Thanksgiving My Way: New Traditions, Giblet Drama and All

Thanksgiving 2012 Collage

For years I’ve been talking about making Thanksgiving – I love the food and I felt this was a holiday I could someday own. It’s a bit complicated given the family traditions, but I couldn’t wait to tackle it when I finally got my chance this year.

Not to be overly critical (forget it, let’s face it, I am), but I was convinced I could do it better. I always appreciate when someone makes the effort of entertaining, but we’re talking Thanksgiving here. Sure, the Fourth of July can be potluck and the high holidays are all about tradition, but not Thanksgiving – it’s a holiday about giving thanks, good food, and giving thanks for good food (and football for some people, too). In my world, there’s no place for Chardonnay and turkey that was cooked, sliced, frozen and then reheated (and we found the critical).

So about two months ago I found out that our yearly tradition of going to Florida was turned on it’s head and I declared that this was going to be my year. I was going to make Thanksgiving, I was going to do it my way, and my family was going to like it. Damn it!

(Only hold a knife like this when posing)

I spent weeks planning the menu, researching recipes and techniques I hadn’t used in years, practicing the brine solution on a chicken, and creating a Thanksgiving run of show until I finally came up with what I thought was a worthy, executable menu. We kept a few family staples that I delegated to my mom (green bean casserole and her Jello-mold, because it wouldn’t be a holiday without her Jello), and I took on the rest.

There was the apple cider-brined turkey with sage-thyme butter and gravy made from sherry, reduced apple cider and homemade turkey stock. There were these delectably rich dinner rolls served with honey butter, and roasted sweet potatoes because it turns out I’m not the only one who can’t stand candied yams. There was stuffing, which was the one thing that needs some work before next year, although my brother-in-law couldn’t seem to get enough.

I skipped the desserts as my energy was focused on creating my ultimate turkey, and delegated those to family members. They picked their favorites and we wound up with a delicious dark chocolate cake from my mom and adorable chocolate turkey’s made out of Oreo’s, Whoppers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and a bunch of other candy from my sister. We had quite the assembly line going, but they turned out well – next year we’re going to use them as part of the table decoration.

Speaking of, we had some fun with the table, too, decorating with mini pumpkins, autumn flowers in Ball jars, and votive candles set in jars with cranberries. It was festive, fun and delicious, and hopefully the start of a new tradition my niece will cherish.

This isn’t to say there weren’t issues, like when my mom threw out the giblets I needed for the gravy or when I tried to heat up the cranberry sauce in a glass container and it cracked. Oops.

And throughout all of it, I truly did (and do) give thanks for my wonderful family who accepts me for who I am and goes with me on my crazy whims. And for my wonderful new niece who lights up the room every time.

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Blueberry Pancakes

I know, I know… this blog has been active for four-plus years and there are no pancake recipes! Seriously it’s a little embarrassing, which is why I’m excited to share this one today.

The truth is I’m a single gal so the idea of making a big breakfast fit for a family doesn’t normally occur to me. But this morning I woke up craving pancakes. Like, I HAD to have them. So I did, and they were delicious!

I worked with what I had on hand and wasn’t disappointed, even though that meant using unsweetened almond milk with a squeeze of lemon juice in place of milk, buttermilk or even yogurt that you traditionally find in pancakes. And the truth was – it didn’t make a difference!

Blueberry Pancakes

These pancakes were perfect – fluffy interior with a nice crispy edges. They were hearty and sweet with fresh blueberries and an amazing maple syrup I’ve become obsessed with from Burton’s Maplewood Farm (if you’re in Chicago, they sometimes sell at Green City Market). I also included rolled oats, a trick I learned when helping with a Top Chef cooking event a few years ago.

This recipe makes enough for two, although as long as I’m telling the truth here, I’ll admit that I ate ‘em all.

Here’s the recipe:

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The Most Amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Chocolate chip cookies are classic, something we all grew up eating and my family was no exception. They’re the cookie my mom would whip up for bake sales and make as a “cake” for my birthday parties with frosting. There was even a year in junior high when all I ate for lunch each day was a chocolate chip cookie and carton of chocolate milk (sorry, mom, that’s what I was really doing with my lunch money).

And don’t even get me started on chocolate chip cookie dough! I’d eat the individually frozen dough balls from Market Days right out of the freezer as an after school snack, and in high school my friends and I would share a roll of store-bought chocolate chip cookie dough and eat it with spoons.

While ubiquitous, to me chocolate chip cookies are also conventional. And although I wouldn’t call myself cutting edge in pretty much anything (I mean, come on, look at my shoes), I don’t usually make this cookie because there’s no challenge to it.

This takes me to a few years back when a recipe from The New York Times was making the rounds in the blogosphere. I wasn’t interested. After all, they’re just chocolate chip cookies, right?

Luckily, my friend Jenn paid attention and began making these cookies, which turned out to be absolutely freaking delicious. I’d even go so far as to call them a game-changer.

Whenever we’d talk about these cookies – and, oddly enough, they came up in conversation quite often – I always referred to this recipe as “aged chocolate chip cookies,” because that was really the trick, letting the batter rest (or age) in the fridge for 24 to 72 hours. But I never made them myself. They were her thing, not to mention waiting for the dough to age required patience and planning, two things that don’t really suit me.

I finally had a wake up call a few weeks ago after visiting Jenn in San Francisco. The first thing she gave me when I got off the BART was one of her aged chocolate chip cookies. It had been a while since I’d had one and I forgot just how freaking good these cookies were. That’s when I made the decision: I need to start making these myself – they’re just too good not to have on a regular basis. Or semi-regular basis, given this is the time of year for fruitless resolutions.

And did I mention these cookies are huge? But don’t try to make them smaller – it’s part of their charm. Also, the ingredients are kind of specific but once you have them, just think of all the cookies you can make!

So here’s my advice: make a batch. Freeze them for portion control. And then eat them whenever you need a delicious bite of comfort food or as a reward for making it through spin class. That’s my plan, anyways.

Happy New Year!

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Avocado Deviled Eggs

Last Sunday, I spent the day helping my mom prepare for our family’s Passover Seder. She was expecting 30 guests and had been working hard for a week to make all the traditional foods. I was helping by making this delicious Dark Chocolate Torte, always a hit, and a salad (because if I don’t make it, no one will eat anything green), and by keeping her company in the kitchen.

As we worked on our various dishes, one thing remained constant: my mom kept making batches upon batches of hard-boiled eggs. It’s a traditional food that goes on the Seder plate, and my family loves them so she makes dozens extra.

This led to the same discussion we have every year – why can’t I make some of those 60+ hardboiled eggs deviled? And better yet, if I’m making deviled eggs, why not make them with avocado?

As it turns out, there are quite a few reasons why, but unfortunately I didn’t know most of this until it was too late. Two main ingredients in many deviled egg recipes are mayonnaise and mustard, both of which present a bit of a problem. As it turns out, most store-bought mayos are made from soybean oil, a Passover no-no (soybeans are a legume). To get around this hurdle, use Kosher for Passover mayo or make your own from scratch.

The mustard presents a more difficult obstacle, and one I don’t really have a solution to. As I found out on Friday, five days too late, mustard is also a no-no because it comes from mustard seeds, and you can’t have seeds for Passover. Oops.

I know I’m writing this like I didn’t know those things, but that’s because I didn’t. This knowledge came from many calls and texts to friends over the past week. I even tried searching for a Kosher for Passover app for my iPhone and couldn’t find one – come on developers, I’m counting on this for next year!

Despite all the challenges, I did make the deviled eggs and they really were fantastic! A friend had recommended trying an avocado deviled egg, and I figured, why not? It adds more creaminess and fat to the filling that’s already made from of egg yolks and mayonnaise (which is made from more egg yolks and oil). Not to mention, the subtle flavor of the avocado is really rather refreshing, and it was amusing watching my non-adventurous extended family hesitate before trying the green eggs, then dig in and ask for another.

I used this recipe as a guide as I didn’t measure most of the ingredients, but rather adjusted and added by taste. For 18 eggs, I used two avocados, a nice amount of mayo, probably a few teaspoons of Dijon mustard, 1 small onion and 2 small celery stalks. I also added in fresh lemon juice and topped some of the eggs with a pinch of chili powder.

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French Friday’s with Dorie: Hachis Parmentier and Roast Brussels Sprouts

Today’s post is part of French Friday’s with Dorie, a sort of group cooking club in which each Friday a bunch of bloggers post about their experiences making a recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s new cookbook, Around My French Table.

I first heard about this new group cooking endeavor from Serene at BlogHer Food and thought I should give it a try. I’m not great about sticking to a schedule, but I like the idea of being forced to cook with butter and cream and other French staples that I often stay away from at least once a week. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that I’m a huge fan of Dorie’s and one of my highlights from BlogHer Food was getting to meet her. She couldn’t have been nicer about my coming up to her like a crazed fan and spent at least 20 minutes chatting with me! She’s truly a wonderful and inspiring person – and her recipes are delicious.

For my first recipe from Around My French Table, I made Hachis Parmentier, a shepherd’s pie-type dish. The main recipe calls for stewing beef, but I didn’t have time for that this week so I took Dorie’s short-cut version and used ground beef instead. I made a few small changes, but mostly I stuck to the recipe: subbed Yukon gold potatoes for Idaho, used half-and-half instead of heavy cream, and added a bit more butter to the potatoes than the recipe called for (I just couldn’t help myself!).

I loved the dish, although there’s no way I could eat like this on a regular basis. It was filling and incredibly satisfying, although I am glad I thought to make a vegetable to go with it to balance some of the richness.

And what was that side dish? Thanks for asking – it was oven-roasted Brussels sprouts, very simply made and they cooked right alongside the hachis parmentier.

If you want the recipe for hachis parmentier, buy the book – I promise you won’t regret it. Since it arrived last week, I’ve been staying up late reading the cookbook like a novel and dreaming about the recipes! (Sadly, I’m not exaggerating). If you want the recipe for my easy roast Brussels sprouts, here you go:

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