A Traditional Americas Thanksgiving

Hello, dear Readers!  We have had a frenetic past 6 months. They’ve involved a surgery, we’ve moved, we’ve had a sick kitty thrown into that mix, and now we’re unpacking!  As you know, with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I am usually running myself pleasurably ragged preparing for dinner on Thursday.  This year thought, Hubby’s cousins are hosting at their house, and so I am off the large hook.  That doesn’t mean I won’t cook, just on a much smaller scale.  I am offering to bring a roasted turkey breast and pumpkin mousse/pudding so they have their favorite dessert, but dairy and soy free to accommodate the dietary needs of one of our newest, tiny family members!

As I look back on many years past, I realized that the American Thanksgiving dinner does still bear some resemblance to what we can see from historical accounts was the first dinner, with the Pilgrims giving thanks, not only for the bounty of a harvest, but also to the Native peoples that helped them get to that harvest. Where on our dinner tables are the squash, beans and corn, traditionally now called “the three sisters” of the past?  It’s more than likely they were on that first Thanksgiving table.  So, when looking for easy to freeze vegetarian entrees, I happened upon this little gem, called Three Sisters empanadas, just in time for Thanksgiving!

The “three sisters” are the trinity of beans, squash (or zucchini) and corn. They’re symbiotic crops, the beans and squash need no trellis for support, because they use the corn for it.  And so you have crops that depend upon each other in the garden.  Quite ingenious of those first Americans! I am calling this post traditional Americas Thanksgiving, because this dish is truly that, something from the Americas, both north and south.  The beauty of this dish is that you can freeze it and the dough and filling for a future feast.

The base is the squash and corn, roasted in a hot oven with oil, salt and a little chili powder.  Then you add green chilies, beans, seasonings, and let it sit.  While that happens, you can either freeze the filling, then make the dough, and freeze that too.  Or, you can shape, fill and bake them for immediate eating, later lunches or snacks, or freeze them for later!  You really can’t get more versatile than that!

On a side note, I am implementing what a lot of food blogs have started to do, which is detailing what you’ve done at this time in years past.  I realized I have blogs that go all the way back to 2007, imagine that?  There is a lot to share, so don’t skip the very bottom of the post!

Three Sisters Empanadas (adapted from The Kitchn)

Preheat the oven to 400 º Farenheit

Ingredients:

For the filling:

1/2 pound zucchini (2 medium), cut into 1/2–inch cubes

2 cup fresh corn kernels (2 medium ears) or 1 small package of frozen kernels

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste1 teaspoon of chili powder

1 small can black, pinto or kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 small can diced green chilis (you can use fresh if you like it hot, but then it’s 2 small chilis, seeded and 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

For the dough:

1 cup whole-wheat flour

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

8 tablespoons unsalted cold butter, cubed

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4 cup ice water, plus more as needed

For the egg wash:

1 large egg, beaten

1 tablespoon water

In a large rimmed sheet pan, lined with foil or parchment, lay the corn and squash in one layer, season generously with salt, pepper and chili powder.  Drizzle the olive oil over the ingredients, and with your hands, toss everything so they’re well covered with oil and seasonings.  Place in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, but after 15 minutes start checking so the corn doesn’t burn.  You want everything browned and a little toasted.  Depending on how fresh it is, it might be drier or full of sugar, which tends to make it burn faster.  If you feel like it, after 20 minutes, if everything isn’t already browned, give the pan a shake to redistribute and allow the other side to brown.  Once it’s done, remove from the oven and allow to cool down.  Check your email, check the mail, clean the bathroom, whatever will take enough time for the ingredients to cool off!  Once it’s cooled, place in a large bowl, and add the beans, green chilis, cumin and chili powder. Mix all together well, taste and adjust to your liking.  Then cover, and set in the fridge to mingle a little.  The mixture should be wet enough to hold together on a spoon, but not watery.

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Meanwhile, make the dough.  I used a food processor, you can use your hands, or a pastry cutter or two forks.  I find the processor is just faster. In the bowl of your processor, place the flours, salt and cumin. Pulse a few times to mix well.  Drop in the butter and begin to pulse until everything looks like lumpy cornmeal.  Then start to pulse while you drizzle in the water a few spoons at a time.  Pulse until the dough starts to cohere and ball up.  If it looks too shaggy/dry to cohere after 1/4 cup, measure out another 1/4 cup and pulse it in, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Once it’s in a ball like stage, dump it all out onto a scantly floured board and knead the dough, until it’s smooth and will hold it’s shape.  Wrap in plastic and put in the fridge to rest, 20 minutes or so.  If you’re freezing it, wrap well in plastic, then put into a freezer bag.  When you’re ready to use it, aloow it to thaw overnight or for 8 – 10 hours in the fridge, then knead until pliable.

When you’re ready to assemble, pat the dough into a log like shape and cut into 12 pieces.  If you like a thick dough, cut into 10 and cook 4 -5 minutes longer.  Roll each piece into a ball with your hands, then flatten out on a cutting board, and with a rolling pin, roll it out into a circle shape.  It should be about 4 – 5 inches in diameter and fairly thin.  This dough is fairly tough, so it can handle thin rolling.

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In the center of your dough spread a tablespoon of the filling. Pull the top of the dough over the filling and press into the bottom half, carefully pushing out any air pockets in the filling.  Then, twist the edges together and press down, crimping as you go.  Mine looked like this:

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You should get 12 out of the batch, but if you only get 10 that’s fine! Use a fork to punch some holes in the dough, so there is somewhere for the steam to go.  In a small bowl, beat together the egg and water, and use a brush to brush all over the exposed parts of the empanadas.  Place in the oven (at 400 degrees) for 20 – 25 minutes.  You’ll know they’re done when they look browner and slightly shiny.

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You can serve these with salsa and sour cream, or just eat them as they are.  They’re so good, and make a fab hand held lunch.  Think of them as home made “Hot Pockets”!

Have a lovely Thanksgiving all, and let me know what you end up cooking!!

 


What Were We Cooking?
1 year ago:

Countdown to Thanksgiving

3 years ago:

Pretzel Bread

5 years ago:

Homemade Pancake mix

Fool proof pie crust

Charlie Brown and Snoopy!
Charlie Brown and Snoopy!

For the very close Thanksgiving people that I know are doing things at the last minute, I have a fool proof and perfect pie crust that you can rustle up in no time.  I don’t have photos because, hey, it’s the day before Thanksgiving and I am cooking my brains out, so you’ll have to trust me on this one.

Easy Pie Crust

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, VERY cold, but into cubes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup ice cold water (you won’t use all of it)

That’s it!  The key here is cold, cold, cold.  I recommend using a food processor because it makes for quick work, and because you can chill all the parts of it.  Freeze the butter, put ice cubes in the water, and yes, put the flour in the freezer before you use it. I also recommend putting the cubes in the freezer, it’s all about the cold.

Put the flour and salt in the processor and pulse 4 or 5 times to combine well.  Then add all the butter, and pulse 8 – 10 times.  You’ll start to see the chunks of butter become smaller and smaller, but with this recipe you will start out with a very crumbly dough, so don’t over process.  After you’re satisfied the butter is incorporated enough, start to drizzle the cold water down the funnel of the processor.  Pulse 4 or 5 times and see how it looks after a good few tablespoons.  Try again with another drizzle, but keep the processor running now.  Once you hear the motor labor and it looks more like a coalesced dough, you can turn it all out onto a floured surface.  Push down with your hands and form a disc.  Wrap the firmed down disc in plastic wrap and put in the fridge.

When you’re ready to use the crust, unwrap the dough and use the plastic as your surface.  Dust it with flour so nothing sticks, and roll it out.  As you roll it will become a pie dough, and not just a crumbly mess!  Once you have the width you need, put it into the pie dish and chill again.  Once it seems a bit dry and firm, fill it and bake it.  I guarantee this will become your go to recipe.  It makes one crust, so just double if you need a double crust.

Easy!  And Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Thanksgiving tips of the cooking trade!

The thanksgiving "tablescape" for my second Suliman Family Thanksgiving
The Thanksgiving “tablescape” for my second Suliman Family Thanksgiving

 

As I sit here in my home office, with my feet up on the window sill, drinking coffee and watching the birds come to the feeders I put out, I am reminded of how much I love making the whole Thanksgiving dinner, from soup to nuts and back again!   I am also reminded that, for this year, I am enjoying the respite from the hustle bustle that is preparing the dinner for 15 – 20 people!  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll do it again and again, with full joy, but this year, we are taking a break from hosting.  So, I am thinking of sharing with you a few tips that I have used to help you prep with minimal fuss and hopefully minimal stress, after all, it’s is a day you should be able to enjoy with family and friends!

I usually start working a week or even two before the big event, so all the little prep ahead stuff gets done. Any baked breads get done at least a week before and frozen.  This way, Hubby’s family have their Pilgrim’s bread on the table!  I also try to purchase anything that’s non-perishable well in advance.  In my mind, the prices go up the closer the rush comes, so my mantra of a well stocked pantry really does apply here.  If you’re using stuffing cubes, canned vegetables, butter (which I freeze) and eggs, buy them in advance.  Eggs will stay fresh and usable for about three weeks when properly sealed in the fridge!  A huge tip here, I never buy white potatoes ahead of time, I never have luck keeping them from sprouting before I use them.  However, sweet potatoes, I buy weeks in advance and put in the fridge.

This brings us to the week of the big event.  I usually start the actual prep the Monday or Tuesday of Thanksgiving week.  In those days, I use the food processor to chop onions, garlic, vegetables for stuffing, and prep pie dough and freeze it.  This way, on the day all you have to do is grab a Ziplock™ and start cooking.  Vegetables prepped ahead, in particular onions, should always be kept in containers/bags separate from everything else.

Honestly, if you’re inclined, you can cook pies in advance, or prep them to the point of putting in the oven and wrap well and freeze them.  Just remember when you’re cooking them that you would have to loosely cover with foil and add about 10 – 12 minutes to the cooking time, to allow for thawing and prevent the crust from burning.  I would discourage thawing them at room temperature, just let the oven do that for you, and keep your counters free of clutter.  I have even been known to make pies a month or more in advance, when apples are at their peak, or I see them on sale at the market.  I also am a huge advocate of making your own pumpkin puree.  Especially after all the Halloween carving.  Buy a few extra pie pumpkins, they’re the small to medium size ones you see everywhere.  Don’t carve them, just put them out for decoration.  Then, once Halloween is over, remove the stem, cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds, lay cut side down on a roasting or baking sheet covered in foil and roast them in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes.  Putting them cut side down helps to generate steam which will cook them a little faster.  Once a knife easily pierces the skin, take them out, let them cool completely and once cool, scrape the innards out of the shell with a spoon.  Give it a few pulses in the food processor and voila!  Instant pumpkin puree.  You can freeze this for months in a bag or container, or keep it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.  Then just measure as you would for a pie and forgo the canned stuff!  That’s truly homemade!

Speaking again of in advance, I have made the cranberry sauce as far in advance as possible many times.  The minute I see the bags of berries in the market, it gets made.  And it’s as easy as possible!

Cranberry sauce

1 bag cranberries, pikced through for rocks and white, unripe berries

1 cup water

1/2 cup white sugar (you can not replace this with anything but sugar, no stevia!)

Cinnamon stick, or 1 teaspoon powdered

In a heavy bottom pan that has a lid, bring the water and sugar to a boil.  Add the cranberries and cinnamon, lower theat to a simmer and cover.  Check the mixture and be ready for overflow, it just happens.  Once all the berries are starting to pop (you’ll hear it) take the lid off, stir and begin to crush the berries under the liquid, with a slotted spoon.  Once they’re all popped, cook for another 5 – 7 minutes, and allow everything to gel.  Take it off the heat and let it cool completely, removing the cinnamon stick once it is cool.  Isn’t that easy??

You can store them, in a bag or covered container int he fridge, but I usually freeze well ahead of time.

We do all the usual things, stuffing, turkey (see my fool proof one and a half hour 23 lb turkey here) , mashed potatoes, pies.  I do do a few different things though, purely because Hubby loves them, and let’s face it, that’s really who I cook for most of the time, so why not make things he enjoys! Item one is roasted cauliflower, and the other is roasted Brussels sprouts.  Now, I have to say, these styles of vegetable cooking seem to be very popular these days, but I have been doing them for years, at least 10, so I like to think I started the trend.  It’s also super easy.  Hot oven, lots of olive oil, tin foil covered baking sheet, salt, garlic (fresh minced, or powdered), cumin.  You can omit the cumin for the BS’s but it adds something amazing to the cauliflower, so don’t skimp there!  Tip for the Brussels, when you’re paring the base of them, cut a cross into it and roast them whole.  Any stray leaves that fall off them just toss them onto the sheet.  They’re what I like to call the cooks treat, they roast up super crispy and are delish!  When you’re prepping the cauliflower, just cut it into bite sizes, not too big or too small, then for both, douse with about 1/4 cup of olive oil, sprinkle well with salt, cumin and toss or stir everything together so it’s all well covered.  Put into a hot oven, 425 or so, and roast for 20 – 25 minutes.  Keep an eye on them, as they cook, make sure they don’t burn outright.  You do want to get brown and toasty.  Easy as anything and you can serve a room temperature or hot, your choice.  Just don’t reheat them, that makes them soggy and yuck.

Mashed potatoes, I do the day of, as close to dinner time as possible, and I don’t ever skimp on the butter and cream.  Heat the cream and butter together, if you have time, it’s so worth it!

What have I missed?  Oh, the rule at our house is the cook never has to wash the dishes, so be sure all the guests know they will be expected to clear the table and wash up!

Enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner my dear American friends, and for those of you not celebrating, try some of theses and come back and let me know how they work for you!  As the Hubby’s Aunt Maxine used to say, “Add wine, and it’s a party!”

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving and Christmas have come and gone!

We had a great Thanksgiving at our house.  We ended up with 18 people including a very charming little 2 and a half year old.  For Christmas, we used my husband’s Uncle Henry’s custom, hand made folding tables, which have been stored in our garage since before I was in the picture!  In the midst of my preparing, and cooking, and general mania, I continually remembered when we were kids and my mother would cook these gigantic dinners for 20+ people on Thanksgiving.  We always had my cousin Bob and his wife Sue’s family, although to me they will always be Uncle Bob and Aunt Sue.  Back then, we were mostly children, with only a few adults and several other people at the table.  As far as I can remember, no one brought anything, except maybe desserts.  There was always a huge turkey that Mom put in the oven at some ungodly hour (I vaguely remember 5am being the target time, for a 3pm dinner.)  Stuffing, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts, huge amounts of mashed potatoes, carrots, broccoli, a huge tossed salad, and we were usually running around eating all day!  This year, as I was running around chopping, baking and generally being nuts, those gatherings were really in the front of my mind, I reminded me of my mother so much.  But how Mom did it, with a full time job, 4 kids and a very active social/church life, and still does on a regular basis, with lupus and all her other demands, continually amazes me.

As usual, this year, for Christmas, we drove to New York, and had a lovely, small dinner with just Tim and I, Mom and Dad and my sister Sara, brother in law Aaron and the kids, Lily and Declan.  It was luxuriously quiet and small, and I enjoyed every single moment of it!  Mom made, what I consider to be a minuscule turkey, and although we had decided on my new favorite method, it was small enough to roast quickly, as thought it were a large chicken.  And I have to say it was lovely and juicy and tasty!

So, here’s my big secret for cooking a large turkey to delicious, juicy perfection.  Have you ever heard of spatchcocked turkey?  I have no idea where that name cake from, I am still suspicious it’s some mistake, but when I tell you it’s the best, fastest and easiest turkey, I am not kidding.  For the last few years, I have cooked a fresh 23 lb turkey in less than 2 hours. That isn’t a typo, it’s less than TWO HOURS!  It’s a little bit of work, but you will think it’s totally worth it.  You can skip the brining and put some herbed butter under the skin, and a nice alternative.

Traditionally, I brine my turkey overnight, and that’s really a huge part of the flavor and juice that this turkey runs with, I can not stress enough that the brining is really what makes the turkey.  Add 1 cup of kosher salt for a 23 pound turkey to 8 cups of water, in a large, heavy bottomed pot.  Here you can add in any spices or herbs you want to add flavor to the turkey.  This year I added one star anise (after learning from adding three last year… big mistake) and a tablespoon each of black, white or mixed peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fresh chopped sage, 2 lemons juiced, husks thrown into the pot.  Heat everything together until the salt dissolves, stirring well, bring the mixture to a boil.  After boiling for 10 minutes, take the mixture off the heat and allow it to cool, then add 16 additional  cups of COLD water.  Stir well, and let the mixture cool completely, let it set in the fridge for an hour or so, to ensure it is completely chilled.  In the meantime, while the liquid is chilling, line a very large bucket (I have an orange Home Depot bucket we use each year) with a brining/baking bag or a white plastic garbage bag.  Place the fridge cold turkey after rinsing it out with cold water in the the bag and pour the cold brine over it.  Add additional water until the entire turkey is submerged.  Let this sit overnight, in a cold place.  We have a non-heated mud room that gets quite cold, but if you have space in the fridge, place the whole mess in there.

About four hours before you are ready to eat dinner, take the turkey and brine to your sink.  Drain all the water from the turkey, discard the plastic and place the turkey breast side down in the sink.  I warn you, here comes the hard part!  With a large kitchen/chicken shears/serrated knife, cut out the backbone of the turkey, taking great care not to cut your hands on the sharp bones.  Again, I will warn you, I have ruined 2 very good butchers knives.  A serrated knife does make a huge difference.  Once the backbone is out, you’ll see that there isn’t much to the turkey, and you can “butterfly” it.  Lay it open on a level surface, and push firmly down on the breastbone until you have a completely flat turkey.  In doing this, you greatly reduce dead air that has to be heated in order to fully cook the bird.  This year I finally figured out that if you score the breastbone on the underside, it cracks open a treat!  Lay the turkey on a rimmed baking tray, flat (see the cooked turkey photo below for the correct position.  I usually salt and pepper the skin to get a nice crispy, tasty skin.  Preheat the oven to 450°.  Now, I mentioned before that you can skip the brining, but I strongly suggest you do it.  The other thing that’s very worth noting is that the bird needs to be unfrozen, or at least completely thawed.  Whatever you do, avoid a Butterball turkey.  These days you can easily find turkeys that re not frozen or injected with water, salt and chemicals.  I strongly urge you to find this kind of turkey.

Bringing the turkey to room temperature is OK before you put it in the oven, it reduces the cooking time.  Roast the turkey at 450° for an hour and 20 minutes.  Use a meat thermometer to read the temp in the deepest part of the breast or thigh.  It should read 160°.  If it’s higher than that, it’s OK, but take it out of the oven right away and let it rest tented with foil for up to one hour.  This will give you time to cook all the rest of your sides, heat everything else up.  The down side to doing this is that you can’t stuff the turkey.  I do think that “in the turkey” stuffing is not really a big deal, but you can place the turkey on a rack in the roasting pan, and cook the stuffing under the turkey.  In any event, one and half hours is a pretty fair time to roast a large turkey.  I admit, this isn’t a ladylike setting, but it works!

Great turkey

 

Good luck trying this, and as always, let me know how it turns out.  And also, thank you for reading this blog and commenting on it.  I so appreciate the feedback and the discussions it cause me to have!  Happy New Year everyone, please don’t make resolutions, just be kind to yourself and others around you!

Best for the new year, Elizabeth.