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.


Cranberry Frozen Yogurt

Sometimes there are things I just can’t resist buying, even if I have no real need for them. Like those great suede boots that cover my knee. Or an iPad, which even though I haven’t actually bought it yet, I know it’s really just a matter of time before I give in. Or red quinoa even though I have a HUGE bag of the regular stuff from Costco at home. Or a bag of bright ruby red cranberries, even though I’m not making Thanksgiving.

Big or small, these aren’t always the most practical purchases, but they make me happy.

So even though I didn’t need the cranberries for anything particular, I wanted them just for fun. I had been thinking about making David Lebovitz’s frozen yogurt for a long time, and the thought of a cranberry-flavored frozen treat seemed just too fun to pass up. And luckily, I had my office’s pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving lunch potluck coming up. Perfect!

I followed his basic recipe but made changes to take into account that the tart flavor of the cranberries would need extra sweetener (he called for 1 lb fresh strawberries and 2/3 cup sugar; I used 12 oz fresh cranberries with 2/3 cup sugar plus maple syrup), and used 2% Greek yogurt because it’s so rich and creamy. I also cooked the cranberries with the sugar until it formed a thick syrup, then strained it to remove any pieces, and chilled the mixture before churning in my ice cream maker.

The result was a rich, creamy and slightly tart frozen yogurt that works perfectly as a palate cleanser, mid-afternoon treat or even as dessert for those who don’t prefer sweets.

Here’s the recipe:

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Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes with Apple Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes with Apple Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes with Apple Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

This week I was lucky to escape the windy city in favor of sunny Florida where I’ve been vacationing with my family. While I’ve been enjoying relaxing by the pool with my sister, walking with my dad, and doing puzzles with my mom, I haven’t been able to get in much cooking. And this is especially sad given that Thanksgiving is one of my favorite eating holidays, right up there with Passover and that’s just because I’m a sucker for matzo ball soup.

A few nights ago we were eating dinner with extended family and I was excited, not to mention a little surprised, when my sister, Marci, volunteered the two of us to make a dessert to bring to my aunt’s house for the big dinner. It was a little daunting because the home we’re staying in has a kitchen that isn’t equipped with much more than a mixing bowl, hand-mixer, half-sized cutting board, paring knife, and non-stick egg pan. Despite this, I was up for the task.

Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes 1 Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes 2 Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes 6

Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes 1 Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes 2 Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes 3

And quite a task it was. Marci decided we should make apple cinnamon cupcakes with a cream cheese frosting. Sounds great, I thought, as I turned to the Internet to find a recipe to work off of. Well, it turned out a to be a bit more challenging than I’d anticipated.

For starters, there were very few recipes for apple cupcakes and those that did exist had less than stellar reviews or seemed like they’d turn out more like muffins, which are more dense and often dryer than cupcakes. But eventually we came across this Food Network recipe that I adapted to better fit what we were going for. And it still took a bit of trial and error to reach the right level of apple-cinnamony goodness that Marci was hoping to achieve, but we did it!

The final cupcakes were moist with great cinnamon spice flavor and speckled with small bits of apple pieces. And then there was the frosting. Oh my, it was fantastic, both sweet and tangy with just a hint of apple flavor and was a perfect compliment to the cupcakes.

Cream Cheese Frosting 1 Cream Cheese Frosting 2 Cream Cheese Frosting 3

Here’s the recipe:

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