Thanksgiving

Festive Stuffed Acorn Squash

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by Susan Russo

ImageIt's already in full swing. Thanksgiving turkey mania. You know what I'm talking about. The endless, frenzied debate over how to cook the perfect turkey. With all the food magazines, cooking shows and turkey hotlines available, I know you'll find more information than you ever wanted on the bird. That's why I'm posting about Thanksgiving side dishes: They're much less controversial. You can't brine sweet potatoes or deep fry cranberry sauce. At least, I don't think you can.

Last year I shared four Thanksgiving side dishes with a twist: Perennial favorites like sweet potatoes and string beans got a makeover. They looked fabulous. But we can't make the same veggies this year. Well, except for the String Beans with Prosciutto, Pine Nuts, and Lemon. I have to make those again. Don't worry though. I've got a few new ones for you that won't disappoint.

Let's start with Festive Stuffed Acorn Squash. A robustly sweet and tangy filling of shallots, cranberries, prunes and pecans is nestled inside of a hot roasted acorn squash half. If you've just wrinkled your nose at the word "prunes," trust me, they're the ideal foil to tart cranberries. But if you just can't abide the thought of them, swap them for sweet Medjool dates. Everyone loves Medjool dates.

Giving

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by Libby Segal

ImageIt is 3:30PM November 26, 2009. I take a deep breath as I swallow a spoonful of green bean casserole—probably from my third round of food. I look at the table to see what is left for another helping. My eyes get big as I notice that the vegetarian stuffing hasn’t been touched and that there are a few shrimps left at the end of the table. “Yes!—I think.” Shortly after, I go into a food coma, throw on my sweatpants, and curl into a ball for an afternoon nap. Not before long, I awake and pounce on apple pie for dessert. This is Thanksgiving…this is a true American Thanksgiving. This year I won’t be having one of those. This year I will be saying “Grazie” rather than “Thank you” and I will be stuffing my body with endless baskets of bread, bowls of pasta, and bites of pizza. This year I will spend Thanksgiving in Florence, Italy.

It was just two years ago that I spent Thanksgiving in Rome, Italy. At the time, the class that I had studied abroad with was fortunate enough to have our group leaders organize a Thanksgiving dinner at one of the most prestigious hotel rooftops in all of Italy, The Marriott on Via Veneto. As a few of my roommates, my brother, and I approached the beautiful hotel, we began to ponder what we would be filling our plates with that night. Of course I cried out, “There better be green bean casserole.”

Roasted Acorn Squash with Honey-Lime Glazed Pepitas

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by Susan Russo

ImageAmerican Thanksgiving. It's all about the big bird. Or is it?

Every year it's the same thing: Cooks everywhere spend countless hours debating the merits of free-range, organic, grass fed, wild, and frozen turkeys. Then when they finally decide on a turkey, they spend even more hours debating how to cook it: Will brining make the meat succulent? Should it be basted every hour? And what about the stuffing? Every family has that relative who insists on stuffing the turkey. So should you stuff the turkey and risk salmonella poisoning for your guests or incur your Aunt Edna's wrath? These are not easy questions.

That is why my favorite part of Thanksgiving has always been the side dishes. You know them – the perennial favorites such as cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, winter squash, string beans, and Brussels sprouts. Probably like most of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, I expect these dishes to grace the Thanksgiving table every year, but sometimes they need a little spicing up. Rather than traditional butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon, this acorn squash has some Latin flare.

Cranberry-Quince Compote

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by Joseph Erdos

ImageNo Thanksgiving dinner table is complete without cranberry sauce. Cranberries and turkeys are both native to North America, so it's fitting that they have come to represent the holidays not to mention the wonderful pairing they make. Many of us have become accustomed to the cranberry sauce that slides out of a can. But it's really not that elegant. Cranberry sauce, compote, or chutney made from scratch is so much more special. For many years now I've been making one or the other. When guests who have only ever eaten canned sauce try my compote, they swear never to back to canned again. Fresh cranberries can be found everywhere in supermarkets this time of year. Combine them with other fruits and spices to create a very flavored sauce that everyone is sure to enjoy.

Cranberry compote can be made with a variety of fresh or dried fruits, which help to balance the tart flavor of the cranberries. I've tried all combinations: apples, pears, grapes, dates, and raisins. But the most unique combination I've created is with quince, a pear-like fruit originating from Asia. Like a cross between an apple and a pear with a light yellow-green skin, the quince is an immensely fragrant and flavorful fruit. Mostly quinces are a bit too astringent to eat raw and instead are used in cooking, baking, and jam-making. Quince can be found individually packaged in supermarkets during the fall and winter seasons. They are definitely worth picking up for this fall-fruit compote.

Pumpkin and Pecans in one or two bites

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by Sue Doeden

ImageI’m not real keen on pumpkin pie, but I love pecans…and butter…and brown sugar…with just a little pumpkin in the mix. That’s what these tiny tarts are made of. One-Bite Pumpkin-Pecan Pies remind me of pecan tassies, those rich little treats that often show up on holiday cookie trays. A little pumpkin and spice added to the mix adds delicious depth of flavor, so when you pop the first tiny pie into your mouth you get a delightful surprise. Especially if you were expecting pecans only.

The recipe I used comes from the book, “Our Favorite Recipes,” compiled by the Claremont Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Serving Sullivan County (whoa, that’s a much bigger mouthful than a One-Bite Pie!). It comes from Claremont, New Hampshire.

I made just a couple of changes to the recipe, using organic unsweetened coconut milk beverage instead of milk and also added some Bacardi Gold rum. Mmmm, good flavor. The filling is baked in little cream cheese pastry crusts.

Thanksgiving is All About the Sides...Especially the Pumpkin Bread!

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by Seale Ballenger

pumpkinbread.jpgIn a recent headline in the "Dining" section of the New York Times, the following question was posed: at Thanksgiving is it all about the turkey or the side dishes?

For me, hands down it has always been about the sides.   Never a fan of the tryptophan laden bird, I spend most of fall dreaming of the day in which gorging on cornbread dressing, broccoli casserole (made with Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup), and sweet potato casserole loaded with pecans and brown sugar is encouraged.   But the side dish I love the very most, the one that is made only at this special time of year, is pumpkin bread.

Whether served hot out of the oven with butter while the top is nice and crunchy; or the next day cold with a dollop of cream cheese...homemade pumpkin bread rocks! 

Especially the recipe for this tasty treat that has been knocking around my family for years now.  It's, by far, the absolute hands down best there is.   But enough of the hyperbole, here's the recipe for you to try, guaranteed to make this Thanksgiving a memorable one.

Pumpkin: It's Not Just for Pie

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by Susan Russo

pumpkin.jpgPumpkin pie has been typecast. It always plays the same role: The Thanksgiving Day Dessert.

This is unfortunate because pumpkin pie has great range and versatility. In addition to being a great lead, it's a talented supporting player too. Think of the possibilities: pumpkin pie muffins, pumpkin pie cheesecake, and my favorite, pumpkin pie pudding.

Every year, weeks before Thanksgiving, I would anticipate my mom's pumpkin pie: a light, flaky crust filled with sweet, custardy, walnut studded, spiced pumpkin. The only thing better than a slice of her pie on Thanksgiving Day with a dollop of whipped cream was a slice of her pie the next morning for breakfast. To me, nothing beats chilled pumpkin pie.

So it wasn't unusual when one fall day a couple of years ago, I had a serious hankering for my mom's pumpkin pie that couldn't be satisfied. Sure, I could have called her for the recipe, but it never would have tasted as good, and buying one was out of the question. I reluctantly decided to make vanilla pudding with pumpkin pie spice instead. It was so good that the next time I made it, I added canned pumpkin and nuts. After several more experiments and many happy mouthfuls later, I present Pumpkin Pie Pudding with Candied Pecans and Whipped Cream.

 

A Thanksgiving NOT To Remember

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by Paul Mones

schoolreform.jpgIn November of 1980, I was the director of Juvenile Advocates, a legal advocacy program for incarcerated teens located in Morgantown, West Virginia. My job consisted of monitoring the treatment of juveniles who were locked up in county jails, detention centers and what were known then, as reform schools. Perhaps the most interesting part of the job was that about every two weeks I would drive the roller-coaster roads of the state to interview the kids locked up in the various institutions from the West Virginia Industrial School for Boys in Pruntytown to the West Virginia Industrial School for Girls in Salem and the Leckie Youth Center, located way down in the coalfields of McDowell County.

The names “Industrial School” and “Reform School” were vestiges of the early 20th century reform movement. Prior to that age of enlightenment, teenagers who broke the law were treated identical to adults. They were tried in criminal courts, locked up in state prisons along side adult inmates and even hung from the gallows. With the advent of the progressive movement, delinquency came to be thought of more as a social problem having its roots in poverty, discrimination and family disintegration. I could quote the great turn-of-the century social reformer Jane Adams, but I think the Jets provide the most eloquent explanation: “Dear Kindly Sgt. Krupke, you gotta understand, it’s just our upbringing upke that gets us out of hand, our mothers all are junkies, our fathers are all drunks, golly Moses naturally we’re punks.” Rather than punish delinquents in prisons, the thinking went, they should be sent to schools to be ‘reformed,’ made more ‘industrious.’

More Stuffing, Please

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by Lisa Dinsmore

newengland.jpgWhen I decided to move across the country, my parents believed that I would quickly get over my folly of living in the Golden State and return to life in New England. Unfortunately for them, California felt like home the minute I crossed the border and I haven't looked back since. The only time I regret being so far away is at Thanksgiving.

It's all about the food and a fairly simple concept of sharing one's bounty. A day to give thanks for the good things in your life. Everyone eats too much, drinks too much, maybe says things they shouldn't, but in the end it's a holiday of inclusion. Even when I was single, I've never had to celebrate Turkey Day alone. Unlike Christmas, with its unwavering traditions, which usually include immediate family only, on Thanksgiving I've found it's "the more the merrier."

After 20 years, my parents still hope that I will return for a Thanksgiving. That they could travel here, never occurs to them. They know we're not coming, but that doesn't stop them from complaining about it. It's just too expensive and difficult. Every year travel horror stories on the news prove that it's not worth the trouble just to share turkey and cranberry sauce. Over the years, my family has come to indulge us with a Thanksgiving dinner on our early Fall sojourns East. Believe me, it tastes just as good in late October. They pull out all the stops and never fail to include the one item I still sorely miss – my mother's meat stuffing.

It's the Cranberries

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by Sue Doeden

cranberries.jpgPudgy, glossy and scarlet red. There they were, bright and fresh, in plastic bags piled one on top of the other in the produce department of the grocery store, reminding me the holiday season is quickly approaching.

Images of Thanksgivings of the past appeared in my mind. I pictured our family gathered around the dinner table, nearly finished with a big turkey meal, when suddenly my mom yelled out, “The cranberries!” The roll of jellied cranberries pushed from a can (I know, I can hardly believe it, either) into a long, narrow crystal bowl had been forgotten in the refrigerator.

Those who don’t care for cranberry sauce may be familiar with only the canned varieties. Nothing beats the flavor of firm, fresh, deep red cranberries that have been cooked with water and sugar until they pop, pop, pop.

These little red jewels are so lovable. They are easy to store, they’re versatile and they’re so good for you. Refrigerated in their original packaging, they can last as long as two months. Put the original bag inside of a freezer bag, and you can store them frozen for about nine months. This is good news for all cranberry lovers, since the season is short.

How to Pick a Wine for Your Thanksgiving Dinner

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by Eric Asimov

From the International Herald Tribune

wine550.jpgSuppose I told you that with your turkey, your stuffing, your cranberry sauce, and all the delicious side dishes that will grace your holiday table, one wine and one wine only would match up. Unless you pick that one wine you face the specter of horrible embarrassment. Sound ridiculous? Well, of course it is. Yet more people than I care to think about feel exactly this way when selecting Thanksgiving wines.

Choosing the wine for any occasion is well known as an exercise in agony. Thanksgiving, for some reason, fills people with an extra dimension of dread. Perhaps it's the idea of performing for one's loving family, always so ready to heap scorn for your benefit. Or maybe there's secret pleasure in being squashed in the paralyzing spotlight, dancing, as Tom Lehrer once put it, to "The Masochism Tango."

If the prospect of shame and disgrace is a welcome part of your holiday ritual, by all means enjoy the feeling. But I would be remiss not to point out that it's all so unnecessary! Picking a wine should never be an occasion for self-flagellation, and at Thanksgiving least of all. The meal itself is typically a riot of contrasts - the savory stuffing, the sweetness of yams, the blank slate of the turkey - and wide open to individual eccentricities like marshmallows, almond slivers and the like. The wine selection task couldn't be simpler: versatility and plenitude.

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A New Thanksgiving Tradition

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by David Latt

sweet-potatoes.jpgdavidlatt.jpgIn our house Thanksgiving is the one day a year my wife is in charge of the cooking.  Because I work at home, part of my day-time ritual is to shop for and cook our dinners.  But for Thanksgiving, I’m her sous chef.  She tells me the menu and I prep the mise en place, so everything is ready for her.

Besides corn bread stuffing with Italian sausages, dried apricots, and pecans, a 24-pound organic turkey with mushroom gravy, home made cranberry sauce, string beans sautéed with almonds, oven roasted Brussels sprouts, and an arrugula salad with persimmons, pomegranate seeds, and roasted hazelnuts, she makes garlic mashed potatoes. 

This past year I’ve been experimenting with sweet potatoes.  I made them for her to see what she thought. With a light dusting of cayenne, after you’ve enjoyed the sweetness of the sweet potato, your mouth is surprised with a hint of heat that drives you back for more.  She agreed that the yams are delicious: sweet, salty, savory, “meaty” (from the mushrooms”), and buttery from the butter.  For Thanksgiving they’ll be added to the menu.

Stuff It!

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by Laraine Newman

basic-stuffing.jpglaraine_newman_cameo.jpgIn my book, Stuffing has held its place in my penalty box along with green bell peppers; cilantro, cumin and lime flavored Life Savers. For me, it’s the Buzz Kill of Thanksgiving.

I have never met a Stuffing I’ve liked, but not for obvious reasons.  I find the premise of a food item that’s made from torn up bread to be, somehow, cheating, not to mention being a food group that’s utterly unappetizing to me.  Justin Wilson, The Cajun Cook from a while back once made something that even he copped to being the height of poverty cuisine; faux potato salad! It was made with old torn up bread.  Nothing wrong with poverty cuisine by the way.  Southern fried and most Jewish food is exactly that. But substituting potatoes with bread is just sad.
 
Wikipedia outlines the history of stuffing dating back to Roman times where you could get anything from a chicken to a dormouse stuffed with vegetables, herbs, spices, nuts, spelt (which is described as ‘old cereal’ by Wikipedia) and a variety of organ meat still considered palatable today. 

Nothing wrong with that, I say. But, as it had evolved and morphed, it has picked up and been dominated by bread.  Gross. Especially when you consider the quality of bread in our country.

Will Work for Food

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by Evan Kleiman

blmisc38.jpgThanksgiving in our house wasn't Thanksgiving without a stupid amount of chestnuts that needed to be roasted and peeled for stuffing. It was actually fun in a punishing sort of way. We were the house that hosted all the Thanksgiving orphans and to be able to eat on Thanksgiving you had to come over the night before and help roast and peel. Much hilarity ensued as everyone became convinced that their technique was the one way to peel the difficult buggers.

By the time the actual meal came around I was so full from tasting stuffing and eating the crumbled chestnuts that facing that groaning table made me want to groan.  So I had my own meal I created from the bigger meal around me.

Before we sat down to eat, while the adults were having a drink and cheese,  I became obsessed with my aunt's bowlfuls of Spanish peanuts, raisins and chocolate chips that were set throughout the living room.  Forget gorp or trail mix or even Chex mix. That combo was like eating the best cookie ever without the dough.

 

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