This Wednesday David and I will be traveling down the Eastern seaboard with the Greyhound to Pennsylvania to visit my sister and her husband.Bus travel is by no means as first-class as planes, as classic as cars, or as classy as private car service; nevertheless I hope it will get us there for the best holiday of the year anyway.
In the last couple of weeks David, Sarah, Nathan, and I have been brainstorming about what we want to eat this Thursday. It’s not easy putting together a menu, and I’ve found it really interesting and helpful to listen to everybody’s ideas. In class on the day we talked about writing menus I felt mine was the least inspired, most traditional menu of the group. This disappointed me until David pointed out that my passion lies precisely in traditional foods, not foams and chemicals*. So, a Thanksgiving dinner shouldn’t be too difficult for me, right? Here are some of my suggestions:
My first thought was to take the squash from the middle of the dinner and bring it to the forefront in an appetizer. I’ve always wanted to have appetizers at Thanksgiving, I think it makes it fancier. Next is the turkey, what to stuff it with, and how to prepare it. Roasted, brined, basted, injected with sauce under the skin, in the oven, on the grill, on a spit? The options are endless, but eventually the line must be drawn. I like in the oven, stuffed, and basted every thirty minutes to one hour: this gives me plenty of time to handle all the other details that need to be dealt with.
Sides with the turkey are often more important than the turkey itself: traditional bean casseroles, corn casseroles, mashed potatoes, extra stuffing (careful not to dry it out!), and plenty of fresh vegetables (even salad if you like). Some suggestions are creamed corn (or leeks), braised endives, peas with pearl onions – again, many options. It’s important to have a balance: too many starches, or even too many vegetables, can make the meal lean too heavily on one side. Not only do you want a balance in types of vegetables, but you also want a balance in flavor – if you have cream in one dish already, try having another dish flavored with onions or peppers. Choose dishes with ingredients that compliment each other – not only within the dish but across the dishes as well (yes, that’s hard, and I will always be learning what goes well together).
Dessert has always been one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving. Focus on what you like, and don’t get too carried away with making too many pies (especially if you feel more obligated than excited about them). This year I’ve omitted a crust entirely, and I’m only having a custard. Of course I know it’s hard to give up the classics, and Thanksgiving is by no means a time to hold back. If you like key lime pie, make it and love it. Try it with some coconut shavings, or in bar form layered with your own graham cracker crust.
Making twists on old themes can be fun and produce excellent results. Keep an eye out for what other people are talking about for their dinners, and don’t be afraid to ask for recipe recommendations. You never know what kind of ideas you can get in the wildest of places!
Pictured above are the cookbooks I’ll be sourcing this year for Thanksgiving. In addition my sister and I have tapped Yahoo and Epicurious for recipes, and I’ve thrown in a soup and a dessert I’ve learned at school. Together, they will hopefully prove to be a delicious meal.
Vegetarian Butternut Squash
Hazelnut, Sage, and Mushroom Stuffing
Green Beans with Crimini Mushroom Sauce
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potato Purée
Endive and Walnut Salad with Gorgonzola Cheese
Pumpkin Custard with Pecan Praline
Vanilla Ice Cream
I haven’t made most of these dishes before – I’ll be tweaking my traditional Julia Child garlic mashed potatoes to make a low-fat version (thanks to Moosewood), and the green beans Sarah found here at Yahoo.The stuffing we got off Epicurious, which also has some interesting menu ideas of their own.The Endive and Walnut Salad comes from the Joy of Cooking, and the sweet potatoes are Julia’s (in “The Way to Cook”).As I said, the soup I got from instructor John Vyhnanek and the dessert is a take on Cindy Salvato’s pumpkin pie, which we’ll be making in ramekins.
If you’re still finalizing your menu and are looking for a soup, the butternut squash is incredible.Vegetarians will love you for it, but if you don’t have to contend with any then you can add chicken stock to create a soup that is even richer.It was one of the first things we made in class this fall, and it was surprisingly simple for the flavor that we got out of it.Try serving it with some toasted or candied pumpkin seeds, homemade croutons, or just a sprinkling of chives.
*Having played around with molecular gastronomy recipes today, I can honestly say I will stick to my mangoes in their natural state or in puree form, but not in a spherical orb suspended with alginate and calcium chloride to make it look like an egg yolk.
Vegetarian Butternut Squash Soup
adapted from Chef John Vyhnanek
2 Tbsp white wine
1 tsp garlic, finely minced
½ cup celery, finely diced
½ cup onion, finely diced
½ cup leeks, finely diced (use mostly the white part but add some of the lighter green parts too)
2 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ½” cubes
4 cups water
½ stick cinnamon (or 1 tsp cinnamon powder)
2 oz maple syrup (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Sweat the garlic and wine with some canola or vegetable oil over low heat until they are clear.Add the celery, onions, and leeks and cook slowly until they are clear.Put the squash, cinnamon, and water into the pot and bring to a boil.Then reduce the heat and let simmer about 30 minutes, or until tender.
Remove the cinnamon stick, if using.Purée the soup with an immersion blender (or let cool and use a regular blender or food processor).If you want a really smooth soup, strain through a cheese cloth-lined strainer or a chinoise.Add the nutmeg, maple syrup, and seasoning and bring the soup back to a low boil.Serve warm garnished with whipped cream, pumpkin seeds, chives, and/or croutons.
Note: To make your own croutons, cut the crust off soft bread using a round fluted cookie cutter to make half-moon shapes, or cut triangles with a knife (you can get as creative as you like!).Sauté on medium heat in a pan with butter until crispy and lightly browned.For added flavor, you can put garlic and/or herbs in the butter, but be careful not to burn them.