Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving, Simply: Dessert

Recently I saw a headline somewhere that said something like, "The Best Pies for Thanksgiving--And It MUST Be Pie." Apparently, people have strong feelings about what a proper Thanksgiving dessert looks like! We do have pie, but it's been banana cream for years--I have a sliver of it, but it's pretty much Heather's. She has never liked pumpkin pie, so when she was little, I asked her if there was a kind of pie she did want. Banana cream was her choice and it became a regular part of the meal. I used to make pumpkin pie, which I like well enough, but it started giving Bill heartburn, so I stopped making it. We bought pies for a few years--blueberry, I think. But starting last year, I made an apple cake and that it what I will do again this year.
This is how I made it last year:
Apple Cake
3 cups cored and peeled apples, chopped sort of small
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries (the original recipe calls for raisins and I have used them, but I like these better--you can use any dried fruit of combination that you like)
3 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 cups boiling water

Place apples and dried fruit in bowl, pour boiling water over and add oil.  Let sit for 10 or 15 minutes.  Add

1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Stir everything together.  Add

1 cup all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Stir everything together until well-blended.  Pour into greased tube pan (or square cake pan or loaf pans) and bake for about an hour at 350.  Let sit for a few minutes before removing from pans.

This year I will be using a dried fruit and almond mix that I have instead of the dried cranberries. I may or may not add the walnuts. The mix is mostly dried fruit and not a lot of almonds, so I will probably add a few walnuts.

Whether you have pie or not, I hope your Thanksgiving is wonderful!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thanksgiving, Simply: The Sides

We call all of the stuff besides the turkey or other "centerpiece" item, "the sides," but for us, they take up most of the plate. Our "centerpiece" has changed through the years, but the sides remain constant year after year. They may define the holiday meal more than the turkey does! They are simple dishes--no bells, whistles, or fancy additions here. 

The potatoes are whipped with a little bit of butter and a lot of milk. Bill peels and cubes them, then places them in a pot and covers with water. When it's time, I turn on the stove and whip the cooked and drained potatoes.

Bill and Heather love butternut squash mashed with a little butter. I now cook these whole in my larger Crock-Pot. I wash them, place them in the crock wet, cover, and cook on low until they pierce easily with the tip of a knife. It's extremely easy to remove the skin--and there is no waste, because none of the squash sticks to the skin.I cook them a day or two before Thanksgiving, so the mashed squash just has to be reheated.

Squash is OK, but I like mashed sweet potatoes better, so I cook a lot of them--also in my Crock Pot. I wash the outsides, stab a few times with a knife, pile in as many (still wet) as I can fit in my crock, cover, and cook on low until easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Again, the skin comes right off and I can mash them and have them all ready to be reheated on Thanksgiving. Sometimes I will cook sweet potatoes and add some almond milk and a bit of cinnamon--I like this for breakfast. But as a side dish on Thanksgiving, I prefer them plain.

Years ago I used to make a no-knead oatmeal bread. Heather started requesting it for every Thanksgiving, so that has become a part of the meal. Now I make the dough in the bread machine and shape it into rolls--leftovers are handy for little turkey sandwiches with cranberry jam.

Bill likes canned, jellied cranberry sauce, or as we affectionately refer to it here, slop in a can. I don't have cranberry sauce at all on Thanksgiving, but for the past few years I have made cranberry jam--I'll be making a big batch today. I really like it on turkey sandwiches.

Like everything else, the gravy is plain. I usually make it ahead of time using chicken or veggie broth and I season it with thyme and garlic. I am the one who eats most of the gravy--Heather doesn't like it and Bill only has a little.

I mentioned yesterday that the stuffing is my favorite part of the meal. When I was first married, I made it the way my mother always did, by browning ground beef and ground sweet Italian sausage with onions and celery and adding bread pieces. Obviously, I stopped making that when I was vegetarian and I never took it up again once I was no longer veg. I just make a plain bread stuffing with various kinds of bread pieces--I save bread ends and partial loaves that might be getting a little stale. I bring home a lot of bread from MCHPP, so I have various kinds of bits in the freezer. I'll grab some whole grain  bread of some kind when I am there Monday to make sure I have enough. Most of the bread I use in the stuffing is whole grain, which makes for a heartier stuffing that isn't all mushy. I sweat onions, celery and garlic in a little olive oil and pour over the bread pieces in a large bowl. I add poultry seasoning and enough chicken or vegetable broth to moisten. I stuff the centerpiece and put the rest in a baking dish. This goes into the oven when the turkey comes out.

I will begin cooking for Thanksgiving on Tuesday, either doing the squash or the sweet potatoes. I'll continue on Wednesday when I do whatever I didn't do on Tuesday, as well as the rolls and dessert. On Thursday, I'll make the stuffing, cook the turkey and we will make the potatoes. then we'll eat Thanksgiving dinner in some form over the weekend. By Monday, I will be ready for a break from stuffing!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thanksgiving, Simply

I have seen a lot of stuff popping up this week about simplifying the Thanksgiving meal or making it healthier. In thinking about this, I realized that we already keep things pretty simple and healthy--this wasn't as much by design as because of our own tastes and circumstances from year to year.

I see people refer to the turkey or the place the turkey holds as the "centerpiece" of the meal. I like turkey, but I like stuffing better, so while we haven't always had turkey as our centerpiece, we have always had something that could be stuffed--and we've always had the large pan of stuffing on the side as well. When we cook for Thanksgiving, we plan enough for us to eat for the next several days. This was a wonderful break when I was in university as a student and then as an instructor--that nice 4 day break with no meals to plan or prepare was very welcome.  My life is simpler now, but I am still a fan of planned leftovers and this is the big weekend for that.  When we do buy a turkey, we buy the biggest one they have and cook that. Leftovers are either eaten or frozen for later use. The carcass is turned into broth. 

When we lived in Portland (Oregon), I was vegetarian, so one year we had stuffed squash as the centerpiece. Bill wasn't thrilled with this, so in subsequent years, he cooked the turkey. One year our oven wasn't working, so he cooked it outside on the grill.

When we moved to Fairbanks, we were befriended and "adopted" by our Inupiaq Eskimo language teacher who named me after her sister and then a few months later, named Bill after her brother. She gave us a shiifish (or sheefish), that first fall which was quite large, so I stuffed that and we had it for Thanksgiving. It's a white fish. The following year, she sent me home from her village of Kotzebue with a large salmon (I had to buy a box at the airport to check it in with my suitcase). That was our centerpiece that year.

The next year we had a Norwegian exchange student, so we did make a turkey and tried to keep things traditional so she would have the experience, but I think that we cooked salmon, too.

Whatever I make for the centerpiece, I keep it simple because I do that whenever I cook.  It is helpful that this is just the way we like things. I could spend hours doing various things to food and making complicated sauces and the result would be a cranky me and an indifferent (at best) family. It's just not what they look forward to and the simple fare we are used to is what makes us all happy.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Orange-Apple-Cranberry Relish

Last Tuesday, I went with a friend to a food demo at Parkview Hospital. One of the things they made was a cranberry relish. It was quite good, so I decided to make some at home, tweaking just a little to use what I had on hand and according to my own taste preferences.  Here is how they made it:

Peel an organic orange and place the peel in a food processor fitted with the steel blade, along with 3 pitted dates.  Whiz until very finely minced.  Place peel and dates in a bowl.

Add peeled orange to food processor and whiz until frothy. Add to bowl.

Core a couple of apples and place them in food processor with 1 1/2 cups of cranberries, either fresh or thawed frozen berries. Pulse until finely chopped. Add to bowl and mix everything together.

When I made it, I used some of a dried fruit mix that has a few almonds in it instead of the dates.  The dried fruit is mostly dates and the almonds are a good addition anyway. I have a few bags of this--I brought it home from MCHPP figuring it would work as a snack, but we both found it rather bland, so I will use it in baking--muffins, apple cake, etc--and in this cranberry relish. It worked well. I just threw some in without measuring. 

I also increased the amount of cranberries. Both my friend and I thought that the stuff we tasted at the demo was good, but the dominant flavor was definitely the orange. I had about half a bag of cranberries in the freezer and I thawed that and used those--it was probably at least 2 1/2 cups and it would not be a problem at all for either Bill or me if I added even more.  That's the great thing about something like this--you can add ingredients in the amounts you like. Add another apple and more cranberries. Sprinkle with nuts. Add coconut or pineapple.  Raisins would be good.

The person doing the demo said she likes to put this relish on toast with almond butter.  Bill has been having it in his oatmeal. Yesterday I was hungry and I put a few spoonfuls in a bowl and just ate it with a spoon.  It's really good.  This will become a regular thing in my kitchen--at least while the cranberries hold out!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Love My Crock Pot!

Made some soup last week in the Crock Pot, using a lot of the stuff we got in our last few weeks of the CSA season.  I cut up some boneless, skinless chicken breasts and added them to the crock along with celeriac, sweet potatoes, onion, and carrots, from the farm. I had some pak choy, a red pepper, broccoli stalks and half a bag of baby broccoli that I'd brought home from the food bank, so I chopped that up. It looked so pretty with all the different colors.
I cooked it on high for a few hours, then turned it to low after adding some chopped savoy cabbage and an herb blend. So yummy!
The carrots, sweet potatoes, and the herb blend, which had some orange in it, gave it a hint of sweetness.

The other night I piled in some chicken leg quarters and a few small squash we'd gotten at the farm into the crock and cooked on low for 10 hours overnight. Bill and Heather had chicken, squash, and potatoes for supper last night. I had some smashed potatoes with snipped scallion, garlic chives, black pepper and bacon bits. Instead of plain chicken, I mashed up some avocado and mixed in a little lemon juice (I'd used up all my limes making lime vinaigrette!), a minced shallot, diced jalapeno, and snipped parsley. I spread this on some whole grain bread and then topped with pieces of chicken.

I do love my Crock Pot.