I had on hand. It was wonderful. The texture was perfect, though I thought it could use even more spices.
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh pumpkin puree, strained and drained
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup powdered milk (non-instant)*
  • 1/4 cup chestnuts, finely ground (optional or sub almonds or toasted hazelnuts)
  • 1/2 cup chai-flavored syrup**
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbs cornstarch
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp each cardamom, cinnamon, ginger
  • 1/4 tsp each nutmeg and black pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix until well blended. If your batter is lumpy, blend in a blender briefly to combine. Pour into prepared pie crust or baking dish and bake 1 hour at 350 degrees F, checking at 45 minutes. The pie is done when the edges are set and the middle is still wiggly.

*This approach lends a creamier taste without the added fat, but you can probably leave it out without any problems, or substitute cream for some or all of the milk.

**If I hadn't had the last of the bottle to use up, I would have substituted 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup molasses

Honey-Pecan Tart

I had two things firmly in mind for this year's pecan pie. It is my favorite holiday pie of all time, and while I can eat even the sweetest and eggiest of them all, I decided that putting the mixture into a tart pan would make for a better nut-to-filling ratio, and I was right. I was also determined to avoid using corn syrup in the recipe. I basically adapted the lower-sugar version here by substituting honey for the corn syrup straight across, and also I omitted the molasses since half of the honey I used was very dark and had a molassesy flavor itself. Everything else was the same (except for the pan size of course). I think the only thing I'll change next time is to use a tart crust or short crust instead of traditional pie dough.

Fruit and Grain Stuffed Acorn Squash

OK, so everyone (including myself) was disappointed that there was no bread stuffing on the table, but this dish was a winner, even with the bachelor crowd! I loved the addition of the kasha, figs and chestnuts. The amounts given are, of course, estimates, and should be changed up to suit your tastes and/or pantry contents. There was more than enough stuffing for 2 large (halved) and 2 small acorn squash; I would recommend it for 4 large, halved squash instead, but plan on half of a half as one serving size as a side dish.
A note on leftovers: I couldn't get over my craving for bread stuffing, I got myself a couple of day-old loaves at the House of Bread (garden herb and whole wheat), cubed up a few slices of each and tossed it together with the leftover stuffing. I scooped out what was leftover of the squash flesh, chopped it up a bit, and threw it in too. Tossed everything together with some broth, the leftover gravy and some additional spices. Yummy again!
  • 1 cup cooked red quinoa
  • 1/2 cup cooked kasha
  • 1 cup chopped dried figs
  • 1 cup chopped apples
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries, raisins or currants
  • 1/2 cup chopped chestnuts
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted (walnuts or hazelnuts would good, too)
  • 1 Tbs poppy seeds
  • 1/3 cup white wine, orange or apple juice
  • 2 Tbs olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup water or broth
  • 1/2 tsp orange zest
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp each coriander, allspice and cinnamon
Saute onions and celery in 1 Tbs oil until onions are translucent. Toss together with remaining ingredients. Spoon into hollowed out squash halves and bake for 45 minutes to one hour at 350 degrees. Note: I suggest baking them covered, at least for the first 30 minutes, otherwise the top layer of grains will dry out and get very crunchy.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Mustard Seeds

“I never knew I liked Brussels sprouts” were one of our dinner guests exact words upon tasting this dish. While I don’t cook them very often, I usually enjoy Brussels sprouts any way they are prepared (even mushy and over-cooked), so it’s good to get affirmation of this dish from the non-indoctrinated. This was sort of a last-minute “what can I do with the Brussels sprouts” concoction that ended up a winner; including bacon in the mix was a no-brainer.

  • 1 lb Brussels sprouts
  • 5 slices smoked maple bacon
  • 1 onion, sliced into thin wedges (about ¼-inch thick)
  • 1 Tbs prepared mustard
  • 1 Tbs maple syrup
  • 1 Tbs apple cider vinegar or wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp whole mustard seeds
Halve or quarter the sprouts, depending on their size. Steam 7-9 minutes or until tender. Rinse in cool water briefly to stop their cooking. Meanwhile, chop bacon and fry over medium heat until done (you don’t want it to be crispy unless you want a few crispy crumbs for the top). Remove bacon and let drain on a paper towel. Using the reserved cooking fat, fry onions and sprouts over medium-high heat until onions are soft and sprouts have browned somewhat, about 6-8 minutes. Sprouts should not be too soft, but not too firm, either. While the vegetables are cooking, whisk together maple syrup, mustard and spices. Deglaze the pan with the wine and stir in the mustard mixture to coat all the vegetables. If desired, top with garlic-seasoned bread crumbs (melt 1 Tbs butter or olive oil in a pan, stir in ¼ cup bread crumbs, pinch of salt, garlic powder and pepper, and cook until browned).

Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes

Use your preferred method of preparing potatoes for the mashing. We prefer the skins on, so we just give them a good scrub, cut out any bad spots or eyes, boil them whole for 2o-30 minutes or so (depending on the variety), drain, reserving 1 cup of liquid and mash with additional warm milk to desired consistency. Splash in a good dose of good quality olive oil, and some salt and pepper.

1 comment:

Cheeky Kitchen said...

Ok. Pumpkin Pie with Chai Spices? Those brussel sprouts? RIGHT. UP. MY. ALLEY.

What a glorious meal. I'm so glad you stopped by my blog (thank you) so that I could find you! Will be checking in often. Looks like our tastes run right up the same alley. So nice to find a kindred food spirit!

Happy Weekend!